Cameras that changed everything – The Nikon D1

We look back at a camera that kicked off a revolution: The Nikon D1

Today’s young photographers would find this hard to imagine, but in 1999 there was only one serious name in the professional SLR market, and that name was Kodak.

Kodak can be credited with inventing photography – its engineer Steve Sasson created the first digital camera, with a resolution of 0.01MP, in 1975. Thereafter the firm patented many digital technologies, many of which we still see in use today.

However, while Kodak made many great advancements in digital technologies, the same could not be said for its digital cameras. The firm was focused intensely on its film business, and its digital lineup consisted largely of unwieldy and inefficient digital SLRs, all of which came with a five-figure price tag. Other firms, most notably Fujifilm and Nikon were beginning to make movements into the digital realm, but thus far it had been slow going. Many pro photographers, especially in the fast-paced world of newspapers, were thus far sticking with the tried and true 35mm film cameras they were used to.

The point being, while Kodak was dominant in the market in the 1990s, it had left itself deeply vulnerable to a strong, solid competing camera. And at the tail end of the decade, that challenger arrived.

The new contender

The Nikon D1 was first unveiled to the world on June 15th 1999. It wasn’t the world’s first commercially available DSLR – that was the Kodak DCS100, released in 1991. It wasn’t the first Nikon-branded DSLR either – the Nikon E2 had been released in 1995. However, it was the first DSLR manufactured and released entirely by Nikon – ‘home-grown’, as DP Review put it at the time – as the E5 had been built in conjunction with Fujifilm.

This, coupled with an exciting-looking spec sheet, meant the Nikon D1 was eagerly anticipated by the pro market.

nikon_d1_front&backImage courtesy of

What made the D1 special?

While the Nikon D1 was by no means the world’s first DSLR, it has been called the world’s first practical DSLR.

What made it practical? Well, first off, the price. On release the D1 retailed at just under £3,000, at a time when competing DSLRs were selling for more than double that. Its nearest rival, the Kodak DCS 620, cost over £6,000. This by itself would be a major incentive, but the D1 had several other key advantages over the DCS 620 as well.

For a start, Nikon managed to build a body for the camera that was not only light and portable, but also durable and tough. At the time, DSLRs were bulky monoliths, difficult to carry and difficult to handle, and while by today’s standards the D1 would be considered bulky, it was still notably easy to use compared to the competition. It boasted a 2.74 megapixel CCD and saw the introduction of Nikon’s DX sensor size.

Another trump card for the D1 was its speed. A burst shooting mode of 4.5fps seems impossibly quaint now, but in 1999 it was positively blistering. This coupled with a maximum shutter speed of 1/16,000sec – made possible by a unique on/off sensor design – and ultra-fast flash sync to make for a camera that could keep up with the demands of pros. The fact that it was compatible with CompactFlash cards for large storage and fast transfer of high-resolution files just sweetened the deal.

There was another feature that to us nowadays seems incredibly quaint, but at the time was a big deal – the Nikon D1 was the first DSLR to shoot JPEGs, at a time when the proprietary file type was the bulky, unwieldy TIFF.

So it wasn’t first. Nor was it groundbreakingly original. But it was tough, it was fast, and that was enough to tempt 35mm users into jumping on board.


It wasn’t perfect. The Nikon D1’s major malfunction was its battery usage. The Ni-Mh batteries required to power it were not only enormous, they didn’t last very long and quickly lost their capacity to take a full charge. More cripplingly though, once the batteries got low, the camera would continue to shoot but its image processing centre would shut down, meaning it would record only blank frames! Successors to the D1 would fix this, but it was a significant flaw that could have severe consequences for the unaware.

The camera had other flaws too, which contemporary reviews pointed out. Some observed that the camera was easily susceptible to dust incursion, leading to black spots on images. There were also issues with highlight rendition, meaning any image even a little overexposed would be in severe danger of being blown out completely.

d1-in-situ© Ashley Pomeroy


As mentioned, the D1 wasn’t perfect, and subsequent cameras would soon surpass it by correcting some of its most egregious flaws. It was, however, the camera that got newspapers using DSLRs. The combination of speed, functionality, durability and low price point did what previous DSLRs hadn’t quite managed, and tempted a significant proportion of the 35mm-wielding professional market to cross over, and since then of course they’ve never looked back. Kodak never regained the foothold it had enjoyed in the pro-DSLR market, and since then Nikon has continued to go from strength to strength. All thanks to the humble D1!


Behind The Scenes | London Uncovered image

Behind The Scenes | London Uncovered

Peter Dazeley BEM FRPS – known simply as ‘Dazeley’ – is a celebrated London photographer renowned for fine art and advertising photography.

