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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2001-08-29

Rocky Mountain High: Denver Post Is First paper To Switch to the D1H


By John Leyba, Denver Post

Highlands Ranch, CO --- It was like Christmas. But it was only August.

It was Aug. 3rd and I was sitting in a basement transmitting photos back to the office from a long day at the PGA's International golf tournament held at Castle Pines G.C. I called in to the office to see if they received all my pictures or if they needed anything else and Matt Leyba, my nephew and a picture editor at the paper answered the phone and said I was done.

Later as I packed up my gear, I got a page from Matt asking me if I wanted to use a Nikon D1H for the rest of the weekend at the tournament. I thought, yeah right! Matt and Larry Price, director of photography, had talked about going 100 % digital and informed the staff that it would probably be in late August until we got our cameras. So I called Matt back up and asked him if Nikon Professional Services' Ronal Taniwaki was in town and if he was going to let us use one for the remainder of the golf tournament.

He said no, we just got a huge shipment of D1H's and he was in the midst of unpacking them. I still didn't believe him until I saw the e-mail he sent me with a picture of a cabinet filled with the top rated camera everyone was waiting to get their hands on.

As I opened the email with the picture of the cabinet, I couldn't help but show everyone in the room our new gear. In the room were Brian Bahr, from Allsport, Joe Mahoney of the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press' Ed Andrieski. They just looked over my shoulder and said "Wow! How did you guys get them first?" What could I say? I told them "Hey, Matt and Larry made it happen, we owe it to them. They worked hard on the project to get the camera's early."

When I got back to the Post's office, Matt unpacked two cameras and handed them to me. I couldn't wait to get back to the golf tournament! The cameras are very noticeable with those camera straps that read D1H with a bright red line along the border.

As fellow Post staffer Hyoung Chang and I entered the basement where we transmit at the International, all the other photographers wanted to check out the camera. They were impressed. After using a D1X for the Stanley Cup finals, I was a familiar with the camera's functions

Photo by Karl Gehring/Denver Post

Photo by Karl Gehring/Denver Post
After a crash course reading the manual I finally headed out to the tournament. I went to the 8th hole and waited there for golfers to come through before following the leaders in. Shooting golf was always tough with the D1. Trying to catch the ball coming off the club in the fairway or a sandblast with the ball in mid flight.

Earlier in the week using the D1 it was tough timing it just right to get that shot. With the D1H, it was almost automatic. It was nice to be able to shoot 5 frames-a-second like a film camera.

As I shot more and more, the more I felt comfortable with the camera. Anyone who uses the D1H will find that the performance is top notch. As far as using the custom functions? This was a major criticism of the original D1 but the "H" it's much easier to set the custom functions. It's all at the tips of your fingers. Being able to have the custom function menu displayed on the monitor screen is great. The manual still comes in handy at times but when in the field, this is great

A few days later I finally had the opportunity to use the camera at the Broncos training camp held in Greeley, CO.

I felt a little rusty shooting football, missing a few pass plays and being fooled by the QB on a hand-off. Bu I started to get back in the grove of things after two full practices. It felt like I was shooting with film cameras blasting away continuously on a running play. Looking at the images on the computer, the pictures seemed to pop right out at you. The color quality was sharp. With a little bit of dodging in Photoshop, can you tell: is it film or is it digital? It was tough to tell when the paper came out the next day.

But the big test was this past weekend with the first Broncos game at the new Mile High Stadium. We were looking forward to shooting under stadium lights.

The lead photo on sports was a vertical picture of the opening kick off with Jason Elam raising his hand up waiting for the signal from the referee (he was visible on the jumbotron) with players in the foreground. It ran 3 columns by 12 inches deep. The detail was amazing, even the screen on the jumbotron looked good. The Post ran several black and white photos inside, one 11inches wide by 8 inches deep. Even these black and white images looked good especially ones from late in the game shot at 800 and 1600 ASA.

The autofocus tracking was great. Shooting an isolation shot of a WR running his route, the focus didn't jump around when following a receiver while players crossed in front of the camera. It was quick and precise.

After using the D1, and hearing of everyone's complaint that the shutter has a bit of a delay, the D1H seemed to lack that. When I hit the shutter, it fired. Maybe it's just me but there is a difference. I like the fact that you are able to adjust the ASA in thirds something that wasn't available with the D1.

