The Perfect Nikon Digital SLR


While we're still waiting for the next digital SLR, let's just design it ourselves...

9/16/04: I updated the article to reflect the D2x, which was the original intention when I first posted it back in early 2003 (when the D2h came out, I updated it to reflect how the D2h did against the wishes; now I've reverted back to my original D2x wishes). What's interesting is how few things Nikon missed. Maybe I should wish for more next time.

The long gestation period of the next high-end Nikon digital SLR has given everyone plenty to speculate about. But as I note in my Fujifilm S3 Wish List, I think it more useful to tell Nikon what we want and lobby hard for it. Thus, with no new camera in hand to review, my thoughts turned to the specifications for the "perfect" Nikon digital SLR.

I'm going to do this in a bit different format than I've done previously. The result is one very large table that mimics Nikon's D1x Specification table. In the left column, we have each individual specification. In the center columns, we note whether the D1x and the just announced D2x has this specification or comes up short. In the right column, we have my remarks about the item in question.

Specification D2x D1x Comment
Lens-interchangeable digital SLR camera. duh!
Sensor size: 23.7 x 15.6mm A controversial decision, but we also know this is the direction Nikon's headed, so we won't make a change here.
Sensor type: Bayer RGB CMOS No surprises here other than the CMOS.
Sensor resolution: 5000 x 3280 (16mp) 12.2 usable pixels way off That's what I want, as it gives me a 11 x 17" print at 300 dpi with no resizing. What we get is 4288 x 2848.
ISO: 100 to 1600 close, missing 1600 except as a HI-1 close Since Nikon switched to CMOS, the question is whether they've managed to keep the noise within control, especially given the 5 micron photosite size.
EV Setting in 1/6, 1/3, 1/2, full stops close close We'll need better histogram tools to make use of the 1/6 stops, though. Fortunately, we got better histograms.
Image formats: Full, Half, Quarter size JPEG at three compression levels; TIFF; NEF, quarter-sized NEF, NEF with JPEG. close close The critical addition is the ability to save both a NEF and a JPEG file of the same image.
Media support: dual Type II slots, with FAT 32 and fast write support 32 bit, fast write and wirelesss, no 2nd slot needs work Storage is critical, so we need to be able to stuff 2GB and larger cards in here. Got that, but no second slot. Write for the D2x is said to be faster than the D2h.
Shooting Modes: single frame, continuous at 5+ fps, self timer, multiple exposure 8 fps (at 6.8mp), multiple exposure and layered exposures slow, but close 5 fps will be tough to achieve with that many megapixels, so we won't ask for more; fortunately, Nikon exceeded our demand. Amazingly, we got the multiple exposure.
Buffer: 5 frames NEF 15 frames NEF More than acceptable, especially with fast write.
White Balance: Auto, current controls, direct Kelvin setting, multiple custom storage close  
LCD: 2" 200k dot, TFT with backlighting bigger! close While others are asking for brighter, easier to see in sunlight monitors, I'm perfectly happy with the current one and using a Hoodman in bright light. What I don't want to see is to go to a more power-hungry monitor. Fortunately, I got my wish here.
Video: NTSC and PAL, user switchable No changes here.
Usable Lenses: D, G, AI-P all functions possible; non-D AF all but distance function possible; non CPU: meters. Plus we have matrix back for non-CPU lenses While some lamment the lack of matrix metering with AI and AI-S lenses, this isn't a big issue, actually. But we must have some metering! We don't want the D100-type of "mounts but doesn't meter" limitation.
Angle of view: 1.5x crop of 35mm view Plus 2x crop! Like I said, we could wish for something else, but I don't think we'll get it. And this preserves the "gains" at the telephoto end, unlike what would happen with a compromise such as 1.3x crop.
Viewfinder: optical 22mm eyepoint with shutter Nothing is really broken with the viewfinder. A few have asked for a sports-type viewfinder like the Sigma SD-9 features, and if you shoot at 2x, you've got it.
Focusing screen: interchangeable B-type, with E-grid available One thing that would be nice: a focusing screen option that supports manual focus better. But this would be an optional add-on, so there's nothing broken with the current spec.
Viewfinder coverage: 100% needs work No excuses! 96% is not enough, especially when that represents almost 200 pixels we wouldn't be seeing across the horizontal!
Viewfinder magnification: 0.8x Fine by me. If it could be pushed up a bit, that would be okay, too.
