DPS 3-5: Nikon D2X Survival Guide + D70s & D50 Announcement


DigitalPro Shooter Volume 3, Issue 5, April 23, 2005

California Poppies
Nikon D2X w 24-120VR
ISO 400
Welcome to DPS 3-5: Survival Guide to the Nikon D2X. Possibly
one of the best cameras ever made, the Nikon D2X is an amazing display of
photographic technology. But like any new camera it has plenty of wrinkles
and a few warts. After a month of shooting with the D2X we've assembled an
issue of DPS chock full of tips on how to get the most out of your new
camera, including everything from settings to debunking "urban legends" that
have already arisen around the D2X. We also provide a detailed review of
shooting wireless with Nikon's new WT-2 and the D2X.

This week also saw
the introduction of the D70s, the D50 and a Nikon D70 firmware upgrade which
we also cover. Plus Moose provides a great workflow tip for D70 and now D70s


Upcoming Events: We've still got openings on the added

trip (great for couples) and our

(which will feature large mammals, birds &
scenics, so something for everyone--couples welcome with special programs
for non-shooting spouses), so now's the time to get out and put into use all
those great skills you've been working on--or to make time to come on out
and learn those skills you wish you'd been working on! All Cardinal Photo
events now feature hands-on Photoshop training using images that we shoot
during the safari.

The Nikon D2X: A Survival Guide

Images: The Proof is in the Pudding

While I've been very happy with the image performance of all of my Nikon D-SLRs
and the overall image quality I've been able to get on large prints, the D2X
is the first one that really lets me feel my large prints can go toe to toe
with prints from medium format cameras and hold their own from a technical
perspective. Obviously I can't show you that here on the web, but Nikon is
certainly making it a point to show example large prints where ever they
show the D2X which will give you some idea. Perhaps most exciting is that it
is less work than with earlier cameras to generate those prints. The native
resolution reduces the need to fiddle with careful rescaling and I've found
I also need to do much less work on selective sharpening. In addition, the
native color is already rich & quite accurate as well as being complemented
by the most accurate flash & flash-lit color I've ever seen with a digital
The very high resolution does require a little more care. Reports on the web
of un-sharp images are probably in some cases related to the very small
pixel size and corresponding need for increased shutter speed to keep the
image sharp. Remember that almost any perceptible motion of the camera is
going to blur the image when you each sensor measures something like 1/6000
of an inch on each side.

The Auto-Focus controversy

I get asked several times each day "what about the auto-focus on the D2X.
I've heard it has problems." Realistically, I'm sure that out of the many
thousands of D2X cameras shipped there are some that have issues. But based
on my experience with lenses including the 12-24, 24-120VR, 70-200VR,
200-400VR and 600f/4 the D2X locks in as well or better than the D1/D1H/D1X
and while it might be a little slower than the D2H in some cases, it is not
by much. The only target I've had problems with is dark birds against a blue
or light sky. This is tricky for any camera, but the D2X doesn't seem to
handle it as well as the D2H.
One possibly important tip is the poorly documented (or at least poorly
explained) setting 4 under AutoFocus. When ON (the default for the D2X), the camera will stay locked on
its AF target even if something gets in the way. This is great if you're
shooting an athlete going behind an obstacle, but not so great if you want
the camera to lock on to whatever you are pointing at. I've turned mine off
to help me acquire focus as quickly as possible when subjects appear. Aside
from that I haven't had to do anything special to get my D2X to perform well
in a large variety of indoor and outdoor circumstances. I don't know, but I
suspect those reporting substantial AF issues have problems specific to
their particular camera, as there don't seem to be any substantial product
wide issues.

