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DCRP Review: Nikon D70s
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 8, 2005
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The Nikon D70s is an evolutionary -- not revolutionary -- update to the popular D70 digital SLR. Where Canon took their Digital Rebel and changed it dramatically when it became the Rebel XT, Nikon took smaller steps with the D70s. The changes from the original D70 include:
D70 owners, don't fret -- several of these new features (including the faster AF system) are available via a firmware update.
The original D70 was one of my favorite D-SLRs from last year. How does this latest revision perform? Find out in our review!
Note: Since the cameras are so similar, I'll be reusing a lot of text from the D70 review here.
What's in the Box?
There are two "kits" available for the D70s. One is the body-only kit ($899), while the other is the lens kit, which comes with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G lens ($1199). Here's what you'll find inside the box in both kits:
As is the case with all D-SLRs, Nikon does not include a memory card with the D70s, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. Thankfully CompactFlash cards are inexpensive these days. I'd recommend a 512MB or 1GB as a good starter size for most people. The D70s supports Type II cards which currently come as large as 8GB I believe. The Microdrive is also supported, though I can't recommend them based on past experiences. High speed CompactFlash cards do make a noticeable difference on the D70s, especially in continuous shooting mode. Therefore, it's probably worth buying one rated at 32X or higher.
Unless you buy the lens kit, you won't have a lens either (unless you already have a collection of Nikkor lenses). The D70s, like all Nikon SLRs, has an F mount which is compatible with nearly all Nikkor lenses. If you have some old lenses you may want to check with Nikon to make sure they work. The 18 - 70 mm kit lens is the same one that came with the D70 and I've been pleased with its performance.
One of the biggest changes on the D70s is the new battery that it uses. While it looks just like the EN-EL3 battery used by the original D70, the new EN-EL3a has about 7% more energy (11.1 Wh vs. 10.4 Wh). Nikon gives two battery life numbers on the D70s and neither of them use the CIPA standard. The high number is 2500 shots per charge and the low number is 500. Looking over the CIPA standard I'd say the lower number is a lot closer to the standard than the higher number.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the EN-EL3a apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $47 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day. The only D-SLRs that use AA batteries have the Pentax name on the front.
You can use non-proprietary batteries with the D70s if you want, but first you'll need to buy the MS-D70 CR2 battery holder ($14). This lets you use three (non-rechargeable) CR2 lithium batteries to power the camera, if you like.
When it's time to charge the EN-EL3a battery just snap it into the included charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
The beauty of a digital SLR is that nearly any accessory you can think of is available. First and foremost are lenses, and Nikon has tons of them. Same goes for flashes. The SB-600 ($195) and SB-800 ($320) are fully compatible with the camera's i-TTL flash metering system. Numerous eyepieces are available, and so is a handy "angle finder" ($185). The D70s supports both wired ($17) and wireless ($25) remotes, and naturally there's a carrying case available as well ($40). To power the camera without using the batteries you'll want the EH-5 AC adapter ($80). One glaring omission in the accessory department is a battery grip, and that's because Nikon doesn't make one (Harbortronics does, though I'm not sure if it works with the D70s).
Nikon includes their PictureProject 1.5 software with the D70s, and it's a mixed bag. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. The default view can be seen above, and it's your standard thumbnail setup.
A view showing exposure info is also available. Double-clicking on an image enters the image edit window:
Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available.
One thing you can't do, much to my dismay, is edit RAW (NEF) images. For those who don't know, the beauty of RAW is that you can adjust image properties like white balance, exposure, sharpness, and color without affecting the image quality. It's like being able to take the shot again. Unfortunately PictureProject open opens the NEF image and won't let you adjust anything. For that you'll need Nikon's optional Capture 4.0 software (see below) or Photoshop CS2, which has an excellent RAW import engine.
Other features in PictureProject include the ability to e-mail or print your photos, and you can burn them to a CD as well.
Also included is a demo version of Nikon Capture 4.2, something which should be standard and not $99 more. Nikon Capture lets you edit all kinds of things, from RAW properties to distortion to dust on your photos.
Something else that Capture lets you do is control the D70s over the USB connection. You can adjust any of the camera settings and when you take a photo the image is send right to your Mac or PC.
