Nikon D1 - The World's First Real DSLR


This 2.7mp, 21 year old beast arrived in the post yesterday. This was not only Nikon's first, but the worlds first purpose built DSLR. Compared to Kodak's Franken-cameras of the era; the D1 was much neater, arguably superior and a bargain at £5000 ($6000 USD). I wasn't even into Nikon at the time, but I really wanted a D1, despite it being far beyond the reach of my lowly student budget.


The D1 with Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D AF lens and original Nikon branded memory card

My inner Nikon fan boy emerged after I picked up a used D2H in 2005. I always wanted to go back and get this classic camera. I didn't think it would take 15 years, but now that I have one I am very happy indeed!


Most features of the D1 were great at the time, have obviously aged, but are still not as bad today as you might think. However, there are two features that still don't exist in most cameras today. The maximum shutter speed and flash sync. These are still double what's on offer in the D6 for example. Here are the main specs:

  • Resolution:

  • Sensor:

  • Shutter:

  • Flash Sync:

  • AF System:

  • AF Points:

  • Sensitivity:

  • Burst:

  • LCD:

  • Memory:

  • Data Cable:

  • Battery:

  • Weight:

2.7mp (2000 x 1312)

23.7 x 15.6mm CCD

30 sec - 1/16,000th

Up to 1/500th

Multi-Cam 1300

5 (1 cross type)

200, 400, 800, 1600

4.5fps (up to 21 shots)

2" 120,000 dot

CF type I/II (2GB max)

Firewire 400

EN-4 (ni-mh,  7v DV)


Buying Used 

If you would like to buy a Nikon D1 yourself there are a few things to look out for. Unless you are lucky enough to find a new/old stock (BNIB) mint condition D1 it's likely going to have some wear. The D1 was mostly used by professional journalists and often treated like the tanks that they were. Thus it is quite difficult to find them in good condition these days. Common parts that are missing in second hand D1's are:

  • The DK-14 eye piece

  • Rear LCD screen cover - original was opaque, but there is a transparent version ("Nikon BM-1" I think)

  • 10-pin remote port cover

  • Sync terminal cover

The latter two are generic and easy to find, but the first two are difficult to source. The D1 from this article was apparently bought new, in 1999 by an amateur, carefully used for a year and then left in storage until late last year. The owner then bought a new battery for it and decided to sell it on. This is probably the best scenario to buy this camera, whether you want to use or collect it.


The original Ni-Mh cells didn't hold a charge or last very well (especially if unused for a while), so the original battery for this camera died a long time ago. The new batteries for the D1 (and D1H / D1X) are much better and luckily fairly easy to find. However they usually cost more than the camera itself, so factor that in if you want to use the camera. The charger is also expensive to buy now, so if try to get that with the camera if you can.

Files, Memory & Cable

Provided your D1 is working the next thing to consider is how to get your images off of it. Compact Flash (CF) cards are still in use today, but the D1 can only accept up to 2GB, so if you don't have something already laying around you'll need to shop second hand. I no longer had a CF reader, so I decided to buy a new multi-format one. I needed a USB-C reader anyway. If you don't want to do that there are other options. You can buy CF to SD card adapters for about £15, although you will still have to stick to the 2GB limit. Alternatively you could connect the D1 to your computer via its data cable. The connection type for the D1 is a Firewire 400. That was a problem for me that I was unprepared to resolve, since I don't have any Firewire cables or ports in any of my machines.

A 2GB card will give you plenty of storage for the D1 (about 500 RAW), but if you're stuck with a 16Mb card (shown above) it's not so great. This will only hold 4 RAW files (or 16 in fine quality jpg). 16Gb is a rather obscure amount of space in 2020 as currently you can get 62,500 times as much space in a card that's smaller than your fingernail (Micro SD).

Timeless Design

It's amazing to look at this design now and see how little has changed in the pro models since. All the way up to the, currently unreleased, D6 (likely Nikon's last pro DSLR) there are many design cues that remain only slightly modified. Much of this can be attributed to the styling of Nikon's last real pro film camera however - the Nikon F5 (1996). Whether this is because pro photographers are don't like change, or that Nikon just got things so right from an early stage, is up to you. I can't use large cameras like this daily, but I do love the design.


Info taken from Wikipedia

Post D1 Film Cameras

You might assume that Nikon was done with film cameras by the time of the D1, but this was not the case. It wasn't until five years later, when Nikon released the F6 (their last pro film camera), that they were truly done with analogue. Although the F6 was only really pro by name rather than function, since it lacked the vertical grip and removable prism (standards of pro cameras of the time). Professional photographers had moved on to digital by then. It may have been more aimed at amateurs with deep pockets, but it was a film camera none the less and a very good one at that.



Perhaps another Nikon swan-song for film came post D1. The FM3A (review here) came out in 2001. With its 1970's styling (following on from the FM) it's easy to overlook this camera as just another retro design. However this is the worlds only fully functional mechanical / electronic hybrid shutter mechanism. A vertical plane shutter, topping out at 1/4000th is mighty impressive! Like the F6, the FM3A commands a high price on the used market today.

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