Nikon D1, D1h, and D1x Cameras
start of the true digital SLR revolution.
this is a completely reworked review that replaces my earlier
D1 Review and D1x Review.
The D1 series bodies all look pretty much alike. Without turning
the camera on, the only telltale sign is the model ID on the
right front of the camera.
turned on, a few differences do make themselves quickly known,
since the menuing system on the color LCD on the camera's
back has been completely reworked on the D1h and D1x.
use reveals a few other anomalies: the original D1 is very
modal (Play means Play) while the D1h and D1x are always ready
to shoot a new picture, regardless of what else you might
be doing (i.e., the shutter release has priority, as it should
on a professional camera).
Nikon introduced the D1 in September 1999, the initial reaction was
surprisingly lukewarm. First, there was the US$5500 price. Close examination
of the specifications revealed that the recently introduced 3-megapixel
consumer digital cameras (e.g., the Coolpix 990)
seemed to deliver more resolution. The lack of wide angle support
put others off, while the size and weight (basically that of an F5)
had a few more folk scratching their heads. One question on everyone's
mind was why did a camera whose CCD sensor was slightly smaller than
the APS frame need to be as big as an F5?
adopters of the original D1 complained about magenta tints, especially
on skin tones, and a strange diagonal "banding" noise
that appeared in low light, usually in the Green channel, especially
at high ISO values. All in all, not an auspicious start to the digital
SLR revolution we've now come to embrace. Still, if you think about
it in retrospect, what Nikon introduced to the world in 1999 was
nothing short of a revolution. Compared to previous DSLRs that were
cumbersome, resolution-constrained, and hugely expensive (e.g.,
from Kodak, and the Fujifilm/Nikon collaboration), the D1 seemed
remarkably inexpensive, and on closer examination, was better integrated
and handled better than any previous product in the category. Looking
back, it's easy to see that the D1 was the critical introduction
that started the current rush towards digital replacing 35mm SLRs.
Indeed, Nikon was so far in front of the pack that they suddenly
claimed a larger market share in an SLR market than did Canon, something
that hadn't happened in decades. Even as I write this (spring 2003),
Canon only just caught up to Nikon in DSLR market share, and that's
despite iterating their lineup at a frenetic pace. In years ahead
we'll look back at the D1 as the Nikon F of the digital generation:
the workhorse professional body that first penetrated the press
and led to mass adoption by the public.
those that joined the D1 bandwagon early will let you in on a
secret: the D1 rocked. The
subsequent D1h and D1x addressed many of the few complaints of
the original D1. Indeed, I'll go out on a limb here and say this:
a D1x NEF processed by a skilled practitioner through the 10MB
capability of Capture stands up well against the output of any
current DSLR at any size an Epson 2200 can print. (Think about
that statement for a moment: we're talking about a digital camera
that was introduced over two years ago!). In a skilled photographer's
hands, any of the D1s are quite capable of capturing better-than-slide
dynamic range, excellent saturated colors, and enough resolution
good enough for a full magazine page. If you doubt that last claim,
grab the last two year's worth of Sports Illustrated
and look at the Up Front two-page photo spreads. Now tell me which
ones were done with film, which with digital, and which of the
digital ones are D1h, D1x, Canon 1D, or Canon 1Ds images. You
might be able to pick out the film versus digital images, as there
are differences in artifacts that can be obvious (noise versus
grain), but you won't find enough differences to make any camera
judgment. (Indeed, I can usually only tell which camera took each
image only if certain lenses were used. It's the lens defect that
gives away the camera!)
those trying to figure out if they really want to spring the
thousands of extra bucks for a D1 model over a consumer digital
camera (such as a Coolpix or Canon G3/G5), the most common differences
to other DSLRs, the Nikon D1 series also stands up well. You can
get a DSLR that shoots frames faster than the D1h (8 fps on the
Canon 1D), but the buffer differences come into play here. I've
sat next to a Canon 1D user shooting sports who's head snapped
around when I fired off an 8-second burst to his 2. In some sports,
I'd rather have the faster motor drive of the 1D, in others, I'd
rather have the longer sustained burst speed of the D1h. Resolution-wise,
the D1x is way underestimated by many. As long as you don't have
strong slightly diagonal lines or greater short axis detail than
long (the natural landscapes I mostly shoot tend to have neither),
you can consider the D1x a 10mp camera shooting RAW. Moreover,
it's 5.4mp images are very noise and artifact free up to about
ISO 500. With the expanded buffer that comes with the latest D1x
shipments, I much prefer the D1x over any other camera except
perhaps the Canon 1Ds for landscape work. I'll put my D1x images
in 11 x 17" prints against any other current DSLR without
used original D1 can often be found for less than a new Canon
10D, but the original D1 model has three image quality issues
that now make it not hold its own against the current bodies:
it had no defined color space, it alters RAW data with white balance
information, and the 3-megapixel output can't hold its own against
the 6mp cameras once you go behind 8x10" prints. But we'll
come back to all this in the performance portions of the review.
For now the point I want to make is this: the current models in
the D1 series, despite being over two years old, hold their own
against the current crop of DSLRs. Remarkable.
D1 has a feature set that sounds a bit like a Nikon professional
35mm SLR. Indeed, most of the D1 series features are derived
from either the F5 or the F100 bodies (curiously, the D1 is
described by Nikon as having the F100's viewfinder, though it
includes the F5's 1005-pixel color CCD for exposure and white
balance calculations). In physical size and appearance, the
D1s closely resemble the F5, though careful observation shows
that virtually every little curve and button has been tweaked.
autofocus system is fast, and features five sensors (CAM 1300)
that can track rapidly-moving objects, or direct autofocus to
a specific area of the frame. Autofocus detection works from
EV –1 to EV 19 (specified at ISO 100, though the camera doesn't
shoot at that speed! Nikon should have restated this into ISO
125 and ISO 200 values if the film speed makes a difference).
