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Nikon D2H Camera Body
Text and pictures by Simon Stafford.
The following preview is based on data supplied by Nikon and my own examination of a pre-production sample camera. The operative word here is ‘preview’ because at the time of writing, early October 2003, the camera is still under development. Until Nikon release a full production camera, which is now not expected to happen before the beginning of November 2003, we can only speculate as to its final performance and image quality. In the U.K. the camera is expected to retail at £2,800.00 (inc VAT).
Please be aware that some commentators have posted so-called ‘reviews’ to a number of web sites but I would suggest you treated these with caution, because they can only be founded on similar pre-production samples. Nikon have made it quite clear that images produced by these very early D2H cameras cannot be relied upon as being representative of the quality they expect to achieve with final production models. The purpose of this article is to give Nikon Owner subscribers an exclusive view of the camera using my own pictures and highlight its features and specification. I will review the camera in full as soon as a production model becomes available.
Nikon DX Format JFET LBCAST Sensor
Nikon have a reputation for innovative design and they have obviously been busy developing this new, exclusive hybrid sensor, which incorporates the Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) qualities of low power consumption, approximately one-fifth that of a Charged Coupled Device (CCD), lower electronic noise, and higher processing speed. Nikon will obviously want to keep specific details of their new Joint Field Effect Transistor (JFET) Lateral Buried Charge Accumulator & Sensing Transistor (LBCAST) sensor type very much to themselves but in line with earlier CCD sensors it retains the Nikon DX format. Curiously the quoted physical dimensions of the sensor are slightly different to the 23.7 x 15.6mm sensor in the D1X/H cameras. In the Japanese language technical sheet for the D2H Nikon state the new sensor is 23.3 x 15.5mm, and yet in the English language version the dimensions are given as 23.1 x 15.5mm. Whatever the specifics turnout to be at this time we do not know if the actual imaging area differs from the existing Nikon D-SLR cameras.
The D2H sensor has a maximum resolution of 2,464 x 1,632 pixels providing 4.1 million effective imaging pixels compared to the 2,000 x 1,312 pixel, 2.66 million effective imaging pixels of the current D1H. Nikon have clearly worked hard at keeping operating speed a priority for this camera, as it will be the natural successor to the D1H adopted by many news organisations and sports agencies. Those photographers expecting a higher resolution will just have to wait for the anticipated D1X replacement. The sensor also has a new, thinner Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF), which is claimed to be more effective at suppressing moiré patterns.
ISO Sensitivity & File Formats
The D2H, in the hands of press and sports photographers, is destined to work in far from ideal light conditions so its equivalent ISO sensitivity is crucial to its success. Nikon are making some bold claims about the D2H being able to produce clean, noise free images with a wide dynamic range at ISO800. If this proves to be the case it will raise digital imaging to a new level. The basic ISO range for the camera is 200 to 1600, with the option via a custom setting to raise it to 3200 and 6400. Again, if these elevated sensitivities are really useable the camera is going to win a lot of friends very quickly.
There are no real surprises with the file formats – NEF RAW (12-bit uncompressed or with lossless compression), or EXIF 2.2 files as uncompressed TIFF-RGB or compressed JPEG. The camera accepts either CompactFlash (Type I/II) cards, or IBM Microdrive. Taking a leaf out of Canon’s book Nikon have added the ability to capture NEF RAW and JPEG versions of the image simultaneously to satisfy the demand for a small file for rapid dissemination and a large file for subsequent high quality output. High capacity storage cards are going to be the order of the day and will be helped by the fact that D2H supports write acceleration (WA) as available on the Lexar CF cards.
Frame Rate & Buffer Size
Again Nikon have obviously invested a lot of time and effort to ensure the D2H has a capability that places it, for the time being at least, at the top of the tree. At its claimed 8fps, in the fastest – Continuous High – shooting mode, it is 60% faster than the D1H (5fps). The cyclical rate of the shutter is impressive given the need to maintain the performance of the auto focus system and restrict viewfinder blackout times to an acceptable level. Linked to the buffer capacity of forty frames in JPEG file format and twenty-five in NEF RAW format the D2H will match the speed of the Canon EOS 1D but keep going for twice as long!
Shutter Lag & Viewfinder Blackout
These two factors are very important for a camera aimed squarely at the ranks of press and sports photographers. Split second timing in these demanding fields of photography can make the difference between getting your picture published or it never seeing the light of day. The shutter lag, which is the time between the moment you press the shutter release and the instant when the shutter blades open, has been reduced to 37ms making it the fastest of any current digital SLR and comparable to the F5 film camera. Equally the viewfinder blackout period (caused by the reflex mirror being in its raised position), which has been reduced to just 80ms, places it at the leading edge of current performance.
