Steve's Digicams

Nikon D1 digital camera
by Mike Berceanu

Nikon D1

When we first saw the Nikon D1 in prototype we were impressed and eager to test the camera, but had to wait three long months to get one for a proper review, such was the demand on the few cameras in the country. We all have high expectations from Nikon but were still surprised by the D1. This is some camera! The D1 is already making quite an impact in the professional photographic community. Anyone who has used Nikon Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras will find this camera quite familiar since it is the digital brother of the F100 film camera and has the look and feel of a film camera.

Coming some 18 months after the advent first of the Kodak/Canon DCS digital cameras, Nikon has been slow to meet the challenge with a top end professional digital camera, but by setting the price of the D1 very low in comparison to the competition, and by producing such a remarkable product, Nikon has signalled war as it battles to regain market share in the professional digital camera market.

big burst

Nikon has achieved a remarkable burst rate of 4.5 frames per second in the D1 with a large buffer to hold 21 compressed frames before refresh is necessary. This feature will be very attractive to editorial and sport photographers who need to shoot very fast sequences and can't wait around for a camera to get its act together. Add this to excellent image quality, advanced auto focus, sophisticated metering, accurate automatic white balance and superb Nikon optics and you have a formidable camera.

Perhaps the most important thing about any digital camera is image quality and it's in this area that D1 really shines. The D1s 23.7 x 15.6 mm CCD sensor with an effective pixel count 2012 x 1324 produces an RGB image with 2000 x 1312 pixels, capable of excellent reproduction in A4 to A3 range. Nikon has achieved very good quality at quite high sensitivity ratings. The camera can be set at ISO 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 plus Custom settings at 3,200 and 6,400. As one would expect , noise appears with speed increases but there is very little evidence of noise even at ISO 800 and certainly not the noise one would see on film at the same rating. We shot mostly at ISO 400 which gave great results.

Just in front of the CCD is an ultra-thin lithium niobate (LiNB) low-pass filter which acts as an anti-aliasing device and also cuts infrared rays. This makes for a smooth tonal range and almost no moiré detectable in the captured images.


The D1 can be connected to a computer via a IEEE1394 Firewire cable, enabling file transfer and computer control of camera functions in a studio setting. Another option for file transfer is to extract the memory card and use a third party card reader.

The D1 uses CompactFlash (CF) Cards (Type I and II) which are the most commonly available memory storage cards on the market. This includes both solid state cards and the new IBM 340 MB & 170 MB microdrives. Larger rotating media (type III) PC cards, also known as PCMCIA cards, are currently not supported and although we see no strong reason to support PCMCIA, there have been rumours that this may change in the future. Our test camera came with a 64 MB CompactFlash which can store 48 frames at a JPEG compression setting of 1:4, 97 frames at 1:8, and 195 frames at 1:16 at which, by the way, there is surprisingly little evidence of compression artifacts.

While most photographers will use the JPEG format, three uncompressed file formats are also available: 12-bit RAW, 8-bit YCbCr-TIFF and 8-bit RGB-TIFF. The 12-bit RAW form conserves all the data in a raw format, while 8-bit YCbCr-TIFF uses a device independent LAB colour space. High-quality black and white images directly from camera are also possible. Unfortunately in order to read raw files "Nikon Capture" Control software must be purchased separately from Nikon. The capture philosophy is different from that of Nikons main rival, Kodak, which captures and stores all data raw for acquiring later via software that it provides free on the internet and often updates.

Shutter Speeds range from an astounding 1/16,000 sec. and Bulb to 30 seconds. As with all CCD cameras, long exposures tend to produce more noise, and as a general rule it's best to keep exposures shorter than one second. The uniquely high shutter speeds of 1/8,000 sec and 1/16,000 sec may find some use at high ISO ratings where there would otherwise be too much light to contend with. While on the subject of shutter speeds, the D1 offers a very high flash sync speed of 1/ 500 th of a second.


The D1 is completely compatible with all AF Nikkor lens, and has limited compatibility with most other recent Nikkor lenses for Nikon 35 mm SLR cameras. This makes the camera very attractive to photographers who already have a considerable investment in Nikon equipment.

To calculate the angle coverage compared to 35 mm format, multiply the lens focal length by a factor of 1.5. Nikon has recently introduced a couple of lenses that are particularly suited to this camera. The 17-35 mm AF-S Nikkor f/2.8 zoom lens provides a very useful range equivalent to about 25-52 mm in a 35 mm film camera, covering many everyday lens needs. The new PC Micro-Nikkor 85 mm f/2.8D is a bit more exotic, being equipped with a tilt/shift mechanism that allows photographers the flexibility to manipulate image perspective, distortion and focus. So why would you need this? Fitted on the D1, a photographer can work digitally on subjects such as food, product and catalogue photography that was traditionally done on large format view cameras. These are the seeds of revolution in the way studio photography will be carried out.

For those who use a flash on camera, there is also a new Speedlight SB-28DX, dedicated to the D1 and offering versatile flash sync modes - Front-Curtain Sync (normal sync), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync and Rear-Curtain Sync.

exposure modes

The D1 has three auto exposure modes, - Programmed, Shutter-Priority and Aperture-Priority, which together with manual options offer precise, comprehensive exposure control. Exposures can also be determined in a particular area and then fixed with the Auto-Exposure lock button, and the picture reframed. Automatic bracketing functions make it easy to get a perfect exposure in tricky lighting situations too.

