Moving to a camera
in the D100 feature range is not a decision to be made casually.
This is not something that
can be shared and enjoyed by the whole family. Though anybody can
delight at the stunningly sharp, clear pictures, there are cameras
on the market at less than half the price with great fixed optics,
4 to 6 megapixels, that are much easier to use and may even take
more pleasingly balanced pictures in the hands of the average consumer.
The D100 costs $1999, slightly more than
the totals we paid for the Kodak DC-260 when it came out in 1998,
plus the cost of the Sony DSC-S85 when we bought it in 2001.
If you aren't already a 35mm enthusiast,
and don't like the jargon of f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO ratings:
the D100 is capable (like all digital cameras) of shooting fully
automatic focus and exposure. Don't let that fool you. The extra
leap to the complexity of pro and semi-pro cameras allows you, among
other things, to turn all that "auto" stuff off when it
gets in your way. You can still focus manually, and set shutter
speed and f-stop manually, for special situations and when you want
exposure-to-exposure consistency that "Auto" can't deliver.
In short, this camera will always have
limited appeal to most consumers, even if prices come down to the
level of 35mm film cameras, which is not likely to happen Real Soon
The D100 joins the ranks of a handful of
new digital SLR's that fill the gap between the $999 high end consumer
digital camera and the $16,000 to $34,000 professional digitals.
This includes the stunning Canon D60 Eos, which runs neck and neck
with the D100, and in some ways outshines it. In the end, the photographer
with a stable of Canon lenses will automatically choose the D60;
the Nikon buff will naturally choose the D100.
No, neither film nor digital SLR bodies
come with lenses at all (unless sold as a special "bundle").
It's assumed most photographers already have the lenses they like
using. The ability to switch lenses, say from normal to telephoto,
gives the SLR much of its desired versatility. Equally useful is
the ability to add screw-on filters (ultraviolet, polarizing, tinted
and neutral) and close-up attachments.
Although no digital camera is ideal
for deep-space photography, the SLR camera body can be attached
directly to the back of many astronomy telescopes with a cheap adapter.
The D100, so mounted, will take stunning pictures of "bright"
night sky objects such as the moon and planets. With smaller telescopes,
this is the ideal for terrestrial photography for extreme magnification,
distance, or really bright, sharp close-ups.
versatility is all part of the rationale for the SLR that
can't be answered with "but my camera has a built-in zoom."
and Storage: The D100
has a usable ISO range of 100-4,000, writes out 6.3 megapixel images
sized in 9 JPG, 3 TIF and one RAW format. These progress in size
from 220K to 17.3MB at up to 24-bit color depth. The D100 writes
to CompactFlash (commonly available up to 512MB at this writing)
or the IBM 1GB Microdrive. With optional software, the camera can
capture directly to a personal computer or laptop.
obvious advantages of Digital include
instant results, zero processing costs after the initial investment,
on-the-fly adjustment of ISO sensitivity ("film speed")
and image type size, no scanning or developing,instant inspection,
edit and delete, flash memory storage and transferability to the
personal computer, and a potentially huge "roll of film"
to hold many pictures without changing CompactFlash storage cards.
Less obvious is the lack of a cumulative buildup of analog dust
and lint flaws between camera, negative emulsion, developing and
processing, and/or scanning. Digital images are "clean".
are few and obscure, but there
are some. If you calculate the number of pixels potential in a scientist's
4x5 photographic plate, digital photography loses in the megapixels
numbers game. There are limitations in computer and CCD technology
where the extreme ends of film technology still rule.
Camera CCD's, designed for daylight usage,
generate "noise" for night shots, i.e., very long time
exposures in very low light conditions. Forced CCD speeds, such
as the D100's custom H1 and H2 ranges at 3,200 and 6,400 ISO equivalency,
are subject to randomly spaced, brightly colored pixels. If your
subject is a mountain by the light of the rising quarter-moon, you
could find and edit these pixels. If your subject is a field of
10,000 stars of varying magnitudes and apparent colors, you could
not. The Nikon manual addresses how to minimize this inherent limitation.
Deep-space photographers will use film
and very long time exposures (24 minutes to several hours) to capture
faint objects such as nebulae and star clusters. Alternately, they
go digital with special (relatively cheap) dedicated astronomy CCD
plates that do not pixilate on long low-light exposures.
