** printer friendly version for non-commercial use only **
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 21, 2004
Last Updated: April 21, 2004
The digital camera world changed in a big way last year when Canon introduced the first low cost digital SLR -- the Digital Rebel (EOS-300D). Now it's Nikon's turn to join the party, with their impressive D70. It costs a little more than the Rebel, but as you read through this review, you'll see that it offers a lot more than the Canon. The D70 body-only kit costs $999, while the body plus a 18 - 70 mm lens will set you back $1299.
For those who want the best pictures and performance without gimmicks like a movie mode, a digital SLR is the way to go. Is the D70 the best one for the job? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
As I mentioned, there are two configurations of the D70: one with a lens, and one without. Here's what you'll find in the box:
Digital SLRs do not include a memory card -- it's up to you to buy them. The D70 can use Type I or II CompactFlash cards, including the Microdrive. It is compatible with the FAT32 format, allowing you to use cards larger than 2GB.
The D70 uses the EN-EL3 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. The EL3 has a hefty 10.4 Wh of energy -- about 20% moire juice than the battery the Digital Rebel uses. Nikon estimates that you can take about 400 shots per charge, with 50% flash use. One thing I love about D-SLRs is that the batteries seem to last forever, since the LCD is not used for live previews.
I like to complain about proprietary batteries in digital cameras. For one, they're expensive -- $45 a pop. My other usual complaint is that you can't pop in "regular" batteries when the proprietary one dies. That's not the case with the D70, though. While they're not cheap ($4 each), you can buy three CR2 lithium batteries and put them in a special case included with the camera to get you through the day. Since you probably won't find CR2 batteries at Disneyland, I'd pick up a spare EN-EL3 instead and keep it charged.
When it's time to recharge, pop the battery into the included MH-18 charger. This isn't one of those "plug right into the wall" chargers -- you hook a regular power cord into it. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery.
One thing that the Digital Rebel supports that the D70 does not is a battery grip. You're stuck with the one battery or the optional AC adapter ($80!).
As with all SLRs, there are tons of accessories available. First, there are lenses and flashes, in all shapes and sizes. I'll tell you everything you need to know about those later in the review. Other accessories include the ML-L3 wireless remote control ($17), plus diopter-adjustment lenses, a magnifier, and a right-angle attachment for the optical viewfinder.
PictureProject main screen
Nikon includes a brand new software product with the D70 called PictureProject. It's nothing to write home about. The main screen is your typical photo organizer, letting you put photos in folders, give them keywords for easy searching later, rotate them, etc.
PictureProject edit screen
The edit screen lets you adjust a few things, such as brightness, color, and sharpness. The Photo Effects option lets you quickly change the image to black and white or sepia. There are also buttons for instant photo enhancement or redeye removal.
E-mail your photos in PictureProject
PictureProject can also be used to e-mail or print your photos, or share them online via NikonNet. A slideshow feature lets you put your photos to music.
RAW adjustment in Photoshop using NEF plug-in
Nikon also includes a NEF plug-in for Photoshop, allowing it to read the D70's RAW image format. Unfortunately your options here are quite limited, as you can see in the screenshot above.
So what do RAW enthusiasts do? One option is to buy Nikon Capture 4. A 30 day trial version is included, though I had to update it to version 4.1 before it would read the NEF files. Nikon Capture lets you control many properties of the RAW image, such as sharpness, saturation, and contrast, plus the two items you see in the shot above. It also lets you control your camera over the USB connection. Nikon Capture will set you back $100. Another option is to wait for Adobe to update their Camera Raw plug-in to support the D70.
What's the big deal about the RAW/NEF format? It's raw data direct from the camera's sensor which you can manipulate on your PC without any loss of quality. Botch the white balance? Fix it in software and it's as if you took the shot again. The main disadvantage of RAW is that every photo must be post-processed before you can use it in another format like TIFF or JPEG.