The D70s is a pretty complex camera and that means that it needs a pretty comprehensive manual. The only that comes with the camera has all the info you need, though it's not terribly user friendly.
Look and Feel
The D70s looks exactly like its predecessor except for the larger LCD display on the back. It's not the smallest D-SLR out there, and that's a good thing in my opinion. The camera has a large right hand grip and it has a solid, weighty feel to it that I prefer to some of the cheaper-feeling D-SLRs on the market.
Here's how the D70s compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the D70s is one of the largest D-SLRs in the bunch, and's a good thing in my opinion, as I find the smaller ones too uncomfortable to hold
Well, with that out of the way we can start our tour of the camera now!
If you've seen the D70, then you've seen the D70s, at least from the front. As I said earlier, the camera uses an F mount and it will work with almost all Nikkor lenses, though you should check with Nikon if you have older lenses. Nikon recommends using D or G lenses for maximum compatibility with the camera.
One thing to remember about digital SLRs: due to their smaller sensor size (versus 35mm film) and therefore narrower angle-of-view, the effective focal range of the lens is 1.5 times what it says on the lens. That means that the 18 - 70 mm included in the lens kit is equivalent to a 27 - 105 mm if used on a 35mm camera. This is great if you like telephoto shots, but for wide-angle you may have to invest some money into some wider lenses.
To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. Below that is the focus mode switch that I'll discuss later. To the lower-left of the lens mount is the depth-of-field preview button.
At the top-right of the photo you'll find the remote control receiver. Over on the opposite side is the AF-assist lamp (which doubles as the self-timer lamp) as well as one of the two command dials on the camera. It's nice to see a "real" AF-assist lamp here as opposed to the flash-based system used by some other manufacturers.
The only change to the back of the camera is the new, larger LCD display (2.0" versus 1.8"). Despite the increased size, the screen resolution is the same -- 130,000 pixels (which is above average). Just in case you're new to D-SLRs, I should point out something very important: on 99% of D-SLRs the LCD is used only for menus and viewing photos after they are taken. You must compose and shoot your photos using the optical viewfinder.
Speaking of viewfinders, you'll find the D70s' optical viewfinder directly above the LCD, and it shows 95% of the frame. There is an information line at the bottom, which shows exposure info and camera settings. Also shown are five (yes, just five) focus points, and a grid for composing your photos is also available. A diopter correction slider (located on the right side of the viewfinder) will focus things for those with less than perfect vision.
To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons:
The D70s' continuous shooting performance really depends on what memory card you're using. With an "el cheapo" regular speed card it'll stop shooting as soon as the buffer fills up. This happens after four RAW shots or nine Large/Fine JPEG shots (lowering the quality allows for more shots in a row). But if you use a super fast card like the 80X Lexar 2GB card I tested with the camera things will keep going, albeit at a slower pace once the buffer fills up. With that card I was able to take seventeen Large/Fine JPEGs in a row at 2.9 frames/second before things started slowing down. Even at the slower speed the D70s was still shooting at around 1.8 frames/second.
On the opposite side of the viewfinder is the AE/AF lock button. To the right of that is the main command dial, which is used for adjusting manual settings.
To the left of the LCD are five buttons:
The white balance controls on the D70s are unchanged since the original D70. While they're decent, they're a little less powerful than what Canon's offering these days. You can use white balance presets or you can use a white or gray card for custom white balance. You can also fine-tune a WB setting (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments) which is almost like setting the color temperature manually (there's a helpful chart in the manual for this).
The help feature is new to the D70s, though it could be more helpful (it you excuse the pun), as it only explains the custom function options in the menu (and nothing else).
On the right side of the LCD you'll find the four-way controller, the focus point lock button, and the delete photo button. In addition to navigating the menus, the four-way controller is also used for manually selecting one of five focus points (top, center, bottom, left, right). Flip the lock to the "L" position and the focus point won't change.
The last thing to see here is the memory card slot, which is kept behind a plastic door of average quality. Let's open it up and take a look:
And here it is! The D70s, like its predecessor, takes CompactFlash Type I or II cards, including the Microdrive. The 2GB card shown is most definitely NOT included!
There's plenty to see here, so I'll work my way from left to right.
