Review: Nikon D1X
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, December 2, 2001
Monday, December 3, 2001
of my days are spent with consumer-level digital cameras. You know
what I'm talking about: plastic, small, easy to use, point-and-shoot
cameras. One or twice a year, however, I jump at the chance to try
something a little more exotic.
Nikon D1X is one of those chances. This huge, professional SLR camera
costs over $6,000 for the body alone. Throw on a lens and a flash,
and it's easily $7,000.
camera impresses people I've shown it to in two ways: the first
is its bulk. This is a large SLR camera. The second is its shooting
speed: I like to show off its ability to shoot nine straight 5 Megapixel
images in just three seconds.
D1X proves the old saying "you get what you pay for".
Of course, most of us (myself included) only dream about cameras
like this. So I invite you to read along and enjoy our special review
of the D1X.
in the Box?
D1X is sold without a lens or flash. Nikon sent a 24 - 85 mm EF
lens, some CompactFlash cards, and the SB-28DX Speedlite. Here is
what you'll find in the D1X kit:
5.33 (effective) Mpixel Nikon D1X camera
rechargeable NiMH battery
Battery fast charger
cap" (covers the lens mount)
featuring NikonView 4 and image database software
page manual (printed)
Nikon gives you a bare bones setup, it's really up to you to build
the bundle. The camera is compatible with most Nikon lenses and
Speedlites. So if you already have those, odds are they will work.
camera uses a large NiMH battery which slides into the side of the
camera. The battery is quite powerful - 7.2V and 2000 mAh. I don't
have exact numbers, but the battery lasts for quite a while. Since
the camera doesn't have a live LCD preview (thus reducing LCD usage),
the battery life is extended even more. Using the separate MH-16
charger, you can fill up the battery in about 90 minutes.
includes a monitor cover to protect the LCD from scratches and smudges
(the latter are easy to get). The cover isn't transparent though,
so seeing through it isn't as easy as it could be.
NikonView 4 software, at least for the Mac, is pretty poor. It tries
to be decent, but ends up being sluggish and buggy. It crashed several
times on my computer. The FireWire connection (there is no USB)
is not supported under Mac OS X 10.1.1 as of this writing. There
is another product called Nikon Capture which is optional.
manual is decent. It could explain some things a little better,
but you should have a good feel for the camera after reading it.
D1X means business -- there's no doubt about it. It has a large,
solid, weatherproof body. The controls are redundant so you can
use it in landscape or portrait orientations. It's heavy, yet is
easy to hold due to its large grips. My only "gripe" is
that when you put the lens on, it's not balanced anymore and will
tip over, so be careful. This is a camera with top notch design
and build quality.
official dimensions of the camera are 6.2 x 6.1 x 3.4 inches (W
x H x D) and it weighs a whopping 1.1 kg (2.5 lbs) without a battery,
flash, or lens.
take a 360 degree tour of the D1X now:
is the front of the camera, minus the lens of course. I will use
this opportunity to mention an important issue about removable lens
digital cameras: dust. On most other cameras, the lens is sealed
to the body, so no dust can get in. This is not the case on pro
SLR digitals. Nikon recommends using an air blower to keep the CCD
lens mount is a Nikon F type. Nikon recommends using Type G or D
(CPU) lenses, though others will work in a limited fashion as well.
The lens I used was a Type D, 24 - 85 mm lens. The focal length
multiplier on the D1X is 1.5X -- so the focal length turns out to
be 36 - 127.5 mm.
button just to the left of the lens mount is the depth of field
preview. Holding this down will close down the aperture so you can
preview the depth of field. Just northwest of there is one of the
right of the lens mount is the release for the lens, with the focus
control dial below that. You can choose from manual, single-servo,
and continuous-servo. With single-servo focusing, the camera locks
focus when you press the shutter release button halfway. For continuous-servo,
the camera continues focusing while the button is halfway down.
