D100 - Nikon's First Small DSLR
Coming after the D1, D1H and D1X the D100 was Nikon's first small DSLR. Unlike the Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro, which literally uses the main chassis of a Nikon F80 (N80) film camera, the D100 is merely heavily inspired by it. Unfortunately taking no design cues from it's F100 namesake, the budget conscious D100's main goal was to get the price below €2000. It succeeded, but at what cost?
Nikon D100 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-S
3fps / 3 shots
30s - 1/4,000th
200 - 1,600
0.8x / 95%
1.8" / 180k / Fixed
I bought and am reviewing this old Nikon now (2023) because it was a camera that I very nearly bought back in 2002. Ultimately I chose the Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro instead, which in many ways was very similar, so I was always curious how the D100 compared for me. Most of this "review" will be talking about how the D100 fits into the history of digital photography and the rest of the time I will compare how it stacked up to its competition of the time. Although I probably will not get the Canon D60 to compare, I have reviewed the D30 already and thought that was a fantastic early digital from Canon!
The resolution, dynamic range and price of the six megapixel cameras coming out in 2002 were a massive step up in quality and value compared to the previous (first) generation of DSLRs. Digital technology quickly proved that better specified camera didn't need to be bigger. Unfortunately Canon and Nikon's lack of marketing creativity doomed us all to be stuck with this dumb dynamic for decades. This is an annoying restriction that plagues their mirrorless models to this day, but for a short time these models showed a glimmer of hope that it didn't need to be this way. Today only Sony bucks this annoying trend with full frame cameras.
With the D100 name Nikon were clearly trying to evoke thoughts of a digital F100. Unfortunately it was pretty obvious that this was based on the F80 (N80 in North America) rather than the massively respected professional model. I remember that annoying a lot of people back in 2002 and I never understood why Nikon tried to pull the wool over people's eyes in that way. There are a few parts that look straight up lifted from the F80, like the shutter button. Unlike the film camera however, this shutter button has been painted black in an attempt to make it look more like an F100, lol! On the plus side you're able to use physical cable releases here. Something that went away pretty soon on later models in favour of expensive digital connections.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF-S: 1/320th, f/1.8, iso 200
This is a much smaller camera than the D1 sereis of course, but it's much lighter because it doesn't feature a strong metal frame under the grip. People were expecting an F100 inspired design which would have been heavier and this feels rather toy-like by comparison. This is still well built and tough enough to take some knocks, but for 50% more than the cost of a Nikon F10 I can also see why people felt rather let down.
The rear LCD panel and buttons have been somewhat changed over the D1 series. You get some more digital relevant functionality here, but it has also been intentionally dumbed-down for consumers. Gone, are the dedicated white balance, iso and quality buttons. Those functions are rather awkwardly placed on the mode dial. I can see where they what they were thinking with this, but I almost would rather have them in the menu. It is true that you are less likely to change those things as often as shutter speed, but remember that this is in a time where auto ISO did not exist, let alone preference limits and shutter speed ties to focal length with offsets (damn, I just realized how complex modern cameras are).
I actually really like the F80 type metering switch surrounding the AE-L button here, but the back-button AF you get on an F100 is sadly missing here. I do appreciate how Nikon switched around the flash and exposure compensation buttons (behind the shutter) compared to the F80 at least. This is something that Fujifilm unfortunately could not do with their S2 Pro model.
Compared to the similar looking Fujifilm Finepix S2 Pro the D100 has a mostly nicer grip due it having a lot more rubber. Although the Fuji has a really nicely contoured thumb grip the all plastic and no rubber materials were just too slippery for its heavier frame, the D100 is much nicer for grip. What I really love about the D100's grip is the rubber on the front for the left hand. It had a flared design inspired from the F80, but stretches all the way to the top. This not only looked great but was really nice to hold with slightly larger lenses.
Nikkor D100 back
Using components from the F80 film camera has an adverse effect on the size of the viewfinder screen, since it's essentially masking off the APS-C area of a mediocre full frame view. This is rather disappointing, but it's an issue that plagued crop sensor cameras for years, so given the D100 was pushing the value angle as extreme as they could, I can't be too hard on it here. You do get a diopter, but probably because it's taken directly from the F80.
