Digital info for serious shooters: specializing in Nikon & Canon

The Nikon D100

07.10.02 by B. Moose Peterson

"when I previewed my first image
I knew Nikon had a winner in the D100"

Admittedly, the announcement of a smaller "prosumer" D-SLR didn't light my fire. I knew from the price point and physical size, compromises would have to be made in its design and construction. I knew the new D-SLR would be cursed as it were by all the web rumors (mostly very inaccurate, again) slanting the publics perceptions of the camera before it was ever released. This just makes my mission even more difficult in trying to cut through all the smoke and getting folks focusing on photography. So when one of my favorite Nikon reps put the D100 in my hands for the first time, to say I was more than impressed in an understatement. All of the prejudices I had quickly vanished and when I previewed my first image, I knew Nikon had a winner in the D100!


How to use this review:
Before proceeding, I want to give you something to think about when you read this review. A successful photograph is the culmination of lots of elements: subject, lighting, technical expertise and finally equipment. Each one of us sees and communicates differently photographically. The D100 has some great features unique to its design. In some aspects, you'll find it's "missing" features found in other bodies while it incorporates radically new ones. It is the exclusion or inclusion of these features that make the D100 unique and are the factors you need to consider in deciding if the D100 captures and delivers your vision and communicates it to others! This review is just that, a review and not an in-depth report. Our upcoming eBook has a whole chapter devoted to using and getting the most out of the D100)

First and foremost, the D100 is not an N80 with digital components crammed inside. Nikon did use some of the winning features of the N80 when they designed the D100, but other than a similar looking prism and built-in flash, the likeness of the two ends there! Many have wondered about the ruggedness of the D100. I have now shot with one for 3 weeks straight. Because of the time factor and wanting to get a review out to folks, I've been "rougher" on the D100 than normal which includes making my own rain storm to test the camera (there ain't no real rain to be had in the west!). The D100 performed without a hitch in conditions from a high of 114 degree to a low of Zero (freezer), dry or wet.

One of the most amazing things to me in the beginning was the D100's battery. When I received the camera the EN-EL3 battery was fully charged, but I didn't receive the battery charger. I was concerned just how far I was going to get with shooting and playing and learning on one charge. This little battery just goes and goes! The best I've done is 1867 captures on one charge (shooting AF-S lens, little to no chimping) and the worst just over 700 captures (in the beginning with all of the playing). In fact, I shot for 4+ days on the first charge before the charger showed up and I still had plenty of battery power to spare! This is a really good thing, because on pg.5 of the instruction book, is says have a spare battery ready. Since buying a spare battery is going to be a challenge for a while, having one that lasts is important!

It's nice to look through the D100. While technically it has the same numbers as the D1 Family, the "tunnel" effect you have looking through the D1 Family viewfinder is not as apparent in the D100. The D100 has the same "digital cropping" effect though as the D1 Family so there is a focal length "gain" of 50%. You only see 95% in the viewfinder and 98% of the image captured on the monitor. (And a personal rant for a moment. For those complaining about the 50% focal length gain and wide angles, may I suggest you try an old technique. Back in the old days when photographers didn't have ultra wide lenses either because they weren't manufactured or not in one's budget, to capture wide angle shots, photographers would BACK UP! While not applicable in all situations, you might be surprised how this old technique can work well with digital!)

Fishing fly photographed at 30sec,
using CS#4 and only a AAA maglite
to light the fly
The autofocus in the D100 is not as fast as you will find in the D1 Family. The combination of the Multi-CAM900 (compared to Multi-CAM1300 in the D1 Family), battery and processors, the D100 just isn't in the same league. This speed difference for many subjects when shooting with AF-S lenses is nearly unperceivable but in lower light situations with non-AF-S lenses you'll see the difference.
When it comes to picture quality, the D100 delivers big! In all honesty, this is really the measure of a good digital camera and the D100 does not fall short here! The giant 6.1MP CCD does a great job with image quality and color! What really impresses me is the Noise Reduction built-into the D100. The Color Noise Reduction which is always active does a great job with the smaller pixels of the 6.1MP CCD. The optional Long Exposure Noise Reduction (CS#4) is simply stunning! I've taken a lot of 30sec exposures already using this feature and the noise is basically not present! I've had fun showing some of these 30sec images to folks and seeing their reaction when they see the quality!
Planes shot at 30sec with CS#4 
and available light