The metering range extends from EV 0 to EV 20, which is plenty
wide for virtually any shooting you might do. Note that the
spot metering range is slightly lower, from EV 2 to EV 20. Unless
you make a habit of spot metering in unlit situations at night,
you're not likely to encounter that limit.
speeds can be controlled in 1/3 stop increments from 30 seconds
to 1/16,000. However, note that these are not all physical shutter
speeds. While the D1 has a shutter curtain in front of the CCD
(so that the normal Nikon exposure and flash metering works
as usual), the curtain itself doesn't have any impact on shutter
speeds faster than 1/250. All fast shutter speeds are handled
electronically on the D1. Single shot and continuous firing
at 1 fps, 2 fps, 3 fps, and as high as 4.5 fps are supported
on the original D1, though Nikon made several unwise decisions
about how this is controlled (see Handling,
below). The D1x shoots only up to 3 fps, mostly because of the
added amount of information it captures; the D1h shoots at up
to 5 fps, and has an increased internal buffer suited for sports
1005-cell CCD in the prism is active in all metering modes in
order to calculate automatic white balance, plus it's used in
matrix metering mode to tweak exposure. The D1h and D1x both
use the 1005-cell CCD slightly differently than the original
D1. The net result is slightly better automatic white balance,
though it still isn't perfect. The matrix metering also incorporates
information about the focus point you’re using if you’ve mounted
a “D-type” lens. Nikon also lists “subject positioning,” “overall
scene brightness,” and “scene contrast” as factors in the matrix
metering calculations. In short, it’s hard to second guess the
camera as there are so many factors being considered. If simplicity
suits you, the center weighted and spot meter options are better
choices, but even there, it isn’t the same-old Nikon metering.
Custom settings allow you to pick how center weighted the center
weighting is, and spot metering is done at the autofocus sensor
befitting a professional camera, Nikon keeps the exposure mode
selection simple: Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority,
and Manual are the full lineup. Program mode is easily adjusted
by spinning one of the control dials, thus there is no “Program
High” or other special automatic modes as there are in some
other Nikon bodies. Adjusted programs (called Flexible Program
by Nikon) remain in effect until you cancel them, by the way.
exposure compensation button gives you a +/- 5-stop range in
1/3-stop steps. A built-in bracketing system allows two or three
shots at one-third, two-thirds, or full-stop values. Exposure
(as well as autofocus) can be locked by on-camera controls.
ISO values from 200 to 1600 can be set directly, plus 3200 and
6400 can be set via custom settings if you're really ambitious
(random noise patterns are easily detected at ISO 800 and 1600,
and are hideous at 3200 and 6400, but if it's the difference
between getting the shot or not...). [The D1X has an ISO range
of 125 to 800, with 1600 and 3200 available via boost.]
sync is 1/500 of second. That's right, 1/500. (In actuality,
this is an arbitrary limit: on the PC Sync socket you can sync
at any shutter speed.) Flash metering uses five TTL
sensors and can be balanced, slow-synced, and synchronized with
the rear curtain.
However, if you want to shoot in any
TTL mode, you'll need either a D-TTL capable Speedlight (the
SB-28DX, SB-50DX, or SB-80DX). That's because Nikon's TTL modes
normally use reflections off the film surface during exposure
to determine when to turn off the flash. The D1's CCD is not
very reflective (and certainly not the same reflectivity as
film stock), thus only flash units designed specifically for
the D1 (the DX suffix) work in TTL mode. (Some readers have
asked why Nikon can't adjust the reflectivity measurements to
match what comes off the CCD. I suspect the problem is the filter
array that sits atop the sensor. Unlike the flat, untextured
surface of film, the filter array is composed of an uneven,
textured surface that probably scatters reflected light in ways
that don't work well with the available locations for the TTL
important for those migrating from Nikon 35mm SLRs to a D1 to
understand the operational differences in the flash system.
With a DX-type flash on a D1 model, the camera performs the
same matrix and preflash adjustments as, say, an F5. However,
the D1 doesn't alter any flash decision once the
shutter is opened (i.e., it doesn't monitor the light reflected
back during exposure to fine tune when to shut off the flash).
This difference is subtle, but can show up if you have a moving
object with high reflectivity in the scene (e.g., jewelry, metal
surfaces). Also, rapidly changing light conditions can produce
strange results. For example, in a situation with lots of other
flash photographers with my F5, I found that rarely did another
photographer's flash mess up my exposure (well, at least not
too badly). With the D1 in the same situation, I found one frame
where it was obvious that someone else had fired a flash while
my shutter was open--the resulting exposure was unusable. In
short, you've got to be a little more careful when you've got
moving subjects with high reflectivity or rapidly changing light
conditions. Moreover, anyone who's read my posts on any of the
digital forums will know that I'm a strong advocate of avoiding
the Balanced Fill-Flash modes on the Nikon digital bodies. It's
a bit out of the scope of this review to get into the "why,"
but suffice it to say that Standard TTL with the appropriate
Flash Exposure Compensation will give you more control and consistency
in flash results, especially if you're in low light. When
set correctly and mounted on a D1, the DX Speedlights display
D-TTL on their LCD as the flash mode, by the way.
the plus side, the DX Speedlights perform preflash and full
TTL capabilities even when the flash head is set to a bounce
position (on 35mm bodies, setting the flash head to any angle
other than normal or down -7 degrees cancels some of the more
advanced TTL features).