Buying Light

Light, by definition, is the most important element of photography
(creating with light). We spend thousands on fast lenses, speedlights and
studio lights and often wait hours or even days to get the right light in an
outdoor setting. So what if you could spend money to buy another stop of
light? What would it be worth? Based on my experience over the last 18
months, first with the D2H and even more so now with the D2X that is exactly
what Nikon has let us do. With first generation "D1" Pro D-SLRs (I include
the D1, D1X and D1H in that group), using any ISO setting over 200 was a
compromise in noise and color fidelity. With the latest cameras ISO 400 is
increasingly a no-compromise solution and even ISO 800 is remarkably better
than with earlier models.
Not entirely content to just believe my eyes and my clients' eyes on this, I
loaded up the excellent Imatest image analysis package and compared the
color fidelity and noise on a series of ColorChecker test shots ranging from
ISO 200 to ISO 3200. Since interpreting Raw files is a matter of preference,
I used in camera JPEGs with the camera set to Auto white balance, under an
even sunlight with slight haze. What I found was a surprise even to me.
There was virtually no loss of any meaningful image quality at ISO 400 and
nearly none even at ISO 800. Even ISO 1600, which I tend to only use for
indoor sports, tested very well and visually was almost identical. Only at
ISO 3200 was there really visible (and very visible in the test image)
increase in contrast and decrease in color fidelity. Another big difference
this test showed from prior D-SLRs was the sophisticated in camera noise
reduction. Some noise actually decreases as the ISO increases. That's a
great thing for color charts, where we're interested in optimizing the
evenness of color, but of course will cost you in edge detail. The best way
to see for yourself exactly what the noise reduction does for and to your
images is to shoot some Raw images and then tweak the Noise Reduction
settings in Capture and notice the results. Note that by default Capture
will turn on Noise Reduction for high ISO images because Nikon realizes it
is necessary to combat the inherent sensor noise in a 12+MP sensor.
For those who want to see all the nitty-gritty,

Speaking of Buying Light: Flash with the D2X

Endangered GKR
Nikon D2X
SB-800 & SB-600
The D2X has the best digital flash system I've ever used. When
used with the SB-800 or SB-600 (or both) it is at least as good as
the one on my D2H and possibly even a little better. The
accompanying image of an endangered and very nocturnal Giant
Kangaroo Rat (okay, so they're only two inches long and not really
rats, but they are endangered and quite cute) was made using my D2X,
an SB-800 with the new connection cord
for the SB-800, and a wireless SB-600.
The combination was faster and more accurate than any I've been able
to use over the years and finally did away with cabling intricacies
and the settings voo-doo that have accompanied previous attempts.
I'm looking forward to my next trip to Asia to re-capture images of
some of the nocturnal animals there that I struggled to photograph
with a D1 and SB-28.

High-speed Crop mode

I still really enjoy HSC (high speed crop) mode, but it does come with a
couple caveats. First, you've got to remember that you're shooting at twice
the normal focal length of the lens--about 1.5x for the "digital multiplier"
and about 1.5x for the crop mode. This gives you a very small effective
Depth of Focus and a very small tolerance for camera shake. So you'll need
to have plenty of shutter speed. Remember the old rule about 1/FocalLength
for your minimum shutter speed? It's not a bad idea to keep that in
mind--except that your focal length is twice that of your lens. Second, the
crop marks on the viewfinder, while well implemented, are a little tricky to
use. Your eye doesn't do as well noticing whether your entire subject is
inside the crop marks as it does keeping track of whether it is in the
viewfinder. The result is likely to be some "chopped" limbs until you get
used to allowing enough room. When in doubt remember you can always use the
"full sensor" mode and crop later.

Raw files & Software Support

Obviously shooting Raw files is a major reason that many photographers have
purchased the D2X. Many have been surprised by how excellent the JPEGs
are--given the camera's state of the art Auto white balance, low impact JPEG
compression and staggering native resolution--but Raw files are still "the
main event." Unfortunately the D2X Raw files have several obvious and
some not so obvious differences from previous raw files which have made
support from non-Nikon raw converters difficult.
In particular Nikon has begun encrypting (or "encoding" if you prefer) the "as shot" white balance
information, which has resulted in Adobe first delaying support for the D2X
until ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) 3.1 in late May and then stating that even then
it will not use the "as shot" data. The upshot will be that photographers
using ACR with D2X images (when it is available) will need to manually
adjust the white balance for all of their images
. Personally I like the
color rendition of Nikon Capture and the workflow of using Photoshop so I
really wish that Nikon would just make Capture a plug-in to Photoshop and
make it externally scriptable by image management applications (like
Photoshop is) and side-step the issue, at least for now.
We asked our 2500 forum regulars, almost all of whom own either Nikon or
Canon D-SLRs (mostly Nikon and mostly more than 1 each) what they thought.
Out of those who've responded, so far 89% think Nikon should document the
NEF file format, 7% think they should at least not encrypt it, and 4% figure
they should be allowed to do what they want with it
. The good news is that D2X Raw
files do have a nice large preview in them so there is less need to process
the NEF. And of course JPEG+Raw mode provides some of the best of both

