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Nikon D1

by Philip Greenspun, March 2001

Digital photo titled keoladeo-ghana-flock-dirt-on-sensor Little black spots are appearing at the top of every photo (see image at right). A visit to the Nikon Web site to find the manual for the D1 single-lens-reflex camera reveals that, although they distribute the manual in PDF form on CD-ROM, they've not put it on the Web. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to stow away a hardcopy of the 128-page book. Page 112: "The charged-coupled device (CCD) that serves as the D1's picture element is fitted with a low-pass filter to prevent moiré. While this filter prevents dirt from getting onto the CCD, any dirt or dust that finds its way onto the filter may, depending on shooting conditions, appear in photographs taken with the camera. In this case you will need to clean the filter."

The manual recommends testing by photographing "an evenly-colored, white object, such as a clean white-colored wall" and then viewing the photographs on a computer. No problem. If there are spots, simply "Raise the camera mirror ... Note that the EH-4 AC adapter (available separately) is required to perform this operation. If you do not have an AC adapter, you will need to take the camera to a Nikon-authorized service center for cleaning."

Digital photo titled taj-mahal-VIP-bench Digital photo titled camera-repair-shop-off-chandni-chowk

Hmmm... there doesn't seem to be an EH-4 AC adapter in the camera bag. Back to the Nikon Web site to look for authorized service centers. The most important links are unavailable. Their servers are down. Twenty-four hours later, the server with the "Contact (Worldwide Network)" page is back up. Many countries are listed. India is not one of them. Oh yes, I'm in Agra, India, home of the Taj Mahal and more than 2 million people but no fancy camera shops. Google.com eventually digs up the Nikon importer for India. It is in Delhi, the capital. That's only a four-hour drive away. Turns out that they did have an EH-4 AC adapter and have cleaned out a few D1s but they sold their adapter. I set the camera to manual exposure mode, set the shutter speed to B, turn it upside down and blow into it. The spots are still there and will grace every subsequent photo taken in India. This is how Adobe sells so many copies of PhotoShop!

Important Lesson: if you're going to rely on a digital single-lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses, dust will get into the imaging path. And it will stay there. You're not rolling a new sensor past the shutter with every exposure as with a film camera. So you'd better have some clear plan for what to do when the dust comes to visit. A backup body is probably essential, though the $3800 price of the D1 and its weight and bulk (similar to a Nikon F5) may discourage you. Canned air would be good to have. The optional AC adapter would also be a good thing to have in the case of the D1. If you can't or won't plan for this eventuality, it might be better to use a completely sealed single-lens reflex such as the the Olympus E-10.

Now on to the review...


Digital photo titled keoladeo-ghana-monkey The Nikon D1 is a good digital camera for photographers who want creative control and are already invested in the Nikon F lens system. As noted above, the camera is heavy and bulky, very similar to a Nikon F5.

The camera's 15.6x23.7mm CCD image sensor is smaller than the standard 24x36mm frame of a 35mm camera. Thus the image that you see in the viewfinder and on the flash card is magnified 1.5X, i.e., a 50mm normal lens becomes an 75mm short portrait lens, the popular Nikon 17-35/2.8L zoom becomes 25-52mm, and a 300/2.8 supertelephoto becomes a 450mm lens.

The viewfinder is wonderful for an eyeglass wearer, with a lot of eye relief in the Nikon "high-eyepoint" tradition. You'll be able to see the entire image and the LCD display just underneath.

This is a 2.66 megapixel camera, producing an image 2000x1312 in size. The images are 8 bits deep when producing standard JPEGs (1.3 MB each), 12 bits deep when storing RAW images (4 MB each). Resolution isn't everything; the raw pixels from the D1 are much higher quality than the raw pixels from a cheap 2.6 megapixel point-and-shoot-style digital camera.

Digital photo titled brindavan-cow-in-street Contrasty scenes quickly overwhelm the standard 8 bits of the JPEGs. At right, for example, is a snapshot taken on a typical day in Brindavan, where Lord Krishna once lived as a humble cowherd. Notice that exposing for the (sunlit) cow resulted in the pedestrian's (sunlit) shirts having blown out highlights. The D1's default mode is to adjust contrast based on the matrix meter and in fact here it has probably chosen the lowest contrast possible because of the dark shadow area right above the cow's head. But even if you are able to remember that setting Custom Function 24 to "2" will force the camera into low contrast mode you'll find that any scene lit by direct sunlight will need to be stored in RAW mode. Unfortunately the RAW images have to be manually processed with Digital photo titled brindavan-fruit-seller Nikon-supplied software, whereas JPEGs can be batch-processed with ImageMagick (the way that we've done the 10,000 or so images at photo.net; see http://philip.greenspun.com/panda/images for background on this subject). Below is another Brindavan scene, that suffers from the 8-bit limitation of the JPEG. If you'd taken this scene with color negative film, a machine print might look similar to what you see below but a custom print or a little work in Adobe PhotoShop would be able to restore the the lost detail in the foreground newspapers, for example. If you originate 8-bit JPEGs in a digital camera, though, the detail is lost forever.

User Interface

Digital photo titled passport-photographer-on-chandni-chowk If you wanted a camera with lots of buttons, switches, and dials, the D1 is for you! Nikon carefully preserved every button from one of their film SLRs and then added lots more buttons and menus to control the digital aspects of photography.

The D1 basically doesn't want you using the aperture ring on any modern (CPU) Nikon lens. You are supposed to set the lens ring to the minimum aperture and then use one of the two control dials on the camera to set aperture. If you're accustomed to Canon EOS, where the lenses don't have aperture rings, you probably won't like having a vestigial aperture ring cluttering the lens. It just gives the photographer another way to fail. You're holding the camera in your hand, waiting for the right moment. You press the shutter release and the camera flashes "fEE" at you because the aperture ring has gotten knocked off its minimum setting. This is also annoying because actually the physical aperture ring on the lens might be an ergonomically superior control to the dials on the body, which don't fall as naturally under the finger and thumb as with Canon EOS bodies. This becomes a major annoyance. Even after taking 1000 pictures or so, it never felt natural to operate the control dials.

