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I'm going to have a go at a little bit of an unconventional start to the review - apologies to those who know most of the following, but I believe this information could be useful to those considering in investing in a DSLR for the first time. If you just want to know what the camera is like, skip ahead!
What is a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)?
Unlike a "compact" or "point and shoot" digital camera, you look directly through the camera lens at the scene you are going to photograph, thanks to a system of mirrors and/or prisms. Hit the shutter and this mirror/prism is moved out the way and the shutter is opened, allowing light to fall on the digital sensor - creating the image.
It's a marked difference from how compact digital performs. Here you view the image direct from the digital sensor, either on a LCD screen on the back, or through an electronic viewfinder (EVF) designed to reproduce the effect of an optical viewfinder (OVF) on a DSLR.
This is an important point to consider. If you want a camera where you can preview and frame the photo on the LCD, or see an exposure histogram, before you press the shutter - this camera is not for you. The only time you get to see the photo on the D70 is after you have taken the picture.
However, this is an advantage for some photographers. An optical viewfinder is still the best way of viewing a scene, it doesn't suffer from any "lag" (the time taken for the image to be updated by the camera - as often happens in lower priced compacts). EVFs and LCD screens are also limited by their resolution in the quality of image they can display - an OVF doesn't suffer this problem - what you see is what you get.
So why a DSLR?
It's a growing and contentious issue - compact vs DSLR and I'd advise you really think about what sort of camera you want before going for a DSLR.
Both have their pros and cons and there is no camera which will be perfect for all situations. Here are a few:
Weight - DSLR, it's heavy and not as easy to carry around as a compact, but a heavy camera is also a stable camera, makes it easier to take steady shots in low light and lends itself to a better photographer "stance" than holding some of the smaller compacts up to your eye - or even at arms length when taking photos. Many of the higher range "prosumer" cameras look and feel (and weigh) almost the same as DSLRs, so gain the pros and the cons of both.
Interchangeable lenses - again, add to the weight and lugging you'll have to do. However, massively extend the range of your camera and allow you to choose the type of photography you want to pursue, either through macro lenses, zoom lenses or wide angle landscape lenses. Compact cameras have a fixed lens, which while convenient, means if you every feel limited by the lens, it's time to buy a whole new camera. One very important point DSLR reviews don't talk about is DUST. Changing lenses allows particles of dust to get into the digital sensor, which eventually will start turning up as dark spots on all your photographs. This requires scary DIY or expensive professional cleaning every so often. Dust spots CAN appear in compact cameras - although it's rarer - and it's harder to get rid of them from behind a built in lens.
Speed - newer compact digitals have caught up with DSLRs in terms of speed, but many still believe DSLRs have the edge. Generally DSLRs are "instantly" on - you hit the power button and you're ready to go, compacts can still take 3/4 secs to completely power up.
Taking photos tends to be quicker on a DSLR, with none of the "shutter lag" (the time taken between pressing the shutter and the photo actually being taken) you can experience with compact cameras.
DSLRs are often chosen because of their fast "shot-to-shot" speed and the number of continuous shots they can take (known as Frames per second (fps)). Without spending for a top of the range compact, you'll be struggling to replicate a DSLR performance.
Many keen photographers like to have as much control as possible over their shots and DSLRs offer everything from fully automatic to completely manual, usually using very accessible controls. If compacts have fully manual settings, you often have to wade through endless menus to find them.
For many, high end non-DSLR cameras offer many of the advantages of DSLRs, without some of the disadvantages and it is always worth looking at the range of "prosumer" digitals on offer before committing.
So you still want a DSLR, why the D70?
For those with a better stocked wallet, the new D200 is available. For those who want to save some cash, the D50 may lack some of the specs, but is still a great DSLR. And it's important to remember that the D70S was launched to improve upon and replace the D70.
However, you can still pick up D70 cameras for not much more than the price being asked for D50s - you get just about all the great advantages of the D70S and only miss out on a few features, such as a slightly larger digital sensor (in terms of mega-pixels), a slightly larger LCD screen on the rear of the camera and the ability to trigger the camera using a cable remote (the D70 is limited to an infa-red remote trigger).
Nikon has also kindly provided a firmware (the software which runs the camera) update on line, which allows you to benefit from all the upgrades made to the software in the D70S, including better focussing and clearer menus.