Not before time Nikon have finally given us a duplicate pair of Main and Sub-Command dials for the vertical grip – how I wish the F5/D1X had these!
Viewfinder Coverage & Information
At last we have a viewfinder offering a full 100% coverage in a Nikon digital SLR. My initial test suggests that it is a true 100% view but I will need to confirm this on a production model. The viewfinder information has been enhanced to include, the AF sensor used, file format, WB setting, and ISO. However, the most useful indicator showing battery condition is missing! You will need to open the Set Up menu to view details of the battery condition.
An important specification to note, especially for any photographer who wears eyeglasses, is the eye-point distance, which is reduced to 19.9mm from the 22mm of the D1X/H. The D2H has a new DK-17C Eyepiece Correction Lens series and DK-17A Anti-fog eyepiece, and there is an optional E-type grid pattern focusing screen.
A new CAM2000 auto focus module combines with a total of eleven AF sensors; the central nine (located at the division of third points) are all cross-type, plus two extra line-type sensors on the central horizontal axis of the focus screen. The multi-selector switch (thumb-pad) has eight directions to facilitate moving diagonally between AF sensors.
This 11-area dynamic AF system has a couple of new features; the Group Dynamic AF allows you to select between three and five sensor areas and have them perform a Closest Subject Priority (CSP) auto focus, which should be able to cope with difficult focusing situations involving a moving subject. There is also a CSP Dynamic AF mode taken from the F75 but unlike that camera which uses a collar around the multi-selector switch to select these AF options the D2H has a separate four-position switch located below it. The detection range of the sensors remains unchanged from its predecessors at –1 to +19EV (ISO100).
One potential handling foible is the AF mode selector lever that pivots perpendicular to the plane of the sensor unlike previous AF Nikon cameras where it pivots in a parallel plane. In four out of ten lens changes I tried wearing gloves I inadvertently moved the lever, which is located in close proximity to the lens release button, from the Manual (M) focus position to Single Servo (S) position. I accept that the camera will most probably be used in either the S or Continuous Servo (C) mode for a majority of the time but its worth being aware of this issue.
The D2H has a completely new, dedicated, Lithium-Ion battery delivering 11.1V DC and rated at 1900mAh. It is 25% lighter and 50% more powerful than the EN-4 (7.2V DC) for the D1-series, which looks even better when you consider the camera uses less power than its predecessors. The EN-EL4 is charged on the new MH-21 mains charger.
In the Set Up menu there is a comprehensive display of the present battery status and its general overall condition, which records remaining charge as a percentage, total number of shutter cycles since last charge, requirement to calibrate, and charging history (battery life – in five stages). The D2H can also be powered from a mains supply via the EH-6 AC adapter.
Auto White Balance System
The D2H uses no less than three sensors to assess light to set the Auto White Balance (AWB) and Auto Tone Control (ATC). The 1005-pixel RGB exposure meter, the LBCAST sensor, and the new external Ambient Light Sensor, located on the front edge of the viewfinder head above the Nikon logo, that measures light without being affected by the colour of the subject. It can also distinguish between artificial and natural light sources by detecting the flicker of the former.
White Balance (WB) can be set in degrees Kelvin in 31 steps of equal perceptual colour change (also known as Micro Reciprocal Degrees (MIRED) steps) so for example at the low end of the scale the first step is between 2500K and 2550K whereas at the high end the final step jumps from 9100K to 10,000K. In addition to this there are six manually selected WB values and up to five user pre-set values.
The camera offers three colour space options: Mode I (sRGB) optimised for portraits and natural skin tones; Mode II (Adobe RGB) optimised too record a wide gamut of colours; Mode III (sRGB) optimised for landscapes and flora & fauna.
Custom Settings – Colour Coded & Grouped
To facilitate using custom settings they have been grouped and colour coded according to their function as follows; a- Autofocus; b- Metering/Exposure; c- Timers/AE & AF Lock; d- Shooting Display; e- Bracketing/Flash; f- Controls.
LCD Monitor & LCD Displays
The rear panel LCD is a full 2.5” across the diagonal and is a 211K -dot TFT screen with adjustable white LED backlighting that offers a full 100% view of the image.
The top plate LCD has been extended to allow the display of additional information including a warning that the following have been set; Flash Lock; Interval Timer; Text Comment. It also shows an analogue display of exposure compensation factors.
The D2H has USB 2.0 in preference to IEEE 1394 (Firewire) but the RS-232C socket found on the D1X/H has been omitted so it appears that it will not be possible to connect a GPS unit.
Matrix Metering with non-CPU lenses
The F4 had this ability but for some incomprehensible reason Nikon choose to leave it out of the F5 and D1-series cameras! Although it makes a welcome return it is not a particularly quick system to use. Once you have mounted your non-CPU lens (e.g. manual focus AI or AI-S standard Nikkor) you must enter its focal length within three fixed ranges and its maximum aperture value via the Shooting Menu. You have to repeat this procedure each time you change to a non-CPU lens, or change between different non-CPU lenses. Note this feature requires Manual or Aperture Priority exposure mode to function.
