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Just to keep you up to date, this review refers to what is (only just) an older model now, having been superceded by the D70S which is essentially a rationalisation of some improvements to the camera's firmware. This alters the way the auto-focus selects things and tidies up up the menu system - oh yes, and physically, they've made the rear viewing screen a tad bigger.
If you see a D70 at a bargain price, don't hesitate. Very fairly, Nikon have made the updated firmware available for download, so now I effectively have a D70S except for the larger screen at the back (bit difficult to download that unless you work on Starship Enterprise!)
I have to admit that I blow hot and cold on the subject of digital cameras. I'm on my third one (or rather WAS); a Nikon 5700. This is a very nice 5-megapixel job that was the bee's knees of two years ago.
It does however have three failings, enough to get an inveterate up-grader like me teetering with one finger over the 'go to checkout' button.
Firstly, it is entirely dependant of its batteries, even for looking through the viewfinder, since both its eye-level and hinged versions are electronic.
Secondly, this in turn leads to a poor battery life when out 'in the field', necessitating the use of a reserve battery. Even Nikon only claim 90 minutes of use, and I'm sure it's worse than that, especially when friends want to see the pictures before you get back to base.
Thirdly, it doesn't boot up very quickly, nor does it fire within an acceptable delay period. I don't think I'd thought this through at the time, but it more or less limits me to non-action photos, and if I'm ever going to persuade myself to junk-in ALL my celluloid cameras, I need a camera that will do it all. With the 5700, trying to 'pan' a moving vehicle, leads to a certain amount of guess work, like where it's going to be by the time the half-second delay in the shutter kicks in.
In addition, even a 5-megapixel camera can't be expected to provide sharp selective blow-ups, say a small extract from the middle of a shot. Full frame prints at A4 are excellent and as close to 'proper' photos as you'll get at normal sizes, but not the selective ones.
OH-OOOH, UPGRADE TIME AGAIN!!
THEN a friend let me play with his……..Nikon D70 Single Lens Reflex (SLR) that is, having recently bought it in Singapore on his way to a 6 week holiday in Oz and the Far East.
It wasn't exactly love at first sight, as my appetite for something a bit more 'serious' had already been whetted by the appearance on the scene of the Canon 300D; in my mind, the first affordable digital SLR. However, I still have a sneaking preference for Nikon's build-quality over Canon's, even if they are both plast….errr…..sorry, polycarbonate these days.
The lowest guide price of £729 for a D70 kit was about £120 less than I'd paid for the 5700 two years ago (dammit), but a clear £75 dearer than the Canon version I was most interested in.
THEN Nikon upped the ante by giving £100 cash-back during March 2005, subject to certain conditions, like it has to come from UK stock - no 'grey imports'.
THEN I realised that another of my Comet 5-year warranties was about to pay back, since nothing had gone wrong with the washing machine - KER-ching, another £174 into the Nikon D70 fund. Thank you very much, Comet!
So I bought one, from Amazon.co.uk - well, you didn't think I wouldn't did you? They charged £729, carriage free, whereas www.7dayshop.com were £10 cheaper still, but charged for carriage. Since I get 1.25% back in TheMutual.net's shares for using Amazon, end of story.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS & BASIC SPEC
The D70's picture definition is 'only' a true 6.1 megapixels, which is not an appreciable hike over its predecessor, but enough to make those selective blow ups a feasibility, which is what I was after. I say 'only' because 12 megapixels cameras are on the way, if not here already.
Anyhow, I've come to discover that picture quality isn't just about 'how many megapixels?' although it is a factor. Others like the physical dimensions of the Charged-Coupled Device (CCD) - the camera's retina, if you like, count for a lot when it comes to colour rendition and overall sharpness.
I dare say a decent lens counts for a lot too!
But what of my previous pet hates? Well, not only does the D70 boot up and fire like a celluloid camera, 'on the button' if you'll pardon the pun, but its battery lasts for yonks*. You can quite easily charge it, take a few shots and come back days later to find you can still grab the camera on the way out of the door, and not have it let you down.
