The Editor's Commentary


The Saga of the Nikon D1X

As some of you may remember, at the last meeting of the TPCA (July 13, 2013) I brought, as my "show-and-tell", a pristine Nikon D1X digital camera. A truly full-professional rig, with solid alloy body, large rubber grips, extremely versatile controls, etc. this particular sample was a proud purchase from on-line. After a careful searching of various websites, I concluded this was a camera worth having - and the price was a real bargain, even without a lens. One of its prime advantages was the ability to use just about any lens Nikon (or any number of other manufacturers of third-party accessories) has ever produced with the ubiquitous "F-mount" - as long as was an "AI" style of mounting. When the camera arrived, I was suitably impressed with the condition: no marks, very little dirt or dust, all the rubber in excellent shape and not coming loose. It had been described as "show very little wear" and "very well cared for", which appeared to be true. I would rate it as "excellent", "near mint", but - and here's the kicker - it was untested, operation and function unknown, battery run down, sold as-is. Maybe that's why it was so cheap?

D1X front view
This is the example Nikon D1X with the AF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 mounted.

D1X rear view

Well, before the camera had even been delivered (as soon as I knew I was the high bidder) I ordered the Nikon battery charger, a Model MH-16. This was not an aftermarket, third-party item. I wanted the "official" Nikon, original unit. My past experience has taught me that high-powered "professional" gear works best with the OEM accessories, especially batteries and chargers. While aftermarket may work, in the heat of battle, when every shot counts, the right gear pays dividends. Example: out on a "handshake" photo for the late edition, the aftermarket zoom quits - no focus, no aperture. No photo, except for a make-do with a handy old 35mm Nikkor AIS. No repair shop wanted to touch the zoom - "too expensive", "not worth it, you can buy a new one for about the same price", etc. So, now the choice is to pile up savings and drop it on a Zoom-Nikkor.

So, the camera arrived, I pulled the battery (Nikon EN-4), plugged in the charger, and waited for the little orange LED to go out. Put the now fully charged battery in the D1X, attached an AF Nikkor (pictured above), plugged in a Compact Flash card and tested. All went well. In the meantime, I received a nice Nikkor zoom: the 18-55mm f/3.5 DX, GII, ED, which I thought should work well for my general purpose shooting with the D1X.

Nikkor AF 18-55

Put the two together, drove off to the TPCA meeting and - you guessed it - the camera refused to fire! One Nikon shooter suggested that some "plastic mount" Nikkors don't behave well with "pro grade" cameras. We tried a metal mount from the camera shop's test gear, no go. pulled the battery and it read just fine on the tester. Fiddled with a bunch of settings, still wouldn't fire. Camera Technician: "well, it's probably the shutter mechanism, or the main control board"; have to send it to Nikon. Suddenly, the "good buy" didn't look so good. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

Then…

I thought I'd see if there was any information on the Internet. As luck would have it, several users did report possible shutter problems with the D1-series, but no solutions. Until I ran across the D1X Users Group on the "flickr" website. These were mostly professional photographers discussing this camera, showing sample photos, and pointing to links for the newer Nikons. And more than one had a solution for my problem.

It turns out, the D1-series camera uses the "vintage" technology of NiMH (nickel metal hydride) for the battery, not the "modern" lithium ion. While not as bad as the really old nickel-cadmium battery, about memory effects and limited lifespan, the NiMH batteries do need to be cycled every so often to maintain their "health". This is a design aspect of the MH-16 charger.

(PHOTO)

Plug the cable from the MH-16 into the battery and press the "Refresh" button. The charger then goes through 3 complete charge/discharge cycles, leaving the battery in a full charge state. And does it pretty quickly, I might add. This "recycling" has the effect of reversing some of the internal chemical imbalance that results from normal usage, and significantly extends the useful life of the battery. So, some users reported that their D1X refused to fire unless the battery was fully charged. Even after just a few "shots", the original Nikon EN-4 had decreased in capacity, low enough that it wasn't able to power the camera fully. Some users have found that this behavior is corrected after having gone through the "refresh" cycle. This was now a normal part of their routine. Others didn't have any luck with the "refresh" trick, but did come up with an idea, how about just buying new batteries?

