- Excellent build, great image quality, some notable improvements over an already excellent camera
- Single card slot, buffer memory could be faster
- Review Price: £3500
Unlike consumer DSLRs or compact cameras, the top-end DSLRs from Canon and Nikon tend to stick around for a while before being replaced by a new model. In the meantime, the existing cameras can get a makeover to make the most of the latest technology. Generally speaking, existing users will find that it’s not worth the upgrade fee, unless there is a major benefit to their work. In the case of the Nikon D2Xs, the new features are many – 20 improvements in all.
This is a replacement for the Nikon D2X, and the fundamentals of that camera remain unchanged. The camera still has the 12.4million pixel CMOS sensor in Nikon DX format (essentially APS-C sized, to the non-Nikon community), and has the same photographic controls and functionality of the original – such as PASM control, same 1/8000sec top shutter speed and top natural ISO of 800 with an added two-stop boost mode up to ISO 3200.
Closer inspection reveals that the viewfinder has been improved. It may still offer the same 100% viewing of the scene and the 0.86% magnification, but the screen is brighter, says Nikon, thanks to the new Brite-View Clear Matte Mark III viewing screen. And the screen is available as both a clear option or gridded, for compositional aid.
Better still, Nikon has improved the viewfinder’s functionality in the high-speed crop mode. Both this camera and the previous model use just 6.7-megapixels in high-speed mode to pass the 8fps images through the buffer. This smaller image size meant that, for accurate composition, a separate viewfinder screen had to be used, with lines showing the image edges. Now, the D2Xs shades the extraneous area in the viewfinder, making it much easier to switch between image sizes and continuous shooting speeds. Furthermore, the Colour Matrix Metering has been improved to allow for the smaller image format, instead of metering from the full area.
Another obvious addition is the 2.5inch LCD. This isn’t larger than the previous version, but offers a wider viewing angle both horizontally and vertically of 170° – the same as the D200 and new D80.
AF Speed Boost
Regular users of the Nikon D2X may notice an improvement to AF speed in the new model, with improved tracking in continuous AF mode and better subject finding, thanks to the Multi-CAM2000 AF module. Another major improvement is the inclusion of Adobe RGB in all three-colour modes; previously this was limited and sRGB was the predominant colour space.
Nikon has also added more custom curves and custom-function options as well as an in-camera crop feature to the D2Xs. Similarly there is now a black-and-white option, which is available as a NEF and JPEG file, so you can also return the colour using the NEF file if the image isn’t working for you.
Better Battery Performance
Nikon also claims to have lengthened the battery life, and the D2Xs can now shoot up to 3,800 images on a single charge. An improved battery gauge shows the number of shots taken since the last charge, the percentage of power left and overall battery status.
Finally, there have been improvements to the image data, with better EXIF data, additional GPS information (if used with a GPS system), and the system is now Image Authentication compatible. Incidentally, the D2Xs uses a new NEF format, so Raw files need to be converted via the new Nikon NX software we reviewed last month. Nikon Capture 4.0 won’t work, though other Raw processing software is sure to be upgraded pretty quickly.
As with the previous model, there is much to like in the D2Xs. We adore the way this camera feels. It’s big and reasonably heavy, but the magnesium shell is tough and commands respect – you get the feeling this camera would survive in extreme conditions.
Despite the high-end, high-tech features, the camera can be as simple as you want it to be; however, it’s good that it offers so much more – and all fairly easily. The menu system is especially clear and easy to navigate, and the D2Xs is endlessly adaptable to suit the photographer’s working methods or personal style.
I’m sure there are people questioning the point of in-camera crop, or direct black and white. But in a professional environment, particularly news, sport or even paparazzi, there isn’t enough time to casually convert Raw files and tune up your images. They need to leave the camera and be uploaded as fast as possible. The Times picture desk, for example, isn’t going to use pictures that arrive 10 minutes too late: they’ll use the first and best.
There is little to criticise, though it would be nice to have a bigger buffer memory – it doesn’t take long for the camera to fill up at the highest JPEG setting and slow down from 5fps to 1 or 2fps. In high-speed crop mode, it rattles off at a fair old pace, but again slows down after 20 secs or so. A few seconds’ rest gets the pace back up, though (tested using a San Disk Extreme III CF card). Bearing in mind the D2Hs has just 4MP and only offers 1fps more than the D2Xs, this high-speed crop mode makes the D2Xs a more versatile choice for fast shooters. And we do like the automatically cropped viewfinder.
Nikon has done a good job with the image-rendering on the D2Xs. The colour is geared towards professional use, with less saturation than a consumer DSLR at default. If you want to change this, though, there are plenty of options to do so, such as in custom curves or via the colour modes and so on.
Similarly, our tests of the Auto White Balance proved very accurate, within 10°K in the lighter tones, and within 20°K in shadow areas.
Noise, Luminosity and Sharpness
Noise is good, too, especially in the lower ISO range, though the blue channel shows more than the others. Luminance noise is good, while chroma noise follows the luminance graph very closely – apart from the blue, that is.
Sharpness is good in JPEGs, while Raw files need a little help to get there, but this isn’t unusual. Exposure, too, is pretty spot on most of the time, and there was seldom a reason to change metering modes from matrix or use exposure compensation too much.
Value For Money
A Beauty to Use!
As Nikon’s top model at the time of release this was expensive, but still much cheaper than Canon’s equivalent. Whether the camera’s resolution is good enough is a question for you and your clients, or repro house, but for the majority of jobs it is good enough. If you’re an enthusiast or semi pro and want to splash out to buy this camera, you probably won’t go wrong… it’s a beauty to use.
Do the improvements offer enough to make it worth upgrading from the previous model? For the average shooter, probably not. For the specialist, there?s sure to be something of value to make life easier ? for example, the GPS additions, or high-speed crop mode, may be deal breakers to you. On its own merits as a standalone camera, though, the D2Xs is a fine example of optical and digital technology combined and, as such, is highly desirable.
Score in detail
Image Quality 10