The latter is better for moving subjects.
the northeast of those buttons, you'll find the flash sync terminal
(top) and remote terminal (bottom). The latter is used for remote
shutter release cables, some of which are pretty fancy.
that, there's a rubber cover, which hides some I/O ports. Let's
take a closer look.
are the video out and DC in ports. There is an optional AC adapter
that you can plug into the bottom port. I'd like to think that Nikon
could throw that in the box on such an expensive camera!
you might expect a camera like this to be covered in buttons, it's
actually no worse than any consumer-level camera.
camera's 2" LCD is a bit larger than average. I found it pretty
easy to smudge the LCD, especially with your nose. You cannot preview
shots on the LCD before they are taken -- it is for reviewing them
only. I also noticed that images seemed underexposed on the LCD,
even if they were OK on the computer.
the LCD is a gigantic optical viewfinder, which covers 96% of the
frame. The focusing screen allows you to see the area of the frame
the camera is focusing on (and you choose choose that area too),
and there is a line of exposure information (and more) at the bottom.
I wish all cameras had this last feature.
the right side of the optical viewfinder (not shown here) is the
diopter correction knob, for those of you with glasses. Another
feature of the viewfinder is just to the left: a cover which prevents
errant light from sneaking onto the CCD when the viewfinder is not
two buttons to the left of the viewfinder are for monitor (which
quickly jumps to playback mode) and delete photo. On the right are
buttons for AE/AF Lock (which holds the exposure settings) and AF-On
which focuses the camera.
below those buttons is the four-way switch, which is used for menus
and playback mode. Below and right of that is the CompactFlash slot
door (I'll have a closer look in a minute). Opening it is akin to
launching a missile. You must first open a cover, then press a button,
which open the CF door.
items on the bottom include a control panel (behind a metal door),
an LCD info display (one of two), the FireWire port, and redundant
controls for when the camera is being held for portrait shots.
is everything opened up. The five buttons on the left are:
(this is user defined)
mode (playback feature)
you'd expect from a professional digital camera, the white balance
choices are amazing. They include:
(4200 - 7000 °K)
addition to those, you can also fine tune each of the settings,
from -3 to +3. As an example, the zero value on incandescent is
3000 °K. The +3 value is 2700 °K and the -3 value is 3250
°K. There are other choices in between. And of course, you can
create your own white balance using the Preset option.
past the LCD info display and over to the I/O ports: here you'll
find the RS-232C port (for hooking into a GPS unit) and the IEEE1394
(AKA FireWire) port. There is no USB on this camera! FireWire is
there's the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type II slot, and as you
can tell, the Microdrive is fully supported.
you'd expect on a camera like this, there are both a hot shoe and
external flash sync port on the D1X. If you have a Nikon Speedlite,
odds are that it will work (there are several pages in the manual
discussing compatibility issues). For my review, I had the hefty
SB-28DX Speedlite, which is pretty impressive itself. There are
five flash sync modes available:
reduction w/slow sync
the left of the hot shoe, are three buttons with a dial below it.
All the buttons on this camera are the "hold it down and turn
the command dial to change something" type. The buttons are
Auto bracketing - tons of options available here. You can also
choose the order of the shots (exposure-wise)
- see above
(125, 140, 200, 280, 400, 570, 800) - you can also boost the ISO
one or two steps over ISO 800 which is 1600 and 3200. Things will
get grainy at those values, of course.
dial below those buttons is the "drive" mode wheel. The
choices here are:
- you can choose the delay in the Custom menu settings
continuous shooting mode is absolutely amazing on the D1X. You can
take up to 9 shots at 3 frames/second. You can capture all kinds
of action with this feature -- and it's fun to show off too. Using
the Custom settings, you can vary the frames/second as well as the
total number of shots taken per burst (up to 9).
on the right side of the optical viewfinder (hard to see here) are
controls for diopter correction and metering. The metering choices
are matrix, center-weighted, and spot.
right of that is the main LCD info display. In the shot above it's
only showing half of what it can display. One very nice feature
that lower cost cameras should have is the backlit LCD info display
-- both of them are lit up here (when you want). Some of the messages
on the LCD can be a bit confusing, so you may end up using the manual
more than you thought.
buttons just above the LCD are for Mode (Program, Shutter Priority,
Aperture Priority, Manual) and Exposure Compensation (-5EV to +5EV
in 1/3EV increments). There's also the power switch (with LCD backlight
option) and the shutter release button.
you'd expect, the exposure modes on the D1X are second-to-none.
Here is some more info about each:
mode - camera picks best shutter speed and aperture. You have
the ability to choose different combinations of shutter speeds
and apertures though, using the "flexible program" feature.
