The D1x is Nikon's top of the range Professional Digital SLR. With high quality construction and image quality to match it aims to satisfy the most demanding of users.
Available in shops without a lens for around 4000 this is not a camera many amateurs can afford. This isn't to say the D1x is bad value for money, it's aimed at professionals and is priced accordingly.
To satisfy those people who can't stretch to 4000 for a camera body Nikon have had the sense to create the D100. This is not available at the time of writing this review and although it promises to offer image quality comparable to the D1x it will most likely exhibit compromises in other areas. Therefore the D1x is still going to be a very desirable camera and will, like any digital camera, see its price slowly come down as competing models are introduced.
Main features of the D1x
- New high resolution 5.47M pixel CCD
- Improved colour processing
- 16.88Mb file size
- Output in selectable colour modes
- ISO125-800 sensitivity
- 3fps with a nine shot buffer
- Two recording modes - 5.4 or 2.7 megapixel
- Improved operability
- Full specifications from Nikon
Even without the battery this is a heavy camera at 1.1kg. Compared to other six megapixel digital SLRs such as the lighter Canon EOS D60 there is a difference of over 300g. This is something of a mixed blessing, for the camera is tougher and better built than its lighter competitors, but for those of us that don't attend a gym it could get tiring on long shoots.
As the D1x is primarily a professional body care has been taken to seal the opening compartments off from the elements. The build quality of even the less important things, such as the battery opening mechanism is excellent and the overall finish and feel of the camera is superb.
A less well designed part of the camera is obvious when you put your eye up to the viewfinder and find your face smearing the LCD display below it. This can be got around by using your left eye, the clip-on plastic cover or by being careful.
Placement of the dials and switches is excellent and the portrait grip will be vital for professionals needing a rock steady holding position. The grip also has a shutter release and autofocus button. All the grip areas are finished with a rubber coating and are ergonomically excellent.
All in all it's a very comfortable camera to use if you can put up with the weight.
Although the body controls are straightforward entering the menu could be daunting for some. The first page is straightforward, with options for items such as image quality and white balance. Venturing further you reach the Custom menu which reveals 36 quite diverse options for which you'll probably need to consult the manual. They cover controls such as selecting an Anti-mirror-shock mode to minimise camera shake by delaying the exposure until mirror is raised. There is also a less common option of connecting a Global Positioning System (GPS) device which allows information on the camera's position for each individual photograph taken.
Navigation is fast using the traditional four-way selection pad to the right of the LCD. As with other Digital SLRs a press of the shutter causes the menu to disappear and the camera is ready to shoot. Jumping into the slide show mode you can quickly select the number of images to be displayed and jump back to single view mode to view detailed information on that photo, view a histogram and check for overexposure through blinking highlights.
The D1x helps lives up to its high price through the sheer amount of configuration options and creative controls available. Reading the manual thoroughly is a necessity for getting optimum results.
To the top left of the body is a dial for changing the mode. It can be moved only when you press down an adjacent button and appears slightly fiddly. It allows you to choose between the PC, Playback, Single-frame, Continuous and Self-timer modes. When taking photos the top LCD display shows the amount of shots remaining before the buffer is full, useful to prevent missing an important shot.
Like most things on this camera the exposure-modes offer extra functionality. Aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes offer increased configurability through the aperture lock and shutter-speed locks. The programmed auto mode can operate flexibly allowing multiple combinations of shutter speed and aperture, which automatically aim to give the correct exposure. In manual mode you set shutter speed through the main command dial at the front of the camera, and aperture through the rear sub-command dial.
Metering options are a 3D colour matrix (requires type G or D lens), Colour matrix, Center-weighted and Spot. The Matrix metering is performed by a CCD sensor with 1005 metering pixels. This is more advanced than the metering systems seen in consumer digital cameras and the results reflect this.
Learning the various features involves reading 12 pages of the manual. Using the D1x with AF-S Nikkor lenses focussing was fast and reliable living up to its Pro designation. The usual continuous and single-servo focussing options are available and there is an alternative method of activating autofocus through dedicated AF-ON buttons. Focus area selections can be made through the four-way control pad and the selected focus area is highlighted in red in the viewfinder and also on the top LCD. Other focussing features include a closest-subject priority option and a conveniently located focus lock button.
