What's an expensive camera worth to you?

What's an expensive camera worth to you?

No pain, no gain. The Nikon D1x makes a heavy handful, but its output is heavy-duty.

$5,000 gets you a versatile, professional-level imaging tool

Why should you spend more than $5,000 for a digital camera body? In a word, flexibility.

[IMGCAP(1)]That's what you get with the expensive but capable Nikon D1x'Nikon's top-end, single-lens reflex camera. It uses any of several dozen Nikkor lenses. The rugged body itself is loaded with features suitable for professional photography.

I consider all digital cameras, from toylike point-and-shooters to fine instruments like the D1x, overpriced relative to film cameras with the same functionality and optical quality. But if your agency's imaging requirements call for what this Nikon can do, you won't go wrong.

Many agencies document their activities, and some'particularly the armed services'must do so at a level beyond what is possible with bargain cameras. For the knowledgeable photographer, the D1x has immense capability. It is the current choice of many professional photojournalists.

Three metering modes

With a resolution of 5.3 megapixels, three metering modes and two color modes, there is little the D1x can't do, especially when coupled with the accessories Nikon offers. I found the metering choices well-suited for a variety of shooting situations.

For general scenery and front-lit subjects of average reflectance, you'd use the full-screen metering mode. For backlit, unusually dark or light, or other difficult situations, the camera has center-weighted metering, which Nikon pioneered decades ago, and spot metering.

As with any good SLR, you can choose aperture priority or shutter speed priority, with shutter speeds up to 1/16,000 of a second. That'll freeze a cheetah running flat out. Or the camera can choose its shutter/aperture combo.

You can fire away at three frames per second or single-shot mode.

The D1x uses CompactFlash cards for storage. At full resolution, a 64M card stores about 36 shots. The camera also accepts an IBM Microdrive with 1G of storage, enough for hundreds of pictures. Resellers charge around $400 for the Microdrive.

[IMGCAP(2)]I particularly liked the camera's nickel-metal hydride batteries, which are large enough for a couple of hundred shots if you use the built-in color LED sparingly. They hold a charge for weeks and recharge in less than two hours.

Shooting is straightforward with a big, comfortable, built-in grip. Your forefinger rests on the shutter release without too much contortion. Like most other SLRs, it is designed for the right-handed. I'm a leftie who has come to accept this.

Viewing with the left or right eye mashes your nose or cheek against the monitor screen. Being a lifelong film photographer, I don't like taking pictures with a monitor as a viewfinder. But I'm a relic'my favorite pastime is using a 4- by 5-inch view camera with a black cloth over my head. Images on the ground glass are backwards and upside down.

Some might object to the Nikon's heft; it weighs in at 4 pounds, 4 ounces. I'm used to old, all-metal cameras like my trusty Nikon F and Mamiya C330 twin-lens reflex.

The viewfinder seemed a bit dark, probably a function of the thick lens I was using, a Nikkor 28mm-85mm zoom. The autofocus'with two modes, continuous and lock-on'was quick and precise.

My main quibble with the D1x is its sheer complexity. There are so many cryptic controls, some behind a flip-down panel, that you literally can't use them without reading the thick manual. That's the price of extreme flexibility.

Flexible means complex

Complexity carries over to the top-mounted LCD. It can be difficult to decipher, doesn't have enough contrast and is under a shiny plastic cover that causes glare. Confusingly, some settings display on the LCD, others on the color LED screen and still others on a third screen, an LCD below the LED.

Also, you can't change viewfinders to substitute, for example, a waist-level finder for the prism. But I guess with a bright LED viewing screen such functionality would be obsolete.

Still, after an evening's study and a couple of days' use, the camera becomes much more intuitive and enjoyable to use. The images it produces are top-notch, sufficient for any professional publishing or display application.

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