Nikon D2X Digital Camera Reviewed

by Bjørn Rørslett  

9. Summing Up

In my opinion, Nikon D2X heralds the end of 35 mm film for virtually all shooting assignments for a Nikon user. You get an image quality unsurpassed by today's or even tomorrow's film-based technology for the venerable 24 x 36 mm format. This is the first DSLR used by me which can rendered wide sweeps of landscape with tangible and breathtaking clarity of detail. However, any camera system descending from 35 mm stock inherits a limit to the detail which can be captured for landscape work, because of the relatively short focal lengths typically deployed with these cameras. Short focal lengths translate into low magnification and implies details also will be rendered small. So landscape work is still a domain in which larger format cameras prevail by virtue of their bigger capturing areas and the accompanying longer focal lengths. This is not something particular to Nikon DSLR, it applies to other makers' offerings as well. That being said, D2X is certainly capable of bringing forth whatever detail the currently mounted lens can deliver.

D2X is also the most unforgiving image recording instrument I've ever used. If there is any optical flaw or aberration of the image projected by your lens, the D2X will show the defect with merciless clarity. Chromatic aberration (CA) will become a catchword of nightmarish importance, if you want to produce poster-sized prints. Lenses you believed were just about perfect will suddenly appear devoid of their former splendour, whilst the real optical gems will take on a magical shine on their own.

If you rely on sloppy and haphazard shooting techniques, D2X will teach you a lesson you'll not likely to forget. Put simply, this is a pinnacle in terms of its imaging achievement and not every photographer will be able to scale that obstacle. On the other hand, its innate quality and dynamic range may nevertheless save the day.

Pastoral Oak Tree at Dusk

When you commit the inevitable user error, D2X can come to the rescue. Here, the camera was unintentionally left on "M" setting so it didn't adjust its exposure properly to the rapidly fading light of this pastoral scene. The night skies together with peripheral areas of the ground are underexposed at least 4 stops.
Even from such a grossly underexposed image, you can get a satisfactory end result

Nikon D2X, AFS-Nikkor 17-35 mm f/2.8 lens, 25 sec exposure at f/8, 100 "ISO"

© Bjørn Rørslett/NN

The arrival of the current top model, D2X, means we finally can evaluate Nikon's approach to digital photography and the efforts to make DX their "new" standard for digital photography.

The DX format has shown real muscle with the introduction of the D2X, transcending the quality expectation for this tiny format. Pitched against the reigning DSLR champion, Canon 1 DS Mk.II, D2X comes out on top with better performance in nearly all aspects. This shows that Nikon's approach to digital SLR technology with focus on the "DX" format, stubborn and seemingly in conflict with the current perception of "full frame" as the only viable solution, in the end might just be the more prudent move after all.

You can get truly impressive and stunning image quality from a D2X shot, but this - obviously - requires using the best lenses from the vast arsenal available in "F" mount. Without changing their long-standing camera bayonet mount, Nikon has managed to develop telecentric designs for their widest angle lenses, so some inherent drawbacks of current digital recording technology (vignetting and chromatic flaws into the corners of the frame) can be addressed or circumvented. The resolving capacity of D2X, however, clearly shows that although vignetting issues are solved, some vestiges of chromatic aberration are unavoidable despite all the optical wizardry poured into these modern designs. Whether or not this is objectionable depends largely on the scene captured by the camera, and the degree of enlargement you plan for the image. Because CA is more clearly defined on D2X images, it should be easier to remove as well. The affected image areas with CA issues do not "bleed" into the neighbouring pixels to the extent we see with lesser cameras. Also noteworthy is that the CA issue is not between DX vs non-DX lenses per se, but might be lens specific. Thus, AFS 17-55 DX does have slightly more CA at 17 mm than the legendary AFS 17-35 Nikkor, the latter of which is non-DX. However, for the very short focal range the DX lenses really show the advantage of their telecentric design. One just have to shoot with 12-24 DX set to 14 mm vs the 14 mm f/2.8 Nikkor to realise this.

For the longer focal lengths, most quality lenses from 28 up to 135 mm should perform well on the D2X. Older telephoto lenses, those manual ED-IF lenses with the classic 8/6 (elements/groups) optics, can be expected to show some corner CA as well, in particular if used with teleconverters, so you should deploy the new generation AFS/AFS-VR in order to extract maximum image quality from the D2X with them. Alternatively, you can familiarise yourself with post-processing correction software such as the freely available PanoTools.

I feel time, unavoidably and unequivocally, now has come to include the post-processing software as an integrated part of the entire photographic workflow, to an extent where the final touching-up of the image is left to the computer software. After all, when the EXIF metadata tells the software all there is to know about the shooting and the lens employed, surely the program can rearrange the pixel data to minimise any residual aberration. As an extension of this we should urge the manufactures to publish the correction data openly, to the benefit of the digital photographer community and software companies in general.

Meanwhile, fire up your Capture software and enjoy the impressive image quality now within reach with the Nikon D2X. This will be my personal bread-and-butter camera for nearly every conceivable application in the near future. Nikon's digital cameras have, at last, come of age. It remains for the photographer to make his or her visions come alive with the excellent D2X tool now at hand. At least you have probably the best performing DSLR available today.



Several people helped me complete this review article. Thanks go to the staff at Interfoto (Norwegian national Nikon importer and dealer) for giving me access to production-level cameras at an early stage, to Kai E. Jensen for his assistance in conducting the shoot-out between Nikon D2X and Canon 1 DS Mk.II, to Ola-E. Hofshagen for his critical reading and analysis of the manuscript, and to my girl friend Ruth Eckhoff for much needed moral support during the strenuous last stage of writing.

Nikon D2X Reviewed

| To Top | Far Side | Gallery | UV | IR |Lenses | Links | Personal | Professional | *Reviews | Start |

Last update 26 February, 2005