Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Nikon D1x: "Biglips is King"

Back in 2001 the Nikon D1x was hot stuff, Nikon's top professional camera, selling for $5,000 or so, that could blow your head clean off. I picked one up recently for much less, because time is a monster to old digital cameras, and I was curious to see what it was like. This relic from a bygone age. This thing lots of people had admired from afar, because it cost $5,000, at a time when that was a lot of money.

Despite depreciating like mad it still has a certain kind of dignity, a certain professional sheen even today. It's thoroughly over-the-hill, but how else are you going to get hold of a hefty, all-metal, professional digital SLR, with a decent resolution and a built-in big man's portrait grip, for £180 or so? Or £250-ish if it comes with the charger, and the rubber is still intact.

(EDIT I: I published this in 2009, at a time when I hadn't settled on a style, and I've tinkered with it ever since then. As a consequence it reads like the patchwork of three different minds. Just enjoy the pictures - I concentrated more on the pictures in later years - and ponder why the hell I took so many shots of bloody clouds.)

(EDIT II: Compare the following with a post I wrote about the plain, vanilla Nikon D1 in December 2011; snappier, more pictures.)

(EDIT III: And in February 2013, long after selling the D1x in this post, I bought another one - for the same money, they've depreciated as far as they're going to go. The shots of London were all taken with this camera using a 50mm f/1.8D mostly at f/2. The 50mm f/1.8D is the evil, Nikon-world twin of Canon's 50mm f/1.8. Their lens is almost the same, optically; soft wide open, excellent from f/2.8 onwards, unattractive bokeh albeit without the pentagonal highlights (it has a seven-bladed aperture)).

The first digital SLRs dated from the mid-1990s. They were marketed by Kodak, and used Kodak electronic components bolted on to 35mm film SLR bodies, typically supplied by Nikon. The earlier models were very crude by modern standards and sold for astronomical sums, $20,000+, but they were well-received by government agencies and newspapers and anybody who needed to capture and transmit images as quickly as possible.

In 1998 Kodak launched a second generation, starting with the Canon-bodied Kodak DCS 520 / Canon D2000, and continuing with the Nikon-bodied DCS 600 and DCS 700. These cameras introduced a range of features that are still standard today, such as a colour LCD screen with a luminance histogram and blinking over-exposed highlights, user-selectable white balance, removable batteries and storage media, and so forth. It all sounds basic today but none of these things existed before 1998. For a very brief period they were the most popular professional digital SLRs on the market, despite prices upwards of $15,000. By modern standards the second wave of DCS cameras are large and heavy, but they still look modern from the outside, and the six-megapixel models at least are still capable of decent resolution under favourable lighting conditions.

Kodak's near-monopoly on the digital SLR market vanished with the 1999 launch of the Nikon D1. It was a two megapixel design that competed directly with Kodak's two megapixel DCS 620, and outperformed it in most respects. With a retail price of roughly $5,000 it was even within reach of (wealthy) amateurs, and sold like hot cakes, forcing Kodak to slash the cost of its cameras. The DCS 620 was launched for $15,000 in 1999, but was reduced to $5,500 a year later. The camera was discontinued in July 2001.

Kodak soldiered on with the high-iso 620x and 720x, and the high-resolution DCS 760, but left the press photography market in 2002. Kodak's DCS range had been aimed strictly at the professional market, and perhaps because of this it did not attract any kind of fan following; on a cultural level the DCS range had the same impact as a top-notch set of machine tools, or a special high-volume smelting machine, i.e. it had no cultural impact.

As of 2011 Kodak is in terrible shape, on the verge of being split up and sold off, which is sad because the company laid all the groundwork for the modern digital camera market, and - if only for a few years - it seemed to be doing all right. But they abandoned the professional market and concentrated on punting commodity digital compacts, sold at bargain prices. Apparently these cameras do quite well, and are one of the few bits of Kodak that makes any money, but it's a shame they didn't take a few more risks. Say what you like about Apple, the company wasn't scared to take risks and fail. Some people pooh-poohed the idea of an Apple phone successfully competing with Nokia et al; but now the pooh-poohing is on the other, er, foot.