The D1 facilitates simultaneous use of manual and auto focus with AF-S lenses. Using Custom Function 4, you can shift autofocus from the shutter release to the AF-ON button on the rear of the body, which falls very naturally underneath your right thumb. If you have a lens with a "silent wave" motor (Nikon's answer to Canon USM), you can leave the lens in AF mode for AF or MF. When you want to focus, turn the ring on the lens or push the button under your thumb. You make a conscious decision. If your subject stays at the same distance and you don't feel the need to refocus, you need not. If CF 4 is set, the camera will never run off wildly and unexpectedly to hunt for focus.

Digital photo titled photography-prohibited-beyond-this-point-at-taj-mahal The D1 is modal. If you are sitting in a cafe and want to review some pictures that you took in the morning, switch the top left control dial from "single shot" to "play" mode. Your old pictures will start appearing on the LCD screen. Set the camera down and have some soup. Is a French guy riding past on his bicycle with baguettes clamped in the back rack? Grab the camera and press the shutter release. Nothing happens. The LCD in the viewfinder? Blank. Check the camera on/off switch. It is on. What's wrong? You forgot to press in the little release button and switch the top left control dial to "single shot". The Canon D30's modeless operation is much more user-friendly.

Setting custom functions is an appalling experience. The back of the camera is equipped with a huge bit-mapped display. The interior of the camera is filled with computer power. How do you set custom functions? Is there a nice menu that you can navigate through on the rear LCD display? No. You have to carry around the 128-page reference manual that will tell you what "Custom Function 24" is or what settings 0, 1, 2 and 3 mean for CF 24. The function and its setting are displayed on a little tiny dedicated alphanumeric LCD just below the big LCD screen. It is almost as through separate engineering groups were assigned to put in the image display screen and the custom function logic. So each group added a display and buttons to the camera. The body is sufficiently huge that there is plenty of room for extra displays and buttons and therefore nobody ever caught the fact that "Hey, we've got a huge display and a menu system already; how often do people really need to change whether or not the LCD illuminator turns on when any button is pressed or only when the on/off switch is turned to the lightbulb setting? And wouldn't they rather read English text on the screen than have to memorize numbers or carry a 128-page manual?"

There is a dedicated depth-of-field preview button to the right of the lensmount. Engaging depth-of-field preview makes the Mother of All Clicking Noises. Missing features? If you're used to a point-and-shoot style digital camera, you'll miss the real-time image preview on the rear LCD monitor. Don't go looking for the button to turn this on. Remember that this is a single-lens reflex. If you can see the image through the viewfinder, that means there is a mirror in front of the sensor. Only at the instant of exposure does the mirror flip up and permit light to flow through to the shutter/sensor system. This lack of continuous sensing precludes the "panoramic assist" mode that is standard on point-and-shoot style digital cameras. You can still stitch together photos after the fact but you'll probably have to use a tripod to keep the horizon level.

Vertical image creation is made easier by the inclusion of a second shutter release and duplicate main command dial on top of the battery pack.

Bottom line: probably the most complex camera ever produced. Nikon makes a bad situation worse by not putting the manual in HTML format on its Web site. You can download a huge PDF file from some kind souls in Europe who copied it off Nikon's CD-ROM, but try reviewing that in an Internet cafe when in the middle of a photo expedition.

Flash Photography

Unlike competitors such as the Canon EOS D30, the Nikon D1 does not include an on-camera flash. From an artistic point of view, this isn't a big problem. Unless you count Weegee not too many great images are lit by on-camera flash. However, an on-camera flash is a much more useful device with a digital camera than with a film camera. If you're creating 8-bits-per-color (24-bit total) JPEG images for the Web it is very easy to exceed the contrast range of the camera, even if you've remembered to set Custom Function 24 to 2 (low contrast). An on-camera flash used as a fill light can balance out a scene's contrast to bring it within the capabilities of the 8-bit JPEG format. Second, the fact that a digital camera can be set in an emergency to ISO 800 or ISO 1600 means that an on-camera flash may offer a substantial range.

The full range of Nikon off-camera flash cords and flash control systems work with the D1. Sadly, you don't get even basic through-the-lens flash exposure metering with older flashes. You basically must buy the SB-28DX to get the features that you'd expect.


Digital photo titled purple-flower Use Custom Function 13 so that you can set exposure compensation with the sub-command dial, rather than having to push a button and turn the main dial simultaneous. For tripod photography, use Custom Function 16 to set the self-timer duration to 2 seconds. Thus it is possible to use the self-timer as a pseudo cable release.

Carry plenty of spare batteries. The D1's batteries are enormous and heavy. The camera lacks a built-in flash. Nonetheless you'll be lucky to get 100 images out of one Ni-MH battery pack before recharging.


Digital photo titled royal-palace-no-touching-the-elephants-sign My biggest complaint with the Nikon D1 was lost photos. When set to "single-shot mode" you can't take a picture for several seconds immediately following an exposure. Suppose that you snap a photo of your friend. Right after that first exposure your friend's expression relaxes. Wow! The perfect picture. Right there in the viewfinder. You press and you press and you press the shutter release. Nothing happens. The camera is busy writing the previous (mediocre) photo to the flash card or Microdrive.It was equally slow with both media types that I tested; see http://www.robgalbraith.com/reports/2001_02_17_compactflash.html for data showing that a 1.3 MB high-quality JPEG should take about 3 seconds with a SanDisk flashcard or IBM Microdrive; a little over 1 second with a Lexar flashcard. It is unclear why the D1 is such an uncooperative companion in this respect. As noted below the camera has a substantial buffer RAM for sequential exposures in "continuous mode". So you'd think that with a little bit of extra programming smarts it could write a new photo to its buffer while saving an old one onto the flashcard.

