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Old Dec 4, 2003, 10:47 PM   #1
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Default Nikon D2h

B&H Photo is one of the best (if not the very best) places to purchase camera equipment. They never fail to provide more than you expect. I learned this two years ago, when I bought an Olympus e-100. After trying to buy it from several discount places, that never delivered, I gave up and bought it from B&H. The camera arrived right when it was supposed to, and came with MORE items than were advertised!

I’ve been looking around for a new camera. I want it to do a lot more than r/c car racing photography, but of all the photo tasks I get involved in, r/c seems by far the most challenging. The D2h specifications make it sound ideal for most of what I do. There is no “lag” time – this camera is instant-on, and has less “lag time” than Nikon’s best film cameras. It will take 8 photos per second, and the buffer will store up to 40 images. That’s like shooting a full roll of 35mm film, and storing everything in memory! It has a high-tech 4.1 megapixel sensor – since I know I can make 24” x 36” photos from my Olympus e-10, I think I’ll have no problems with image quality from this camera. Best of all, my old Nikon auto-focus lenses (which have been gathering dust), will all fit on it. The bottom line is it came down to a choice between a Nikon D100 or the D2h, and I hope I made the right choice.

When it came to buying my Nikon D2h, I considered other places to buy the camera, but went with B&H. Their price was reasonable, and the sales people I spoke to seemed to know a lot about the camera. The day I almost decided to maybe order one, the salesperson told me that they had just started accepting orders as of that morning. With an opportunity to be up near the top of what was sure to become a very long waiting list, on September 29th I placed the order. As I later found out, I was tenth on the waiting list.

Months went by, but nobody knew when the camera was going to start shipping. In late November B&H received five of them, moving me up to fifth on the list. I’ve been calling every few days, but no word on when the camera might ship – until today, when it just suddenly showed up with no warning! Gee, is today December 4th, or is it the 25th?

First impressions are pretty positive. It came with a small sized (but very thick) instruction manual, and a Quick Start guide. That plus the battery, charger, CD software, neck-strap, cables, and other items. The camera itself is physically quite large, much like a Nikon F4 or F5, but much lighter than it looks. I guess that’s due to the titanium construction. It fits my hands perfectly, and the buttons and controls look and feel like they’re all in very convenient locations. From the front, it looks like a quite ordinary Nikon camera, but on the back it looks like some space-age computer shaped like a camera.

At the time of this writing, first step is to read the quick start guide, and my second step is most likely going to be charge the battery. Maybe this weekend I’ll get a chance to use it for the first time. More later…
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Old Dec 4, 2003, 11:03 PM   #2
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I should have added that the camera comes with full documentation in English and Spanish.

Here's a photo of what it comes with:

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Old Dec 5, 2003, 12:54 AM   #3
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The charger and battery are a lot "smarter" than I expected. The charger can monitor the state of the battery when it's charging, and give an indication of how much the battery's been charged. If it gets confused, it has a "calibrate" function where it can calibrate itself to the battery being charged - but I guess that doesn't happen very often.

Nikon seems to have gone way out of their way to make the instructions (at least the Quick Start Guide) very easy to use. Their goal is to get people quickly taking pictures in a very basic mode. The fancy stuff comes later.
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Old Dec 5, 2003, 9:12 AM   #4
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I look forward to hearing your report when you get to use it for real.

It does look like one hell of a camera on paper!

Eric
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Old Dec 6, 2003, 10:59 PM   #5
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D2h, part two.

I’ve now had two days to fiddle with the D2h, and one afternoon of taking some photographs with it. The following are my thoughts, more or less in the order that they came to me.

First, a minor complaint, that Nikon will probably think is rather foolish. It’s the neckstrap. Years ago, I used to buy black-bodied cameras when everyone was buying them in shiny chrome. I wanted to be at least a little inconspicuous. Well, Nikon provides a beautiful camera strap with the D2h, wide enough to be comfortable, but it has “NIKON D2h” embroidered in giant gold letters all over it. I would far prefer to have an ordinary black neck strap, with no decorations. I know what camera I’ve got – I see no need to advertise it to anyone else. I’ll probably replace it the first chance I’ve got time to stop by the local camera store.