The D1 was followed in 2001 by the D1h and the D1x. The D1h was a debugged D1, with a faster and longer burst mode and several small changes, but the same resolution. It tends to be fairly rare on eBay, either because the D1h didn't sell well, or perhaps the people who bought them don't want to sell them. The D1x was the high-resolution counterpart of the D1h, with a 5.8mp sensor and a more limited continuous-shot capability, although it was very popular with the press crowd as well. Mid-way through production Nikon offered a buffer upgrade, and the general impression I have is that the camera was a solid success. I don't have any sales figures to back this up, but the internet has no shortage of contemporary articles about the D1x, and there are lots of samples. It appeared to be the standard NASA and US military camera during the early 2000s, for example.

As a consequence a lot of the used examples tend to have been used, rather than molly-coddled. Mine was in tatty condition, smelling of cigarette smoke, with loose grips. The grips seem to be the only real design flaw of these old Nikons, not just the D1 but the earlier F5 film SLR as well. On a mechanical level the cameras appear to be indestructible, and in fact eBay is clogged with used Nikon D1s that still function bur remain unsold because nobody wants them. But the rubber grips come loose and stretch, peeling off around the edges. The handgrip tends to ride up so that it blocks the front command wheel, and no amount of trimming and glueing will make things right.

Fortunately, replacement rubber is widely available, and after a bit of transatlantic eBaying I ended up with a new set of grips. They stick on with double-sided tape which does not quite extend to the edges of the grips, which is perhaps why they come off. I imagine that a few football matches, with sweaty hands, a 300mm f/2.8, would either cement the grips on forever or have them falling off.

Whilst replacing the grips I had a look at the naked D1x, stripped of its skin. The gaps in the metal chassis are filled in with strips of rubber, and the screw holes have little rubber caps. The D1 series is apparently weatherproofed, but whereas Canon is quite bolshy about this feature of their professional bodies, Nikon keeps relatively quiet about it. Whether this means that Nikon's weather sealing is less effective than Canon's weather sealing, dunno.

Kodak's late-period press models had a two-megapixel sensor that ranged from ISO 200 to ISO 1600. The company's portrait models where physically identical but had a six-megapixel sensor with a more limited ISO range. Six megapixels was a lot of megapixels in 1998, and is still decent even in 2009. It's enough for most applications where absolute file size is not an issue, e.g. it's overkill for Facebook and A4 prints, but stock photo libraries won't be impressed any more. Kodak's cameras were built around professional film SLR bodies, with a Kodak digital module grafted onto the back, and were physically large and solidly-constructed. By modern standards the output of these cameras is smooth and detailed at base ISO, and with the anti-aliasing filter and a good lens there's plenty of fine detail. Here's a shot of a famous London landmark taken with a Kodak DCS 560, one of the six-megapixel models:

The D1x competed directly with the Kodak DCS 760, which was larger and more expensive, with slightly higher resolution. Digital Photography Review compared the two cameras in its evaluation of the DCS 760, and generally came down in favour of the D1x. In many ways the DCS 760 is still an impressive camera - a 1.3x cropping factor, removable antialiasing and infrared filters, dual hot-swappable card slots, interchangeable metering prisms, an actual Nikon F5 body - but it's huge and heavy and makes no sense on a rational level. On an irrational level, a used DCS 760 is, as far as I can tell, the largest conventional digital SLR ever made, and if you want to be conspicuous it is an excellent choice. Here's a shot of one sitting next to a Nikon D1:

Several of Kodak's DCS cameras were taken into space on board the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Some of the cameras were left as-is for use inside the spacecraft, and some were covered in insulation for use outside. At least one DCS 760 was lost in space when the astronaut let go of it. The D1 and D1x eventually replaced the Kodak models as the standard NASA models, and were popular with the military as well. The internet has lots of sample images of jets and destroyers and lady snipers and divers and parachutists and astronauts and bits of the earth taken with Nikon D1-series cameras. There's a fascinating gallery here of spacepeople with their toys, including what must surely be the ultimate geek bedroom (complete with geek). The bulky DCS 760 looks at home in a weightless environment; the D1 and D1x look positively toy-like in comparison.

