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November 8th, 2005: Battery Recall.
The D100 was Nikon's first amateur DSLR, introduced way back in 2002. It was replaced by the improved D70 in 2004 and the D70s in 2005. Oddly you can still buy the D100 and even have to pay more for it than the newer, better D70s. Even more amazing is that some people pay more for a used D100 than they could pay for a brand new D70s. I suggest you get the D70s over the old D100, but don't let me stop you if you insist.
After introducing the superior D70 Nikon realized it had nothing in the line between the professional $4,000 D1 series and the amateur $1,000 D70. Instead of discontinuing the D100 they kept it and kept its price inflated to give the air of being a camera slotted above the D70. No! The D100 has numerous subtle obsolete things about it, especially the sluggish flash sync and obsolete d-TTL flash control system. Just pass on the D100, save yourself some money and get a D70s.
The D100 was announced at PMA in February 2002, over three years ago. In 2002 it was a sell-out with long waiting lists at $1,999. You can read Popular Photograpy's review in their September, 2002 issue, if you can find one that old. In of May 2003 the D100 dropped to $1,699 and in December 2003 it dropped to $1,499 where it stayed for some time. As of May 2005 it's finally dropped to $999. Personally I prefer the D70 which costs less anyway. If you insist I'd get the D100 from Amazon or Adorama since the service is great and you can send it back if you hate it.
Of course the D100, or any camera, can make fantastic images, I have a page on that here. People ask me why I'm so opposed to the D100. I'm not opposed; there are simply better cameras out there for less money. The D70s outdoes the old D100 in every possible way, with the one or two minor points of a vertical grip (you can get a 3rd party one for the D70) and maybe wired remote (you get wireless remote for free with the D70 and have to buy a separate receiver for the old D100. The remote cord for the D100 costs far more than the wireless transmitter for either.) Nikon's VP of DSRs even told me this in person at the introduction of the D70 in 2004. Apparently Nikon's other folks reconsidered and discovered that some people were willing to pay more for the D100 and for some reason presumed that just because it cost more it was better. Thsi is called market segmentation: having a product at each price point to extract as much money as possible from the market.
Flash sync is the primary reason pro photographers shied away from the D100 in favor of the D1X back in February 2002 when the D100 was introduced. The D70's 1/500 sync allowed pros everywhere to drop their D1 series and go with something more portable.
I prefer my D70 in every way to the old D100. With this said, please consider the rest of this review as purely historical material, since the D70 has replaced the D100 as a better camera for less money.
The D100 was Nikon's most popular SLR in 2003, even more than any of the film SLRs. It seems every time I turn around another friend had bought one.
This is a $300 Nikon N80 (not F100) camera with digital innards. It pays for itself if you want loads of digital files for sports, action, portraits, parties and events. It's a waste if you want only a few digital files for landscapes and still lifes in which case you can get better quality by just scanning the film you already have. For instance, for only $1 each scan you can have Kodak PhotoCDs made from your film with about the same quality as the images from the D100. See also my film vs. digital pages if you're new to all this.
You can also buy the N80 converted to digital as the Fuji S2 for $2,000 and as the 14MP Kodak DCS Pro 14n for $3,700. The N80 sure gets around. See the N80 page for more specifics about it, and below for comparisons to other digital cameras.
The D100 costs half what my D1H did and gives the same or slightly better image quality, albeit at only at half the speed in a flimsier package.
If you don't already have a hot computer system and two Gs to blow then shooting slide film and your current 35mm camera is an excellent way to go for quality for the occasional shot you need digitized. I actually prefer the quality of a scanned slide over a file from one of these cameras. Of course once you taste digital's pleasures of convenience you'll probably never shoot your film camera again. I hate having to drive to the lab twice and then wait 10 minutes just to scan a single slide.
Presuming you're sure you really need a digital SLR camera, here goes.
This is a GREAT camera and is THE digital camera for serious amateur digital photographers. The only significant thing you lose compared to the D1 professional series is durability and slower overall AF speed and flash sync (1/180) and frame rates. You get much better battery life and lighter weight over the D1 series.
At this low a price the D100 is a total winner and pretty much may obsolete the D1X, although the D1H remains king for professional use for sports! Order it from Adorama since they have a great return policy. Honest, this is why I buy my stuff online: if I hated it or it had any weird problems it can be returned for a full cash refund, so you won't get stuck with any problems. Forget what I have to say and try it for yourself.
Here's a great insider report on Nikon's site.
