DCRP Review: Nikon D100
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, September 12, 2002
Last Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2002

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Every few months I have the enviable task of reviewing expensive digital SLRs. The latest one here at the DCRP Labs is the Nikon D100 ($1999), which has a whopping 6.1 Megapixel CCD and every manual control you could dream of.

Like other SLR cameras, the D100 is sold without a lens. Those with an investment in Nikon lenses will be all set, but newcomers will have to fork out the cash for a lens. Nikon included a very nice 24 - 85 mm (F3.5-4.5G) lens with my review unit.

Learn more about this exciting camera in our review!

What's in the Box?

The D100 has a very good bundle (for an SLR). Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 6.1 (effective) Mpixel Nikon D100 camera body
  • EN-EL3 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • LCD cover
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 5
  • 199 page manual (printed)

I already mentioned that the D100 does not include a lens. Another important item not included is a memory card. It's up to you to pick up a CompactFlash card (Type II / Microdrives supported). Since this camera takes such huge images, a large card is recommended.

The D100 uses the EN-EL3 Li-ion rechargeable battery. This one looks an awful lot like the BP-511 used by Canon, but I don't believe that they are compatible. The EN-EL3 has a whopping 10.4 Watt/hours of power, unmatched by nearly all other digicam batteries. Nikon estimates that you can take about 370 photos per charge, based on 50% flash use (among other things).


Charger and battery

When it's time to charge the EN-EL3, you can use the included external charger. It takes about two hours to charge the battery.

Other power options include an AC adapter (model EH-5) and battery pack (MB-D100) which attaches to the bottom of the D100.

The D100 has a myriad of accessories available. They includes flashes, filters, remote shutter releases, connecting cords, and more. You name it, the D100 probably supports it.

Nikon includes NikonView 5.1, as well as a demo copy of Nikon Capture with the D100. NikonView is a general photo downloading/organizing tool included with all of Nikon's cameras. Nikon Capture, which will cost you $100 after the demo expires, gives you control of the D100 from your computer as well as batch processing capability.

The manual included with the camera is pretty good, especially considering the complexity of this camera. It's not going to win any awards, but it will get you started in using the D100.

Look and Feel

The D100 has as traditionally-styled SLR body, just like your 35mm film camera. It's exceptionally easy to hold, with plenty of room for both hands. It's built very well -- maybe not as well as Nikon's D1X, but it's still very solid. It's not the lightest camera around, and it won't fit in any pockets -- but you already knew that.

The official dimensions of the D100 (sans lens) are 5.7 x 4.6 x 3.2 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 700 grams (25 ounces) without memory card, battery, or lens.

Let us begin our tour of the D100, starting with the front of the camera.

And here we are. I've taken off the lens since you won't be getting one with the D100 (unless you get a bundle). The D100 is compatible with nearly all AF Nikkor lenses. Nikon has a list in the manual of non-compatible lenses. They encourage you to use D or G-series CPU lenses. If you have a non-CPU lens, you can only use it in manual exposure mode.

The little button to the left of the lens mount is the depth-of-field preview. On the opposite side, you can see the lens release as well as the focus dial (manual, single, continuous focus).

Straight above the lens mount is the D100's pop-up flash. Flash distance depends on ISO and aperture. At ISO 200, the working range is 2.0 - 8.5 m. You can also use an external flash -- more on that in a second.

Below and left of the flash is the autofocus illuminator, which doubles (triples?) as the redeye reduction and self-timer lamps.

To the left of that, you can catch a glimpse of the sub-command dial (as Nikon calls it), which is used for adjusting settings in manual mode.

Here now is the back of the camera, which is totally covered in buttons and switches.

The D100 has a 1.8" LCD display, which is (sadly) larger than on most of Nikon's other cameras. In case you're new to digital SLRs, you can not preview images on the LCD before they are taken, like on a regular digicam. It's only for reviewing photos and using the menus. The LCD is bright and easy to see, and Nikon includes a plastic cover to protect it from the elements, as you can see.

Straight above the LCD is the huge optical viewfinder. It covers 95% of the frame. A diopter correction slider will help bring things into focus if your vision isn't perfect. Just below the window in the viewfinder is a line of exposure data, like shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, shots remaining, etc.

Now it's time to cover all those buttons. I will start with the five buttons directly to the left of the LCD:

  • Playback mode
  • Menu
  • Thumbnail mode (in playback)
  • Protect image
  • Enter (for menus) / Zoom (in playback)

There are two buttons above those:

  • Bracketing (exposure + flash, exposure, flash, or white balance)
  • Flash exposure compensation (-3.0EV to +1.0EV in 1/3EV increments)

On the other side of the LCD are more buttons. They include the four-way switch (for menus and focus-area selection), a lock to disable the four-way switch, and the delete photo button.

