Nikon D2H – Bidding On an Old Pro – By Wes Hall

The ordeal of buying used via eBay is certainly one to cherish, feel the tension wrack the mind and nerves as you buy into the hype of the sellers monologue about condition and reasons for giving you the chance to own their soon-to-be discarded. The list of cut and pasted facts that were from the brochure… the list goes on.

Tick. Then it comes down to the wire.

Tock. A second passes. Moments of decision are wresting on an internal struggle of do I really need this.

Tick. 2 minutes remaining. Bids are still low. You tell yourself “that’s okay, this is an incredible bargain. I’ll be getting something that was once worth thousands, for the price of a couple of cheap takeaways”.

Tock. 1 minute. Is it really worth it? Wait, have I considered how much all the additional parts will cost to get it working, heck even checked out to see if the sellers selling snake oil? Did I do enough research, really think this through.

Tick. It’s time to cup the dice, think of a number. 4 seconds left.

Return. Does the seller accept returns?

It’s won. Mine. And now the ecstasy of patience as you wait for the package to arrive.

It’s exhausting and for me all consuming.

Walking On By
This was one of the earlier shots taken with the D2H- colours to me appear rich.

Old Bargains in Digital Times

So, I’ve bought an old ‘professional’ DSLR Nikon. This camera is a tiny 4 MP marvel, the D2H. It’s battered, not 100% working, but it seems to take pictures, the menu works and with a new battery possibly has life to spare (a mere 115,459 shutter actuation…).

I’ve also obtained a super cheap Nikon AF-G 28-80 3.3-5.6 zoom to pair to this super sized, yet humble kit. And what is the goal? I’m curious, I wonder what can be achieved with a camera I don’t have to care as much about, it’s already been abused and clearly taken many images, but it’s weather proof with the right lens (and probably a refresh of the seals) and got a tiny number of pixels to it’s otherwise large sensor.

For me it’s all about that quirky and unique sensor that’s not seen the light beyond it’s series. Like the Foveon sensors, I want to see more than what’s established, more than the normally accepted tastes and appearance in visuals. Vintage lenses have been a gateway drug, like sugar and caffeine. Foveon was the first taste of the photographic LSD, expanding beyond the horizon of what’s expected through the images.

Once the mind’s been awakened to these possibilities there’s a desire to close the door and step further along this peculiar and high contrast path.

Champion A Modern Underdog

Like most of these pieces of equipment, they are not easily replaced. Some were in low supply to begin, some were unloved models, and some were intended to be used without cherish or feelings of humanism imposed into the object of art.

And this is where I find myself with my little collection of digital cameras, an explorer wishing to learn about my needs of expression and how the tech and statistics that orchestrate desires and purchases simply. Don’t. Matter.

Truthfully, I don’t know it it’s been worth it. I want my instincts to be right and this bargain to lead me to create new images with a distinct feel and stretch my understanding of this art. But I simply don’t know yet. It took a long week of bad used batteries, an expedition of some 100-mile round trip to collect a charger (overpriced, yet instantaneous in my hands…it’s a chemical problem and obsessive thoughts) before I was able to test if the camera powered up as advertised (Tip: want an old D series Nikon? Buy a complete kit- by the time you track all the pieces of the puzzle it comes out about the same).

Was it all worth it? I feel it has been, for my intended use, and useful in further confirmation bias that megapixel counts really don’t matter most of the time. I’ve even had some prints made from this camera, my Sigma DP1 and my Pentax KS-1, all at the same size just to see how the resolution compared (entirely unscientific!) and was astonished how similar they all were at 10 x 8- I know, I know… I would likely see the difference at A3 or greater, but honestly, I mostly show my images on the net. Really, size doesn’t matter for most of us.

A photo of photographs, I know…I know, not the fairest way to judge. Could you honestly tell which of these came from a 4MP, 14MP and 20MP sensor?

