flagship 5.33 megapixel digital SLR
by Vivid Light Staff
But what's really on my mind is the fact that shooting with a D1x is just like, well, shooting with any other pro camera. A fact that is pretty startling for a digital camera. So much so that I'm beginning to think there may finally be a permanent place for a digital in my camera bag (well maybe if a spare six grand shows up in my wallet). One of the things that has me convinced is that I'm shooting the D1x side by side with an F100 (to get matching comparison images) and switching between the two cameras is virtually seamless.
The D1x operates just like any pro film camera. All the tactile cues are there - the way the dials work, the way the lens mounts, the feel of the shutter, and the sound of the shutter all feel right. Many digital cameras simply feel foreign in the hands of an experienced photographer. I remember reading an article by one pundit who claimed digital would be liberating. You could change every part of the camera's controls because you weren't married to the limits of the film SLR design. But what we've discovered is that many of these so called "improvements" actually made cameras harder or less satisfying to use. There is a reason SLRs grew to work the way they do and their shapes have been sculpted by utility. Hence the movement to make digitals more like SLRs. With the D1x the transition between digital and film is nearly seamless.
One very pleasant surprise with this camera was learning that in most situations you can trust it's meter. With many digitals photographers wind up doing a lot of "chimping" - flipping the camera over and checking the LCD between every shot (watch someone do this and you'll understand the reference to looking like a chimp). Photographers get into this habit for two reasons: first because they can, second because they've learned to be a bit suspicious of their meters.
The D1x uses Nikon's 3D matrix metering with a 1,005 pixel RGB color meter (from the F5) that is extremely accurate in in most situations and gives you three metering modes to choose from; 3D matrix, center weighted, and spot. You can choose to shoot in Program, aperture or shutter priority and you can dial-in plus or minus 5 stops of exposure compensation in 1/3rd or 1/2 stop increments.
In Salem we came across an old church converted to a private residence for someone with "unique" architectural tastes. The church had been painted black, it's stained glass blacked out. Four large black gargoyles were placed on the steps. In open shade the D1X had no problem correctly metering the black gargoyles against the black doors to maintain detail in both. The same was true in the soft morning light with the lobster boats and in bright sunlight later in the day.
Where the meter did show a bias was in strongly backlit scenes where it tended towards under exposure - even in spot meter mode. We found that a full stop to a stop and a half exposure compensation was necessary to get proper exposure with one particular strongly backlit subject. As we became more familiar with the camera we found that strong backlighting was the one time when we really needed to use the LCD to check exposure otherwise we had faith in the meter. Where we bracketed exposures we found that the meter's original reading was best.
We had a similar experience with the auto white balance control. The D1x evaluates information from the color meter along with information from the CCD to measure the color temperature of the available light. From that information it sets what it feels is the optimum white balance. We found this system worked well in almost all conditions we shot under. Almost because it didn't always detect indoor lighting correctly, requiring the photographer to switch over to the incandescent setting manually.
Focus speed and tracking were fast and accurate as expected. The D1X uses the same Multi-CAM 1300 focus system that has been well tested and proven in the D1, F5 and F100. Focus tracking was unperturbed when stationary objects came between the camera and the subject even when shooting in low light.
All this technology conspires to capture a sharp, correctly exposed 5.33 megapixel image. 5.33 megapixels translates into a 3,008 x 1,960 pixel image. More than enough resolution for magazine work, including full and multi-page spreads. Teamed with Genuine Fractals, images from the D1x can be blown up to 11x14 and even wall size prints with stunning results. At these resolutions it starts to become impossible to tell if the origin of the image was digital or film.
Images can be captured and stored as JPEG, TIFF, or NEF files. NEF is Nikon's proprietary raw data file format. The D1x is bundled with a PhotoShop compatible plug-in that allows you to bring NEF files directly into your image editing program (a somewhat slow process). But the real power of raw files can only be exploited if you purchase the optional Nikon Capture 2 software (more on that later).
Interestingly the CCD actually captures 5.47 megapixels of data to create the 5.33 megapixel image. The additional information is used for metering and image quality control. Speaking of image quality, Nikon has gone through this camera from top to bottom eliminating any areas where noise might creep into the image during long exposures. The result is nearly noise free night images even at ISO 800.
One question that comes up a lot is whether the difference in effective focal length is an issue when shooting with digital SLRs. Because the CCD is smaller than the size of a 35mm frame the effective focal length is 1.5x the actual focal length of the lens. In other words a 20mm lens on the D1X is the equivalent of shooting with a 30mm lens and a 300mm lens is the equivalent of shooting with a 450mm lens. In actual use it simply ceases to be an issue provided you already have a lens or lenses to cover the super-wide focal lengths. If not you'll want to add one to your arsenal for use with the D1X.
User controls are, as we said, straightforward. The top deck is virtually the same as the F100 with controls for exposure compensation, flash, and ISO clearly visible. The most used functions are controlled by the now familiar combination of pressing a button while turning a control dial. Less used digital functions are controlled using menu buttons located behind a small metal door on the back of the camera under the LCD. These buttons bring up a menu on the LCD that you navigate using the touch pad and buttons to control settings such as image quality, white balance, sharpness, and saturation. If you've ever used a digital camera before you can navigate around the D1x's menus and only rarely need to go back to the manual for confirmation on controls.
Image previews are obtained by pressing the preview button just above the LCD which now shows 100% of the captured image.
The D1x is bundled with a single EN-4 NiMH battery and a MH-16 charger. Additional EN-4 batteries are available as well as the MH-17 car charger. We found battery life with the D1x to be a virtual non-issue and when the battery indicator showed signs that the battery was getting low, 90 minutes on the charger (often less) brought it back up to full charge.
The standard flash for the D1x is the SB-28DX. This flash is functionally identical to the SB28 when used with any of Nikon's non-digital cameras. But the DX version is required for 3D Multi-sensor balanced fill flash with the D1x and D1h. This flash also provides a speedy 1/8000th of a second flash sync speed. Also compatible with the D1 series of cameras is the compact SB-50 DX flash. We would expect that all new Nikon flashes introduced from here on will be DX flashes, compatible with both film and digital SLRs.
When using one of these two flashes, the D1x uses a five-segment TTL multi-sensor to read a series of monitor pre-flashes off the shutter's gray surface. Programmed reflectance values are compared to the flash reading in order to determine the subject's reflectance and compensate for potential over or under exposure. The D1x allows you to vary both exposure and flash exposure to get the desired image.
The camera is bundled with Nikon View 4.0 for reading images directly from memory cards or from the camera itself using firewire (IEEE 1394). This software allows you to view image thumbnails and move files off the memory card directly onto disk. Additionally Nikon offers software called Capture 2. This software allows you to work directly with raw mode files. The advantage here is that many of the digital settings (such as white balance, and tone) are applied to the image after it is captured. The raw mode file captures the original image as it was captured by the CCD with the camera settings included in the file format. The Capture 2 software allows you to manipulate these settings hours, days, or years after the image is captured, and perhaps, after you have a better understanding of the effects of these settings. This utility doesn't come cheap however. The Capture 2 software has a list price of $225. Given the list price of the camera and the immense utility of the software you do wonder why Nikon didn't simply include it with the D1x.
If you're a working pro the economy and practicality of the D1X are immediately obvious. It looks, feels and handles like a high end SLR which shortens the learning curve in moving to digital; and the ability to have what is in effect post processing control can be nothing short of a Godsend if the worst happens. That's why we can say that even at $6,000 the new generation of digital cameras and the D1X in particular are a bargain.