Charging the battery went perfectly – no problem. Then I opened the Quick-Start guide, learning how to get the camera ready for use. The Quick-Start guide is excellent. It’s written nicely, fully illustrated, and for just about every step it’s real obvious how to do what the guide is explaining. However, there are two things that seemed wrong to me. The first of these is in “Step B”, inserting the battery. What I think you’re supposed to do, is remove the battery cover from the camera, and snap the battery into the battery cover. There’s a slide-lever on the battery cover, which “locks” the battery in place onto the battery cover. That’s not quite what the Quick-Start Guide says – the way it’s explained is:
“Before replacing the battery chamber cover,
check that the latch is open. If the arrow is
visible, the latch is closed. Slide the latch
in the direction of the arrow as far as it will
go before replacing the cover.”
Well, I’ve read that paragraph a dozen times, and to me it’s completely wrong. The latch has to be “open” to put the battery into the cover, after which you close the latch to retain the battery. As far as I can tell, the latch should be CLOSED before you put the whole assembly back into the camera, not open. After reading it, and re-reading it, and re-re-reading it, I did it my way.

Step E, inserting the memory card also had me stumped for a bit. It tells you to put the memory card in, with the rear label facing the monitor. I would have worded it “with the bottom of the card facing the monitor”.

Everything else went smooth as silk. No problems, no questions, and in no time at all I was all set to go out and take photos. I wasn’t sure which lens to use to start out, so I put on my 24-120mm 1:3.5-5.6 D AF Nikkor lens. I haven’t used this lens in two or three years, but I remember it being a pretty good lens for the photos I take.

To try out the camera, I headed over to a local track, All-Go R/C Raceway, a private radio control car racing track in Miami. I got there around 4:00 in the afternoon, and took an hour or so, practicing taking photos. First impressions are wow, this camera is SO easy to use! All the controls are right at hand, and the camera’s response is instantaneous. I didn’t yet know how to get it into “sports mode”, so I left it in “p” (program) mode and set the ISO speed to 800. I figured that might get me higher shutter speeds, but as it later turned out, the camera usually selected a speed between 1/350th and 1/500th of a second.

The auto-focus is lightning fast. I’m sure it would be great for lots of things, but I had a difficult time using it with the r/c cars. After trying that out for a while, I went back to trying to pre-focus on the spot where I expected the car to be, and then panned with the car, clicking the shutter when the car was in the right spot. The camera never failed to work perfectly, although I muffed it a few times, pressing the shutter release at the wrong time. There is zero “lag time”. You press the shutter release half way to focus, then press it the rest of the way to take the photo. The preview button let me check how well things worked, and the car was always right where I expected it to be.

I got home several hours later. Not having loaded Nikon’s software into my computer yet, I just downloaded the images from the card to my computer, and opened them up in Photoshop. Of 30 or so photos I took, half were lousy (the car just wasn’t in a photogenic location, or was blurry, or was partly out of the picture). Of the remaining photos, about ten were nice, which I cut down to seven photos that I really like. I edited them in photoshop, cropping them a little, re-sizing them to 700 pixels wide, and then using the “sharpness” filter just before saving them.

I’m not going to comment too much on the camera yet – I’ve got a lot to learn. I will say that it’s reasonably light, fits perfectly into my hands, and there’s no fiddling around to get it to do what I want it to do. The controls are all in a perfect place. …not that I used very many of them. I like the way that it’s so easy to switch between “review mode” and “camera mode”. If it’s in “review mode”, just press the shutter release button half way, and it automatically switches to camera mode, and it instantly focuses on whatever it’s aimed at.

