Where were you on June 15, 1999, the day that photography changed forever?
The last five minutes of evening newscasts are normally the domain of dumber than usual criminals, celebrity gossip, and two-headed snakes. 12 years ago today, this is where there might have been a 30 second story about the announcement of a digital camera. While not significant at the time, history would prove otherwise. This wasn't just any camera, it was the Nikon D1, the camera that changed the course of photographic history forever.
While it has long since been relegated from top of the line photographic tool to the bargain price used shelf at the local camera store, the historical impact of the Nikon D1 is undeniable. True, still digital cameras had long previously existed, since the early 1970s, but up until the D1, they were considered by most as expensive toys for extremely deep pocketed, tech orientated individuals. With the D1, the picture changed. While the introduction price of about $5,500 is stratospheric, it paled in comparison to the previous, often vastly inferior digital SLRs already on the market, which could cost upwards of $20,000. As an added bonus, unlike the other digital SLR cameras of the day, the D1 was built entirely ground up by a single major manufacturer, Nikon, and was reverse compatible with all Nikon F Mount lenses, which date to 1959. These facts, coupled with its outstanding (for the time) performance helped make the D1 a camera that professionals were willing try. No longer would the digital SLR be seen as an expensive toy for a rich amateur. With the Nikon D1, the digital SLR matured into the practical photographic tool that every good camera should be.
After the success of the D1, the floodgates were opened. Other manufacturers, quick to realize that the digital SLR was here to stay, jumped aboard the bandwagon. Fujifilm would launch its S1 Pro in January 2000. Canon unveiled its EOS D30 in May of the same year. Both of these cameras were priced in the $3,000 range, which was about half the introductory price of the D1. Canon launched its first professional body, the EOS 1D the following year. With the two biggest photographic companies (Nikon and Canon) now firmly in the digital camp, the rest of the major manufacturers joined the digital race.
While many digital SLRs of different levels have come and gone in the 12 years since Nikon's revolutionary D1 and while enthusiasts have always been eager to debate who makes the best camera, the real winner of the digital camera derby is the consumer. Competition breeds better products and lower prices. And as the manufacturers offer more and more cameras with better features at ever decreasing prices, the consumer will continue to win.
For all of this, thank Nikon and the D1.
For anyone who wants a piece of history, D1s can be bought here
KEH Used Camera Brokers
Nikon D1 reviews (there are many more, just search online)
Digital Photography Review
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