I might just be attuned to the theme, but I hear and read a lot about storytelling in photography. This, of course, is what photo essays are about - the narrative form perfected by Life magazine among...
The Nikon D1H is a professional digital SLR camera, well fitted into the Nikon
system and is the high-speed brother of the
D1X. The D1H looks and feels like a digital
F100 with MB-15 grip (though the recently
announced D100 looks like a digital F80). This camera is targeted at the
professional photojournalist or sports photographer. In March 2002, the D1H costs
The main features of this camera are:
2.6 megapixel (2,000 x 1,312 pixels) CCD;
5 frames per second continuous shooting speed, with a large enough memory to
buffer 40 frames in JPEG Fine mode;
1/16,000 sec. top shutter speed and flash sync speed up to 1/500 sec.
8-bit JPEG, 8-bit TIFF and 12-bit NEF/RAW formats;
Compact Flash card (type I and II) and IBM Microdrive storage;
IEEE 1394 ("FireWire") interface for image transfer.
RS-232C interface for connecting a GPS unit
The action photos illustrating this review were taken in a local motocross
arena and beside a nearby speed skating rink.
A single, large and heavy 7.2V NiMH battery provides the D1H with power. It is
at least powerful enough to last 200 images, even outdoors with temperatures
between 0 and 10 C. Obviously, power consumption is very much dependent on the
use of the LCD screen. For a good afternoon shooting with moderate image
reviewing, I suggest you bring a spare battery.
The included MH-16 quick charger can recharge a battery within 90 minutes and
can also perform a refresh operation, recommended if you notice diminished
battery performance. This operation takes several hours. Except for an optional
AC-adapter, no alternative power supplies are available. Note that the optional
AC-adapter becomes somewhat mandatory as the "raise mirror for CCD cleaning"
feature does not work when the camera is operating on its battery. Though not
explicitely recommended by Nikon, you may be able to circumvent this by setting
the camera to manual exposure, selecting "bulb" and using the lock on the MC-30
cable release to keep the mirror raised while you are cleaning. Beware: the
camera is actually taking a picture and I do not know if seriously overexposing
the CCD will cause damage.
The D1H accepts type I and II Compact Flash cards, as well as IBM Microdrives.
I found a 256 MB card sufficient for one single shoot (e.g., an afternoon spent
on motocross) when using JPEG Fine quality. If you have multiple assignments on
one day, or want to use NEF storage, I recommend packing more memory.
I used a White Lake 256 MB CF card and the camera would occasionally lock with
a flashing card signal. This happened on a chilly Sunday morning at an ice rink
as well as indoors where it was comfortably warm. Please note: I suspect this was
a problem with the card itself and not the camera: an HP C912 camera simply
crashes with the same card (though my friend Paul's Pentax Optio 330 works fine
with it). I also briefly used 16MB and 128 MB Sandisk cards, without any
The D1H has a Nikon F-mount and accepts all lenses of the AI-type or more
recent (non-AF lenses impose several limitations on the available exposure,
metering and focussing functions of the camera). Most obvious lenses to be used
on this camera are therefore the AF and AF-S types.
The sensor of the D1H measures 23.7 by 15.6 mm and this is smaller than a
standard 35mm frame. It means that focal lengths are effectively multiplied by
1.5, resulting in a tighter crop of the image. The AF-S 80-200 zoom will gain
telephoto power and become a 120-300 mm, but your AF-S 17-35 wide-angle lens is
reduced to a 26 - 53, seriously limiting your wide-angle coverage. Also note that
if you have specialised lenses, such as an AF 105/2 DC for portraiture, you may
have a hard time finding a suitable replacement with the same picture angle (the
long end of the AF-S 28-70/2.8 seems quite a different beast).
In the best F5 and
F100 tradition, the D1H is a large and heavy camera with a solid build quality.
It seems unlikely that anything is going to break soon on these machines. Even
the CF card compartment has a decent door with a double locking mechanism to
prevent accidental access: you open a small hatch, push a button and only then
will the card door itself open.
The viewfinder is big and bright, but not as big as that of the F100. Unlike
the F5 camera, the D1H does not have a 100% coverage viewfinder (but rather 96%)
which would have been very useful since digital photos can be used full-frame
(i.e., no cropping because of a slide mount or printing machine need occur).
Nevertheless, it is a joy to use. It is good to see that Nikon included a
built-in viewfinder cover with this camera, instead of the silly viewfinder cap
you get with an F100. I must admit that, contrary to my own expectations, I still
have not lost the cap of my F100, even after almost 3 years.