I sure can report on what I learned though. For starters, “program” mode doesn’t select high enough shutter speeds for r/c car racing photos. Mext time I’m going to find out how to get into “sports mode”, or just go to shutter priority and try to use 1/2000th of a second to freeze the motion. (You can tell that 1/500th isn’t enough, just by looking at how blurry the wheels are. Blurry wheels imply the car is moving, but I’d like to get things a bit sharper.) Invariably, my lower angle shots look better to me than the photos where I was standing up, so I’ll do that more next time. While it’s easy to get a crisp clear shot of the car, I’m going to keep trying to get images with the car close to the curb, so you get a feeling of the car being on a race track. One of my favorite photos is the one where I panned with the car, meaning the car is sharp, but the wheels and track and background are blurry, showing how fast the car was moving.

Here are three of the photos…






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Old Dec 7, 2003, 12:45 PM   #6
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Thanks for the update.

One thing that struck me while readin this is your choice of lenses. It isn't "AF-S". Its "AF". That will certainly effects its ability to focus fast enough so you don't have to prefocus. It would also effects it's ability to work in a focus tracking mode.

I'd be interested in how the camera work in a focus-tracking mode (don't know what Nikon calls it, Canon calls it AI Focus.) I have some experience using the 10D (not nearly in the same class as that camera) and its only... ok. Not good enough that I'd use it much.

Eric
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 1:03 PM   #7
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Good question... the last time I bought Nikon lenses was several years ago, for either my F4 or my N90. The lens I used for this test is the newest lens I own. From what I've read, the newer lenses are even faster at focusing.

I haven't even opened the manual yet, so I know very little about this. All I know for sure is what's in the "startup guide". However, even the lens I've got is lightning fast when I press the shutter half way, and the camera is aimed at the car. What I'm not sure of though, is how the camera is supposed to "know" if I want the car to be sharp, or the nice white board (part of the track) behind the car. If I fill the frame with the car, this is better, but then it's really hard to keep the car in the frame, as things are happening too fast. If I zoom out just a wee bit, I have an easier time of keeping the car in the frame, but I imagine the camera now has a smaller object to focus on, and lots of other objects also in the picture.

A friend of mine is the editor of one of the major r/c car magazines, and his advice was to give up on "follow-focus". He told me that sometimes it works, but you run the risk when taking an important shot of getting nothing (if the camera got confused and didn't focus). He's got an F5 and all the very latest lenses, and he's got a D1x at his disposal should he want to use it.

When I start reading the manual, focusing is one of the very first things I'll be reading up on.
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 2:24 PM   #8
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If the F5 can't keep up with r/c race cars, then I doubt the D2h could. The F5's got an amazing AF system (The only one that is even close is the EOS 3, I think. Don't know from experience.) I believe the D2h's AF is great (and better than 95% of what it out there film or digital, from any vendor) but is it better or the same as the F5's? I truly don't know.

I think there are a few F5 users on this forum. Anyone know if the F5's AF is better/same/worse than the D2h?

As for how it knows what to focus on, the camera should be able to tell the subject if it's... under 60-70% of the AF point. At least I'd expect it to get it right.

Eric

ps. I bet if you offered to let your friend try the D2h, he would lend you a newer Nikon lens to try, preferably the 80-200 AF-S VR that just came out. If that lens/camera combo can't keep up with r/c cars, forget it!
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 4:53 PM   #9
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I just started to read the manual, and after looking over the introduction, etc., I jumped ahead to focusing.

Apparently the camera has various modes that will track a moving object, and attempt to keep it in focus. I'll try that next time. What I did this past weekend was to use the most basic mode, which concentrated only on the center of the image.


My friend is in New Jersey, so borrowing the lens might not be too easy, but maybe other friends might have something like that. It would make for an interesting test, but I don't think that how quickly the lens can focus is the main problem. If the camera knows how to follow a moving object, which I believe it does, then maybe this will work out for me.
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 6:39 PM   #10
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The 10D has the ability to track a moving object and try to keep it in focus. But that doesn't mean that it can. The lens has to focus very fast, and the camera has to be capable to tracking and locking focus fast. This last part is where you have a huge advantage over me. The D2h has a very good AF system, so it might be able to do it. But you'll still need a fast focusing lens to match the fast AF of the camera body.

Do try it out, this will be a great test of how well it works. I'll be a little surprised if it can do it, but who knows... the D2h is rather advanced.

Eric
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