Time: In normal usage
the D100 feels as responsive as a normal camera. Unlike "consumer"
digitals, the D100 writes to a buffer which can hold up to 7 consecutive
shots, so the D100 user does not perceive the baffling time delay
that has spoiled many a digital action shot. In burst or bracket
mode shooting, this buffer can still fill up fast with the largest
formats such as TIFF and RAW!
the D100 uses the same thin blade
shutter mechanism as other fine through-the-lens cameras. As a single
lens reflex (wysiwyg), a small mirror pops up out of the light path.
Some consumer digitals, like our Sony S85, appear to play a recorded
SLR camera shutter sound as an aural cue that the picture actually
has been snapped. The D100 makes a sound "like a real camera"
because it is a real camera.
Is the resolution of images captured
by the D100 SLR inherently as fine as those captured by the older
N70 film SLR camera, with the same lens? In theory, no way. In practice,
try scanning and balancing a 35mm slide or negative so that it looks
as clean and natural as the D100 equivalent.
I started reading
the reviews of the pre-release
prototypes in May. Early on, I got that old familiar feeling that
sooner or later I was going to own one. The D100 was scheduled for
release in June. The word was the camera wasn't going to be widely
available until "late summer". That was an understatement.
By July, Ritz Camera was taking "pre-orders". Nobody else
was; most shops had no idea when they would get even one display
model. Web and mail retailers were not listing the D100, and many
never will. By August, Ritz advertised a "1-2 week backorder"
status, which, privately, they were admitting to customers was running
|If you "always wanted to own
a BMW", at some point you either have to order it, or admit
there's never going to be a "right time". I ordered
the D100 from Ritz August 6th, and it arrived 19 days later.
I couldn't be more excited about it, and
of course I'm delighted. I'm an old-school manual Nikon user (going
back to 1964). It isn't just that I don't fully trust fully automatic
cameras, I don't understand the rationale behind many of the controls.
No user of the Sony DSC-S85 will ever relate the automatic settings
to either the old manual controls, or to the conventional pop-culture
icons for sun, shade, fast moving, stationary, flash and so forth.
They are still inventing digital camera
Operating Systems as we write this. There are no Human Interface
Guidelines. In a family with many different brands of digital camera
in the same household, anybody can point and shoot, but it would
be interesting to hear what happens when somebody else attempts
to change a setting!
My experience with the fully auto features
of my Nikon N70 35mm was a bit unnerving (see PHOTOS). Understanding
what the "auto" features are actually doing is harder
than just setting everything back to "manual". An Auto
SLR is quite a bit more complex than an auto consumer product. The
N70 on full auto was quite intimidating under anything less than
full bright sunlight, and the control set was non-intuitive. I found
myself going back to the manual for simple things like setting film
speed and yes, even rewinding and changing a roll of film.
|For a full technical review of the
D100, consult a professional review of the product. I recommend
Photography Review writeup of the D100.
I read all 17 pages at least twice, and finally saved to disk
as complete web pages. It is an excellent resource, as well
having a complete set of specs, photographs and comparison tests.
After I put a lens on the D100, charged
and installed the battery, and inserted a 256MB CompactFlash (Crucial,
$99), the first thing I did is spend an hour with the D100 manual.
It is unusually clear and well-written, organized logically, and
indexed and cross-referenced. Domestic and foreign users alike will
appreciate (but not equally so) that the D100 comes with two manuals.
One is printed in English; the other, in all other languages.
Thanks to the thoughtful design of the
D100, and the clearly written manual, I felt comfortable that I
could perform all the basic operations in the manual without going
back to the manual to remember how to do it. I still don't feel
that way about the N70 after three years (though I had largely migrated
to digital by 1999).
As a full-size SLR, the D100 is a
hefty camera, particularly with a zoom lens, but the full wraparound
grip, which also houses the battery pack, makes single-handed shooting
easy (use two hands anyway, and use the camera strap!). I like the
feel of this camera more than any other SLR I've owned. I really
appreciate the fact that the view screen or "monitor",
and other windows and controls, are strategically placed so that
I'm not constantly smudging them in an effort to operate or grip
the camera. Nikon wins high marks for thoughtfulness of design.
No camera should win high marks for
ergonomics if the user interface isn't logical, intuitive and consistent.
This concept was understood before we had the word "ergonomics".