(Note: some D1 and SB-28DX
users have reported problems when bouncing flash. First, make
sure that the surface you're bouncing off of is neutral in color
and not so far away that the flash's power is all gobbled up.
If you're still having problems, it may well be worth it to
send both the D1 and SB-28DX in to Nikon for servicing. More
than one photographer has seen dramatically improved results
after a service adjustment. I've not seen or heard of this problem
with recent D1h and D1x bodies or the SB-80DX--every complaint
I've dealt with those combinations has turned out to be user
misunderstanding or user error. It seems clear to me that Nikon
made some adjustment to internal camera and flash settings some
time after the D1 and SB-28DX first appeared.)
the viewfinder, you'll see 96% of the full frame. Shutter speed,
aperture, exposure mode, metering method, focus indicators,
exposure compensation, flash ready, and frame counter are all
visible in the viewfinder, even to eyeglass wearers like me.
On the color LCD on the back of the original D1, you'll see
100% of the short dimension, but only 95% of the long dimension
(e.g., 50 missing pixels at each end of the frame). This is
fixed in the D1h and D1x, which show 100% of both dimensions
on the color LCD. Probably of most use on the color LCD is the
ability to see a histogram of any picture you take, allowing
you to tinker with exposure to get every last bit of dynamic
range out of the sensor (like slide film, always expose so that
the brightest highlight doesn't blow out--you can usually recover
shadow detail that blocks up, but blown highlights are obnoxious
to the eye and not easily fixable). One thing consumer camera
users will complain about when they switch to a D1 is that the
color LCD on the back doesn't display a preview of image before
you take the shot (the D1's CCD is blocked by a shutter curtain
and mirror, after all). Frankly, I don't find this to be a drawback
at all, and a bit of a plus (the power-hungry color LCD is only
on when you're reviewing pictures or making camera adjustments).
The regular viewfinder is just fine for determining composition
Indeed, it's better than that of any consumer
digital camera I'm aware of.
D1 takes any Nikon F mount lens. Non-CPU models don't allow
matrix metering or the more advanced flash modes. When you mount
a lens on the D1, the effective focal length is increased by
about 1.5x (e.g., a 20mm lens shows the same angle of view as
a 30mm lens would on a 35mm body). Apertures aren't really affected
by this change. But because only the central portion of the
lens is used, if you've been making any exposure adjustments
at maximum aperture to account for light falloff, you should
not do that on a D1. The focal length change has several good
points, and a couple of bad ones:
teleconverter. Your 300mm f/4
lens just received the angle of view of a 466mm f/4 lens!
Wildlife and bird photographers love the focal length changes
the D1 makes. Note that the focal length is still the same
(so that's what you use in DOF calculations.
optical quality. The fact that only the central area of
any lens is used means that chromatic aberration is lessened,
light falloff is reduced, corners are sharper, and even consumer-oriented
lenses (such as the 18-35mm Nikkor)
produce professional-looking results. (See Michael's recent
article on MTF and look at what happens as you go further from
the center of the lens.)
angle options are limited. The widest rectilinear lens made
is 14mm, which produces basically the same results as a 21mm
lens when you mount it on a D1. The new 12-24mm DX lens gets
us closer to ultra-wide (effective 18mm angle of view), but
we still don't have full-frame or regular fisheye lenses or
a true ultrawide. Also problematic is that all the 14mm lenses
have a significant tendency towards flare and contrast reduction
when light hits their pronounced front elements (the 12-24mm
is a much better choice, especially if you use the hood).
of field judgment isn't quite right. The real key here is
that you're likely to blow up the original image by a greater
magnification than you would with 35mm, so you shouldn't use
the 35mm standards, despite the fact that it may appear that
you should (Nikon doesn't address this issue in their documentation
or marketing materials). Basically, if you follow the Carl Zeiss
depth of field conventions, you need to change the Circle of
Confusion to 0.016 in all your DOF calculations (it is normally
0.025 for 35mm).
CCD sensors the D1 models use are unique to Nikon The D1 and
D1h consist of a 2012 x 1324 array, and it has massive 11.8
micron photosites. That's just one reason why the D1 and D1h
can produce 12-bit RGB images with rich color and low noise.
If you wonder why the array is 2012 x 1324 but the final pictures
are only 2000 x 1312, that's because the extra pixels are used
to produce a "dark current" cancellation to reduce
overall noise. The D1x uses a unique array that is 4024 x 1324
with non-square photosites, which it then resamples into final
image sizes of up to 3008 x 1960. The D1x images are remarkably
noise free. Most users of D1x's that use RAW formats use an
upsampled format that provides 4024 x 2648 pixel images (10mp).
virtually all digital cameras, a filter array is placed over
the D1's CCD. This filter has four purposes:
the Bayer pattern.
The Bayer pattern is named after the Kodak engineer who invented
it. Basically, this is a set of color filters that results
in an alternating pattern of RG (on odd-numbered rows) and
GB (on even-numbered rows) pixels. The final image is rebuilt
by interpolating the actual pixel values at each position.
an anti-aliasing component. Anti-aliasing
(similar to a softening filter) is used to slightly blur detail
before it hits the sensor. This is done for a number of reasons,
but primarily to cut down on color aliasing effects that might
occur due to the use of a Bayer pattern. The few cameras that
don't use anti-aliasing filters (the Kodak DCS760's is removable,
the Kodak Pro 14n doesn't have one) have a slightly more pronounced
tendency to generate moire.
out deep infrared. CCDs are sensitive to infrared light,
and to keep infrared energy from biasing colors and exposure,
most of this light is filtered out. Near infrared is still present
in the D1 series, so you can use Wratten-type filters to
shoot "infrared" images.
the light. CCDs don't like light hitting them at any angle
other than 90 degrees, so the filter also has small "microlenses"
on it that focus the light rays from the lens more directly
into the sensors.
