Nikon gives its fans an excellent semipro camera in the 6-megapixel D100. Impressively responsive, well designed, and capable of delivering high-quality images, it's also compatible with a wide range of Nikon lenses and accessories. If you don't need--or can't afford--that much camera, consider a step down to Canon's 6-megapixel.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.Anyone familiar with Nikon's N80 or F100 film cameras will feel right at home behind the D100, which closely follows their designs. The camera is surprisingly lightweight for an SLR, tipping the scales at about 1 pound, 12 ounces without a lens. While the viewfinder eyepiece feels a bit small, the camera's thin rubber coating and comfortable ergonomics make it fit solidly in your hand.
The 1.8-inch LCD is smartly located beneath the viewfinder and is covered by a removable plastic cover for added protection. Surrounding it are simple control buttons accessible to your thumbs. The only weakness here is the four-way button that controls your movement through LCD menus and autofocus areas. It's a bit too small and too close to the LCD cover for larger thumbs, making navigation cumbersome.
Like its film camera cousins, the D100 lets you control shooting modes and commands via finger wheels and dials at the top of the camera, while a single, lighted status LCD allows for a quick visual review of many common features, such as battery life remaining, aperture, shutter speed, and shots remaining. There's a four-way button for navigating menus to the right side of the camera, and the dial at the upper right is the main command dial that lets you change settings quickly.
One touch of the Menu button turns on the LCD and sends you to a well-organized group of setting choices divided into four folders--Playback, Shooting Menu, Custom Settings, and Setup. Selections here are structured intuitively. Often-used controls such as white balance, shooting mode, autobracketing, exposure compensation, metering, focus choices, and flash modes are adjusted via designated buttons located near the top of the camera--again, in almost the same spots as on the N80.
White balance can be adjusted through Nikon's standard six presets, and those settings can be fine-tuned plus or minus 3 degrees to remove or add any extra color cast. Have an extra tricky lighting situation? The D100 offers both white-balance bracketing and manual white balance.
One of the best features of the D100 is that it accepts Nikon lenses onto its metal lens mount. While you'll want to stick with Nikon's D- and G-series lenses for optimal performance, many others can still be used with limited capabilities. The same goes for external flash units, or speedlights, but in both cases, check the manual carefully to assure proper compatibility and functionality. Numerous flash modes and flash bracketing are available, too.
The D100 fills out its list of options by offering you a choice of focus modes, not only with single-, continuous-servo, and manual focus, but also predictive focus tracking and focus area selection to keep those moving subjects in sight. One complaint many users have about digital cameras is that response time in many areas is too slow. Nikon must have been listening, because the D100 executes commands almost instantly. One flip of the power switch, and the camera is ready to shoot, while fast JPEG write times and a large memory buffer ensure that you never miss a shot. However, in our tests, TIFF and RAW files, which range in size from 10MB to17MB, took much longer to write--more than 30 seconds each.
In continuous-shooting mode, the camera captures about three frames per second while holding up to six images in its memory buffer. As the images in the buffer write to the card (each large JPEG takes a hair over one second) the viewfinder status display tells you how many more will fit.
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In our tests, one full charge of the included lithium-ion pack lasted for more than 500 shots.
The D100's included battery definitely won't leave you powerless, but for the really heavy shooters, Nikon offers an optional battery pack equipped with a shutter release and command dials for vertical shooting as well as a remote terminal and built-in microphone for recording voice annotations.
When it comes time to review your images, just two clicks of the display button jump your photos onto the screen. You can scroll images just as fast on the superbright LCD, through individual shots or four- or nine-frame thumbnail screens. While reviewing, you can magnify a specific section of your image by selecting the area and zooming in up to nine times. Also available are histogram and highlight views as well as complete image summary information.
Once you're ready to see images on your computer, downloading may take a while, since the D100 offers USB connectivity only. Consider purchasing a FireWire CompactFlash card reader to speed up the process of transferring the large files this camera can create. Leaving the camera on all its default automatic settings delivers a well-balanced, properly exposed image that will please a discerning eye, and experienced photographers can expect excellent results from the D100's flexible shooting options, too. Our test shots were sharp and full of detail across a broad dynamic range, with true-to-life colors. If you're a discriminating photographer stepping up from a high-end consumer digital camera with a fixed lens, you'll see a clear improvement in image quality with the D100.
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Our test images were sharp and full of detail...
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...even on close examination
The camera's built-in speedlight provides excellent coverage for snapshots and fill light. Low-light images show minimal noise, much of which can be eliminated by using a noise reduction setting. Typical digital flaws such as blooming-over of light colors into dark and purple fringing are barely noticeable, even in the most troublesome scenarios.
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The built-in flash provided bright, even coverage.