Nikon D2Hs review

Started Aug 10, 2005 | User reviews thread
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Daniel Bliss Senior Member • Posts: 1,917
Nikon D2Hs review

Overall very impressive. This is my first digital camera of any kind -- as a newspaper reporter/photographer I was still on film when I decided on a career change and grad school set my plans back a bit! This is actually a replacement for a defective D2H (all kinds of problems affecting the AF motor and image playback, then an unfinished repair followed by a botched repair involving damage to the camera, and also the emergence of a clump of red hot pixels, at which point Nikon threw in the towel and replaced it) so I can give some comparison.

Most important is rock solid color consistency from 200 through 1600 compared to the D2H which tails off the saturation above 800, closely followed by a vast improvement on high ISO noise to market-leading levels, in turn closely followed by a vast improvement in how it renders the kinds of things prone to near-IR light pollution (e.g. black nylon under flash).

This is also the best designed pro camera on the market, and all the nice little ergonomic touches reveal Nikon inventoried the little niggles from the D2H (CF door didn't open far enough, AF lock button on the vertical grip was in the wrong place and so on) and fixed them. Nice to have built in help as well.

4MP for me partly because of cost, and partly because I did not want to massively upgrade my computer equipment at this point, and partly because for my style of photography higher resolution is overkill, but higher ISO is desperately needed. This camera provides it and milks a lot from every pixel. Presumably Nikon's next agenda item for this camera is a boost in resolution, perhaps to 6 or even 8 megapixels so as to give a bit of cropping room and so on, but at such point as they do this, let's hope they don't dilute anything else. The noise on the LBCAST sensor is good enough now that the newly added high ISO noise reduction is almost redundant; I usually switch it off. The dynamic range on this sensor is also great; DR is a big reason I had hesitated so long on digital. Both noise and DR are going to be very important to maintain with the next release.

AF is superlative, and I like how on all the D2 series cameras Nikon has actually slightly slowed down the AF screwdrive while apparently increasing the torque; this is the first AF camera I've had that did not have the habit of overshooting with AF and then jerking the lens around and also the first one with truly quiet AF regardless of the lens. I figure the torque is high because AF performance is extremely consistent from lens to lens.

I also like the nice saturated color. I have shot Fuji film for almost 20 years and this is the logical successor to Fuji film. If you prefer Kodak you might find things a bit much.

Lastly, the camera holds wide contrast ranges quite well. This is something I was worried about with digital, but I think it is holding its own with E-6 slide.

UPDATE: after a year of use, a few more observations.

1. "Off" in Nikon noise-reduction language means "low" in plain English. So that's how I've gotten away with that particular one. Still, it does a nice job.

2. I've grown to like JPEG performance more. It really does save work in terms ot dealing with noise, and one thing I did not mention in the original interview is that it is in JPEG where this camera's biggest gains over the D2H have occurred, better than a one-stop improvement on noise. Highest safe territory in JPEG was 640 on the D2H -- it's 1600 on this camera. The edge detail concern I have of primary colors on a dark background is still an issue. Remember with reds especially to put the camera into Adobe RGB rather than sRGB so you don't blow half of it out of gamut.

3. The RAW IQ gains over the D2H are more modest but it still does produce more consistent color for me and remember the in-camera noise reduction applies in post, if you choose the right raw converter. But beware -- there is a big difference in RAW converters. If you try to run D2HS raw files through Bibble, you WILL need Noise Ninja or something similar at high ISO, just as you would with a D2H (I use Noise Ninja as an example because it is bundled in Bibble). Capture does all it really needs to do without dealing with a separate noise reduction application as it applies the camera's in-camera noise reduction feature, which the D2H does not have. Beware, though -- the D2HS will kick you in the tail for underexposing, just as the D2H did. Of course you're less likely to underexposure with the D2HS because the meter exposes a little more rich (and with the more powerful matrix metering in the D2HS, is less likely to be thrown off the scent by awkward lighting).

4. White balance improvements over the D2H help with image quality. And I also suspect they did indeed change the low-pass filter to something with a more pronounced IR cutoff; I don't recall a purple-black issue under bad light, and the skin tones are effortless to deal with.

