Nikon's D1x--First Week

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What an exciting day it was when our UPS man dropped off my D1x kit! That Christmas morning feeling of opening the box and pulling out the camera body was quickly replaced with the knowledge that there was work to begun. The first D1x I received I would have for only ten days. Luckily, nine of those days I would be in Alaska. Testing gear under actual working conditions is by far my favorite way of seeing what it really can do. This is what I've learned so far (there's a lot more to go).

D1x Flash
One of my biggest disappointments in the D1 is its flash abilities (or inabilities) so the first thing I tested with the D1x is its flash capabilities. (example images)

For those not understanding the D1's flash inabilities, let me briefly explain. The D1 does not have true TTL flash like that found in the F5 and other Nikon conventional bodies. The D1 does not have the OTF (Off The Film) component of the traditional TTL formula because it does not have film to bounce light off of. This means the D1 relies on the Monitor PreFlash for its main flash exposure. The Monitor PreFlash is only effective when the subject is less than 20 feet away. It has other associated pitfalls such as working with bright subjects with dark backgrounds. For this reason, A (automatic) rather than TTL is the most typical flash setting with the D1 for me.

The first thing I did with the D1x is to slap a SB-28dx on and do some quick test shots. I placed my wife in front of a bank of black filing cabinets; 25 feet away from me; and 20 feet in front of the background. With each situation I took shots and looked at the results on the LCD. WOW! To be honest with you, I was expecting the typical D1 flash-subject blow out but instead, I saw really nicely exposed flash photos! It's not that the D1x has new flash technology, just that the firmware/software controlling flash has been updated to solve the previous D1 problems.

As a wildlife photographer, the typical scenario I run into is a subject in front of a dark background that needs to be flash filled. This is something the D1 simply doesn't handle with grace, in fact it has been a point of great frustration for me personally coming from shooting with the F5. So while the D1x proved itself in my quick "in office" tests, it's in the field with real shooting scenarios that helps make up my mind up that something either works or doesn't work. I had been photographing some nesting Mountain Bluebirds when the D1x arrived, I couldn't think of a better opportunity than to photograph them as I already knew how the D1 wasn't working.

Shooting with the 600f4AFS, I set up the D1x and SB-28dx as I would normally with the F5 (not the D1) which means the flash is set to DTTL with -2/3 comp for flash fill. Using the SD-8a with PowerEx batteries, I focused on the bluebirds favorite perch. In this same situation with the D1, I would have to put the flash on A with +1/3 to get the flash fill exposure I wanted. The first time the bluebird landed, I fired off my nine frames (the max with the D1x, even shooting in FINE Large mode). I anxiously waited for the D1x to finish writing the files to depress the Monitor button. I was so happy when the first image popped up showing me the D1x had delivered the correct flash fill exposure. I tried the D1x with the bluebirds with every type of background available and it delivered the correct flash fill for me everytime! With that piece of the puzzle answered, I went on to the metering next.

D1x Metering
While the D1 does a good job with metering (matrix mode), it certainly is no F5 in fool proof consistency! Dialing in exposure comp with the D1 reminds me kind of the days of shooting with the F4s. One area in metering that drives me nuts with the D1 is its inconsistent handling of white birds on blue water. If in this scenario and the light is direct frontlighting, the D1 does not get the exposure correct (where it will with other lighting patterns). I wanted to find out if this metering problem had been fixed in the D1x.

Liked I mentioned, my D1x shake down ride was in Alaska where finding white birds on blue water, or blue sky, was no problem! I shot the same subjects with the D1x and the D1, both using the 80-400VR. I photographed both puffins (B&W birds) along with gulls (all white birds) on the water and in the sky. With the D1 I would have to dial in the usual -2/3 comp for the right exposure. But with the D1x, this was not the case, no compensation was required, it nailed the exposures! In fact, the entire 4gigs of images I shot with the D1x, I didn't have to dial in any compensation to achieve the correct exposure once. Keep in mind that I normally shoot within a three stop range of light to start with but even some cases where the D1 would be fooled, the D1x was not. I was happy!

D1x battery consumption
As with any new EN-4 battery, the first thing I did was to "refresh" it 3 times prior to use. With this done, I put the new EN-4 into the D1x. After the first 900 captures the battery was still going strong, this really made me wonder. When the battery did go to half (which is indicated in the D1x's viewfinder with a blinking meter symbol), I recharged it, placing that battery in my D1 and used one of my other older batteries in the D1x. The D1x again got 900+ captures (FINE Large mode) while the D1 with the new battery got the customary 300+ captures. Talking with Nikon and other D1x shooters, this seems to be the norm for the D1x, much better battery life. Thanks goodness!