Scars Healed By A Magic Touch

Taking stock of the faults: The up direction on the circular thumb stick only works when held in a very specific manner with force; the white balance button doesn’t respond; the first shot always produces an error message (a common issue I’ve learnt with this model, but one that’s not a particular hindrance- all photographs after turn out clean) and sadly, the whole vertical grip fails to respond after much gentle attempts to press the shutter and checking the on/off switch.

Menu system is comprehensive, albeit on a very ‘of it’s time’ screen. Previews are functional.

I learned a valuable lesson with this camera. Never give up completely until you’ve really tested all methods and techniques exhaustively and enthusiastically. Turns out I have a friend who’s got a magic touch and has whirred the vertical grip on the big D2H back to life! Only one button still doesn’t respond (ahhh white balance, there’s no place to hide… menus are everywhere!)

What a joy the vertical grip is to use, I honestly just thought it would be some gimmick to justify price and size (if it wasn’t a built in feature…) But nope, this physical link to scenes from Full Metal Jacket and snapping away like a professional journo has won me over, and all it does is let me hold the camera more naturally…oh and have a better shutter orientation when on a tripod- seems it’s easier to avoid movement triggering the shutter horizontally!

Capable at night and thanks to the vertical grip is excellent for composing in portrait.

So what greatness have I created since having this hardcore professional camera? Just some fun snaps. I’m still learning the controls and process, and using the cheap AF lens I got to check working is a challenge to my manual obsessed hands and mind, but I do love the high contrast and vivid colours this sensor produces- it’s certainly a sunny day vibe.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Hopefully this review may make some of you out there take a chance on something a bit different.

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About The Author

42 thoughts on “Nikon D2H – Bidding On an Old Pro – By Wes Hall”

  1. Nice article and images on this lovely old beast. A nod to the night shots especially, not easy with a D2H and consumer zoom!
    I owned one of these a few years ago, bought just out of curiosity. Funnily enough I was looking through old files last night and the images from the D2H caught my eye. The colours weren’t quite right, but in a good way. I never got round to testing its IR sensitivity, which is allegedly quite high.

    1. Thanks Steve, it is a lovely old beast and like you, curiosity led me to it. I honestly was overcome with an urge to know what a high end DSLR body felt like in hand- this happened to also have a quirky sensor and was cheap! It was the saturation and separation of individual colours I liked when I scoured Flickr for shots by this camera.

      This camera is more than I expected; I’ve no intention to move it on so maybe one day I’ll have a play in the IR world when it’s nearing the next 100k shots marker.

  2. I’ve found it’s fun to use these old pro cameras with screw-drive AF lenses. There’s something fascinating about the way the camera just savagely wrenches the little mechanism around, it’s delightfully inelegant.

    1. Haha, they sound tortured in the most amusing way don’t they! Do longer zooms make more delightful sounds I wonder? Great fun when paired with the hi-speed burst shooting.

  3. I have 3 digital cameras from the early 2000’s and in the right conditions (sunny) carefully used and post processed they can still turn in superb results and are also great fun,proof that you don’t need gazillions of pixels or iso settings

    1. Well written, with more than a bit of nostalgic appreciation. Makes me wanna find some fresh film and dust off the old Nikon F, set aside through no fault of its own. Thank you.

      1. Thanks James, if you do dust off the F, maybe a nice 5 frames write up could appear? It would be great to see what you capture and what your thoughts were revisiting the old beauty.

    2. Your comment regarding the need for sunny situations is really spot on for these older sensors Nigel- it really shows if you try to recover shadows in post, you can’t take poor exposure for granted as fixable then! I’ve lots to learn with this camera, but as you say- we don’t need gazillions of pixels or ISO options.

    1. Thanks John, they do have a richness to them- I feel there will be a great pairing of lens to this body that I’ve yet to stumble on which will enhance the performance of the colours more! Suggestions will be welcomed.

  4. Oh boy, how very much do I understand your decision to go for it. This is an incredible camera and deserves a life after.
    GAS at its best. It will produce stunning images paired with a recent G-lens or with a manual AiS.
    Go try it out.
    I treated myself to a beaten up Nikon F4 which I could never have afforded back then. It’s a beast, a lovely beast.
    Using new gear is fun but often boring. These are the true challenges.

