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Nikon D1, D1H, and D1X Review
My life & times with Nikon's D1 series digital SLRs.
The original D1
I bought my first D1 body in November, 1999. I had been shooting with a Kodak DCS 620, but made the switch to the D1 because of its lighter weight and better 'feel' in my hands. I also liked the D1's LCD review screen a lot better.
Because of the cumbersome qualities of the original Nikon D1 Raw (NEF) processing software and the slow, bulky nature of shooting in-camera Tiff files, I chose to shoot Jpeg 'fine' quality during the entire time I owned my original D1. I used the same camera setup options most of the time:
- ISO 200
- Normal tone
- 3D Matrix Metering
- Jpeg 'fine' image format
- Automatic White Balance
- Continuous Shooting Mode
- Normal in-camera sharpening
- Shutter Activated (S) Autofocus
- Programmed Automatic Exposure
- And four minor changes in the Custom Settings.
These were close to the default settings from the factory, with a few minor changes. I left it like that so I could just pick it up, turn it on, point, and shoot. Keeping it simple allowed me to quickly capture a scene without having to make "camera decisions". I reserved using High ISO, Manual Exposure, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority for special circumstances.
The only serious complaint I had about the D1 was its color accuracy. The physical and operational quality of the camera was outstanding, but the color was consistently a bit "off". Magenta skin tones, cyan casts, sallow tones, and weak looking reds were (and still are) a nagging problem for the original model D1 users. The NTSC color profile that the D1 uses makes the problem an inherent characteristic. There are no internal adjustments for the problem, no firmware updates, and nothing the D1 user can do except for post-processing computer work.
After weeks of experimenting in Adobe Photoshop, I came up with a simple, reliable fix for the color problem. Once I figured it out, I used my quick & easy fix for every D1 picture I ever took (including the sample pictures shown below.) Click here to see the Lonestardigital D1 color fix. It really works! ... and sincere thanks to all the readers who've e-mailed me thank-you notes for the fix.
D1 Sample Pictures
Taken on a trip to Huntington Beach Pier, California - hand held Nikon D1 Telephoto shot using Sigma's 50-500mm Zoom Lens @ 500mm. Aperture Priority @ f8, ISO 400,Shutter Speed: 1/800, Matrix Metering, Jpeg 'Fine' Original Format.
Click on the preview at left for a 451 KB, 1200 x 787 pixel view.
Wide Angle Lens
Vintage WW II Heinkel
He-111 Bomber at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.
Sigma EX f2.8-4 17-35mm zoom lens @ 17mm. Jpeg 'Fine' Original Format.
Click on the preview at left for a 283 KB, 1200x787 pixel view.
Downtown Dallas along
I-35 Stemmons Freeway.
Nikkor AF-S f2.8 28-70mm zoom lens @ 40mm. Jpeg 'Fine' Original Format.
2 second Programmed Automatic Exposure.
Click on the preview at left for a 455 KB, 1200x787 pixel view.
Daylight Fill Flash
Nikkor AF-S f2.8 28-70mm zoom lens @ 28mm. Jpeg 'Fine' Original Format.
Click on the preview at left for a 420 KB, 1200x787 pixel view.
- Equipped with dual (horizontal and vertical) shutter release controls. Heavy duty construction throughout. Similar in size, weight, operation, and features to a Nikon F-100 professional class 35mm single lens reflex camera equipped with an MB-15 vertical grip.
- Lens Mount: Nikon F mount with AF coupling and AF contacts.
- Imaging sensor: 2.7 million pixel CCD, 23.7mm x 15.6mm, 12 bit per channel RGB type. The CCD cover glass is also a special infrared reduction, low-pass lithium-niobate filter designed to reduce or eliminate color shifts, aliasing, moire, and artifacting.
- Finished image size: 2000 x 1312 pixels.
- Picture Angle: 35mm format equivalent to 1.5 times the focal length of the lens. (See the "Multiplier Effect" page.)
