Note: I originally wrote this article in 2003
This article is meant to be a subjective review of my experience with the Nikon D100 camera. I won’t attempt to list all of the features of the D100 and nor will I compare it to other digital cameras. There are many other reviews on the net that list the D100’s specifications and compare it to other cameras such as the Fuji S2, or the Canon D60 and 10D.
Nikon released the D100 camera in July 2002. The D100 is a digital SLR with a 6 megapixel sensor and a body based on the Nikon N80 film camera. The sensor is made by Sony and is 23.7mm x 15.6mm in size (3008 x 2000 pixels). Because the sensor is smaller than a 35mm frame (36mm x 24mm), lenses on the D100 have the angle of view equivalent to a lens with 1.5x the focal length.
I unpacked the camera from the box and my first impression was that the D100 is a big camera. The D100 is actually not that big compared to other professional level cameras, but I’m used to shooting with the N80. The D100 is about 40% bigger and heavier.
The second thing I noticed was that the D100 did not seem very well made. I am well aware that the D100 does not have the build quality of Nikon’s D1 series cameras. However, the D100 is based on the N80 and I was expecting something of similar quality. In my opinion, the D100 has worse build quality than the N80, specifically,
- the body material feels less sturdy,
- the setting dial on top left has more play, and
- the CF card door is very flimsy.
I immediately set the quality to RAW mode and the color space to Adobe RGB. I took some play shots at home. What I noticed is that using compressed NEF files is way too slow and the D100 only has a four shot buffer. This means that once the buffer is filled you have to wait forever until the buffer empties. I set the color mode to Adobe RGB. Like the N80, the D100 has the on-demand gridlines which I find invaluable for composition.
First Trial: Macro
My first real use of the D100 was at Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto. I used a 105 micro AF-D lens and took several pictures flowers and succulents. I must say that my initial doubts about the D100 vanished. I was impressed by its handling and I think the camera is well suited to macro photography for the following reasons.
- Smaller sensor than 35mm film. The D100 uses a smaller sensor than a full 35mm frame. This has two major benefits for macro shooting. First, a lens will have a smaller angle of view on the D100 than a film body. This means that it’s easier to get a nice background. Second, because the sensor is smaller you need less magnification to get an object to a certain size in the image. Less magnification means that one can use larger apertures and still maintain an aceptable depth of field. The larger aperture also means that it is easier to keep the shutter speed fast enough to stop any motion from wind.
- Adjustable ISO. The D100 lets you adjust ISO on the fly. Again, this makes it easy to keep the shutter speed fast enough to stop any wind motion. The ISO settings are adjustable in 1/3 stops.
- Noise is less objectionable than grain. At higher ISO’s I find that the noise is less objectionable than grain in an equivalent speed slide film.
- Anti-shock. The camera has an anti shock setting that raises the mirror and delays firing the shutter so that vibrations can settle. Although I used this feature when shooting, the lack of an anti-shock or mirror up function never bothered me with the N80.
I shot in matrix mode and after each shot, I reviewed the image on the LCD display to check exposure and composition. I did not find the image preview terribly useful as I could not tell sharpness and exposure was also difficult to judge because the brightness varied depending on the angle I viewed the display. In the end, I relied on the histogram to make sure the image was properly exposed and that there was no clipping at either end.
For my second trial, I went to the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. The Baylands is home to many birds and so I took the D100, a 300mm f/4 AF-S lens, and the Kenko 1.4x Teleplus pro converter. Unfortunately, I found that the 300mm lens would not autofocus with the Kenko teleconverter on the D100 and I was forced to focus manually. (Oddly, the 300 f/4 and Kenko TC work correctly on an N80, and the 24-85 AF-s lens works correctly with the D100 and Kenko teleconverter.)
At the Baylands, the D100’s crop factor worked great. The smaller sensor gives an angle of view equivalent to a lens with 1.5x times the focal length. On the D100 my 300 f/4 lens with 1.4x teleconverter now has the same field of view as a 600mm lens (300 x 1.4 tc x 1.5 crop = 630mm). The drawback of the crop factor is that wide angle lenses take in a much smaller field of view. My 24mm lens now has the same field of view as a 35mm lens.
The sensor in the D100 camera is a charge-coupled device (CCD) that can record both visible and infrared light. Visible light has a wavelength from 400-700 nanometers (nm) and goes through the colors violet to red; infrared light ranges from 700nm to 1mm. The D100 CCD is sensitive to the shorter infrared wavelengths and we can use this capability to take infrared pictures.
I use a Hoya R72 infrared filter to remove most of the visible light and prevent it from reaching the
sensor. This filter screws on to the front of the lens and appears very dark. The ‘R72’ designation comes from the fact that the filter attenuates 50% of the light at 720 nm.
The infrared filter is very difficult to see through and so my usual procedure is to first compose the image on a tripod and then put the filter on the lens. The camera still autofocuses correctly and I take the picture in raw mode with matrix metering, usually with +1 to 2 stops of exposure adjustment.
Shown below, is an infrared photograph I took of the Hoover Tower at Stanford University. The raw capture is on the left which I then process with Nikon Capture to adjust the curves in the red, green, and blue channels and create the image on the right.
Taking infrared pictures with the D100 is a very easy process and can be done on a shot by shot basis. In contrast, infrared photography with film cameras is much more of a hassle as it requires special IR sensitive film emulsions and you either have to dedicate a camera body or shoot the entire roll in one session.
- 1.5x crop factor. Great when you need a long lens.
- Very clean images. The pictures from the D100 are much cleaner than scans of film with the same ISO. I find that even ISO 1600 images are acceptable.
- Adjustable ISO. With film it was difficult to adapt to rapidly changing situations because the entire roll had to be shot at the same ISO. If you needed a different speed film you either carried another body or wasted film by rewinding before your roll was finished. With digital this is no longer a problem.
- No film. There is nothing for the lab to scratch or lose. Additionally, carrying a digital wallet is much easier than travelling with 60 rolls of film.
- 1.5x crop factor. Wide angle lenses take in a much smaller field of view. This means that it’s pretty much impossible to take a picture with an ultra-wide angle of view, and even obtaining the equivalent of a moderately wide angle photo (say 24mm) means buying an expensive lens (lenses cost more as the focal length becomes more extreme).
- Cheap plastic body. To be fair, although the body feels quite cheap, the plastic construction has been robust for me. I have dropped the camera from about two feet onto concrete with no ill effects.
- Larger and heavier than the N80. The D100 is about 200 grams heavier (approximately 7 oz) than the N80. It makes a difference if you are hiking up a mountain or carrying it all day.
- Slow compression of RAW files. Compressed RAW files on the D100 take approximately half the space of uncompressed files, which is great because this doubles the number of images you can store on a CF card. However, the compression is so slow that this feature is impractical for shooting a series of photographs unless you are shooting slower than once every 40 seconds.