    Thanks for the story.
    Greets, Dirk

    1. Thanks Dirk, and what a great choice with the F4! (not sampled any of the classic Nikon film SLR’s, but regularly see articles praising the ‘sleeper’ that was the F4 over the F3).

      The challenges are what make this hobby so rewarding, if you have a link to any of your shots taken with the old beast, please share as I’d be interested to see.

  5. I like the photo of the Ford Zodiac especially- looks like a great camera. It strikes me (with a very patchy knowledge of digital cameras, of which I’ve used and generally destroyed quite a few) that it must have been one of the Wonders of the World when it was first designed and built, with input from some of the best electronics and precision engineering brains on the planet. I went through a phase (in the late 2000s) of driving ’80s luxury cars when they were cheap and a good one would run for a year or so before the inevitable four-figure repair bill and trip to the scrapyard and it’s such a good feeling. I hope it brings you yet more joy!

    1. It’s that wonderful effect of time making once luxurious and out of reach items attainable, and I’m sure it has much joy to give! Thanks for appreciating the Zodiac shot, I hadn’t cleaned the sensor at that point and I’ve not the patience to edit dust spots in post (no longer an issue following a clean).

  6. The three lamps in this restaurant, the Golden Dragon facade…
    Decent and impressionistic colours not penetrating my eyes…
    A reduced sharpness and so unlike the one needed to prepare surgery…
    The old sensors have something one cannot find with the new ones any longer..
    This is why I go with CCD sensor´s and would never switch to nay CMOS sensor..
    I suffer from the same GAST but your description of the way to get some of those treasures is wonderful…
    Thank you for that so much

    Harry Machold from Baden near Vienna..

    1. Your comment almost feels like poetry Harry, and congruent to my feelings- there really is something impressionistic in these older sensors that captures the imagination. I do shoot with a CMOS sensor (my Pentax KS-1) and in some circumstances and the right vintage glass, it produces some very evocative colours and tones, however I do prefer the image quality from my Sigma DP1 Foveon above all else, with more and more appreciation for this Nikon coming through.

      I hope your GAST isn’t flared by this article, although I’m sure there is something already on your radar as with all of us GAS(T) sufferers.

  7. Great article. I have done something similar, albeit with a slightly more up-to-date Nikon D200. I have found the resolution perfectly adequate. The other advantage for me of older digital cameras is that the body design and operation is based upon film SLRs and so there are lots of hard wired buttons and very little recourse to menus is needed. This is a great time saver , given that I spent nearly twenty years using film. I have absolutely no desire to use the latest Sony, Nikon or Canon mirrorless camera with dozens of customizable buttons and ten levels of sub menus; I just can’t be bothered. Of course, opinions may vary and if you like the latest tech and it helps you take great pictures and enjoy your hobby then I am delighted for you.

    1. I completely resonate with your views Ed, my time wants to be spent seeing and composing the shot, savoring the rotation of dials and clicking the shutter. Latest tech is certainly cool, and I’d enjoy it more if I just wanted to get a very true to life render, in quick time. But, alas, I’m far too poor for that!

  8. Ok. Sometimes you just gotta chase the beast and the dream, no matter how irrational it may seem, and more power to you for that. But … honestly … if you want to recapture the experience of early digital with less hassle and eventual back surgery, you’d be better off with a Nikon D100 or D70 or Canon 20d. Those are much smaller and lighter cameras and most of us in the field preferred them to their bigger cousins. Wire service and newspaper staffers carried the big ones (and many of them still do) because their companies got them but freelancers mostly avoided these monsters. The D2H in particular traded high frame rate for shockingly low resolution — if you must, you’d be better off with the D2x. For sure avoid the D200, that was smaller and it had decently high frame rate but its files are worse than D70 and D100. D300 is quite usable. On the Canon side some of the early Digital Rebels can also be had for a song and they’re so small and light and at this point disposable that one could put them to some interesting uses. But yeah, even Canon 5d first one goes for $300 or less now and that’s a full frame camera with very decent resolution — its the camera that IMHO truly brought digital to maturity.