The D1x was released in early 2001, at a time when Nikon was doing very well in the digital camera marketplace. From 1998 until 2002 the company's split-body Coolpix 900/4500-series models were probably the most-desired compact digital cameras amongst photographic enthusiasts. Their combination of good performance and manual features appealed to amateurs and professionals, especially given that most contemporary compact digital cameras were simple point-and-shoots. The company I worked for at the time bought a Coolpix 950, I believe, for product shots. This was a time, during the early days of the boom, when digital capture for websites was a must, but an actual digital SLR and a bunch of macro lenses would have been outside the budget of all but the most monied of the boomers.

In the professional marketplace the D1 had been very popular, and Canon was still developing a professional digital SLR to compete with it. The 3mp Canon D30 was aimed at advanced amateurs, but also sold well to professionals on account of its keen price, good high-ISO performance, and compact size. Nonetheless its autofocus system was very indecisive - I used to own one, I can attest to this, it was horrible - and on a physical level it had all the bulk of the D1 without the same tank-like toughness. My D1x feels like a single block of metal with rubber around it. When I autofocus on something the camera goes "phwzfph" and the subject is almost instantly in focus, all the time, even if I'm indoors in the shade with a polarising filter on an f/3.5 lens. Yes, I said "phwzfph". The camera only has five autofocus points, arranged logically in a + pattern, but they work and they work well. The meter updates at a frantic rate, and in common with Nikon's other pro models the camera meters with older, manual focus lenses as well (the inability of modern Nikon bodies to meter with non-electronic lenses is one of those things that baffles users of other camera systems, such as myself).

The D1x was followed a year later by the Nikon D100, a six-megapixel camera aimed at the semi-pro market. It was one of the best of its breed, and was good enough for National Geographic on account of its solid image quality and clean long-duration exposures. The D1x isn't so good at long exposures - beyond a few seconds the pictures become speckled with hotspots, so it's useless for astronomy. You can see a couple of examples of this in the sample images at Steve's Digicams.

Still, back in 2001 Nikon was top of the heap, but unfortunately the day did not last. Or rather it lasted too long, because the company had a tough time coming up with a second wave. The D1 hadn't been launched in isolation - there was a new flash system, a clutch of new lenses, and the company had launched a range of top-end film scanners as part of its Total Imaging System - and presumably all this activity had stretched the company's resources. The D1, D100 hung around too long, and their replacements took several years to emerge and didn't set the world on fire when they did. Canon eventually entered the pro market with the 1D, which came out in 2001 and sold strongly, although it had quirks of its own. Compared to the D1h it had a smaller buffer, but a higher resolution sensor (4mp vs 2.7mp), and a faster frame rate, 8fps compared to the D1h's 5fps. The sensor itself was slightly larger, too, although this was neither good nor bad. Arguments raged at the time as to the relative merits of each camera's high-ISO performance; they were basically the same.

The D2h came out in 2003 and used a novel "JFET LBCAST" sensor, which stands for something or other and is meaningless now. Great things were promised of this sensor, but its performance didn't stand out, and Nikon never used it ever again, or at least if they did they didn't boast about it. The camera seemed to offer no compelling performance advantage over the Canon 1D, which was by that time almost two years old. Canon's 1D MkII was released shortly afterwards, with twice the resolution and a slightly faster frame rate than the D2h.

