NIKON D2X Review – Hefty Camera with Lots to offer

Professional DSLR (digital single-lens reflex)
Sensor: 12.2-megapixel CMOS (4,288 x 2,848pixels)
Lens: Interchangeable
Shutter: 30-1/8,000 seconds, plus B, flash sync speed 1/250 seconds
ISO range: 100-800, HI-1 and HI-2 (equivalent to ISO 1,600 and 3,200 respectively)
Exposure modes: P, A, S, M
Viewfinder: Optical, 2.5in external LCD (liquid-crystal display)
Battery: EN-EL4 1,900mAh rechargeable lithium-ion
Storage: CompactFlash (CF)
Interface: USB 2.0 and video-out
Other features: 5-frames per second continuous shooting, 8fps in High Speed Crop mode, X-Sync socket, remote control socket
Dimensions: (w x h x d): 15.7 x 14.9 x 8.5cm
Weight: 1,150g
Price: $300 (

YOU know, there’s just something about carrying around a camera as large and as expensive as the Nikon D2X.

Camera store owners are suddenly extremely nice. So, this is how it feels to drive a Porsche or BMW.

The D2X isn’t just a looker (the camera is partially designed by Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro). With 12.2-megapixels, and a continuous shooting speed that is between 5fps and 8fps (depending on mode), the D2X offers both torque and speed, so to speak.

Oh yes, the camera also has a price to match (see specs box).

Since this product is targeted at professionals, this D2X review will be a little more in-depth than the usual digicam reviews, as we’ll deal with issues that are specifically of interest to professionals.

First off, although Nikon’s literature on the D2X says it’s “12.4-megapixels,” the camera is actually a 12.21-megapixel camera, producing images that are 4,288 x 2,848pixels in size.

The image sensor on the D2X is an all-new Sony-made, CMOS-based (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) sensor which complies with the usual Nikon “DX format,” that is it’s 1.5x smaller than a 35mm film frame.

This means that any lens used will have a 1.5x “crop factor,” so for example, an 18mm lens used on the D2X would have the same relative coverage as a 27mm lens in 35mm film cameras.

This is great for telephoto lenses, since a 200mm would have the same coverage as a 300mm lens on the D2X, but not so great if you want a really wide-angle shot, since it would effectively reduce your angle of view by quite a bit.

However, Nikon has addressed this problem somewhat by introducing a number of “DX” designated wide-angle lenses (such as the 12mm-24mm DX Nikkor) which are designed to give coverage equivalent to what you would get with lenses for 35mm film cameras.

The other potential disadvantage of the smaller sensor is that since the photo sensors have to be smaller to get packed into a tinier space, the noise level could be higher as each smaller pixel gathers less light. (Check out our noise tests in the sidebar).

Using the D2X is a dream – you get a camera built like a tank – the external shell is made up of magnesium alloy, the handgrip is covered in rubber and all joints are sealed against water and dust.

In terms of looks, the D2X is almost identical to the D2H and weighs about the same too.

However, there are a number of subtle exterior improvements to the overall design – for example, the flash sync (X-Sync) socket and the remote socket screw-in covers can actually be stowed away in the rubber door that covers the video-out and power adaptor sockets.

In previous Nikon cameras, these screw-in covers were one of the first things to be lost because they were so tiny.

Now, that’s attention to detail.

Press the shutter release and your images zip into focus extremely quickly, followed by a nice “thunk-click” of the mirror and shutter.

The counterweighted shutter helps minimise vibration and is a real boon when using slow shutter speeds.

In Continuous High shooting mode, the camera can fire off a fast 5fps of NEF (Nikon’s proprietary RAW file format) files for up to 15 consecutive images, while in High Speed Crop mode, the speed goes up to 8fps for up to 26 images in NEF format.

JPEG shooting speeds are roughly the same, and in both cases, the complexity of the scene and the ISO setting will also determine how many shots can be fired off in a single burst.

The colour TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD on the back of the camera is a very large 2.5 inches and, like all DSLRs, can only be used to view an image after you’ve shot it.

One thing I really liked about playback mode is that in zoomed-in image mode you can switch to the next or previous image by rolling the main command dial (the thumbwheel) and the camera will remember the position and zoom level of the last image and apply it to the next image as well.

This is useful if, say, you shoot a number of identical or nearly-identical shots with the camera and you want to check focus or depth of field on this series of pictures at a specific area of the image and at a specific zoom level.

In fact, I found myself taking advantage of this feature quite a lot when shooting a series of portraits, just to make sure the all-important eye area was in focus.

Oh yes, one gripe professionals have had with modern Nikon cameras is that most camera bodies were not compatible with old manual focus Nikon lenses – you could shoot a picture, but you’d get no metering whatsoever.

Well, I’m glad to say that the D2X carries over the D2H’s ability to get Matrix metering with manual focus lenses, although the catch is that you have to manually set the focal length and aperture of the manual lens you are currently using in the camera’s menus.

By the way, the D2X uses the same Multi-CAM2000 focusing module as the D2H, with 11 focusing points, although according to the literature, the focusing algorithms have been improved.

The same goes for the so-called 3D-Color Matrix Metering II – although the same 1,005-pixel RGB (Red, Green and Blue) metering sensor as the D2H and D70 is used, the software processing has been improved to make better sense of the data received from the metering sensor.

All important settings like ISO, white balance, image quality and metering mode have dedicated buttons so you can quickly access them without having to wade through layers of menus, and, like all professional cameras, there’s also a vertical shutter release for when you tilt the camera on its side to shoot pictures in portrait orientation.

