Nikon D1x
Defining The Professional Digital SLR

Exposure compensation is quick and easy with the D1X. Here (Car 1) the dominant dark tone is read and every detail is revealed.
Photos © 2001, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

The long awaited and anticipated Nikon D1X arrived in our offices the other day, and we couldn't wait to get to work with it. To those who have worked with a Nikon D1 the camera offers similar handling and workflow, although there have been some exciting upgrades and some new choices added to the mix. To those who have not this can be a formidable piece of gear, given all the options it affords. Although this is in many respects similar to a pro SLR, it does not allow the user to simply pull it from the box and begin shooting. But taking the time to consider the options and extras the D1X affords is well worth the effort.

The Nikon D1X represents a particular milestone in photography, bringing a 5.47 megapixel chip to Nikon System imaging. This is a decidedly professional camera in both features and price. At $6130 suggested list it's a far cry from an everyman camera, but given comparable rates for others in this class it's not an off-putting price either. Its sibling camera is the D1H. Sibling is correct but twin is more accurate, given that they were born at the same time. The D1H offers a lower resolution chip, albeit with a faster framing rate for more consecutive shots. Thus, the X is clearly aimed at the bigger picture market while the H offers straight appeal to sports, scientific, and editorial photographers who need those amazingly fast (for a digital camera) throughput rates.

Any camera worth the pro moniker must have sturdy construction, and the D1X has a solid yet lightweight magnesium body. Controls are intuitive for anyone who's handled a pro SLR in recent times, with of course more buttons and hidden menus that define the digital genre. The camera has several changes from the original Nikon D1, the first solely Nikon manufactured digital SLR introduced in 1999.

To deepen the black car body an exposure compensation of -1 was applied to (Car 2).

5-Plus Megapixels
It starts with the 5.47 megapixel CCD that delivers 5.32 effective pixels. The chip is 23.7x15.6mm in size, which is slightly smaller than full frame APS. There are two choices for recording--either 3008x1960 or 2000x1312 --and a host of file formats, including JPEG (with three compression levels and quality settings), 12-bit RAW compressed and uncompressed (which requires Nikon's software to open), and TIFF files. There are also two color modes--Mode 1 is for sRGB and Mode II is optimized for Adobe RGB; the former for the web and the latter for Photoshop fans. There's also a monochrome mode.

Just how many images you can get on your memory card with each file format and compression is determined by how large that card's capacity might be. Nikon shipped us a 96MB card with the camera, which seems the minimum size we'd suggest unless you're going to use this camera for web images. The camera also accepts Type II cards, so the big Microdrive capacities can also be used to handle an assignment. And now that CompactFlash cards come in big capacities as well you can choose either one to get an assignment onto one card, or use a portable storage device as you go. So, when you start pulling in 16MB files per shot (as you do in RGB TIFF, Large) you might do well to consider a portable drive such as Digital Wallet or Digital Album for downloading as you work. Some folks working in this sophisticated realm might even choose the laptop route.

This field of dreams was photographed from the grandstands of the Space Coast Stadium in central Florida. It caught the beauty of the setting sun moving across the field and, if you look closely, the pitch halfway toward the batter. Exposure was f/5.6 at 1/500 sec.

Just what do all those file sizes and formats add up to? Mainly choice, as the D1X allows you to work in just about any fashion you might desire. While it may seem complicated, it really is a way to meet the needs of just about any assignment and any image end use. Yes, you can shoot a 320KB image for the web with this camera, and get over 250 shots per 96MB card. But you would probably go for the larger file sizes to get all you can out of the recording for great prints and reproduction.

Metering Options
3D Color Matrix Metering, introduced with the F5, has proven to be quite a breakthrough in metering technology and one that's created more "auto" exposure mode shooting pros than even they would care to admit. The D1X also features new algorithms (ways of solving calculations) for the 3D Color Matrix meter, the TTL White Balance and the Tone Compensation feature. The "X" offers "dialable" options for a range of ISO settings, from 125-800. You can also choose a host of white balance modes and even customize them to get just the look of color that you desire. It's sort of like having a camera with every type of film at virtually every speed for every frame you shoot.

The 4th of July always provides great photo ops, and the Nikon D1X was up to the task. The aperture was set at f/11 to slow down the shutter speed. The settings can be read out on every image the D1X makes, so I know this one was made at 1/4 sec in Aperture Priority mode. This shot was handheld with the camera braced on a bench, so there's a slight bit of shake in the full moon that sits as a white dot in the upper portion of the frame.

Although you might come to rely on the 3D Color Matrix meter there's enough exposure overrides to satisfy the most demanding pro, including a +/-5 stop exposure compensation, center-weighted and spot metering, and aperture- and shutter-priority plus manual exposure modes. Shutter speed range is a rather incredible 30 sec to 1/16,000 sec. That's not a typo--1/16,000 sec at the top end. If you use the dedicated SB28DX and D-type lenses you get flash controlled by a five-segment TTL multi-sensor that offers 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill Flash (also available with the B-50DX flash). If you use lenses other than D-type you can get Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill, Auto Aperture flash, or Non-TTL Autoflash, depending on the flash and lens in use. Plus there's the usual host of flash modes, including rear curtain sync, slow sync, and redeye reduction.

Framing Rate
Although the D1H offers a faster framing rate, the D1X is no slacker in this regard. First off, the sync speed is 1/500 sec, with FP sync up to 1/8000 sec. There's a very short time lag between pressing the shutter and getting the image, a very bothersome thing with other digital cameras. A very large on-board buffer allows you to shoot up to nine consecutive shots in JPEG or TIFF modes (six in RAW) at 3 fps for all file format types. If you can't get what you want in that sequence you need to work on your timing and not worry about the framing rate.