One way to deal with the "camera locked writing last photo" problem is to keep the D1 in "continuous mode" all the time. This divorces the capturing of photos from the writing out of photos. So the shutter will release when you want. Unfortunately, unless you have an incredibly light touch the shutter will also release when you don't want. You'll end up having to wade through a lot of duplicates at editing time. Remember that the D1's continuous mode rips away at 4.5 fps!

A life-wasting problem with the Nikon D1 is that it does not understand when it is being held vertically. Thus all the portrait-format JPEGs, once transferred onto a computer, are incorrectly oriented. You have to right click the mouse on every picture that you exposed vertically and then select "rotate 90 degrees left". With most image editing software this is also a quality-wasting problem as the image is de-JPEGed and re-JPEGed (though actually it is possible to reorient a JPEG without loss). The actual operation takes a few (long) seconds on a 700 MHz Pentium. There are plenty of consumer-priced devices, e.g., the new Minolta Maxxum 7, that contain small mercury switches to sense orientation with respect to gravity. Every digital camera should have the ability to make an educated guess as to the correct ultimate JPEG orientation.

Bottom Line

Digital photo titled royal-palace-two-holders If you have a big Nikon lens system or are a photojournalist, the D1 is worth considering. If you don't own any Nikon products, you should probably consider

  • the Olympus E-10 (less than $2000, simple all-in-one convenience, sealed system with non-interchangeable lens means no danger of getting dirt on the image sensor)
  • the Canon EOS D30, which is significantly less expensive and much less complex to operate. Warning: the D30's CMOS imaging sensor is not as good in low light as the D1's CCD.

One area where the D1 is better than any other digital camera is speed for repeated frames. Sports photographers and photojournalists will love the fact that the camera can store 21 consecutive images in its internal memory. These may be taken at 4.5 frames per second.

The Replacements

In spring 2001, Nikon replaced the D1 with two new models. The D1x offers high resolution: a 5.4 megapixel sensor. The D1H is designed for sports photographers and offers the same resolution as the D1 but a huge memory for sequential images and 5 frames-per-second capture rate. We're trying to get hold of a D1x for review.



A few favorites from Bangkok and environs ...

Digital photo titled belle-dame-1 Digital photo titled floating-market-little-girl Digital photo titled royal-palace-water-garden Digital photo titled emerald-buddha-photographer

Some from in and around Agra ...

Digital photo titled ape-looking-right-at-akbars-tomb Digital photo titled jami-masjid-sweeper Digital photo titled joginder-getting-shaved-fatehpur-sikri Digital photo titled taj-mahal-and-pool-at-sunset Digital photo titled fatehpur-sikri-panch-mahal Digital photo titled kids-in-river

A handful from Mumbai... (all set to "low contrast"; just about all of the others on this page were taken at "auto contrast" where the D1 is supposed to figure out what to do from the matrix meter)

Digital photo titled elephanta-cave-monkey-baby-monkey-and-man Digital photo titled imperialism-new-american-and-old-british Digital photo titled elephanta-cave-view-camera-photographer Digital photo titled ferry-boats-and-taj-hotel

Text and photos copyright 2001 Philip Greenspun.

Article created March 2001

Readers' Comments

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Uwe Steinmueller , March 29, 2001; 10:36 P.M.

Phil only brief discusses D1 RAW 12bit photos versus JPG. You only get the full quality of D1 photos using the RAW(NEF) format. Judging the D1 based on the JPG photos only is problematic.

But yes, it adds a lot of complexity.

Stijn Saelens , March 30, 2001; 09:37 A.M.

Hi, do you think we may expect a smaller body for the D serrie's, (no vertical grip)? also concernig upgrading, would there be a possibility to upgrade a D1 up to a D1X? or D1H? (I presume not)but did they took care for the D1X and D1H to upgrade them later?

T T , March 30, 2001; 11:55 P.M.

the images in this review look dingy compared with other 'film' images throughout photo.net. i'm not talking about the aesthetics of the photos (they're great in this respect), but there's a quality about them that just isn't as vibrant as film photos. I guess that's the digital format...

Meko Kofahl , April 02, 2001; 10:09 A.M.

Here in Milan, we had need of some professional digital photography and found an outstanding photographer who also was comfortable with his D1. After 60 shots had been downloaded to computer, and the live models long since changed into different outfits, we noticed the same spotting problem. The D1 is still a little rare here in Italy, so we had to wait two days to get a replacement D1 -- apparently the shop that sold this D1 didn't know how to clean it (or didn't have the tool, either).

During the two days we had to continue shooting spotty photos, which I retouched (argh). The replacement D1 had the spots, too, but not as bad. While I was impressed at the speed and overall quality of the camera and the images it took, I was interested to see that Philip had the same spot problem. If you buy this camera, learn how to clean it. Odds are, you'll need to know sooner rather than later.


Stephen Livick , April 02, 2001; 12:59 P.M.

Hello Everyone

Having worked in India photographing for over ten years I understand the dust problem you suffer. I would never recommend the Nikon D1 for anyone who lives in India, dust abounds everywhere, every day I had to have my cloth's washed and my shoes polished as they would get filthy just in living. This is not a criticism of India its just how it is over there.

We brought a young photographer who had assisted me on my trips to India to Canada as a way of thank you for his help. He came to visit from Calcutta and in the two months he was here in Canada he did not have to polish his shoes once. That amazed him as its a daily ritual over there.