Viewfinder information: everything in current cameras plus actual AF sensor used, markers that more accurately reflect size and shape of sensors, and battery indicator Well, we didn't get shape right, but we got other things to compensate needs work The N75 tells me that Nikon can tell us which AF sensor is going to be used, they just don't. And there's no excuse for confusing shooters with viewfinder indicators that aren't the size and shape of the actual sensors and metering areas being used.
Reflex mirror: automatic instant return Even faster!  
Lens aperture: instant return with DOF preview  
Autofocus: CAM2003 module Okay, it's CAM 2000 replace current tech Nothing wrong with this new AF sensor arrangement. Works great with off-center subjects and in low light.
Lens servo: Single Servo, Continuous Servo, Manual focus, focus tracking, focus lock on  
Focus Areas: 9 sensors Plus two bonus sensors on the sides needs work  
AF Modes: Single area, Dynamic area Plus new group ability Again, it's not the options, it's the nomenclature and UI that get in the way of understanding.
Focus lock: AF-L button, custom setting for shutter release But...we need a permanent lock mode (press to lock, press to unlock).
Exposure metering: 1005-pixel color matrix, center-weight, spot meter, multiple spot averaging close close The missing element is Olympus' old spot averaging concept, where you could spot meter mutiple times and have the camera set an average. Not necessary, but useful in some situations, and a feature I miss.
Exposure metering range: 0-20 EV all modes (at ISO 100), and no restrictions due to Program mode needs work needs work The spot meter has long been suspect in low light conditions, and this needs to be addressed. Moreover, most users aren't aware of the matrix meter cut-off at ~17 EV in Program mode, and the camera does nothing to inform you of that, so let's can that while we're at it.
Exposure metering coupling: CPU and AI  
Exposure modes: Pn (no restrictions), Pr (restrictions), Pf (flexible), A, S, M, preferably set via a mode dial close close It would be nice to have a P mode that has no limitations (such as apertures while using flash). So we're asking for Pn and Pr modes (you want the restricted mode so that the camera can be set to perform the same as other Nikon bodies; this could be a custom setting instead of a mode on the dial. Also, the Program mode really should shift settings with longer lenses, as does the D100's Program modes.
Exposure compensation: +-5 EV in 1/6, 1/3, and 1/2 stops. close close I've added 1/6 stop for one reason: highlights. We want to push our highlights right up to the margin, when possible (it helps keep noise from creeping into the shadows), and for those that know what they're doing (and assuming the histogram function is improved), 1/6 stops would be useful.
Exposure lock: AF-L button But...there needs to be a permanent mode that survives DOF preview, multiple shots, etc.
Exposure bracketing: 2 to 5 images in 1/6, 1/3, or 1/2 stop intervals close needs work I want to nail those highlights. A 1/3 of a stop doesn't do it.
Shutter: 30 to 1/16,000, bulb lost 1/16,000 I like the current shutter, complete with it's electronic and mechanical duality.
Sync: 1/500 1/250 We lost the fast flash sync, though we gained a TTL High Speed flash sync mode with the SB-800.
Flash: TTL, A, and M flash control; flash exposure compensation controlled by the body. closer, but the wireless i-TTL still uses preflashes to communicate! needs lots of work Two things: D-TTL always pre-flashes, so it kills multiple flash TTL and wireless TTL abilities. Fujifilm has shown us that regular TTL can be made to work with digital sensors (and I'm perfectly willing to live with the ISO 400 limitation in order to get this), so let's kill the D-TTL variation before it becomes the standard. Second, I want the option of always controlling flash exposure compensation on the body or the flash. I don't want to set flash exposure compensation on my D100 body then forget that I haven't set it on my SB-80DX when I move it over to the D2x!
Connectors: PC Sync, 10-pin remote, DC in, Firewire and USB 2.0, Direct Save We lost Firewire and gained USB 2.0 and WiFI (b and g) close "Direct Save" means a (probably USB 2.0) connection that can be used in place of a CompactFlash card (e.g., give me a belt-pack hard drive that connects to this). With the WT-2 and Capture, we can come close to this, though.
Power: EN-4L (7.2v DC lithium battery pack) Bingo replace current tech Lithium. Lithium. Lithium (no, that's not me reminding myself to take mine ;~). We want longer life, no power loss during storage, and better cold performance characteristics, and all those things come from switching from NiMH to Lithium (or LithiumIon).
Size/Weight: close close The size of the D2x does push the limit of some of the smaller packs and cases, but it's perfectly okay for this calibre camera.
 

