Nikon-Related News from Photokina


There's more going on this month than my front page can handle...

This page will be updated as new information comes in. Last updated 9/29/04.

Cameras

The big announcement, of course, is the D2x. I've updated my DSLR Comparison chart to give the known details for this product, but the basic answer you're looking for is this: 12.2mp images (4288 x 2848) at 5fps for up to 15 buffered NEF images, or 6.8mp (3216 x 2136) at 8fps for up to 26 NEF images. Other than that, it's a D2h for the most part. The few differences? Better than D2h write speed to cards. Additional color spaces (sYCC). GPS support. In-camera multiple exposure and layered photo support. RGB histograms. Two additional WB presets. Two things not much talked about in other reports: PictureProject has replaced Nikon View as the software bundle (boo, hiss), and Capture can wirelessly control the WT-2 module and D2x. So the rumors were essentially right, with only a few minor differences in numbers (I'd heard anywhere from 12 to 12.8mp, for example). Nikon has a new flagship, and she's a beaut on paper. Available in January 2005 at a D1x-like price.

As expected, we also got Coolpix: 4800, 8400, and 8800. The 4800 is a 4mp megazoom (36-300mm equivalent; US$399). The 8400 is the 5400 replacement, with updated body, a 24-85mm f/2.6-4.9 lens, and an 8mp sensor (US$899). The 8800 updates the 8700 (now the rebate on that model becomes explained) with vibration reduction on a new 10x 35-350mm f/2.6-4.9 lens (US$995). Overall, it's slightly bigger and slightly simpler in controls than the 8700--this isn't an 8700 with VR slapped on; Nikon seems to have done substantial redesign throughout. Both the 8400 and 8800 also now support I-TTL (with SB-600 or SB-800), including things like automatically zooming the flash to match the angle of view on the camera. One thing that hasn't gotten much press yet is the new D-lighting function, which is sort of an in-camera equivalent to Photoshop's Highlight and Shadows feature and seems somewhat similar to what HP introduced last year with their cameras. All new Coolpix should be available by November (the 8400 should be first, probably in October).

The new F6 basically throws all of Nikon's recent technologies into their new film flagship. Besides the 1005-pixel metering system, we've got the CAM2000 autofocus module (11 sensors) and I-TTL. One big change is a shooting menu on a back LCD, which allows for a bunch of formerly add-on features: intervalometer and data imprint being the primary ones. The biggest change, though, is that the extra bulk of the vertical grip has been removed--this is much more like an F100-sized body (with an oversized prism) with all the F5 and D2h features built in. Still an 8-frame/second camera, by the way. Available almost immediately, US$2800 (probably will have lower street price once demand goes down).

The NikonUK announcement of the new Nikon cameras also had a small interesting side note: the D2h has been dropped in price in the United Kingdom by 300 pounds, the D100 by 200 pounds. I doubt this is a Britain-only initiative, but haven't seen other Nikon subsidiaries make this announcement.

We've also now heard specs on another new Coolpix, the 5100, which for some reason Nikon didn't announce. This is a 5mp camera similiar to the 4100 (compact, 3x zoom, SD card, etc.). We also haven't seen a 7mp Coolpix announcement (7200?). There's a slim chance that Nikon hasn't made all their announcements yet. I could envision another post-Photokina press conference with two or three new Coolpix announcements, maybe a lens, and price drops on the D1x, D100, and D2h.

While obviously not a Nikon product, the newly announced Canon 1Ds Mark II has some impact on those considering the Nikon 2Dx. Basically a 1Ds with the following improvements: 16.6mp sensor (still full frame), 4 fps, larger buffer (32 JPEG, 11 RAW), plus the other improvements previously seen in the 1D to 1D Mark II update. An optional 802.11b/g accessory was also announced, though it doesn't seem at all customized to the body as Nikon's WT-1/WT-2 are (Canon appears to believe that the primary use will be clipped to the photographer's belt). Available in November at US$7999.

Accessories

Sigma announced three new lenses that will be available in the Nikon mount. Three new f/2.8 lenses: 24-70mm, 28-70mm, and 150mm. The first is a general purpose lens, the second is labeled as the world's smallest mid-range f/2.8 zoom, and the latter lens is a high speed macro lens. Full details are in the Sigma Lens Database elsewhere on this site (and for the observant, have been for several days).