Bayer array is one of the reasons why so many hypothesized that
the original D1 would have terrible resolution. After all, you
started with 2012 x 1324 photosites, but the filter array effectively
reduces that to 1006 x 662 if you wanted a full RGB value at each
position, which doesn't seem like enough resolution to produce
professional results. But the camera's 12-bit tonal range, coupled
with a very sophisticated interpolation routine, actually produces
remarkably detailed and subtle images. I judge the D1 by what
it produces, not by what I think the parts should be capable of.
D1 produces several different types of files: JPEG, TIFF, and
NEF. The JPEG options work as you'd expect, but you pay a significant
penalty for using that format: the files are compressed and lose
a bit of detail, plus they are converted to 8-bit format, losing
much of the D1's wonderful tonal range in the process. TIFF formats
are available to prevent the compression loss, but they, too,
produce only 8-bit RGB. The NEF format is the only one that retains
the full data the D1 is capable of acquiring. Indeed, the NEF
format contains exactly the data that came from the CCD,
with no interpolation or camera processing (well, that's true
of the D1h and D1x; the original D1 does some processing of the
RAW data)! Unfortunately, you need computer software program to
use this format. At present, the primary choices are: Bibble (Mac
and PC), QImage (PC), CaptureOne DSLR (Mac and PC), Adobe RAW
Converter for Photoshop (Mac and PC), or Nikon's own Nikon Capture
(Mac and PC). Nikon has begun including Capture in some countries
with the D1x, and demo versions of all these programs except Adobe
RAW are available on the net. I'll address RAW conversions more
in the Performance section, but the difference between a D1 JPEG
and a processed D1 NEF is remarkable in skilled hands. The former
looks like a great consumer digital camera file, the latter produces
a richly colored, highly detailed file that is a joy to work with
the US, the D1's come with the required EN-4 Nimh rechargeable
battery pack and the MH-16 quick charger. You'll want at least
one extra EN-4, and if you have more than two batteries, get
the F100's MH-15 charger, as well, as it allows you to charge
two batteries at the same time (though the F100's batteries
are a different shape, the charger works just fine with the
D1 batteries and Nikon sanctions this use; the actual charging
is done sequentially). Battery life is quite dependent upon
a number of factors, and can range from 100 or so shots to 400,
at least in my observation. Note that IBM Microdrives use more
power than CompactFlash cards, and thus, exhaust the batteries
faster. One little item that Nikon doesn't note: it's perfectly
fine to leave the camera in the ON position all the time; the
camera doesn't use any more power while "sleeping"
than it does when it is OFF, just like with the F5. And here's
two tips regarding the D1's batteries: (1) First, you should
condition new EN-4's by using them, then Refreshing them the
first three cycles; after the third cycle, just charge the batteries;
and (2) When the End light comes on, the battery is NOT fully
charged; don't remove it from the charger until it has cooled
to the touch.
camera weighs in at 2.5 pounds (1.1kg), and that's without a
lens or the battery, so you might want to build up your neck
muscles if you expect to leave this camera hanging on a strap
D1 is like a Mack truck compared to consumer digital cameras.
Sure, it's heavy and large, but the build quality is impeccable.
Most of the controls fall naturally under my fingers, and can
be easily found by touch. Read my F5 review
to get a feel for the camera's basic handling.
camera controls with multiple settings (flash mode, metering mode,
exposure compensation, etc.) are set by holding down the appropriate
button and rotating the knurled control dials. Unfortunately,
most of the controls that are unique to digital photography are
not quite as accessible. Some, like ISO and white balance, can
be set by the button-twirl method. Some, however, are buried in
the Custom Settings menus, which require a roadmap to figure out
on the original D1 and require too much button-pressing navigation
on the D1h and D1x (more on that in a bit).
color LCD position makes it very vulnerable to scratching. Yes,
Nikon supplies a cover for it, but that's a real hassle to get
on and off all the time, and you'll find yourself wanting to take
it off to get a better look at the LCD (the original D1's cover
is opaque). A better solution is that produced by Hoodman,
which is a $19.95 protective cover that doesn't have to removed.
More recently Hoodman introduced a more elaborate, collapsible
cover which screens the LCD from external light, making it easier
to see in bright conditions; some people love this rubber bellows,
some think it gets in the way. But it does make it easy to see
the LCD in bright light.
lot has been written about the issue of CCD
cleaning with Nikon DSLRs. Unlike a film camera, where the
photosensitive surface is replaced every image, the CCD just sits
there, shot after shot. In dusty and dirty environments, you'll
end up with some of that ending up on your CCD (heck, the sealed
F5 prism eventually gets dust and grime in it). The question is,
what can you do about it? Nikon's manual warns against using anything
except a manual blower (the turkey baster type, with the rubber
bulb): "under no circumstances should you touch or wipe the
filter." I'm pretty sure that most of the dust you get on
the CCD will not be easily dislodged using the low-power bulb
Nikon suggests. The method I outline on my site works well, and
others have adopted variations of it.
if you work in anything other than a well-filtered studio, minimize
your lens changes, keep the camera pointed downward when changing
lenses, and consider using a multi-bag approach when carrying
the camera (e.g., camera in plastic bag with air removed, plastic
bag in camera case, camera case wrapped in plastic garbage bag
in dusty environs). If you don't, you'll end up using Photoshop's
Clone tool on every image.