There are two other digital SLRs built out of the same N80 out of which the D100 is made: the $2,000 Fuji S2 and the $3,700 Kodak DCS Pro 14n 14MP camera. The S2 may have a little more resolution, but has much slower operation (2 vs 3 FPS and only 1/125 flash sync) and a pretty poor battery system. The S2 also can't fine-tune each White Balance setting as all the Nikon D-SLRs can, which is far more important than resolution in real photography. I've not heard good things about Kodak's reliability nor are they easy to use. Again, if you want resolution you get better results with scanned film than even from a 14MP camera. For the reasons you get a digital camera (speed and ease of use) stick with the D100.
Forget the obsolete Canon D30 and D60 unless you already have the lenses. I find the Canons slower and more difficult to operate, which is more important than you think if you are new to this medium. The new Canon 10D (introduced March 2003) is another story: at $1,500 it's a great camera from a solid company and at the moment if you're just starting out with a camera system I'd give it a long hard try-out. I didn't find it as easy to use as the D100, but otherwise it's quite similar. You can see the comparison here.
The hideously expensive $7,000 Contax N Digital has the same slow flash sync speed (1/200) and probably slower frame and burst depth rates than the D100. There are very few lenses for the Contax. I'm unsure who would buy the Contax save for rich amateurs who don't really shoot.
Also look at the new Nikon Coolpix 5700. You can get it here. It's tiny and costs half what the D100 does. It gives similar image quality at ISO 100 but is much, much slower in operation so it can't shoot sports or your kids' softball games even though the long zoom lens is tempting. Also the 5700 is next to impossible to figure out and horribly slow to do anything while the D100 is fast and super easy to use. If your subjects move get the D100, if they hold still in great light maybe the 5700 could save you some money. Thus, forget the 5700 unless you really need a small camera and don't mind waiting for everything.
Ease of Use
This is a very easy camera to use. This is the biggest differentiating factor among digital cameras. It is almost as good as the industry-standard D1 series. Ease-of-use is very, very important, since this is the difference between getting your shot and being lost in some menu somewhere. Image quality among digital SLRs is very similar; ease of use is very different. This is a prime reason I prefer the D100 over anything except the D1 series. You don't have to deal with any menus to set the things you are always setting in the course of shooting in the field.
I didn't need the manual to figure out anything on this camera, which again is superb. As far as I'm concerned, I want nothing to do with most digital cameras like the Coolpix 5700 that can't be figured out without the manual on a daily basis.
The D100 is worlds beyond the Canon D30. The D30 took a lot of figuring out how to use and mires you in menus. The D100 is just plain obvious, easy and fast.
The LCD is very clear and it is super easy to set everything, fast!
There is no PC flash sync terminal, no problem since you can buy an AS-15 to give you that, or even better, just use a wireless sync trigger that pops in the hot shoe for studio strobes.
Hallelujah! There is a real cable release socket since this is an N80. This is a feature even the F100, F5, and all the D1 series lack.
The zoom playback only offers a 2x zoom, which is not very much to help you see if you are in focus. By comparison, the $5,500 Canon 1D offers NO playback zoom, which is why the expensive Canon 1D is only for amateur use and inferior to the D100. The Nikon D1 series offers a much better 3x zoom. A fan offers that there is a 9x zoom available, although it's hidden: after hitting the magnify button, you then have to hold another button and twist the command dial. These are the sorts of things you learn by reading the manual all the way through, which is not necessary but highly recommended for any camera, film or digital.
The buttons are all in different places than the industry standard D1 series, however the menus and overall operation are very similar or maybe identical. It was a LOT easier to use than the cryptic Canon D30. This is very good, since the D1 series provide extreme flexibility and so does the D100. For instance, the very important White Balance control (the ability to set the warm or cool color balance of the image) appears to be as flexible as the D1 series.
The D100, like the D1 series, handles like a film camera with no waiting around as all the other under-$2,000 digital cameras. It is much better than the Canon D30 and feels just like the D1 series. This is superb and the second most important issue in choosing a digital camera right after ease-of-use.
For instance, you can just flip through the images with no waiting. On the Canon DSLRs you have to wait for them to come in clearly as you scroll through them.
OK, it's only 3FPS vs. the D1H's 5FPS and the buffer is only 6 and not 40 deep, but for anything except professional sports I can't see any reason to have to blow the extra $1,500 for the D1H. It is as fast as the D1x that costs over twice as much and has the same image quality. Note: I'm presuming you're shooting in JPG mode as you should. One fan made the mistake of shooting in the academic TIFF mode which makes files so huge that they take too long to write to the card and slow down the camera.
