Sometime in the past 18 months or so, it became a given that Nikon's D1H was an inferior camera to the Canon EOS-1D for news and sports photography. It has long been the buzz of pro-focused Internet chat rooms as well as the main thrust of numerous casual conversations we've had with photographers at big events: Nikon has been thumped by Canon. When will they respond, and will their response be worth waiting for?
Having shot the EOS-1D and D1H about equally, for both sports action as well as more routine stuff, we've never agreed with the notion that the the 1D thumps the D1H, though for sports the Canon camera's 8 fps, short shutter lag and superb first-frame autofocus performance make it an impressive tool for shooting the Big Game. But the D1H's superiority in dull but essential areas such as ambient metering and TTL flash, its more thoroughly-designed image playback mode, combined with really good sports action capabilities too, means we consider the cameras to be more or less equal overall, though different. Only in the area of enlargeability and croppability does the 1D's detailed 4MP file clearly trump the D1H at 2.7MP.
Whatever your opinion might be about Nikon's news and sports camera, it's almost certainly going to change when the D2H hits the streets. Richard LoPinto, Nikon USA's VP for SLR Camera Systems, describes the D2H as a "500 pound frog" that's poised to leap over the competition. Of course, such statements are the stuff that marketing hyperbole is made of. At the same time, however, it's clear that in designing their next generation digital SLR with the H designation, Nikon has set out to build not just a camera that matches the sexier specifications of the EOS-1D, but one that stomps all over its Canon competitor in the thoroughness of its design.
Nikon D2H - top view
Are we excited about the potential of this new digital SLR camera? You bet. Our only concern right now is that the D2H might not be able to live up to the monstrous engineering effort that clearly has gone into designing it. If the retooled AF system and all-new, Nikon-designed imager work as well as Nikon is promising, the new camera could in fact be the 500 pound frog that LoPinto describes. If not, well... With so much that's new in one camera, we recommend not counting all your D2H chickens before the camera hatches later this year.
If the D2H is good, then there's reason to get excited about what Nikon can achieve with a D2X for other photography segments. Though Nikon has not announced a bigger-file sibling for the D2H, it doesn't take JoJo the Psychic to figure out that a higher-resolution camera in the same skin as the D2H is all but guaranteed to follow in 2004. Less certain is whether the new core camera capabilities, including the revamped AF and flash system, will be rolled into a replacement for the F5. If ever there was an indicator, however, that Nikon thinks it can build a better film camera that what has come before, it's all the new, cool stuff in the D2H.
The D2H is already working the trade show and retail circuit, with near-daily reports on the Web of the camera turning up at this event and that photo shop. Nikon has announced that the first time for working photographers to shoot with the camera and handle its files will be the 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, which commence on August 23rd in Paris. Other opportunities to use the camera at major sporting competitions are expected to follow shortly thereafter.
The Nikon D2H is slated to ship in Q4 of 2003 at a list price of US$3500 in the US, €4000 in Germany and £2800 in the UK (pricing will vary by world region; list prices are generally higher than the actual price charged). The D1H has not been discontinued, and will continue to be manufactured as long as there is demand.