The D1x's proper successor was the D2x, which didn't come out until 2005, eighteen months after the D2h and four years after the D1x. During that period of time the D1x's resolution advantage had been overtaken by at least two generations of consumer-orientated digital SLRs, and thoroughly smashed by Canon's eleven megapixel full-frame 1Ds. The D2x itself had a twelve megapixel sensor with the standard Nikon 1.5x cropping factor. It went head-to-head with Canon's 1Ds MkII, which brought a sixteen megapixel full-frame sensor to the table. Full-frame. Those words haunted Nikon. Whatever the merits and disadvantages of the full-frame format, it has a powerful allure.

The D2x seemed to fall between two stools. It was almost as fast as the D2h, and in fact had a special 2x cropping mode that shot at the same rate with a higher resolution. Nonetheless the reviews I have read have a defensive air, as if the reviewers were trying too hard to root for the underdog. Simultaneously Nikon was doing very well in the consumer SLR marketplace, with the popular D40 starting its lengthy run as the default good budget digital SLR, and more than a few Nikon fans were starting to worry that the company was lagging behind.

Which is a shame, because Nikon has romantic appeal. In the minds of many photographers Nikon equals harrowing images of the Vietnam war, harrowing images of cute foreign people begging for food whilst a man with an assault rifle watches them, whereas Canon equals harrowing images of Chelsea beating Arsenal 3-2, or harrowing images of Katie Price clambering out of a car, or harrowing images of ordinary-looking people getting married. Fortunately for the souls of lovers, the company made a strong comeback with the D3, a full-frame model launched in 2008 with impressive high-ISO performance. This was just what the market wanted, and the D3 was a big success. Canon's eventual response was incremental, and didn't really stand out, and as of 2011 the balance has tipped slightly in Nikon's direction. Let's hope that they don't suddenly own up to a decade-long accounting fraud that destroys their share price. That would be unfortunate.

The company seems to have given up on the compact digital market. It sells a range of compact cameras, but no-one cares about them. Canon grabbed the market for high-end compacts with their G-series and the S90, and latterly Panasonic grabbed some of it from Canon, with the LX cameras, and over the last few years the whole shebang has been thrown around by the introduction of interchangeable-lens compacts. Nikon recently launched a new, tiny-sensor interchangeable compact, which is expensive but not bad, and time will tell how well it does.

The D1x has an unusual imaging pathway. The sensor itself is a ten megapixel model designed by Sony. It was apparently an enlargement of the same basic design that Sony had produced for Nikon's compact Coolpix models. Lone Star Digital has the world's only authoritative article on this topic, and it's a fascinating read. Although the sensor had ten million photosites, the various D1 models ganged them into bunches. I've read different explanations as to why Sony didn't simply use fewer, larger pixels. Given that the D1 had trouble with stuck pixels in long-duration exposures, I surmise it was a clever way of improving high-ISO performance without reducing manufacturing yield; ten wonky photosites in a ganged, ten megapixel matrix would have far less impact than ten wonky photosites in a two-point-seven megapixel matrix. As of 2011 I expect we'll never have an official explanation. It was a long time ago.

In the D1 the pixels were arranged in a matrix consisting of 2,014 by 1,324 blocks of four pixels, ganged together. The later D1h had the same arrangement. The D1x used the exact same sensor, but with the pixels batched in a rectangular arrangement that measured 4,028 by 1,324, giving twice the horizontal resolution of the D1. The camera's electronic brain squashed this rectangular raw image to produce a finished file with an aspect ratio of 3:2 and a resolution of 3,008 by 1,960 pixels, slightly less than six megapixels. The vertical squishing apparently had the beneficial side-effect of speeding up write times, because the camera didn't have to read any more rows from the sensor.

