Articles, Insights, and Tutorials
Some consider the D2H to be the best all-around Digital SLR ever made because of its outstanding build quality & professional class features. Others consider it underpowered because of its relatively small 4.1 megapixel sensor.
I think both viewpoints are good reasons to like the D2H.
Underpowered? Not necessarily .... the 4.1 megapixel sensor actually could be considered to be a strong point because of its smaller, easier to manage image file sizes. Practically speaking, the smaller file sizes are faster & easier to work with. The D2H's 4.1 megapixel sensor produces uncompressed Raw format files averaging 6 megabytes, compressed Raw format files in the mid-3 megabyte range, and three quality settings of large or medium sized Jpegs. All with significantly smaller file sizes than their 5, 6, and 8 megapixel camera counterparts. Smaller files mean more pictures on a memory card, more storage on a computer hard drive, and faster archiving to CD-ROM or DVD. The smaller files also mean faster transfers from memory cards and faster file-open times in image processing software.
The practical factor wouldn't mean anything to me if the picture quality suffered, but it doesn't. For web use and for prints up to 12 x 18, I find the D2H's picture quality equal or better than any other camera on the market.
Favorite features & options
- The built-in Intervalometer, which provides unattended time lapse photography. The camera begins shooting at whatever time you choose and continuously takes pictures at the interval of your choice with as few or as many pictures as you specify, up to 999 frames. Use it for stealth photography (the hidden camera trick), unattended wildlife photography (no one around to spook wary animals), participate in your own family photographs (see the "missing person" article in this site).
- An option (Custom Setting f5) to scroll through your images, histograms, and shooting information screens on the camera's LCD monitor by simply rolling the camera's command & sub-command dials instead of having to repeatedly push the four-way rocker switch.
- Fast 11 area autofocus system:
The advanced 11 area AF system with 9 horizontal / vertical cross type AF sensors & 2 outer vertical sensors equals quick response and sharp focusing under all kinds of shooting conditions.
- "Function" Button. On the front of the camera below the depth of field preview button. Easy to find & push by feel (without looking), can be assigned a wide variety of possible tasks. I assigned mine to spot meter whenever I push it. 8 frames per second in the Continuous High Speed (CH) mode. Excellent for high speed sports or wildlife shooting. If that's too fast, there's a user-adjustable Continuous Low Speed (CL) frame rate of 1 to 7 frames per second.
- 27 frame Raw shooting buffer (40 frames for straight Jpegs).
- Long battery life and an accurate battery gauge, showing the actual percentage of remaining charge if you like. Takes the guesswork out of estimated battery life.
- Auto ISO. Especially good for wildlife or sports photography where lighting is limited and shutter speed is critical. For example, with the camera set on Shutter Priority at 1/250th of a second and Auto ISO based on ISO 200, the ISO will automatically increase itself as needed all the way up to ISO 1600 after the Aperture maxes out to ensure accurate exposure.
- Rich, vibrant, highly saturated pictures are the D2H's strong suit, with smoother tonal ranges and cleaner color graduations than those I've experienced from other cameras. Strongly saturated pictures make for beautiful prints, and D2H pictures are even better in print than on a computer screen. Definitely impressive compared to prints from other cameras.
- The LCD screen is larger than those on earlier Nikon Digital SLRs. I love to 'chimp' my pictures (a frequently used term many digital shooters use for LCD image reviewing), and the larger, brighter LCD screen seemed like a good upgrade. It is, but at the default settings the LDC is inherently over bright and slightly soft. If you reduce the LCD brightness setting to -2 and turn up the in-camera sharpening setting to Medium High or High (I like High), you'll get a pretty accurate view of what you've captured.
- Superb build quality. Many consider the D2H body to be the best in the world.
Click to enlarge: 1024 x 678 pixels, 420 KB
High ISO: The D2H's fast shutter & focus response caught the cars at the precise moment they hit the throttle. Nikon 70-200mm VR f/2.8 G zoom lens, Shutter Priority @ 1/200th, Auto ISO set by the camera at ISO 1600, lens VR set on 'Active' to steady the camera and prepare for the panning motion & thundering vibration from the exhaust blast. The camera's continuous low shooting frame rate was preset to 6 frames per second. Compressed NEF (Raw) format picture processed with Nikon Capture 4 software.
Click to enlarge: 1024 x 678 pixels, 345 KB
1.5 seconds and 10 frames later, the cars are already traveling over 100 mph as I panned with the action to follow the car transport from start to finish. The Auto ISO automatically reduced by the camera to ISO 1400 because of the increased amount of available light generated by the bright exhaust plumes. Compressed NEF (Raw) format picture processed with Nikon Capture 4 software.
No Turning Back
A cowgirl stops a goat from turning back as she herds it down the loadout lane at the Lometa, Texas livestock auction.
