Nikon D2x first hit the stores in february 2005 after a very long delay. People were waiting for a high-resolution camera ever since the lower-resolution, high-speed model, the D2h had come out almost a year earlier. It received rave reviews and was praised for image quality (the new APS-C CMOS imager was advertised to be able to resolve detail several times better than the human eye – 90 cycles per millimeter), improved handling and outstanding battery life (over 2000 shots without and 800 with VR), and at the time the best LCD screen in the world with 2.5 inches and 235k pixels. Click here to see the original brochure.
And then there was the price – it cost over $5000. NASA took it into space many times and it was also extremely popular with news agencies, which appreciated the optional wireless capability. It was made kind of obsolete specifications-wise when the Nikon D200 hit the market in december of the same year, but as far as the build quality went, the D2x was far superior. By the end of its flagship DSLR lifespan, Nikon released the D2xs which carried numerous firmware tweaks and improvements, a gimmick in the viewfinder and an improved LCD. All of these (except the LCD and viewfinder of course) were later made available to the “regular” D2x users through firmware, and so for all intents and purposes both cameras have the same nice features – yay!
If you have ever updated the firmware of a Nikon DSLR you probably noticed that it was comprised of two parts – Part A and B. This is a curious relic of the development of the digital SLR. If you look at how the cameras evolved, you’ll see that Kodak, the American company that invented and patented the digital camera, had always had a hard time catching up with the state-of-the art Japanese SLRs. They partnered-up with Nikon (and later Canon) to slap CCD imagers and electronics onto film SLR bodies and make use of their metering and auto-focus systems to build big, expensive news cameras like the Kodak DCS760 (which also got into space). Back when the Nikon D2x was being developed, and even today, this two-part heritage exists and so the firmware for the digital image processing is separate from the one controlling “traditional” photographic systems such as metering or focusing.
This brings me to the point where I tell you how I got my own Nikon D2x. I bought it off eBay broken, for only a little over $150. The body arrived in mint condition except for a significant impact mark on the side. A fall must’ve hit the camera very hard, as small fragment of the alloy under the prism got chipped, leaving a hole. Scary stuff. After I disassembled the camera it became obvious that the dent had torn the electronics underneath and so they had to be replaced. Luckily I found the necessary part on eBay. It was a long PCB-and-flex (PCB stands for printed circuit board) piece of electronics that starts at the top of the prism, goes under the top LCD, and ends under the main grip. It is none other but Part A – the true SLR heart of the camera! Here is a handy D2x Service Manual for those of you who need to repair their own camera.
After the replacement, the camera came back to life and as I started playing with it and taking test photos I noticed that the shutter release counter was off the charts with over 600 000 clicks! This couldn’t possibly be right with such a mint condition body so I must conclude that the internal shutter release counter is located within the Part A of the camera. If you look at the photo of the parts you will see another curious detail. To the right there is a tiny “improvised” PCB with red and blue wires coming out and connected further away. This is different from the part that I had replaced it with, which indicates that Nikon kept making small tweaks and improvements even after the D2x was launched.
Today the D2x looks very outdated on paper. The imager is only 12 Mpix and it’s an APS-C sensor, which means that it is a little smaller than what is called “full frame”, or FX. The autofocus system has only 11 points, and can’t be fine-tuned. There is no live view and no video. How could it possibly compare or compete with even the cheapest entry-level DSLRs? Well… the Nikon D2x represents, to me, the purest “back to basics” way of taking photos. I admit – the camera feels sluggish by todays standards while reviewing exposures on the LCD screen or navigating through menus, and the 11 autofocus points could’ve been spread wider throughout the viewfinder.
However, at the time of taking pictures, the camera is extremely responsive. The viewfinder is large, beautiful and shows 100% of the scene. In your hand the camera feels rock solid. The control layout and handling are perfect – it doesn’t get any better than this. The D2x offers 5 FPS of burst speed (it does have an optional 8 FPS mode, but then it makes use of only 6.5 Mpix which limits its usability). Using the modern RAW processing software you can easily get away with shooting ISO3200. The sensation that you have using the D2x is one of reliability and freedom. If you ever miss a photo opportunity with a D2x in your hand, it will not be the camera’s fault for sure.
Should you get it? This, of course, depends. Today you can find them for under $400, or even for as little as I paid for mine – if you feel adventurous. 12 Mpix (think 4000 x 3000 pixels) will both fill a 2-page spread in a journal with crisp detail and look great on social networks or blogs. The D2x, in addition to being a piece of history, will keep you mindful of correct exposure and framing while offering no distractions. It will probably not sync with your phone to send a picture via Snapchat but if you were looking for that, you wouldn’t have reached the end of this article. The Nikon D2x is an elegant tool for more… civilized times.
At the end of this page there are four full-size straight out of the camera samples of Nikon D2x photos.