This feature operates in a two-stage sequence. You select the option by moving the shooting mode dial to the M-up position. On the first press of the shutter release the mirror is raised and stays in the up position. You then have to depress the shutter release a second time to trip the shutter mechanism. The mirror then lowers immediately the shutter has closed.
A feature also seen in the Coolpix 5400 it allows you to perform time-lapse photography. The control parameters for this function are set via the Shooting Menu.
Programmable Function Button
This button, which is located on the front panel below the depth-of-field preview button, can be programmed to perform one of the following functions:
activate matrix metering; activate centre-weighted metering; activate spot metering; one step setting of a shutter speed and aperture combination; commence exposure bracketing sequence; replicate the function of the AE-L/AF-L button on the rear panel; flash lock with the SB-800 for CPU and non-CPU lenses; cancel flash to stop it firing even if it is switched on.
Further Facts & Features
The D2H has the following features:
A camera orientation sensor for landscape, portrait right side, and portrait left side, that writes to the EXIF or NEF RAW header at the time of exposure. The image will then be displayed in the correct orientation by the camera, or in Nikon View and Nikon Capture.
Exposure bracketing can be performed over a nine-frame sequence in increments of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 stop.
The depth-of-field preview button can be selected to operate the modelling light function of the SB-800 Speedlight.
The rear LCD has a zoom function for reviewing images similar to the D100.
There is a noise reduction function for long exposures again similar to the D100.
The D2H can output to video in either the NTSC or PAL standards.
The new SB-800, that has a GN38/53 (ISO100/200, m, at 35mm) will be released to accompany the D2H. In Auto White Balance mode the D2H uses its 1005-pixel colour meter to assess the flash colour from the SB-800 to provide an improved TTL flash control but there is still no true off the sensor control during the actual exposure.
The camera has both a standard Pin Cylinder (PC) flash sync terminal and a 10-pin remote release terminal.
Shutter speed range runs from 30 seconds to 1/8000sec, plus Bulb. Disappointingly the flash sync speed has been reduced to 1/250sec a full stop slower then the D1X/H. There is some consolation in the fact that with the SB-800DX flash will automatically switch to a high-speed flash sync mode (FP mode) if a shutter speed above 1/250sec is selected. Thankfully the FP mode is now TTL rather than manual flash as in the earlier Nikon cameras but due to the reduce flash output the operating range is rather restricted.
The D2H allows you to input alphanumeric text up to 30 characters via the LCD monitor and multi-selector switch. The data is stored in the EXIF header of the image file.
There is a voice Memo system similar to that used in the D100, which allows automatic or manual recording at the time of shooting or image review, that provides up to a maximum recording time of 1 minute.
The D2H is 157.5mm wide, 149.5mm high, and 85.5mm deep. It weighs in at 1070g (without battery) just 30g lighter than the D1X/H. The difference in weight improves once you take into consideration the lighter EN-EL4 battery.
The most interesting accessory for the D2H will undoubtedly be the WT-1 Wireless Transmitter, which connects to the USB 2.0 port of the camera to connect directly with any IEEE 802.11b compatible access point for wireless transfer of data to FTP servers.
There are to be two versions, the WT-1 and the WT-1A. The former will be available for countries that permit the use of thirteen different frequency channels, whilst the latter will be available for those countries that allow eleven different frequency channels. Using the standard WA-S1 antenna the WT-1/1A can transfer data over a range of 30m and 150m with the optional WA-E1 Extension Antenna.
The system has three different transmission protocols to ensure the security of the data being transferred:
The system can be set to operate automatically transfer each image as it is captured, or the photographer can select the images manually as they review them on the camera.
The down side of the WT-1 is the fact it relies on the camera's EN-EL4 battery for power and Nikon state that it will draw approximately 20% its capacity - that's a significant amount by any standard.
To accompany the D2H Nikon will release the latest version (v. 4) of their image browser Nikon View. This has three new features: Image Dust Off allows a photographer to create a mask by using a shot of a plain white subject, which can then be compared to an image to identify the shade caused by dust or particles on the sensor and remove it. The mask can be applied to a single image or a batch; Digital DEE improves the tonal range of images by applying an automatic dodge and burn type control to balance highlight and shadow areas; a conversion tool changes images taken with the new AF Fisheye-Nikkor DX 10.5mm f/2.8G to minimise the fisheye type distortion of straight lines and provide a near rectilinear image.
The D2H seems set to take digital imaging forward by several significant steps, however, the proof will be in the proverbial pudding!
© Simon Stafford