primary handling complaints on the D1 are these:
completely fuddled up the frame advance modes on the original
D1 (these are fixed with the D1h and D1x). With the camera
set to continuous advance, even a brief press of the shutter
release usually gets you more than one shot (the camera shoots
at 4.5 fps by default). With the camera set to single advance,
you can't take another picture until the internal buffer is
saved to CompactFlash. Suggestion: set the frame advance rate
to 1 fps via the custom settings and always use continuous advance.
camera seems to have a problem deleting images from large capacity
devices. In many cases, if you delete a single file using
the camera controls, all files after that one on the CompactFlash
disappear (they're actually still there--it's a directory error
that produces this problem). Other storage problems seem to be
related to the D1's write speed, which is relatively slow. Indeed,
there have been enough complaints on the D1 message boards that
I recommend that you never format CompactFlash cards on the D1
or erase individual files on the D1. The original D1 is notorious
for this, while the current D1h and D1x don't seem to suffer the
problem except that once in a blue moon.
balance is not as simple (or as accurate) as it should be.
Nikon, unlike Olympus and others, hasn't yet figured out how to
implement a one-button manual white balance control. Some white
balance options are not overly accurate (the fluorescent values
in particular), so you really should be using PRE. Auto rarely
produces a true white, while PRE requires that you fill the frame
with a neutral white card (hint: use a gray card instead--you'll
get better results). The D1h and D1x allow up to three custom
white balance settings to be stored, which is helpful for photographers
that always shoot in the same lighting conditions, but not much
use to those of us that wander the planet. If you shoot NEF files,
you can usually ignore white balance in camera and apply white
balances after the fact (except for the original D1). But if you
shoot JPEG, you'll need to experiment with various settings (my
book contains a handy cheat sheet). Most of us end up shooting
with white balance set higher than you'd expect. For example,
when I measure 5400K with a color meter, I find I usually end
up setting something more like 5800K to get clean whites. Moreover,
watch out for Nikon's misdirection on flash color temperature.
The camera sets 5400K, but not a single Speedlight Nikon ships
starts out at that color (they tend to range from 5800 to 6000K
out of the box, and drift slightly downwards with use).
vertical release still doesn't provide all the accessory controls,
although at least we now have a rear command dial and AF-ON button
(the F5 lacks these).
Settings have gone from bad to worse. I complained loudly
about the F5's custom settings. Well, the original D1's are worse.
Sharpening and tone compensation, amongst other key items, are
set via custom settings. And, unless you're shooting NEF format
pictures, I suspect that you'll want to at a minimum control tone
compensation (by default in JPEG and TIFF formats, the D1 does
so automatically based upon the pattern it sees in the matrix
metering; I've found situations where I've wanted to do something
differently). Always remember to bring your custom setting cheat
sheet with you. D1h and D1x owners have it a bit better: Nikon
removed the cryptic custom settings function from the button/dial
interface and moved it to the color LCD, where meaningful names
can actually be found for all of the settings and variations.
Of course, seeing the color LCD can be a problem in some light,
and now the camera has a modal menu system that requires a fair
amount of button pressing to get to individual options. But I'll
take that any day over the original system.
final general comment on handling: if you're moving up from any
Nikon SLR, you’ll find most of the functions familiar, just sometimes
in different places or with additional options. Spend some time
learning the controls before heading out to a critical shoot.
This is a camera that requires careful study to master.
the past two years, a D1x has been my main camera. The D1x's outer
body design seems to have been slapped together when compared
to the Italian-designed F5. The differences are subtle, with ridges
and humps that aren't quite as nicely placed as on the F100 or
F5. Fortunately, Nikon wisely retained most of the control locations
of the F100 and F5, so picking up a D1x after using a film body
isn't a rude shock, just a small adjustment in hand positions.
Still, when I compare the D1's hand positions and grip to other
Nikon-based bodies, I feel something lacking.
used the D1x for over two years, the list of specification
changes or additions I'd ask for is relatively minimal:
6-frame NEF buffer is easily filled when shooting action. Even
a 3 or 4 frame addition would be useful, but doubling it would
make me more than happy. And Nikon did exactly that in late
2002, offering a buffer update that doubles the buffer size.
Older cameras have to go back to Nikon for the update, but new
D1x's coming from Nikon since April 2003 have had the extra
would be nice to have ISO 100 (to match all the charts published
in Nikon flash manuals!), and a less noisy ISO 800. Any improvement
in the ISO 1600 and 3200 speeds would also be welcome.
flash really needs a "during exposure" measurement
capability, just like the 35mm bodies. It would also be nice
if the TTL sensors were scaled down to only see the CCD area
(they currently include an area that extends into the black
frame around the CCD).
a 96% viewfinder is acceptable to Nikon, I don't understand
(especially when it's ever so slightly off center in most
samples; fortunately, mine seems dead on). Since the viewfinder
has been re-masked for the smaller sensor there really are
no excuses why it shouldn't be 100%.
area in which the sensor is set needs to be widened to allow
give up the TIFF mode in a second for a mode that saves both
NEF and JPG of the same image (it would take less time and space
than that TIFF!).
external battery connector location should be changed. If you
use an external battery, the cable comes out right where you
want to put your left hand. And the battery itself needs to
be lithium, not NiMH.
a far more detailed wish list, see my D2x
all that's been said,
don't have substantive handling complaints about the D1h or
D1x. The transition from film bodies to digital was relatively
painless, and all the things that have made Nikon 35mm SLRs
some of the best cameras for pros have been passed on to the
digital bodies, as well.
wants to know good the images that the D1 produces are. The short
answer is “great.”
