With all of the noise about new mirrorless cameras and all the benefits they bring to the digital photography table, it’s time to take a moment to recognize a pioneer whose 20th birthday just quietly passed: the Nikon D1.
The Nikon D1 was announced in June 1999, and while its specs sound underwhelming today (a 2.74 MP APS-C CCD sensor and a maximum ISO of 1,600 that you probably wouldn’t want to go near at all), at the time, it was revolutionary. It wasn’t a hacked Kodak/Nikon digital-grafted-onto-film affair, it was a ground-up digital effort, not unlike the Canon D30 of the time as well.
Photographer and industry analyst Thom Hogan points out that the D1 marked Nikon’s attempt to capture the professional market in the digital space, while Canon went downmarket with the D30. The D1 did bring some crazy technology (for the day) into the body - for instance, it was actually a 10.4 MP sensor that the company had pixel-binned to a lower resolution. A 10.4 MP sensor in the early 2000s would have been a talking point, for sure, and it’s interesting that Nikon didn’t choose to go this route with the then $5,500 D1.
My professional career started with the successor to the D1, the 4.1 MP D2H, and I still have a working one today. Whenever I pull it off the shelf to have a go, I can’t believe how even the lowliest Canon Rebel can outshoot this camera that was once a beast for photojournalism. That said, technique always trumps gear. Here’s a shot I got out of one of my first shoots with a D2H.
It was hard enough to get anything with a really noisy ISO 800 and an ancient autofocus system like that of the D2H; I can only imagine what shooting with the even older D1 must have been like. Still, it would have been hard to picture how far technology would advance in the years to come at the time.
Have you shot with the D1? What was your experience with this historic camera?