And here are some suggestions that came from others after my original post:

 
Price: US$6000 Actually turned out lower (US$4995 is a likely street price) 2/3's the price DA suggested that price is a significant issue, so I added it (he suggested a more elaborate three-part choice). The primary difference between the D1x and this hypothetical new camera is sensor, so I allowed for a US$2000+ markup from the D1x. That makes this product competitive with everything else currently on the market, yet doesn't price it out of the market. Nikon's pricing is more aggressive than I suggested.
Options: ability to download, label, and use multiple Custom Curves; user settable sharpening; ISO in viewfinder; grids in viewfinder; D100-type preview zooming; Custom Settings Banks store all camera settings; allow the LCD to flip to a closed, protective position. ISO in the viewfinder!, other settings are now banked, more sharpening options not close PB suggests the multiple curves option, which should be simple to implement and useful to JPEG shooters. MB suggests a user-settable sharpening option (let the user set the mask settings instead of hard coding a few options). Perhaps this can be similar to the Custom Curves (i.e., produce the mask in Capture, download to camera). AM makes several good additions: the viewfinder should show ISO in use (especially if Auto ISO is supported); We should have a grid overlay ala the D100, but with the 8x10 crop points added; and the D2x should have the D100's preview zooming ability, not the D1's. DH suggests that Custom Settings banks should store all camera functions and settings. PC thinks the LCD should be like on consumer cameras, where it can flipped to a storage position to protect it.
Cleaning: Easier Job passed off to Capture  ! BW suggest that the D2x should be have a CCD that's easier to clean. A couple of things: we need a "landing area" at the edges of the CCD to get our swabs off onto; you should be able to lock the shutter open with a full battery.
Connectors: grip-strap connector no  no MA suggests that Nikon add loops for a grip strap, ala Canon and Kodak (currently you'd have to use the tripod socket for a third-party strap).
Fixes: Compressed NEF remaining frames indicator correct; syncronize flash zoom settings with the 1.5x angle of view change; GPS wake up; removable viewfinder; prism doesn't stick out in front of camera no no DH suggests that the Frames Remaining indicator should tell how many frames are left with some guess at how compression will do (after all, that's what the camera does for JPEG images). BW suggests making the angle of view for the flash match that of the camera (right now we waste power because the angle isn't matched). DF notes that the camera stops communications with the GPS unit when it goes to sleep and takes time to reestablish when it wakes up, thus the GPS data can be missing if you shoot immediately upon waking from sleep. GP wants a removable viewfinder ala the F5 and for the prism and grip not to stick out in front of the camera (to mount large mirror lenses, for example).
 
 
Weigh In!


Got Your Own Ideas?

Send me an email enumerating them. I'll add the best to the end of the article.

Last Page Update: 9/16/04: Changed to D2x


When?


There's no out-guessing Nikon on new product releases; they just don't seem to march to any drummer other than some internal "it's done" timer.

The D2h was announced in late July and was first delivered to retail stores in October. "Normal" availability was December for most folk. The D2x was announced in September for January delivery. With only 8000 units a month being made, it's likely to be in short supply for awhile.


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