Getting it right in the camera

Coastal Redwood
Nikon D2X
10 frame Vertical Pano
Hand held
Ever since Raw files were invented it has been tempting to point, shoot and
"fix it on the computer." With the D1X, D1H and D2H this worked relatively
well. In addition to the stop or two of latitude for exposure correction Raw
files from those cameras were unaffected by most cameras settings and were
easily corrected for white balance, tone and color space after the fact.
However, with the advent of the D2X, which features even more complexity in
its file format and in the image processing undertaken in the camera, it's
important to point out that it is still a good idea to get as close as you
can in the camera. This is particularly true if there are blown-out
highlights in the photo, like this 10-image vertical panorama of several
"tall tree" 300' California Redwoods.

Once the camera sets the white point
(white balance), then Raw file processors (I tried Capture, Bibble and Raw
Shooter Essentials) base their interpretation of the highlights on that
white point. As a result, attempting to warm the image up by changing the
White Balance on the PC caused a distinct and unpleasant color cast in the
highlights. This is not a new problem, and avoidable by not blowing out the
highlights, but a reminder that even with the latest technology it pays to
find a way to get the shot right in the camera when you can.

Storage, storage and more storage

With every JPEG+Raw image from the D2X consuming 20MB (and that is with
compressed Raw files), I've found myself filling up cards, portable storage
devices (like the Epson P2000) and my hard drives. Since I wrote about this
already in DPS 3-4, I won't belabor the point any further, but I do know
that many shooters, including myself, are going back to just shooting JPEGs
for many assignments to keep things smaller, faster & simpler. With the
color right out of the camera having gotten so good and Capture as well as
Bibble able to work with JPEGs now--plus the stumbles with Raw file software
for the D2X, they may be having a renaissance. In my case I usually wind up
shooting JPEG+Raw but often delete the Raw images (using Delete
Corresponding Raw image command in DigitalPro) for all but a few of my shots
that I might want to work on further in Photoshop. For the rest I just keep
& use the JPEGs.

