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Nikon unveils 12.21MP D2X digital SLR
Wednesday, September 15, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

Nikon today has unveiled the D2X, a higher-resolution sibling to the D2H and replacement for the 3-year-old D1X.

The D2X's core camera capabilities are nearly identical to the D2H, and the two models are near-clones in appearance too.

The big news is the CMOS sensor at the heart of the D2X. At 12.21 million pixels, D2X photos have roughly double the number of pixels of any current Nikon digital SLR. Nikon has stuffed all these image pixels into a sensor of about the same physical dimensions as the rest of their digital SLR lineup, making it DX-size (to use Nikon's nomenclature). This translates into the same 1.5x field of view magnification relative to 35mm film.

Note: Nikon's published information on the D2X seems to emphasize the camera's 12.4 million effective pixels, as opposed to the number of recorded pixels (ie the actual number of pixels in a full resolution photo), which is 12.21 million. As per our usual practice, the actual number of image pixels is what we've quoted throughout this report. This PDF document contains more information on the terminology that applies to the counting of pixels.

Thanks to simultaneous 4-channel data readout from the sensor, and efficient data processing from there, the D2X will shoot 12.21MP photos at a healthy 5 fps for up to 21 JPEG or 15 RAW NEF frames. While those specifications are impressive on their own, Nikon has added a twist: with Hi-Speed Crop mode enabled, the D2X will shoot 6.87 million pixel photos at 8 fps, for up to 35 JPEG or 26 NEF frames.

nikon_d2x_front.jpg
Nikon D2X

Hi-Speed Crop mode utilizes the centre portion of the CMOS sensor only, allowing for faster data readout in support of the 8 fps burst rate. The new Type-V focusing screen installed by default in the D2X has an inner rectangle etched on it that delineates the somewhat smaller capture area of the Hi-Speed Crop mode. In this mode, the field of view magnification climbs to 2x that of 35mm film.

nikon_d2x_viewfinder_1.jpg

Nikon D2X viewfinder showing Type-V focusing screen with the etched rectangle marking the perimeter of Hi-Speed Crop mode's capture area. The Hi-Speed Crop viewfinder indicator (located to the left of shutter speed) lights up as shown when this mode is enabled. The corners of the rectangle also flash briefly when the shutter button is half-pressed, to further remind the user that Hi-Speed Crop is active.

Building the working equivalent of two image sensors into one camera is way cool, though only some serious field testing will reveal whether it's practical as well.

Nikon has been beavering away not only on the D2X's high-resolution core, but also on adding a handful of other features too. For starters, GPS support is back. The D2X is also the company's first digital SLR to include in-camera multiple exposures, plus an innovative Image Overlay function that allows 2 NEFs to be blended together to create a third photo, right in the camera.

It's also possible in the D2X to select the Adobe RGB colour space for Color Modes I, II or III when shooting JPEGs or TIFFs (all previous Nikon digital SLR's restrict Color Modes I and III to sRGB only). And for use in certain direct printing applications, the sYCC colour space is employed.

For those who need to target a particular file size when shooting JPEGs, the camera offers a fixed file size option (this is the file size as stored on the Compactflash card, not the number of pixels in the photo), in addition to the Nikon-standard Fine, Normal and Basic compression levels (where the file size floats up or down based on the noise and detail in the photo being compressed).

Image playback has seen some attention too. Though the rear LCD monitor is 2.5 inches, the same as the D2H, the number of pixels has climbed from 211,000 to 235,000 (we hope it has also been adjusted to provide truer image brightness). The image review modes build on those found in the D2H, through the addition of 4 separate RGB, red, green and blue saturated highlights screens (the R screen, for example, only shows areas of the photo that are fully-saturated in the red channel), as well as a screen that contains four selectable histograms, one each for RGB, red, green and blue. Selecting one of the histograms shows the saturated highlights for that channel in a 1/4 screen size photo (as shown below).

nikon_d2x_multi-histogram.jpg

Combined histogram/saturated highlights display

The launch of the D2X also marks the first major revision in the 3D Color Matrix Metering functionality of the 1005 pixel RGB metering sensor since the F5. Dubbed 3D Color Matrix Metering II, the revamped ambient metering system is designed to better handle sand- and snow-type scenes in particular, and the new algorithm "diminishes incidents of washed-out highlights or lost details in shadow portions" overall, says a Nikon press release.

The remaining differences between the D2H and D2X include a different sensitivity range (ISO 100-800 in 1/3 stops, plus 1600 and 3200), a vertical AF-ON button that's been shifted slightly to fit inside a more-ergonomic contour in the vertical grip, a new World Time menu that allows the selection of time zone from a world map (or the automatic setting of same when a GPS unit is attached), a new History menu that displays recently-selected menu items, faster data throughput to the CompactFlash card slot and from the USB 2.0 port, optional secure writing to a future version of CompactFlash card from Lexar, a new indicator in the viewfinder information and on the top LCD (in addition to the focusing screen markings) when the Hi-Speed Crop mode is enabled and, last but not least, support for Nikon's new Wireless Transmitter WT-2/2a as well as the current WT-1/1a.

nikon_d2x_menu_03.JPG
World Time menu

nikon_d2x_menu_24.JPG
History menu

The rest of what makes up the D2X is pulled directly from the D2H, including Multi-CAM 2000 autofocus (including all the AF system changes introduced with the 2.00 firmware release for that camera), support for older D-TTL and newer i-TTL Nikon Speedlight flash units (with the same spiffy wireless multiple flash capabilities), a USB 2.0 port for tethered operation and miserly power requirements (battery life is expected to be long, long, long, as it is with the D2H).

nikon_d2x_rear.jpg

This preview report is broken down into two sections - an overview of the camera's features and a closer look at some of what's new in Nikon's first double-digit megapixel digital SLR.

Thanks to Steve Heiner, Nobu Sasagaki and Sig Hallgrimmson of Nikon for their assistance in the preparation of this article, and an extra large thanks to our own Eamon Hickey for gathering the menu screenshots, viewfinder photos and reporting his impressions of the camera.

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