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Nikon D2X


Nikon D2X

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On the Run ... Black Angus roundup at a big Texas cattle auction. I reached under the gate with my Nikon D2X & held it close to the ground while I blindly pointed it towards the cattle & snapped away with the camera set on continuous high speed mode (5 fps). Click for a 1200x 797 pixel view (572 KB).

The longer I thought about it, the only real question was "If not now, when?"

Soon after the D2X became available, a friend of mine & I were discussing whether or not we should move up to the D2X from our current cameras.

Most of our talk revolved around the D2X's new CMOS image sensor and its 12.2 million pixel output resolution. At that time I owned a Nikon D2H, nearly identical to the D2X in most respects except for the image sensor & output resolution. Yes, there were other nice enhancements to the D2X - it had a better LCD screen, a wider-opening (easier access) memory card door, three new features (image overlay, multiple exposure, high-speed crop), some tweaks here and there, but the big difference was the D2X's new high resolution sensor. It certainly looked tempting, but I told him I thought it was "just too expensive". I'd recently commented to him that I couldn't see myself spending more than $1,999 on a camera again. Cameras like the Nikon D100, Canon 20D, Olympus E1, Nikon D70, and the pre-D2Hs Nikon D2H (with its big price drop) showed me that it didn't necessarily require big bucks to buy a high quality digital SLR.

My friend paused for a moment. "C'mon, John", he said. "Think about it ... If not now, when?"

He was right, it appeared that the D2X was too strong to ignore. But was it worth going over my self-imposed price limit? This was going to take some serious thought ... it was time to weigh the pros & cons and make a decision.

Pros & Cons

  • Pro: Tiny pixels & resolving power

    The D2X sensor's tiny pixels have a pitch (physical size) of just 5.5 microns (1 micron = 1/1000 of a millimeter). That comes out to about 180 pixels per millimeter, which translates into 90 line pairs per millimeter of resolving power. Line pairs per millimeter (Lp/mm) are the optics industry's standard measurement for defining the resolving potential of camera lenses, film, digital sensors, microscopes, binoculars, & the like.

Resolution Text Pattern (line pairs per millimeter)

Above: Typical Lp/mm resolution test pattern

Line pairs consist of groups of alternating black & white lines, the black-white-black-white pattern makes the individual lines absolutely distinct. The thinner the lines, the more line pairs there are per millimeter. The number of line pairs per millimeter that can be distinctly resolved is what defines the ability of a device to capture or record fine details.

A sensor that can resolve more Lp/mm can record finer details than a sensor that resolves fewer Lp/mm. The same goes for lenses, a lens that resolves more Lp/mm can capture finer details than a lens that resolves fewer Lp/mm.

Compare the resolving power of the D2X's high density 90 Lp/mm sensor with other DSLR sensors. The D2X leads the pack by a significant margin.

  • Nikon D2X - 90 Lp/mm
  • Canon 20D & Rebel XT - 78 Lp/mm
  • Olympus E1 - 74 Lp/mm
  • Canon 1Ds Mk II - 69 Lp/mm
  • Canon Digital Rebel - 68 Lp/mm
  • Nikon D50, D70, D70s, D100 - 63 Lp/mm
  • Kodak DCS 14n, DCS SLR/n, DCS SLR/c - 63 Lp/mm
  • Nikon D1X - 84 Lp/mm horizontal, 42 Lp/mm vertical (63 Lp/mm averaged)
  • Canon 5D, 1D Mk II, 1D Mk II N - 61 Lp/mm
  • Kodak DCS 560, 660, 760 - 56 Lp/mm
  • Nikon D2H & D2Hs - 52 Lp/mm
  • Nikon D1 & D1H - 42 Lp/mm
  • Kodak DCS 520, 620, 620x - 39 Lp/mm

It has been calculated that most (including the most expensive) lenses in real-world shooting conditions actually resolve details in the 50-80 Lp/mm range. Some specialty lenses can do better (certain prime & macro lenses in certain conditions), cheap lenses usually do worse.

What this all means in a practical sense is that with 90 Lp/mm of optical resolving power, the D2X's sensor has the capability to resolve fine image details better than most cameras and most lenses under most shooting conditions.

Click on the Google Search button below to learn more about the relationships between line pairs, lenses, cameras, and sensors.

  • Pro: CMOS sensor

    A CMOS sensor uses less electric power than a CCD sensor. This has a couple of major benefits. First, longer battery life. Second, less static buildup, which means less dirt & dust attracted to the sensor's cover glass surface. Many experienced D2X users report that they seldom or never need to clean their camera's sensor.