Viewfinder and LCD screens
We've already mentioned one drawback of the LCD with facial contact leaving marks. Apart from that inconvenience the screen is clear and brightness is adjustable. Because the main display is off while taking photos there are two smaller extra LCDs showing information on shots remaining, white balance, exposure compensation and other important details.
The viewfinder has dioptre adjustment and a shutter lever for long exposures. Looking into it reveals a reference circle and five focus brackets. There is also the usual metering, shutter, aperture and exposure mode information down the bottom.
Remote control is possible via a 10-pin terminal using an optional release. Flash guns are attached on a standard-type hot shoe or through the sync terminal. An IEEE1394 (Firewire port) is provided for computer connection to download images or tethered shooting (uses the computer hard drive for storage). This is next to a RS-232C socket which can be used with a GPS unit. NTSC or PAL video output is avalable from a socket at the front of the camera next to DC-in.
The D1x uses a 2000mAh 7.2V rechargeable Ni-MH battery which according to Nikon gives up to 1000 photos. A spare one is going to cost you around 90 which isn't bad for a camera of this calibre. Short battery life isn't a problem any D1x users will have to deal with, though professionals with this camera will probably want to carry at least one spare just in case.
In a word, excellent. We'd expect nothing less from a pro body like this and it didn't disappoint.
Configurability is a key feature of this camera and it applies to image quality settings too. You can choose between two colour modes, sRGB or Adobe RGB. There are the usual variations of JPG compression and we found the lowest compression ratio to give detailed, artifact free results with an average file size of around 2.8Mb. For even higher quality there are options for YCbCr-TIFF (approx. 11.2Mb), RGB-TIFF (approx. 16.9Mb) and NEF (RAW) (approx. uncompressed 7.6Mb). The compressed RAW files result in a 50 to 60% saving. Viewing YCbCr and NEF files requires Nikon Capture 2, Nikon View 4 or third party software.
The lowest ISO settings exhibited very low noise levels which naturally increased at the higher settings. We've included a sample photo to show the amount of noise produced in the worst case scenario. There is a custom setting for boosting the ISO above the standard settings, this increases the amount of noise even further but is extremely valuable when the default settings just aren't enough.
Resolution is also very good, but no longer class-leading as recently introduced Canon EOS D60 and Nikon D100 are sure to be biting at the D1x's heels in this department.
Metering options are varied, generally providing well exposed images and the matrixing appeared intelligent enough not to be caught out easily. The white balance auto setting, although not foolproof, managed to cope with some unusual lighting combinations. You can also manually set three custom conditions and use these as presets when you want a guaranteed result in known lighting conditions.
Probably the most striking aspect of a D1x image is the very neutral and exact colour reproduction. The majority of images produced were spot on with very little adjustment needed. With the added choice of colour modes most professional needs should be met.
Fine details are clear on close magnification with very little sign of JPG artifacts.
Used with a macro lens the D1x can capture fine details of small objects easily thanks to the high resolution sensor.
Colours are vibrant without becoming over saturated and the majority of images taken showed a great level of accuracy.
The close up above of the photo to the left shows the level of detail possible. Taken with a 17-35mm AF-S Nikkor the image can be sharpened further in software thanks to the high quality of the original file.
|Low-light scenes like this showed the necessity for higher ISO settings. Although noise is clearly visible when the image is magnified in software prints would be a little more forgiving.
|Using the custom function to push the ISO even further noise levels reached their tolerable limits. Yet for that absolutely vital shot these levels are an acceptable compromise.
If you are seasoned professional, aspiring professional or wealthy enthusiast the D1x is likely to be high on your list. It provides almost everything a serious photographer could want in a camera and even exceeds many people's requirements. This helps to justify the high cost, but for many it will unfortunately have to remain a dream camera.
Moving from a 35mm Nikon to a D1x is going to make the transition easier from film to digital and perhaps all the more satisfying. Although it takes some time to master all the options and configurations available, the resulting power of this body offers rich rewards. Residual values on the high-end SLRs like this tend to remain strong should you ever want to sell, but for many photographers this could be a camera for life.
Those of you wanting a digital SLR but not wanting to have to spend such a huge amount of cash might want to consider the cheaper Canon EOS D60 and Nikon D100. Both were recently announced and offer a similar resolution to the D1x without all the professional features. For those wanting to save even more money trawl the secondhand ads for old models such as the Canon EOS D30 or Fujifilm S1 Pro. If this is your first investment in an SLR camera, don't underestimate the cost of lenses and accessories.