- Shooting Modes: 1) Single frame shooting. 2) Continuous shooting, with up to 21 consecutive pictures at a maximum rate of 4.5 frames per second. 3) Self-timer single frame shooting with a 2, 5, 10, or 20 second delay.
- Shutter Speeds: 30 seconds to 1/16,000th of a second, plus 'bulb' (manually controlled time exposure).
- Flash Synch Shutter Speed: Up to 1/500th of a second.
- TTL Flash: (Through-the-Lens) flash photography exposure calculations when used with an optional DX series Nikon speedlight.
- Sensitivity: Adjustable, ISO equivalent 200, 400, 800, 1600. Custom Setting 31 adds optional +1 stop (ISO 3200) or +2 stop (ISO 6400) equivalent sensitivities.
- Image File Storage: JPEG (3 quality options, 8 bits per channel), RGB TIFF (8 bits per channel), YCbCr TIFF (8 bits per channel), or RAW (proprietary Nikon NEF format @ 12 bits per channel).
- LCD Monitor: 2" TFT type, 114,000 pixels, adjustable brightness.
- Video Out: NTSC or PAL (selectable).
- Memory Card Type: CompactFlash Type I or II Memory cards. The IBM Microdrive is widely used by D1 owners, but not officially supported by Nikon on the original D1.
- External Interface: IEEE1394 FireWire connection @ 400 Mbps transfer rate.
- Power Source: Interchangeable / Rechargeable 7.2 Volt EN-4 DC battery pack (or) AC adapter.
- Built-in Self Timer, Adjustable Exposure Compensation, Depth of Field (DOF) Preview button.
Included with the Camera Set
Included with the camera (USA camera package): NTSC video out cable (EG-D1), body cap to fit lens opening in camera body (BF-1A), snap-on opaque black LCD monitor cover , neck strap (AN-D1), one battery (EN-4), quick charger (MH-16), Nikon View DX browser software with user manual on a CD, Nikon D1 user manual - printed and on a CD.
AC adapter (EH-4), extra batteries (EN-4), DX series speedlights, ten-pin remote terminal cords and control sets, Nikon Capture software (required to process the proprietary Nikon RAW image files), optional focusing screens, and viewfinder eyepiece accessories.
The D1 has 32 custom setting options available to modify certain operating functions. They may be changed singly or in combination to suit user preferences. Some users prefer to make no changes, some make minor changes, others modify the settings heavily - (the tinkering types).
I found the following four custom settings to be very useful for everyday operation, and left my camera permanently set up with them:
- Custom Setting 1 - Option 2
The Record-and-Review mode. Displays the last picture taken on the LCD screen after it has been saved to the memory card. Works only in the single-frame and self-timer shooting modes. (Not available in the continuous shooting mode.) Extremely handy if you want to quickly and automatically review the quality of the picture just taken. Enjoy the picture and smile to yourself if you like it. Or delete the picture by pressing the "DEL" button if it's bad.
Works just like the classic shoot & review mode on the Nikon CoolPix 700, 800, 900, 950, 990, and many (most) other popular consumer grade digitals. Once you're used to it, it's hard to live without it.
- Custom Setting 21 - Option 1
The AE-L/AF-L Button locks "only" the exposure when option 1 is selected. (The default mode locks both exposure and focus.) Extremely useful for difficult lighting conditions.
- Custom Setting 29 - Option 1
Auto file numbering mode. Option 1 tells the camera to sequentially number picture files, regardless of memory card changes. No possibility of duplicate file numbers. Makes file management easy and automatic. Also acts as an odometer of sorts to keep track of the total pictures taken by the camera. Set this option and you'll never have to think about it again.Custom Setting 27 - Option 1
I also used the Histogram Option (Custom Setting 27) for the LCD display screen. In difficult lighting conditions, or high ISO shooting, it's a good idea to check the histogram on every shot. Practice and experience will pay off when using this option.
An experienced digital photographer can look at a preview picture, then look at its histogram, and make an informed analysis of the exposure. Corrections to EV (+ or -) can then be made in the camera controls, and the histogram rechecked in a follow up shot.