Just turn the command dial until you find a setting you like.
priority mode - you choose a shutter speed between 30 sec and
1/16000 sec, and the camera picks the aperture
priority mode - you choose an aperture and the camera chooses
the shutter speed. Since the aperture varies per lens, I can't
give you exact aperture values, but on the lens I had, the range
was F2.8 - F25
mode - you choose both the shutter speed and aperture. This enables
a "bulb" mode where the shutter stays open for as long
as the button is held down. Of course, a remote shutter release
cable is needed for this.
is one side of the camera. At the bottom, you can see the side of
the battery. To remove it you just turn that switch and pull it
the other side, there isn't much to see (easily) either. If you
look at the top, you can see the diopter correction and metering
dials that I mentioned earlier. At the bottom is the redundant shutter
release button, which you use when using the camera in the portrait
orientation. You can lock out the button so you don't accidentally
here is the bottom of the D1X. The only thing down here is the metal
the Nikon D1X
you have a camera with no lens to extend, it usually starts up very
quickly. The D1X is no exception -- it's ready to go almost instantly.
The camera doesn't have an LCD preview, so it's optical viewfinder
only. When you depress the shutter release button halfway, the camera
locks focus in well under a second. Pressing the shutter release
all the way down results in a photo just as quickly. It's as if
the D1X is an extension of your body -- it's really amazing.
shot-to-shot speed is just as nice. You can literally shoot as fast
as you can compose it. The camera has a large buffer which empties
very quickly. This allows for the quick shooting, in both single
and continuous modes. It doesn't matter if you're writing a RAW,
TIFF, or JPEG file -- it's all just as responsive.
of which, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices
on the D1X:
of images on 96MB card (not included)
are those unfamiliar file formats? YCbCr and RGB are both TIFF formats.
The difference is how the data is stored. The YCbCr format has three
channels: luminance, and two colors (I assume blue and red). The
resulting file is 1/3 smaller than an RGB TIFF. The deal is that
in order to read the YCbCr-TIFF, you'll need to use the Nikon software.
The RAW format is similar in that you must use the Nikon software.
These files hold raw, unprocessed data from the CCD that take up
even less space than TIFFs.
D1X has a fairly straightforward menu system that contains submenus
for playback, shooting, custom settings, and setup. I'm going to
describe the shooting and custom setting menus in this review. Be
warned that the latter is lengthy! Here goes!
(High, JPEG Fine, JPEG Normal, JPEG Basic)
(Large, Medium) - equivalent to 3008 x 1960, 2000 x 1312
Balance - choices described earlier in review
- described earlier
FUNC - assign a function to the FUNC button
Area Mode (single-area AF, dynamic AF) - single area lets you
choose what part of the frame to focus on. In dynamic mode, the
camera picks one of them.
No. Seq. (on/off) - sequential file numbering
Lock (on/off) - locks the shutter speed and/or aperture
that was the easy one, here comes the Custom Menu. You can have
up to four "banks" of custom settings. Here's where you
can really tweak the D1X:
Image review (on/off) - whether image is shown on LCD after it
2. EV steps for exposure control (1/3, 1/2, 1 step) - change the
increments for exposure options
3. Bracketing order (MTR>Under>Over, Under>MTR>Over)
4. AF Activation (Shutter/AF-ON, AF-On) - which buttons activate
5. Anti-mirror-shock mode (on/off) - when on, the camera will
wait a few moments after the mirror is raised before taking the
picture. Helps eliminate blurring from the mirror movement.
6. Focus Area Select (no wrap, wrap) - whether the focus areas
7. AE Lock (AE-L/AF-L button, + shutter button) - what buttons
lock the exposure
8. Mirror lock-up for CCD cleaning (on/off) - lock mirror in the
up position so you can clean the CCD
Dynamic AF, single-servo (closest subject, select AF area) - whether
the camera focuses on the closest subject in the mentioned mode
10. Dynamic AF, continuous-servo (select AF area, closest subject)
- same as above
11. AE/Flash bracketing (AE & flash, AE only, Flash only)
- what exposure settings change during auto bracketing)
12. Assign command dial - choose which dial is primary
13. Easy exposure compensation (± & CMD dial, CMD dial
only) - how you change exposure compensation
14. Center weight area (6, 8, 10, 13 mm, average) - for metering
15. Auto meter-off display (4, 6, 8, 16 sec) - how long exposure
info is shown on LCD info display before disappearing
16. Self-timer delay (2, 5, 10, 20 sec) - how long of a delay
17. LCD illumination (lamp on switch, any button) - what turns
on the LCD backlights
18. Monitor off delay (10, 20 sec, 1, 5, 10 min) - how long before
the monitor turns off when not in use
19. Aperture control during zoom (fixed, variable) - whether aperture
changes with focal length
20. ISO step value (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
21. AE-L/AF-L button (AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AF lock only,
AE lock hold) - define how this button locks exposure
22. Aperture setting (sub-command dial, aperture ring) - how you
change the aperture
23. Image sharpening (Normal, Low, High, None)
24. Tone compensation (Auto, Normal, Less contrast, More contrast,
Custom) - custom mode lets you apply your own curve. Requires
Nikon Capture 2.