Auto Focus comes in a couple of flavours. Single servo Auto-Focus is best for stationary subjects. When the shutter release button is pressed half way, the camera focuses and focus remains locked while the shutter button is held in position. For subjects that move, Continuous servo Auto-Focus, as the name suggests, continues to focus and will track a moving object. Auto Focus can also be set to focus only on one of five different areas in the viewfinder. Furthermore, using what is called Dynamic AF, the camera focus on a subject in the selected focus area and then shifts focus to track the subject as it moves.
Of course focus can be done manually too.

For white balance we found the Auto setting to be very reliable. Since white balance varies with the colour temperature of the lighting, there are also settings for Incandescent (3000K), Fluorescent (approximately 4200K), Direct Sunlight (5200K), Flash (5400K), Overcast (6000K), Shade (7000K) and PRE which allows you to pre-set the white balance using a white object as a reference point.

To enable shooting at 90 degrees there is a second lockable shutter release at bottom right of the camera with a second Main Command wheel and Auto Focus button conveniently placed for the right hand thumb.

The high capacity interchangeable NiMH Battery Pack (EN-4) must be removed to charge with the dedicated Quick Charger MH-16, or the Nikon F100's MH-16 charger. Where there is access to mains power, an optional A/C Adapter EH-4 (100-240V AC) can be used.

The pentaprism viewfinder has a bright frame coverage of approximately 96% with diopter adjustment of -3 to +1 diopter for those who require it. An eyepiece shutter can be used to completely block light entering through the eyepiece.

images on screen

To review images, the D1 offers a high quality 5 cm 120,000-dot low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD screen which can also show histogram information. Screen brightness is adjustable. Playback functions include 1 frame, Thumbnail (9 images at once), Slide Show, and Histogram.

Metering with this camera is very slick. Sophisticated 3D Digital Matrix Image Control combines information from 3D Colour Matrix Metering, TTL White Balance and Tone Compensation, measured by a dedicated 1,005 pixel CCD. Scene contrast, scene brightness and distance to the subject are all taken into consideration.

Centre-Weighted Metering has 75% of the meters sensitivity concentrated on a nominal 8 mm diameter circle. Spot Metering centres on a 4 mm diameter circle which is approximately 2% of the entire frame. The circle size for these metering options, can be further changed to 6, 10, 13 mm using the cameras custom commands. There are a some 32 custom command functions, too numerous to mention, which cover just about any contingency you can think of.

The D1 can also be connected to a television to view images on the screen, or to a video cassette recorder to record them on video tape. An EG-D1 video cable which comes with the camera connects to a socket at the front of the camera just above the A/C input connector.

Nikon D1 key specifications

• Accepts NIKKOR AF and F-mount lenses and NIKON SB series flash attachments.

• Shutter Speeds 30 seconds to 1/16,000 sec. and Bulb.

• Exposure system: TTL full-aperture exposure metering system;

  1. 3D Colour Matrix Metering with 1,005 pixel CCD,
  2. Centre Metering (75% of the meters sensitivity concentrated
    on the 8 mm diameter circle),
  3. Spot Metering (4 mm diameter circle, approximately 2% of entire frame).

• Sensitivity: ISO equivalency 200, 400, 800, 1,600.

• Sensor: 23.7 x 15.6 mm RGB CCD; 2.66 million effective pixels

• Colour Depth captures 36-bit full-colour image, output 24 bits JPEG, (approximate. 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 compressed), uncompressed (12-bit Raw, 8-bit YCbCr-TIFF, 8-bit RGB-TIFF)

• Resolution: 2,000 x 1,312 pixels, 3:2 aspect ratio.

• Viewfinder: Optical-type fixed-eye level pentaprism; built-in diopter adjustment (–3 to +1 diopter); eyepiece shutter provided. viewfinder coverage approximate. 96%

• Storage Media: CompactFlash (CF) Card (Type I/II)

• Interface: IEEE1394 Firewire

• Power: Ni-MH Battery Pack EN-4 (7.2 V DC), Quick Charger MH-16/15; AC Adapter EH-4 (100-240V AC).

• Dimensions (W x H x D) Approx. 157mm x 153mm x 85mm

• Weight (without battery) Approx. 1.1 kg


At the time of writing (11/99):
Recommended Retail Price: A$11,389 (after new tax rate comes into effect)
Pro Price: A$9,500 (tax exempt)
USA approx. US$5,580

Top left is the LCD screen for reviewing images and some image related commands. The small screen bottom centre is used to select camera related commands such as ISO rating. The focus area selector / image selector is centre right.

Remove the lens and raise the mirror to reveal the CCD sensor behind the cyan coloured lithium niobate (LiNB) low-pass filter which blocks infrared wavelengths.

The interchangeable 7.2 V DC Ni-MH Battery Pack EN-4. Note the clip-on cover for the LCD screen which protects the screen when not in use.

5 cm 120,000 dot low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD screen shows images bright and clear at the press of a button.

CompactFlash (CF) Card (Type I/II) can be rapidly inserted and extracted to transfer images to a computer via a card reader.

Images can be viewed on a TV screen and recorded on a VCR by connecting here. A/C power plug below. To the top of the camera is the 10-pin remote terminal for electronic cable release and above that, the external flash connector. Focus mode selector and lens release button closest to the lens.

Top control panel displays shooting information including choice of exposure method. The metering mode selector can be seen on the pentaprism.

Tamron SPAF 14 mm F/2.8 super wide angle aspherical lens on the D1 camera. A number of third party manufacturers make lenses that feature the AF Nikkor interface, and therefore can be used on the D1.

Like to see an example, pixel for pixel, from an actual shot? Click on the image above for a look at a 84k section of the image.

Nikon D1 Sample Pictures

Mike Chaney's Nikon D1 User Review

Moose Peterson's Nikon D1 User Review

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