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Nikon D100

Nikon ups the ante with 6 million pixels, superb color and resolution, at a 'bargain' price!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 5/31/2002

Executive Overview
Adding to their hugely successful line of professional digital cameras, Nikon has now introduced the D100. Built like a 35mm SLR, the D100 is a scaled down version of the D1 and D1x models, with a body style very reminiscent of their F100 film model. Equipped with a 6.1-megapixel CCD, the D100 captures ultra-high resolution images, with superb detail and excellent color. Like the D1 series, the D100 is an interchangeable lens model with complete manual exposure control, plus a panoply of color and exposure adjustments. The camera is roughly the same size as the film-based F100, with controls reminiscent of the N80. The camera is more closely akin to the F100 or N80 in size as well, as compared to the F5-like bulk of the D1 models. The camera is every bit a Nikon, with the smooth operation and well thought out controls that are the hallmark of that manufacturer's line. (More on the controls later, including one the serious criticism I have of the camera.)

Capitalizing on the broad line of Nikon optics, the D100 has a standard "F" lens mount that accommodates most of Nikon's 35mm lenses. Compared to even the high end of the "prosumer" market, interchangeable lenses mean much greater creative flexibility. Nikon's standardization on the "F" mount across their entire SLR line lets you quickly switch between film and digital formats, while Nikon's consistent sense of "cameraness" (a favorite term of theirs, describing how the cameras behave as cameras, as opposed to their digital or film aspects) means that you can move smoothly between the two worlds without having to adapt to totally different operating modes.

The D100 offers an array of focusing options, with basic focus modes of Manual, Single-Servo AF, and Continuous-Servo AF (for moving subjects). A five-point AF system lets you select the main focus area, with an option to let the camera "hunt" for the area where the subject is closest to the camera. An optional Dynamic AF mode tracks subjects as they move between AF points. For static subjects, the AE / AF Lock button locks focus and/or exposure to the specific AF area selected. The D100 features a true TTL (through the lens) optical viewfinder, complete with a detailed information display. A variety of exposure information is arranged along the bottom of the viewfinder frame, as well as information regarding the amount of image storage remaining, mode settings, and a handful of other camera details. A menu option activates a framing grid in the viewfinder for lining up shots (a very nice touch, IMHO), and the viewfinder optics also sport both a diopter adjustment and a very high "eyepoint" to accommodate eyeglass wearers. As is the case with most SLRs, the D100's LCD monitor is solely for reviewing images and viewing menu options. During image playback, as many as seven different information screens are available, including histogram and highlight displays. (The Highlights screen shows any blown-out highlights in the captured image, something I'd like to see on all digital cameras, even consumer models.)

Exposure control is one area where the D100 really excels. A Function / Mode dial on the camera determines the exposure mode, and offers external access to several important camera settings. You can choose from Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, simply by turning the dial. In Program AE mode, you can adjust the shutter/aperture combination by rotating the main command dial, which scrolls through a series of equivalent settings. This has always struck me as more useful than pure aperture or shutter priority for most uses, since the camera continues to respond intelligently to changes in scene brightness, while letting you bias the exposure program toward larger or smaller apertures, or faster or slower shutter speeds.

Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, with a Bulb mode for longer exposures available in Manual mode. A (very effective) noise reduction system is also available via menu option, which takes effect only on longer exposures. By default, the D100 employs a 3D Matrix metering system, which bases the exposure on brightness and contrast readings from throughout the frame, as well as distance information derived from the lens and autofocus system. Conventional Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes are also available. Sensitivity settings range from ISO equivalents of 200 through 1,600, plus two "ISO Boost" settings that correspond to values of 3,200 and 6,400. In my testing, I found even the ISO 1600 setting very usable, with a noise level that was visible but not terribly distracting. You can adjust the overall exposure from -5 to +5 in one-third-step EV increments, in all exposure modes. If you're uncertain about the best exposure, the Auto Bracketing feature captures three images at different exposure settings, with the exposure variable determined by you. Through the camera's settings menu, you can set Auto Bracketing to vary white balance or flash exposures.

