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Nikon D1H D1x Review Test
© 2004 KenRockwell.com

Film vs. Digital     About these reviews

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get the D1X here or here and D1H here or here.

Nikon D1X D1H

Nikon D1H (D1X looks the same)

get the D1X here or here and D1H here or here.


NEW: Pro DSLR Comparison 03 February 2016



This page was written back in 2001 when the D1X and D1H were hot stuff.

As of 2007, I wouldn't bother with either of these old boat anchors.

As we learned back in 2002, the obsolete Ni-MH batteries they used were heavy, difficult to charge reliably, gave only about 250 shots per charge, and died very early.

Not only did most of us need to haul three batteries with us at all times, but they were so big and weird shaped that they couldn't fit in our pockets. After the few shots the cameras would read LOW and disable some of the finder indications. The batteries sucked, but it was the best we knew back then. I was happy to throw away my D1H when I got my Nikon D70 in 2004, and my Nikon D40 today is even better than my D70.

In 2007 the Nikon D40 has the same image quality as the D1X (with less ruggedness but five times the battery life) and my Nikon D200 outperforms the D1X and D1H in every possible way.

Please take the rest of this review as an historical time capsule!

INTRODUCTION (see also "Film vs. Digital" for important background basics)

These are fabulous although completely obsolete cameras. Their brutal speed, ease of use, durability and superior image quality will quickly overpower your wallet.

They are as imposing, powerful, heavy and expensive as a pro football player, as fast and agile as a hummingbird and as easy to use as your film camera.

There are two models discussed here, both introduced at PMA in Florida in February, 2001: the D1H and D1x.

The D2H obsoleted the D1H in 2003 and the D2X obsoleted the D1X in October 2004. I wouldn't buy either of these D1 variants new today, and personally prefer the lightweight and more advanced amateur D70. This review stays up on my site as an historical reference, so please remember it was all written in 2002 when I bought my D1H and it was hot stuff.

The D1H replaced the original D1, adding more speed (a huge 40 frame buffer and 5 vs. 4.5 FPS) and a big improvement in ease of use (English custom menus instead of meaningless numeric codes) and cleaner images at high ISOs. The D1x the same camera as the D1H, except it costs $1,000 more for just 25% more resolution (explained later) and has only one-half the speed of the D1H (ISO 800 instead of 1,600, 3 vs. 5 FPS, 9 vs. 40 frame buffer). Even the original D1 is still used daily at newspapers all over and is faster than the D1x.

Obviously, the faster and less expensive D1H is today's standard for professional sports and action photography, while the D1x is the favorite of rich amateurs.

These are the most advanced cameras ever offered for sale to individuals, which they had better be for list prices of $4,350 (D1H)/$5,350 (D1X). Nikon dropped the price in January 2002 with a $500 rebate to $3,850 (D1H)/$4,850 (D1x). (see the real prices for the D1H here and the D1X here.) When you buy the camera it actually includes the camera, a battery and a battery charger in separate boxes within a larger box. Don't buy gray market; since God only knows what you'll get and unlike with lenses you will be needing service support from Nikon USA.

These replace and improve on film and film cameras for professional sports and news photographers, which is why they already have replaced the old F5 in most larger markets.

The D1 series cameras have been the standard of the news and sports reporting industry for a couple of years now, so if you read the papers or news magazines you've been seeing Nikon D1 images every day.

The Nikon D1 series are modernized F5s (not F100s) and is obviously designed for heavy use by full time professional journalists who don't have any time to mess around. You're gonna dig the 40 frame (9 frame in D1x) burst motor drive mode. It seems to start where the F5 ends, and adds innovations developed since the F5 was introduced, like AF sensors that light up properly and an easy lock for the AF zone selector.

Unlike amateur cameras, the D1 series are built to grab great, clean images FAST, and plenty of them, too, with no backtalk or delays from the camera. This will only be apparent after you shoot with them yourself. The D1H just runs like the fastest film camera you can imagine. Everything works instantly like it's supposed to. That's why you pay four grand for this camera, and none of this is on the data sheets.