He is delighted to have been awarded The British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for 2017.  The BEM was awarded to Dazeley for his services to photography and charity. In 2013 Dazeley was awarded a Fellowship from The Royal Photographic Society; a fellowship is the highest distinction of the RPS and recognises original work and outstanding ability

In the 1960’s at the age of 15, without any qualifications due to his dyslexia, Dazeley started his working life as a photographer.  Through sheer hard work, passion and dedication to his art, after 50 years, he has reached the very top of his profession.  Dazeley’s success has given him the opportunity to ‘Give Back’ donating his time and energy as a photographer, to many different charities. He also spends time mentoring and inspiring young photographers.

Isabella-Plantation_Richmond-Park_CopyrightPeterDazeley_creditPhotographer_Peter-Dazeley_cannot-be-used-without-written-permission05-compressorIsabella Plantation in Richmond Park © Peter Dazeley

Despite his full time commissioned photographic work taking up so much of his time Dazeley still finds time to work on a variety of fine art projects.  Recently, in association with writer Mark Daly, he published his latest book London Uncovered (2016); a logical progression from their best selling book Unseen London (2014).


“As a born-and-bred Londoner I had tremendous fun recording my hidden London as it stands in the twenty-first century for my hugely successful first book Unseen London. Many readers of that book told me of their frustration and disappointment in being unable to visit some of the locations, especially those which had absolutely no public access; this gave me the idea to produce a sequel, featuring London’s lesser-known institutions, buildings, homes, shops, museums and attractions that are easily accessible, complete with access details and website information.”

Library at The Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn © Peter DazeleyLibrary at The Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn © Peter Dazeley

Collectively Dazeley’s images form a picture of a London, which is strange, gaudy, grand and inventive – an endlessly fascinating world city with its own unique charm. Beneath the covers of London Uncovered, you will find famous landmarks such as Apsley House No 1 London and The National Theatre alongside unusual museums, remarkable shops, historic homes and lesser-known locations such as the Charterhouse, Wilton’s music hall and the Rivoli Ballroom.

Rivoli-Ballroom_Copyright-Peter-Dazeley_Credit-photographer-Peter-Dazeley_cannot-be-used-without-written-permission--compressorRivoli Ballroom © Peter Dazeley

As the author of the book, Mark Daly explains: “‘Uncovered’ does not mean the disclosure of a private place, because these buildings and sites are all available to visit without special insider access. The common thread throughout is largely the photographer’s ability to uncover a fresh perspective on a special piece of London. The subjects are eclectic, encompassing buildings, monuments in plain sight and walks, with some places famous and others obscure.”

BBC Worldwide News recently interviewed Peter as he took a tour of some of the book’s locations.
Watch the video here

Old-CLients-Lasts-John-Lobb-Ltd_copyright-Peter-Dazeley_Credit-photographer-Peter-Dazeley_cannot-be-used-without-written-permission-compressorOld clients lasts at John Lobb Ltd. © Peter Dazeley

We recently caught up with Peter during a break from his busy workload to ask him a few questions.

Is London Uncovered part of a trilogy project?

I didn’t set out to shoot a trilogy, but I am just finishing my third book on the wonderful theatres of London, which has been tremendous fun to do and I’m really proud of it. It will be published by Frances Lincoln in September 2017.

What projects are you working on now?

My publisher and I are in discussion regarding a new project which I will start this year. Top Secret at the moment…

What camera equipment do you use?

London Uncovered was shot using available light and long exposures, to keep the ambience of the locations.  My Nikon D810 coped beautifully with mixed lighting and very long exposures. As far as lenses go, I used the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED and Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm fƒ/2.8G ED.

My first book, Unseen London, was shot on a Hasselblad with an assistant, a laptop, a laptop stand, etc. and was very hard work.  Shooting on my own with just a Nikon and tripod has completely reinvented the way I work.

Dazeley-photographing-St-Pancras-Renaissance-Hotel-London_Copyright-Peter-Dazeley_Credit-photographer-Peter-Dazeley_cannot-be-used-without-written-permission-compressorDazeley photographing St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London © Peter Dazeley

You’ve been a friend and customer at Fixation for many years. To what extent do you rely on us for your work?

I have known Barry Edmonds (our Nikon service manager) for more years than I can remember.  Way back when he was the genius at Nikon UK, who solved my problems.  I am wildly dyslexic and constantly struggle with technical stuff. Barry and Fixation have always been there to help and support me.  In this day and age it is wonderful to have a company who will go the extra mile for you.

_St-Pancras-Renaissance-Hotel-LondonGrandStaircase_Copyright-Peter-Dazeley_Credit-photographer-Peter-Dazeley_cannot-be-used-without-written-permission-compressorSt Pancras Renaissance Hotel, grand staircase © Peter Dazeley © Peter Dazeley

London Uncovered is available from all good bookshops and can be found online here

Dazeley was speaking to Tim Stavrinou. You can see more of Dazeley’s work on his website


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