Nikon D1 Review

Nikon’s D1 has been around for more than a year now; it was originally formally unveiled on June 15, 1999, though we had already seen a lot of “behind the glass” prototypes. In September of last year, I got my hands on a D1 prototype for the first time.

The D1 was Nikon’s response to Kodak’s monopoly on the market for professional SLR cameras. When one of the major manufacturers created and produced the first digital SLR, it was a significant turning point in history (“homegrown”).

It also signaled a significant shift in expectations regarding the cost of this sort of equipment because at the time it was released, it cost at least half (if not a third) less than its closest competitor, the Nikon-based Kodak DCS 620. Better still, it had a 2.7-megapixel sensor as opposed to the 2.0-megapixel one found in the DCS x20, allowing the camera to aim for bigger prints and higher-quality output.

I should probably clarify why it took so long to provide a review. I did have a loan D1 at the beginning of this year, but the work on this review was halted when I moved from Singapore back to the UK. To assist round out the selection of digital SLR reviews, I’m sharing this review (also Canon EOS-D30, Fujifilm S1 Pro, Kodak DCS 520, 620 & 620x).

Design

I once heard someone say, “Once you hold the D1, you won’t want any other digital SLR,” and I have to agree. Its incredibly sturdy design is probably the first thing you notice.

It weighs a substantial 1.1 kg (2.5 lbs) without a lens or batteries and is made from what feels like a solid slab of magnesium alloy. However, the weight gives you confidence that you are using a professional instrument that was developed to be utilized in a variety of settings.

The D1 shares more than a passing resemblance with previous Nikon SLR models like the F5 and F100 in several areas. In fact, when I initially learned about the D1, I was told that it had a design that was split 50/50 between the F5 and the F100 (it’s hard to tell which halves, but suffice it to say that it’s closer to the F5 in terms of strength).

Nearly the whole front of the camera is coated in rubber, as is the rear compact flash box lid, which also serves as a thumb grip. The hand grip is substantial and perfectly contoured, hugging the inside of your palm and having enough depth to grasp well right up to your fingers.

The D1 features a second shutter release and a command wheel on the bottom of the camera since it has a built-in portrait grip. This increases the camera’s overall resilience to knocks and makes the entire device practically square when viewed from the front.

It feels like the ideal camera tool in your hands. It’s unlikely that you could ever seriously criticize Nikon for the D1’s build and design given how well it is balanced and has a great grip. There is simply no other digital SLR on the market (as of the time this review was written) that can compare to the D1’s design, balance, and build quality.

Image Quality

Sharp and clear pictures

The Kodak DCS cameras undoubtedly provided pretty clean photos, but there was always the underlying discomfort of blue channel noise. The D1 was the first digital SLR to bring us such a smooth clear image. Both ISO 200 and ISO 400 exhibit this; noise actually only becomes noticeable at ISO 800 and higher.

Black and White

The D1 has a wide selection of good pre-set white balances, manual presets (shot a gray card or white wall), and fine-tuning of any pre-set +/- 3 levels. It’s usually simple to acquire a nice white balance even without a custom setting because to the superb ability to fine-tune each white balance.

