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RAW (NEF file format)

RAW data is simply the per-pixel light level as it comes directly off the CCD (strictly speaking the analog to digital converter), no in-camera processing is performed on this data before it's recorded in the RAW fie. On the D1 each pixel by a 12 bit value.

The advantages of RAW image format are:

  • Although it's a lossless format the file size is considerably smaller; 2000 x 1312 x 12 bits = 3,843 KB than the equivelent lossless TIFF image.
  • The image has not been processed or white balanced which means you can correct the image, and it's a better representation of the "digital negative" captured. You can of course choose different image processing settings when acquiring the image (white balance, tone etc.)
    Exposure information and camera settings are recorded in the image "header" which allows conversion software later to apply the image settings selected at the time.

The disadvantages of RAW image format are:

  • Currently their isn't a widely accepted file format thus each manufacturer has their own proprietary layout. Thus you can't open these image files with a normal photo package without using a special plugin or module to convert the RAW file.

Read more about RAW in our glossary.

Nikon Capture, Nikon's RAW conversion application is an optional extra, which is a pity, I've always felt that if you provide a proprietary image format you should also provide a method for using that image format with the camera. Luckily their are several third party products for converting D1 RAW files.

Note: Since the initial publication of this review we've revised it due to the improved RAW decoding of Nikon Capture v1.13. This new version of Nikon's RAW conversion application performs considerably better than the original. Thanks to Uwe Steinmueller for pointing this out. Check out his excellent "The Art of NEF Conversion" for more reference material.

Two applications which do a pretty good job of NEF conversion are Bibble and QImage Pro, they're also the most popular so we've chosen in this part of the review to compare native D1 JPEG, Nikon Capture RAW->JPEG, Bibble RAW->JPEG and QImage Pro RAW->JPEG.

Settings used for each sample in this comparison:

D1 native JPEG Sharpening: Low, Tone: Auto, WB: Auto
Nikon Capture v1.13 Unsharpen: 20%/5%, WB: Point Sample, No curves, Adobe RGB (1998)
Bibble v2.02 Tone: Camera, WB: Point Sample, Sharp: Low, Adobe RGB (1998)
QImage Pro v10 WB: Point Sample

Other notes:

  • White Balance point samples were taken from the white patch on the Kodak Colour patch card
  • Output was saved as the applications best quality JPEG

Overall image balance

Samples below all ISO 200, original NEF here (3.7 MB)

D1 native JPEG Nikon Capture v1.13
Bibble v2.02 QImage Pro v10

Cropped Detail

D1 native JPEG Nikon Capture v1.13
Bibble v2.02 QImage Pro v10

D1 native JPEG Nikon Capture v1.13
Bibble v2.02 QImage Pro v10

On this simple ISO 200 shot it's clear that both Bibble and Qimage Pro do a very credible job of converting D1 RAW files, both producing pleasing colours and as much detail as there probably is, Bibble probably slightly sharper, colours more saturated but a little dark for me (can be corrected with a Bibble setting). Nikon Capture performs flawlessly producing sharp, clean well balanced images with plenty of resolution.

Resolution Chart Cropped Detail

Samples below all ISO 200, original NEF here (3.7 MB)

D1 native JPEG Nikon Capture v1.13
Bibble v2.02 QImage Pro v10

Horizontal resolution is there in all the RAW converters, the D1's native JPEG appears to be suffering (probably from that sharpening algorithm) as you can see the resolution lines have quite a few visible jaggies. Both Bibble and QImage Pro show artifacts that aren't visible in the Nikon Capture image.

D1 native JPEG Nikon Capture v1.13
Bibble v2.02 QImage Pro v10

As we can see from these samples the native D1 JPEG suffers quite badly in vertical resolution, the new version of Nikon Capture (v1.13) performs excellently showing detail all the way up to 1400 lines per picture height (this is about the most we've seen out of any digital camera under any circumstances). Bibble and QImage Pro both get close but both exhibit moiré artifacts.

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I used one of these in 2002 when I worked as a reporter/photographer for a community newspaper. It was, for its time, a pretty incredible machine even three years after it was introduced.

Compared to the Canon PowerShot A40 that I had just received quite excitedly as a college graduation gift, the D1 I used at work was like something out of a science fiction movie. It was lightning fast to focus and shoot, it had crazy low-light ability (ISO 1600), and the f2.8 AF-S zoom lenses that the newspaper had to go along with it were stellar.

Today with the improvements in sensor technology, you can get similar image quality in a smart phone (with a lot more resolution), and the professional DSLRs are just leaps and bounds ahead.

It's impossible to overstate just how significant a camera the D1 was for photojournalism and photography in general. Total game changer.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting