Nikon D2Hs

Nikon D2Hs with Nikon 50mm f/1.8D

This is the Nikon D2Hs, which is a Nikon D2H with some very subtle improvements. Like the D2H, the D2Hs is an extremely tough, ridiculously fast professional digital camera which, despite having been obscolesced by two generations of cameras as I write this, is still capable of getting fantastic results if you know how to use it.

Nick Statham and his R33
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at 50mm and f/4.8, 1/60 at ISO 200.

Context

"S" versions of Nikon's SLR cameras are subtly improved versions of the same camera. This goes back to at least the F401s in the late 1980s, through the N90s in 1994.

The D2Hs was Nikon's first digital SLR camera with an "s" postfix. (The E2s and E3s don't count here; they were released at the same time as the non-"S" versions, and arguably they weren't really Nikon cameras.)

Josh Phillips at the Norfolk Arena
Josh Phillips. Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX wide-open at 25mm, 1/60 at ISO 560.

You could see it as Nikon making you buy the same camera twice, but the D2Hs really is a better camera, for the kind of person that would have shot a D2H back when nobody could afford one. For shooting stills at low ISOs from a tripod, it's more or less the same thing.

(When I make comparisons to the non-"s" D2H, bear in mind I'm largely doing it from memory. My D2H died and then went off to be a spares donor for a reader's camera, so I'm not comparing them side-by-side. Some of it might even be completely imaginary, so take anything I say with a suitably-sized grain of salt.)

The big one is that noise was greatly reduced. In real photographs with textures, ISO 800 on the old D2H was "what a man's gotta do" territory. The D2Hs has a usable ISO 1600. I just turn on auto ISO when the light gets dim and let the camera grab whatever ISO it thinks it needs; it always looks great (to someone that's used to seeing grain on film even at ISO 100).

Esther Turner, Birmingham
Esther Turner, who has a website and a rather agreeable voice. Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at 18mm wide-open, 1/30 at auto ISO 1400. The original was even cleaner; I did some contrast adjustments that brought out a little more noise.

The other big one is that the D2Hs has a much, much larger buffer. It's 40 NEF (raw) files deep, which is insane; this is bigger than the camera that replaced the camera that replaced the D2Hs. It means you can shoot at 8 frames a second all day and never exhaust the buffer!

Otherwise, it's the same camera; which is to say, it's still a a solid all-metal beast and it's still the fastest thing on the planet this side of a D3 or a D4.

Two leaves
Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-D at 129mm and f/6, 1/160 at ISO 100, raw file processed with Darktable.

Battery life is nuts!

Batteries last forever in the D2Hs, just like they did in the D2H.

I got a used battery with my used D2Hs, which the camera's "Battery info" menu told me was overdue for replacement. I'm all into pushing my luck, so I kicked out a few shots during the week, then I took it with me for a day of shooting drifting.

Surprise: I still got over 2500 shots out of an incomplete charge on a worn-out battery!

Later I took it out with two fully charged batteries (one aftermarket one that was about six months old, one older genuine Nikon), both with full charges, to the drifting. From that, I got 12,614 photographs and I still had half a charge left on the second battery. How mad is that?

The D2Hs, like the D2H, is insane by any modern standard, but it was a revelation compared to the truly awful battery system of the old D1.

99 problems but a drift ain't one
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at 35mm and f/6.3, 1/100 shutter priority at ISO 200. On black.

Small is beautiful!

At 4.1 megapixels, you're probably not going to be pulling out prints covering half the side of a building with the D2Hs. If you need to do this, then of course you need as much resolution as you can get.

But how many of you will do this? I've pulled 12 inch prints out of a Canon D30 (not even a 30D, folks!), which look awesome. An HD computer monitor or television is only 2.07 megapixels (1920x1080); if you're only posting your photos on the web, then all you gain from higher-resolution cameras is the ability to crop more aggressively, if your shots are sharp enough to make the most of that resolution.

So if you're not printing huge and you're not cropping aggressively, the only thing you gain from a higher-resolution camera is bigger files that require much more storage and are more painful to work with.

I love the tiny files from the D2Hs! They're a joy to work with on a modern computer, especially one with an SSD. Even my 2006 ThinkPad loves chomping through files from the D2Hs! Things have changed a lot since 2005; half of you are reading this on smartphones which have more CPU horsepower than the PCs and Macs built when the D2Hs was new.

Jonny Goddard at the Norfolk Arena
Jonny's bonnet catch broke as he went past and I had a fraction of a second to grab this shot. Bam! The passenger's facial expression is priceless too. This is the kind of shot you miss if you're poking around to try and find settings, or your camera jams up, or you can't autofocus fast enough. The ten-year-old D2Hs never fails to grab the shot. 18-70mm DX at 31mm and f/13, 1/100 at ISO 200.

Memory cards last forever!

This is tied to the above.

I shoot the D2Hs all day at 8 frames per second, and I don't even need to carry a spare card. You'll be fine even if you are shooting raw, because NEF files from the D2Hs typically end up at around 4 or 5 megabytes.

I tried the "cheap out" route with a 16 gigabyte Kingston card, which worked for casual shooting for a couple of weeks then died the first time I shot an extended 8 frames per second sequence. Don't be that guy! Buy SanDisk, and only buy them directly from Amazon. Genuine SanDisk 16gb cards are now so cheap that they may as well come with your Corn Flakes, and will hold over 3,000 raw files from the D2Hs. One or two 16gb cards will last anyone all day, even if you're making full use of the speed of the D2Hs.

Don't worry about page 240 of the manual, which only guarantees operation with memory cards up to 4 gigabytes. I use 16gb cards with no problems. I suspect that 32gb ones will as well (beyond that, you're on your own, but I'd like to hear from anyone).