Above that is the metering dial, with the AE/AF lock button in the middle. Your metering choices are ten-segment matrix, center-weighted, and spot. You can customize the AE/AF lock button as well (more on that later).

To the right of that is the main command dial. LIke the sub-command dial, it's used for changing things like aperture and shutter speed.

Finally, below that is the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type II slot, so your Microdrive will work just fine.

Finally, we move onto the top of the camera. Up here you'll find more buttons, the mode wheel, hot shoe, and LCD info display. I will start on the left side.

The mode wheel includes four shooting modes as well as four important settings. It's nice because it means less "hold down the button and turn a dial" like on the D1X.

The choices on the mode wheel include:

  • Program Mode - camera picks best exposure settings. There is also a flexible program mode which lets you pick from a few other combinations of shutter speed and aperture.

  • Shutter Priority Mode - you choose shutter speed, camera picks appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 sec - 1/4000 sec.

  • Aperture Priority Mode - you choose aperture, camera picks shutter speed. The aperture values will depend on what lens you are using.

  • Manual Mode - you choose aperture and shutter speed. This enables bulb mode, which will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed, for up to 5 minutes (!). This pretty much requires a remote shutter release cable and a tripod.

  • ISO (200 - 1600 in 1/3EV increments; HI-1 and HI-2 are equivalent to 3200 and 6400, respectively).

  • White Balance (Auto, incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset) - not surprisingly, lots of white balance modes, including full manual mode. You can also fine tune white balance ±3 in all WB modes except auto and preset.

  • Quality (NEF RAW, TIFF-RGB, JPEG Fine, JPEG Normal, JPEG Basic) - more on these later

  • AF-Area Mode (Single, dynamic area)

Below the mode wheel is the "drive" switch. The choices are single-shot, continuous shooting, or self-timer. In continuous shooting mode, you can take up to 6 shots (4 in RAW mode) at 3 frames/second.

To the right of the mode wheel is the D100's hot shoe. The D100 supports most Nikon Speedlights, and if you have an 80DX, 50DX, or 28X, you can use D-TTL flash control as well. Non-Nikon flashes will work, though the manual tries to discourage you from trying. Unlike the high end Coolpixes, the D100 supports all of the features of the Speedlight, such as the zoom head.

The D100's LCD info display, located to the right of the hot shoe, is filled with all kinds of settings. I won't go into them here -- that's what the manual is for. It is backlit, by pressing the light button right next to it. I should add that the backlight button combined with the bracketing button will let you format the CF card.

Above the info display, you'll find the flash sync and exposure compensation controls. The flash sync choices include front-curtain, rear-curtain, slow sync, red-eye reduction w/ slow-sync, and redeye reduction. The exposure compensation has a much larger range than I'm used to. It's -5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments.

The final items on the top of the camera include the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.

Not much to see here. That switch you see is on the lens, not the camera body.

There is a rubber cover though, and underneath it you'll find quite a few I/O ports. Let's take a look.

The ports shown here include DC in (for optional AC adapter), video out, and USB. Unlike the more expensive D-SLRs, the D100 (like the Canon D60) uses USB rather than FireWire for connecting to your computer.

Nothing to mention on this site of the camera.

Finally, here is the bottom of the D100. You can see the metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and the the EN-EL3 battery.

Using the Nikon D100

Record Mode

The D100 starts up about as close to instant as possible. Since there's no lens to extend, the camera just needs to read the CF card and it's ready to go. When you depress the shutter release button halfway, the D100 locks the focus very quickly. This will depend on what lens you're using, by the way. As you might expect, fully pressing the shutter release results in a picture without delay.

Also not surprising is the shot-to-shot speed on the D100. You can shoot as fast as you can compose. Even in RAW or TIFF mode, the camera is ready to take another shot before you know it. The one exception to this is compressed NEF mode, which will take forever to write (nearly 40 seconds!), but you can still take pictures while you are waiting.

The D100 has a number of image quality choices. Here's what they are, and how many you can fit on an average sized (96MB) memory card.