Wireless with the WT-2

The good news for wireless shooters is that the WT-2 is a big step up from
the early to market WT-1. First and foremost, the configuration is easier
and more flexible--although it still requires many steps and some knowledge
of networks. Second, the WT-2 now supports 802.11g, with a theoretical
capacity of 54Mbps (Mega-bits per second) versus the 11Mbps of the WT-1.
However, you should note that you can only operate in "g" mode if you have
an access point. If you just connect "ad hoc" to your laptop or desktop
you'll be limited to "b" mode. Fortunately there are now "palm"-sized APs. I
own the D-Link version which I can even power off my USB port for field use
(see the New Product section below).
The Connection Wizard on the WT-2 walks you through the steps of assigning
an IP address to the camera (it can also use DHCP, which is a great
innovation), picking a wireless access point with which to connect (it was
easy to connect to my 802.11g access point even using the latest WPA/TKIP
security, which was a pleasant surprise), and then indicating the ftp server
you want to use. I started with the default ftp server that comes with
Windows XP (part of the IIS application--which is not always installed by
default by is on your Windows CD). Once I poked a hole in the firewall for
the ftp port (normally 21) ftp transfer worked flawlessly, and the camera
clearly indicated the transfer progress. To ensure maximum reliability I use
my Digital Camera Battery on the D2X to keep it alive while I'm using the
wireless mode.
Like all wireless connections, performance degrades quickly with distance.
Even with the EA (Extended Antenna), image transfers began slowing down as I
moved more than 20' from the base unit. At 5' from a dedicated access point
I could transfer images as fast as 1 Megabyte per second (about 7-8 seconds
for a JPEG, 11-13 seconds for a compressed NEF and 20 seconds for an
ucompressed NEF). When using the camera in a remote
location (monitoring a bird nest or feeder for example) I quickly decided to
use the "send JPEGs" only mode to make things move along faster, figuring I
could use the NEFs from the camera if I really needed them. At 50'-80' the
image transfer rate from the unit to a wired access point which also had an
antenna was about 400KBytes/second, or 20-30 seconds per JPEG or compressed
NEF--with a pause of about 5 seconds between the NEF & JPEG if I opted to
send both. The good news is that the camera firing is quite quick (as with
tethered shooting, it happens when you let the mouse up on the Shoot or
AF&Shoot button). For speed I pre-focused and only used the Shoot button.
Nikon has done a great job of recreating the camera display in Capture, so
you can see highlights ("blinkies") and the RGB Histogram as your images
arrive. And since you can also control the camera's settings you can
actually do something about it without having to manually re-visit the
camera site. This is a huge advantage over the original WT-1. Admittedly, I
could in many cases accomplish these same tasks using a very long Firewire
cable, but those exceed the official Firewire spec, so they sometimes have
their own problems and of course are often not practical. The one command I
wish Nikon had added was a setting to control whether the NEF or the
NEF+JPEG are sent, but that is not currently supported.
In ftp mode you still need to fire the camera manually or with a radio
remote. But another touted advantage of the WT-2 is the ability to control
it from your PC. The WT-2 supports PTP which allows 2-way communication. This is a slick alternative
to needing a radio remote & a wireless connection and operates the same
was as more traditional tethered shooting using Capture. The basic connection
parameters are all shared with the ftp mode, so it is only the specific PTP
pairing & operation that need to be defined. Pairing is a one time "security
connection" between a computer & the camera--much like Bluetooth devices
use. It is done with a special Wireless Connection Utility that Nikon ships
with the WT-2. Once you have paired the camera you can control it using
Nikon Capture 4.2 or later.  It took me some trial, effort and a call
to Nikon Support to get it to work. Fortunately David in Support cracked the
code. In my case I needed to press and hold the checkerboard button when
pairing the computer and camera for the first time. Just pressing &
releasing didn't do the job in my case, although Nikon has confirmed that
normally just pressing the pairing button should be enough.
Wide-area wireless: For many years I've thought that the "right" way to sell
digital cameras would be with some type of always on connection that could
wirelessly be sending images to "the net" as you shot them, so they would be
instantly available to you for processing, sharing and printing. Ironically,
except for a few demos by Philippe Kahn and LightSurf the industry was very
slow to address this issue from the camera side--while in the meantime the
cellphone industry has leapt into the camera+phone business in a big way.
One result is that Nokia and Motorola now produce far more cameras than
either Nikon or Canon. The camera makers have suffered from the lack of a
good way to send images. Only recently has the widespread availability of
wireless hot spots started to make interconnection feasible.

Now the
mind blowing part
(at least to me): With the WT-2, once I set the camera
to connect to a particular network, it painlessly and seamlessly sends my
images off as they are shot. And the destination no longer has to be local.
It can be any computer connected to the internet. With Internet hot spots
popping up all over, this means that I can be at any "un-wired" venue and
have my images whisked away to my studio as I take them--from anywhere in
the world. Obviously large publications and news organizations have been
setting up this capability for a long time using first generation wireless
devices and portable access points, normally with local editors on laptops,
but with the WT-2 the process has become simple enough and effective enough
that it is truly within the reach of any photographer who has a need.

Of course the WT-2 (and a D2X) are still very expensive tools and the
capabilities are still limited. But they show a very promising start into
the world of wide-area imaging for Nikon. Over time, if we are going to
continue to think of Nikon & Canon as imaging leaders they will need to
adapt to this new market aggressively and take a leadership position. I'd
look for point and shoot that can send image wirelessly to photo sharing
sites or via the cellphone network before too long. All the pieces are
already there for cameraphone owners or gadget savvy gurus, but have yet to
be packaged for the volume digicam owner.