    1. Thanks for the comments Alan, I think the weight and size is a concern commonly raised on the early cameras in the Dx series, and arguably in those from Canon. For myself, the size is something of amusement and novelty- I certainly don’t fear where I go shooting when I have a literal ergonomic brick in my hand.

      As I put in the article, my opinion and experience as an amateur photographer who shares most images online, and only recently experimented with prints, resolution is more subjective than the narrative suggests. I get that the D2H wouldn’t necessarily produce as exquisite an image at say A1 or bigger as a GFX50 or Sony A7iii, but that misses the point I, and I suspect others, have come to appreciate, which is there is more to a good image than high, sharp resolution.

      I chased that when I first started- selling a meager 12MP Panasonic GF3 to get my Pentax KS-1 at 20MP- I imagined it would make all the difference to what I saw. And it did…when I zoomed in on my monitor. It was actually the controls that made the difference and got me into manual lenses. I still have a strong dislike of menu driven systems, live view and overall automatic controls (maybe I’ll post a scathing opinion piece on the Sony RX100 Mk3 I own for work- truly a camera I see as nothing more than a tool I begrudgingly use)(and for the record, I’m under 40 so didn’t grow up without these modern comforts).

      I would be interesting to know why you define the D300 on as usable, yet not the D70 or 100? I completely agree a Canon 5D would be a superb camera if someone wanted to grab an early digital SLR, and one I was looking for prior to the D2H.

      But I chose the D2H because of my love for unusual sensor tech- if I had the cash I’d have a collection of different Foveon systems and maybe the odd Fuji (S5 Pro looking at you!).

  9. I happened to have stumbled into “old” Nikon digital cameras by way of purchasing a D200 alongside an F100 in need of service, something that has become a bit of an obsession for me lately. I paid $84US for both and the D200 is in beautiful condition and works perfectly from what I can tell. I do currently shoot a Canon R6 mirrorless camera ( an absolutely amazing camera!), but I love to use older cameras to try to get the most out of them, like the Canon 10D that I still have and use along with quite a few film cameras. Having now used the D200 for a little while, I am impressed by its feature set but even more by its performance in good light. The downside to all of this is, being a bit of a gearhead I have also purchased a D300, the camera that almost made me switch to Nikon back in the day. I really hope I can stop after this…

    1. I’ve heard many people rave about the modern mirrorless Canon and Nikon’s (and the rest!), but as you say, there is such a joy from using these older models to create a strong image that feels intoxicating. I suspect you and I may end up with a ‘cheap’ full frame camera in the near future (I’ve somehow acquired 6 different cameras this year…I don’t need 6…but they do all behave differently).

  10. Very nice. These older cameras are worthy of respect. I was thinking of picking up an early Nikon model to play with. My first DSLR was a Canon D30, then a 10D a couple years later. Sadly not CCD, but some of my favorite photos were taken with those bodies.

    1. I would wholeheartedly recommend the experience Bryan; the more I use this camera the more I find I refine my technique and style; the files never need much editing in post, however it does punish you if you mess the exposure; particularly in low light.

  11. The D70 was actually a real improvement on the D100 because of less shutter lag from the moment you push the button to the moment it makes the image — and the D300 is rid of this issue completely. The D300 also has the capability to meter with AI and AIS manual focus lenses, which the D70 and D100 both lacked. The D200 could but it had such terrible files — too high megapixel count for the sensor. For sure the D2H already had very little if any shutter lag, but in such a bigger beast! In truth the main problem with all these was the crop sensor and without the ability as on mirrorless to put smaller rangefinder and half-frame lenses on these SLRs. I ended up using a Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8 , a 20mm f/2.8 , a Tokina 17mm f/3.5 and finally Nikon’s 18mm f/2.8 in my search for a decent wide angle. What a pain that was! That’s why full frame in a smallish affordable package in the canon 5d was so game changing. But now I happily put 1960s (and older) lenses on my Sonys and Fujis, and keep a Nikon D600 around for certain uses. I’d go back to processing film in motel bathrooms as we used to before using any of those early digitals again 🙂

    1. Great mental image at the end Alan, this is actually something I need; some good lens recommendations; specifically prime lenses. Which would you say you found the best of the Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8 , 20mm f/2.8 , Tokina 17mm f/3.5 and Nikon’s 18mm f/2.8?

