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Nikon D1

The D1 WonderCam!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: May 12, 2000

Executive Overview
We couldn't wait to get our hands on the Nikon D1! (We're highly partial to cameras offering full manual control and loads of features, and use Nikon prosumer SLRs for our own film-based photography.) With a body design reminiscent of Nikon's high-end 35mm SLR, the F5, the D1 offers a familiar look and feel for film-based pros, and is quick to get to know. The standard Nikon F lens mount means that you can attach most of Nikon's 35mm lenses with no problem (great for current Nikon 35mm shooters who already have a full kit of lenses). Although the D1 is quite a bit heavier (2.5 lb. or 1.1 kg) than the prosumer-level digicams we've reviewed in the past, we feel pretty confident that pocket-sized portability isn't much of an issue with this camera's potential buyers, all of whom will value the extraordinary control provided by the D1 far above a few ounces of extra weight. Also, the weight is due in part to the incredibly rugged magnesium metal body, which creates a rigid optical platform designed to absorb unreasonable abuse with aplomb. (Handy for pounding tent pegs while on safari. ;-) We were pleased to see the inclusion of an external flash hot shoe on top of the camera as well as an external flash sync socket in the design, giving you as much flash flexibility as any high-end film-based Nikon SLR.

The very accurate TTL optical viewfinder means that you have no need for the LCD panel as a viewfinder, saving some on battery power consumption. (By its nature, barring a "pellicle" mirror, the very design of an SLR precludes a "live" LCD viewfinder.) In addition to a dioptric adjustment dial and a sliding protective cover, the viewfinder features a very detailed information display that reports most of the camera's exposure settings and also shows a set of five focus targets. An extremely flexible autofocus system means that you can determine the type of autofocus (single, continuous or manual), designate how it's used (single area, dynamic area, etc.) and even designate the location of the autofocus target within the frame. Exposure-wise, there are so many features on this camera that you'll have to read the entire review to get them all. We'll just mention a few here that we find particularly noteworthy.

To begin, you have the option of working in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual exposure modes. Exposure settings are easily changed by using a combination of control buttons and command dials (no tedious LCD menu system here). An extensive if not somewhat cryptic Custom Settings menu (accessed by pressing the CSM button and turning the sub and main command dials) provides access to a huge range of camera settings, including how various elements of the user interface itself work. For example, you can decide which command dial controls the shutter speed or aperture, adjust the image sharpness and contrast, determine whether or not the aperture changes as the lens zooms or set exposure variables for the automatic bracketing, among many others (there are 31 Custom Settings menu options in all). With the D1, you have a much broader exposure compensation range than any other digicam we've seen (March 2000), with a variable EV adjustment from -5 to +5 in 1/3 EV increments (the increments can also be altered to 1/2 or one EV unit). White balance also has a lot of flexibility, with options for Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Overcast and Shade, all of which are adjustable from -3 to +3 (arbitrary units) in their intensity.

Three metering modes are available: Spot, Center-Weighted and a very accurate Color 3D Matrix metering option. ISO can be set to 200, 400, 800 or 1600, giving you tremendous exposure flexibility. (Special "sensitivity up" modes are available that extend the effective ISO to 3200 or 6400, albeit at the cost of pretty severe image noise.) The auto bracketing feature takes three exposures of the same subject at different exposure settings (which either you or the camera can control). There's even a black and white monochrome exposure mode. Continuous Shooting lets you capture up to 21 consecutive images at up to 4.5 frames per second, and here again, you can select both the maximum number of shots as well as the frame rate. The camera's flash sync mode menu lets you select when the flash fires. Choose from Front-Curtain Sync, Slow-Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync. Because the D1 accommodates a variety of Nikon's Speedlights, specific flash power and operation will vary depending on the particular model you're using.

The 2.7 megapixel CCD gives you an image size of 2000 x 1312 pixels. Image quality options include the usual Basic, Normal and Fine but also RGB TIFF, YCbCr TIFF and RAW data formats (all listed under the Hi quality option in the menu system). Image storage is on CompactFlash Type I or II. As suggested by the Type II card slot, the D1 supports the 340 MB IBM MicroDrive for huge on-the-go storage capacity. The D1 utilizes a custom EN-4 Ni-MH battery pack for power and an AC adapter/charger is included in the box. (We also highly recommend a spare battery pack). A design plus we really enjoyed here is that the battery pack and card slot are both accessible from the sides of the camera, meaning that you don't have to dismount the camera from the tripod to access either compartment (this is something we always pay attention to, given the amount of studio work we do).

The full manual control, lack of LCD reliance and bevy of features will make the D1 a coveted addition to any photographer's equipment bag. This camera is perfect for the professional photographer as well as the (well-heeled) advanced amateur ready for a digicam that's a no-compromise creative tool. We're thrilled to see the carryover of Nikon's extensive exposure controls and features to the digital world and glad to see the familiar styling which makes the D1 easy to get acquainted with. Kudos to Nikon for creating a digital camera that's practical in the studio and out in the field, with all the exposure and creative control we could ask for: A true Nikon SLR in every respect!

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