Click to enlarge: 1200 x 795 pixels, 522 KB
Nikon 12-24mm ultra wide zoom lens, Aperture Priority @ f/8, shutter 1/500th, ISO 200, uncompressed NEF (Raw) format picture processed with Nikon Capture 4 software.
Queen of the Hill
Shortly after we unloaded a batch of Texas Hill Country sandstone, the goats claimed it as theirs and playfully fought over who was going to be the 'Queen of the Hill'.
Click to enlarge: 1024 x 678 pixels, 310 KB
ISO 200, Nikkor 17-55 mm f/2.8 DX/G lens, Aperture Priority @ f/8, compressed NEF (Raw) format picture processed with Nikon Capture 4 software.
While I was sleeping
I went to sleep with my tripod mounted D2H pre-aimed at a wild game feeder about 150 yards away. I left the unattended camera on all night with the built-in Intervalometer set to automatically start shooting one picture every 30 seconds beginning at 7 AM in the morning. When I got up at 8:15 AM, there were 150 shots on the camera. Would there be any good wildlife pictures?
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Set on Shutter Priority with Auto ISO based at ISO 200, the camera woke itself right on time, adjusted itself to ISO 1600 in the dim early morning light, and automatically shifted the ISO downward shot by shot as the morning light increased. (ISO 1400 for this particular picture.) Nikon D2H photo, Auto ISO, Shutter Priority set @ 1/100. Lens: Nikon 70-200mm VR f/2.8 G zoom lens coupled with a Nikkor TC-20EII teleconverter. VR turned off (as specified while using a tripod). Compressed NEF (Raw) format picture processed with Nikon Capture 4 software.
I screeched to a stop, grabbed my camera, jumped out & hastily made this long telephoto shot. Thank goodness for the VR feature (image stabilization) on my lens, otherwise it would have been blurred for sure.
Shutter Priority @ 1/400th, ISO 200, Nikon 70-200 VR f/2.8 lens @ 200mm + Nikon TC17E II teleconverter (340mm total zoom). Click to enlarge: 1200 x 795 pixels
Cows in the Creek
I just couldn't pass up this classic looking snapshot I saw as I was driving across a bridge in the Texas Hill Country.
Programmed Auto Exposure, ISO 200, Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 G lens. Click to enlarge: 1200 x 1812 pixels, 601 KB
Recommended Nikon D2H setup, software, and workflow
My Preferred Camera Settings
Combination Raw (NEF) plus large (L) sized fine quality jpegs.
Large/Fine Jpegs shot with Normal Sharpening and Low Tone are easy to post process. I run them through Photoshop with my simple Midtone Layer Sharpening Action and love the results.
The NEF files are digital 'negatives', critical core corrections and adjustments to white balance, exposure, sharpening, tone, color space, and much more can easily be done after the fact on your computer using compatible Raw software such as Adobe Photoshop, Nikon Capture 4, and others. If my Jpegs are 'off', I correct the corresponding NEF files in Nikon Capture 4 and save them as high quality Jpegs within Capture 4 to overwrite the original Jpeg pictures.
On one hand, many feel that the disk & memory card space saving attributes of using compressed files outweigh the slight highlight clipping & ever-so-slight loss of quality that occasionally occurs. Compressed NEFs take up only about half the space of uncompressed NEFs and (unlike earlier Nikon DSLRs) write to the D2H's memory card with blazing fast speeds.
On the other hand, others feel that you probably need all the help you can get to ensure the best possible picture quality because you're only shooting with a 4.1 Megapixel sensor.
The bottom line:
If disk & memory card space is a problem, choose ON. If maximum quality is your goal, choose OFF.
Auto +1. The +1 setting cools off the slightly warm (brownish-yellow) look and makes everything look fresher.
Normal. Normal in-camera sharpening corrects the basic blurring/softening effect of the camera's combination LBCAST low-pass filter & cover glass without oversharpening the picture. Normal sharpening produces a clean but slightly soft picture. For keeper pictures I then add my Photoshop Midtone Layer Sharpening Action to the picture to produce sharp / top quality pictures.
Tone Compensation (Contrast)
Low. Low produces maximum highlight & shadow details. Increase the tone (contrast) after viewing the picture if you really think you need to ... I rarely do.
+3. Eliminates the slight magenta or red cast and gives more natural skin tones.
-1. The standard brightness setting is too bright, giving an inaccurate visual rendition of exposure on the camera's LCD screen. I like mine set on -1, I think it gives the best preview of the true exposure.
Custom Setting b1
Auto ISO 'On".
Auto ISO will not work effectively in Programmed Auto Exposure or Aperture Priority shooting. It is designed to be used for Shutter Priority or Manual Exposure modes.
Here's how Auto ISO works:
- Shutter Priority (Recommended.) Shutter Priority regulates exposure by varying the aperture. Darker scenes will open the aperture, brighter scenes will close the aperture. Auto ISO can extend the exposure in darker scenes by 3 full stops.