Flash sync is a crippling 1/180. This appears to be deliberate crippling by Nikon's marketing people and is why pros will still have to buy the D1 series. Pros usually use fill flash and regularly shoot at above 1/250 in daylight all the time. I know I do. This "little" spec is extremely important and the D100 is mediocre at best here. If you want to shoot action outdoors with fill flash consider this.
What's extremely important to me is that the camera does not make you wait for anything. Turn it on and shoot! This is why I love this camera.
Tip: if you leave the long-exposure noise reduction set to ON you will cut the size of your capture buffer in HALF (from 6 to 3 JPEGs or TIFFs and from 4 to 2 RAW or NEFs), even for general photography. I suggest leaving NR OFF (it only takes affect at exposures longer than 1/2 second anyway) and turning it ON only when you are on a tripod making night exposures. The camera should be smart enough to do this automatically but it isn't.
Tip: I always shoot in JPG. Don't bother with TIF, and I don't use RAW either, since these formats either take huge amounts of memory space or otherwise clog up the camera trying to process them. If you shoot in these modes and need to shoot a lot of frames you may easily fill up the buffer, and after that you'll have to wait a long time to be able to make the next shot. Some people confuse this sluggishness as a camera defect, actually, it's a photographer defect!
Just like the N80, the D100 is almost useless with manual focus lenses. You will need an external exposure meter with non-autofocus lenses and have to set the exposures on the camera manually from what you read on your separate meter. If you work under studio lighting and enjoy constant manual focusing than maybe you'll be OK with manual lenses. All of the D1 series work fine with manual lenses in A and manual metering modes.
You also could guess at exposure with a manual lens and keep fiddling till you get it right by looking at the playback, but that's not why you bought a digital camera.
This is the least important concern, since most interchangeable-lens SLR digital cameras are pretty similar. I know, I've shot the D100 and the D1H and the D1x and the Canon D30 at the same scene at the same time and there is little real difference for anything except test charts. As you've seen there are plenty of analytic non-photographers on the Internet who just love to measure all this stuff with test charts, and then all similar cameras wind up being within an invisible 20% in all measured parameters anyway! These guys who never really shoot worry about splitting hairs no one but they can see, and ignore the critical issues of whether or not you can figure out how to make the camera work and if the camera dies for 5 seconds between shots to record each image!
I've made direct comparisons to my D1H. The colors and noise at fast speeds are the same and the resolution is a teeny bit higher. See "The Megapixel Myth" for an explanation of why megapixels has little to do with quality. Likewise, my D1H was about the same as a Canon D30 to which I compared it. Don't kid yourself: all these competing cameras are almost identical in practical image quality. You have to waste your time shooting test targets to discern any difference. The real differences among them are in ease of use, speed and durability.
Ho-hum. It's got exactly the resolution you'd expect and is almost identical to the cameras to which you might compare it. This is not an important measure of image quality or a reason to buy one camera over another. See the Megapixel Myth for more.
Files Sizes and Numbers of Shots on a Card
You can get all this from the manual.
Tip: Watch out if you shoot RAW Compressed (the default mode in RAW.) The D100 has the same defect the D1H has: the remaining frame counter miscalculates the number of pictures you have left since it erroneously calculates using the expected size of an uncompressed RAW image. In this mode you have to multiply the remaining frames indicator by about 1.6, since that's how many more frames you get in the compressed mode. No big deal, since as you get towards filling the card the counter decrements and it always underestimates on the safe side anyway. Just don;t think that the compressed mode does not save all the space it really does in exchange for all the extra time it takes processing each image.
The D100's sharpening algorithms are great. I used HIGH. Try the AUTO setting which supposedly uses some neat tricks to get really great images. As everything, try for yourself to see what you like best. That's the whole point of a digital camera!
Colors look great. The vivid color mode III gives the vibrant colors I love for most things, and either of the other two modes give great skin tones for people photos.
Color accuracy can be measured, but that has little to do with color quality. Color quality is like selecting a film: they are all different and except for duplicating film (which is awful for original photography) none tries to duplicate anything. Therefore color quality is a very personal judgment only you can tell for yourself. Go borrow one, pop your card into it, bring home the images and see for yourself. There is more difference between the settings you can make inside this and most digital cameras then there is between the different cameras. My D1H looks great, but remember, I can get all sorts of different colors out of it just by playing with the settings. As always, color quality depends on you more than the camera, as well as the limitations of digital cameras in general. See film vs. digital for that scoop. I still prefer landscapes on Velvia to my D1H (more contrast tone curve) and I love the D1H for photographing people (less contrast tone curve).