Image Quality File format Image size Approx. file size # of images on 96MB card (not included)
NEF (RAW) NEF, uncompressed 3008 x 2000 9.4MB 9
Compressed NEF 50-60% of above N/A
RGB-TIFF TIFF   Large
3008 x 2000
17.3MB 5
Medium
2240 x 1488
9.5MB 9
Small
1540 x 1000
4.3MB 20
JPEG Fine JPEG (1:4) Large
3008 x 2000
2.9MB 28
Medium
2240 x 1488
1.6MB 50
Small
1540 x 1000
770KB 106
JPEG Normal JPEG (1:8) Large
3008 x 2000
1.5MB 55
Medium
2240 x 1488
850KB 97
Small
1540 x 1000
410KB 198
JPEG Basic JPEG (1:16) Large
3008 x 2000
770KB 106
Medium
2240 x 1488
440KB 181
Small
1540 x 1000
220KB 349

That chart is pretty confusing, but hopefully you can tell that there are many, many choices for image size and quality! The RAW (NEF) format contains RAW, unprocessed data from the CCD that take up even less space than TIFFs. You must use NikonView or Nikon Capture to process this data into a more common image format.

The D100's menus are very similar to those found on the D1X. They aren't as complex as you'd think, considering the camera. There are menus for playback, shooting, and setup. There is also a custom settings menu where you can really get down and dirty. Let's take a look, beginning with the Shooting Menu.

  • Bank Select (A, B) - stores two different sets of camera settings
  • Image Quality (NEF-RAW, TIFF-RGB, JPEG Fine, JPEG Normal, JPEG Basic)
  • Resolution (Large, medium, small)
  • White Balance - choices described earlier in review
  • ISO - described earlier
  • Image sharpening (Auto, normal, low, high, none) - more on this later
  • Tone compensation (Auto, normal, less contrast, more contrast, custom) - in custom mode, you can import a tone curve you created in Nikon Capture
  • Color mode (sRGB, Adobe RGB, sRGB) - the first sRGB is for portraits, the second is for nature or landscape shots
  • Hue adjustment (-9° to +9° in 3° increments) - lowering the hue makes an image more blue, while raising it makes it more red

OK, that was the easy one, here comes the Custom Menu. Here's where you can really tweak the D100:

0. Bank Select (A, B) - you can have two sets of custom settings
1. Image review (on/off) - whether image is shown on LCD after it is taken
2. No CF card? (on/off) - sets if you can still release the shutter w/o a CF card inserted
3. ISO Auto (on/off) - when turned on, ISO will go up to properly exposure picture
4. Long exposure NR (on/off) - turns on noise reduction feature for shots slower than 1/2 sec
5. File number sequencing (off, on, reset) - file numbering system
6. Monitor off delay (10, 20 sec, 1, 5, 10 min) - how long before the monitor turns off when not in use
7. Auto meter-off display (4, 6, 8, 16 sec, 30 min) - how long camera measures exposure while it is idle
8. Self-timer delay (2, 5, 10, 20 sec) - how long of a delay with self-timer
9. EV steps for exposure control (1/3, 1/2 step) - change the increments for exposure options
10. Exposure compensation (± & CMD dial, CMD dial only) - how you change exposure compensation
11. AE/Flash bracketing (AE & flash, AE only, Flash only, WB bracketing) - what exposure settings change during auto bracketing)
12. Bracketing order (MTR>Under>Over, Under>MTR>Over)
13. Assign command dial - choose which dial is primary
14. AE-L/AF-L button (AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AF lock only, AE lock hold, AF-On) - define how this button locks exposure; When AF-On is used, the shutter release button will not focus the camera
15. AE Lock (AE-L/AF-L button, + shutter button) - whether exposure will lock when the shutter release is pressed halfway
16. LCD illumination (lamp on switch, any button) - what turns on the LCD backlights
17. Focus Area Select (no wrap, wrap) - whether the focus areas "wrap around"
18. AF Area Illumination (Auto, off, on) - whether or not the active focus area is highlighted in red in the viewfinder
19. Grid Display (on/off) - turns on grid lines in optical viewfinder
20. Dynamic AF, single-servo (closest subject, select AF area) - whether the camera focuses on the closest subject in the mentioned mode
21. Dynamic AF, continuous-servo (select AF area, closest subject) - same as above
22. AF Assist (on/off) - turns AF illuminator on/off

23. Flash mode (D-TTL auto flash, manual flash) - you'd use the latter if you had a slave flash setup
24. Anti-mirror-shock mode (on/off) - when on, the camera will wait a few moments after the mirror is raised before taking the picture. Helps eliminate blurring from the mirror movement.

Is that enough for you? It is for me! If you are wondering why I numbered each of those, it's because Nikon does too - and that's how they are referred to in the manual.

Let's talk about the picture quality now!