  • Pro: High quality print output

    Studies have shown that at even at a closeup viewing distance of just 12 inches, the human eye struggles to discern details in a printed picture finer than about 150 line pairs per inch. Details in excess of 150 lp/pi tend to blur or blend together.

    150 line pairs per inch of visual print acuity translates into 300 pixels per inch (ppi) of printer output resolution. Not coincidentally, 300 ppi is generally considered to be the ideal output setting for high quality prints. Most fine quality glossy magazines typically print photographs at 300 ppi.

    At 300 ppi print resolution, the D2X produces 14.3 x 9.5 inch prints without resizing or interpolation. Larger prints interpolate and retain their quality elegantly. And smaller prints smack with detail.

    Large or small, if fine quality prints are important, this is the camera to have.

  • Con: Dealing with big image files

    I prefer to shoot combined strictly Raw or Raw + Jpeg in my cameras. Simple math showed me that if I took a 19.5 megabyte uncompressed D2X Raw file and added a 7 to 8 megabyte Jpeg large / fine companion file, I was looking at only getting about 36 pictures on a 1 gig memory card. That meant frequent card changes, a lot of memory cards, and a lot of sitting time at my computer uploading images card by card after a typical day of shooting.

    And then there was the concern about limited hard drive space and possibly too-slow image processing speeds on my 1 Ghz Pentium III computer equipped with a gig & a half of ram. Plus the problem of archiving those big files with my CD burner, 700 megabytes (or less) at a time. That would only be 25 Raw + Jpeg picture sets on a CD. That meant even more sitting time at my computer.

    Would I need to upgrade all my gear to be able to shoot Raw files? Multi-gig memory cards, a new motherboard with the fastest processor available, more ram and a double layer DVD burner for archiving? I could see how that might stretch the true cost of owning the camera twofold or more.

    I was concerned that I might have to shoot strictly Jpegs unless I did a computer upgrade. That didn't sound too bad, I'd read many reports that the D2X's straight Jpegs (Large/Fine) were excellent. Most of those reports came from people who (like me) preferred to shoot Raw + Jpeg or Raw only, but didn't want to deal with the big 19.5 megabyte Raw files. They were shooting Large/Fine Jpegs (around 7 to 8 megabytes) and seemed to be pleased with the results. I rationalized that if I needed to, I might be satisfied with shooting just Jpegs, too.

    But I dreaded the thought of dealing with exposure or white balance issues if I limited my shooting to Jpegs ... Raw will definitely spoil you in those areas. So I decided to use Compressed Raw + Jpeg and try to work through my equipment limitations.

    It turned out that Compressed Raw files (~11 megabytes) work great. In actual use the D2X's Compressed Raw files open in Nikon Capture reasonably fast and transfer from Capture to Adobe Photoshop with little delay. That made shooting Raw fun again. By shooting Compressed Raw + Jpeg small combos, I get about 85 picture sets (Raw + Jpeg) on a one gig card & about 170 on a two gig card.

  • Con: Some say that the D2X's tiny pixels make it more sensitive to camera shake

    6 Megapixel Camera - Pixel Size

    How could the D2X's smaller pixels make it more sensitive to camera shake than cameras with larger pixels?

    Look at these diagrams and you'll see that the same amount of movement more than doubles the amount of pixels that are influenced by camera shake when comparing the D2X to a typical six megapixel camera.

    10 Micron (1/100 mm) Camera Shake

    D2X Recorded Camera Shake Effect

    I've always had a pretty steady shooting hand, and haven't run into much of a problem with this. There have been some pictures I've taken, however, that at first glance looked a bit soft & out of focus, but on closer inspection turned out to be slightly motion blurred. (It's hard to tell the difference between sharply focused pictures with a soft /slight motion blur and pictures that are truly slightly out of focus.)

    To overcome the problem, some D2X shooters double the traditional shutter speed rule of thumb (a minimum of 1/ lens focal length shutter speed). In other words, if you're shooting at a 200mm focal length and the old rule of thumb equaled 1/200th of a second, do what's necessary to double the shutter speed to 1/400th in order to overcome the greater camera shake & motion blur sensitivity of the D2X's smaller pixels. You can easily control this by observing the shutter speed in your viewfinder and making the necessary adjustments to Vari-Program, Aperture or ISO settings to increase shutter speeds, or by shooting Shutter Priority and presetting the shutter speed in accordance with your focal length.

    At the very least, shoot smart, not sloppy. Pay attention to the shooting data in your viewfinder, be aware of your shutter speeds. Hold a steady hand, brace your camera when you can. (You should be doing these things anyway.)