The built-in vertical grip is useful and ergonomically fairly sound, so it
really assists in creating portrait images. It might have been better if the grip
were optional since that would be a good way to reduce bulk and weight. A clumsy
decision in ergonomics is the fact that the secondary command wheel, which is
used to set the aperture (particularly on the new G-type lenses which lack an
aperture ring) is not replicated on the vertical grip. Since I do not own any
G-lenses and use the aperture rings on my lenses instead of the camera control,
this did not bother me much. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the gamepad
selector on the back, which is used to select an AF sensor, is more difficult to
reach when holding the camera in the vertical position.
Nikon could pay a bit
more attention to HP, because their
camera offers both a switch to determine the orientation of the camera and a
wireless remote control. Nikon forces the user into buying software like ACDSee
to perform lossless JPEG rotations, forces viewers using the video-out option to
cramp their necks and forces the user into buying a $55 MC-30 cable release
(which is not even wireless).
The D1H has a play mode, in which it becomes useless as a camera, but you do
not have to use it. Instead, press the monitor button on the back of the camera
to review the last image you shot. Then use the gamepad to browse through the
images and to toggle the display of additional information on the current image.
Press the shutter release button and the camera immediately takes a picture.
Whitebalance and ISO speed can be set without using the menu system of the
camera. Custom functions can be set using the menu system (using plain English)
or, if so assigned, the FUNC button (using the rather hopeless "3-1", "4-0"
number puzzle of the F5/F100).
Speed of Operation
The D1H is a fast camera, not only with respect to frame rate or AF
performance, but also with respect to start-up time. It does not really matter if
the camera was switched off or had gone to sleep: you can get the first exposure
well within the second.
If you shoot a sequence of, say, 8 images and then pause (to recompose,
perhaps), the camera starts writing images to the memory card. This does not
prevent you from taking more images: as soon as you press the shutter release, it
will start recording again. Only when you completely fill the 40-image buffer (on
JPEG Fine mode), will you have to wait for the camera to write an image to the
In short: the D1H has the responsiveness I expect from my F100 and, for
serious photography (i.e., not occasional point-and-shoot work), I would not have
it any other way.
The D1H has a 5 sensor, fast and accurate autofocus system, which works best
with Nikon's AF-S lenses. Operation with regular AF lenses, however, is very good
as well. The "gamepad" on the back makes switching between sensors easy. Only
with low light and using the AF Micro Nikkor 105/2.8 (which has a long focussing
throw to facilitate precision macro focussing), was AF operation somewhat less
Shooting motocross and speed skating sports (and I really am much more of a
city and landscape photographer), I found the D1H to pick up focus quite easily
and tracking the subjects was no problem at all, even if they were sometimes
partially obscured by bushes or other participants.
One problem is worth mentioning, though. During the motocross shoots, I
noticed that, at times, the camera would not re-focus immediately after shooting
a short sequence. That is: I used continuous, dynamic AF to track the subject and
shot several frames. I then completely released the shutter release button for a
second or so and then pressed it again for the next sequence. I expected the
camera to pick up focus again and shoot, but instead it would block. I am not
sure if this should be chalked up as user-error or a flaw in the D1H.
A final note on the AF system of the D1H: this system presents the user with a
bewildering array of options: there is an AF switch on the front of the body, a
shooting menu (for selecting the "AF area mode": dynamic area AF, single area
AF), Custom Function 4 (AF-start using shutter release and AF-ON button, or AF-ON
button only), Custom Function 9 (dynamic AF, Single servo: choose between closest
subject or selected AF area) and Custom Function 10 (same as 9, but for
Continuous servo). AF-S lenses include an M/A - M switch, some AF lenses have an
M-A switch and some (AF or AF-S) lenses even include a focus limiter.
Using 8-bit per channel JPEG, which I believe will be used most often, you are
essentially working with slide film. Nikon's matrix metering proves very accurate
in day-to-day operation, though you should pay particular attention to backlit
scenes. A bright window in the back may set exposure off, or it may become a
horribly burnt-out white patch. As always, there simply is no subsitute for a
Changing metering modes (matrix, center, spot) requires operating a locked
switch located on the prism and you will almost surely need to remove your eye
from the viewfinder to do so. This makes a quick switch to, say, spot metering
The D1H supports the latest in Nikon flash technology, but not with the older
flash units. You will need a newer DX-type flash, such as the SB28DX or the
SB80DX. The popular SB26 and SB28 models will only work in non-TTL mode with this
camera. The D1H has a X-contact for connecting studio strobes. There is no
Illustrating the D1H flash capabilities are some pictures of my father's
retirement party (he taught electrical engineering for almost 34 years at a
junior secondary technical school). The camera was set to ISO 400 or 800 with
aperture priority auto-exposure and matrix metering. I used a Nikon SB28DX flash
with Sto-Fen Omnibounce.
