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D2Xs replaces D2X as Nikon's flagship digital SLR - Continued

Focus Tracking with Lock-On delay now configurable In the D2X, it's possible to enable or disable the Focus Tracking with Lock-On algorithm via a Custom Setting. When it's enabled, the camera will continue to track a moving subject even when a new subject, like a referee, passes through the active AF area briefly. In the D2Xs, the Lock-On feature can also be turned off or on; when on, the time the camera will wait before shifting focus to the new subject is now configurable in three increments: Long, Normal or Short (the actual delay times aren't specified).

Our experience with Canon 1-series digital SLRs that have a similar option is that being able to fine-tune the delay is incredibly useful for some sports, and certainly more useful for us than turning off the delay altogether (doing so in the D2X can really make the camera's autofocus feel skittish when shooting field sports with long telephoto lenses).

Autofocus performance improved A Nikon technical document cites three changes in the autofocus algorithms of the D2Xs:

  • Improved tracking of moving subjects
  • Increased subject acquisition rate when using Dynamic-Area AF
  • Fewer instances of the lens hunting for focus

Additional ISO increments between 800 and 1600 (aka H 1) The D2Xs' ISO 100 - 3200 range is the same as the D2X. Also as before, ISO increments above 800 are referred to as the HI settings (actually, as the H settings in the D2Xs). H 1 is ISO 1600 and H 2 is ISO 3200. New in the D2Xs are additional increments between ISO 800 and H 1: H 0.3 and H 0.7 (plus H 0.5 when CSM b2, ISO Step Value, is set to 1/2 step increments).

The additional increments should make it easier to choose the optimum ISO setting for available light shooting. Since the D2Xs employs the same sensor and pixel processing as the D2X, it promises to be similarly noisy in the upper ISO region. Being able to avoid the full step jump to ISO 1600, when a touch more than ISO 800 is all that's needed for an assignment, should help with image noise management in the D2Xs.

Maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed options added to ISO Auto Now, it's possible to set the highest ISO setting the ISO Auto function will select, in full steps between 200 and 800, when it determines that the current combination of ISO and exposure settings won't get the job done. Working in concert with the maximum ISO option is one that controls the minimum shutter speed. The range is 1 second to 1/250, in full stop increments.

Maximum Shots setting increased to 60 frames Most Nikon digital SLRs to date have had fairly generous memory buffers, regardless of the file format chosen, and the D2X has been no exception. The D2Xs retains the same ample memory buffer of its predecessor, but CSM d2, maximum shots in a continuous burst, now tops out at 60 frames rather than the D2X's 35.

Enabling Long Exposure Noise Reduction no longer reduces burst depth In the D2X and all other current Nikon digital SLRs, switching on Long Exposure Noise Reduction in the Shooting menu reduces the burst depth considerably, even when shooting at shutter speeds shorter than the long exposure noise reduction threshold. In other words, it has only been practical in the world of Nikon to switch Long Exposure Noise Reduction on just prior to capturing long exposures, then switching it off again afterwards. The D2Xs dispenses with this minor foible: now, switching on Long Exposure Noise Reduction has no impact on burst depth when making short exposure pictures. This means it can be left on all the time by most shooters, since it will only affect the capture and processing of pictures when the shutter speed slows to a 1/2 second or longer.

Not changed is Long Exposure Noise Reduction processing, which requires an amount of time about equal to the exposure time and which also prevents the camera from shooting the next frame until processing is complete.

Higher-capacity EN-EL4a battery The D2Xs will be powered by the EN-EL4a, a higher-capacity version of the 11.1V, Lithium-Ion EN-EL4 that Nikon has supplied with the D2X, D2H and D2Hs. The EN-EL4a is rated at 2500mAH, for a Nikon-specified 3800 frames, up from the D2X's 2600 frames with the 1900mAH EN-EL4.

Battery life with the D2X is already tremendous; the increased capacity of the D2Xs' EN-EL4a will only improve what was already a good thing.

The EN-EL4a is compatible with the D2X, D2Hs and D2H also, and can be charged by Nikon's Quick Charger MH-21 (the charger bundled with these cameras and the D2Xs too). We don't know if Nikon plans to begin shipping the D2Hs with the EN-EL4a in place of the EN-EL4.

Number of custom tone curves jumps from one to three In the D2X, it's possible to load one custom tone curve. The D2Xs bumps this up to three.