Between the VCR, television remote and the digital camera, something
terrible happened to the concept. "Hard to operate" became
a badge of distinction, a test of prowess like the old wooden Chinese
puzzle boxes. Arbitrary and pointless complexity became a status
This design issue finally hit an insurmountable
obstacle with the advent of personal computers. If the operating
system wasn't both powerful and easy to use, so that users could
spend time with the work rather than with the manual, no machine,
of whatever power and state of the art, could be worth the powder
to blow itself up.
|It turns out that while the D100
feature set is much more advanced than my older N70 film SLR,
it is also much more logically organized, intuitively structured,
and easier to understand. I like it!
Use of obscure iconic symbols is reduced
to a few basic and frequently used functions on the back of the
camera body. As with all digital cameras today, the built-in computer
is almost everything. I'm delighted and relieved to say that I find
the computer and user interface of the D100 to be (for the most
part) well thought out and easy to navigate without constant reference
to the manual. We'll have more to say about this very soon.
operation of the camera is
cleaner than my first manual Nikon. Mounting and usage of the familiar
Nikkor lenses, and operations like servicing the battery pack and
CompactFlash, are still simple. Popping up the flash unit is simple
and actually activates flash-fill in typical default setups -- what
a concept! Because so much of the modern camera's function is entrusted
to the computer module and programming controls, there is less to
do on the mechanical level. This can be a blessing or a curse.
With the D100, for the most part,
it is a blessing.
navigation system: On the top
right of the camera is a LCD readout panel displaying the most frequently
referenced functions, such as exposure mode and sensitivity setting
(ISO), f-stop, shutter speed and number of shots remaining at the
current picture size. I've learned to decipher most of the N70 readout
panel, which is tough. The D100 panel is relatively uncluttered
and easy to scan. The number of pictures defaults to an "always-on"
mode even when the camera is turned off. Nice touch.
settings and options are available
through the Menu. With the popular four-compass-directions NAV button,
it is easy to locate and navigate through the major functional menu
groups, and their cascading-menu subgroups. I like working with
this menu, in contrast to the Sony DSC-S85's, in which it easy easy
to change anything, but impossible to find it. If you inadvertently
select a setting that will reset the camera or reformat CompactFlash,
such as switching to RAW format, you will get a warning. Similarly,
attempting to delete an image will give a warning first. Another
command and sub-command wheels
are intended to offer basic function
changes without having to dive into the menu. Unfortunately, you
still have to leave "shoot mode" to use them. Digital
Photography Review called this the least-well-thought-out feature.
I have never been a fan of scrolling lists that only show one value
at a time, such as shutter speed or ISO equivalent speed.
back panel buttons are
mercifully brief. Left side, top to bottom: LCD monitor display
on/off, Menu on/off, Playback thumbnail control, image lock, and
the ENTER button. Right side: image delete (you also get a warning).
Conclusion: I was able to write most of
this from memory, with minimal reference to the camera and manual
that are right behind me. That's a great sign and very positive
endorsement, especially since this is the fifth day after FedEx
Let's see more of what the D100 looks like.
Top left photo is older Nikon N70 film camera, for comparison. All
photos of the D100 were taken with the old Kodak DC-260, which is
still a reliable workhorse!
|Nikon N70 35mm film SLR, 24-120mm zoom mounted.
||Nikon D100 digital SLR, 24-120mm zoom mounted.
Note taller body.
|Front view, D100 body only. Dimensions
are 5.7W x 4.6H x 3.2 D (inches). Small illuminator light on
upper left emits enough light for Auto-Focus to operate correctly
when ambient light is too low. Below the light, depth-of-field
preview button is barely visible in this photo. Popup flash
is visible in front, top and side views, above Nikon logo.
||Front view, D100 with f1.4 50mm
"normal" lens attached. Visible on right is lens release
button, and Focus Mode selector: M, S or C for Manual, Single-Servo
Auto Focus (static), and Continuous Auto Focus (moving subjects).
The oversize camera grip shows well here and in the "top"
photo. The included camera strap shows Nikon intended for this
camera to be serviceable and to present itself well.
|Back, D100, left to right, top to bottom: Bracketing
and Flash Exposure Compensation buttons. TTL viewfinder. Auto
Exposure/Auto Focus lock button. Command Dial. 5 LCD display
and programming buttons (discussed in article above). LCD monitor
with protective clear plastic snap-on overlay. 4-way NAV button,
Focus Area Lock, Trash (delete) button. CompactFlash/microdrive
compartment cover. The removable clear plastic LCD overlay is
a thoughtful touch. Standard Nikon "hot flash" visible
above viewfinder, for external strobes.