The D2X also comes with loads of custom functions and settings which you can use to get the camera working just the way you want it – there’s an extensive list here that would fill up an entire article of its own.

For example, if you’re a traditionalist, you can even set the camera to work just like an old-style SLR, using the aperture ring (for Nikon lenses that still have it) to set the aperture instead of using the command dial.

One of the more useful custom functions is to map High-Speed Crop mode (more on this later) to the multifunction button on the front of the camera, so that you can quickly enable the mode by just holding down the button and rolling the thumbwheel to engage the mode.

Battery life was very good. With the supplied EN-EL4 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, I took a trip to the Butterfly Farm and shot some 300 to 400 shots with the camera over the course of four or five hours. By the end of the shoot, I still had about two-thirds battery power left!

I’d say that for most professionals, having a second fully-charged battery on hand should easily get them through a day of extremely heavy shooting.

One unusual feature of the D2X is that it features a mode called High Speed Crop which allows you to shoot pictures using only the central portion of the total 12.2-megapixel image outlined as a rectangle in the viewfinder.

Since it only uses the central portion of the image, the output is just 6.8-megapixels.

Okay, but isn’t that the same as shooting a whole 12-megapixel image and then cropping it yourself later?

Well, not quite.

You see, switching to High Speed Crop mode bumps up the default 5fps continuous shooting speed to 8fps, which is especially useful for sports photographers who need more speed rather than more megapixels when trying to capture fast action shots.

Switching to High Speed Crop mode also has another benefit for sports photographers – the crop image has a 2x crop factor rather than the normal 1.5x, which effectively doubles the focal length of the lens in use, so say, a 300mm lens will now be effectively a 600mm lens instead of just a 450mm lens in normal 12-megapixel mode.

Again, you could argue that if you don’t need the speed, you could shoot at 12.2-megapixels and then crop later, but in the actual workflow, most sports photographers are not bothered or do not have the time to actually sit down and crop images before they are sent to the editor.

Besides the usual features found in professional cameras like depth-of-field preview and auto-exposure bracketing, the D2X also introduces a couple of new features never before seen in Nikon DSLRs until now, namely Multiple Exposure mode and Image Overlay.

Multiple Exposure mode allows the D2X to shoot anything from two to 10 shots on a single frame and works when shooting in both JPEG as well as NEF file formats.

While common in film cameras for years now, the ability to shoot multiple exposures on a single frame are not usually found in digicams, with the notable exception of the Fujifilm S2Pro (and S3Pro).

Image Overlay mode works much like multiple exposure mode, but in this case it allows you to merge two separate images together after you’ve shot them as separate images.

After merging two separate shots, Image Overlay allows you to save the image as either a new NEF file, or as a JPEG or TIFF.

The only catch is that Image Overlay mode only works when shooting in NEF.

Of course, with a little Photoshop magic, you can actually produce the same effects as Image Overlay and Multiple Exposure but it’s nice to have it built right into the camera.

The question that’s probably on everyone’s lips is, “Do you get better quality for the price?”

The simple answer is yes, you do. The Nikon D2X scores where it matters most – resolution, picture quality and metering.

As far as resolution goes, the D2X is definitely head and shoulders above any 6-megapixel camera and comfortably ahead of most 8-megapixel DSLRs. (see sidebar).

I have to say that there is a noticeable, if subtle, difference in metering on the D2X when compared with the D70.

Comparing shots taken at identical focal lengths using the same lens, the D2X generally got slightly better exposures than the D70 in tricky lighting, producing shots that were exactly as I imagined almost every time.

This is saying a lot, since the D70’s 3D-Color Matrix Metering is already one of the best light meters I’ve ever used.

The Auto White Balance was also noticeably better than the D70 – while the D70 only used information from the metering sensor to measure white balance, the D2X (like the D2H) uses a combination of the metering sensor and a separate sensor located just under a little opaque window on the top of the pentaprism.

All I can say is that I only needed to second-guess the camera’s built-in Auto White Balance on very rare occasions.

The general rule of thumb for digital cameras is that as the pixel count goes up, so does the noise level at high ISO settings.

Considering that the D2X has actually much smaller pixels packed into the same amount of space as the D70, noise performance was surprising indeed – we found that in general, the D2X and the D70 had comparable noise characteristics at the same ISO settings.

By the way, the D2X has two forms of noise reduction which you can turn on – one for exposures with very slow shutter speeds and the other kicks in when higher ISO settings (400 and up) are used.

The High ISO noise reduction has three settings – Off, Normal and High.

The High setting of course performs a more aggressive noise removal, though at the expense of losing detail. (See sidebar for noise test results).

There’s no other conclusion you can come to with the Nikon D2X except that it’s an excellent camera.

Unlike the D2H (and the upcoming D2HS) which is really targeted towards print journalists, the D2X is more general-purpose. It is equally comfortable in a wedding photographer’s arsenal (where images need to be printed large) as it is in the sports photographer’s bag (where High Speed Crop Mode comes into play).

The only area where the D2X is not going to be welcome is if you need a small camera to carry around to shoot candids on the street – unless you’re in a war zone where practically everybody either carries a gun or a camera, the sheer size of the D2X is likely to be quite intimidating.

Pros: Fast; high resolution; very easy to use; feature-packed; High Speed Crop Mode.

Cons: Heavy; noise levels, though low, are a little higher than the competition.