Nikon’s D2Xs; A Sporty, Speedy Pro SLR Upgrade Page 2

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Auto ISO, Pro Style
Wedding and event photographers often have to work in quickly changing lighting conditions. This can mean shifting ISO on the run, and while most of us would notice when we run out of light and thus have to go up in sensitivity, many of us often forget to shift back to a lower ISO when we go from dark to light, resulting in less than best image quality in outdoor shots. Borrowing what must be a feature of or at least an inspiration from point-and-shoot digicams, the D2Xs has an Auto ISO feature that allows you to set a specific shutter speed and then will set the ISO in accordance with the light sensitivity needed, at least up to ISO 800. It's a new kind of Exposure mode that adds a wrinkle to Shutter-Priority in that it brings not only aperture but also ISO settings into the mix. Pretty cool.

Speaking of ISO settings, the D2Xs can be set manually between ISO 100 and 800, and then in increments all the way to ISO 3200 (HI-2). You can do this via the menu controls or, better, via the ISO button on the back of the camera. It seems like there is always some NR (Noise Reduction) going on in the background, but you do have some control as to when it kicks in and, to a certain extent, how much occurs. If you go into the shooting menu there are two NR areas, one for long exposures (you have a choice of on or off) and the other for High ISO. The default is On, where NR occurs when the ISO setting is from 400-800 or at ISO 400 or higher when ISO Auto is set. The On (high) setting increases NR filtration. There is also an Off setting that will eliminate NR in all cases except images exposed over ISO 800. I would suggest keeping NR on in high ISO setups and checking it out if you really need it in the ISO 400 range. High NR will make images look a bit softer--that's the tradeoff for losing that static and electronic graininess.

Being a pro camera there are all manner of exposure and color controls. This photo of a dry dock area was made late in the day with deep shadows and colorful highlights. To catch this exposure Matrix Metering pattern was used and exposure locked using the AEL button on camera rear with camera pointed directly over the bright yellow area on the right. Composition was then shifted to include boat stand on the left.

Color And B&W
Being a pro camera the D2Xs is obsessed with color spaces, modes, white balance options, temperature shifts, etc. This might be overkill for an amateur model, but after a while you begin to appreciate this attention to detail and think about how these aids would be used in the studio or on location where color must be just right. The camera also allows for very nuanced changes in sharpness, contrast, and saturation, and banks all these in memory. The cool thing is that the D2Xs now allows you to Rename the Banks (four in total) so you don't need a cheat sheet every time you pick up the camera. This is done via a keypad/toggle button operation, a bit labor intensive but not something you'll be doing often.

What's new in the Recording mode department is the ability to shoot in black and white, essentially a desaturated sRGB file. Of course you can shoot in raw or even JPEG and convert easily enough later, but some folks just like shooting and seeing the instant review in black and white in the field. Puts them in the mood. And, if there's a change of heart and the shots are in raw they can be converted back to color later in the Nikon Capture software (but not in ACR).

Another file manipulation feature is the ability to re-size both raw and JPEG images right in the camera, which end up being copies of the original. This feature might preclude the need to shoot raw+JPEG if you do so for full-size and e-mailable images made in camera. But there are other reasons to do this dual capture so this setting can still be valuable, depending on how you like to work.

While walking through the backstreets of Rockport, Maine, I saw this rose peeking through a white fence, with the slats in alternate shadows and highlights--an exposure challenge if I ever saw one. I just let the 3D Color Matrix Metering II do its thing, and it nailed it with no adjustment or post.

CSI
If you get the feeling that this is essentially a pro studio and location camera, and especially a sports, action, and even wedding photographer's camera, you're not far off. One area we don't talk about much is law enforcement and forensic work, an area that Nikon has always been strong in. Giving more than a nod to CSI types, the camera and an accompanying software can be used for Image Authentication, which means it shows when and if the image has been messed with since original capture.

But there is something for everyone. For those who like to work remotely there's a new software dubbed Camera Control Pro that can work tethered to a computer via USB or via an optional WT-2A wireless transmitter. There's also a built-in intervalometer, for those who enjoy getting shots over a period of time, sort of like a water sprinkler timer.

By now we've come to expect our digital SLRs to deliver good results and our pro digital SLRs to deliver outstanding results. There's little debate that the D2Xs is an outstanding pro camera that lets you do just about whatever you want with an image, including overlays and multi-exposures right in the camera. At about $4700 list it is sure to have limited appeal to the D70s (and new D80) shooter and will not tempt everyone to upgrade anytime soon. It is a professional camera that seems to have included features and functions that can appeal to a broad range of pros--with its near-obsessive color controls for studio and portrait photographers; its blazing speed for sports and action shooters; its power supply for location and travel shooters; and its CSI capabilities for law enforcement departments. Perhaps the D2Xs is recognition that a camera, like the pro who uses it, is not so easily categorized these days.

For the working professional who can use its many attributes and who is tapped into the Nikon system of lenses and accessories it is state of the art, and should remain so for some time to come.