||Side, D100, f1.4 50mm lens mounted. Soft rubber
compartment cover conceals connectors for USB, audio, and optional
external power. Shooting Mode Selector Switch is visible on
camera top. Lenses attach and detach with the lens release button
and a one-eighth circle twist of the lens on the standard Nikon
|Side, D100, 24-120mm 72mm zoom
mounted. This lens has appreciable heft, but the D100 balance
still feels good. Barely visible on bottom is the standard tripod
mount screw hole. The lithium battery pack compartment cover
is on the far side bottom, not really visible in this view.
||Top, D100. Left to right: Shooting
mode dial, hot shoe, LCD control panel, Exposure compensation
and Flash synch mode buttons, and LCD illuminator button (nice
touch for low light setup!). Sub-command button visible in front
of On/Off switch, front of camera.
To do a film-to-digital
comparison properly, I would
need to get some Kodak 100 Gold film for the N70 and wait for Kodak
processing. It would be fun to do that, and I would like to see
the results myself. But that would be more interesting for a day's
outing, than a photo or two from the apartment balcony, so we'll
put this off for another day.
comparison is inherently unfair,
since the only digital camera we have in California is the venerable
Kodak DC-260. I love this 1.3 megapixel camera, which was state
of the art in 1998 and still does an awesome job of cranking out
perfect pictures almost every time. I've always suspected that Kodak
engineered some sophisticated color balance and image enhancement
algorithms into its images, for these images rarely benefit from
the standard PhotoShop feature set, as do Nikon slide scans and
even the Nikon D100 images I've shot so far.
For fun, bearing in mind the disparity
in cameras, we'll set up the tripod on the back balcony using "normal"
lens settings and the highest JPG quality each camera is capable
imported into PhotoShop 7.0, using the embedded color profiles from
each camera. No editing or balancing added in PhotoShop. For comparison,
exported to (a) JPG medium "Save to Web", 324x216 side-by-side
resize, (b) 900x600 JPG quality '9' high, downloadable. These are
the formats our regular PHOTO visitors are used to seeing.
|DC-260-P0001075-SM.jpg, reduced to 324x216 "Save for
Web" JPG Medium, Photoshop. No enhancements. Native size
1536x1024, 501KB. Click image for downloadable 900x600 JPG,
"9" high resolution, 214KB. With the DC-260, "normal"
is somewhere between wide angle and telephoto zoom, but
you never know where. As expected, native Kodak color
balance and contrast is somewhat more dramatic than the untouched
D100 image, right.
||D100-DSC_0025-SM.jpg, reduced to 324x215 "Save for Web"
JPG Medium, Photoshop. No enhancements. Native size 3008x2000,
3050KB. Click image for downloadable 900x600 JPG, "9"
high resolution, 210KB. Shot with f1.4 50mm lens, f9.0, 1/320,
automatic, color space sRGB. As expected, native Kodak color
balance and contrast, left, is somewhat more dramatic than the
untouched D100 image, above.
|DC-260 vs. D100 compare. Given the greatly uneven
starting size and resolution from the two cameras, a detail
portion from both images was blown up to 200% of starting size,
at which point neither JPG looks particularly sharp. Image size
alone will account for a lot of the differences in detail. Note
the DC-260 was hardly able to resolve the telephone wire lines
at all. Color correction still has not been applied to either
image. Most people would say that the DC260 image is "prettier",
and in fact the Kodak algorithms have a tendency to make things
look prettier than they really are. The DC100 payoff should
come with higher resolutions and TIFF (lossless) image capture,
|D100-DSC_0026-detail.jpg. Cropped out of 3008x2000
17.3MB TIFF image. Taken with 24-120mm zoom at full zoom, 1/1000
sec., f8.0, focal length 120mm. You can see that TIFF produces
not only an image of much finer resolution (as you would expect
for 17.3MB), but overall image quality is much sharper and color
balance is much better, than the finest quality JPG. Reviewers
have commented that JPG did not live up to its full potential
with this camera, in their opinion due to very conservative
engineering values for sharpening. This was a 600x400 crop (about
1/5 of the 3008 pixel image width) at 100% of image size, not
200%, and some color balance was applied in PhotoShop this time.
