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A preview of the Nikon D2H - Continued

Body Design

Squint your eyes and the D2H looks a lot like the original Volkswagen Golf. No? Well, how about the Delorean DMC-12, the car from the Back to the Future movies. Still not seeing it?

Okay, so Nikon's latest digital SLR doesn't look much like either automobile, but the Italian industrial designer who played a role in the look of these and many other cars in the past half-century also had a hand in the design of the D2H, as he did the F5 back in the mid-90's.

While Nikon hasn't detailed exactly how much involvement Giorgetto Giugiaro had in carving out the new shape and revamped controls of the D2H, what is certain is that no button was left unpressed in the quest to create the follow-on to the D1H.

From the front, from a distance, the D2H's lines are roughly the same as the camera it will replace. Closer inspection reveals that few areas on the camera's body haven't been touched by Nikon's scalpel. The result looks to be a camera that will be pleasing to hold and easier to operate than its predecessor.

nikon_d2H_front1.jpg
Nikon D2H

With the notable exception of the shutter release, just about every other button that can be pressed has been made larger and/or rounder, while the digital control layout on the back of the camera has been completely revamped (in an arrangement inspired more by the D100 than the D1H). The new layout and bigger buttons should remove the fussiness of zooming, changing white balance and performing other common functions that we associate with using the tiny buttons of the D1H. Even the lens release button is larger.

nikon_d2h_rear1.jpg
Nikon D2H - rear view

Other changes in basic functionality include:

  • nikon_d2h_multiselector.jpgThe 4-way multiselector of the D1H has given way to an 8-position multiselector that is not only more precise in its operation (the D1H's multiselector feels mushy by comparison), but also makes it possible to move through the camera's 11 AF areas diagonally, not just by row or column. The new multiselector actually has a 9th position, in the middle, whose function changes depending on whether the camera is in a playback or shooting state, and is programmable too. For example, when reviewing photos, the centre position on the multiselector can be used to toggle the display of the histogram overlay on and off.

  • Modifying file format settings, ISO, white balance, zooming and scrolling, making menu selections, protecting photos, it's all easier to do on the D2H, especially when wearing gloves.

  • The C-S-M focus mode switch has been moved onto the protruding portion of the camera's lens mount for easier mode changing.

  • Both the horizontal and vertical grips sport a main and sub-command dial, with the addition of a sub-command dial to the vertical grip of the D2H. This allows for control of both shutter speed and aperture, and/or exposure compensation for both, whether the camera is being held horizontally or vertically. The camera also includes an internal sensor that can detect the horizontal or vertical orientation of the camera and tag pictures accordingly. Nikon View 6.1, and other software tuned to interpret this tag, will automatically flip verticals upright.

  • nikon_d2h_func_button.jpgA new, programmable FUNC button, beneath the depth of field button (as shown at right), can be configured to perform a myriad of functions while held down. It can enable Flash Value Lock (FV-Lock), temporarily disable the flash, temporarily switch from one metering mode to another (from Matrix to Spot, for example), temporarily enable bracketing and more. This button is a cool idea.

  • The USB 2.0, audio/video out and power ports are now clustered together on the side of the camera. The two port covers close flush with the body and are meant to keep water out. The USB connector for the WT-1 wireless transmitter incorporates the same port cover, so the port should remain well sealed even when using the WT-1.

  • A new 4-position AF area mode selector has been tucked onto the back of the camera, beneath the multiselector.

  • The eyepiece cover is slightly recessed and locks in place. Whenever the built-in eyepiece shutter is open, the eyepiece cover is held snug, minimizing the risk of loss. Every pro photographer, regardless of the camera they use, has lost an eyepiece cover or two, making this a welcome if long overdue change. To remove the eyepiece cover, engage the small lever that closes the eyepiece shutter. The cover can then be twisted free.

  • An opaque white dome built into the newly-chiseled lines of the prism is the Ambience Light Sensor.

  • The primary rear LCD monitor has been moved to the centre of the camera's back, and is huge. We discuss the playback functions of the D2H elsewhere in this report.

  • A Custom Setting allows the Auto Meter-Off time to be adjusted to keep the camera's meter (really the camera itself) awake perpetually, in addition to 4, 6, 8 or 16 seconds. By comparison, holding down the BKT and AF-ON buttons as the camera is powered up sets the D1X and D1H to stay on for 30 minutes, but to keep these cameras live for longer than that required the use of a special remote-triggering cable or external power.

Not changed is the press once/press again Delete button. This is a good thing, since it should mean that the Nikon D2H, like the D1-series cameras, will still offer the quickest method of any digital SLR for deleting single images between plays at a sporting event. Also unchanged is the two-button card format shortcut for speedy access to the camera's format function.

Viewfinder

nikon_d2h_viewfinder.jpg
Nikon D2H - viewfinder

Peering through the viewfinder of the D2H immediately reveals some key differences. Staring back are 11 AF area marks, plus a new information display to the right of the viewing area that shows file format, ISO, white balance and whether the voice memo function is active. The lower display contains the usual suspects, including focus confirmation/electronic rangefinder, metering mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure mode, exposure compensation and more. New is a 5-segment battery gauge, tucked next to the metering mode indicator.

Both information displays are set some distance away from the viewing area, much as they are in the D1H (further away than it appears in the graphic above). The size of the viewfinder image seems comparable to that of the D1H as well, which isn't a surprise since the image sensors in both cameras are about the same size.

The D2H provides near-100% coverage of the picture-taking area, an eyepoint of 19.9mm (at -1.0m-1) and a built-in diopter adjustment. Also included is a built-in eyepiece shutter and, as mentioned, a locking, threaded eyepiece cover. The B-type Bright View Clear Matte Screen III included with the camera is interchangeable with an optional E-type finder screen with grid.

Sound Recording

Ever since we first used this feature on the humble NC2000 digital camera back in 1994 we've found it to be an essential image captioning assistant. We're glad to see it on a Nikon pro digital SLR for the first time. The D2H enables the recording of mono, WAV-format sounds of up to 1 minute in length. The maximum length for each sound clip is configurable, and each photo can have one sound associated with it (where the association is by a common filename but different .WAV extension).

nikon_d2h_sound.jpg
Rear view showing playback speaker, mic and sound record button

Sounds can be associated with the last photo taken, or with any photo on the card by displaying that photo on the rear LCD monitor first. The voice record button can be configured so that it records only while pressed, or so that one press starts recording, a second press stops it. The camera can be configured to automatically record sound after each photo as well.

Sound playback can be through Nikon View 6.1 or other software expressly written to recognize WAV format sounds and their association with a photo. Sounds can also be played back through a speaker connected to the D2H's video out port (which can be configured for audio only), as well as through a tiny built-in speaker. The D100's MB-D100 grip accessory includes a similar speaker, and its sound quality is both surprisingly good and reasonably loud. We imagine that the D2H's speaker will be comparable.

Though we can think of some serious uses for the built-in speaker, there's also room to have some fun with it, including the playback of "Help, I'm trapped in this camera" or similar clips around unsuspecting civilians.

Next Page: Sensor and Image Quality
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