Each of the three models varies, of course,
but the D1h and D1x can accurately reproduce color with enough resolution
to satisfy most uses. A few generalizations before we move in deeper:
3-megapixels of the D1 and D1h are now a bit long-in-the-tooth,
but still quite adequate. At the usual 240 dpi most of us run
to our Epson inkjets, that's 5.5 x 8.4" without any resizing.
And I have no problems getting artifact-free 8 x 10's out of
either camera. Once you get to 11x17, though, even the best
resizing practices won't be enough to hide some loss of detail,
though. But how many 11x17's did YOU print this year?
5.4-megapixels of the D1x holds its own against any of the current
6-megapixel cameras, and on many subjects and with proper NEF
processing, the D1x can hold its own against ever higher resolution
bodies. At the 240 dpi mark, you can get a 11 x 17" image
out of the D1x without resizing. Frankly, it took two years after
the appearance of the D1x for another body to clearly eclipse
it in resolution (the Canon 1Ds and Kodak Pro 14n are the only
two bodies I would agree do that; the Fujifilm S2 Pro doesn't
get there, even with its 12-megapixel output; and yes, I put that
in practice: I use my D1x over the S2 Pro where resolution is
want image quality? You'll get it in spades with the D1x.
The D1x has been my primary camera for over two years, and
I'm continually amazed at how much detail it can grab in
landscapes, as it has here at the classic Tunnel View in
Yosemite National Park. Moreover, dynamic range is quite
good--and I was using every bit of it here in this shot.
Nikon D1x, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 125, NEF file converted using
Nikon Capture and then further converted to black and white
already noted, the D1 produces 12-bit images in its raw NEF
format, but 8-bit in JPEG. Frankly, after trying all the different
formats, I won't work in anything except NEF in the future,
the difference is that dramatic when you're paying attention
to every bit of pixel-pushing.
users of the D1 complained about several specific problems in
their D1 images: magenta color cast, a band-like pattern of
noise at higher ISO values, and sometimes excessive red-channel
noise (which shows up as slightly mottled skies). With a correctly
profiled monitor and a camera profile using NEF, I haven't seen
the magenta problem others have noted.
I have seen it in
quite a few JPEG images, but it is easily correctable, and I
suspect that better attention to white balance might produce
less magenta drift. Some of the color problem is due to the
fact that the original D1 doesn't have a defined color space
(Nikon apparently used NTSC-calibrated monitors to guide color
development, so NTSC is the closest color space that works).
To get around this issue, you really have to individually profile
the original D1s. The banding noise doesn't appear in the recent
original D1 I've used, and owners who've complained about it
to Nikon and had their D1 serviced seemed to have oscillators
replaced in their cameras, which mostly fixes the problem (at
high ISO values, there is still a faint pattern to the noise,
though). Software products have appeared to take care of the
banding problem, but, at this stage, I'd have my camera serviced
if I found this problem in my original D1.
probably wonder about what size picture you can produce with
the D1's and D1h's "limited" resolution. I've seen
11x14" prints from a D1 that are indistinguishable (to
me) from film (and I've seen 24 x 36" prints from a D1x
that are better than I typically have gotten from 35mm slide
film). In fact, the color gradations and shadow detail made
it seem as if the image had been produced from a high-quality
drum scanner. But there are a few gotchas you need to watch
out for, and I'd suggest that you learn Photoshop very, very
well if you want to produce similar results:
need to adjust your exposure habits a bit. It's important
to pay closer attention to highlight detail than it is to
shadow detail in your exposures. Judicious use of graduated
filters, polarizers, and fill flash can generate images with
both highlight and shadow detail, something that is tough
to do with slide film due to the more limited exposure range.
Let me put it a different way: you cannot recover lost highlight
detail and it's pathetically difficult to pull out more highlight
detail if an image is exposed at the margin. But you can almost
always pull up shadow detail (at the expense of more noise,
which can be dealt with).
to depth of field, focus, and shutter speed must be paid.
Out of focus all-digital pixels just render differently than
film grain, and Unsharp Mask and Gausian Blur tweaking never
seems to achieve quite the same results I get even from digitally
scanned film. (I hypothesize that this has something to do with
the fact that film has overlapping grains, while digital bodies
have light sensors that do not cover the entire imaging area.
That's right, not all of a photosite is "photo-reactive."
And you've got microlenses on top of them redirecting the light,
which also adds to the slightly different "look.")
Flat-plane subjects rendered in sharp focus are great on any
D1. Highly detailed landscapes that require huge front to back
depth of field are difficult to achieve well on a D1 and D1h
(and remember, DOF is smaller due to a smaller Circle of Confusion
value). The D1x seems to render natural landscapes quite well.
As for shutter speed: learn to use the anti-mirror shock function
(on the D1h and D1x) at shutter speeds less than 1/30 shorter
than 1 second.
adjustment of Photoshop Curves produces superb shadow detail,
though there's a balance that you need to get it right between
contrast and the curve settings.
Indeed, one of the complaints
Canon DSLR users have about Nikon DSLRs is that the Nikons produce
"more drab" images without "color saturation."