Finally, the camera!
The D70 is 6 megapixel camera, it has the ability to use just about any lens in the Nikon range, or any third party lens with a Nikon mount - although older lenses may not be able to access camera features such as autofocussing and exposure control.
I'm not going to go into the detailed specs of the cameras as these are easily available elsewhere and unless you're a spec-head, of little use.
In the box comes the camera body, and, depending on the package you have bought, a lens - hopefully the excellent 18-70 DX, rather than a cheaper and not as excellent alternative. You'll also get a battery charger, lens cap, plastic LCD screen protector, neck strap and Nikon's Capture software - which is a fairly good start for image management and basic processing.
Picking up the camera you immediately notice it's nice, hefty feel and solid polycarbonate build. Compare it with other DSLRs in the same price range and you'll see the difference. For some this is enough to sell the camera.
The ergonomics are good and the camera fits well into the hand, with controls falling fairly naturally under the fingers. It may take a little while to get used to all the controls, but after using the camera for a while, you'll soon appreciate the fact you can change just about any setting without taking the camera away from your face.
I've got big hands and the camera is ideal for me - although smaller handed people might find it quite large and something like the Canon 300/350D might better suit. I've handled the D350 and find it too small to be comfortable - so if you're a hulking ape, the Nikon is for you!
Two jog dials in front and behind the shutter button control the most obvious settings in the various modes. Numerous of the camera controls are also user-definable through the menu system, allowing you to set up the camera to what best fits you.
The LCD on the back is clear and easy to view in all but the brightest sunlight. As well as viewing your shots, the LCD also displays the menu system, which is clear and intuitive and gives the user an almost endless range of options to set the camera up to their own preferences.
A second LCD on the top of the camera shows shot information, battery status etc and is also easy to read, and has a useful backlight for low light conditions.
The OVF is quite small and dark - an issue with many DSLRs - and will be a disappointment to those used to film SLR Nikons with their bright and big viewfinders. However, through the viewfinder you will also see a useful information overlay, including exposure information, shutter speed and aperture.
The battery for the D70 slots into the bottom of the camera and is secured by a solid feeling door. The camera uses Compact Flash memory cards which slot in to the back of the camera, at a slight angle - which can be awkward for fast card changing - but generally the door feels durable and is still going strong on my two-year-old D70.
The D70 will shoot in RAW (completely uncompressed but large files) or the standard JPG. Again through the menu system you can set jpg settings to your hearts content. Some users complain the Nikon's pictures are dull in comparison with compact shots or even shots taken on other DSLRs. Nikon users will claim this is because the camera is set up to produce as neutral an image as possible, giving the user much greater control over the final image by experimenting with jpg settings, or using photo software. Again, if you want extremely vivid and saturated pictures "straight out the camera" without having to go to the trouble of learning camera settings - consider a different DSLR or a compact.
The D70 is fast - instant start up and I can't detect any shutter lag. It depends on the lens you have, but focus tends to be crisp and fast with the most common "kit lens" (the 18-70 DX) and the auto photo modes seems to be intelligent and useful.
The camera comes with a built in flash, which pops out the top. While useful in certain situations and certainly a better performer than most built in compact camera flashes, if you're doing a lot of flash photography, you'll probably want to invest in the add on flash units available, such as the SB-600 or SB-800.
Like all DSLRs, you're buying a photography system as much as an individual camera. By choosing the Nikon over, say, the Canon, you're choosing to be limited to the range of Nikon and Nikon compatible third party lenses. While you may buy two or three different camera bodies in a photographic lifetime, chances are you'll collect a lens "legacy". Don't just judge your DSLR purchase on a particular body, but also on the full range of lenses available and whether they are at a price and of a type which fits with your photography. There is a reason the vast majority of sports photographers use Canon bodies - because of the excellent choice of very fast Canon zoom lenses, for example.
Finally, I've now taken 10,000+ pictures with my D70 and one of the things I still love about it, is I'm still learning and getting better.
It's a camera which will probably never limit my photography - if anything, I'll always limit what it is capable of producing.
As previously said - buying a DSLR is a decision which needs to be taken after a lot of research and after clearly defining what sort of camera matches your needs.
Also be warned - DSLRs are an expensive addiction. A DSLR camera system and your collection of lenses will grow with you and your hobby as your bank balance shrinks!
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