Here's an example of the D1x's electronic magic. The image at the top was created by running a D1X .NEF RAW file through DCRaw, using the -j flag. The image at the bottom is the same .NEF file, decoded properly, sized roughly to scale:

You can see that the image has been squashed horizontally and expanded vertically. The squishing and expanding means that the finished images don't quite have the same resolution as the output from a conventional six megapixel sensor, particularly in the vertical dimension, but in practice the results were good enough back in 2001. The only other six megapixel digital SLRs at the time were either astronomically expensive or vapourware. Even so, the effect isn't totally transparent; take for example the sample crops in Digital Photography Review's evaluation of the Kodak DCS 760, a camera which had a conventional, non-interpolated six megapixel sensor. The image of the royal seal at the top has an oddly stretched look.

DCRaw is great fun, by the way. Here's what happens if you run one of the RAW files from a Fuji S2 through it:

Fuji use a special sensor of their own devising, which has the pixels arranged at 45° to the horizontal. Supposedly this improves perceived resolution, although this claim has always been controversial. Still, I digress.

Presumably Nikon could have developed a ten megapixel variation of the D1, but chose not to. I surmise that the image quality would have been similar to the contemporary Coolpix 990, which was noisy even at a mocked-up ISO 50. In 2001 this hypothetical ten megapixel D1 would probably have been popular with studio photographers, but it would have looked very dated when set against the Canon 1Ds.

The D1x's pixel-ganging process was unusual, although a similar system was used in Fuji's S3 and S5 digital SLRs as a means of expanding the dynamic range rather than lowering image noise. The concept of squashing the sensor data in one dimension and expanding it in another is, as far as I know, unique to the D1x. Nikon's contemporary, consumer-orientated D100 used a standard six megapixel sensor, with a native resolution of 3032 by 2016 pixels, but presumably it was too long in development for Nikon to put it into the D1x.

In practice I find that the images have a stretched look, as mentioned before, but I suspect that I only notice this because I am looking for it. It tends to be obvious in the background luminance noise in patches of sky, and is less obvious when looking at areas of fine detail, but nonetheless I find that, to my eye, even professional sample shots on the internet have an odd, "digital" look that is hard to describe. The grain tends to look like video footage rather than film grain.

Most RAW converters have the option of preserving the D1x's native 4,000-pixel horizontal resolution, whilst simultaneously bulking up the vertical pixel resolution, thus producing a ten megapixel image. This sounds interesting in theory - the resulting image, when downsized to 3,008 x 1,960 pixels, should have slightly more horizontal resolution than the D1x's standard six megapixel output - but in practice I can't see any benefit. I can see a certain amount of difference between the same file opened at the two different resolutions and sized to match, but it's only apparent when viewed at 500% or more, and I can't tell if the difference is extra resolution or simply an artefact of the resizing process.

Here's a small example. The image on the right is a 100% crop of a 10mp rendering of a D1x .NEF file. The image on the left is the same crop of a normal 5.8mp file bicubically upscaled to match. Neither image is sharpened. The only significant difference I can detect between the two images is that the one on the left is to the left of the one on the right, and vice-versa. If I size the 10mp image down to 5.8mp the end result does not appear to have any more detail than the same file opened at 5.8mp and then expanded out to 10mp and then sized back down to 5.8mp.

At this point I worry that I am approaching a kind of madness. It's possible to open the D1x's .NEF files at the native 2.7mp resolution of the D1 and D1h, in which case they have a crisp look. When these files are sized up and compared with native 5.8mp files, they are less detailed but not overwhelmingly so. I imagine that you would need a keen eye to detect a difference between prints made with a D1/D1h and those made with a D1x, or you would need to inspect very large prints up-close.

Nonetheless I conclude that (a) the D1x's 5.8mp file size is not solely the product of interpolation, unlike the contemporary Fuji S1, which interpolated its 3mp images to 6mp without adding significant extra detail, and that (b) the D1x's resolution advantage over the D1/D1h is not crushingly obvious, and that (c) there's no advantage to opening the D1x's files at 10mp, except perhaps for ease of editing, and at the same time there is no disadvantage to opening them at that resolution beyond disc storage and memory requirements, which are much less relevant with a 10mp file on modern computers.