UPDATE - Mid April 2005. Despite having bid for and won a brace of extra batteries on e-bay for a mere £4.99 (for two!), the original still says it's fully charged, despite having taken 40 pictures in Oxford when I first got it, and 150 more in Istanbul in early April. This is starting to look as long-lived as an normal battery in a celluloid camera
Incidentally, the Nikon comes as several 'kits'. Mine included the superior 18-70mm zoom lens. If you think you've found one much cheaper, check that it's not the lower quality and less useful 28-80mm zoom (or a 'body only'); these aren't such good deals, and only qualify for £50 cash-back.
Hence the confusing array of prices when you run a price search.
SO WHAT DO YOU GET……
…….for your £629 after Nikon's cash-back deal?
a) The D70 camera body b) An 18-70 mm standard zoom lens with lens hood c) Neck Strap d) Battery e) Charger f) Various leads, USB, video etc g) A battery box for using use-once CR2 cells instead of the rechargeable job - a useful standby. h) Several items of software, some of which you'll definitely need, other bits are not quite so vital if you've already got a means of loading photos to your PC.
What you DON'T get are any memory chips at all, not even the measly 32mb one they all seem to throw in these days.
Admittedly, you'd only get a handful of top-definition shots on it, but it's the principle of the thing, like being sold a car with no petrol in it whatsoever, leaving you to buy a can and walk to the nearest garage..
This camera does, however, use bog-standard Compact Flash/Microdrive memory cards, so I was able to retain the IBM Microdrive 340 megabyte card from the Nikon 5700, leaving the new owner with the exact same 32 megabyte card I got in the first place. I only regard this as a temporary fix, since a camera that creates files in excess of 3.2 megabytes needs LOTS of room for storage; one gigabyte would be nice, giving about 300 shots. I can't see any point, unless I'm definitely only shooting 'thumbnails' for a web page, in downgrading the picture definition just to get more prints on board. If you want 2,000 pictures, don't bother getting a 6.1 megapixel camera, just a bigger chip for the one you've got.
For the ultimate in picture quality, when you just KNOW you're going to have to do a large blow-up, the Nikon has a 'RAW' uncompressed format which they call NEF. This creates massive 7.0 megabyte files, including an embedded jpeg file for a quick reference.
Maybe the lack of a trial 32 megabyte memory chip isn't so incredible after all. It also follows that this probably wouldn't be your first digital camera, and so therefore you may have some chips knocking around the place. They're not too expensive anyway. A whole 'one gig' job now costs about £50.
Compared to the 5700 and every digital camera I've owned before that, the D70 is a LOT different. It's seemingly huge, and quite heavy for one thing, but anyone used to handling an SLR will fail to be fazed by this, as it looks entirely normal for its genre. All SLRs tend to be bulkier to allow for the interchange-ability of their lenses, which 'hang' from the front of the camera, rather than retracting inside it. I actually tend the find the increased weight, when compared to a pocket camera, an advantage in keeping the camera steady during picture taking.
This camera does not need to be switched on for the viewfinder to work, since it is an optical system of prisms and mirrors, rather like an upturned periscope - for some obscure reason, though, it DOES need its battery inserted, otherwise the viewing screen goes darker and out of focus. This allows the user to let their creative juices flow, framing shots with the zoom lens etc before even thinking about using any precious battery power, and since you are looking through the lens that will actually get used for the photo, you can be assured that even on extreme close ups, you are not going to 'chop off someone's head'.
Then of course, there's that battery that lasts for ages.
Firing the camera causes the familiar SLR click as the 'periscope' mirror briefly swings up out of the way to expose the 'film', in this case the CCD, so there's no need to synthesise the sound of a camera firing - this one really does.
Another facet of digital SLRs is that, because the CCD isn't the same size as a 35mm film negative, being something like 66% of the size, the relative focal length of a lens like the D70's standard 18-70 zoom acts more like a very useful 28-110 mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Therefore, although the Nikon's lenses ARE claimed to be inter-changeable, they don't quite do the same job as if used on their 35mm counterparts. You need to know this when factoring in possible savings, like already having some Nikon lenses. It's the same for the Canon 300D too.