Digital single lens reflex cameras are sensitive to dust and this makes it a major problem for anyone owning such a camera who lives in a dusty climate.

Just a comment from someone who has encountered the problem first hand. And longs for a trip back, HUMMM will I bring my D1X when I visit next I wonder?

Jeff Graeber , April 02, 2001; 01:27 P.M.

I've used a Nikon D1, a Canon D30 and a fuji finepix S1 pro. Of the three, the D1 and S1 were far more accurate in color and in resolution compared to the D30 from canon, which was further proved by pop photography's lab tests of the three cameras.

The D1 had dropped in price to $3500, the D30 is $2999 as is the S1. if you are a nikon user, go for the S1 or wait till the price of the D1-X is announced. I almost bought a D1, but with the offering of the new D1-x i thought i'd wait a bit and see how accurate that 5mp CCD is.

also keep in mind that the D30, due to using a CMOS type chip, performs horribly in low light conditions.

Nothing wrong with phil's review, since his reviews are his own opinion and you dont necessarily have to agree with them. Just because he's an avid canon user doesnt mean he doesnt appreciate what nikon brings to the table, but it did mean he left the S1 out as a viable choice for the nikon user.


John Tilden , April 02, 2001; 01:54 P.M.

With all of the complaints and insults about image quality (Canon) and UI, software, and workflow (Nikon) being thrown about here, no one has mentioned the best of both worlds, the DCS 620x and 660 (and soon the 760). Other cameras are simply poseurs for professional digital cameras compared with the image quality, workflow, and UI of Kodak's cameras. Oh, and for the person who pointed out the aperture lock feature for Nikon lenses, I agree with Phil. That lock is almost worthless, it slips, and can be knocked out of position. With the 620x and 660 you can use Nikon lens aperture rings as they were designed, something you can't do on the Nikon-designed D1 body! The only benefit obtained by being penny-wise and dollar poor and buying the D1 is capture speed. Wait one month for the 760 and this issue will be history also (1.5 images per second, 24 image buffer.) - at 6 MP, not interpolated like the D1X.


Andrew Grant , April 02, 2001; 02:22 P.M.

The "dingy" images mentioned by another poster are a known D1 issue. A color space correction in Photshop can help here. Using Bibble to convert RAW files to TIFF or JPEG apparently works even better.

Uwe Steinmueller , April 02, 2001; 05:26 P.M.

Phil asked to showcase some D1 work (from someone knowing the D1). Here we are:



Except for the link 1999 everything is D1 work. 99% is done in RAW (NEF) format.

Use now the D1 for 1 year and have also worked with S1, D30, DCS 660 and E-10. Each of these cameras has it's strength. Would not change the D1 to any of these, because

E-10: A bit noisy, want more variations in lenses (tele)

S-1: Does not work with my best 5 lenses in AF (no AF-S, VR support)

DCS 660: To large, much weight and only up to noisy ISO 200. Resolution is great.

D-30 comes closest: Color a bit off (but that is just my taste), body not D1 level, don't have Canon glass, great camera for the price.

CSM settings: I set mine very rarely. Only after Nikon repair resets the values. And have a copy of the guide with me. The D1X will make it much more easy. Overall this is a non issue and I might even be older than you Phil.

Dust: Is a big issue and you have to live with cloning in Photoshop or use some unsupported methods (like Sensor Swabs). The S1 is worse in terms of dust, but Sensor Swabs are supported. D30 seems to be less problematic. Here the E-10 shines but also try to get very long glass for it.

Interesting is that a lot of people had a F5 before they got the D1 and find after a short period of time that they don't use the F5 anymore. These a experienced photographers.

I am sure a photographer like Frans Lanting gets more out of his film based work then I can do with the D1. But he can afford top labs (drum scans) and he also is a master.

I did 20x30" lightjet prints from D1 photos and they were quite impressive.

Phil, what lens did you use? The new AF-S zooms give much better contrast and saturation.

I like Phil's subjective style even if we might disagree. Yes, just repeating manuals and specs does not add anything to the discussion.

Read also my 9 month old D1 experience report:


Uwe (uwe@outbackphoto.com)

Philip Greenspun , April 03, 2001; 12:13 A.M.

Sorry for not listing the lenses used. Almost all the photos were taken with the 17-35 AF-S. A handful are with the 80-200 AF-S. I borrowed everything from my friend Rob Silvers (Mr. Photomosaic).

Uwe Steinmueller , April 03, 2001; 01:49 A.M.

So the lenses are not to blame. To be honest I did not use JPG for 10 months now and regret every shot I did using JPG (instead of NEF). The reason: D1 photos need some work in Photoshop and 12bit colors survive this much better.


Meryl Arbing , April 03, 2001; 11:08 A.M.

This interview with photographer Jay Maisel might be if interest to some. He is now using the Nikon D1 but the interview is rather tentative in tone. Is he using the D1 by choice? I can't tell.

Dave Cardinal , April 04, 2001; 10:49 A.M.

Philip--I own, shoot with, and live by my 2 D1s. So while I can't argue with you that the D1 has its issues and isn't for the faint-hearted, I can provide some quick tips that might make the your life and the life of other D1 users easier.

First: Most folks I know who shoot every day with the D1 don't bother with the Play mode for review--for just the reason you mention. If you just press the Monitor button the D1 will bring up your images. This way it is in fact modeless and you can shoot instantly (as a wildlife photographer that is crucial!).

Second: You need to dial-in minus compensation on brightly front-lit scenes. It's a pain in the neck, but it is the only way to hold the range when in JPEG mode. Unlike film this costs you much less of the highlights than you'd think. The 12-bit to 8-bit mapping on the D1 is smart enough to be able to keep the shadows (it has more bits to work with at the low end of its range) even though it has problems in that case with the highlights. -2/3 is usually about right. The only obvious problem with this is remembering to take the adjustment back out!