It's futile of me to write at great length about the D1x's technical specification. The camera is well-covered in several thorough reviews that remain on the internet. It was released at a time when digital SLRs were still a novelty, but nonetheless the main review sites covered it, including Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and Britain's Digital Photography Review. has lots of washed-out photographs of two dogs and some people moving a boat.

The D1x will take six .NEF RAW files at three frames a second, or fourteen if the camera has a buffer memory upgrade that was offered as a factory option. In everyday use, taking intermittent shots, occasionally using bracketing, I have never overloaded the buffer or found myself unable to take a shot. The camera takes standard CompactFlash cards, although it will only see the lower 2gb of each card (and in my experience it will not actually read 4gb cards at all). That equates to around 250 images per card, give or take a few images depending on the card. Changing cards is great fun. The door is opened with a button, which is hidden behind a flip-open catch - just like the self destruct button on a spaceship in a science fiction film. Similarly, the menu and white balance buttons are hidden underneath a flip-down metal door that is held in place with magnets. This is a design trope carried over from the F5; it was silly then, and it died a death, because there's no real reason to shut the door.

The camera doesn't have an orientation sensor, and so you have to manually rotate images yourself. This is a burden if you have taken one hundred and fifty images in portrait orientation with twenty in landscape orientation scattered in amongst them.

The LCD screen is very poor by modern standards; it is grainy and dark and it has too many pages of information and the histogram is screwy. You scroll through the images by pressing up and down, rather than left and right. Even after a few months I find myself accidentally paging through the stats pages rather than moving to the next image. Here's a shot of the screen display compared with the end result. The screen display is certainly vivid, all right, but it's not accurate:

The camera's exposure system is generally excellent, although it tends to underexpose a bit (the shot in the example above was taken with +1 exposure compensation). Perhaps Nikon's engineers decided to do this deliberately in order to preserve highlight information. In contrast, the D1 I bought many years later tended to be dead-on. For photojournalistic work, noisy-but-detailed shadows would be much less offensive than completely blown-out highlights. If you study this D1x sample image of the guided missile destroyer USS Porter, taken by LTJG Caleb Swigart, it looks as if the photographer has shot for the highlights, and brought up the shadows in the ship's superstructure a fair amount, with results that are noticeably noisy if you zoom right in, although not offensively so.

If you look again it appears that there's a spot of dust on the sensor, over one of the destroyer's radar panels. Nikon was originally very strict about sensor cleaning. The manual for the D1 and D1x forbids photographers from making direct physical contact with the sensor in any way. "Dirt that can not be removed with a blower can only be removed by Nikon-authorized service personnel. Under no circumstances should you touch or wipe the filter", it says. It's interesting to compare this with the advice given in the user manual for the earlier Kodak DCS 460, which has a detailed section explaining how to equalise your static potential with the camera and then wipe the camera's sensor with cleaning pads and solution. Most subsequent digital SLR manuals were vague on this topic, presumably so that the manufacturers could absolve themselves of blame if something went wrong.

In common with several early digital SLRs, the D1x absolutely requires mains power to activate the mirror-up cleaning mode, although I have been using a rocket air blower and bulb with no complaints. It's worth pointing out that the mirror-up cleaning mode literally just raises the mirror, it doesn't actually clean the sensor. You have to do that yourself. The D1x's sensor is buried away in the body, surrounded by a bracket. The infrared blocking hot mirror filter is not bonded to the sensor, and can be removed by yourself if you're feeling brave.

The D1x's high ISO performance is surprisingly good, although when I say "high ISO" I mean ISO 800. The camera has two higher ISO settings - "one step over 800" and "two steps over 800", which are accessed via a custom function. Once set, the camera is locked into that ISO until you go back into the menu system. The manual goes out of its way to avoid saying "ISO 1600" and "ISO 3200". I am not sure whether they are really ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, or a hack whereby an ISO 800 image is underexposed by one or two stops, and then brought back during the RAW development phase. The noise is basically on a par with the original D1, but of course the image is twice as big, so it's not as apparent (the D1h was about a stop better, e.g. very good indeed for the time).