Although we can't compare this claimed battery life to modern standards because CIPA didn't exist back then, the battery life does seem to be pretty good. I have been getting good battery life on both twenty year old batteries so far which is really impressive. Comparing this solution to the one found in the Fuji Finepix S2 Pro is night and day difference on convenience as that camera used two different battery systems for different parts of the camera system (analogue & digital), half of it literally using the old film camera setup. The D100 using a single rechargeable battery for all operations is a much nicer experience.
Nikon would be sticking to crop CCD sensors exclusively for another five years after the D100. That meant most of the lenses wouldn't be so wide, would lose a stop of shallow depth of field and would be larger and heavier than they needed to be. On the flip side they would take advantage of the best part of the optics and digital clarity was already competing well with film by this point. It's worth noting that this would be equivalent to a 12 megapixel pixel pitch on full frame sensor, something that is still common today (Sony A7sIII, FX3, ZV-E1 etc.). You can look at this one of two ways; Either that 21 years of "progress" has slowed to a crawl in some areas, or that these cameras saw a big jump in image quality. Looking at the images now it really feels like that latter. I was expecting the images to look really quite poor and they don't. Of course this is largely driven by the lens, but that's kind of my point.
The dynamic range of the D100 is almost a stop higher than the original D1, which was a welcome change on top of more than doubling the resolution. File type options were a little improved, but the main addition of compressed RAW would unfortunately really slow the camera down. Like all other Nikon's of the period base ISO was unfortunately 200 rather than the more useful 100.
Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 AF-S: 1/640th, f/1.8, iso 200
Burst and buffer speeds feel rather pedestrian on the D100 compared to more pro models. Although burst is faster than the Fujifilm S2 Pro, the amount of images it can shoot before stalling (buffer) is a lot less. Neither camera would feel great for shooting sports however. This is something that has improved a lot over the years. Cheaper cameras are capable of shooting a lot faster and for longer due to the improvements in memory and its value.
Shutter speed being limited to 1/4000th is another element that reminds you this camera is based on F80 rather than F100 components. It's not a terrible speed if you were dealing with film, but with digital being stuck with ISO 200 fast lenses can be a pain to use in daylight and that's a real shame.
The D100's auto focus system has five points. One more reliable cross-type point in the middle, surrounded by four smaller ones at the top, left, bottom and right. The few large areas look rather comical today, but not long before this most film camera just had a single one. The speed of the D100's focus was described as being quite fast back in the day. Today it's just ok, although it would have felt better than compact digital camera many, many years later.
Not a digital F100
No Weather Sealing
Slow Compressed RAW
Poor ISO control
The D100 was another value busting, game-changing Icon DSLR from Nikon. It might not have had the sex appeal of the D1, but its value proposition pushed the popularity of Nikon's digital division to new levels. It may not have been digital F100, but on the performance front the D100 could keep up with the best of them. It was a light-weight, comfortable and reliable performer
Only the first image below was done using this technique (others samples are single shots). I like to try this with retro digital cameras to see how possible it would have been. If you're not sure what it is check out my guide and tutorial here. I started using this technique in 2009 and I don't know many people who did it before 2007. It's something that was enabled by digital cameras that has a reasonable buffer but more importantly decent software for automatically stitching images. I used Autostitch first, but I now use Microsoft ICE. It was discontinued in 2015 but it's still the best in my opinion, so I made a link for it here if you want to use it and are struggling to find the installer. Sorry Apple people, but it's Windows only.
The below image was stitched from 32 frames that I shot on the D100 in JPG mode, so as not to slow down the burst rate too much. It worked pretty well. I took it easy, but it never refused to take a photo. This represents a rough equivalent to a 40mm f/0.85. Although panoramas take a little longer to shoot with a crop sensor the great thing about this technique is that it doesn't limit the result you're capable of compared to a full frame camera.