There are many more day to day techniques for working with the camera as well, but these are two of the most useful I've found.

Rob Miracle , April 04, 2001; 02:28 P.M.

Nikon D1 Image

Phil's review points out some of the frustrations a user might feel when using a tool like the D1. As a D1 user for a year now, I would like to address some of the points made:

CCD Dirt. This is a problem with any interchangable lens SLR. Dust gets in there and the electrostatic nature of the sensor make the dust cling. If you follow the rules, you would use the AC adapter (extra charge, not included) to open the mirror to get in there and clean. However, there is a simple "trick". Its called the "BULB" setting. Simply choose a Shutter priority or manual setting and select BULB. As long as you keep the shutter depressed, the mirror is open and you can then take a can of compressed air to clean the CCD.

When cleaning with compressed air, make sure to keep the can up right and to spray it away from the camera when you first use it to clear any moisture that might be hanging around. This gets most of the dust off I have encountered. Some dust wont come off with a compressed air. This dust is for photoshop or your trip to Nikon. The biggest piece of advice is to watch how and when you change your lenses. Power the camera off. Keep the body pointing down when changing lenses and try not to change lenses in dusty environments. Phil's advice about keeping compressed air around is a good one.

Its also important to remember that the D1 is a professional piece of equipment that people need to maintain professionally. This includes periodic trips to Nikon for a CLA (Clean Lube and Adjust). Just as you change the oil in your car and lube it every 3000 miles, pro grade cameras need TLC to keep them clicking away.

Size and Weight: This is personal, but some of us like a heavy camera. It makes it easier to hold steady believe it or not.

Nikon's Aperature Ring: One of the great things about Nikon is their support for older bodies on new lenses and new bodies with old lenses. Therefore having an aperature ring is a necessary evil. Nikon includes a little lock tab on newer lenses to lock the lens so you avoid the EE messages. Nikon's use of a sub-command dial to change aperature came into being with the F5. Only the newer bodies (D1, F100, F80 and F65) don't need aperature rings. All the N90's and F2's still in use today need them.

D1 is modal: I beg to differ. I almost never use the PLAY setting and I never use the Single Shot mode (more on that in a big). When the camera is in Single shot or continious shot, you can press the monitor button (sometimes you have to twice if the camera is asleep) and your photos appear on the LCD panel for you to review. You can browse through them, check settings, even delete the bad ones and if a picture comes up, squeeze the trigger and your taking a picutre. The LCD turns off and the camera is back in shooting mode.

I don't use Single shot mode because the camera has to write the data to storage before you can take another shot. Instead of Single shot acting like it does on the F5, just meaning you have to press the shutter again, but you can do it right away, on the D1 it means shoot and save. Because I want to be able to shoot when I'm ready, I always shoot in continious mode. Try it. Your experience will be better.

Custom settings: I scratch my head and ask why Nikon didn't build the custom settings into the interface. I assume they wanted functionality to be as close to the F5 and the F100 as possible which don't have LCD's and you have to set custom functions by numbers. However the newer models, the D1x and D1h will have custom functions set on the LCD. Nikon listened and fixed this. Many people got creative and printed a small 4 point cheat card that fits nicely into the LCD cover as a way to avoid carrying around the book.

Manual not on the web: Once I've got the camera set up, I don't need to refer to the manual. I'm usually in the field and don't have access to a web browser any way. A pocket guide fits nicely in your camera bag.

Finally, you don't have to use Nikon software to deal with Raw format files. There are at least three shareware packages avaialble and two that are constantly being improved that make D1 life easier.

Check out www.bibblelabs.com for Bibble and www.charm.net/~mchaney/imaging for Qimage Pro. Both packages work really well with D1 images both JPEG and Raw.

There is also a very good Unoffical FAQ for the D1 which can be browsed from your internet cafe at: http://www.dtphotography.com/ftp/NikonD1_FAQ.pdf

Finally, D1 users are encouraged to look at various resources about the D1. I've got links to many of them from www.cameraboy.net and include the D1scussion mailing list.


Kurt Holter , April 04, 2001; 07:21 P.M.

In the course of shooting an increasing percentage (like about 70% over the last 180 days) of my professional jobs over the last 15 months with a Nikon D1, I've had published a 30x40 inch transit poster, a couple of 16x24 inch trade show booth photos, several 8.5x11 inch magazine full bleed photos, a couple of 9x12 inch catalog covers, and a bunch of half page slick print ads from D1 images. Tons and tons of news release and black and white magazine shots have come out of my camera as well.

I've also delighted many clients in the course of leaving hundreds of usable photos on their servers prior to walking out of their facilities after a photo shoot. Digital photography may not (yet) always be the best way, but it's sure the fastest way to get a usable image to a client.

When people ask me about image quality at the larger print sizes, I tend to describe the D1 photos as having "the tonality and smoothness of a medium format image with the sharpness of a 35mm shot". This especially holds true at the larger print or publication sizes.

Every day I learn a little more about life with the D1.

The first thing I learned was that dust certainly is the enemy. It will continue to be the enemy of every digital camera which permits us to use (in my case) an arsenal of top end lenses. My digital backup body is an Olympus E-10 (IMHO the best price/performance digital camera currently on the market), and it really is nice to have the Oly's sealed optical system.

When push comes to shove I still like the D1 best. It produces files with nicer gradation and less noise than the E-10. Plus, after using the D1 the E-10 seems like it takes forever to do anything.

At the current state of the technology - no matter what your digital camera choice - you must realize that to achieve the best quality image files, a certain level of post production image processing is an absolute necessity in nearly every case.