Nikon's 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens
For our tests with the D2Xs we worked with the new Nikon 105mm Micro-Nikkor VR lens. The Angle Of View (AOV) on the camera with this lens is equivalent to a 35mm format AOV of about 158mm, making it a fast macro/portrait lens as well as a fast moderate tele for general shooting. We've long been fans of 105mm Micro-Nikkor lenses in their various mounts and manifestations, it usually being one of the lens stars of the Nikon line. This one is no exception and lives up to the 105mm Micro-Nikkor legacy. The treat is that it can be used on full-frame 35mm Nikon cameras as well.

The VR (Vibration Reduction) feature makes it quite versatile for all shooting, but particularly for macro photography, where every f/stop counts. Nikon claims that using VR yields a 3-4 stop gain, and we found shooting around 1¼15 sec with VR on yielded quite steady images. Combine a fast constant aperture of f/2.8, VR, and macro (1:1) capability together and you've got a heck of a lens. It's also got a 1 ED glass element and a 1 "nano-crystal coat" deposited lens, and a Silent Wave motor, their first macro with same. Heck, we even used it on our polo shots, and standing on the sidelines got us close enough in using High-Speed Crop mode that we didn't even consider switching to another fast tele. It's a gem, and at about $799 well worth the price.

SanDisk's Extreme IV CompactFlash Card (And Reader): Fast Read And Write For Hot Digicams
Our test of the Nikon D2Xs was enhanced by use of the new SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash card and reader. The new card/reader represents the next generation of CompactFlash in terms of speed in read and write times. We really saw how well this worked when downloading a bit over 700MB of images from our sports shots made with the D2Xs to our Apple MacBook Pro. Rated by the maker at 40MB per second read and write speed, we downloaded 716MB of images from a 2GB Extreme IV card using the reader in about 18 seconds.

There was also no problem for the card in keeping up with even the 8 fps recording rates I used in High-Speed Crop mode, even with a few second bursts. Our testing showed that the card will take even the fastest processing speeds available today, and anticipates even faster recording rates that might be coming down the pike. Those who have worked with standard cards will see a dramatic improvement in download times, while those working with even fast cards of the previous generation will see a 100 percent gain.

According to the company, their new speed ratings nearly doubles performance of the Extreme III line, introduced in 2004. But digital SLRs like the D2Xs are but one beneficiary of the newfound read and write speed. The company points to medium format digital cameras and backs, such as the Hasselblad H2D-39 and Leaf Aptus family, as showing great gains. These units produce what they dub as "enormous" files that must be processed quickly in the heat of a shoot.

The new generation of cards is available in 2, 4, and 8GB capacities, and will show the improved speed when used with the compact SanDisk 800/400 card reader. To sweeten the pot the company is bundling the new cards and reader at intro pricing, plus throws in a 30-day trial version of Adobe's Photoshop CS2. The reader will be available in both FireWire and USB 2.0 patches. Prices are available on the company's website at: www.sandisk.com. The Intro pack of 4GB card and reader goes for $319.99.

Lensbaby 3.0
Part of our shooting time with the Nikon D2Xs was spent working with the then hush-hush Lensbaby 3.0. Given that it was still in prototype form it performed quite well and yielded the usual Lensbaby image kicks. But when we first heard about this new Lensbaby we thought the company had gone straight.

The Original Lensbaby and 2.0 always delivered a fairly unpredictable outcome, or at least fairly unrepeatable results. You squeezed and tilted the bellows/lens arrangement into a shape that you would be hard-pressed to match for the next shot. But the difference between this and other screw-in type aberration lenses was that the quality of the glass in these manifestations was quite good, and the cult grew.

Apparently some folks--studio and portrait types--requested that the Lensbaby folks create an item with the same features but with a design that allowed them to hold the odd planes of focus from one shot to the next. The result is the amazing piece of engineering known here as Lensbaby 3.0. The illustration shows the prototype, which we trust will be changed in the final form. In essence, you do your twist thing and then click a small switch in an indent, which locks the positioning via the three screw rods. To release the setup you press the two small knobs together and it goes back to where it started. And, get this, you can perform fine focus with a lens collar on the inset.

While we had the D2Xs we tried the Lensbaby 3.0 with Nikon mount. The new edition has the ability to lock into any odd or other plane of focus you choose. While we first thought this might dampen the fun, it just gave us more odd angles to play with--in short, it's still as fascinating a tool as ever.

So, have they gone too straight to keep the Lensbaby cult alive? It's still quirky enough to keep that from happening, and this manifestation should make the following grow even more. It will be available in various SLR lens mounts at a price that was not available at press time.

For more information, visit the Lensbabies website at: www.lensbabies.com.

For full Technical Specifications, visit the Instant Links section of the Shutterbug website (www.shutterbug.com/currentissuelinks/) to gain access to the relevant Nikon web page or visit www.nikonusa.com.

For more information, contact Nikon Inc., 1300 Walt Whitman Rd., Melville, NY 11747; (800) 526-4566, (631) 547-4200; www.nikonusa.com.

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