The D100 offers a wide range of image adjustment tools and color balance controls. White balance options include Auto (usable with lighting having color temperatures from 4,200K to 7,000K), Incandescent (set to about 3,000K), Fluorescent (4,200K), Direct Sunlight (5,200K), Flash (5,400K), Cloudy (6,000K), Shade (8,000K), and Preset (manual setting). You can fine tune the color balance of all white balance settings (except for Preset) from -3 to +3 arbitrary units, for a more precise color balance. (See the subsequent review section on "Exposure" for a more complete discussion of white balance options.) The D100 also offers Hue, Tone, and Sharpness adjustments. Like the D1 series, the Tone adjustment lets you download custom tone curves from a computer, something that strikes me as a real boon to serious photographers. A Color mode setting provides color space options of sRGB (used by most consumer digicams as well as most computer screens) and Adobe RGB (a much broader-gamut space common in professional graphics environments) as well.

For a quick burst of images, the D100's Continuous Shooting mode captures as many as nine consecutive frames, at a maximum of 2.5 frames per second. Actual frame rates will vary with the image quality and resolution settings. The D100 saves images to its buffer memory before transferring them to the memory card, supporting fast continuous-mode shooting, as well as rapid shot to shot cycle times in single-shot mode. A self-timer mode provides a short delay between shutter release and the exposure itself, with intervals ranging from two to 20 seconds.

For flash exposures, the D100's built-in, pop-up flash operates in either Front-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync, or Rear-Curtain Sync modes. You can adjust the brightness from -3 to +1 EV in one-third-step increments, a nice range of control. (I particularly like that you can throttle it back by as much as -3EV, letting you achieve very subtle fill-flash effects.) Flash exposure is governed by Nikon's 3D matrix metering system (when using CPU-equipped Nikkor lenses), which combines distance information from the autofocus system with light reflected back from the subject to balance flash and ambient illumination. (After playing a fair bit with the D100's onboard flash, using it for fill illumination, I was exceptionally impressed by how well it worked. Using flash for fill lighting in daylight requires almost no thought with the D100 - The camera's exposure system really removes guesswork from the equation.)

The D100 stores images on either conventional CompactFlash memory cards (Type I or II), or IBM MicroDrives. In addition to three JPEG compression levels, images can also be saved as uncompressed TIFF files or in the NEF (RAW) data format. Available image resolutions include 3,008 x 2,000; 2,240 x 1,488; and 1,504 x 1,000 pixels. A USB cable accompanies the camera, as well as a CD-ROM loaded with Nikon View 5 software, for downloading images and performing minor corrections. Additionally, an NTSC video cable accompanies Japanese and US models, for viewing images on a television set. (European models are shipped with the appropriate PAL cable.)

A single EN-EL3 battery pack powers the D100, and an AC adapter is available as a separate accessory. This was the first time I'd encountered this battery on a piece of Nikon equipment, and I must say I was impressed. The D100 displayed really excellent battery life, and I suspect the battery had a lot to do with it. While the battery is a dead ringer for the Canon BP-511, they aren't identical, and can't be used interchangeable, since the electrical contacts are in entirely different positions. Interestingly, the EN-EL3 has a rated capacity of 10.4 watt-hours, almost 30% more than the rated capacity of the BP-511, which already delivered impressive run times. Nikon also offers the MB-D100 Multi-Function battery pack, which accepts standard AA cells, and is equipped with a vertical grip and controls and a microphone for recording sound clips.

With its 6.1-megapixel CCD and support for the broad range of Nikkor lenses, the D100 SLR digital camera is sure to be another huge hit for Nikon. Saying "another" hit really does the D100 a disservice though: I can confidently predict that the D100 will dramatically eclipse the sales of all other Nikon digital SLRs to date. With its "affordable" price and exceptional features, it could well be one of the most popular cameras Nikon's ever developed, at least in terms of first year sales.

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