I consider Bibble or MacBibble (http://www.bibblelabs.com) a necessity for anyone wanting optimal quality images from the native ".nef" files from the D1. This amazing piece of software will help you optimize your photos, and realize the full potential of the 12 bit raw D1 files. It also gives you tremendous flexibility in working with D1 native jpegs.

Only within the last week I found out about Mike Chaney's "NIKOND1.ICM" Colorsync profile (http://www.charm.net/~mchaney/imaging), but it immediately proved worth its weight in gold (and the $13.00 cost) for getting the most out of native D1 jpegs in PhotoShop. Mac users please note that to use this profile as supplied by Mike, you must change the file type to "prof" and the file type to "sync" in order for it to work.

You simply won't realize how good your D1 images can look unless you've used one of these two software tools in your post production workflow.

Within the next year I expect to buy at least one Nikon D1x or Kodak DSC760 (Nikon F5/Kodak hybrid). Among the factors which will most heavily influence my choice will be "out of the camera image quality." All post production operations take up a lot of my time, as well as a lot of computer time, even when using batch operations.

Jed Wee , April 05, 2001; 11:59 P.M.

Before I say anything else, I'd just like to say how nice it is that everything's got civilised and focused again. At one point it was looking BAD.

At any rate, to keep this relevant, I have used a Nikon D1 for a year now. I used an F5 before. I belong to that class of enthusiastic amateur who also has the fine opportunity to do professional work as part of his photographic process. As someone's already pointed out, my F5 has hardly been touched since I got my D1, because 99% of my clients are satisfied with the quality that it can produce, and it streamlines my workflow, while makes everything far more archival (I've never really got the hang of archiving negs/trannies!).

Personally, I find only two problems of note with the D1, and this is a personal opinion. The colour sync problems, and the high ISO sensitivity (because I do a lot of low light work). Any other problem I've learnt to adapt to and embrace, so much so that it doesn't bother me that the camera is a lame duck when set to S, or Playback, because I just never use them, and never need to because there are work arounds.

Through proper understanding of the camera and the images it's produced, I've managed to chuck the magenta skin-tones, and get very useable (and sellable) ISO 800 images. Yes, this requires Photoshop processing and is a royal pain in the a***. But for my purposes, it's the best option available. I had the Kodak DCS620x on loan for a week to evaluate, with a specific view to solving the two problems I've noted, and I finished the week convinced I'd made the right choice in going with the D1. It's just more camera than computer than any other digital SLR on the market at the moment.

The quality of the CCD really shouldn't be knocked. I have some amazing 13x19" prints that look better than anything 35mm has ever churned out for me, and I've used Velvia, PanF, TechPan, D100, etc... though it doesn't give better qualities in ALL situations. That said, I will be eagerly monitoring the D1x when it comes out, because the situation equation will tilt even more towards digital, and mainly, it will allow me leeway in cropping in applications where I don't have time to strive for in camera perfection. (Yes, my D1's for sale!)

What do I shoot when I shoot just for myself? MF and LF. There's something tangible about film that I like, to have a solid product that I can point to, when I finally switch the darkroom lights on. Or mucking about trying to get a better print in the wet darkroom. But I've absolutely no regrets going digital, except for when I went digital. I wonder why I didn't do it sooner. I really should end there, except to point out the answer -- the D1 was the first camera that brought the digital world to a financially and ergonomically feasible level for a large number of pros and small number of amateurs. I believe Nikon deserves credit for that (evidence the number of Kodak price drops in the last 18 months!).

Thom Hogan , April 08, 2001; 12:54 P.M.

It seems that Philip is getting even more curmudgeonly than I am. Most of the negativity in the early paragraphs of the review should be directed at Philip's preparedness, not Nikon or the D1. While I'm as critical as anyone about Nikon's often innept marketing and support practices, it is not recommended practice to take a camera that you're unfamiliar with overseas without the proper accessories. One reason I put Nikon distributor and service center information in my book, The Nikon Field Guide (www.bythom.com/nfg.htm) is that I never go anywhere without having some idea of where I can get my equipment fixed, if necessary.

Specific issues that are raised in the remainder of the review need some additional comment and clarification:

* Philip uses Nikon's imprecise 1.5x lens factor. While the rounded number doesn't make much difference in lens decisions at the wide to moderate telephoto end, the errors become significant with longer lenses. The 300mm f/2.8 cited in the review is actually about a 466mm lens, not 450mm. For those of us who sometimes need to precalculate angle of view for locations, the difference is sometimes meaningful.

* Another related issue with lenses that wasn't mentioned is light falloff. The 18-35mm Nikkor, for example, can generate perhaps as much as a half stop of falloff-induced underexposure when used wide open on an F5, and almost none on the D1. (Since the D1 uses only the central area of the lens and light falloff is most pronounced in the corners.) I've had to adjust my exposure setting tendencies slightly when I shoot at maximum apertures.

* Contrasty scenes do indeed overwhelm any 8-bit digital camera, though as noted by another comment, a bit of underexposure helps. You're talking about 256 available shades of any given color versus 4096 for the D1 in 12-bit mode. Even shooting for newspapers or the Web, I would tend to use Nikon's NEF file format to preserve as much dynamic range as possible. Philip mentions that you need Nikon Capture to use that format, but lower-cost (and some say better) third-party products have appeared, most notably Bibble and Qimage Pro, so there's no real reason to use JPEG format, other than if you're in a real memory pinch.

* "The D1 basically doesn't want you using the aperture ring." In its default setting, the D1 is designed to operate like any other modern Nikon body. If you want to use the aperture ring, set Custom Setting #22.