  • Con: Tiny pixels & diffraction limits

    The smaller the pixels, the more critical aperture settings become.

    Contrary to popular belief, smaller lens apertures (with their greater depth of field) don't necessarily result in sharper pictures. When the negative effects of aperture diffraction begin to outweigh the positive effects of increased depth of field, sharpness falls off and fuzziness sets in. Smaller apertures also cause slower shutter speeds, often requiring higher ISO settings to make a shot.

    Understanding how aperture diffraction works and relating how diffraction applies to the small pixels of the D2X will help you to take sharper pictures.

    Click here for the full article. (It applies to other cameras as well.)

  • Con: Size & weight

    The D2X is big and heavy. With its built-in vertical grip and rugged construction, the D2X is bulky, conspicuous, and a burden to carry. I prefer the smaller size & lightweight qualities of cameras like the Fuji S1 & S2 Pro, the Canon D5, 10D & 20D, and the Nikon D50, D70 & D100 without a vertical grip.

    I wish Nikon offered a version of the D2X without a vertical grip. I'll bet it would outsell the current dual grip version. They could have called it the D2X, and the D2X with a vertical grip could be called the D2Xv (?). What the heck, most people I know seldom or never use the vertical grip & controls anyway. In fact, a lot of people (myself included) lock out the vertical shutter release button to prevent accidental autofocus activation.

Well ...

I decided that the D2X was a keeper. The high Lp/mm resolution of the D2X's sensor is what really sold me. It's nice to know that my camera can outperform my lenses. As far as support gear is concerned, I'll make the camera work for me with the equipment I have on hand. I figure that if I really need to, I'll buy some bigger memory cards & upgrade my computer later. And I'll just deal with the size & weight. The features & image quality are worth it. The D2X has the best color reproduction and takes the sharpest full resolution pictures of any camera I've ever used.

Nikon D2X closeup daylight fill flash snapshot taken under cloudy, overcast skies. ISO 100, Programmed Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, Nikon SB-800 speedlight with its included diffuser dome to soften the flash, Nikon 17-55 mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Compressed Raw format processed with Nikon Capture software.


My preferred camera settings

Image Quality

Raw (NEF) plus small (S) sized normal quality jpegs.

The NEF files are digital 'negatives', critical 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. I use the Small / Normal quality Jpegs for image previews & slide shows.

Raw Compression

On. Compressed Raw has no visual loss of image quality with about 60% of the file size.

White Balance



Preset to ISO 200 as my default setting. I like the inherently faster shutter speeds that ISO 200 produces for everyday photography.

Auto ISO

Off unless shooting Shutter Priority. Auto ISO will not work effectively in Programmed Auto Exposure or Aperture Priority shooting. It is excellent if shooting in Shutter Priority mode.

Here's how Auto ISO works:

  • While shooting in Shutter Priority mode, Auto ISO 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 up to 3 full stops.

    In darker scenes, if a wide open aperture calls for more light, the Auto ISO system will automatically adjust the ISO upward between 100 & 800 until the increased sensitivity just breaks the correct exposure threshold.

    If the pictures are underexposed at ISO 800, the shutter speed will need to be reduced. (Check your histograms for exposure.)

    In brighter scenes, the ISO will remain at 100 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 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, and ISO 800).*

    *Assuming a maximum aperture of f/22. I don't like to shoot tighter than f/11 because of image quality issues.

Note: Auto ISO does not work in High 1 (ISO 1600) or High 2 (ISO 3200) settings.

Image Sharpening

In-camera set on Medium High. This gives me the most accurate LCD preview of what a well processed finished image will be. And the in-camera Jpegs look excellent with this sharpening setting while I view them on my computer.

I find that near-ideal image sharpeness is attained by processing a Raw image in Nikon Capture. Reset sharpening to None in Advanced Raw and applying Capture's Unsharp Mask at 50, 5, 4.

If additional sharpening is necessary, try adding Unsharp Mask set at 100, 0.3, 6 in Adobe Photoshop.

Tone Compensation

Low. Low tone produces the maximum highlight & shadow details. Add contrast as you like after the fact in Nikon Capture or Adobe Photoshop.

Color Space

Mode I (sRGB). I believe that sRGB Mode 1 produces the most realistic colors.


0 (default)

Exposure Compensation


Custom Setting a4
Focus Tracking

Focus Tracking with Lock "Off". Set to "off", the camera will react to focus changes more responsively.

Custom Setting d4
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 a Nikon SB-800AF Speedlight to synch all the way up to the D2H's maximum 1/8000 shutter speed.

Custom Setting f5
Command Dial Settings

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.