One thing it WON'T do is shoot movies, but then, I've never understood the logic of still cameras that shoot crap movies, or camcorders that take crap stills, and just don't get me started on cell-phone\cameras.
A definite case of "Horse for Courses", mates.
The D70 is made to be held by the right hand and adjusted with the left. A dial on the left of the top panel contains the various exposure modes. Cowards can leave this set to fully automatic, letting it do a very good imitation of a snap-shot camera. Turn the switch to S for 'shutter priority', gives you the means to choose a shutter speed and let the camera choose the aperture. This degree of control is important when taking action shots. There's also a P for 'programmed' mode - this differs slightly from full automatic, which can even decide if the flash is wanted, and pops it up.
Conversely, you can switch to A for 'aperture priority' to allow choice of aperture, the camera following this up with a suitably chosen shutter speed. You might choose this mode when trying to throw the background out of focus, say with a portrait or a close-up of a flower. The larger the aperture a camera uses, the more critical is its focus, hence the out of focus background.
There is also a full 'manual' setting for those brave souls who (think they) know different.
On top of these modes, you also have a selection of 'pictorial' modes, designed to suit the picture type. For example, there's a macro mode which will alter the camera's automatic settings to better suit close-ups, a portrait mode which concentrates on those larger apertures and only focuses on the centre of the screen. Then there's a sports mode which will bias the camera towards faster shutter speeds until forced to slow down by a lack of light.
This is VERY like the EOS dial on my 'celluloid' brace of Canons, and took no time for me to acclimatise to it. Nikon call it the Vari-Program dial
In fact, if I'm honest, I didn't really read the 200(!) page manual* until I found something I wanted to change. In any case, they also give you a 'getting started' version too. With the camera set to 'auto', you only really need to know one thing - 'where do I switch it on?', and that is soon answered by the presence of an on/off switch just ahead of the shutter release.
*(Yes, and it's all in English too - no multi lingual versions!)
It all depends on your current level of experience, as many manuals cover common ground, assuming zero knowledge in the first place.
For those people who can never seem to get the horizon straight, you can switch on a grid overlay in the viewfinder. This can save hours in the 'darkroom', i.e. on your PC fiddling with Photoshop or whatever.
The D70 is 'Pictbridge' compatible, meaning that it can feed, via its USB lead direct to certain printers - that's assuming that all your horizons are straight, and none of your buildings lean back, otherwise, you might want to fiddle around on the PC first!
The shutter speeds range from 1/8000th of a second, capable of catching my wife in a quiet moment, to 30 seconds for those blurred shots of a tortoise race.
Aperture ranges will differ depending on which lens is fitted.
Despite being a digital camera, you can also alter its ISO rating, just like buying 'faster film'. The default setting is ISO 200, with steps up to ISO 1600. Of course everything has a payback. With celluloid, things get 'grainier' as you buy faster film - with digital cameras, things get 'noisier', i.e. renegade pixels of the wrong colour start to make themselves visible as the sensitivity of the CCD is increased. It's probably best to leave this set at ISO 200 unless you have a specific need, like being banned from using flash in some locations.
As well as the built-in flash, the camera will accept the Nikon Speedlight range of electronic flashguns, and also a radio slave unit to trigger flashes elsewhere.
There is provision for an infra-red remote shutter release (ML-L3, about £15), and some 'after-market' manufacturers even make a time-lapse release to take a sequence of shots.
You can shoot your own rapid sequence at the 3-frames per second for about the first dozen of so, after which it slows a little, whilst the buffer madly writes all this stuff to the Compact Flash chip.
All recent D70s have a firmware version to enable them to accept VERY large Compact Flash chips, say up to 4 gigabytes.
The lens mount is the standard Nikkor bayonet pattern, but only the lenses designed for the D-range will work fully-functioned. I tried the lens from my old Nikon F, and yes, you could see through it, but everything else was down to being set manually
This is probably the most important bit, but the one that's least relevant to mere words in a review. Results when shot at Fine/Large jpeg format, are truly excellent. There's good restrained colour rendition, although you can set this to 'vivid' if you really have to. Sharpness is truly excellent, partly down to the lens and partly the large CCD rendering a real 6.1 megapixels.