* "The D1 is modal." True, but not in the way you indicate. You do not have to set the camera in Play mode to review images. Just press the monitor button and you have full control over picture display and deletion. The reason to have a separate Play mode has to do with time-out defaults. Generally, if you were using the camera to present a slideshow or review pictures on a TV screen, you wouldn't want the D1 to be aggressive in shutting off. When shooting pictures, you want aggressive power management active.

* "Setting custom functions is an appalling experience." I'm 100% with you on this one. For those who want to see my diatribe on the subject, go to www.bythom.com/f5.htm. One clarification, however: the reason why Nikon didn't integrate the custom settings with the color LCD has to do with time to market. The D1 is based on the F5. Nikon chose to not integrate the F5's control mechanisms with the digital control mechanisms because it would take longer (and yes, I believe you are correct in guessing that 3 separate engineering teams were involved; I know of at least two). While I hate the result, it is fairly rare that I change any custom setting on the camera. While the integration in the upcoming D1X and D1H is better, that's not necessarily better (battery life is compromised, bright light hitting the LCD is a problem, and the complexity and plethora of functions still makes for slowness in setting them).

* "You'll miss the real-time image preview on the rear LCD monitor [that point and shoot digital cameras have]." Perhaps. However it should be pointed out that virtually all the real-time image previews done on consumer cameras are NOT equivalent to the final image. Instead, they use a mode of the CCD that was designed for video cameras to "approximate" an image. Don't go basing color temperature and exposure settings on that real-time image or you'll be disappointed in your results.

* "For tripod photography use Custom Function 16 to set the self-timer duration to 2 seconds." Well, okay, you can do that. But Nikon built a custom setting specifically for such situations (CSM #5 is a shutter delay after mirror up to reduce vibrations).

* Philip correctly noted that you need to set the camera to continuous motor drive mode in order to avoid the dreaded wait-for-card-write delay. Why Nikon didn't put Continuous Low and Continuous High settings on the dial is beyond me (the F5 has them). I strongly suggest that you use the custom setting to lower the motor drive speed to 1 fps for general shooting, then you don't have to worry about getting extra images with a single shutter press. Since it's rare that you need the full 4.5 fps speed, only set that when you need it. As for why Nikon included a mode that forces a write to card after every shot, I believe that they were worried about battery life issues with a full buffer of 21 images. How loud do you think the scream would be if you were taking images in RAW format and the camera's battery died two minutes into a 10-minute write session?

* Which brings me to another point--the D1 is notably slower than other professional cameras in writing to the card. The Canon D30 is measurably faster, all else being equal. However, none of the pro cameras can write the top quality image formats very fast.

Back in my days of being an editor of high tech publications, I used to lament about how many of my competitors would hand someone a complex software product, tell them to use for a few hours, and then write up a one or two page review. That's what Philip's review of the D1 seems like to me. The D1 is a very sophisticated camera that is capable of taking high quality images with a deep dynamic range (easily a wider range than slide film can capture). It's built for someone who uses it daily, and who will take the time to learn and set up the camera for their style of shooting. Yes, it has numerous idiosyncracies and can be frustrating to use at times, but it's the first camera that has prompted me to leave my 35mm bodies behind.

Thom Hogan author, The Nikon Field Guide author, The Nikon Flash Guide author, The Nikon Coolpix Guide and currently working on a D1/D1X/D1H guide www.bythom.com

Tom Luongo , April 13, 2001; 01:51 P.M.

Nikon's Europe tech support site has manuals for all of Nikon's digital cameras. The United States site is pathetic in comparison.

Meryl Arbing , April 18, 2001; 08:04 P.M.

Been there; done that!

I am one of many who was once heavily involved with digital cameras and who has now returned almost completely to film. There were no advantages that digital offered that made it worth it. Even the much quoted ability to review and delete bad shots isn't worth it in the end.

I could not see the benefits of being virtually tied to a computer while travelling; being completely dependent on batteries in a body that sucked them dry in a few hours; with significantly reduced image quality and at many times the cost than my film cameras.

Robert O'Gwynn , April 19, 2001; 10:45 A.M.

Just to throw my hat into the ring.

We bought a Nikon D1 just a couple of weeks after it's introduction. Nikon may or may not have made the best digital camera in the world, but it sure as hell was a popular one. There was a Playstation2-like wait for the damn thing, and when we got it, we discovered:

  1. The camera, a $6,000 purchace at the time, didn't come with a way to immediately snap a picture, out of the box. You needed to use Nikon's $500 software to hook the camera up to a Firewire enabled computer or a Compact Flash card. For $6,000, I figure they oughta be able to include an 8 meg CF card.
  2. The camera, while definitely high quality, seemed to be designed by engineers, not photographers. If you punch buttons at random you'll have an equal chance of having the camera set to your needed settings as puzzling out what some of the more inscrutable (and hard to push) buttons do.

I'm not the photographer in the shop -- I'm the nerd and designer. The photographer, a woman who can set up any complicated shot you could dream up and wields lenses and camera bodies and light meters like a Roman gladiator, doesn't use the D1 except when we have a pressing, immediate need for a digital image. Otherwise, it sits. It's too much of a computer for a photographer to use.

We bought the damn thing because of a *extensive* investment in Nikon lenses. The photographer is a Nikon bigot, without reserve. I could care less, myself, but since we have this major investment, we went with the D1. My recommendation? If you're a Nikon person, with an investment in Nikon lenses, go for the D1, but don't give it to the artsy photographer -- give it to the tinkerer and the nerds. They're the only ones who'll love it enough to use it.