      Any links to samples?

  12. I first got a similar itch after reading a similar piece, I think it was on 35MMC as well (someone used a D2X or D2H, along with a pair of nice AI-converted 24-or-28mm Nikkors). To date I haven’t acquired one for myself, though my thoughts veer that way on a regular basis. Spurred by a similar impulse, I’ve recently picked up a different one of the great beasts – a nice, not too banged-up Nikon F5. My only AF-capable lens is a 180mm AF-Nikkor that once saw better days – certainly days with less fungus – thus far just occasionally used on a Nikon FM2. The tortured little screw drive really does emit the most wonderful screech, doesn’t it? 🙂

    I wonder how long will I be able to resist the urge to pick up a digital equivalent (though perhaps I’ll opt for the somewhat leaner D700 instead).

    1. I’m wondering if you’ve already succumbed to the urge Halka! If you can locate that article (if it wasn’t on 35mmc)it would be nice to read and see another view; I didn’t find too much out there (Ken Rockwell and forums) about the D2H.

      I would love to try a Nikon F series camera one day- I heard much good about the F5.

  13. I’m a B&W shooter and I’m completely in love with the old Nikon digitals! Specifically the 12mp models–D2X, D2Xs, D300 and the full frame D700 and D3. There’s something about the B&W files from these cameras that look more like photographs I fell in love with back in the 1970s. Those photos got me on the road to photography and I’ve navigated the way for almost half a century now. I guess some people find these files to be “organic” or “filmic” but I just find them more natural, whatever that means. Anyway, I like the look of the 12mp models more than the 24mp and 36mp images coming from my other, newer Nikons.

    I’ve never shot with a D2H but I’ve been tempted by it a couple of times. I just couldn’t justify it since I already have two D2X bodies and one D2Xs. Incidentally, the D2Xs was found in nearly new condition for a bargain price. I consider that one of life’s lucky moments for me.

    I totally agree on the handling of the D2 series cameras. The vertical grip adds a nice balance that makes the whole package feel great in the hand. The D3 is awesome but it’s heavy. The D2X and D2Xs both feel comfortable and aren’t that much of a burden, especially when compared to the D3 or a D700 with accessory vertical grip.

    Enjoy the D2H. You might find 4mp is enough most of the time. I’ll bet it has a lot of life left in it as well.

    1. Thanks for the reply Dogman, I was originally looking at the 12mp models, but couldn’t locate one in my budget- similarly the full frame (one day….)

      It seems there is a real fondness for how the B&W shots turn out, and honestly is something I’ve yet to test with this camera.

      If it was me in your shoes, I wouldn’t feel like you were missing out- I’d say the bump in sensor size is worth the minor difference in burst shooting- unless you do a lot of sport and bird, where the resolution for birds in flight could be potentially limiting (I’m so grateful bird photography is one I’m not taken with).

      Would you say the D3 or D700 is still a good option these days (I feel I may know the answer to this)

  14. Doggonit, you ignited my GAS, so I just received one of these from that auction site yesterday. What a beautiful hunk of metal, if not quite a Leicaflex or Nikon F(2) in density. I love the analog origins of all those buttons, like a digitized F4 or 5. No menu hell like my Sony A7II.

    I’ve been thinking of an old Nikon DSLR for a long time to shoot natively with that bag of mf Nikkors that I have accumulated over the years. And I wanted one of the big professional guys. A more ideal D2x or D3 could have been two or three times more money for a camera in similar condition to my D2H, so I don’t begrudge four megapixels much. So what if my phone could out-perform it a lot of ways. I view this D2H as a proof of concept, and maybe find an D3 cheap someday.

    I carried it everywhere today with a 50/1.8, and everybody noticed it, even my wife. Not a stealthy camera. Went for a long hike in the woods. and it isn’t as heavy as it looks.

