It came on the market towards the end of 1996, slightly ahead of the Coolpix 300. These cameras were a technical dead-end for the company, but are now fun for collectors to own. The vertical configuration was popular among manufacturers initially, but eventually was abandoned in favour of the horizontal configuration that was conventional in the film cameras (although swivel lenses lingered). My Dycam Model 3 is another example of an early vertical camera.
The Coolpix 100 was highly unusual because it could be taken apart, being in two parts. The lower part comprises the batteries and the centrally mounted shutter release, and the the upper part comprises all the rest. Why would you want to take it apart? To download your 42 photos, of course. You see the upper part magically reveals itself to be a PCMCIA card. Those who remember the 1990s will know that most PCs and laptops had a PCMCIA slot. After separating the two parts of the camera, you slotted the top part into the computer, no cords or software installations required.
There were other attractive features of this camera. There was a simple switch for close-up. There was built-in flash, a self-timer and automatic white balance. The maximum shutter speed was 1/10,000 sec and the internal storage was 1mb. The image resolution was 0.3 megapixels. The price was an affordable US$500.
Nikon Coolpix 300 (1996)
In 1996, Nikon took time out from inventing its weighty DSLR cameras to market this pair of digital cameras, the Coolpix 100 and 300. The 300 is really a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) equipped with an excellent camera, because PDAs were all the rage in the roaring 1990s.
So here it is, an exciting product that had no rival at the time. It packs so much into a small space. It had a 2.5" touch screen with stylus. It could take memos in freehand writing on the screen as well as in audio form. It even had an optical viewfinder. An indication of just how many features were built into the CoolPix 300 is the size of the user's manual – it runs to over 100 pages. (Interestingly, the manual refers to the device on the cover as "Digital Camera E 300" but everywhere else in the manual as the "CoolPix 300".)
Once the user had mastered the skills to use the device, a photograph could be created along with a handwritten note plus a little audio note. This package of information could be downloaded onto a computer – presumably by a human personal assistant back in the office.
PDAs were swept from corporate life by the smartphone, and so was this Nikon invention.
The camera's technical specifications weren't so important but, for the record, the sensor was 0.33 megapixels, the internal storage was 4mb and the shutter top speed was 1/2,500 sec. How much would you expect to pay for all this technology? US$700. Put one on the corporate credit card, Miss Smith!
Nikon Coolpix 900 (1998)
Also designated "E900", this camera was the first in a series of swivel lens cameras with lots of prosumer features. The 900 was quickly followed in successive years by the S model (and a variant designated E910), the 950, 990 and finally the 995 in 2001. The sensor resolution grew from 1.2 to 3.3 megapixels during this sequence.
The 9xx cameras have both optical viewfinder and LCD screen, 3x zoom and macro mode, and customisable settings.
Naturally, the first thing that everyone does when picking it up for the first time is to rotate the lens module. The lens and flash part of the camera can be pointed separately from the body which houses the LCD monitor. The swivel lens concept was a curiosity of the era and goes back as far as the Casio QV-10 in 1995 and the Sony DSC-F1 in 1996.
It is a reminder that this fine piece of technical innovation is from the wonderful, experimental era of digital camera development.
Nikon D1 (1999)
And now for something truly historic – the iconic Nikon D1.
This 1.1 kilogram professional masterpiece was the world's first real Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. Up to its release in September 1999, digital SLRs were a fusion of a film camera with an image sensor mounted internally. The models that Nikon sold were co-produced by either Fuji or Kodak, and therefore carry both names in the branding.
Then, Nikon had the vision to design from the ground up an integrated DSLR with mind-blowing features for the professional photographer.
The D1 had the world’s then-fastest shutter speed of 1/16,000 sec and the world’s fastest shooting speed of 4.5 frames/sec. It was rugged. It used Nikon’s existing line of AF Nikkor lenses. It was feature-loaded. And it made beautiful photos with its 2.74 megapixel imager. At €6,000, it was less than half the price of Kodak’s.
All this was too much for Kodak whose leadership in SLRs succumbed to the technological onslaught that was the D1.
So powerful was Nikon's vision, in fact, that current model Nikons are little changed from the D1 – the grouping of thumb buttons, the 4-way control wheel and toggles, the technical information in the top-mounted LCD, the mode dial and even the RAW image file format.
Two years after the D1 came onto the market, Canon introduced its response, the wonderful EOS 1D Mark 1. The two great cameras can be seen side-by-side in my photos. You'll find some comparative technical information about these two cameras in my write-up of the Canon.
Nikon Coolpix 950 (1999)
This camera was the most eagerly anticipated consumer camera of 1999. The 950 and its predecessor the 900 (above) had the eye-catching swivel body, for starters. What a delightful piece of equipment to hold. Its 2.1 megapixel sensor produced beautifully balanced images.
With the change of styling from the 900, Nikon introduced an overall black appearance, with red highlights (green in the North American market), that continues to this day.
In hindsight, this stunning camera brilliantly brought to closure the most innovative era of digital photography of the 20th century.
Nikon Coolpix 995 (2001)
The last in the line of the Coolpix 9xx series, the 995, was released in 2001. It had only minor changes from the previous model, including a pop-up flash which reduced red-eye by moving the flash further from the lens. The lens half of the camera was changed from magnesium alloy to plastic construction.
For future collectors, one small change introduced a significant problem, however. The power supply was changed from four ordinary AA batteries to a proprietary battery pack – such battery packs and their chargers are becoming hard, or impossible, to find. (For the record, the 995 battery pack is the EN-EL1 and charger is the MH-50.)
My camera is shown below right with a its Nikon corded remote control.