Nikon's digital cameras traditionally perform strong chroma noise reduction and weak luminance noise reduction. This results in an image that has clean colours but noticeable grain. In contrast, other manufacturers tend to perform strong luminance noise reduction, which results in a slightly plastic look, with areas of flat uniform colour and smeared details. I do not mind grain so much, and as a consequence I find that the D1x's images at ISO 800 are a-okay. They are markedly superior to images take at ISO 800 by the earlier Kodak DCS 520 / Canon D2000, and they don't have the ugly banding patterns that marred the D1's high-ISO images. The D1x's colours seem generally accurate and pleasing to my eye, although not perfect. There seems to be more of a tendency to "posterise" fine gradients. Whether this is because the sensor's photosites are relatively small, or simply because the sensor is old, or whether I am simply wrong, dunno.

Time has not been kind to the D1x's used value. It suffers from having a lower resolution and ISO range than any modern consumer digital SLR, with no technological "killer app" to compensate. In contrast, Canon's flagship models of the same period still fetch a decent price, because there is at least one element of their specification that still turns heads. The 1Ds of 2002 had a full-frame sensor with a resolution only one megapixel less than that of the modern Nikon D3; the 1D fired at eight frames a second, and both cameras have the same tough body and accurate autofocus. The D1x also has a tough body and fast autofocus, but those two attributes are hard to become excited about unless you have the camera in your hand. If you are looking at a used D1x on eBay, you can't see the heft or the flicky shutter blackout or the sense that it would probably survive being dropped onto the metal deck of an aircraft carrier.

Still, if you're going on a trip to a desolate land, a used D1x is the cheapest way to buy a weather-sealed digital SLR of a decent resolution, assuming you find one in good condition, and you don't mind packing a weighty metal brick in your luggage. The batteries are large and heavy and increasingly hard to source. The D1 cameras use a Ni-MH battery pack that runs almost the full length of the camera's base. Rather than being enclosed by a door, the battery actually forms part of the camera's outer shell, with the non-terminal end of the battery becoming the bottom-left corner of the camera. The battery is held in with a metal catch and friction from the weather sealing. In theory, if you forget to lock the battery in place, there is a risk that it will fall straight out when you move to portrait orientation. I have not yet had this happen.

I cannot find any accurate figures on the shutter life of the Nikon D1x / D1 / D1h. They are the oldest modern professional digital SLRs and many of them saw extremely heavy use in hostile environments, and yet the internet does not have mass reports of broken D1s. In the UK, Fixation will still service them, although at this point it's uneconomical to do so when you could just buy a new body. I suspect that most pro SLRs take tens of thousands of shots in the first year of their lives, and then thousands of shots in the next five years and perhaps a couple of hundred shots until they are finally separated from their batteries and charger and given to a charity shop or thrown away.

There's another final thing. The D1x has an impressively loud shutter noise, although this seems to be more a consequence of the aperture stop-down mechanism than the shutter itself. The D1x's shutter is actually a kind of actually a kind of appendix, used mostly as a way of shielding the sensor; the camera emulates shutter speeds over 1/250th of a second by grabbing data from the sensor. This allows for exposures as short as 1/16,000 of a second, and an official flash sync speed of 1/500. These are both very respectable numbers even today. Although the official flash sync speed is 1/500, the camera will - in common with the D70, and other Nikon SLRs that have an electronic shutter - sync higher than this with generic flash units, all the way up to 1/16,000. This has the effect of cutting the guide number considerably, because a full-power flash pulse from a decent flash unit takes longer than 1/16,000 of a second to die off. Judging by this incredibly handy page, 1/16,000 is roughly one-sixteenth of the awesome power of a top-of-the-line Canon 580EX (for example), which does its thing in 1/833th of a second. The end.