It Was 20 Years Ago Today

NIKON D1 (185mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO200)

In January 2002 I bought a second hand Nikon D1 and finally fully switched to digital photography. My last rolls of Fuji Velvia expired.

Finally I could shoot as much as I wanted without worrying about the cost. I always envied video shooters because the could use the same tape over and over again. Now I finally could take as many images as I wanted and that really improved my photography.

NIKON D1 (35mm, f/5.6, 1/160 sec, ISO400)
NIKON D1 (35mm, f/8, 1/45 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (116mm, f/11, 1/350 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (250mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO400)
NIKON D1 (230mm, f/5.3, 1/100 sec, ISO800)
NIKON D1 (400mm, f/9.5, 1/200 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/350 sec, ISO200)

The Nikon D1 was Nikons first professional digital camera. Back then professionals shot DSLRs from Kodak. Remember Kodak? Kodak just converted Canon and Nikon cameras to digital. Those first digital DSLRs looked really ugly and their price was extremely high.

The Nikon D1 was the first DSLR that was designed from scratch. A fully integrated digital camera with an integrated battery grip that felt like a tank. And its price was about half of what Kodak charged its customers. Well Kodak does no longer exist and it took the big rival Canon almost 3 years until they finally came out with their first DSLR. So back then Nikon was way ahead of everyone. The Nikon D1 was a true game changer.

Today its specs may sound strange but back then it was amazing and for someone used to shoot Velvia film with a real sensitivity of 40ASA a camera with a base ISO of 200 that could be shoot at ISO 800 or if you are really adventurous even at ISO 1.600 was something truly special.

NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/350 sec, ISO400)
NIKON D1 (420mm, f/4, 1/500 sec, ISO400)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (280mm, f/11, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (230mm, f/11, 1/320 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (420mm, f/6.7, 1/1600 sec, ISO200)

At first I used my existing lenses but soon found out that my great Nikkor 20-35/2.8 wasn’t that great on the D1. Piece by piece I replaced my older lenses with newer versions but the biggest investment was the Nikkor AF-S 2.8/300 ED. I bought this lens second hand to replace my 80-400VR and it completely changed my photography. At that time I was into bird photography and the 300mm lens combined with the 1,4TC and later also the 1,7TC improved my bird pictures dramatically. The fast aperture allowed for subject isolation and to use lower ISO which was very important in the early days of digital photography.┬áToday to shoot at high ISO settings is not a big deal but for subject isolation alone I would still prefer to shoot with a fast tele lens instead of a zoom.

But beside this fantastic lens the biggest advantage of shooting digital was that I could shoot without worrying about film cost. So I took images in challenging conditions when the chance of success was low. That way I took some of my favourite images like the one below where the little bird tries to get shelter from a snow storm.

NIKON D1 (420mm, f/4, 1/250 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (185mm, f/4, 1/160 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/180 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (300mm, f/2.8, 1/500 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (420mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (200mm, f/4, 1/90 sec, ISO800)

Most of my bird- or close up pictures I focused manually but the Nikon D1 was a professional camera so even though its AF is very basic compared to todays standard the camera was able to focus fast. It had no problem to keep up with the sleigh race.

Sometimes I feel the urge to get a second hand Nikon D3 for action photography just because it is such a joy to shoot with a professional DSLR. Nowadays those professional DSLRs can be had for very little money and they would increase the success rate of action shots of your kids dramatically. My Fuji X-Pro3 has a vastly improved AF compared to the X-Pro1 that I used to shoot 10 years ago but it is still no match for a professional DSLR. So if you are not happy with the high amount of out of focus shots of your kids at play get a second hand D3 or similar. Problem solved!

NIKON D1 (70mm, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (70mm, f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (170mm, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (200mm, f/8, 1/2500 sec, ISO200)
NIKON D1 (102mm, f/11, 1/100 sec, ISO200)

But the vast majority of my images are not action shots. Today I’m into travel-, landscape- and portrait-photography. Every camera can do that. I also don’t think that super high resolution is a must but I think today a camera should have at least a 20MP sensor.

I really loved the handling of the Nikon D1 and I’m glad that I changed to digital photography in Januar 2002 because I started to shoot so much more beside my vacations and had a wonderful time in nature. I also love that I have digital images of that time in my Lightroom library that I can easily access compared to all the slides that just sit somewhere in a closet. But of course I would like that those images would have a higher resolution. 2,7MP is a little tricky if you want to use them in a photo book.

The Nikon D1 was a real game changer and a fantastic camera to shoot with at that time but I guess today we are a little spoiled. Here are some key specs of the Nikon D1 and my Fuji X-Pro3 just for fun:

Nikon D1:

  • 2,7MP
  • ISO 200 – 1600
  • 4 AF points to select in the middle of the frame
  • 4,5 frame per second

Fuji X-Pro3:

  • 26MP
  • ISO160 – 51.200
  • hundreds of AF points that cover the whole frame plus eye AF
  • 11 frames per second

I guess the main point of this blog post is that today every camera is vastly superior to what was available 20 years ago but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and good results with older cameras.

I think that DSLRs are currently a steal second hand, even full frame DSLRs are available for less than what you have to pay for an entry level mirrorless camera. I love to shoot with my Fuji X cameras but there is no way to deny that second hand DSLRs are excellent value for money.

NIKON D1 (70mm, f/11, 1/320 sec, ISO200)