Notice how in shade, whites are underexposed
The D100 provides every digital photography a great set of  file types/ quality settings. You have 14 file types / image quality settings available with the D100. The D100 offers the RAW (NEF), RGB-TIFF and three Jpeg formats. All but the RAW can be sized to Large, Medium or Small files (the RAW can be compressed or uncompressed). The Large is 3008x2000 pixels; Medium is 2240x1488 and Small is 1504x1000. This is an impressive array of options that surely will make every digital photographer happy. Personally, I shot everything in the FINE Jpeg Large or Medium. These are 3MB/1.7MB files that open up to a gorgeous 17.3MB file.
In the short time I've had shooting with the D100, it has done a marvelous job with every shooting condition I've put it through. The color (using Cloudy-3) has been stunning, the exposures right on (shooting in Matrix Metering) and the final images are knock-you-down gorgeous when printed up! (D100 has the same problem with whites in lower light levels as does the D1X/H). I didn't find it radically "better" in color that the D1 Family. I could best describe the color as perhaps a little deeper (which I'm sure most folks can get out of the D1 family with Photoshop).

The D100's processors while very powerful for their size and for the files they are processing, just aren't as fast as the D1 Family cameras. The D100 has a firing rate of just 3fps with a maximum of 6 frames for Jpeg and TIFF and 4 frames for RAW. Using the Lexar 512 24x CF card, once the buffer is full you can shoot the next frame after 1.2 seconds shooting FINE, Large and 6.7 seconds when shooting RAW (uncompressed).


The chart numbers were derived using a freshly charged EN-EL3, 50f1.8AF lens and Lexar 512 24x card. (for testing method, refer to The D1 Generation pg.242). For optimum speed and captures, be sure CS#4 is OFF.

I made a posting about the D100's write times in June stating some of the write times. To be point blank honest with you, the slowness in the write times shooting FINE L & M has driven me nuts! I had to generate images with the D100 in a short time but in my attempt to do this in conjunction with the action at hand, I would often switch out to the D1H so I could get the image. I simply got that frustrated waiting for the D100 (I'll talk about the flash sync speed later in the review). The write times are such that, once you fill the buffer, things just slow down in the camera even though the action continues on.

The White Balance settings in the D100 haven't changed, they are basically the same as you'd find in the D1 Family. So the vast majority of my shooting was done at Cloudy -3 (I tried A and while it's better than A on the D1 Family, I personally didn't like the results for my photography). Nikon did add to the D100 White Balance bracketing. This is kinda cool! For those wanting to learn more about White Balance and what works best for their workflow, this is a great learning tool. By using Custom Setting #11, the D100 captures two to three images and brackets the white balance as per your settings. This not only quickens the process compared to manually trying to set different white color balances, but encourages you to experiment and learn!
The D100 has a new image preview "zoom" feature. When you preview an image you've captured on the LCD monitor, you can zoom in on that image nine times! The area of the image is increased so you can see exactly what you did or didn't capture in one area of your image. You can also "scroll" around on the image once it has been magnified using the AF Sensor thumb pad. Where you can't really edit for sharpness with the D1 Family monitors, you sure can with the D100. You'll have no problem determining if an image is sharp with this feature!

One equipment feature of the D100 could be linked to the N80. You can "turn on" grid lines in the viewfinder (CS#19). But the D100 has a really cool twist to this that I personally really like. The AF sensors as well as the grid are either black or red, depending on the ambient light level. When shooting in regular daylight, these are black and in low light levels, they turn red. What a really cool feature!

The D100 permits you to enter "comments" to your images. By using Image Comment in the Set Up menu, you can enter up to a 36 character phrase. This comment is recorded on each capture (as long as it is activated) into the image's EXIF file (the comment is not seen on the image itself). I entered my name for the comment so each capture is then tagged with my name. This is really a functional feature for the working photographer--although since it is difficult to enter the comment you're best off setting it once and leaving it alone.

One of the biggest weak points of the D100 comes from the CF compartment door. A plastic door attached with two small, plastic hinges that has to give way to insert the CF card on a slant. If you're in a hurry, wearing gloves or have big fingers, watch out! This door is going to break off! The door has no contacts so if it does break off, you can keep working until you get the camera repaired.

Another of my D100 pet peeves is the shutter release and the AF sensor thumbpad. The shutter release is "sloppy" in that it takes more than the standard touch to activate the meter and then fire the camera. And having to stick my finger up my nose to change the AF sensor which sticks out and is real stiff, is painful! While they both function correctly, they are not as smooth as the D1 Family.

