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Nikon D2H review: Nikon D2H

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The Good Fast drive mode with large buffer; big 2.5-inch LCD with superfast image review; amazing battery life; solid build.

The Bad Expensive for only 4.1 megapixels; takes some tweaking to get high-quality images; steep learning curve for new users; file-naming system can cause overwrite problems.

The Bottom Line For professional sports and action photographers invested in Nikon gear, this is the camera to have.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 7

Review Summary

The D2H replaces Nikon's D1H, and almost everything about it has been updated--from the camera body itself to the autofocus system. I recently used the Nikon D2H on a few assignments for Sports Illustrated and was impressed in many ways and disappointed in others. Shooting a game for SI means you can't miss a shot, and the D2H delivers, with a fast shooting speed, a large buffer, and the longest-lasting battery of any digital SLR available. You can even send pictures from the D2H wirelessly with the optional WT-1A accessory transmitter. However, its 4.1-megapixel resolution is low by today's standards, and you have to be careful to avoid capturing unacceptable electronic noise in shadow areas of your images. This camera's main competitor, Canon's EOS-1D Mark II, puts the Nikon D2H at a disadvantage, with double the megapixels and similarly powerful performance. If you have an investment in Nikon lenses and don't want to switch, the D2H is currently your best choice for shooting sports action. The Nikon D2H feels like a pro camera and is well built for the abuse it's meant to take from professional photographers. All of the ports are sealed properly, so water and dust are kept out. At 2 pounds, 12 ounces without a lens, it's big and heavy next to a consumer SLR and might be uncomfortable for those with small hands. However, it has a good size and weight for a pro camera, and it's nice to have that heft when you're attaching a large telephoto lens such as Nikon's 400mm f/2.8.

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The nine-way controller lets you select autofocus points efficiently, while the switch below it is for selecting autofocus zone types.

Most of the camera's buttons are larger than they were on the D1H, making it easier to operate, no matter how big your fingers are. Nikon added an innovative nine-position multiselector button on the back, allowing you to move through the camera's 11 autofocus points diagonally, not just from left to right and up and down.

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The AE-L/AF-L and AF-On buttons that fall under your right thumb are a little too close together. When you use the vertical shutter release, there's an awkwardly placed AF-On button but no second AE-L/AF-L button.

The AF-On and AE-L/AF-L buttons are a little too close together, and it was difficult for me to find the right one without pulling my eye away from the viewfinder. If you turn the camera to the vertical position, there are duplicate shutter release and AF-On buttons for more convenient access. However, the vertical AF-On button is in a very awkward position. I always use the back button to autofocus, so this took some getting used to.

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Controls to left of the hotshoe let you choose drive, flash, and autobracketing settings.

There are four subcommand dials--two apiece for the horizontal and vertical grips--that control settings such as aperture, shutter speed, shooting mode, white balance, and ISO. They cannot be deactivated, however, so you have to take care to avoid bumping them while shooting. A piece of tape did the trick for me.

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The status LCD on top of the camera displays several current settings, while dedicated controls let you select shooting modes, metering modes, and exposure compensation.

There are two status LCDs on the D2H body to keep you apprised of current settings, and the viewfinder display is filled with information. On the right, you can see file-format, ISO, white-balance, and voice-memo information. The lower display shows focus confirmation, metering mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure mode, and exposure compensation, among other things.

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The 2.5-inch LCD lets you set up your camera via the main menu system, while the status screen below it allows you to check and change several basic settings quickly.

The PC socket and the remote terminal on the front of the body are covered with standard Nikon screw-off covers. When I used the PC socket, I had to tape the loose cover to the body to keep from misplacing it. I wish Nikon had redesigned it like the side ports, which have rubber covers that can be moved out of the way but not removed.

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For good reason, both formatting the CompactFlash card and deleting images involve two button presses. This is a very efficient way to delete quickly while preventing accidental erasure. You can also use a Microdrive with the D2H.

If you're looking for a camera you can take out of the box and start shooting with right away, the Nikon D2H is not for you. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time setting up the camera with the LCD menus. The learning curve can be intense, as there are 40 options in the custom settings menu alone. However, this gives you a lot of customization options to get everything set up as you wish--from button controls to image contrast and bracketing. I developed a set of basic recommendations for Sports Illustrated photographers, which you can view here.

Like most digital cameras in its class, the Nikon D2H has a sensor that covers only part of the area that would be captured by using the same lens on a 35mm-film camera. This results in a 1.5X conversion factor; in other words, you'll get the same angle of view with a given lens that you'd have on a 35mm camera with a lens that has 1.5X the focal length. It's nice to be able to extend the range of a long lens a bit without sacrificing an f-stop. A 300mm f/2.8 lens works just like a 450mm f/2.8. However, it's next to impossible to shoot super-wide-angle images because a 20mm lens becomes a 30mm lens.

Through a small microphone on the back, you can attach a voice memo to any image on your CompactFlash card. Other cameras have had this feature for years, so it's a welcome addition from Nikon. I used it during sporting events to record basic information about a play right after it happened so that I would be able to provide accurate caption information after the game. The D2H is the only camera that allows the sound files to be played back through the body's built-in speaker, as well as on a computer. The sounds are regular WAV files, so you can store them with your images and should be able to play them for years to come.

The D2H allows you to save images as a JPEG or raw file. The raw files are saved in Nikon's proprietary NEF format and must be opened with Nikon Capture or third-party software that supports the format, such as Adobe Photoshop CS. I always shoot raw files and treat them like negatives. You can make a JPEG file from a NEF, but if you have only a JPEG, your options are limited. The advantage of shooting NEF files is that you get all of the 12-bit raw data available and can make changes--after the fact--to color balance, tone curve, and other image-processing parameters.

Nikon finally added the option to shoot RAW+JPEG to the top of its D line, so the camera saves both the NEF file and a compressed JPEG. I love this setting because I can look through the JPEG images quickly, then pull only the NEF files for the images I've selected. However, if you decide to shoot RAW+JPEG, you need a lot of CompactFlash card space. A 512MB card will save only about 58 images--fewer than on two rolls of 36-exposure film.

I ran into a file-naming problem with the Nikon D2H. The image files are all named DSC_XXXX. There is no way to change the DSC prefix, and XXXX is a sequential number from 0001 to 9999. Shooting with more than one camera, you have the potential for different images to have the same name. If you save them all into a single folder on your hard drive, one set of files will overwrite the other, possibly erasing images forever. The workaround is to import your images using Nikon View or third-party software and rename the files on import, but that's an extra step that takes time. It would be nice to change the file-name prefix on each camera. On the other hand, the D2H's automatic image rotation is a big timesaver when you're opening downloaded photos in editing software because the verticals are already oriented correctly.

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