Nikon D70 Camera Review

by Brad Pretzer

I was extremely reluctant to make the switch to digital photography and did so with the aid of the Nikon D70. A Cannon Powershot S400 filled my photographic needs for eBay auctions and occasional snapshots, but the quality of the images was quite poor. Film would still be my primary medium if it weren't for the financial and time expenditure resulting from processing. Calls for portraits and photojournalism for a local newspaper began coming my way. Justifying the $150 price tag to a client for a couple of prints or a day's lag time to my editor was difficult. For my personal travel I was willing to endure the cost and time associated with film because I didn't want to jeopardize the variety of color pallets or saturation levels I was accustomed to with the massive selection of films available.

Initially, the D70 was priced at $1000, Nikon's first venture into this price arena with a DSLR. The D70 incorporates a sensor very unlike the one in its predecessor. the D100. Nikon does not make any cameras with a sensor the same size, 24mm x 36mm, as film; however, this is no disadvantage. All of your old Nikkor lenses will function with the D70, albeit with a 1.5 magnification factor. Nikon has also introduced a line of DX lenses designed specifically for DSLR's. If you have a film body laying around, you may use a limited zoom range of a DX lens on that body as well. The excellent SB-28 flash will not function in TTL mode on the D70, no flash will except for the SB-600 or SB-800. I was disappointed to have to buy more equipment just to upgrade camera bodies; however, the SB-600 is a great unit.

Construction on the D70 seems lacking for a $1000 body. Cheap and plastic is the best way to describe the disappointing feel. Furthermore, there is no way to get a vertical shutter release on the D70. This was my favorite feature on the weighty F100 as over 50% of my shots are vertically oriented. It is a pleasure to have a small and light body to carry around for days at a time.

The LCD screen on the back is excellent and very useful. Since this is an SLR there is a mirror and even a shutter in front of the sensor, you cannot compose a photo by viewing on the LCD, you must use the viewfinder. Navigating the menus on the camera is simple. Remembering custom function numbers and options is history as the menus are in plain language. For example, selecting grid lines, on the N80 required you to know that it was custom setting #4 and that 0 was off and 1 was on. The F100 has 22 custom options, requiring the user to always have a cheat-sheet handy. The D70's menu driven screen has been incorporated into Nikon's new film body, the F6 as well. The screen also allows you to view photos on the CF card and will display the most recent photo, if you choose. The screen consumes a lot of battery power; however, in all-day shooting sessions, capturing 300+ RAW images, and doing lots of reviewing on the screen, I have never had a power issue. The battery charger will accept 110V-220V and 50-60 Hz so odd power grids should not be a concern.

The Nikon D70 will capture images in either JPG or RAW formats. There is a setting that will allow you to use RAW and the camera will also store a small JPG of the image. I found that each format has its time and place. When shooting for newspapers, I shoot all JPG, large, fine files. This allows me to easily view the files and send them to my editor. The auto-white balance on the D70 does a fantastic job and I almost never make any adjustments to color or contrast. The JPG format is of excellent quality for newsprint and will also make a great 11x14 image to cover the cracks in your wall; though, that is not my intention when on photojournalistic missions. When on personal travel I shoot all RAW. The workload is increased when I return and I also need more memory cards; however, the purpose of these photos is to be either posted to the web or printed for my walls. RAW gives me the most data in the file to create the best home-adorning print. Again, I leave the Photoshopping to the experts making sure to work with them to get the results I desire. I have never had an image from the D70 that required much adjustment.

The D70 is packaged with Nikon's Picture Project software which I never installed on my computer. Retreiving images from the camera was simplified by placing the CF card in a reader on my Windows XP machine. WinXP recoginizes this as another drive allowing easy movement of files on or off the card and to or from your machine. All my basic editing was done with a combination of Irfanview to crop and resize and Picasa to accomplish RAW conversions and color corrections. If I desire to have a print made from a RAW file, I send it electronically to a professional photo bureau and they can do the conversion. Additionally, I let them to the Photoshop work as I am sure they are more expert at using it than I.

The D70 is a very capable camera and should last a long time. I wish the next step up, the D2X, a $5000 camera body was not so distant. I would appreciate a vertical shutter release and a more solid build. I have carried the D70 to Rome, Cairo and throughout the US with excellent results.

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