Over on the left side is the mode dial, which has many options, as you'd expect. There are both fully automatic and manual modes, so no matter what your experience level, you can use the D70s with ease. Here are all the options on the mode dial:
The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. While the D70s works best with the SB-600 and SB-800 flash (supporting both AF-assist and wireless features), it will work with Nikon flashes as well. If you have a third party lens it will most likely work too, though you'll have to choose its settings manually. The D70s can sync as fast as 1/500 sec with an external flash.
The next item over is the LCD info display, which shows all kinds of things ranging from shots remaining to flash setting to aperture and shutter speed. You can activate a handy backlight by pressing the button to the right of the screen.
Above that are two last buttons plus the power switch / shutter release button. The buttons are for metering mode (3D color matrix, center-weighted, spot) and exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV increments).
On this side of the camera you'll find a few more buttons and switches. That switch on the kit lens is used for switching between manual/auto and manual focus modes.
On the camera body itself the first thing to see is the flash button at the top. This releases the flash, changes the flash mode (front-curtain sync, redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction, rear-curtain sync, slow rear-curtain sync), and adjusts flash exposure compensation (-3EV to +1EV, 1/3EV increments).
Below that is another switch for focus: auto or manual. The last thing to see here are the camera's I/O ports, all of which are under rubber covers. Let's take a look:
The ports include (from top to bottom):
On a disappointing note, the D70s does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard. Instead it has USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is marketing-speak for "slow".
Nothing to see here.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The door covering this compartment is fairly sturdy.
The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
Using the Nikon D70s
Something I liked about the original D70 was its near-instant startup speed, and that hasn't changed on the D70s. Flip the power switch and the camera is ready to go.
Autofocus speeds were something Nikon improved on the D70s, and I'm pleased with the results. The camera focuses very quickly, whether at wide-angle or telephoto. In most cases you can press the button and expect the focus to be locked maybe 0.1 second after you press the button. Low light focusing was excellent as well thanks to the powerful AF-assist lamp.
As for shutter lag, there really isn't any. That's why you're interested in a digital SLR, right?
Shot-to-shot speed is also very good. You can keep shooting as fast as you can compose your shots until the buffer fills up. With a slow CompactFlash card that takes four shots in RAW mode or nine in Large/Fine JPEG mode, but with a fast card the buffer flushes fast enough that you can just keep going. As long as you buy a fast CF card there's little-to-no waiting for take another shot on the D70s.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.
Now, let's take a look at the image size and quality choices on the D70s:
The D70s can shoot RAW (NEF) images, either by themselves or along with a JPEG at the Large/Basic quality. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available.
Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG (or .NEF), where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.
Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.
The menus are just a little different than on the original D70. They're easier to read thanks to a better choice of colors and a larger font. There are four "tabs" in the menu: record, playback, custom functions, and setup. Here's the complete list:
Believe it or not, I think I explained everything up there. If you have questions about these things you'll find the camera's manual to be an invaluable reference.
Okay, let's move on to the test photos now, all of which were taken with the 18 - 70 mm kit lens (the only Nikkor lens I had at the time).
I actually took the macro test shot in RAW mode for a change which allowed me to tweak things to my liking. Even so things are a bit soft, though a trip through Photoshop's unsharp mask filter makes things a lot nicer. Colors are accurate and nicely saturated here.
The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Nikon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, which you'll probably want to look into if you're serious about close-up shots.
As with the macro shot (and all the other D70s photos), the night shot is on the soft side, but that's easy to fix in software or on the camera itself. The camera took in plenty of light thanks to the manual shutter speed control, and there's no purple fringing to be found. Noise levels are low.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The great thing about D-SLRs is that even at ISO 1600 the image is still usable. You'll probably find the high ISO settings even more useful when shooting in available light -- so you can get sharp pictures without resorting to the flash (see the gallery for an example or two). Do note that the D70s lets you choose many ISO settings between 200 and 1600, so you can tweak things to your heart's content.
As you'd expect from such a wide lens, there's very noticeable barrel distortion on the 18 - 70 mm kit lens. If you take pictures in small rooms or of things with a lot of straight edges (like buildings) you will notice that they're curved in your photos. This can be fixed pretty well in software if you know what you're doing. I saw no evidence of vignetting or blurry corners in my tests.
There's no redeye to be found using the D70s' built-in flash, nor would I expect any.