Nikon announced the 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED-IF VR lens. Obviously, the image stabilization is the big news, but there are a few other interesting points, as well. First, Nikon appears to have made a concerted attempt to lower flare and ghosting. A new Nano-Crystal technology is applied to several elements, and the protective glass now uses a meniscus design (i.e., it's no longer a flat piece of glass). The lens also carries over the Focus Preset function first seen on the 200-400mm, plus adds an on-lens AF-ON button to engage autofocus from the lens. If you carry the full complement of converters with you and are using a D2x (lucky you) you've essentially got a real 300mm f/2.8, 420mm f/4, 510mm f/4.8, and 600mm f/5.6 at 12.4mp, and the 35mm equivalent of a 600mm f/2.8, 840mm f/4, 1020mm f/4.8, and 1200mm f/5.6 at 6.8mp. Hmm. Do we even need the 400mm f/2.8 done in VR? (Answer: yes!)

The Coolpix 8400 gets an interesting Fresnel-type 3x TC-E3PF teleconverter (apparently Nikon's first response to Canon's DO designs). The advantage is that it is smaller and lighter than you'd normally expect from a 3x converter, yet sharper. Nice trick when you can pull it off. Compared directly to the older TC-E3ED, the new converter is about two-thirds the weight and signficantly smaller (about 20% smaller diameter and length). The Coolpix 8700 gets a new 1.7x TC-17ED converter, which gives you a ~600mm f/8 VR capability.

Bet that you didn't know that the D2x has the ability to secure the images in the camera (accessible only via encrypted password). Well you do now. Lexar announced its Professional Series cards, which feature in-camera protection, and the D2x is the first camera that's been announced that supports this feature. Hmm. What would the folks working at the Abu Gharaib prison have done with this feature? On the other hand, it does have practical uses in law enforcement and insurance industries, where chain of evidence and privacy issues are important.

Sigma officially announced the EM-140 DG macro flash unit (actually announced 9/10, but I'm just getting around to the details). Officially, Sigma claims D-TTL and I-TTL support, which would be great for us Nikon DSLR users as we've not had a TTL-capable macro flash yet. Functionally, it sure seems like an SB-29 with TTL: 46 ft (14m) GN at ISO 100, dual flash tubes can be fired together or just one at a time, a modeling light feature, and the usual head/ring design connected by a coiled cord. As a bonus, we get High Speed Synchro flash and wireless control function for a remote EF-500 DG flash, though both of these things are only vaguely mentioned in the press release, so it's unclear how they operate with Nikon DSLRs or how useful they'll be (many pros used to love shooting portraits with a ring flash as fill and a remote flash as key). The EM-140 DG runs off four AA batteries (which go into the head unit), and NiMH is supported. 430 grams without batteries, with no price or availabity yet announced.

Tamron makes another of my 2004 predictions comes true with the introduction of its new 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II IF Macro (phew!) lens for APS-sized sensor cameras (D70, D100, D1 series, D2 series, Fujifilm S1, S2, S3 all qualify). An 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 XR Di-II IF was also introduced (same APS-size sensor limitation). I've updated my Tamron lens database page to include all the known details.

Software

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 (Mac and Windows). Besides the addition of the healing brush, the primary Nikon-related benefit is the inclusion of the Adobe Raw Converter (first seen in Photoshop). Elements thus becomes a low-end do-all product even for NEF shooters. US$149 list (US$99 preorder--ships in November), upgrade price not yet determined.

DxO Labs announced that the DxO Raw Engine is now available, along with the 2.0 version of the Optics Pro. The Raw Engine supports NEF, and is going to be bundled free with the new Optics Pro for a limited time (it'll be US$119 afterwards). 1.1 users can upgrade to the new 2.0 version for free. Mid-October was announced as the release date.

dpMagic 1.0.033 has been released. Besides adding support for more (non-Nikon) formats, it adds a trash can button, adds new control panel options, and fixes a few issues.

BreezeBrowser version 2.1 has been released. The primary addition for Nikon users is the ability for D70 and D2h shooters who use the NEF+JPEG option to view, rename, and copy the image pairs together.

Canto announced Service Pack 1 for Cumulus 6.0.3, which "enhances performance and stability." In terms of Nikon-related stuff, the primary change is that some Kodak raw files support has been fixed in the Photo Suite addition.

Got visible JPEG blocks in your skies and tonal ramps? Asiva JPEG Deblocker is a Photoshop plug-in (US$49) that smooths these problems out in low saturation high detail areas while retaining detail elsewhere.