Let me say this again: the D100 is already better in this respect than most photographers. You need to master light, filtration, white balance settings and exposure before you will see any of the very subtle differences among digital cameras.
Caution: some of my really stupid friends actually gauge and compare cameras by looking at their LCD screens. Don't do this. The variations between LCD screens from one camera to the next is far larger than any subtle difference in the actual image files formed by any of these cameras! For instance, the LCD on the Canon D30 has a nasty green tinge, but the images themselves are fine.
Most good digital cameras are actually very similar in color when set up correctly. What you will see are the limitations of the digital format in dynamic range (poor highlight overload rendition compared to film) and color (restricted color gamut compared to Velvia; flower photos are tough in digital). Therefore, the limitations you see in images made with any top digital camera today are more limitations of today's digital cameras in general than the limitations of any particular camera.
Like many things, this new amateur camera has the same image quality as the D1/x/H professional models. So what, they address different markets and the D100 would probably fall apart under heavy professional use.
Tip: Try color mode III. It pumps up the colors in sRGB mode without increasing contrast!
Noise and Grain
It's the same as my D1H which is the same as the Canon D30.
ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400 are easy to set directly as "push 1" and "push 2" stop settings at the ISO control. By comparison, the D1 series makes it a pain to get into these pushed modes as a hidden menu item. These speeds are as clean as the industry-leading D1H. That means ISO 1,600 looks great, ISO 3,200 is quite usable if you really need it, and ISO 6,400 is getting pretty grainy. By comparison, the $5,500 Canon 1D is limited to amateur use since I read that it's image quality is way too noisy (grainy) at these high speeds. The D100 is probably better than the Canon 1D, although I have not compared them directly.
For some odd reason the D100 I used only recorded the very basic time, date, exposure and focal length data with each file.
I could not read the ISO setting or lens used or contrast and WB settings with the rest of the image data. It recorded the focal length setting of a zoom lens, but not the lens used. It did record the important color space info.
I seem to be able to read that data (WB, lens used, ISO and contrast setting) in camera, however I cannot read those either in iView Media Pro, BreezeBrowser or Photoshop 7.0.1's File Info. (BreezeBrowser does read the WB somehow).
This is bad and I have no idea what the story is behind this. If you use the Nikon View 5 or 6 software to transfer images this may be OK. I was just transferring using either Nikon View 4 on my Windows PC or simply dragging camera original JPG files onto my Mac and reading with iView.
It did record the firmware version of 1.00. I get the same results with firmware version 2.00, which also is indicated in the file. If you have a problem with this don't expect Nikon to be able to fix your camera, it is just how it is. Possibly in future firmware they'll fix it.
If you are shooting in Adobe RGB it embeds the color profile into the JPG file, but apparently doesn't in either of the two sRGB modes. This is clever, since the only time you really want the profile added is when you are using AdobeRGB, otherwise in sRGB you save the extra file size by presuming sRGB.
Therefore, if you are a hacker who really wants to have access to all the shooting data you will have to play around a bit with different software and probably use Nikon's provided software to transfer your images. Personally I shoot to much to piddle with new software and just copy entire folders to my Mac's hard drive and then catalog and rotate in iView.
The computer connection is USB, better suited to amateur use and especially the windows PCs used by many misguided amateurs. Professional cameras like the D1 series only have firewire connections, which are standard on the Macintosh computers used by professionals. This again is good for the amateurs who will be using the D100, and to be honest, the memory cards are not fast enough anyway to take advantage of the Firewire/IEEE-1394 ports on the D1 series anyway. Therefore the USB port is great. Don't use any of these: you'll get faster results and save your batteries by pulling the card out of the camera and sticking it in a $20 card reader.
Again, this works great. I see little need for a separate flash for simple outdoor fill and most other uses. Save the external flash for indoor bounced fill. Remember you can set the D100 up to ISO 1,600 or more if you run out of flash power and distance.
Even with the 17-35mm zoom you get almost no shadowing at 17mm. This is an effect where the lens casts a shadow from the little on-camera flash that, at wide settings, may cause a dark area in the middle of the bottom of the photo.
Try the 12-24mm lens before shooting with built-in flash; you may get shadows in your images from the lens.
An article here shows how to make great IR shots with the D100.
SUMMARY & FINAL SUGGESTIONS
Just pass on the D100, save yourself some money and get a superior D70s.
Get a spare battery for it so you always have a fully charged one ready to go in the field. You can get them here.
See also Nikon USA's D100 User's Manual.
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