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D1X Tip: undocumented feature keeps camera awake  
Tuesday, June 26, 2001 | by
A common complaint among Nikon D1 sports shooters, especially those using two cameras, is that the second camera is often asleep when grabbed to take a quick sidelines photo. And because the D1's inactivity timer can be dialed up to a maximum of no more than 16 seconds, for some the result has been an unwelcome effective shutter lag of about 1/2 second when a sleeping D1 is pressed into shooting an incoming receiver or other fast-moving object. This lag is longer still with certain CompactFlash cards.

Pre-production D1X cameras sported the same 16 second maximum inactivity timeout in Custom Settings, suggesting that the second camera sleeping problem facing Nikon sports shooters was not to disappear anytime soon.

Late in the development of the D1X, however, Nikon engineers implemented a partial solution. Though not documented in the manual, it's possible to raise the D1X's inactivity timeout from 16 seconds to 30 minutes (yes, 30 minutes), thereby minimizing the chance of the camera drifting off at an inopportune moment. To force the 30 second inactivity timeout, hold down the BKT and AF-ON buttons as the camera is turned on. The top LCD will display its full range of symbols briefly, which seems to indicate that the D1X has recognized the special button combo.

At that point, the camera will not go to sleep (or Auto Meter-Off, as Nikon has dubbed it in the D1X's menus) until a full 30 minutes of inactivity has elapsed. Any activity - half-pressing the shutter button, shooting pictures - resets the timer to 30 minutes again, so in the second camera scenario alluded to above, all one would need to do is nudge the shutter button every few minutes to ensure the camera is fully ready to go throughout an extended event.

If the camera does sit idle long enough to go to sleep, or is turned off, the D1X reverts to the chosen inactivity timeout value stored in Custom Setting 15. Turning the camera on with BKT and AF-ON pressed once again kicks the inactivity timer up to 30 minutes.

Keeping the camera awake continuously translates into increased battery consumption. A backup D1X that's fast asleep should easily last through an entire football game on one battery; one that's awake would likely not, even if it's used to shoot only a handful of frames. One or more spare batteries, or an external battery, is going to be a must for some.

D1 users who feel left out in the cold by this under-the-hood D1X feature will be pleased to hear that two solutions exist that enable the D1 (and the D1X too, for that matter) to stay awake perpetually:

  • Connect a PocketWizard N90M3-P cable. This US$150 cable, which mates to the D1/X via its 10-pin remote socket, is meant to trigger the camera from afar via a PocketWizard radio remote. The short, relatively unobtrusive cable has a two position switch; when set to Pre-Release, the D1 and D1X does not go to sleep, even if no PocketWizard is connected to the cable's other end. In fact, the camera acts in every respect like the shutter button is permanently half-pressed. This shouldn't present a problem for photographers who have chosen D1/X Custom Setting 4-1, which relegates autofocus to the AF-ON button exclusively. Shooters who have Custom Setting 4-0 selected, and who therefore use the shutter button for both autofocus activation and shutter release, will need to adjust to focusing with the AF-ON thumb button only before trying out this cable workaround. In addition, the D1X's playback capabilities drift mildly out of whack when the cable's switch is set to Pre-Release. For instance, pressing the Monitor button immediately after shooting a picture brings that picture up on screen, but no playback or menu functions are available until the cable is switched off Pre-Release, to Normal. Similar quirks may exist with the D1 too, though I've not tried to unearth any as I write this. All of this may sound unworkable, but in practice, the N90M3P cable is a pretty cool and simple way to workaround the 16 second inactivity timer of the D1 in particular.

  • Connect an external power source. When the D1/X recognizes an external power source is connected to the DC input on the front of the camera, the camera happily ignores Custom Setting 15 and stays awake until switched off or the external power source is disconnected. One of the hottest pro photography products to come along in awhile is the US$250 Digital Camera Battery. It provides power to the D1/X via the DC input port, and once connected, the camera stays awake until the juice runs out. See Digital Camera Battery powers cameras, flashes and more for an extensive look at this impressive new power pack.

Here's hoping that the upcoming Nikon D1H provides, at minimum, the same 30 minute timer.

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