And more than one photographer nominated "The Battery Barn" as the best source for reliable substitutes. Not one user had a good word for the original Nikon battery. It was under-rated, poor life, no support, expensive, etc. This seemed to be one time the "OEM only" dictum was out of place. So, I jumped in and ordered 2 replacement batteries from Battery Barn. The price is good, delivery excellent, and shipping would be free! I waited impatiently for the box from Illinois to show up. It turns out, it was 2 boxes! Battery Barn has each product individually boxed ready for shipment. So,if you order 2 or more, you may get 2 or more boxes! Plugged in one of them to the charger and waited some more.

Expectantly, I then plugged the battery into the camera, turned it on and presto! it fired, happily and continuously dozens of times! Even with that "cheap" plastic mount lens (the "kit" lens: 18-55mm GII DX)! It still does. The same battery has been in place for over a week, used daily for 2-20 shots, without charging, and still fires. This means it was the battery all the time. I've since "refreshed" the Nikon a couple of times, using the MH-16, and it seems to work, but I'm not sure I trust it. A full test of both batteries would be required to fully substantiatethese results. Maybe, a future project?

So, what are the differences?

- the Battery Barn, Model BNH-212 is rated at 2100 mAh, versus 2000 mAh for the Nikon, really not much of a difference;

D1X EN-4 and BNH

- the BNH has "gold-colored" contacts versus ordinary tinned on the Nikon; without a chemical test, it's hard to say what the coating really is;

contacts

- the Nikon has the usual flip-up handle, twist knob to lock the battery in the camera; the BNH uses a simple knob.
  It is almost impossible to not notice the "unlocked" handle, the way it sticks out, on the Nikon.
  It would be very easy to not lock in the BNH and have it fall out during a shoot, while leaning over a bridge!

batttery locks
Here is the Nikon locking handle versus the BNH locking knob. Both are "unlocked", As you can see, the Nikon is obvious, the BNH
is not.

battery locked
Now they are both locked. Without looking at the knob it's not obvious the BNH is locked into the camera.

-  but, most of all: the BNH (Battery Barn) battery just works!

Epilogue:

Thinking about the lock/unlock function, I discovered the endcaps are fully interchangable between the Nikon and the BNH. So... simply remove 3 screws on each one, switch the caps - and voila! - the BNH is scurely locked into the camera.

end caps

The caps differ just slightly in internal construction, but mount identically on either battery. NOTE: As a mechanical detail it is recommended that the original screws be used on the battery from which they came. While both sets are "plastic threads", it's always best to replace a screw with the exact same thread pattern - hence, use the BNH acrews to attach the Nikon end cap to the BNH battery, and vice-versa...
 
I like the zoom range of the 18 - 55 (effectively 27 - 82.5mm on the D1), but not thrilled with using a plastic mount on a camera that may see a lot of use. I found an alternate: the AF Nikkor 35 - 80/4 (effectively 52.5 - 120mm) "D"; all metal body, metal mount, 5-contact CPU, screw drive focus, and will work on my F3P as well. Oh, and it does me just fine for medium macro-level closeups.

Nikon AF 35-80 side view

Here you can see this lens is designed to be perfectly suitable for the F3/4/5 film cameras, with the Nikon AIS aperture control ring and proper mating step at the rear.

AF 35-80 mount

Here, it is obvious this lens meets not only the AF needs of the D1X, D100/200, etc. with the "screw" focus drive, but also the needs of the 35mm film cameras that use the AIS mounting. Note of caution: Do not use this type of lens on the older consumer film cameras, in which the mirror box may rub against the CPU contacts!


Camera Shows

Editorial: It is apparent that there is a continually dwindling interest in attending the traditional "camera show", even a local swap meet. This has been attributed to several factors, including: the "aging" of the camera collector, the slowly (or rapidly...) evaporation of  the supply of "collectible" cameras, the lack of interest in "old things", the rise of the on-line auction market domination in buying and selling old cameras, the replacement of film with digital imagery, the rapid obsolescense of yesterday's technology, and on and on... Years ago (not too many, really...) an old camera was of interest because of its technology, construction, history - and because it could actually be used to make an image. First Polaroid went under, then Kodachrome was withdrawn and then Kodak itself called it quits. Nowadays not too many people are motivated to try and figure out how to load, operate, and produce prints (or slides) from what was 35mm film, the most successful image-producing product ever made. From this, it's hard to justify the time and expense to buy an old 35mm camera. It's too hard to decide which one is worth buying, or "will it even work?" If the current generation of "users" has a smartphone, that takes "acceptable" images, without even thinking too much, why mess with all the delays of processing and printing (how many photographers do you know that put on a slide show?)? So, why go to a camera show?