(Me? I hate the damn thing -- it's a $6,000 albatross that we took on debt to purchase, and now contributes nothing to our revenue stream because it's so hard to use nobody wants to use it. It was our worst and stupidest purchase ever. The picture quality is excellent, and a properly lit D1 image can be output 8x10 on our Epson Photo 1200. Wonderful quality -- but the hardware is difficult to use and actively hostile towards a traditional photographer, and the $500 Nikon software is pure junk. It is one of the biggest turds I've ever put on our computers. We bought a dedicated Windows 98 machine for the camera (the software and hardware didn't like our older PCI Macs -- only B&W G3's and up need apply. Save yourself the trouble and either buy a new Mac or a newer PC for the camera if you're going to tether it via Firewire). In other words, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody except people who have a significant investement in Nikon equipment.)

Joe Owens , July 21, 2001; 12:11 P.M.

Nice new Lens from Nikon to compete with the 35-350 canon - smaller kitbag again!

oK well Im a Canon user, just to get that out of the way first off.

Ive used loads of different cameras in my time Ive owned at least one camera from every major manufacturer. Where manual gear is concerned Olympus OM 1,2,3,4, series is for size, metering and flash, just unbeatable [four OM's weigh the same as two F3 or Canon F1n's, and take up less volume in a bag or 'under your coat' space]. It took me a long time to grow into the F4 when it came out and I really didnt like the F90x at all, the Canon F1 was my thing for PRO work until the Eos 1 and that took the buscuit absolutley then the F5 came along and I ordered one based on the laurels of its focussing and FPS, but when I got it I hated it oh god! You need ten fingers on each hand to use it, and unfortunatly the trend has continued with the F100 and thus the D1.

For me the taking of the picture lasts all but 10% of the job, the rest of it is driving around and carrying the stuff on my shoulders or in a kit bag, and even though the Nikon Legacy is to build Nuclear proof cameras [which is VERY important considering youll wnat your £4000 investment to last at least 5 years], too many knobs and buttons only serve to get in the way. I do admit that the D30 is a weak toy in comparison but one should differentiate the fundamental difference between the two and that is that the D1 is a pro tool [the empahsis being the word tool], and the D30 is promoted as a advanced amateur/buisness camera.

Ive used all of the digital Slr's but I still havent bought one, Im not happy with the D1 based only on its usability and its weight combined with a 300f2.8 or 70-200f2.8, and the D30 wouldnt last jig time in my hands, canon Pro sevices assured me that they have a replacement for the D2000 on the way which I am eagerly awaiting for though it will have a substantially higher price tag than the D30 and possibly even higher price than the D1x [which incidentally is a stunner for image quality].

The D30 offers a basic set of onboard tools to get the job done and a few bells and whistles also, but generally its designed to be used and not fiddled with, the D1 on the other hand is great if you want to learn how to fly concord. Its image quality is fine for News work for which it is designed so yes it does achieve its manufactered goal, but in terms of what you pay for I think that the cost of a D1, you get better bang for your buck with a D30 as its cheaper and has better images [and dont argue with me over this because if your working for an editor no matter what you do in post production your editor is going to re-edit the image and convert it to a CMYK source, and then crop all hell out of it anyway].

If you are concerned with the amount of time it takes you to edit in PhotoShop then look up the adobe manual and learn how to make actions, then when youve got your image either hit the action or hit Image>Adjust>Auto Levels and that will get you out of any immediate fix your in, if the image is sooo bad then, you cvan go forward from there and do a variations. But hey this is not about Photoshop.

All in the D1 is a great tool and gets the job done but it is a hard beast to control if your aim is to get in there and get the picture and get out again, if you want that level of usability, then go for the D30, the D1 will last a long time in the harsh realities of the field [rain, crowds, drops, dust etc], though the screen on the back is very easily damaged and having to remove a plastic cover to access it is a pain and is just another thing to be left in the kitbag or to get lost. The D1 will outlast the D30 for your field work, but the D30 is easier to use on a job to job basis, and I know its a laughing point for many but the D30 has its own built in toy flash, which may be a joke but I dont think canon really put it in to compete with dedicated bounce flash units, so knowing that, its existence can get you out of a sticky situation.

And lastly the ghastly part of digi-cameras is that your lenses dont have the same aspect ratio that they have with film based 35mm cameras, a 17-35 is useless because it becomes a 27.2-56 and a whopping great 14mm still only gets you a measly 22.4mm, so if wides your thing [and it is for me, then you can stuff your digital cameras altogether]. on the D30 its 1.6x and on the D1 its very close to that I can remember perhaps a 1.5x...? At the end of the day its one of the biggest let-downs of digital cameras and untill they bring out a chip thats the same size as a 35mm neg then forget it.

Jimmy Rhyne , December 13, 2001; 01:25 A.M.

If you want to read a good review of the D1, warts and all, look at Thom Hogan's article at


He addresses the problems and strengths and then goes into detail on the camera. There is none of that Nikon -vs- Canon crap that Phil loves to throw in when reviewing stuff. I guess Phil justs wants Nikon to act like a Canon. Personally I am happy with Nikon and do not want my camera to act like a Canon.

Scott Martinez , June 20, 2003; 12:37 P.M.

I bought my D1 used about 6 months ago after reading this and many reviews. I needed a backup camera for shooting corporate events and the D1 while heavy was a pro looking body at the right price. I recently have been using the camera at sporting events and rodeos for the 4.5 frames per second. I found the D1 kicks but to my newer Fuji S2 in speed and auto focus. I dislike the banding in the shadows of some of my images but the camera performs like a champ everywhere else. The Magenta skin tone issue is a quick adjustment in photoshop. The rest of the issues presented in the review seem to be non-issues after using the camera for a while. -And after spending a few weeks in the gym the camera and 80-400VR feels lighter in my hands...

Alfie Wang , November 18, 2005; 12:29 P.M.

It's a most wonderful camera. I have a D70 which I use but I use the D1 (in repair still) for going places where I wouldn't want to risk a lesser and more expensive body. The image quality is just incredible even over 5 years since it has been out. Of course the D2x is still Nikon's masterpiece.

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