In case you haven't tried an amateur digital camera (even the nice Canon D30/D60 SLRs) you have no idea how bad other current digital cameras are for comparison. All the others make you wait to turn on, wait to make a photo, and make you wait even more while the camera records the first image before you can make another. The D1 series by comparison just hauls. Just looking at specs on a data sheet or reading boring Internet reviews like this won't tell you anything. For instance, you never need to switch the Nikon D1 series between idiotic RECORD and PLAY modes as you do on amateur cameras. If you want to see what you shot, just hit the MONITOR button, or leave it in automatic preview mode. The Nikon D1, D1H and D1x just keep shooting as fast as you can. You never have to wait for it to write to a memory card, since it just does this on its own with a separate processor while you keep shooting away.

The Nikon D1 series and the Canon 1D are the only SLRs built to pro level mechanically. Unfortunately even though I hear the Canon 1D is fast, its lack of a zoom playback on the LCD (honest), uselessly noisy images at high ISO settings, low resolution and higher price relegate it to use by rich amateurs already in the Canon program. Canon may be able to fix these two things with new firmware, in which case the EOS 1D could be a decent camera.

Nothing else compares if you need a professional level camera. As of June 2002 the Nikons are still the only truly practical professional digital SLRs available today.

You can pay more for other well made but lesser cameras like the Kodak DCS series, Canon EOS 1D and Contax N Digital. Forget the Kodaks since I hear from friends who used to use them all day that they are always broken (the Nikons now just keep working). I mentioned the Canon above. The Contax is a complete fiasco, since the flash sync is only 1/200 and the buffer is so shallow that it's just suited for amateur use for still subjects, for which film is still a better choice. The Contax is already 2 years out of date and I have yet to see one that actually works; try the not-yet-available Nikon D100 instead for better performance at one-quarter the price.

There are four required accessories you must buy when you get one of these cameras:

1.) A spare battery pack ($100). The camera comes with one. You need the second in your bag to swap when the other dies. Each charge is good for about 250 shots, or about two to three hours of continuous shooting. You cannot get by (and it is bad for the battery) to try to charge just one before each job and hope it lasts you. The good news is that they charge fully in less than an hour, so so long as you are not too far away from the charger you can have continuous power with just two batteries total.

There also is a Polaroid brand battery made to replace the Nikon brand battery. It costs less than the Nikon brand. The Polaroid brand sometimes has problems with the mechanics fitting properly to the camera, so if you have this problem just get a dead Nikon brand battery and the mechanics can be screwed onto the Polaroid brand battery just fine. I have used the Polaroid brand battery and it gives the same number of shots as the Nikon brand.

2.) Throw away the translucent soft-plastic Nikon LCD cover and replace it with the perfectly clear Hoodman cover ($20). I prefer the fancier version Hoodman cover with the built in tough-looking rubber hood that goes for whopping $40 or so. Just do it; there's no other way to see the screen on this or any other digicam in direct sunlight.

3.) Media. The camera comes with no memory card. Expect to drop a few hundred dollars on at least 512 MB worth of cards on which to record images. No, you don't need film, but you do need to buy memory and it is expensive. You need more than you think since you'll be shooting a whole lot more than you think. See my page here on Compact Flash cards.

4.) Some sort of card reader so you don't have to run down the batteries in the camera while you transfer files into your computer. A $30 USB reader is all you need. I have a Memorex which works great. For a laptop computer get a PCMCIA card adapter; I got mine free when I bought my microdrive.

5). SB-28DX flash ($320). No other flashes, except for the DX versions, work on the camera except in the most basic non-TTL modes. On the other hand, the "advanced" TTL flash modes are poor and you may just want to use the old non-TTL A modes instead, in which case other flashes probably work. Flash exposure control is the weakest point of these cameras.

6.) Software to manage all the hundreds of images you'll make each day. I use iView Media Pro for the Macintosh; amateurs on PC use BreezeBrowser. Each sells for about $50 as a download off the Internet. Watch it; there are many things called iView; I'm talking about the one from England that only runs on Mac at the link above. iView is pretty standard in the pro publishing and newspaper world. Either of these programs lets you quickly sort through hundreds of images full screen and delete and organize them. They each also allow you to make web galleries and automatically. They can make all the web pages and index pages and resize all the images etc. You just point them at a folder of images and let them have at it. My galleries are made by hand the hard way, however when I shoot an event and need to throw hundreds of images on a CD or on my site for review I use the automation.


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