One thing that really impressed me was the D100's ability to take shots at high ISO, with very little noise! And I have a real world example too. I love taking fireworks pictures, and I had the D100 with me at Disneyland back in August. I was able to take good quality fireworks pictures without a tripod, by using high ISO settings. Here's an example:

Taking pictures like this without a tripod isn't advised. But believe me, getting a tripod into Disneyland on a summer night is not easy. You can see more of these fireworks including the full-size pictures on this page on my personal site.

My night test shot looks pretty good at the size you see above, but when you blow it up, it's actually very soft (an issue with the D100, as I'll explain below). The noise levels are very low, thanks to Nikon's noise reduction system.

The D100 did an excellent job with our 3" tall macro subject. The colors are very good, though again, the image is softer than I'd like. The minimum distance to the subject depends on what lens you are using.

Thanks to the placement of the flash away from the lens, and a good redeye reduction system, the D100 produces a redeye-free test shot, as you can see above. You can see a small reflection of the flash but there's no red to be found!

The D100 produces images with stunning resolution and very accurate color. It's one of the best out there, without a doubt. There were two things about it that really bugged me. The first was that images were consistently underexposed by about two stops. When I spent a full day at Disneyland with the D100, I kept the exposure compensation at +0.7EV and got good results. At normal exposure settings, photos were always too dark.

Another issue that has been talked about elsewhere is the low levels of sharpening used at the "Auto" setting. What's even stranger is that the amount of sharpening applied also depends on whether you're using RAW or JPEG for the file format. Have a look:


RAW mode (converted to JPEG)

JPEG mode

Images saved in RAW mode (and later converted to JPEG) are sharper than images saved as JPEGs. Both of the samples above were taken with sharpening set to "auto".

Here's a crop of our macro subject at each of the sharpening settings so you can get a better idea of what's going on:


Auto sharpening


Low sharpening


Normal sharpening


High sharpening


No sharpening

I think it should be pretty easy to see the differences there. There are many people out there who don't like the camera to over-sharpen images -- after all, that's what Photoshop is for. But I feel that at the auto setting, in the JPEG format, images are way too soft.

The best way to judge the image quality is to view and print samples yourself. You'll find tons of pictures in our standard and Disneyland galleries.

Movie Mode

The D100 does not include a movie mode.

Playback Mode

The D100's playback mode is pretty good. The usual features such as slide shows, image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode are all here.

The zoom and scroll feature is activated by the Enter button. You can scroll around the image to check focus.

The camera moves very quickly through the images on the LCD, which is impressive considering their size. You use the up and down parts of the 4-way switch to navigate through the photos on the memory card.

Not the greatest screen shots, but you get the idea. Note that I didn't show all of the info displays above.

Moving the four-way switch to the right shows increasing amounts of information about your photos. You can find out just about everything, and there's a histogram too. You can also see the highlights (bright areas) of your image if you turn that option on via the playback menu.

Another nice feature is the ability to delete a group of photos -- instead of just one or all of them.

How Does it Compare?

Like all of the D-SLR's I've tested (which isn't very many), the Nikon D100 is a superb camera that does whatever you ask of it. Resolution and color is excellent, performance is amazing, and it has nearly every manual control you could dream of. On the downside, it consistently under-exposed images by a stop or two, and images are very soft in the Auto sharpening setting in JPEG format. If you're hung up between the D100, Canon D60, and Fuji S2 Pro, the first thing to consider is which lenses you already own. The S2 Pro is a Nikon body and therefore takes Nikon lenses. If you're new, I really suggest trying them in person, as they all offer excellent performance. Pick the one that you like best -- you really can't go wrong.

What I liked:

  • SLR-style camera body
  • Very good photo quality
  • Great shot-to-shot, focus, shutter lag speeds
  • Very low noise, even at high ISOs
  • Every manual control ever conceived
  • CompactFlash Type II slot -- Microdrive works great
  • Handy backlit LCD info display
  • Can use existing Nikon lenses and Speedlights
  • Cheapest D-SLR at the moment

What I didn't care for:

  • It's still expensive, especially once you start buying lenses
  • Images soft at JPEG, auto sharpening setting
  • Underexposed most of my images at 0.0EV
  • Not easy to learn (but easier than D1X)
  • USB rather than FireWire
  • Nikon Capture should be free with this $2000 camera!

I already mentioned the competition: the Canon EOS-D60 and Fuji FinePix S2 Pro. I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the D100 and it's competitors before you buy! Note that you'll need to go to a real camera store to find these (not Best Buy).

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the samples in our standard and Disneyland galleries!

Want a few more opinions?

Get second, third, and fourth opinions from DP Review, Steve's Digicams, and Imaging Resource.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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