Nikon D2h Digital SLR

When the Nikon D2H was first announced a lot of people were talking about the fact that it ćonly has a four megapixel chipä. I was very curious to find out why Nikon had gone with a somewhat smaller chip (which they say has 4.1 effective megapixels) when the recent trend has been to move toward more and more pixels. The answer only became obvious after I had done several fast-paced shoots with the D2H. Using the somewhat smaller chip size with its concomitant smaller file size has allowed Nikon to build a camera at a very reasonable price which is a real speed champ. If you havenāt worked with a lot of the current and recent digital SLR cameras, then you donāt know the frustration of seeing the perfect image in the viewfinder during a shoot only to have nothing happen when you press the shutter release because the camera is still busy writing your last images to the storage card from its buffer memory. This has been a problem with just about all of the digital SLRs I have used in recent memory, with the singular exception of the Nikon D100, which isnāt even regarded as a pro camera by Nikon. Iāve yet to get ahead of my D100. But I am normally not shooting faster than one frame every couple of seconds. For my first tests with the D2H, I set the camera for its mode that records both the NEF (Nikonās version of RAW) and Fine JPEG simultaneously. Although provided, I did not use Nikonās software to open the images, preferring to work directly in Photoshop CS which directly supports NEF files.

According to Nikon, the D2H can go up to eight frames per second and can sustain that speed for up to forty frames, a remarkable performance. As a check on how well it could do in my studio shooting as rapidly as my flash units could recycle, I did a very fast session with a dancing model and some fast-paced music. The camera just kept on going, but I canāt say the same for the flash. Toward the end of the session the model asked me if my flash was supposed to be ćsmoking like thatä. Sure enough the camera had gone so fast that I had seriously overheated one of my monolights.

To keep from burning down my studio I decided to do the serious speed testing outdoors, but the weather didnāt want to cooperate and I only got one day when it wasnāt raining or snowing or too bitterly cold to work outdoors. For that day I had my friend Sasha, who used to run in competition, come and try some runs for me in my studio parking lot. We tried a variety of running speeds and angles toward the camera. The Nikon D2H had no trouble at all keeping up its speed and the 11-sensor autofocus system did a superb job of keeping my subject in focus in all of the shots. This new autofocus system uses nine cross-type sensors so it can easily focus on almost any type of subject with some contrast. I only found that it had trouble focusing on very smooth surfaces with no texture. In those cases I moved the sensor onto an area with some texture or switched to manual focus, which is easily done with a lever to the right of the lens mount on the camera front. The lens used for these tests was the 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor VR (offering Nikonās Vibration Reduction technology). I liked this lens, which I had not used before, as much as the new camera.

I found that if I set the camera to simultaneously shoot both Fine JPEG and NEF I could get six to seven frames per second with a shutter speed of 160th of a second (set by camera in program mode, aperture at f/5.7, which the camera indicated with the lens wide open at its 120mm zoom setting). Because the day I had for outdoor testing was rather heavily overcast I could not check faster shutter speeds at ISO 200. I also really liked the exceptionally short shutter lag (the time between pressing the shutter release button and the capture of the image) of 37 milliseconds made capturing exactly the right instant very easy.

Beyond testing the camera for its speed capabilities, I also did some portrait-type photos to see how it handled various skin tones and photographed some lilies with very subtle pastel tones. I used the Nikon SB800 flash for some of these tests, studio flash for some, and natural daylight for others. Using the automatic white balance setting gave me excellent and accurate color in all of these tests. This almost makes the six sophisticated special white balance settings almost superfluous. Yes, you can set tungsten, direct sun, cloudy, shade, etc., but I never found that I needed to. Similarly you can set your own white balance based on color temperature in Kelvins should you need to do so.

The important thing with any digital camera is image quality, of course. Set for its highest resolution, the Nikon D2H produces images measuring 1,632 X 2,464 pixels. This translates into highest quality JPEG files from about 1.6 MB to about 2.1 MB in size, and NEF files of about 3.2 MB. This is at ISO equivalent 200, which I used for almost all of my test shooting for maximum quality.

I wanted to see how noisy images would be with the D2H and higher ISO equivalent speeds so I shot a series of tests of a flower arrangement. This allowed me to evaluate subtle colors at the different speeds as well as checking for noise overall and particularly in the black part of the background. I was surprised to see just how low the noise level was at ISO 1600. These tests were done with the cameraās noise reduction feature switched off because I wanted to know what its base response was without software intervention. I did my evaluations on the NEF files, although I saw no real difference between NEF and JPEG in quality.

Users of other Nikon cameras will have no trouble adapting to the D2H very quickly. Almost all of the controls are in the same places. Two control wheels, one under the shutter release button and one on the camera back directly behind it, are used to set just about everything. I found that going from the D100 that I normally use to the D2H was a matter of quickly going through the instruction manual and learning what a few buttons did. I was able to put the instruction book away after that and work quickly and smoothly with this new camera.

Model-Nikon D2h
List price-US$3999 (body)
Sensor res-4.0 megapixels
Image dimensions-2464x1632
Lens-N/A (Nikon F-mount)
Lens focal length-N/A
Shutter-1/8000 to 30 seconds
Exposure compensation-+/- 5.0 EV in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV steps
Storage-CF Card Type II (not included)
LCD screen-2.5 inch TFT, 211,200-pixel
Flash modes-auto/on/off/red-eye/slow sync
Viewfinder-optical high-eyepoint, 100%
Battery-Rechargeable Li-Ion packs
Weight-2.4 lb w/o batteries
Dimensions-6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4 inches
Included-Win/Mac software, cables, strap

Besides the fast shooting speed the other feature of the D2H, which greatly impressed me, is the 2.5-inch LCD monitor. It is exceptionally good, both in image quality and brightness, and I had no trouble seeing it when working outdoors. Nikon says it has 211,000 pixels. Iāll take their word for that. It is certainly sharp enough to actually evaluate image quality on the fly, particularly with its fast and simple zooming. You can also view histograms easily. The menus for setup and operation are easy to read and self-explanatory.

A couple of other features which may be of interest to some photographers are the voice memo feature which allows you to attach comments to images, and the built-in intervalometer for taking sequences of photos automatically at predetermined time intervals. A feature which I did not test but which sounds very interesting is the capability to transmit your photos to your computer wirelessly with the optional WT-1 Wireless Transmitter. Iāve seen this technology demonstrated with another Nikon camera and it worked very well.

The Nikon D2H is a very easy camera to love. I think if I did a lot of action photography I would put in my order right away, since demand is almost certain to exceed initial supply. This camera goes to the top of my list of cameras I have tested and really like.

öBob Shell



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