The Bottom Line

As you've no doubt guessed by now, I really like my D2X and am very happy
I bought it. But something you may not have guessed is that it has also
helped me appreciate my D2H even more. On the one hand I can compare the
"dripping" detail on my large D2X prints favorably with those from a medium
format film camera while on the other hand when I look at my computer screen
or 8"x10" prints, those from the D2H measure up head to head with those from
the D2X. And the big bright pixels on the D2H still give me a nice solid
feeling about my images and their quality. I haven't shot with the D2Hs yet,
so I can't speculate on how much of an improvement over the now much cheaper
D2H it is.

Full Disclosure: As with my D2X, I bought my WT-2 and antenna,
although it is a lot of money for an accessory. In my case the business
justification has to do with the dynamics of remote wildlife photography.
With a radio remote I can fire the camera perfectly well, but have to return
to the site--possibly disturbing the animals I'm trying to photograph--to
retrieve the film card and review my images. With the WT-2, my laptop and
the D-Link pocket router I purchased to use with them I can review the
images as I shoot and even control the camera settings live. This greatly
increases my productivity in those situations as well as decreasing the
amount of stress on the animals.

, May
16-19, 2005

(maximum 7 shooters, 2 slots open)

(maximum 6, 2 openings).

See .



October 23-27, 2005 -- 
(maximum 7 shooters, 6 slots open)

12, 5 openings)

Nikon D50, Nikon D70s, D70
firmware, D-Link Portable Router

: For purists the D70s still only offers compressed NEF mode so it won't
be any more likely to find its way into your bag than the D70, but if you can
live with NEF compression (I've found I can) then the D70s is a great mid-life
"kicker" to the D70.

: A cost and weight reduced little brother to the D70, the D50 is targeted
at families. Nikon touts it as the "ultimate family camera" and is quick to
point out an array of "auto" features designed to generate the ultimate
in-camera image ready for direct printing or web use. At the same time, it
offers Raw (compressed) and Raw+JPEG and for those desiring more creative

Both cameras will require a new version of Nikon Capture (4.3) for Raw file
use, and ship with a new version of the Picture Project software (1.5). Nikon is
also announcing Picture Project In Touch, a software + service (through nikonnet)
that allows users to share images without emailing them.

Kudos to Nikon for announcing a firmware upgrade for the Nikon D70, featuring the improved AF system and some
of the menu system updates from the D70s. It's a great testament to their
customer focus that they are releasing this update to existing owners. It sounds
like it will be available around the same time as the D70s is shipping. This
announcement also
helps Nikon avoid the messy situation Canon found itself in when web sites
started posting how to hack the firmware on the original Digital Rebel to give
it many of the features of the 10D.

D-Link : This little gizmo is just too cute for
words. Barely larger than a flash card and capable of getting power from
your laptop's USB port, it can act as an 802.11g Access Point, Router or
wireless client. For field use with the WT-2 it is almost essential--because
without an access point the WT-2 can only operate in the much slower 802.11b
mode. The configuration screens aren't the best I've seen for a router, but
they're manageable and the device pretty much works out of the box. The mode
can be set with a three position switch on the bottom, which is much nicer
than needing to connect to the device to change it from your computer.

DigitalPro Tip

Courtesy of : The
D70 and D70s allow shooting Raw+Basic JPEG, so for those of you with those
cameras who want the full Raw+Fine JPEG capability of their more expensive
siblings, you can shoot Raw (saving space and time) and later batch process them
in Nikon Capture--remembering to leave the file name the same--into JPEGs. The
pair can be used with JPEG+Raw mode in DigitalPro, just like when you shoot them
in the camera, but now you've got a full quality JPEG for your use.

Pro Shooters LLC has released DigitalPro 3.1, with full support for the Nikon
D2X and Nikon D2Hs, plus added support for portable storage devices such as the Epson P2000.
You can download it from . Version 3.1 is a free upgrade to licensed users of version 3.0.

If you have a hot tip or news item for DigitalPro Shooter,
write us at . If
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Good shooting!

--David Cardinal, editor DigitalPro Shooter

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