A complex camera requires a quality manual, and Nikon delivered one with the D70. Everything you need to know is here, those the layout is a bit cluttered at times.
Look and Feel
With perhaps the exception of the battery compartment cover, the D70 is very well built. If you pick up the Digital Rebel and then the D70, you'll notice a huge difference. The Rebel feels light and plasticky, while the D70 has some weight to it, and feels like it can take whatever you throw at it. As you'd expect with an SLR, it's very easy to hold, with a large grip for your right hand (with the lens being the resting spot for your left).
The official dimensions of the D70 (body only), are 5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 595 grams. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the Digital Rebel are 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9 and 560 g, respectively.
Okay, let's get our tour of the D70 started!
The D70 has a Nikkor F-mount and works with most CPU lenses (with the IX Nikkor being the exception). For best results, Nikon recommends using type D and G lenses; the 18-70 in the kit is a "G" lens. As with most D-SLRs, you must take a focal length conversion ratio into account when choosing a lens. The ratio for the D70 is 1.5X, so you multiply the lens' focal range by that to find the actual range. So the 18-70 lens is really equivalent to 27-105.
Directly above the lens mount is the pop-up flash. This powerful flash has a working range of approximately 1.0 - 7.7 meters. If that's not enough for you, consider using an external flash -- more on this later.
Just to the right of the lens mount is the release button. To the lower-left of the mount is the depth-of-field preview button.
To the upper-left of the lens mount is the AF-assist lamp. I much prefer the system used here to the flash-based one used on the Digital Rebel (because it requires you to take a flash picture). An AF-assist lamp is used by the camera when it tries to focus in low light. It has a range of approximately 0.5 - 3.0 meters.
To the left of the AF-assist lamp is the sub-command dial, used for choosing manual settings.
The back of the D70 looks a whole lot like the D100 on which this camera is based. The main event here is a 1.8" LCD display with 130,000 pixels (that's slightly higher than the Rebel). The screen is bright and sharp, and you can adjust screen brightness in the menu. As is the case for all D-SLRs, the LCD is only for menus and reviewing shots -- you cannot do "live previews" before taking a shot!
Directly above the LCD is a large optical viewfinder, which shows 95% of the frame. It shows the five available focus points, and a grid can be overlayed, which is helpful for taking shots of buildings or landscapes. At the bottom of the viewfinder is a line of green text, showing focus status, shutter speed, aperture, and more. A diopter correction slider is on the right side of the viewfinder, allowing the user to focus what they're looking at. If that's not enough, you can also buy dedicated diopter lenses for the viewfinder.
To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons:
The shooting mode button is also used to format a memory card when held down at the same time as the LCD info display backlight button that you'll see below.
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 also used for adjusting manual settings.
To the left of the LCD are five buttons:
I want to talk a little more about white balance before we continue the tour. First, the D70 has a "preset" WB mode, which lets you shoot a white or gray card to get perfect color in any lighting. If that's not good enough, you can fine tune the WB. The range is ±3, with each increment being equivalent to 10 mired (a measure of color temperature). By doing this fine tuning, you can practically select the exact color temperature you want. If this sounds confusing, don't worry too much -- there's a handy chart in the manual that explains what this all means.
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.
On the far right is a somewhat flimsy plastic door which covers the memory card slot. Let's take a closer look:
The slot can use any Type I or Type II CompactFlash card, including the Microdrive.
On the top of the camera, you'll find a few more dials and buttons, plus the hot shoe.
At the far left, you can see the mode dial, which has the following options:
The next item on the top of the camera is the hot shoe. You can attach a Nikon speedlight, which fully integrates with the camera, or you can use a third party flash which may not. The two Nikon flashes which seem to work best with the camera are the SB-600 (price not announced) and SB-800 ($340), which support things like i-TTL flash control, wireless lighting, "Flash Color Information Communication", and AF-assist (on the flash). You can use a non-Nikon flash as well, but you may have to manually select the flash settings. The camera can sync as fast as 1/500 sec with an external flash.