Adobe announced a new raw converter (2.3, adds Coolpix 5400 support for Nikon users) and a new "standard" raw file format (.DNG), including a free OEM-raw-to-DNG-converter. The intention is stated in the specifications: "The Digital Negative (DNG) Specification describes a non-proprietary file format for storing camera raw files that can be used by a wide range of hardware and software vendors...Camera manufacturers often drop support for a propriety raw format a few years after a camera is discontinued. Without continued software support, users may not be able to access images stored in proprietary raw formats and the images may be lost forever." The standard itself is just an extension of TIFF and TIFF-EP (which is what NEF is); nothing controversial there, as TIFF was standardized by Adobe/Aldus many years ago. But I wonder if camera manufacturers will support the standard fully. To do so, they need to set baseline noise, chroma blur, antialiasing levels, and a few other things that they currently have been very mum about for competitive reasons. Moreover, in a quick reading of the specs, I don't see how the Fujifilm sensor would be well-handled by the new standard, nor do I see how some of the special things that some manufacturers have put in their raw files, such as white balance tables, will get handled. Yes, starting today you can convert all your NEFs, RAFs, and DCRs into DNGs using Adobe's converter, but you'd better hold onto your proprietary file formats and converters for now, as they all seem to have hidden abilities that aren't supported today by DNG (great, Adobe just doubled my image storage space requirements--guess I'll be adding another terrabyte to the 'ole drive farm). Trying to foist a standard back onto hardware manufacturers from the software side is difficult when only one company tries to do it (effectively, how would Nikon make money off of Capture if all the little secrets of Nikon RAW are passed on?). I suppose if anyone can, Adobe would be the one, but I can only imagine the backroom conversations that are going on right now. I look for this standard to be "weakly supported" by manufacturers. By that I mean that, because you can still put your proprietary info into the TIFF-EP portion of a DNG file, manufacturers will stuff some of the basic fields of the DNG so that a DNG converter will "work," but there will be more information about the camera state in the TIFF-EP section so that proprietary converters will "work better." If that's how it plays, DNG will fly about as well as the Spruce Goose (which is to say it'll get off the ground, but not usefully).

Kodak announced several new pieces of software: firmware version 5.2.1 for the Pro 14n and SLR/n is available now, and includes two new black and white "looks" and some bug fixes. PhotoDesk 4.3, Camera Manager 4.2, and ERI File Module 2.0 includes numerous performance enhancements and will be available in October. The ERI File Module now includes a Photoshop plug-in for support of the JPEG-ERI format. While incremental, the updates do reflect Kodak's long-standing iteration process, which has definitely improved the Kodak DSLR user experience who keeps up with the updates.

Extensis is now offering the free Pro Photo Raw Image Filter for Portfolio 7.0, which fixes the one remaining headache many of us had: EXIF and IPTC data wasn't getting pulled from our NEF, RAF, and DCR files.

Nikon has updated both View and Capture. The new 4.1.3 version of Capture includes support for the Coolpix 8400 and 8800, plus has performance enhancements for XP and Windows 2000 users and a few bug fixes. The Macintosh version of Capture 4.1.3 has a few Macintosh-specific bug fixes and now supports installation of the NEF plug-in Converter under OS 9. The new version of View only adds Coolpix 8400 and 8800 support.

 
Are We Happy Yet?


It's always interesting to watch reactions to new Nikon announcements. There's part of the crowd that is drooling with anticipation and running to their dealer with their wallets open, and another part that expresses shock and disappointment and walks away grumbling (especially now that Canon has responded with a 16.6mp full frame offering).

For the most part, I'm still in the happy camp. I'd be happier if I actually knew that I could get one of the first D2x's coming into the country, as I have an important trip shortly thereafter and would love to give it a full workout out of the box. But no one at Nikon ever listens to me, so I'll just get in line with the rest of you.

On the other hand, I'm a little worried about a few D2x details. First, PictureProject isn't even close to a match for the D2x user. This is a bit like telling a PC user to use NotePad as their word processor (Nikon View at least would have made it to WordPad status). Either PictureProject got a lot better since the D70 introduction (not!) or Nikon has some 'splaining to do. The 800 top ISO seems suspicious, too; everyone's going to be looking even closer at the first images for noise issues because of that top limit. But the real issue to me is that the four channels pulling data off the sensor are modifying data with white balance information. I've got to see how shots with incorrect WB are affected by that before I feel comfortable with the change. Finally, wither the D2h? While I've seen others say that they want a 1.5x (or less) 8fps, I'd think that most true 8fps users aren't going to be put off by 2x, and the rest of the world is perfectly well served by 5fps 1.5x. The D2h deserves an update. No, needs an update, as the mid-level Nikon offerings are weak in comparison with Canon at the moment.

The Coolpix 8400 intrigues me, as it almost perfectly fits my need for a walk-around P&S camera (24mm, thank you!). Too bad about the electronic viewfinder, though.

The 300mm VR lens doesn't excite me. I'm much more interested in finally getting my 200-400mm delivered! Much.

 

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