Another REAL big weak point for me is the flash sync speed of 1/180. One of the biggest reasons I would switch back to the D1H from the D100 is because of this limitation. Shooting with flash fill, this barrier messed me up a couple of times until I got into the mind set of checking the darn shutter speed all the time. The D100 can be used with the SB-80DX in wireless mode. This gets confusing, so first let me explain the Nikon way of making this work.

Using the built-in flash and Custom Setting #23, you can set the D100 to Manual Flash which turns off the Pre-monitor flash enabling wireless operation with the SB-80DX. This is what the instruction books states. On the other hand, I've been able to fire TTL wireless with up to 4 SB-80DX flash units with the D100 CS#23 set to D-TTL. But this doesn't always work right. I've just spent a very frustrating 10 days with the SB-80DX and TTL making sense of the instruction book and reality and if you want to learn what I learned on how to make this all work, you'll have to buy our eBook. You can make it work, but...

Where do I rate the D100? I think the D100 is a great little camera! Is it a replacement for the D1X or D1H? Not by any stretch of the imagination! Does the D100 work for my photography, nope! But this doesn't mean the D100 is no good. The D100 does a great job and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for the vast majority of camera buyers it's designed for. For many, it will make a great "back up" body even though the controls are totally different. And if you're shooting everything except action, its slowness won't effect your picture taking ability. But those using flash, the 1/180 sync will hamstring you in a heartbeat. Those shooting action, the AF speed in combination with processing speed will cause you to miss images (you'd be much better off with a used D1 and copy of The D1 Generation then a D100 for action).

This is by no means a slam on the D100, I really like the camera! But like I mentioned at the very beginning, it's a tool and as such, you'll have to decide if it fits with your shooting. For me personally after shooting hardcore with it for 10 days, I can tell you it won't make it for my wildlife photography. But keep in mind, I'm capturing an average of 1000 frames a week. That's not what the D100 was designed to do. If you're into RAW, computer darkroom and scenics, this is the perfect camera for you! The D100 delivers on every penny you spend on it, you just need to make sure you understand your own photographic needs to get the most out of this great little camera!

I'll have a complete chapter on the operation, strengths/weaknesses/goofies, of the D100 in our upcoming eBook due out by the end of August.


Editor's note: Film SLR users who've been wondering when to make the switch to digital should take a serious look at the D100. In particular if you have found digital point and shoots slow and limiting and have an investment in Nikon lenses the D100 will address both issues for you with a great solution. As Moose points out, if what you're expecting is an F5 replacement, the D100 isn't it. But if you are happily shooting with an N series or similar Nikon the D100 may be the perfect way for you to make the move to digital.--David

For your reference: Moose's D100 Settings

General Settings

Metering - Matrix
Shooting - Continuous
File Type / Quality - Fine Large or Medium
White Balance - Cloudy -3
Focus - Dynamic
ISO - 200
Exposure Mode - Aperture Priority

Shooting Menu

            Image Sharprining - A
            Tone Comp - A
            Color Mode - II
            Hue Adjustment - 0
            Bank Select - A
            Image Quality - Fine
            Resolution - L/M
Custom Setting Menu
	R Menu Reset - ---
	0 Bank Select - A
	1 Image Review - Off
	2 No CF Card? - ON
	3 ISO Auto - Off
	4 Long Exp NR - ON
	5 File No. Seq. - ON
	6 Monitor Off - 1mim
	7 Auto Meter-off - 6sec
	8 Self-timer - 5sec
	9 EC Step - 1/2
	10 Exposure Comp. - Off
	11 BKT Set - WB
	12 BKT Order - N
	13 Command Dial - OFF
	14 AE-L/AF-L/AF-L - locked
	15 AE Lock - ON
	16 Illumination - OFF
	17 Focus Area - ON
	18 AF Area Illum - ON
	19 Grid Display - ON
	20 Dyn AF AF-S - OFF
	21 Dyn AF AF-C - OFF
	22 AF Assist - ON
	23 Flash Mode - D-TTL
	24 Anti-shock - OFF

Set Up Menu

            Format - --
            LCD Brightness - 0
            Mirror Lock-up - OFF
            Video Output - NTSC
            Date - duh
            Language - Spanish
            Image Comment - ON

Playback Menu

            Delete - --
            Folder Designate - ND100
            Slide Show - 2sec
            Hide Image - N
            Print Set - 
            Display Mode - Both

Film: Moose's choice for CompactFlash: Lexar 512 24x



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