A drag bike, Santa Pod Raceway.
Shot at Santa Pod Raceway with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at f/13 and 65mm, 1/100 at ISO 200.

It's fast!

Hey, let's talk about that speed for a second.

The Top Trumps photography blogs comparing specs will never be able to tell you this: The D2Hs is an incredibly fast camera; much faster in practice than any amateur SLR and in a whole different category to any non-SLR camera. Having spent time away after the death of my D2H shooting lesser cameras, I realised just how much these cameras need to be used to be appreciated. The speed at which these things work is why, despite the 4.1 megapixel resolution and decade-old design, the D2H and D2Hs are still in daily use by professional sports and news photographers around the world.

Reader Bruce W. Smith is one of these folks, who owned two of the world's first D2Hs (plural D2H) and still shoots one today as a backup to his D3s (plural D3).

Bruce W. Smith
Copyright © 2002 Bruce W. Smith, all rights reserved, used here with his kind permission.

I've done this one before, but the speed of the D2Hs is about much, much more than the 8-frames-per-second frame rate:

John Peckham in his E36 at the Norfolk Arena.
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at 53mm and f/8.5, 1/100 at ISO 200.

It looks awesome!

Once you've shot enough digital cameras, you'll learn that each will have a look of its own. As said, I've been using the D2Hs for over a year, and I was using the D2H (which has very similar colour characteristics to the D2Hs) from 2009 to 2012. Because of this, the look of the D2H-series is The Look of my photographs.

Back in June of 2014 I borrowed a Canon 1D Mark III from my pro photographer friend Mark Lees when he came to visit us at the drifting. No mistake, this is a fantastic camera that feels so good in the hand that it almost made me want one, given how cheap the 1D IIIs are these days. On the other hand:

Ben Rowland
Shot with Mark Lees' Canon EOS 1D Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L at 65mm and f/10, 1/80 at ISO 100. I was also surprised at how big the 1D III was; it dwarfs and outweighs the massive D2Hs.

Something looks wrong to me about this shot. Don't read this as "the D2Hs is better than the 1D Mark III". Technically, the Canon is much better, and someone who shoots one of those all the time will get much better results than my very average result above. If Mark, who is a proper professional photographer, post-processed the same shot I can guarantee his shot would look much better than mine! But I get better results from the D2Hs than I did from the 1D III, and better results than I can get from any other camera, because I know exactly how to shoot the D2Hs and how to nudge the shots to get the look I love.

That's a big disincentive for a long-overdue upgrade; if I bought a newer camera, I'd need to shoot it for months or years to find a combination of camera settings and post-processing to get the look that I like.

It's tough!

Like the D2H, the D1, and the single-digit Nikon film cameras, the D2Hs is built as tough as SLR cameras have ever been made, with no cost compromises. The switches and buttons are most of the very few things made of plastic. Just about everything else is solid metal.

Expect your D2H or D2Hs to last forever. Don't worry about picking up an ultra-long-distance camera; all of Nikon's professional cameras are designed to survive this. I killed my last one at 400,195 shutter actuations; readers often write in to tell me of their professional Nikons that lasted much longer.

Ben Cook
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, Nikon 18-70mm DX at f/10 and 38mm, 1/80 at ISO 200.

It's cheap!

As am I, obviously. I hate spending money, and I keep using things until they fall apart or explode. I am writing this on a nine-year-old IBM ThinkPad, which is sat next to a four-year-old Android phone that I got for free.

The D2-series cameras plummeted in price on the used market almost from the day that the full-frame D3 was announced. To someone that drooled over the original D2H since almost the day it came out, both the D2H and D2Hs are ridiculous bargains on the used market. I bought the D2Hs used for £250 in late 2013, and for all I know they've probably gone down in price since then.

Because I'm cheap, in the unlikely event that I kill the D2Hs soon I'll get another one because they're so cheap that people may as well pay you to use them.

Kev Bennett
Shot with a Nikon D2Hs, 18-70mm DX wide-open at 29mm, 1/80 at ISO 1250. This would have been a much less dramatic shot in brighter light and lower ISOs; the sparks coming from the carcass of the worn-through tyres wouild have been much less bright relative to the rest of the scene.

Upshot

The D2Hs is still an incredible, brutal camera that beats any consumer camera, and almost any prosumer camera, made today for shooting stuff that moves quickly. If you really need an 8fps camera for sports on the cheap, the D2Hs can't be beat.

Sensible people who want to shoot stills who are on a budget in the used market, will go and get the D200 for the same money, or even a D70 for about half as much money with 50% more resolution and better colour. After having shot so much with the D1, D2H and D2Hs, I'd find it hard to go to smaller, less tough digital cameras. I'll accept the sacrifices in image quality to get something that is going to stand up to some horrendous abuse.

Nose of a Nissan Skyline

If you're shooting the things for which a D2-series camera was designed, the D2Hs really is a much better camera than the D2H, for only a tiny bit more money. For folks shooting stills at low ISOs in raw (which is me some of the time), the original D2H is pretty much the same camera. Those people won't need the S's larger buffer, either.

The price difference between the two cameras is negligible these days. As I write this in 2015, a well-used D2H goes for about £150 and the D2Hs typically goes for another £75 on top of that. While the D2Hs is superior, the real reason I got a D2Hs instead of a D2H simply because it's a couple of years newer; most D2-series cameras were owned by professional sports guys, photojournalists and wildlife photographers, who are not gentle with their gear. A camera that is a few years newer is likely to have had a few years less abuse before the original owner went out and got a D3.

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