Overall the D70s' image quality was excellent. As is the case with all digital SLRs, the images are on the soft side at default settings. You can either turn up the in-camera sharpening in the record menu or you can sharpen them later on your PC. Exposure and color were both good, and purple fringing (which depends a lot on your choice of lens) was not an issue. One thing that continues to be an issue is occasional problems with moiré. You'll find these annoying artifacts in these two photos (see the air conditioner and the Transamerica Pyramid). Chances are you may never seen moiré in any of your photos, but do note that it's more likely to happen with the D70s than with other D-SLRs (at least the ones that I've tested). Nikon's support site has a page with tips on how to reduce this effect, as well.
My advice, as always, is to check out our photo gallery before you make any decisions. Look over the photos and see if they meet your expectations. I recommend printing them too, just like you would if they were your own.
Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.
The D70s has a pretty standard playback mode with no gimmicks (like all D-SLRs). Features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection and hiding, image rotation, and zoom and scroll.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image and then move around in the zoomed-in area. It's not quite as easy-to-use as on a camera with zoom buttons, but it works well enough. This feature comes in handy for when you want to make sure that your subject is properly focused.
Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. By using the playback menu, you can select a group of photos to delete -- a feature I always appreciate.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. But use the four-way controller and you'll get detailed exposure and setting info, a histogram, as well as a screen showing blown-out highlights.
Keeping with the "fast" theme of the rest of the camera, the D70s moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.
How Does it Compare?
While there's no reason for current D70 owners to run out and buy it, the Nikon D70s is an excellent digital SLR that I can recommend to just about anyone. The D70s has a good-sized, weighty camera that feels just right in your hands. Build quality is first-rate and it makes the Rebel XT and E-300 look like toys in comparison. The D70s' new 2.0" LCD is a nice improvement, though I didn't find myself longing for it when I reviewed the original D70. One nice addition is the port for the wired remote control, but where's the battery grip option and support for USB 2.0 High Speed?
Image quality on the D70s is excellent, though you should be prepared for soft images at the default settings and occasional problems with moiré. Exposure, color, and purple fringing were all acceptable. High ISO noise levels were fairly low as you'd expect from a D-SLR though I think the (more expensive) EOS-20D does a little better in this area. Redeye was not a problem.
Camera performance was great, from an instant startup time to responsive AF performance, even in low light. Shutter lag was not a problem and shot-to-shot delays were almost non-existent. Continuous shooting is okay with a "slow" memory card but with a fast one you can really go crazy, even at the highest quality settings. Battery life was very good, though I wish Nikon would publish numbers using the CIPA standard so they could be compared with other cameras.
In terms of features, the D70s has plenty. Full manual controls? Check. White balance fine-tuning? Yep. Bracketing of all types? That's here too. Some things like white balance controls aren't quite as nice as what Canon is doing these days, but most people will be satisfied with what the D70s offers. The playback mode doesn't do anything fancy but the important features are all there and everything is responsive.
One complaint that should be mentioned is the bundled software. PicturePackage is decent for editing images, but if you take any RAW images you'll be shocked that you can't adjust any of your image properties using the software. For that you'll need either Nikon Capture (a demo is included) or Adobe Photoshop CS2.
Overall I highly recommend the Nikon D70s to anyone who wants a well built, high performance digital SLR from a company with a huge collection of lenses. If you already have Nikkor lenses than the D70s is a no-brainer. If you're just starting out things get a little more difficult. The Canon EOS-20D costs a lot more but is definitely a better camera in almost every way. The Rebel XT costs about the same and offers more a higher resolution sensor, USB 2.0 High Speed support, more advanced white balance controls, and an optional battery grip. At the same time it feels a lot cheaper in the hand, something which bothered me quite a bit. Also available soon is the Nikon D50, a cheaper version of the D70s. At press time I had not tried it, so you'll have to wait for my opinion on it.
Ultimately it comes down to what's important to you. Decide what matters most, try the cameras in person, and then pick the one that fits your needs! You really can't go wrong with any D-SLR on the market.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon Digital Rebel XT and EOS-20D, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D50 (a cheaper version of the D70s), Pentax *ist DS, and the Olympus E-1 and E-300.
As always, I strongly recommend trying the D70s and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a camera!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Get another opinion on the D70s at dcviews.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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