Preselect your desired shutter speed.
In darker scenes, if a wide open aperture still calls for more light, the Auto ISO system will automatically adjust the ISO upward between 200 & 1600 until the increased sensitivity just breaks the correct exposure threshold.
If the pictures are underexposed at ISO 1600, the shutter speed will need to be reduced. (Check your histograms for exposure.)
In brighter scenes, the ISO will remain at 200 and the exposure will be regulated by the aperture.
Shooting Auto ISO / Shutter Priority gives you up to 11 (eleven) full stops of useful automatic dynamic exposure range at a single preset shutter speed on an f/2.8 lens (f/22, f/16, f/11, f/8, f/5.6, f/4, f/2.8, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800, and ISO 1600).*
*Assuming a maximum useful aperture of f/22. I don't like to shoot tighter than f/22 because of image quality issues.
- Manual Exposure (Not recommended because of its limited dynamic exposure range).
Set your Preset ISO to 640. Select your desired shutter and aperture settings on your subject matter using the built-in light meter in your viewfinder as a guide. The Auto ISO system will regulate exposure in changing lighting conditions by automatically adjusting the ISO upward and downward between 200 & 1600 to maintain correct exposure. This will give you 1 & 1/2 (one and one half) full stops of variable exposure compensation on either side of ISO 640. (On the bottom side ISO 640 to ISO 400 = 1/2 stop, ISO 400 to ISO 200 = 1 stop. On the top side ISO 640 to ISO 800 = 1/2 stop, ISO 800 to ISO 1600 = 1 stop.)
Note: Auto ISO does not work in High 1 (ISO 3200) or High 2 (ISO 6400) settings.
Auto ISO is WONDERFUL for sports & wildlife shooting where shutter speed is critical. Example - set your ISO at 200, set Shutter Priority at 1/250th, and the camera will hold the 1/250th shutter speed constant in varying lighting conditions by first regulating the Aperture (as is the case anytime you shoot Shutter Priority), then by adjusting the ISO to a higher setting if there's not enough light.
Custom Setting d1
Continuous Shutter Speed
Set Continuous Low Speed Shutter @ 4 fps. A good choice as an option to compliment the Continuous High Speed setting of 8 fps.
Custom Setting d5
File Number Sequence
File Number Sequence "On". Acts as an odometer for the total number of pictures you've taken with your camera and prevents the possibility of overwriting an existing picture in your computer files that might have the same file number.
Custom Setting e1
Flash Synch Speed
Flash Synch Speed 1/250 (FP auto). This setting will enable Nikon SB-800AF Speedlight to synch all the way up to the D2H's maximum 1/8000 shutter speed.
Custom Setting f 5
Command Dial Options
(Command Dials) - I love this one. Once you're inside Custom Setting f 5, go to "Menus & Playback" and choose "On". This enables menu selections and image playback to the Command and Sub Command dials in addition to the Multi-Selector rocker switch. Using the Command & Sub Command dials is especially fast & easy while scrolling through the pictures you've taken. Now you can just roll the main Command Dial to scroll through the pictures, and roll the Sub Command Dial to view the histogram, highlights, & shooting data.
Nikon Capture (version 4 or newer), Adobe Photoshop, and ThumbsPlus or equivalent cataloging software are the best software investments you can make if you're serious about getting top quality pictures from any Nikon Digital SLR, including the D2H. I've tried & used them all, in my opinion these are the best way to go. Don't bother with Nikon's free Nikon View or Nikon PictureProject software packages, they're slow, cumbersome, and frustrating.
Jpeg Preview Workflow
I recommend creating a separate folder to park the in-camera Jpegs in. The Jpegs are perfect for fast on-screen previews & slide shows on your computer. Review the Jpegs to choose the keepers from the culls. I like to run a slide show for a few continuous loops to get the feel for what I like & don't like. Use the Jpeg folder as a working album to easily find & reference the NEFs you want to use if you need to do some Raw post-processing.
Skin Tone Issues?
Some photographers have problems with the D2H's skin tones, which can show strong, sometimes almost mottled-looking orange, yellow, red, and pink overtones. Flash pictures usually intensify the effect.
Other photographers find little or no problem at all, perhaps because of their particular shooting styles or techniques. It may be that they rarely rely on flash to light up their pictures. (Available light pictures seldom show a problem.) And perhaps they're viewing their pictures on bright, sharp, clear CRT monitors. Read more here ...
Lens Release Button Warning !!
Be careful with the D2H's BIG lens release button. Many (including me) have experienced accidental lens loosening or catastrophic lens releases while shooting in the field. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you'll accidentally nudge the camera's lens release button and your lens will slowly and unexpectedly loosen, possibly even fall off the camera. (!!!)
Be sure to check your lens from time to time to be certain it's securely locked to the camera body.