Personally, I think the Canon users are seeing too things: first,
the Nikon DSLRs have long dynamic ranges that are not compressed;
and second, Nikon has picked a rather lower contrast default
for their linearity curve. I'd rather work from lower contrast
and a linear exposure than from the higher contrast and curved
exposure the Canon bodies seem to use. It's easier, I believe,
to put contrast and saturation back into an image than it is
to pull it out. Moreover, I think the Canon's produce a "plastic
looking, cartoonish" color and exposure that's a little
too boosted and in your face. Of course, I prefer Provia slide
film over Velvia, for much the same reasons. That said, I've
never been unable to crank up the color and contrast in Nikon
D1 images to get that exaggerated look when I wanted it. I just
don't want it most of the time.
going to talk most about the D1x images, since that's the
camera I've used continuously since it appeared, and it
has, arguably, the best image quality of the D1 bodies.
to my D1 Report (now Nikon
Digital SLR Report) will recognize the image at
left. The top image is a full frame from the D1x.
The bottom is a 100% view run through Adobe RAW Converter
(ARC). Note that this is a very
challenging NEF image to convert: the original scene
has more detail than the D1x can render, the red channel
has over saturated in this exposure, and the white
balance is very tricky due to a low November morning
sun reflecting off the walkway and grass into the
though ARC isn't the best of the D1x converters currently
available (see below), you'll see some things here
that are important: (1) the reflection of the rose
is actually accurately rendered in the granite wall
(just above the rose); (2) the fact that the rose
is plastic is clearly revealed by the "grain"
in the petal; (3) the detail in the granite and the
slight imperfections of the edges on the etched names
is also clearly revealed; (4) colors are basically
dead-on, despite the fact that the exposure blew out
the red channel!
for a few negatives: (1) ARC doesn't clearly pull
out all the detail here (and this is at the 5.4mp
size); I have other conversions of this same photo
that clearly demonstrate more and better detail in
the granite, especially in the shadow areas; (2) very
close look at slight diagonals shows some stairstepping
artifacts (again, more obvious in ARC than in some
other converters); and (3) the over saturated red
channel has tended to produce some posterization in
the colors in the rose, which the modest sharpening
I applied has picked up along with the detail.
attraction of the D1x model is the extra resolution of the
doubled-up photosites on the CCD. Using Bibble, QImage Pro,
or Nikon Capture to decode NEF images, the D1x effectively
works like a 10-megapixel camera (4008 x 2624). Yes, I said
works like a 10-megapixel camera. Indeed, I find slightly
more validity in Nikon's claim of the D1x as a 10-megapixel
camera than Fujifilm's claim that the S2 Pro is a 12-megapixel
camera. In the case of the Nikon, the long axis resolution
is real; in the case of the Fujifilm, neither axis' resolution
is real. Note that there are problems with the D1x's resolving
power, since it is not symmetrical. Long diagonal lines
that are just off horizontal will often reveal obvious stairsteps
when run through a 10-megapixel RAW interpretation (at the
"native" 5mp this isn't the case--though note
that "native" resolution resamples both axis).
I worried that the smaller photosites of the D1x (half the
area of the D1 and D1h, but otherwise essentially the same
technology) would produce more noise, but Nikon has done
something quite clever in the underlying technology, apparently.
Noise is very, very low.
4th issue of my Nikon Digital SLR Report has a detailed
look at the various RAW file interpreters and how they work
on D1x images, but here's a short recap of my current thoughts,
with the converters presented in ascending order of image
quality ability on Nikon NEFs (in my humble opinion):
produces saturated but incorrect color. It can have problems
with channel saturation. But if you're into lots of post-processing,
using its linearity conversion function can produce detail
from a D1x image that you didn't even suspect was there.
produces pleasant color and almost never produces stairstep artifacts
(if anything, certain edges can end up a little too soft). It's
a bit slower than most, though. If the UI of the program were
better (read: understandable), it would be a no-questions-asked
RAW Converter is faster than the others, which is great
for batch processing, and the colors are okay if you take the
time to make sure you understand what all the various controls
do (quick: do you know what the Tint control actually does to
white balances and why that is important to know?). But I find
that the converter sometimes produces images with unsettling lack
of detail in some areas (especially true if you use the Sharpening
and Smoothing controls together).
DSLR has an excellent workflow (and completeness) and
is more mature as a software product than any of the others, probably
because of its long heritage from the PhaseOne back's software
development. But you pay a big price to use it for D1 images.
Price as in mucho dinero.
Capture has consistently improved with each iteration,
and produces very nice detail, accurate color, and now supports
the 10mp D1x output that Bibble and QImage pioneered.
run my D1x through a number of rigorous tests, and comparing
it against D1x bodies brought to my workshops,
I've come to the following conclusions:
maximum exposure range captured by the D1x is no more
than 8 stops. Usable range is probably 7 stops. Pulling
up that 8th stop will definitely give you noise to deal
"middle gray" there's 2.5 to 3 stops of usable
range. Of course, that's defining middle gray as 128,128,128,
when it actually (correctly) registers lower than that
with proper exposure. Read on.
"middle gray" there's 3.5 to 4 stops of usable
In other words, there's more "exposure"
below 128,128,128 than there is above it. One natural
outgrowth of this is that most Nikon users "pull
up" the curve at the 1/4 point slightly.
saturation is a killer and severely negates what I just said
(unfortunately, there's no way to preview that on a D1x, as
there is on an S2)
asymmetrical exposure balance means that you need to absolutely
respect the "expose for the highlights" mantra (see
Histograms). Failure to do so means
highlights show up as paper when you print your image. If you
shoot NEF, you can adjust "the exposure" somewhat
after the fact, though this is not exposure change as every
converter seems to want to make you believe, but rather linearity
change. Any channel saturation can't be dealt with, so once
you lose a highlight detail or channel detail, it's lost, regardless
of how much "exposure adjustment" a converter allows.
to "exposure perfection" isn't a lot different with
a D1x than it was with slide film:
you have a broad area of brightness (sky, for example), use
a graduated neutral density filter to hold it back.