One of the complaints of the original D1 was the inconsistent one-camera flash performance. But the D1H (and D1X) seems to have eliminated that trouble spot.

"When I started shooting with the D1 I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Then I started shooting with the D1and the SB-28DX ... my idealistic view of the new camera system was shattered." Fellow Post staffer Craig Walker told me, "I figured out a number of ways to make the camera and strobe work together but quite frankly, I was disappointed with the TTL mode. I found that I used the strobe in the automatic setting more than anything else and it worked fine. My point is: why offer a TTL capability if it is not accurate."

And now the good news... "I just started shooting with the new D1H and my idealistic view of the camera system is back," Walker said "Though I can't say I have put the camera and strobe through all the tests, I can say this: I got the camera, I put the strobe on TTL and I started shooting. Ten out of ten frames were perfectly exposed. So far I have only shot three assignments with the strobe but I am happy to say I am seeing good exposures consistently. Shooting the D1H on any of the program modes with the flash, you're going to get good results. No more guess work. You know you're going to get a perfect exposure."

Photo by Andy Cross/Denver Post

Photo by Andy Cross/Denver Post
Adjusting the monitor brightness is also a plus and can be set up from 1-5 with 5 being the brightest. I found number 3 setting to be the best as per Taniwaki's recommendation. It may look dark to you but the images may look a bit different on your laptop. Do a few tests and adjust the brightness on your D1H to your liking.

I did find a bit of a problem with batteries. We were given 5 batteries with our kits. Matt Leyba charged them and refreshed them for the recommended 3 times before using. Just last week I knew I had two fresh batteries in bag with two in the camera. As I began to shoot, I noticed that the battery was at half. To be safe I switched it out and put what I thought to be a fresh battery in and resumed shooting.

Not more than half way through the shoot, that battery went low. I don't know if it's just because they're new or what but having 4 batteries go dead in such a short time was crazy. I was off for the next couple of days so I charged them up and let them sit until I went back to work. They didn't last like a fully charged battery should have. Maybe I have a bad batch.

"I've only been shooting with the new Nikon D1H's for only two weeks now," Andy Cross told me, "I can only compare (the D1H) to the Canon/Kodak DCS 520. The image quality of the Nikon D1H is far better than DCS520. It seems that the files have better contrast and are much sharper and cleaner.

"I love being able to shoot at 4-5 frames a second with the Nikon without having to wait for the camera to catch up," Cross added, "It (D1H) handles difficult lighting situations better than Canon. Physically, the Nikon is much lighter and less bulky than Canon, however, batteries don't seem to last as long as Canon. Overall, I feel very confident making the switch from film to digital with these Nikon D1H cameras. Switching from Canon digital to Nikon digital has been night and day."

A problem that I encountered with the original D1 was the rubber cover around the grip coming off. I ended up taping down that piece with gaffer tape. And the little flap for the video input, what a pain, with it flapping open quite a bit. Once again, tape took care of that. But it's happening with the D1H: the video flap popping open. I hate to start putting tape on the new gear.

The cover knockoff of the Hoodman "Hoodcap" isn't as clear as the Hoodman and doesn't stay on very tight. But I ended up using leader loops (a fishing thing) attached to the cap to keep it from falling off. Just feed the leader loop through the strap eyelet and back through the opening in the cover and use a shrink-wrap to seal the two end together. It works nicely.

One thing I do miss from the DCS520 is the ability to record a sound file that's then tagged to the image. Sound files would be great especially for those who have to edit your stuff and don't know what's going on in a picture.

Further thoughts?

The performance of the D1H overall is great. I think other photographers will find that they like it or they don't. Everyone will have their say but I know of a few photographers at the Denver Post who think it's the best thing ever.

Now we have a camera that let's us just shoot pictures and we don't have to have those little doubts or worries in the back of our mind. It's just like the old days of film sort of.

Thanks to Ronal Taniwaki for all his technical support when we needed it. I like to say thanks on behalf of the photo staff at the Denver Post to Matt Leyba, for all his hard work, late nights and countless hours at the office getting equipment ordered. And thanks to Larry Price for believing in his staff.

(John Leyba is a staff photographer with the Denver Post.)


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