DCRP Review: Nikon D1X
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, December 2, 2001
Last Updated: Monday, December 3, 2001

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Most 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.

The 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.

This 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.

The 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.

What's in the Box?

The 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:

  • The 5.33 (effective) Mpixel Nikon D1X camera
  • EN-4 rechargeable NiMH battery
  • MH-16 Battery fast charger
  • "Body cap" (covers the lens mount)
  • Monitor cover
  • Neck strap
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 4 and image database software
  • 223 page manual (printed)


My review camera

Since 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.

The 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.

Nikon 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.

The 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.

The manual is decent. It could explain some things a little better, but you should have a good feel for the camera after reading it.

Look and Feel

The 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.

The 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.

Let's take a 360 degree tour of the D1X now:

Here 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 clean.

The 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.

The 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 control dials.

Just 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.

To 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.

Below that, there's a rubber cover, which hides some I/O ports. Let's take a closer look.

Here 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!

While you might expect a camera like this to be covered in buttons, it's actually no worse than any consumer-level camera.

The 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.

Above 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.

On 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 being used.

The 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.

Just 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.

The 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.

Here is everything opened up. The five buttons on the left are:

  • Menu
  • White Balance
  • Function (this is user defined)
  • Protect image
  • Thumbnail mode (playback feature)

As you'd expect from a professional digital camera, the white balance choices are amazing. They include:

  • Auto (4200 - 7000 °K)
  • Incandescent (3000 °K)
  • Fluorescent (4200 °K)
  • Sunlight (5200 °K)
  • Flash (5400 °K)
  • Cloudy (6000 °K)
  • Shade (8000 °K)
  • Preset/Manual

In 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.

Continuing 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 significantly faster.

Finally, there's the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type II slot, and as you can tell, the Microdrive is fully supported.

As 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:

  • Front-curtain sync
  • Slow sync
  • Rear-curtain sync
  • Redeye reduction
  • Redeye reduction w/slow sync

To 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 for:

  • Auto bracketing - tons of options available here. You can also choose the order of the shots (exposure-wise)
  • Flash - see above
  • ISO (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.

The dial below those buttons is the "drive" mode wheel. The choices here are:

  • PC connect
  • Playback
  • Single-Shot
  • Continuous Shooting
  • Self-Timer - you can choose the delay in the Custom menu settings

The 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).

Located 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.

Just 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.

The 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.

As you'd expect, the exposure modes on the D1X are second-to-none. Here is some more info about each:

  • Program 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.
  • Shutter priority mode - you choose a shutter speed between 30 sec and 1/16000 sec, and the camera picks the aperture
  • 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
  • Manual 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.

Here 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 out.

On 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 press it.

Finally, here is the bottom of the D1X. The only thing down here is the metal tripod mount.

Using the Nikon D1X

Record Mode

When 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.

The 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.

Speaking of which, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the D1X:

Image Quality File format Image size Approx. file size # of images on 96MB card (not included)
High YCbCr-TIFF 3008 x 1960 11.2 MB 8
2000 x 1312 5.0 MB 17
RGB-TIFF 3008 x 1960 16.9 MB 5
2000 x 1312 7.5 MB 12
RAW (uncompressed) 3008 x 1960 7.6 MB 11
RAW (compressed) 3008 x 1960 3.8 MB 22
JPEG Fine JPEG (1:4) 3008 x 1960 2.8 MB 29
2000 x 1312 1.3 MB 66
JPEG Normal JPEG (1:8) 3008 x 1960 1.4 MB 59
2000 x 1312 640 KB 132
JPEG Basic JPEG (1:16) 3008 x 1960 720 KB 114
2000 x 1312 320 KB 256

What 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.

The 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!

Shooting Menu

  • Image Quality
    • Quality (High, JPEG Fine, JPEG Normal, JPEG Basic)
    • Color (Color, B&W)
    • Size (Large, Medium) - equivalent to 3008 x 1960, 2000 x 1312
  • White Balance - choices described earlier in review
  • ISO - described earlier
  • Assign FUNC - assign a function to the FUNC button
  • AF 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.
  • File No. Seq. (on/off) - sequential file numbering
  • Command Lock (on/off) - locks the shutter speed and/or aperture

OK, 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:

1. Image review (on/off) - whether image is shown on LCD after it is taken
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 the autofocus
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 "wrap around"
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
9. 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 with self-timer
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 mode
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)

Is 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.

Okay, enough about menus - let's talk photo quality!


The 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!

The 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 red colors!

The D1X doesn't record any sound or video, which is not surprising, considering the target audience here. Professional photographers don't want/need gimmicks.

It 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 samples.

Playback Mode

The D1X's playback mode is pretty good. The usual features such as slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode are all here.

The 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.

The 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 card.

Not the greatest screen shots but you get the idea

Moving to the right shows increasing amounts of information about your photos. You can find out just about everything, and there's a histogram too.

Another nice feature is the ability to delete a group of photos -- instead of just one or all of them.

The D1X playback mode is easy to use -- and most importantly for professionals -- fast!

How Does it Compare?

You 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.

What I liked:

  • Professional-style camera body
  • Topnotch photo quality
  • Superhuman shot-to-shot and continuous shooting speeds
  • Almost no noise!
  • Every manual control ever conceived
  • CompactFlash Type II slot -- Microdrive works great
  • Handy backlit LCD info displays
  • Can use existing Nikon lenses and Speedlites

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Takes a lot of practice to learn

Other 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).

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the D1X and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a few more opinions?

Be sure to read the reviews from Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and Digital Photography Review!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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