Nikon D1 Specifications

General
NameNikon D1
Retail priceUS$5,500 (body only)
TypeLens-interchangeable SLR-type digital camera
BodyMagnesium alloy, resistant to penetration by water drops
one
Imager / Sensor
ImagerCCD Sensor
Imager effective pixels2,000 x 1,312 (2.72 million)
Imager total pixels2.74 million
Imager ratio3:2
Imager size15.6 mm x 23.7 mm
Imager system output36-bit (12-bits per colour)
Imager filterPrimary (RGBG) colour filter
Low-Pass filter
(anti-alias filter)
Ultra-thin lithium niobate (LiNB) Low-Pass Filter (also cuts infrared rays) incorporated just in front of CCD
ISO speed rangeEquiv to 200, 400, 800 and 1,600
one
Lenses
Lens compatibilityCompatible with virtually any F-mount Nikkor lens, picture angle with D1 is equivalent to 1.5x focal length in 35mm format.
Focal length multiplier1.5x, therefore a Nikkor 28 mm lens on this camera has a focal length equivalent to 42 mm.
Usable lenses1) D-type AF Nikkor: All functions possible
2) D-type Manual-Focus Nikkor: All functions except autofocus possible
3) AF Nikkor other than D-type: All functions except 3D Color Matrix Metering and 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for D1 possible,
4) AI-P Nikkor: All functions except 3D Colour Matrix Metering, 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for D1 and autofocus possible
5) Non-CPU: Usable in [A] or [M] modeCentre-Weighted or Spot Metering; Electronic Rangefinder usable with lens with maximum aperture of f/5.6 or fasterNote: When Non-CPU lenses are used, [A] mode is selected automatically for [P] or [S] mode, also Centre-Weighted Metering is selected for 3D Colour Matrix Metering.
one
Focus
Auto focusHigh-speed AF system including Dynamic AF operation (same performance as F5 and F100) TTL phase detection, Nikon Multi-CAM1300 autofocus module; Detection range: EV -1 to EV 19 (ISO 100 equivalent, at normal temperature)
Focus pointsOne of five focus areas can be selected
Focus point selectionVia rear 4-way controller
Focus lockFocus is locked by pressing AE-L/AF-L button or lightly pressing shutter release button in (S) AF
AF Area Mode1) Single Area AF
2) Dynamic AF (Dynamic AF Mode with Closest Subject Priority is available)
Lens servo1) Single Servo AF (S)
2) Continuous Servo AF (C)
3) Manual focus (M)
Focus Tracking automatically activated by subject’s status in (S) or (C) AF
Lens apertureInstant-return type, with depth-of-field preview button
one
Metering / White balance
Metering modes1) 3D Colour Matrix Metering with 1,005-pixel CCD EV 0-20
2) Centre-Weighted Metering (75% of the meter’s sensitivity concentrated on the 8mm dia. circle) EV 0-20
3) Spot (4mm dia. circle, approx. 2% of entire frame) EV 2-20
Exposure modes1) Programmed Auto [P] (flexible programming possible)
2) Shutter-Priority Auto [S]
3) Aperture-Priority Auto [A]
4) Manual [M]
Exposure compensation+/- 5 EV range, in 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps
AE Lock1) Auto AE lock
2) Manual AE lock button
Exposure metering couplingCPU and AI combined
one
Exposure / Shooting
ShutterSingle-blade mechanical shutter provided for smear prevention
Shutter speedBULB, 30 secs to 1/16,000 sec
Drive modesSingle, Continuous full frame (1.5 fps), Continuous 1/16 size
Exposure metering3 mode TTL metering:
256-segment Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot
Self-TimerCustom 2 – 20 seconds
BracketingAuto Exposure Bracketing available for two or three shots in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 step
Burst shooting4.5 fps shooting speed for up to 21 consecutive shots
SpeedQuick startup and 0.058 sec. shutter time lag
one
Image storage
Storage mediaCompactFlash type I or II
Uncompressed formats12-bit Raw*, 8-bit YCbCr-TIFF*, 8-bit RGB-TIFF.
(Black & White / Colour modes)
* Optional software is needed to reproduce Raw or YCbCr-TIFF images; “Nikon Capture” for Raw images, “Nikon View DX” for YCbCr-TIFF images
JPEG image modesThree: JPEG Baseline (approx. 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 compressed),
ColourspaceNTSC (1953)
one
LCD / Viewfinder
LCD2″ 120,000-dot low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD with histogram indication. Backlight and brightness adjustable.
Top-Panel LCDExposure value (shutter speed/aperture), exposure mode, exposure compensation, exposure compensation value, aperture/shutter speed lock, flash sync mode, focus area, exposure bracketing information, electronic analogue display, battery power, CF Card confirmation, number of shots taken, number of shots remaining, frame number at playback battery power for built-in clock, date/time
Rear-Panel LCDNumber of shots remaining, sensitivity, white balance mode, image quality mode, monochrome mode, CF Card status, LCD monitor status, Custom function
ViewfinderTTL Optical (pentaprism) viewfinder with frame coverage of approx. 96%, Dioptre adjustment (-3 to +1 DP), High eyepoint (higher than 22mm), Eyepiece shutter provided
Focus screenB-type BriteView clear Matte Screen III; Interchangeable focusing screen (compatible with focusing screen for F100)
Viewfinder MagnificationApprox. 0.8x with 50mm lens set to infinity and -1.0 DP
Viewfinder InformationFocus indications, shutter speed, aperture, exposure mode, metering system, shutter speed lock, aperture lock, AE lock, electronic analogue display, frame counter, ready-light, five sets of focus brackets (area)
one
Flash
Internal FlashNone
Flash synchUp to 1/500 sec
Sync contactX-contact only
Flash sensor3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for D1 controlled by five-segment TTL Multi Sensor with new Speedlight SB-28DX
Flash control1) Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash controlled by five-segment TTL Multi Sensor: o 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash for D1 when used with SB-28DX and D-type Nikkor lens o Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash when used with SB-28DX and AF Nikkor other than D-type, AI-P Nikkor lens
2) AA (Auto Aperture)-type Flash available when used with SB-28DX and lens with built-in CPU
3) Non-TTL Auto Flash with a Speedlight such as SB-28DX, 28, 27, 22s, etc.
Flash synch modes1) Front-Curtain Sync (normal sync)
2) Red-Eye Reduction
3) Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync
4) Slow Sync
5) Rear-Curtain Sync
one
Playback
Playback modes1) 1 frame
2) Thumbnail (9 segments)
3) Slide show
4) Histogram indication
Playback erase1) Single
2) All (except protected)
one
Battery / Power
BatteriesInterchangeable Ni-MH battery pack EN-4 and dedicated Quick Charger MH-16 (compatible with battery charger MH-15 for F100) (all optional)
Battery charge time90 minutes
one
Communications / I/O
Communication InterfaceIEEE 1394 (FireWire)
Video OutputSwitchable NTSC or PAL
Remote controlVia 10-pin remote terminal
one
Standard Accessories
Software“Nikon View DX” Browser Software
StandardNeck Strap, Video Cable
one
Optional Accessories
Optional“Nikon Capture” Control Software (req. for RAW format)
Ni-MH Battery Pack EN-4, Quick Charger MH-16, AC Adaptor EH-4, CompactFlash� Cards, Speedlight SB-28DX, IEEE1394 Cable SC-D1, Antifog Finder Eyepiece DK-15, “Nikon View DX” Browser Software, “Nikon Capture” Control Software
one
Physical specifications
Dimensions157 x 153 x 85mm (6.1 x 6.1 x 3.4 in.)
Weight (no batteries)1.1kg (2.5 lbs.)
Operating temperature0oC to 40oC (32oF to 104oF)
Operating humidity85% or lower