Problems:

On a camera this expensive I'm going to be super picky, so here goes; if you're spending this kind of money you should be aware of the limitations. I start with JPEGs, by far the biggest issue, and then continue to some other problems.

1. JPEG quality is a disappointment, so I can't give the perfect score on image quality that this camera really should have (RAW alone gets 5-plus, JPEG basic and normal get a four, JPEG fine gets a 2.5 -- UPDATE increased to 3.5). Basic and Normal are what you'd expect, but Fine is not the big step up it should be, and transitions from reds to darker backgrounds are nasty and look like the camera is cutting the resolution in half along the edge; there are similar but much less noticeable issues on bright blue (to a dark background) and bright yellow (to white). The JPEG conversion is much, much better in View or Capture than in camera, so unless you're shooting for a newspaper in which case it doesn't matter unless you're running a six column photo or something, just shoot RAW and batch process into JPEG.

UPDATE: after a year of use, the in-camera JPEG engine performs quite well in practice on fine-large, just beware of edge detail issues with primary colors on a dark background. None of the firmware updates have properly addressed the edge detail issue; but in practice this does not often cause trouble, certainly not as much as I anticipated when I wrote the original review.

2. The White Balance encryption in RAW devalues the camera and causes needless extra work for people who own it, not to mention the insecurity of depending on one vendor (Nikon) instead of several for long-term software support. Nikon could mitigate the problem by making Nikon Capture as fast as Photoshop, or they could totally solve it by permitting Adobe to disencrypt as per DMCA (or Congress could just do the right thing and repeal DMCA . . . yeah, right). Given the substantial difference between RAW and JPEG on this camera this is an especially big deal.

UPDATE -- Nikon issued the license to Adobe many months ago. But I have not yet taken use of it as I am waiting for Adobe to issue a Universal Binary of Photoshop for the Mac before I upgrade. So I use Capture and iPhoto for dealing with RAW for now, iPhoto for previewing images, Capture for converting the good ones.

3. It's too expensive. I effectively got mine for a closeout D2H price due to the replacement thing, which is a happy accident for me, but at Nikon's current asking price it is overpriced by at least $500, maybe even $1,000.

UPDATE -- still too high, but at least it did come down by $500. And now getting very difficult to find at all. This is a pity, it is still Nikon's easiest-to-deal-with solution for high ISO, and the color is this wonderful cinematic twist on Velvia.

4. The LCD should be more consistent. First, it's profiled too cool, almost like a D65 instead of a D50. Second, Nikon should warn people that viewing angles on these LCDs are important to take care of. Both brightness and color balance change as you tilt the camera, so you could well think the monitor was way off just by tilting the camera too far down or up. It would help if Nikon would give a recommended viewing angle (e.g. "perpendicular", or "perpendicular plus ten degrees"). As it is a lot of people still think it's too bright (I think the correct angle is in fact "perpendicular") presumably from looking down on it.

UPDATE -- not altered by firmware updates

5. The usual little niggles I expect to be corrected in firmware updates. The most annoying, the frames remaining in RAW show an estimate based on uncompressed RAW even if you're shooting compressed.

UPDATE -- it STILL has this brain-dead ignorance of compressed in the frames-remaining count. WHY won't they fix this? But the most recent firmware update endowed it with a truly wonderful improvement to Auto ISO that is saving me mistakes all over the place.

6. Documentation could be a bit easier to navigate. Example -- buffer size is halved when you have Long Exposure Noise Reduction activated, but information was tough to find and the Nikon Tech Support reps I talked to were unaware of it (another observant dpreviewer, Teila Day, pointed out that it is actually briefly mentioned on p48 of the manual). Another example -- auto tone compensation sometimes massacres blacks under indoor lighting, and switching to normal tone compensation is easy and fixes the problem, so maybe Nikon should advise what circumstances auto tone compensation is good for. A good thing Nikon Tech Support is generally very competent and will ferret a problem out if they're not aware of it.

Nikon D2Hs
4 megapixels • 2.5 screen • APS-C sensor
Announced: Feb 16, 2005
Daniel Bliss's score
4.6
Average community score
4.4
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