25. C-Mode shooting speed (3, 2, 1 frame/sec) - how fast shots
are taken in continuous shooting mode
26. C-Mode max shots (1 - 9) - how many shots are taken in continuous
27. Display mode (Image only, histogram, highlights, both) - what
is shown in playback mode
28. NEF (RAW) image save (off, uncompressed, compressed) - whether
to use and compress RAW images
29. File number sequence (on/off/reset)
30. PC shooting mode (Single, continuous) - which mode to use
when drive dial is set to PC
31. ISO boost (off, 1, 2 step) - additional boost over ISO 800
32. Color mode (sRGB, Adobe RGB) - pick a color space
33. Hue adjustment (0 - 6) - changes color saturation
34. Disable shutter if no CF card (on/off) - prevents shutter
from being released with no memory card in the camera.
35. Rear control panel display (ISO, frame count) - what is shown
on rear LCD info display
36. Zoom-PB during image write (on/off) - whether you can zoom
into an image as it's been saved (on the LCD)
that enough for you? It is for me! If you are wondering why I numbered
each of those, it's because Nikon does too - and that's how they
are referred to in the manual.
enough about menus - let's talk photo quality!
usual spots for my night test shots were "out of service"
due to the very wet November we had in San Francisco. So when the
rain stopped I went over to the University of San Francisco to take
this shot. You should get a good idea as to what this camera can
do in low light situations. One very impressive thing is how there
is almost no noise in this shot. I even took the shot with a 30
second exposure (not shown here) and it still had no noise!
camera also did a good job with the macro test shot. The closest
focus distance will, of course, vary with the lens you use. One
thing I noticed in this shot, as well as many of the shots in the
gallery is how the D1X really saturates
D1X doesn't record any sound or video, which is not surprising,
considering the target audience here. Professional photographers
don't want/need gimmicks.
takes a lot of practice to learn the D1X, but once you do, the photos
are excellent. The two things that stand out in my mind are: 1)
almost no noise and 2) everything is sharp; You can read signs in
the background perfectly, for example. Take a look at our extensive
gallery and judge for yourself. Also,
see the links to other reviews at the bottom of this page for more
D1X's playback mode is pretty good. The usual features such as slideshows,
image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode are all
zoom and scroll feature is activated by the FUNC button, and it
will zoom in 2X only. You can then move around the zoomed image.
camera moves very quickly through the images on the LCD, which is
impressive considering their size. You use the up and down parts
of the 4-way switch to navigate through the photos on the memory
the greatest screen shots but you get the idea
to the right shows increasing amounts of information about your
photos. You can find out just about everything, and there's a histogram
nice feature is the ability to delete a group of photos -- instead
of just one or all of them.
D1X playback mode is easy to use -- and most importantly for professionals
Does it Compare?
didn't have to read the review to find out my conclusion about the
D1X. It's an incredible -- and expensive -- professional camera.
This is one of those "if you can dream it, you can do it"
cameras, that take a great deal of practice to get good at using.
This isn't one of those skip over the manual cameras either. If
you've got a large stockpile of Nikon lenses, this is your camera.
Of course, this all comes at a price, and a high one at that. But
for excellent photo quality, super-fast shooting, and a never-ending
list of manual controls, the D1X is for you.
shot-to-shot and continuous shooting speeds
manual control ever conceived
Type II slot -- Microdrive works great
backlit LCD info displays
use existing Nikon lenses and Speedlites
I didn't care for:
a lot of practice to learn
high end cameras include the Canon EOS-D30 and EOS-1D (review coming
soon), Fuji FinePix S1 Pro, Nikon D1 and D1H, and the Olympus
E-20 (not really competitive but I'll mention it anyway).
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the D1X and it's competitors before you buy!