The histogram shows the ranges of the exposure (darker colors to the left, lighter colors to the right), and the intensity of the exposure (height of the ranges). If the general weight of the graph (left to right) is somewhat centered (as shown in the example), the overall exposure is likely to be well balanced. On the other hand, a left-skewed histogram is likely to be underexposed, and a right-skewed histogram is likely to be overexposed. And a flat looking histogram might indicate the need for additional lighting or a boost with a flash.
Toggling the histogram option on or off
I left my custom setting number at "27" on the lower control screen, and by simply holding the "CSM" (custom) button down while turning the camera's sub-command dial (the one on the front), I could easily switch back and forth between option 0 (full screen picture) and option 1 (histogram plus picture). It only takes a couple of seconds to do the switching.
I sold my D1 after 6 months and jumped ship to Canon (for a while)
I sold my original D1 because the ever present color correction was just too much of a hassle. With no fix from Nikon and no new Nikon digital SLR in sight in the near future, I bought a Canon D30. The D30 was a big color improvement over the D1, but the D30 had some color problems of its own. Yes, the D30 took some great pictures for me, but the bottom line was that I just liked the feel of the D1 better. So I sold the D30 and bought a D1H as soon as it hit the market.
The D1H seemed like a dream come true
Nikon fixed its color problems with the D1H. (Completely.)
I loved my D1H ... perfect color, 5 frames per second, a bigger buffer, and Nikon's vastly improved Capture 2 software made shooting "Raw" an absolute pleasure. Capture 2 made it a breeze to dial in virtually perfect white balance and virtually perfect exposure after the fact, so there was no more need for bracketing or time-consuming pre-shooting camera calibrations. It reminded me of supply chain management software, which made my life so much easier. And this camera did well with high ISO / low light action shots. Most consider the D1H to be the camera the original D1 should have been in the first place.
Below: D1H ISO 1600 nighttime drag racing photo. Click to enlarge, 1200 x 787 pixels, 332 KB
The D1H retained the original D1's 2.7 megapixel resolution, which meant limited cropping ability if I wanted to make a large print. (You can only stretch a reduced pixel count so far without significantly degrading the picture quality.) And at that point in my life, I was doing a lot of printing.
Seeking better large print quality, the D1X came next
After seeing some outstanding quality BIG prints from the D1X, I sold my D1H & bought a D1X. The extra resolution (double the D1 / D1H) not only made better quality large prints and gave me the ability to aggressively crop while retaining reasonably good large print quality, it made better quality standard sized (4x6) prints as well. The D1X had the same (virtually perfect) color qualities as the D1H.
Unfortunately, the D1X had one full stop less of high ISO shooting ability and the bottom fell out of the buffer and the high frames-per-second shooting rate, but I loved the big file sizes and increased detail in my large prints.
I also found that the "A" setting on my SB-28DX speedlight produced better quality flash pictures with the D1X (and the D1H) than the generally recommended D-TTL setting.
Below: D1X Flash Photo, SB-28DX Speedlight set on "A" - Click to enlarge, 1000 x 1500 pixels, 635 KB
D1, D1H & D1X battery comments
- The D1, D1H, and D1X share the same model of NiMH battery & charger.
- The battery is heavy, significantly adding to the camera's weight.
- The top of the battery has a protruding, sharp edged lip that makes it unwieldy to stick in a pants pocket or camera bag compartment.
- Battery recharging is cumbersome. Batteries require frequent refreshing with resulting long charge times (several hours). If you don't regularly refresh the batteries, the charges becomes shallow and the batteries will go dead in no time at all.
- If you plan on taking a lot of pictures, you'll need extra batteries. Extra batteries are expensive & available only at Nikon Professional dealers.
- The charger looks & works like an afterthought. Fitting the little plug at the end of the charger's cord into the recepticle in the end of the battery is somewhat of a pain. And it will only charge one battery at a time. Like the batteries, extra battery chargers are also expensive and often hard to find.