|This Nikon Digital
Fills a Big Gap
by Stephen H. Wildstrom
a friend about this article
|THIS NIKON DIGITAL FILLS A BIG GAP
The $2,000 D100 has the quality and flexibility of a serious 35mm that
until recently were found only on far pricier digital cameras.
As the digital photography
revolution has rolled on, serious amateur photographers have
largely missed out. Lots of capable digital cameras are available
in the $1,000 price range, but they lack features that serious
photographers consider critical, such as a true through-the-lens
optical viewfinder and, above all, interchangeable lenses. And
while professional single-lens-reflex digital cameras can do
just about anything, their $5,000-and-up price tags put them
out of reach for all but the most dedicated and well-heeled
Now, a new breed of digital SLRs -- complete with interchangeable lenses
--is coming on the market with features and prices that make
them attractive to serious hobbyists, products such as the
Canon Eos D60 and the FujiFilm FinePix S2. One of the most
appealing is the Nikon D100, a worthy digital heir to the
legendary Nikon F series of 35mm film cameras.
$2,000 without a lens or even a memory card, the D100 is hardly
a casual purchase. Weighing over a pound without lens and
considerably bulky, it's not a camera you can stuff in your
pocket. You're going to take it with you only when you mean
to do serious picture-taking. The payoff is a digital camera
that can replace film cameras in all but the most exacting
BIGGER IS BETTER. One reason that affordable interchangeable-lens cameras have been so
slow to come to market is the technology and economics of
the charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor, a semiconductor used
to capture the digital image. Even the 4-megapixel sensors
widely used in better digital cameras are tiny. I'll spare
you an optics lesson, but the bottom line is that on most
digital cameras, the equivalent of a 50mm "normal" lens on
a 35mm film camera has a focal length of just 10mm to 12mm.
So, lenses designed for film cameras are effectively unusable
on digital cameras with these very small CCDs.
D100 gets around this limitation because its 6.1 megapixel
sensor is much bigger, about two-thirds the size of a 35mm
film frame. Lenses built for 35mm Nikons, therefore, can be
used on the D100, although they won't behave quite the same
as they do on a film camera. A 90mm short telephoto lens gives
about the same coverage on a D100 as a 135mm lens on a 35mm
correspondence is close enough to be workable with some minor
mental adjustments by the photographer, and the buyer of a
D100 who already owns a collection of Nikon lenses will be
able to use them on the D100 body. (Only the newer lenses
designed for autofocus and autoexposure will work in automatic
mode on the D100, but everything can also be done manually.)
READ THE MANUAL. The D100 offers a CompactFlash slot for memory, allowing the use of
either flash memory cards or an IBM Microdrive mini hard drive.
A 1-GB Microdrive costs less than $400. When you consider
that the storage is equivalent to nearly 10 rolls of 36-exposure
film at the normal storage setting and that the Microdrive
can be reused as often as you like, it sounds like a bargain.
D100 can also be set to emulate films with ISO speed ratings
of 200 to 1600. Electronic noise causes image quality to degrade
with faster settings, the digital equivalent of graininess
in high-speed film.
my experience, even the simplest Nikon digitals require a
thorough study of the manual to take maximum advantage of
all features. The D100, with its profusion of buttons, wheels,
and switches to control its many functions is certainly no
exception. The beauty of it, though, is that anyone familiar
with the basic operation of a 35mm SLR camera should be able
to pick up the D100 and start taking good pictures.
point-and-shoot cameras will always dominate the market. But
the appearance of more capable cameras that close the gap
between limited consumer products and much more expensive
professional gear is welcome news for hobbyists. And while
the D100 is intended primarily for advanced amateurs, I wouldn't
be a bit surprised to see plenty of pros with these digital
Nikons hanging around their necks.
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