As in all the company's dSLRs, Nikon expresses the D2Xs' highest sensitivity settings as "Hi." This time, Nikon added third-stop increments between ISO 800 and Hi-1, so the D2Xs includes Hi-0.3, Hi-0.7, Hi-1, and Hi-2. Hi-1 is essentially equivalent to ISO 1,600, while Hi-2 can be thought of as ISO 3,200. Nikon has also added more control over the camera's Auto ISO setting. By delving into the custom function menu, you can select the highest ISO the camera will use in Auto ISO mode, as well as the minimum acceptable shutter speed. The maximum sensitivity options are limited to ISO 200, ISO 400, or ISO 800, and the minimum shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/250 second.
The D2Xs is compatible with Nikon's i-TTL and D-TTL flash systems. That means you can use it with any of Nikon's wide array of creative lighting products, such as the SB-800 and SB-600 flash units, and the R1C1 Close-Up Speedlight Commander kit for macro photography.
Fans of black-and-white shots should appreciate the D2Xs' new black-and-white mode, though this option is only available when using the sRGB color space. Color-film fans may get a kick out of the Tone Compensation setting, which lets you choose from three contrast curves, or up to three custom curves, which can be made to mimic certain types of film, such as Fuji Velvia or Kodak's Kodachrome. As usual though, Nikon makes you buy the Camera Control Pro software in order to make your own tone curves. At $70, it's not an insignificant purchase, and when you've just bought a camera for well over $4,000, it seems silly for Nikon not to include it. The same goes for the company's $149 Capture NX software.
All told, the D2Xs includes 42 custom functions. To list them all here would be excessive, but suffice it to say that you have a vast amount of control over the systems in the camera and how they operate together. To get the most out of the D2Xs, you should plan on spending a significant amount of time tweaking the custom settings.
Since the camera isn't available with an official kit lens, we used the Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 D ED-IF AF-S lens in our lab tests. To quote a close friend, "The Nikon D2Xs is a rocket ship." The camera took 0.2 second to start up and capture its first image. Subsequent Fine (highest quality) JPGs lagged 0.63 second between shots, and RAWs and TIFFs took 0.7 second between shots. Shutter lag measured 0.35 second in bright conditions and 1.1 seconds in dim light.
Continuous shooting yielded 5.5fps when capturing 3-megapixel, Fine-quality JPGs, and yielded 3.1fps when capturing 12.4-megapixel, Fine-quality JPGs. In high-speed crop mode, the D2Xs lived up to Nikon's claims. We captured 6.8-megapixel, Fine-quality JPGs at a rate of 8fps.
The metering system does an excellent job of finding a proper exposure, even in tricky situations such as backlit or unevenly lit scenes. The AF system is extremely fast. More than once, I was surprised at how fast the camera was able to achieve focus and grab an image. I found myself checking to make sure that it really did properly focus, and sure enough it did.
Nikon has upgraded the battery to the new EN-EL4a lithium ion rechargeable, which offers 2,500 mAh of power. In our field tests, that was more than enough for a couple of days of heavy shooting, resulting in thousands of frames per charge. Nikon rates the battery at between 1,150 and 3,800 shots, depending on a variety of conditions such as the lens used, the shooting mode, and the AF mode.
Images from the Nikon D2Xs are stunning. Under optimal conditions you can capture oodles of sharp detail with extremely accurate color and a wide dynamic range. The automatic white balance yielded a very minor yellowish cast under our labs' tungsten lights, though the tungsten preset was much more neutral. The manual white balance provided the most neutral results.
Noise was practically nonexistent all the way up to ISO 400 in our tests, and even at ISO 800 it was extremely minimal, manifesting itself as a very fine grain that didn't appreciably detract from image sharpness. Even at ISO Hi-1 we only saw a minor softening of sharp details, though our images lost a more noticeable amount of shadow detail. By ISO Hi-2 a significant amount of shadow detail is lost and noise becomes readily apparent, detracting from the overall image quality. Still, we were impressed at the amount of sharp detail that remained. Though we'd shy away from using Hi-2 for large prints, it can provide passable prints at smaller sizes and is a welcome option for shooting in extremely dark conditions. Hi-1 is a better option for dim situations and can yield pleasing prints under the right conditions. Shooting RAW or TIFF files at these higher ISO settings can help you eke out a tad more detail.
Overall, the Nikon D2Xs is an amazing camera. It is an extremely responsive, powerful imaging tool meant to tackle even the most challenging photographic situations, and it lives up to the task. Though there are other cameras that can top it in certain areas, you'd be hard-pressed to find a camera that is as versatile as this one. True, Canon's 8-megapixel EOS-1D Mark II N can shoot at up to 8.5fps, but it doesn't have the option of bumping up to 12 megapixels. Canon's EOS-1Ds Mark II will always retain an edge for some photographers because of its higher pixel count and, more importantly, its full-frame sensor. But for Nikon shooters, you can't get any better than the D2Xs.