Use a polarizer to reduce highlights caused by unwanted reflections.
your overall exposure to include the brightest highlight in
the dynamic range (i.e., the histogram shouldn't show any
detail spilling off the right side).
a reflector or fill flash to brighten up the shadow areas.
shooters need to heed the same advice, except you don't have
the same ability to adjust after the fact. You must get your
JPEG exposures dead on, as the reduction from 12-bit to 8-bit
data and the instantiation of the camera settings (tone, contrast,
sharpening, white balance, etc.) pretty much lock in your pixels
in the camera. Selecting high contrast on the camera while shooting
JPEG is not a good decision unless you absolutely know
that you've got a narrow exposure range and need the boost (indeed,
the D1's tend to avoid high contrast in the Auto contrast setting
except in very low contrast situations; Nikon has chosen very,
very well in the subtle software traits of these cameras, though,
as noted, that means you don't always get the "punch"
out of a D1 that you see in some other DSLRs out-of-camera shots).
High levels of in-camera sharpening tend to push some types
of highlight detail over the edge with JPEGs, as well; you lose
the detail and/or gain artifacts. In general, I avoid sharpening
in the D1 cameras, whether shooting JPEG or NEF (this isn't
true of a D100, by the way, just the D1s).
properly exposed and processed NEF file prints easily on
my desktop printer at 13 x 17 inches, with stellar detail
and color fidelity (the AdobeRGB color space profile built
into the camera seems reasonably accurate, and makes managing
color a lot easier than with the original D1). Indeed, I've
compared images off my D1x with drum scans of Provia F from
my 35mm body, and I prefer the D1x's rendition in most cases.
If I were printing larger than 13 x 17, I might want a little
more resolution, but for my work, the D1x has plenty. And
I have to go back and say something about "color fidelity."
The D1h and D1x are the only DSLRs I've used in
which I've been able to shoot a known color reference such
as the MacbethGretag ColorChecker chart, run it through
the computer and print it, then take the print, cut it up,
and drop the printed chips on the original ColorChecker
and have them all disappear! I can get mighty close
with other DSLRs, but the D1h and D1x models are the only
ones that I've managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible:
perfect color rendering and exposure camera-to-print. Nikon
did not get this right with the original D1, but
boy did they fix their mistake with the subsequent models.
If you're not getting controlled, accurate color with a
D1h or D1x, then you're doing something wrong in the exposure
or color management chain. And to figure out what, you do
exactly what I did: shoot a known reference and walk it
through every step checking for where it deviates.
I've put off the bad news long enough. There is one
aspect of the D1 series performance that is sub optimal
compared to recent DSLRs: long exposure noise. Hot pixel
noise is just something you need to anticipate with a D1h
or D1x in exposures longer than 1 second. And this problem
can be quite obnoxious by a 5 second exposure. Do yourself
a favor and take a second shot at the same shutter with
the lens cap on when you get into the above-1-second exposure
range. At least that way you can do a manual Dark Current
removal adjustment that'll make the hot pixel situation
Settings (original D1 only). Either learn to ignore
‘em or bring a cheat sheet. There is no in between. (D1h
and D1x) Too much button pressing, and no rationale
order to the settings.
Life. With a Microdrive in the camera and reviewing
(chimping) every photo's histogram, I sometimes run out of
battery before I do storage space. And the D1's batteries
are unique, so it's not like I can swap my 35mm camera batteries
in a pinch. And while the NiMH batteries have reasonable shelf
life and fast recharging characteristics, they simply don't
do as well in the cold as lithium batteries and are bigger
and heavier than an equivalent lithium battery would be. The
D1 is not a friendly camera at or below freezing.
of Nikon Cooperation. This is a camera that should
have wider third-party support. While Nikon has helped a few
software developers with understanding the NEF format, there
is no software development kit for this camera, and there
should be. If there was, we'd have tons of Photoshop plug-ins
for NEF, computer controls for the camera functions, and a
host of other goodies that would make a great tool better.
Pixels. Watch those long exposures; they'll get freckles
that make every face look like Dennis the Menace.
Angle Limitations. Despite the 12-24mm DX lens,
we still don't have fisheye or fast wide angle optics. When
Nikon rounds out the DX lineup with a full frame fisheye,
a circular fisheye, a perspective control lens, and one or
two fixed focal length and f/2 or faster wide angles, there
will be nothing to complain about. But until then...
the Latest and Greatest. Funny how just being
good isn't enough in the DSLR marketing wars. The fact that
the D1h and D1x are now two years old seems to work against
them, despite the fact that both are more than enough camera
in specs and image quality than most users actually need.
the image, stupid.
Color fidelity, wider-than-slide-film dynamic range, low noise
at low ISO values, and with the D1x, 10-megapixel output that
works well with many subjects (something that just boggles the
mind when you consider this camera was introduced over two
Royce Body. With only modest exceptions (the battery comes
to mind), as good if not better than an F5 in handling, quality,
its Time. I'll tackle just about any assignment
with a D1h or D1x and be perfectly happy, despite newer DSLRs
with more resolution or faster frame rates (the Canon 1D and 1Ds
come to mind). All things considered, the D1 series is holding
up quite well, actually.
As we move further into the DSLR revolution, it's
the post-processing and workflow that becomes more important,
and Nikon's now on version 6 of its browsing software and the
fourth iteration of its RAW converter. And each subsequent version
has gotten better. Macintosh users, especially, will appreciate
Nikon's more robust software. And third party products, such as
DigitalPro, goes further than the Breezebrowser or other offerings
most Canon users point to.