1999 One Minute Story A new digital era developed with the "D1"

The digital SLR camera that led imaging innovations

The development of this epoch-making product started from the TOP01 Project directly controlled by Nikon's top three (President Ono, Vice President Yoshida and Senior Managing Director Tsuruta) in 1996.

Ono: We are now stepping into a full-scale digital era. We should create a digital camera that deserves a flagship model within two years.

The man appointed as leader of the project was Mr. Naoki Tomino who already possessed a great deal of experience in the development of cameras.The best members from various departments such as those responsible for cameras, electronic images, optics and intellectual properties were gathered together to organize a cross-sectoral development team that had never been realized before.

Tomino (to the team members): Be positive at all times. If we challenge ourselves by setting our ambitions higher, we will surely discover what we can't see now.

All members were determined to unite their minds to successfully accomplish the project.

COOLPIX 300 * Pen-touch operation possible
E2 digital still camera * Developed with Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd. (now FUJIFILM Corp.) and equipped with the unique Reduction Optics System
SUPER COOLSCAN LS-1000 35mm Film Scanner
F5 Film SLR Camera
COOLPIX 100 Nikon's first compact digital camera *Could be inserted into PC card slot

A digital camera is the culmination of technologies in digital image processing, optics and designing that Nikon has long cultivated.

On the other hand, the performance of a digital camera is determined by an imaging sensor and image processing engine. To accelerate the development speed, the TOP01 project decided to develop these parts jointly with external parties.

Tomino: I don't believe we should just collect and utilize the property of other companies. However, it is also important not to think that we should do everything by ourselves.

Mr. Tomino visited about 2,000 companies each year throughout the development period of the camera that was to become the D1 in his search for appropriate partner companies.

Sometimes he was turned away at the door because his challenge seemed too reckless.

Person in charge at a company: I understand very well what you are saying, but that would be rather difficult to actually do.

But his spirit never even faltered.

Tomino: Let's create a new imaging culture that matches the modern era together!

While passionately conveying his desire to create such products and supply customers with greater value, Mr. Tomino gradually expanded the network of partners who shared the same ambitions. Even partner companies that first had doubts about the achievement of the project came to share the dream, through intensive explanation of the basic concept of the new world of imaging possible in the future that the development staff had imagined.

Person in charge at a partner company: Let's work together to realize this.

Consequently, the joint development with other companies of large CCDs to be adopted for the imaging sensor, a decisive factor of the D1's image quality, and an image processing engine to maximize its performance was decided upon. In this way, development speed was accelerated with the support of partner companies while effectively utilizing Nikon's accumulated strengths.

Finally, the Nikon D1 Digital SLR Camera was released in September, 1999.

While accomplishing a continuous shooting rate of approx. 4.5 fps, a shutter speed up to 1/16000 second, and a shutter release time lag of approx. 0.058 second, all of which were the world's fastest at that time, the D1 provided overwhelming comprehensive power in image quality, operability and many other aspects. In addition, its price was astonishingly low, being about 1/3 that of competitive models, and approximately 1/2 that of the E2. These factors led the development staff to boast that it had raced ahead of competitors' models by three and a half years.

Before the current era of digitalization of images and new image expression, the Nikon D1 was one of the triggers that transformed the age while expanding the field of imaging culture for everyone.

Two-stage development method

In the early 1990s, although various digital cameras had already been introduced, they had gained only slight popularity among the general public compared to film cameras in the market. Under such circumstances, the TOP01 Project to pursue the development of advanced digital cameras was launched in July 1996.
The order from Nikon's top management was to accomplish the development of a digital camera that deserves a flagship model within two years, with insufficiently accumulated digital technologies to work with. To achieve this difficult task, Mr. Tomino, leader of the project, decided to adopt a two-stage development method, releasing a compact digital camera first, and shortly after that, introducing a digital SLR camera. During the development, several professional photographers cooperated on the project to offer users' viewpoints.

The TOP01 Project was led by the three members of top management at the time (President Ono, Vice President Yoshida and Senior Managing Director Tsuruta)

Project members: Mr. Tomino (leader) at the center


In April 1998, the COOLPIX 900, the first stage of the development, was launched. The "NIKKOR" designation was applied to its lens and "Nikon quality" was also demonstrated in promotional materials such as the product brochure. Employing a swivel structure that allowed the section containing the lens, optical viewfinder, and speedlight to be rotated 360°, it could be stored in a compact and flat shape while featuring an optical zoom lens. This camera design was inherited by the subsequent COOLPIX 910/950/990/995 models as a series, playing an important role in the first stage of digital compact cameras.

The D1 made a name for itself in world camera history

Nikon D1

And in September 1999, the main stage of the development, the D1, was launched as a flagship digital SLR.
The D1 was awarded the "Best Digital Professional Product 2000-2001" by the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) and the "European Professional Digital Camera of the Year 2000-2001" by the Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA). While in Japan, it was selected as the Historical Camera of 1999 (Historical camera judging committee of the Japan Camera Industry Institute) and received the Mono magazine editorial department special prize of "Super Goods of the Year". Furthermore, in 2006, Mr. Tomino received the "2006 Technical Achievement Award" from the PMDA of the U.S.A., an association consisting of camera manufacturers and sales companies playing a central role in the activities of the photographic industry. Every year, it selects and honors persons for superior achievements and contributions in a wide variety of fields relating to photographic products, services and activities. Mr. Tomino commented at the interview, "I receive this award as a representative of the team." With these words, he wanted to convey his feelings that he was a representative of not only Nikon staff but also the many people including those of partner companies who had been involved in the development of the D1.

Certificate of merit for the EISA European Pro. Digital Camera of the Year 2000-2001

Mr. Tomino received the Mono magazine editorial department special prize of "Super Goods of the Year"

Paradigm shift provided by the D1

The D1 released in 1999 triggered a full-scale penetration of the market by digital SLR cameras, and by 2004, regarding the total number of shipped SLRs, the ratio of film cameras to digital cameras had reversed*1. The D1 greatly accelerated the shift from film to digital and created a firm basis for the success of digital cameras not only among professionals and the press but also the general public. Since the introduction of the D1, while many manufacturers including Nikon have released diverse models, the ways of shooting and enjoyment of photography have also remarkably changed with the improvement of cameras as well as the environments of peripheral equipment such as personal computers and various networks. Taken images can be viewed on a camera's LCD monitor or a personal computer, and a huge number of shots can be captured with no more film changing involved. The D1 was the first camera that adopted file formats such as RAW and NEF that are still utilized even at now. Also, the F-mount system was employed for the D series to take full advantage of the characteristics of conventional NIKKOR lenses. Following the D1, a powerful lineup was established for a wide range of customers from professional photographers to general users. The D1, as a point of origin, is a historical product that triggered a massive revolution in the status of cameras and the style of imaging enjoyment, developing a new digital era of cameras.

*1: Based on CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) statistics

View a movie "The History of D"