Except for resizing, images in this section were not edited.
The D1H can be set to ISO speeds of 200 to 1600 using a button on the top deck
and the main dial. The HI-1 and HI-2 speeds ("one step" and "two steps" over ISO
1600, in Nikon-lingo) can only be set using the menu system. Image quality from
200 to 800 is very good and I think ISO 1600 is even usuable (depending on the
purpose). ISO 3200 and 6400 should be avoided, these settings are really pushing
the sensor too far to obtain an acceptable image.
Note that a brighter (and more brightly lit) subject causes less noise at
higher speeds. The ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400 images below appear much cleaner than
the images at matching speeds above.
You can set the contrast of the images the D1H creates to less, normal and
more. I recommended you keep the camera set to less. The images below show the
difference between the settings:
Likewise, the camera can be set to sharpen the images, to various degrees:
none, low, normal and high. I think low or normal gives the most pleasing
results. The photos below illustrate the settings:
A note on in-camera contrast and sharpening: purists might argue that you
should not use these options and use Photoshop afterwards on selected images, if
needed. However, for press professionals, it makes sense to have the camera add a
little contrast and sharpening as it will increase the speed of workflow. (As an
aside, those purists should probably keep using film, or a D1X and not the
The D1H can be set to several pre-defined whitebalance settings, such as
incandescent, fluorescent and flash, as well as to an auto whitebalance mode.
Furthermore, three preset modes are available for a user-set white balance: aim
the camera at a neutral subject, press the shutter release and the camera adjusts
itself. Auto whitebalance worked very well, particularly outdoors and under
fluorescent lighting. It has more trouble with incandescent light, resulting in a
Connectivity and Software
The D1H uses an IEEE 1394 ("FireWire") interface to connect to your personal
computer. This should ensure a fast transfer of images. Unfortunately, my PC is
not equipped with FireWire, so I had to use my HP PhotoSmart P1100 printer and
was unable to test the FireWire performance.
Nikon bundles both Nikon View 4 and Cumulus 5 Single User with this
Consider this snippet from the online help:
Q. Can I display images transferred to the hard disk, etc. in a
A. Nikon View 4 is unable to browse or to manipulate either images that have been
transferred from the camera or the card reader, or save copy images. To browse or
manipulate images saved on the hard disk, etc, use the bundled image database
software or image software
Back to ACDSee, I guess.
Cumulus allows you to build an image library (though the program uses terms as
catalogs, collections and media assets). After stuffing the (proprietary)
database with information on your photos, you can search for specific images,
export them to HTML, view a slide show or create a QuickTime movie. As a software
engineer, however, I have written my own image management software, so I did not
spend much time using Cumulus.
Nikon does not bundle Photoshop Limited Edition, or any other software of that
kind. Presumably, professional digital photographers will already own a copy of
If you do not already own Nikkor lenses, Canon is a serious competitor with
their (more recently introduced)
camera. It offers more megapixels and a higher frame rate. The larger image
sensor makes wide-angle photography more feasible.
If you are a Nikon user and are more concerned with image quality than raw
speed, consider the
D1X. The higher resolution
allows rotating and cropping images while still preserving enough pixels to make
a large print.
If you are a Nikon user and are concerned with both image quality and raw
speed, consider the F5. Frame rates up to 8 per second, true wide-angle
photography is more feasible and the images can be scanned to 6 - 12 megapixel
digital files. Obviously, the F5 does not offer the per-shot flexibility of a
digital camera (setting ISO speed, white balance etc for individual shots, if
needed), nor does it have the high workflow speed of a digital system. But for
many photographers using the Nikon system, it will remain a valid option for
quite a while.
Where to Buy
This camera is stocked by Adorama, a retailer
that pays photo.net a referral fee for each customer, which helps keep this site
in operation. We also get a fee when you comparison shop the retailers at
Dealtime . For additional retailer information, see
our recommended retailers page and
the user recommendations section.
The D1H is fast, well built and offers high image quality. The camera is a joy
to work with; it really felt as if my F100 had been transformed into a digital
camera. It is not an all-purpose camera: the limited 2.6 megapixel resolution and
the (compared to 35mm film) small sensor size make the camera unsuitable for
About the photos: as usual, the thumbnail images in this article link
to larger, HTML-wrapped versions. These may have undergone some Photoshop editing
to achieve a good web-quality image. In all cases, a link is included to the
original file as produced by the camera.
Except for a possible
lossless rotation with
ACDSee, no other manipulation was performed on these files. Unless noted
otherwise, I shot all images using the "less contrast" and "normal sharpening"
settings of the camera and in JPEG Fine mode (I found this the most practical
setting of the D1H).