Going digital: Nikon D100

I've (seriously) started learning photography in 2000, with a film-based Minolta SLR and continued in 2001 with the Nikon F80. My first experience with the digital darkroom was at the end of 2001, when I bought my first slide scanner, the Minolta DImage Scan Dual II, later replaced by the Nikon Coolscan IV ED LS-40. The digital darkroom was augmented with an Epson 1200, replaced at the end of 2002 by the new Epson 2200. To keep everything ok with the colour processing Monaco EZ Color has been supervising my colour spaces since the end of 2001, generating custom profiles for my scanner, my monitor and my printer with various papers.

What was still analogue in June 2003? The film. And it looked like the story would not have changed for a while. Understand me: I'm not a film fanatic. Digital is better in every field: music, photography, DVD. Digital means you can make infinite copies without adding noise, the media support lasts for a very long time (anyway you can replace it once in a while by copying data with no quality loss), it is much smaller than analogue supports and you can manipulate data with a computer. Even a laptop, wherever you are. So, if I want to work on my photos when I'm travelling in train for business, I just have to switch my laptop on. The same applies if I want to do it at home in Milan or when I'm at my parents' in Genoa; or when I'm elsewhere on holidays.

And in facts, if you read above you discover that my digital darkroom started just one year after I seriously dedicated to photography. But I'm neither a technology fanatic, and I understand that film has still its advantages. It is doomed to be obsoleted by digital such as every other analog technology, but in June 2003 that moment was still to come. My main concern was about resolution. The 2900ppi Coolscan IV generates about twelve megapixels from my slides and, just in 2003, I looked like I was correctly applying, for the first time, the proper techniques for taking sharp photos (use of tripod and/or beanbag, long telephoto techniques and so on). So I was able (at least for the top keepers) to fill that damned twelve megapixels with details. Searching in the Internet you can find that you can draw even more pixels from top quality films such as Fuji Provia 100F and Velvia; but I really didn't care about this. I had still to improve the sharpness of my photos to reach that level and, above all, 4000ppi scanners (capable of more than twenty megapixels) such as the Nikon Coolscan LS-4000 were definitely above my budget.

That was too much. After all, my bigger print target was A3 (420 x 297mm or about 16" x 11") and, applying the rule of thumb of 300ppi for printing, I discovered that I needed 16" x 300ppi x 11" * 300ppi = about fifteen megapixels. Maybe something less if you leave a thick border across the print, anyway my feeling was that my scanner's twelve megapixel were near. And actually my A3 prints, after the proper amount of unsharp masking, looked fine. BTW, you can find some more precise data about print resolution at Nikonians' (what is Nikonians? Just the best Internet community for Nikon owners; if you own a Nikon, you'll find you have to be a Nikonians).

Open parenthesis: are you confused at this point? I am a bit. I found people who are saying that twelve megapixels will compete with medium format, others claim that 35mm Provia 100F is equivalent to 50-80 megapixels. I feel the truth is closer to the former group, but I need to go deeper in this debate. Closed parenthesis.

Anyway, I felt I was able to define my "break even": "I'll switch to a digital body for no less than 10-12 megapixels and, of course, a decent price". At the beginning of 2003 my forecast was that the break even would come by the mid/end of 2004.

But something were to dramatically change my mind: a travel in Spain. Without realizing I shot twenty-five rolls of Provia/Velvia/Sensia (my standard for ten days travels used to be half of that). The development costs reached the one-year-budget in June; moreover now there were more than eight hundreds new slides to put in bins, evaluate, scan, archive. And I realized I had no time, and even if I found time the hot weather of June would prevent me to switch the slide projector on, and sometimes I were in Milan and other times in Genoa, and taking with me all of those slides was really a pain, and then I had to make more room to store bins...

Aargh!

I suddenly realized that taking photos was no more a pleasant hobby, but a pain. The apparent solution was to shoot less: but you can't travel thousand of miles off home, maybe in places where you'll never return, and miss some photo opportunities just because you want to save film. That hurts.

So, one night, I took the decision: "I have to switch to digital. Now.".

That was not easy. Twelve megapixels and a interchangeable-lens SLR, in June 2003, were only achieved by Canon EOS 1-D and Kodak DCS 14n; the latter with a Nikon F mount, but definitely above my budget. The only alternative was the Nikon D100, rated at six megapixels.

After some intensive research, I convinced myself that indeed the quality of my prints could have been achieved by a DSLR of about eight/nine megapixels (no formulae here, just rule of thumb): after all with a digital camera you don't have to scan the slide, a process which adds noise and some data loss (slides are not flat so focusing is not precise and after all the excellent Coolscan IV is not a drum scanner). So maybe eight/nine megapixels of a digital camera could roughly reach the quality of a twelve megapixels film scanner; but six megapixels were still 25-33% under that threshold. My first thought was right, the right time would be 2004...

But, ok, I could live with it. I would have kept my F80 for "critical-quality" shots and for wide angles (a problem for the D100 that, with its reduced side sensor, stretches the angle of view by "virtually" multiplying the focal of a lens by 1.5. So a 24mm becomes just a 36mm). Within a couple of year Nikon will surely sell a D200 or similar, with increased megapixels and the same price. At that time I'll sell my D100 and upgrade (after all, Nikon used gear sells very well).

The day after I submitted the order (Hell! The Euro was at 1.15 over the USD and buying in the States was tempting. But the complexity of applying the US warranty in Europe (you are forced to send your gear to the other side of the Atlantic) convinced me to stay in Europe. DigitalFoto was offering an interesting price and to me it had an excellent reputation, so I went that way).

And on June 27th the baby got here. :-)

You can find plenty of D100 reviews in the Internet, many have been written by expert people of proven digital experience (at the bottom of the page there are links to some of them). But if you are interested on the "first impressions" of a digital camera rookie, go on reading: I'm writing down everything in a sort of "journal". Anyway, first take a look to a "serious" review: I'll make references to some features of the D100 without a detailed explanation, so I assume that the main concepts are familiar to you.

References

Review at dpreview.com
http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/Nikon/nikon_d100.asp

Review by Thom Hogan
http://www.bythom.com/D100.htm

Review by Digital Dingus
http://www.digitaldingus.com/d100lounge/d100review1.html