REMARKABLE LOOK-ALIKE CONTROLS: Can you spot which camera is the Nikon D100 digital SLR, and which is the N80 film camera? (The D100 is on the bottom.)
Yes, Nikon will introduce a special, yet to be priced, 12-24mm f/4 DX Nikkor lens (18-36mm 35mm equivalent) later this year. But it will only be usable on Nikon digital cameras. That still leaves fisheye enthusiasts like me out in the cold.
Wide-angle users could, of course, bypass the entire magnification factor by choosing another brand of digital SLR that uses a full 24x36mm digital imaging sensor. But the cost of these is relatively astronomic at present and the weight is considerable. The new Canon EOS-1Ds (tested February 2003, page 54), which has a 24x36mm sensor, costs $7,000, street price. It weighs 45 ounces, roughly four times as much as one of the new budget-priced compact 35mm SLRs. My camera-carrying shoulder hurts just thinking about it.
In comparison to other digital SLRs offering lens interchangeability, the Nikon D100, at 25 ounces, is on the light and small size, but is slightly larger and heavier than comparable 35mm SLRs. For instance, the Nikon N80, on which many of the nondigital features of the D100 are based, measures 5.6x3.9x2.8 inches and is seven ounces lighter than the slightly larger 5.7x4.6x3.2-inch D100. The D100's standard battery is a rechargeable EN-EL33 lithium ion, which isn't the kind of battery you will find at a supermarket or drugstore. Anyone buying a D100 might wish to think about purchasing a spare battery ($45, street price) to keep handy when the the supplied battery needs recharging. However, our lab tests indicate that the battery is good for over 400 shots, including a good percentage with flash, before recharging is necessary. Recharging, according to the very clear D100 directions, takes two hours; I found this slightly optimistic. In contrast, the N80 requires two CR123 nonrechargeable lithium batteries (about $8 apiece, street price), easily available at local stores.
After you insert the battery into the D100, you need the digital equivalent of film. With film, you have a one-size cartridge and your choice of 24- or 36-exposure rolls capable of making acceptable 16x20-inch enlargements-slides or prints, even ISO 400 versions. The D100's digital equivalent is the Compact Flash memory card. No matter how swiftly you can load, rewind, and unload a 35mm automatic SLR, exchanging memory cards takes a fraction of the time.
How much information (and thus number of pictures) can these cards contain? This depends on the number of megabytes (MB) in each card. Cards are designated 16, 32, and 64MB, generally doubling progressively up to 640MB with a 1GB (gigabyte) card at the present top of the heap. The more MBs, the higher the price of the card, but the lower the price for each megabyte of memory. And remember, you can erase all shots you don't want to keep, and reshoot. A 16MB card, at this writing, sells for about $20, a 32MB for $25, a $64MB for $35, a 96MB for $44, and a 128MB for $55 (all street prices).
I wish I could report that there is a specific correlation between the MBs and the number of pictures the cards can store. There isn't. Much depends on the maximum number of megapixels your camera's digital sensor can capture, and just what level of picture quality or image compression will satisfy your needs. If you find that you're using up all the space on your memory card with the quality setting you're using, but have many more shots to make, you have two choices. You can erase unwanted images already shot, or lower the quality setting for the pictures remaining to be shot. With a 96MB card, the Nikon D100's maximum quality settings will yield nine pictures (see chart at right) which, according to our lab tests, can provide a maximum photo-quality print size of about 10x15 inches when viewed at a normal distance. If you are a viewer who insists on examining the print inches from your nose, make that 7x10 inches.