    So thanks for the heads up.

    FWIW, my D2H was 200 bucks plus tax and shipping. Only 12000 clicks, so it is rather pristine.

    1. That’s a fantastic price considering the condition and shutter count. I don’t feel I got a particular bargain (camera body was £50 ($66)) because of the charger, battery cover and battery (£100/$132 and chaos- that charger was too overpriced but was not easy to locate at the time- and new…never!), but it wasn’t expensive in the scheme of things.

      I do offer apologies for triggering the GAS, but I’m sure you’ll have as much fun exploring and testing your photography skills with this Nikon as I am Hurin3.

  15. Nice article on an old beast. It is the simplest camera (short of my Nikon FM) I have ever owned. No video and once set up to your specifications, you never have to menu dive for anything. All the needed adjustments are on the outside of the camera. I have messed with many digital cameras over the years. This is the only one I have kept. I use it with the Nikkor 17-55 F2.8. It is a heavy combination but weather proof across the board. The files are small and easy to work with particularly with modern software. Most often, if you can manage good exposure, the files need little tweaking. I like the rendering of this sensor. I am no professional but for broad general photography and small prints up to 13X19 at a normal viewing distance, you would have no idea how what camera or how many MP were used.

  16. Andrew David goodson

    I now have a D2 , D3 , D3s and a D4 .A d2x should be here tomorrow in excellent condition for $166 So much fun! I shot a lot of Aviation photography which the D4 is highly suited to . I use a Tameron SP 150 to600 with it . I’m true my amazed!

  17. Just needed to comment as I have just acquired a D2HS as well as a D2x and I am totally besotted with them, in particular the D2hs. the colours remind me of when I first started photography nearly 20 years ago and their limiting factors are making me once again learn to think about what I am doing and not to rely on post production of images from a technically perfect modern camera.

    1. That’s excellent to hear David, I’m tempted to add a D2X at some stage. I would heartily recommend trying out older lenses via adapters on the D2Hs, I’ve been seeing some wonderful renders and colours out of a Super Takumar and some Tamron Adaptall 2 lenses. Those limitations, creating the feeling of striving to get the most out of the cameras best traits, that’s certainly the pull these cameras have- I hope you share your images with the world however you can.

  18. I’ve just purchased a Nikon D2H with battery and charger etc for £156 including carriage. I looked at the D2X as I have a pair of D1X that I’ve used for a number of years. Totally reliable. My favourite lens is the 35mm f1.8 G which gives me 52.5mm. As a Leica M3 shooter of many years, I’m well acquainted with this field of view. Reasons why I didn’t go with the D2X: a lot of them weren’t working or had faults. Also, far fewer D2H bodies on sale, is this because highly satisfied people are hanging on to them? Didn’t see a D2H on sale as dead or with faults. My body has 20K shutter count. Some are 10X this! Pixels? Well my pair produce excellent quality pix equal to my R8 or M3 or Leicaflex original cameras. This is compared on the laptop screen. I have my films scanned to disc and view on an old Panasonic Toughbook. Gas? Well yes. I’ve suffered with this since 1977 when I got my first SLR, a first model Nikkormat with dud meter. I just bought a Weston V. I agree about defending yourself with the D2H or something like that. In 1981 in a run-down part of Sheffield, a black youth made a grab for my ‘mat and I clouted him in the face with it, he ran off howling. Monopods are good for self defence too. Especially metal ones by Gitzo (older models) or the Manfrotto Professional Monopod in black or silver. The latter is highly visible, thus a good deterrent. Walk with it up on your shoulder. As long as you have a camera with you, ready to use, police cannot apprehend you for carrying an offensive weapon. Try carrying a baseball bat and see how far you get down the high street! I have a black rubber knob that screws into the tripod stud mounted on a Leitz Tiltall monopod from the 50s and that makes a good walking stick as you can adjust it to suit. Incidentally, a close friend whose a former member of the criminal fraternity recommended using the monopod to jab an attacker in the solar plexus, not as a cosh.

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