The Nikon D100 was released in 2001, back when digital photography was still in it’s nascent stages and film was still reigning. The professional grade D1, D1X and D1H have already been released on the Nikon roster alongside the Nikon F5 (film pro grade body).
According to DPRreview, the D100 started a new camera segment in the under $2000 USD range, and was potentially a game changer as it made enthusiast grade DSLRs even more approachable for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Now, in 2021, 20 years after it’s entry into the market, I would like to revisit it to see how the camera has aged over the years. Coming on the back of a Nikon Z6 (my primary camera), I am under no illusion that the D100 can compete, but it would be an interesting look to see how the digital photographer technology has progressed over the years and see what has changed.
One thing that has made improvements over the years is definitely grip design. When I first held the D100, I noticed that the grip felt distinctly different from what I was used to. It wasn’t as rounded as the D3 and not as good a fit as the D750. However, I would say that the grip still allowed me to carry the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 with no major issues.
One piece of technology that did not change for about 17 years (until the Z6) was the top plate LCD. Seems like the same type of LCD panel was used to display shooting information all the way until the OLED was used in the Z6 mirrorless bodies.
On the other hand, as we only need to see the essential shooting information, the fact that it’s there at all was already very good for my shooting experience.
One thing that struck me, as in REALLY hit me, was the size of the LCD. Being used to modern smartphones and tablets with their humongous, high resolution screens really made the viewing experience of the LCD on the D100 a chore. It was very hard to verify focus with the small, 1.8 inch screen when I’m trying to zoom in, and the dynamic range of the screen is so poor that I can’t be sure that I have exposed the shot properly.
Still, looking at it from the 2001 perspective, it definitely one ups film cameras in that you can at least verify the rough exposure and composition of the picture you took as compared to a film camera.
When I opened the menus for the first time, I was speechless. This odd sense of nostalgia hit me as I was transported momentarily back to the early days of Windows 98 and Windows 2000, playing my Nintendo Gameboy and watching TV on those fat cathode ray TVs.
The menus have gone through a huge change over the years, with UI/UX improving leaps and bounds. Still, the simple/spartan menus made it easy to navigate camera functions.
Throughout the years, Nikon has had a bad habit of moving the button layout from generation to generation. Imagine my chagrin, then at having to relearn the button presses for quite a few functions.
Firstly, the image review button is not a “play” arrow, but rather that monitor like display button at the top left of the camera. To magnify the image during review, you have to first press enter at the bottom to select the image, then press the middle button in conjunction with the rear dial in order to punch in.
Wayyy too many button presses in my opinion, I’m so glad they improved on this in their next iteration of the 3 digit DSLRs.
This was the era of small CF cards, and back then, using digital storage was already a big deal, let alone dual card slots. The card slot door is locked by a catch on the side, simply pull open the door, no button presses required. Removing the card requires the small rectangular button to be pressed, however.
Sensor/ Image quality
Time has not been kind to sensor tech. A sensor from 20 years ago can barely keep up even with smartphone cameras, especially those from high end phones such as iPhone Maxes and the Samsung S20s.
With a decent prime lens like the Nikon AF-S 50mm 1.4G, one can still get some pretty good pictures that are sufficient for small prints and smartphone screens.
Informal image quality tests
I took a few shots in night with the camera locked off on a tripod. All images were shot at f/4 on a Nikon AF-S 50mm 1.4G for better lens sharpness.
At base ISO, if you pixel peep, you can already see luminance noise/ grainyness. However, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The image is definitely useable at base ISO.
Excuse the ghosting. ISO 1600 is noisy but I would say is useable in very low requirement scenarios like viewing on a small screen or for small prints.
Banding in the shadows and color noise appearing as well. Modern cameras have no problem handling ISO3200 but this is 2001 tech after all.
Severe banding in the shadows as well as color noise everywhere, basically, H2 is for emergencies when you just need the shot regardless of the image quality.
I was able to get detail from the shadow areas of the image by pushing the shadow slider in Lightroom CC to about +66. I could also recover some highlight detail from the sky by lowering the highlight slider to about -15. The image was shot at base ISO of 200. Not a bad performance from a 20 year old camera, for sure. However, modern sensors, especially the Sony made 24 MP ones, will blow this out of the water.
The shot of the collared kingfisher is uncropped, but to be honest, at 6MP, there wasn’t much room for cropping anyway. I’m using a 28 inch 4k monitor and the image barely fills up the entire display. Nevertheless, I personally found the quality of the image acceptable, despite the lack of resolution.
The D100 uses one of the first generations of AF systems developed by Nikon. The 5 point AF system worked well for it’s time, with decent single AF speed and could even track moving subjects in relatively simple scenarios.
I was able to track a bird in flight using the 5 point autofocus system. Granted, it was taken against a cloudless sky with extremely high contrast, so I wouldn’t say that the AF system was pushed here to any extent. Nevertheless, while we have been spoilt silly by the newest AF systems with more than 200 AF points, the 5 point system here worked to get the pigeon in focus.
Single point speed
I was able to grab a shot of the pigeon flying in over the water using single focus. I was using the centre point of the system but the speed was still good enough for me to get the pigeon sharp. Any blur was due to motion blur as I did not prepare for the pigeon to suddenly swoop in and was using a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/400s.
Nothing to see here, you can take “videos” by building a time lapse from the photos shot on the D100, that’s all 😉
This has not been a traditional review.
No one in their right mind would recommend someone to buy a 20 year old camera to shoot professionally. In many cases, even your smartphone may be better than what the D100 can offer in terms of image quality.
Still, this has been an interesting look at how technology has progressed in the digital photography realm. I definitely thankful to be loaned this unit by a friend who collects old cameras and keeps them in working condition. I’ll be looking at it’s next iteration, the Nikon D200 in the next review. if you’ve enjoyed this blast from the past look at old cameras, keep a look out for the next review.
Until next time.
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Very helpful and focused on reality, your article, at least for me, is one of the best of its kind.
One in excellent condition Nikon D100, as seen from the photos, is on the way to me. Hopefully I’ll come across all that you describe (or maybe more).
HI Nikos, thanks for your comment! I hope you enjoy your D100 once it’s in your hands 🙂 The good thing is that batteries can be used from D100 to the D300s, so you should have an easy time getting them.
Your review was very fair though didn’t really take into account how futuristic the camera felt to new users 20 years ago. This was a breed of photographer that could guess exposures very accurately and always focussed very carefully for key shots. It’s all too easy for today’s beginners – the huge benefit being the can concentrate more on composition than tech details like exposure, focus and white balance – I used to carry eight colored filters with me on every outing!
I still use a D100, my 3rd in over 20 years and feel I know every pro and con of this little gem. Of course it is light years behind the D850 or Z series which I will probably never experience. My most modern camera is a Sony NEX 7 but it’s too small for me and just awkward to use. The D100 is a perfect fit in my hands and never fails to please. Enjoyed your 20 years after review!