Not much difference was noted, as the color balance and contrast
were dramatic improvements over the JPG image shot with the
50mm lens. The 17.3MB native TIFF image size is the same size
as the CoolScan IV film scan. Lacking a more concrete test,
it seems to me the D100 image is subjectively at least as good
as the scanned35mm equivalent, clearer from edge to edge, and
conspicuously free of lint and dust. In the full image (obviously
not reproduced here), I can read the "Blockbuster Video"
and "Direct Sales Floors" halfway across town.
Using the D100
I have used this D100 camera, fooled with
it, and practiced with it for 6 days now. This hasn't made a dent
in the battery indicator. Though I haven't used some features at
all, such as manual overrides and custom functions, I've managed
to shoot indoors flash, indoors no flash, indoors daylight flash
fill, outdoors normal lens, and outdoors zoom.
I've captured the hummingbirds at the feeder,
a perfect hand-held shot, and Mr. Squirrel racing down the fence
on the other side of the pool. We have a flash picture of C.Bear
that shows incredible detail on his anorak, the gleam in each of
his Mardi Gras beads, and the unraveled threads of his "runny
nose". All of this, in only 26 shots.
|The joy of capturing the moment is much
more than about the camera that makes it. The moment is the
important thing, and it lives forever, or, at least, so long
as its record can be preserved. The ability to replay it faithfully
in every detail, as with good audio equipment, enhances the
experience of re-creating the original. It adds adventurous
depth and clarity to the act of re-experiencing special moments
and insights. But we should not forsake playing music or taking
pictures because we could always do better with better equipment.
It is the sharing of the jumbo prints around the living room,
or the highly compressed email and web images, that brings photography
alive. In such cases it hardly matters what camera was used
to compose the shots. The rationale of the complex camera is
all about regaining control of the capture and presentation
process. It is about mood, much more so than being a chronicle
of events. It is an additional process, one which can even greatly
enhance the pleasure of re-creating the moment, but it is a
different process nonetheless.
I love manuals but loathe poorly designed
documentation, so I have a reputation for rarely giving manuals
the time of day. I devoured the D100 manual and feel comfortable
using it as a reference, always a great sign. More significantly,
the thoughtfulness of the camera design, and its ease and intuitiveness
of use, is weaning me from the manual already. This never happened
with the N70 in three years.
I can hardly
wait to go for a drive and do some serious shooting. Spring
in the Castro Valley hills is always the best time for outdoor photography
around here, but there is always something interesting if you know
where to look, and I do. I bought the D100 with the full intention
of turning it into a "working camera", for fun, travel
and vacation -- unlike the N70, which spent large portions of its
existence tucked away in a camera bag in a closet.
I do not think
this camera is going to disappoint. There's
no way I can tell others that this camera is right for them, particularly
when the initial purchase price is more than double that of popular
high-end consumer models. The DC-260 took us four years to amortize
its cost to below a buck a shot - we're up to 1075 shots on it,
and it was our "main" camera until we bought the poor,
unappreciated Sony for Phoenix. I expect the D100 will take a little
longer to amortize to this level, but I expect it will get a lot
more use per year, and that it will still be taking great pictures
in 10 and maybe 20 years. That was the plan.
the initial demand for this camera - it
is still really hard to find at any price - there is a lot of pent-up
demand within the Nikon SLR owner community for a move to digital
without a compromise in quality. I believe that Nikon owners may
not find a better time to make this move for quite some time, and
that if they do move now, they will be surprised and delighted.
This camera is really a pleasure to use.
For some sophisticated SLR users, the D100
might perhaps never fully replace their high-end 35mm cameras. Old
friends are hard to part with. For me, the move will be easy and
complete. I was never comfortable with the N70, which was not high-end;
I much preferred the much older EL2, which I nevertheless stopped
using because guilt chained me to the newer investment. I never
climbed past midpoint on the N70 learning curve, and using it was
frankly a big ordeal fraught with many uncertainties and failures.
Fortunately, the AF and D-type lenses were the biggest part of that
investment, and it is SO nice to be able to move them to the D100!
For astrophotography, when we get to that,
we will probably get a dedicated telescope CCD. For the occasional
really long night time exposure, I can always break out the N70
(better yet, the EL-2) and do my time exposures manually. For almost
everything else I can possibly think of, even Mars and Saturn, the
city at night, and the High Sierras, there is the D100.
Many years ago, I used to observe that
really good motorcycles were capable of delivering performance that
most riders would never learn to handle proficiently. This is also
true of many other machines that offer us at least the opportunity
to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. With the D100,
at last I will never be able to complain about the limitations of
Alex Forbes ©September 2, 2002
- see addenda page