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Nikon D70 Digital SLR

When I first handled the Nikon D100 I told the Nikon people that I thought they�d really gotten it right. Now after two years of shooting with a D100 I am even more convinced that the D100 is just about the perfect digital SLR for most photographers. Sure the much more expensive pro models have more features, but I think most of us don�t really need those features, and those really heavy cameras tire out my hands and arms in prolonged shoots. When I learned of Nikon�s D70 it set me to wondering just how different it would be from the D100 and if stories I was hearing about it being better than the D100 could possibly be true.

I�ve now had over a month to work with the D70 and can say without question that I am very impressed with this new and very reasonably priced DSLR. Nikon certainly learned from the D100 and I suspect they incorporated a lot of the feedback on the D100 into the D70. The first improvement over the D100 that I put to use is the increased flash synch speed of up to 1/500 second, more than twice as fast as the D100�s 1/180 flash synch limit. This makes fill flash shooting outdoors in bright sun much less likely to lead to overexposed images, a problem I had several times with the D100. Yes, there is a warning in the viewfinder, but in a rapid-paced photo session it is all too easy to concentrate only on the subject and miss the warning.

In overall layout the D70 looks almost exactly like its sister, with all controls in the same places as on the D100. This makes moving back and forth between the two cameras a snap and gives the user no learning curve at all. Camera settings not controlled by the buttons and dials on the body are set on a series of four menus. The D70 menus are great. All of the icons and text are big and easy to read, and this makes setting just about anything very quick and easy. The LDC monitor is bright enough to easily see the menus outdoors in just about anything except bright, direct sun. I never had any problem seeing the menus by just turning and shading the camera with my shadow in the few cases when the outdoor light was too bright. I was also able to easily preview images.

Although the D70 is smaller than the D100 and a bit lighter, it still fit my hands very well and was well balanced even with a long lens. It measures 5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 inches as opposed to 5.7 x 4.6 x 3.2 inches for the D100, and weighs in at 21 ounces, 3.7 ounces lighter than the D100. Small differences can mean a lot when you are talking of ergonomics, so I was pleased to find the D70 still felt so perfect in my hands. Also like the D100, the D70 was designed to look and handle just like a 35mm film SLR, territory almost all of us are well familiar with. Although it uses a much less expensive mirror system in its viewfinder, I did not find the view through the D70 much dimmer than the D100 with its pentaprism. When manufacturers first started using mirror systems to cut cost, size and weight, the view was all too often dismally dim, so it is nice to see that Nikon has managed to take advantage of mirrors without compromising viewing quality.

I�d heard it said that the D70 produced better color than the D100, but side-by-side shots did not bear this rumor out. Both cameras produce great color, so there really wasn�t much of a need for improvement. Personally, I like a warmer color balance in my photos, so rather than using the auto white balance setting I set the white balance for cloudy which warms up the images nicely in most types of light. I have found that I do not like the auto white balance on digital cameras, at least in all of the ones I have tested. The reason is that most cameras give you great results and really accurate color when zoomed out for a shot that includes your main subject and lots of surroundings, but when you zoom in for that tight portrait or close-up the camera is only measuring from the subject and this usually throws the colors way off. Try it yourself with your favorite digital camera and you�ll see why I stick with preset white balance settings or custom white balance.

Is the D70 less noisy at higher ISO settings? Yes, it does seem to be. I took some photographs in �available dark� inside a blacksmith�s shop where the only light was from his fire and the glowing metal. I shot these at ISO equivalents from 400 to 1600 with the long exposure noise reduction turned off at shutter speeds as low as 1/8 second with the camera braced against a beam in the building, and found the digital noise minimal in all of my photos. Like other Nikon DSLRs the lowest ISO equivalent on the D70 is 200. I really do wish these cameras went down to 100, but that is only because my many years of working with ISO 100 film has me seeing things in ISO 100 terms, and I know the correct exposure for ISO 100 in almost all situations.

Among its other features, I was also delighted to find that the Nikon D70 offers automatic image rotation, a feature all digital cameras ought to have. I have spent literally hours of my time in Photoshop CS rotating single and groups of images to get everything in the right orientation. That�s time I�d rather use for other, more creative things.