I'm happy to report that I CAN now take centre sections from my shots and blow them up to a fair degree without too much grief. I don't have a PictBridge printer, so all of my 'darkroom' work is done on my PC using my own copy of Paint Shop Pro rather than the software supplied by Nikon. After all, just how many graphics packages does a lad need?
In fact, my best shots come from using maximum quality on the D70 and then uploading them to Internetphotosdirect, who turn them round in less than 24 hours, producing superb 'photographic' paper piccies.
Unless, you get to this review very early on, I've uploaded a close-up of my wrist-watch, which of course won't give you a full idea of the clarity since the normal file as shot by the D70 is over 50% too large to upload to Ciao. However, just to show you how selective blow-ups are now much more feasible, I've taken a small area of the original 3.2 meg file and uploaded that too.
The picture of the D70 standing next to my trusty old Nikon F (very 70's, very 'Nam) was just for size comparison.
CAVEATS & CONCLUSIONS
It's big, in fact a tad bigger than my Canon SLRs. If pocket-ability is important to you, look elsewhere or get bigger pockets.
Don't keep taking the lenses off unless you're actually changing them over. Dust is just as much a problem as it was with a celluloid SLR.
UPDATE: How's this for a nifty advanced feature? The D70 lets you take a 'dust reference shot' against any plain white background. Then, using the Nikon software, any RAW format pictures you load to your PC can have the dust touched out using the reference shot to 'map' them. This doesn't work for jpeg shots, but fiendishly clever, what?
For an easy life, leave it set to 'programmed' rather than full 'auto'. My friend who originally got me fired up to buy one nearly ripped his pop-up flash gun off because he hadn't heard it 'pop-up' whilst striding manfully through a thicket in Oz. Is this what they mean by having a ripper time in the bush?
Unlike the 5700, which could swivel its external viewfinder/playback screen to face inwards for safety, the screen on the rear of the D70 is fixed, and comes 'conveniently' at belt buckle level, and so is in danger of being scratched quite early on. Nikon supply a clip-on guard, so use it.
The rear video screen is only for playback and set-up purposes - it won't double as a viewfinder, so there'll be no holding the D70 at arm's length above your head to sneak a shot whilst peering into a distant postage stamp.
Price-wise, the D70 is very much the 'baby' of the Nikon digital SLR range, but from my own experience so far, and from what I've read, there's very little difference between this and the £1000+ D100, from which it is derived. Some magazine reviews even venture the opinion that it's better at some things. It's certainly slightly daintier.
Although I got it for a cool £629 after cash-back, whilst Nikon's guide price is £899, don't expect much of a trade-in on what you're replacing. Despite costing the best part of £900 just over two years ago, the Nikon 5700 can now be had new for £400, so as you can guess, its second hand value starts at less than half of this. Progress, eh? In the end, I did a deal with my daughter which saved us both the bother of a trawl of e-bay.
A good site to read reviews and eyeball the camera from several sides is
The latter has some sample shots which can be downloaded in all their 3.0 megabyte glory.
I think what I'm seeing here is my final cutover to digital from celluloid, and if the results I'm getting from internet-based printers are anything to go by, I've still got that 'frisson' of pleasure as I await the postman to see how my prints came out (even though, of course, I've already seen them prior to uploading). This removes the need to update my PC printer until it's broken - I can't believe I just said that!
Oh yes, by the way, there'll be a couple of cheap Canon EOSs up for grabs on E-Bay soon, methinks.
With hindsight, there is only one incy-wincy cloud on the horizon. Unless you buy from a retailer that offers an extended warranty, like InternetCamerasDirect, there's no way open to me to extend the warranty - I confirmed this with Nikon.co.uk's web site. I could always have gone to Jessops, who doubt would have fallen over themselves to sell me a 5-year guarantee, but then, they were charging a full £70 more than Amazon!