Nikon D2Xs review: Nikon D2Xs

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MSRP: $1,499.99

The Good Top-notch image quality; professional body; very low noise even at high ISOs.

The Bad Expensive; large and heavy; no full-frame sensor.

The Bottom Line Nikon's flagship dSLR ranks among the best 35mm-format cameras currently made, but some pros may take umbrage with its less-than-full-frame sensor.

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8.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 9

Nikon D2Xs

Nikon likes incremental upgrades. Just as the company issued the D70s before moving from the D70 to the D80, they made a handful of upgrades to the 12.4-megapixel D2X to create the D2Xs. In addition to improving the LCD viewing angle and tweaking the autofocus performance, the battery life, and a handful of other minor features, Nikon also modified the high-speed crop function to make it more intuitive to use. They've also added a new black-and-white mode, added Adobe RGB as an option when using the camera's various color modes, and added 1/3 stop steps between ISO 800 and Hi-1 (Nikon's equivalent to ISO 1600).

If you've made it through reading the last paragraph, you've at least started to realize that the D2Xs is geared toward professional photographers. Just like Canon's EOS-1Ds Mark II, Nikon's D2Xs represents the pinnacle of the company's SLR line. As such, it's probably more camera than most people need and has a price tag that would make even Donald Trump sit up and pay attention.

Once the Donald does start paying attention, he'll notice that the D2Xs' image sensor isn't the same size as a frame of 35mm film (meaning it's not a full-frame sensor). That means, like most less-expensive dSLRs and all other Nikon dSLRs, the D2Xs has a 1.5x focal length multiplier. While this can be useful if most of your shooting involves telephoto lenses--in which case a 200mm lens ends up with an equivalent field of view of a 300mm lens--it also limits the camera's wide-angle capabilities, because a 16mm lens ends up with an equivalent field of view of a 24mm lens when used on the D2Xs. Canon's EOS-1Ds Mark II and its EOS 5D both offer full-frame sensors. Nikon says that they decided to standardize a 1.5x crop factor across all their dSLRs in an effort to avoid confusion and maximize lens interoperability among their digital models, but some photographers insist on nothing less than a full frame. You'll have to decide how important a full-frame sensor is to you if you're looking for a dSLR of this caliber.

Built to last, with a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, the Nikon D2Xs sports the same thoughtful design as its predecessor. Its built-in vertical grip helps make this model larger than the average SLR. It measures 6.2x5.9x3.4 inches without a lens, and at 2.8 pounds (with its battery and a CompactFlash card), it's not exactly light either, though it's still about half a pound lighter than the EOS-1Ds Mark II. That said, the D2Xs is extremely comfortable to hold, with a fully rubberized grip that's very nicely contoured. It even has a slight indentation on the inside of the front of the grip that, along with the curved ridge on the camera back, keeps the camera feeling secure in your hand no matter what angle you hold it at.

Buttons and dials are conveniently located for the most part, and Nikon paid close attention to making sure that any controls that might be susceptible to accidental switching have some sort of locking mechanism. For example, you have to pull the diopter dial out before turning it, just as you have to pull a wristwatch's pin to set the time, and the second shutter release (on the vertical grip) and the menu navigation rocker can both be locked. In our field tests, we were able to quickly and easily change any of the shooting parameters without confusion. The one slightly counterintuitive control involves playback. To navigate through images you've taken, you have to press up or down on the rocker control, but pressing left or right would make more sense. Nikon's big, bright viewfinder makes framing and manual focusing more enjoyable than they are on some less-expensive SLRs.

Current shooting information, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance, are spread between two LCD screens, one on the camera's top and a smaller one below the 2.5-inch LCD screen on the camera's back. The smaller one is dedicated to ISO, white balance, and image-size and -quality settings, and it has corresponding buttons below it to access those controls. This system ends up being a bit quicker and less contorted than Canon's equivalent system of holding down pairs of buttons to access functions, such as ISO, on the EOS-1Ds Mark II. To change shutter speed and aperture, you use the two scroll wheels built into the body on the front and back of the grip.

At the heart of this imaging machine is a CMOS sensor with 12.84 total megapixels, though only 12.4 megapixels are used for image capture. As mentioned above, the sensor has a 1.5x focal length multiplier. This jumps to a 2x multipier if you choose to engage the D2Xs' high-speed crop mode, which crops the edge of the sensor, dropping the pixel resolution to 6.8 megapixels, but boosts the continuous shooting speed from 5 frames per second to 8fps. Nikon makes this feature more convenient in the D2Xs by graying out the edges of the viewfinder when in high-speed crop mode, to make it easier to frame your shots. The D2X just had small markers. Also, Nikon tweaked the metering system to use only the cropped area when metering in this mode.

Speaking of metering, Nikon includes its 3D color Matrix Metering II. In this case the system has a 1,005-pixel sensor, which compares what it sees with a database of images to determine the proper exposure for the scene. The same system, with fewer pixels in its sensor, is used in the D80, and as we saw with it, the camera does a very nice job of determining exposures, even in complex situations.

The 11-area autofocus system includes nine cross-type sensors, all of which are active in high-speed crop mode. The AF system is rated to work down to -1 EV, which is to say that this camera will focus automatically even in extremely dim situations, as long as you point it at something with a modicum of contrast.

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.