Lens Factor
There is a 1.5 factor involved when mounting 35mm lenses on the body. This is due to the coverage the lens provides onto the imaging chip and the size of the chip itself. So, if you're working with an 80mm lens you get the angle of coverage of a 120mm, and with a 200mm you're getting a 300mm equivalency. Thus, the 24-85mm Nikkor supplied to us with the D1X yielded 36-128mm equivalent coverage.

Custom Options
There are more than enough customizing options to satisfy the most demanding and unique eye. As already mentioned, you can control color balance to an almost infinite degree with the ability to preset color balance or to use manual modes such as incandescent, fluorescent, flash, sunlight, cloudy, and even shade. You can also fine-tune the balance with a seven-step control that allows you to make intermediate Kelvin settings. If you're the type who likes to set tone curves this is the camera for you.

The effect is like placing a blue color balancing filter over the lens.

You can choose from four presets or when using Nikon Capture 2 software you can draw your own curves and download them to the camera. This seems perfect for those who need to match a particular printer or separator and makes customizing curves to the end use of the image a matter that can be done before capture, and not later in an image-editing program. You can also choose from four sharpness presets, another labor saving step that eliminates the need to do this in post-processing. All your custom controls can be stored in one of four available "banks" for recall later.

Interface Issues
While this camera really sparkles in the field it also can be used quite well in studio environments. One of the main features for the indoors set is the IEEE 1394 (FireWire to you and me) interface that makes this a fast downloading camera when tethered to a computer. You need to use the Nikon View 4n and optional Nikon Capture 2 software to optimize this workflow. The camera does not have a USB connection, which for some unwilling to upgrade could be a drawback. We used a SanDisk card reader to download our images, and the transfer was quick and easy.

By altering the white balance you can either correct for varying lighting conditions or add mood to every image. Sunrise was captured on auto white balance, then the WB control was shifted to "incandescent."

Focus Control
Nikon has pioneered many focusing advances, and the D1X benefits from them all. The AF sensor is the same as used in the F5 and D1, the MultiCam 1300. It uses a five-area AF system, one that Nikon feels is suited to fast and creative composition. There are the usual focus modes as well as area modes. Dynamic AF can be used to detect focus as a subject moves between focus detectors in the finder or be set up with Closest Subject Priority.

One of the hallmarks of a digital camera is instant feedback, and Nikon has spared little in its Playback modes. There's One-Touch Playback available via a touch of the Monitor button right after the image is made. Touching the shutter release lightly brings the camera right back to shooting mode. You can also zoom into the preview, and later look at the entire take with thumbnail playback or a slide show setup. The histogram can be shown right on top of the image, and you can turn on or off the overexposure warning in the image itself. And, if you need to know just where you took the picture there's a linkup to a GPS unit right from the camera.

Details are crisp and clean as is color rendition of this lamp and handlebar close-up of this Harley. Although the highlights are hot, they accurately portray the metal gleaning in the Florida sun.

Using The D1X
In the field, the D1X inspires picture taking. Although the host of buttons and options seem a bit overwhelming at first, they are not unlike that found on high-end pro SLRs. After an hour's work you find that you can move instinctively through all the controls, choosing various exposure options, overrides, and metering patterns. Playback is accessed, thankfully, via a dial rather than the menu, although using the Playback menu does give you a number of options on how you want to view the images.

The LCD screen is bright and can actually be read in daylight, no mean feat these days. You can choose a "straight" playback, pull up a histogram for checking tonal distribution and/or have the monitor display overexposed areas with a flashing warning in the hot spots. We also worked with the SB28DX flash, which yields all the flash modes one could desire. In conjunction with D-type lenses the flash performed flawlessly in rear sync, slow sync, and fill-in daylight modes. In short, Nikon has brought all their flash technology to the flash/camera combo.

Digital Thoughts
The D1X is clearly a watershed product that might change quite a few minds as to whether it's time to switch to a digital SLR. Though not a lightweight, the camera engenders a newfound passion about making images, one that comes from the options, quality, and pure usability the camera delivers. What at first might be a curiosity leads to thoughtfulness about what using a digital SLR might lead to and how it might change our approach to photography. For example, with the D1X you have just about every ISO option, white balance, contrast, and even color or monochrome film effect at your fingertips. What does that do to the way you shoot and how you apply those effects to each image you make? These are the issues that digital evokes. Creatively, it makes for some interesting thoughts.

The image quality and color fidelity of the D1X is shown in this photo of a colorful Sportster motorcycle at a rally in Cocoa, Florida. Exposure was f/11 at 1/25 sec with the camera set on ISO 125. The resultant 16MB file yields a vibrant 11x14 print.

Technical Specifications
Camera Type: Interchangeable lens SLR
CCD: 23.7x15.6mm RGB CCD, 5.32 effective pixels
ISO: 125-800
Storage: JPEG, TIFF, RAW
Media: CompactFlash (Type I/II), Microdrive
White Balance: Auto, six manual settings, three presets
Interface: IEEE 1394 and RS-232C (for GPS unit)
Usable Lenses: D-type Nikkor, all functions; D-type manual focus Nikkor, all functions except AF; non-D-type AF Nikkor, all functions except 3D Color Matrix Metering and 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill Flash; AI-P, same as AF Nikkor; non-CPU, usable in A or M mode Center-Weighted or Spot Metering
Angle Of View, Lens Factor: 1.5x
*See text for camera features
Size: 6.2x6.1x3.4"
Weight: 2.5 lbs
Suggested Retail: $6130

Nikon Inc.
1300 Walt Whitman Rd.
Melville, NY 11747
(631) 547-8500