Conclusion

The image quality is outstanding, but there are a few quirks that can be worked with as long as you are aware of them. The D1 has everything a professional photographer could possibly need and a whole lot more. The build quality is second to none, and the image quality is superb.

Think back to the time when the D1 was originally introduced on the market. Consider the market conditions at the time: if you were a professional photographer, the only digital cameras you could think about purchasing were the 2-megapixel, $12,000+ Kodak DCS series. Nikon made headlines with a 2.7 megapixel, all-one brand, $5,000 professional SLR camera that offered features, build quality, and a smaller size that had not been seen before in the professional market. A remarkable achievement.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that the D1 was the first digital SLR camera that was capable of shooting in JPEG format, which is incredibly significant to many professional photographers. Not too much longer after that, Kodak produced firmware that has the ability to convert the proprietary TIFF files to JPEG (although the results are in no way identical). It is interesting to observe the sheer number of firmware upgrades that have been issued for the Kodak DCS cameras ever since Nikon debuted the D1 (is Kodak attempting to play catch-up?).

I recall having a conversation with someone from Kodak Professional back at the beginning of 1999 when the D1 was only a rumor. At the time, they really weren’t bothered and had a rather cavalier attitude about their products and their ongoing success in the professional market. I am curious to know what they think of the D1 at this point.

There is little question that the D1 was the camera that fundamentally altered the digital SLR industry; nevertheless, despite the numerous products and announcements that have been made by other manufacturers since then, there is still nothing that can compete with the D1. In addition, Kodak has decreased the cost of their professional cameras in an effort to regain some of the ground they have lost.

At the time that this review was written, there is no question whatsoever that the Nikon D1 is the digital tool that professional photographers should be using.

Nikon D1 Price

Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Footplate made entirely of rubber
  • Instant startup time
  • The “solid bulk” sensation that you get when you hold it in your palm
  • The absolute best construction quality available, an unbeatable all-metal exterior, and completely watertight sealing
Need Improvements
  • unable to produce a lower sensitivity (ISO 100?
  • JPEG and TIFF artifacts as a result of a subpar method used for sharpening in the camera (you need to choose Low sharpening to get the most out of JPEG and TIFF).
  • Noise caused by patterns is more difficult to eliminate at higher ISO settings than random noise.

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