Black and white mode The D2Xs gains a black and white shooting mode; when the D2Xs is set to TIFF or JPEG, the black and white pictures are converted to sRGB right in the camera.

Heading information added to GPS data When a GPS unit is connected, the D2X will insert into the picture metadata the altitude, longitude, latitude and UTC time. The D2Xs adds heading information to the GPS metadata stored; the purpose is to record the compass bearing of the camera at the time the picture is taken.

About this new bit of GPS metadata the D2Xs user guide has this to say: "The compass bearing is only recorded if the GPS device is equipped with a digital compass. Keep the GPS device pointing in the same direction as the lens and at least 20 cm (8 in.) from the camera."

Additional autofocus and VR data displayed on rear LCD The D2Xs features a new entry on the first of the shooting data "pages" on the rear LCD. The entry notes the autofocus mode and, when a Nikkor VR lens is used, whether vibration reduction was on or off and possibly which VR mode (Normal or Active) was selected as well.

FUNC button functionality is expanded In the D2X, CSM f4 is used to configure the function performed by the FUNC button when it's held down, or held down while one of the camera's two Command Dials is turned. As a result, the FUNC button can only serve one purpose in the earlier camera.

The D2Xs splits up the FUNC button's capabilities across both CSM f4 and f5. The former dictates what the button does when held down; the latter dictates what will happen when the button is held down and a Command Dial is turned. In this way the D2Xs FUNC button can be made to serve two functions. For example, to engage FV Lock when pressed, and to switch in and out of Hi-Speed Crop mode when pressed and the Main Command Dial is turned.

In-camera trimming The D2Xs can produce a downsampled JPEG copy of a selected photo and write it to the CompactFlash card, for quicker uploading to an FTP server over a WT-2/WT-2A wireless link or other workflow where a reduced resolution file is needed. The source can be a NEF, TIFF, or JPEG, and there are five different output size options (all of which have an aspect ratio that is different than the native aspect ratio of D2Xs pictures):

  • 640 x 480
  • 960 x 720
  • 1280 x 960
  • 1920 x 1440
  • 2560 x 1920

A crop rectangle appears over the source photo, which can then be moved about with the multiselector to frame up the portion of the picture you want in the downsampled copy. In certain Coolpix cameras that have a similar feature it's also possible to zoom in on the source photo, but that capability either wasn't yet working in the non-final D2Xs body we tried or zooming isn't planned for the D2Xs' trimming feature.

Hold On: A socket has been added to the left of the USB port on the D2Xs to enable the attachment of a new USB cable locking clip. (Photo courtesy Nikon)

USB locking clip included The D2Xs will ship with a locking clip for securing a USB cable to the USB port. The camera has an additional small socket, to the left of the USB port, that holds the locking clip to the body. As a result, this locking clip will not mate to other Nikon digital SLR cameras.

Recent Settings menu can be cleared, locked Nikon has added to the D2Xs the ability to lock down or clear the entries in the Recent Settings menu. This effectively enables Recent Settings to act like a favourites menu, if desired: first clear all existing entries, then navigate about to the eight menu items you'd like to see semi-permanently in Recent Settings, then lock the list.

If you've ever struggled to find a setting in a newer pro digital SLR, with their myriad of configuration options, you'll almost certainly appreciate this feature of the D2Xs.

D2Xs settings can be saved and loaded within the camera The D2Xs can store a settings file to a CompactFlash card that contains the current state of the camera. Virtually all settings under the Shooting, Custom Setting and Set Up menus are stored, plus some of the settings under Playback as well. This settings file can be loaded into the same or another D2Xs body. While Nikon Capture has a save and load settings feature of its own, the range of camera parameters stored by the D2Xs' built-in feature is far more extensive, as well as more convenient to use.

Sensor cleaning mode no longer requires an AC adapter The sensor cleaning mode of the D2Xs, in which the mirror and shutter remain open, no longer requires the camera be connected to an external power source such as the EH-6 AC Adapter. The D2Xs will check the state of the battery to ensure it has enough power to remain in sensor cleaning mode for a suitable period of time, and will refuse to enter this mode if it judges that the battery has insufficient charge.

Image verification possible with new Image Authentication software With image authentication enabled in the D2Xs' Set Up menu, RAW, JPEG and TIFF photos taken with the camera can be verified as unaltered in Nikon's new Image Authentication software. More information on that is in a separate story.

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