Manufacturer-Nikon (www.nikonusa.com)
-D70 Digital SLR
List price-US$1295 w/ 18-70mm Nikkor lens
Sensor res-6.1 effective megapixel CCD
White Balance-Auto, 6 manual modes, presets, bracketing
Image dimensions-3008x2000, 2240x1448, 1504x1000
Compression Levels-RAW; 12-bit lossless JPEG; JPEG baseline
ISO-200 to 1600 ISO equivalent in steps of 1/3 EV
Lens-18-70mm f3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom Nikkor
Lens focal length-18-70mm
Lens aperture range-f3.5-4.5
Shutter-Mechanical and electonic: 30 sec. to 1/8000 sec.
Exposure modes-Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual
Exposure metering-TTL, matrix, center-weighted, spot, AF-spot
Exposure compensation--5 to + 5 in 1/3 or 1/2 EV stops
Focus range-15-inches on 18-70mm
Storage-Compact Flash Type II cards
File formats-TIFF, JPEG, NEF (Nikon Electronic Format)
Autofocus-TTL phase detection with AF assist illuminator
Flash range-15/11-feet @ ISO 100/200
Flash bracket-Shoe for external Speedlight
LCD screen-1.8 TFT, 130,000 pixels w/ brightness adjust
Flash modes-Auto, red-eye, on, off, red-eye with slow-sync, front curtain sync, rear curtain sync
Viewfinder-18mm eyepoint pentaprism w/ diopter adjust
Battery-Nikon Rechargeable Li-Ion EN-EL3 pack
Weight-21 ounces without battery
Dimensions-5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 inches
Included-Battery charger, LCD hood, USB/video cables, softcase, lens hood, Nikon Capture and album software, drivers for Mac and Windows

One difference with the D100 caught me by surprise when I made my first landscape shots with the D70. In photos where there was lots of sky the Matrix metering system was overly influenced by the sky and produced significant under exposure in the rest of the image. I had to learn to manually compensate my images when I had a lot of sky in the photo, a nuisance and a problem I have not ever had with the D100. Because of this working with the D70 requires a more thoughtful approach to exposure. Of course if you have Photoshop or a similar image manipulation software app on your computer you can correct this after the fact, and I did that to a lot of images that I made without remembering to compensate the exposure.

Were there other things I didn�t like about the Nikon D70? I�d be less than honest if I claimed otherwise. I do a lot of my photography as verticals and cameras without vertical shutter release buttons or a way to add them are a turnoff for me. Immediately after getting the D100 my first investment was the Multi Function Battery Pack and an extra battery, and I was very disappointed to learn that no such battery pack/grip was offered for the D70. Not only do I require a vertical grip but I frequently operate cameras by remote control using PocketWizard radio remote control, and there is no way to couple these to the D70.

Those are special needs of mine, though, and I suspect they won�t impact the vast majority of the target audience for the D70 at all.

The Nikon D7 comes with the 18-70mm f3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom Nikkor lens when bought as a kit. I didn�t have particularly high expectations for this lens since kit lenses are usually cheap and low spec. I decided that an accurate review required that I use this lens for all of the photos taken during the review process, and I have to say that I was astonished that a low-priced lens like this could produce such great image quality. After viewing my first few shots in Photoshop I lost all concern about this lens and happily shot away with it for the rest of the article. The 18 � 70 mm focal length works out to about 27 � 105 mm in 35mm film camera terms, a very useful range. I wished a few times for a bit more reach on the long end, but it was never a major problem. Add a 70 � 210 or similar and you�d have a two-lens outfit, which could do just about anything. I was a little concerned initially that the camera might have trouble focusing on some subjects, particularly at the long end where the aperture drops to f/4.5, but the D70 just jumped into focus on every subject I tried it on.

I�d heard reports that this lens showed vignetting at the 18mm end, so I made a point of making a lot of photos with the lens set to 18mm and looked for this in the images. I simply did not see it at all. There is some drop-off in illumination from center to corners, but it is actually less in my estimation than I have seen in many high quality wide angle lenses, and certainly is not excessive.

Since no lens should ever be used without a proper lens hood, I was very pleased to find that Nikon has included the proper lens hood in the lens kit.

Bob Shell



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