D1x setup
The UI (user interface) on the D1x is vastly improved! Anyone coming from a D1 can easily in minutes set up all their personal preferences. The D1x has basically four menus which are accessed via depressing the MENU button and then reading the options on the menu on the LCD monitor. Everything is accessed and set in this way which just takes seconds to do. I will go into this in greater depth at some later time.

The D1x LCD shows 100% of the image you captured, not 92% like the D1. This was accomplished by simply making the image smaller to fit the LCD. The D1x LCD can display all sorts of things the D1 cannot. You can "zoom" in on an image on the D1x if desired. You have in fact, eight different "screens" of info the D1x can display which include new ones like GPS or oldie but goodies, Highlights and Histograms (which is displayed over the image).

Is the LCD brighter and easier to see in the daylight? I don't think so. What about the new clear, LCD cover that comes with the D1x? It might as well be black because it's so opaque it's useless IMHO. Stick with the Hoodman , it is by far the best option.

D1x Files
Of course, the big thing about the D1x is its big file capture. Well, those who have read my previous digital articles know I'm not into big file capture. With the D1x, I set it to FINE Large. The D1x offers a Large & Medium file option for all but one file capture. In the case of the FINE mode, Large captures a 2.8MB file and Medium a 1.3MB (there is no small mode). For 95% of what I shot with the D1x, this is the mode I used. I did though, test all other file captures on the D1. You have the options of High YcbCr-TIFF (L-11.2MB & M-5MB), High RGB-TIFF (L-16.9MB & M-7.5MB), High RAW Uncompressed (L-7.6MB & M-3.5MB), FINE 1:4 (L-2.8MB & M-1.3MB), Normal 1:8 (L-1.4MB & 640k), Basic 1:16 (L-720K & 320K). I shot in everyone of these modes many times, a lot taking side by side tests. While I've not made prints from all of them yet, I am impressed. While the D1 produces marvelous results, I think the D1x produces even cleaner, large enlargements!

To avoid a bunch of emails with the question, what file size will I settle on, here's the answer. At this time with the shooting I've done with the D1x, I will continue to use the FINE, Large file size. Since the FINE file size has served me and my clients so will with the D1, the even larger FINE file from the D1x will more than cover my needs. Will I shoot bigger files for bigger prints? No, for the same reason. Do I see any need for the large files? Not for my needs or those of my clients. If that changes, I know that with the D1x, I can easily deal with that change and be successful!

D1x - 1st week conclusion
While I shot 4gigs of images with the D1x, I've not been able to digest all that I've captured, there is that much new with the D1x! My first impressions of the D1x are, it rocks! I honestly didn't think the D1x would really be a camera for me as I don't need large files and its slow 3.5fps and limited 9 frame burst doesn't really lend itself to wildlife photography. But the fixes for the flash and metering really grabbed my attention to the point where I will probably replace at least one of my D1s for the D1x. I have applications where I don't need the fast frames per second. It would be nice that if I did get a phone call from a client requiring a big file, I had the ability to deliver.

The really exciting thing to me is knowing that the improved firmware/software in the D1x is in the D1H that is soon to be released! Now that's the camera I truly think will be the digital wildlife photographer's dream!

D1x Problems?
My mailbox is already being filled by folks asking, "what problems does the D1x have?" And when I tell them I don't know, I've only had the camera a week, they come back with, "you've been paid off by Nikon, you won't say!" I just love the public! At this very early stage of shooting with the D1x I have run into only one glitch which seems to be pilot error (that means I did something wrong) and not a D1x problem. If it's a confirmed pilot error, I sure ain't going to announce it on the web. If it turns out to be a D1x problem, I'll either put it on the website, or in the book and make you pay for a change to find out the answer :). But in 11 days of shooting with the D1x, I've not found anything to report as a camera wide problem. Sorry to disappoint some of you.

As I get more time and I have more to share, I will update this page. As I'm gone most of the next three months, it will be bits and pieces as I can squeeze in the time to add to this page. Bare with me! And all of my findings, operational insights for the D1, D1x & D1H will be in my upcoming 200pg+ book , The D1 Generation (co-authored with David Cardinal) that will be out this fall.

 --Moose Peterson

Update: See what Moose finally decided about the D1X

Photo Captions:
Grizzly Bear - D1x, 600f4AFS, Cloudy -3 ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF card
Western Sandpiper - D1x, 600f4 AFS w/TC-14e, Cloudy -3, ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF card
Horned Puffin - D1x, 80-400VR (from a boat), Cloudy-3, ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF card
Common Murre - D1x, 80-400VR (from a boat), Cloudy -3, ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF carf
Grizzly Bear Tracks in the mud - D1x, 14f2.8, Cloudy-3, ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF card
Grizzly Bear - D1x, 600f4AFS, Cloudy -3 ISO 200, Lexar 320MB 12x CF card

All text and images © Copyrighted B. Moose Peterson / WRP 2001

Last Updated: 28 June 2001

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