Another option is to buy the AS-15 accessory shoe adapter ($19), which provides a flash sync port for connecting to an off-camera flash.
Continuing to the right, we find the LCD info display. This shows all kinds of things, including shutter speed, aperture, flash setting and more (there's a diagram in the manual that tells all). By pushing the small button to the right of the display, you can activate a backlight for the display. The display doesn't completely shut off when the camera does -- it always displays the photos remaining on your memory card.
Above the LCD info display are two buttons, the shutter release button, and the power switch (wrapped around the shutter release). The two buttons are for metering (3D color matrix, center-weighted, spot) and exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV, 1/3EV increments).
On this side of the camera there are just a few things to point out.
On the 18 - 70 mm lens, you can see a switch which moves the camera between autofocus w/manual priority to manual-only focus. There's a similar button on the camera body, just to the lower-right of it.
Above that is the flash release button, which also changes the flash mode or flash strength, depending on which of the dials you twist. The flash modes are auto (front-curtain sync), auto w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction, and rear/slow rear-curtain sync, while the flash strength range is -3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments.
On the far right, under rubber covers, are the I/O ports. Let's take a closer look:
The ports include DC-in (for optional AC adapter), video out, and USB. As is the case with the Digital Rebel, the D70 does not support the USB 2.0 high speed interface.
Nothing to see here!
On the bottom of the camera, you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The battery compartment is covered by a semi-flimsy plastic door.
The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect.
Using the Nikon D70
The D70 is ready to shoot as soon as you flip the power switch -- much faster than the Digital Rebel.
Autofocus speeds on the D70 were exceptional, with some of the fastest focusing I've ever seen on a digital camera. The camera locks focus in under 1/2 second in almost all cases. If it has to use the AF-assist lamp, it still is very quick. The camera focused well in low light conditions.
Shutter lag? What shutter lag? As you'd expect from a D-SLR, there really isn't any delay to speak of. Press the shutter release and the photo is taken.
The shot-to-shot speed is also impressive, as you'd expect. This is one of those cameras where you can really shoot as fast as you can compose (or at least until the buffer fills up), even in RAW mode.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to delete the shot you just took.
Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the D70 :
|Resolution||Quality||Approx. file size||# images on 256MB card (not included)|
|RAW + JPEG
3008 x 2000
|RAW + Large/Basic||5.8 MB||44|
3008 x 2000
2240 x 1488
1504 x 1000
I discussed the RAW format at the beginning of the review. On the D70, you can take a RAW image alone, or a RAW plus a JPEG. For the latter, the JPEG will always be at the Large/Basic setting -- it was also fixed on the Digital Rebel. The D70 does not support the TIFF format.
Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.
The menu system on the D70 has many more options than the one on the Digital Rebel. It's powerful, but more complex at the same time. The D70 has the custom functions normally found on higher-end D-SLRs, while the Rebel had none. Here are the menu options on the D70:
I'm think I explained the important menu items. So, let's move on to the photo tests now, which I took using the 18 - 70 mm lens (the only Nikkor lens I have).
As is the case with all D-SLRs, the macro ability of the D70 will depend on the lens you're using. The 18-70 lens that's part of the kit has a minimum focal range of 38 cm, which isn't great. Even so, I was able to get a nice shot of our usual 3" tall macro subject, though it could used some more depth-of-field (my fault!). The colors look great under my studio lights.
The night shot came out pretty well, though it's a little on the soft side. With exposures as long as 30 minutes in bulb mode, you can take some pretty awesome night shots. Just remember your tripod.
I didn't see anything out of the ordinary in the night shot, and purple fringing was not an issue.
Now, here's a look at how the camera performs at higher ISO sensitivities:
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One thing I love about D-SLRs is the super-low noise levels. Even ISO 1600 is pretty good!
Back when I tested the D100, I was able to take some great handheld photos of fireworks using the higher ISO settings. Keep that mind if you're in the dark and don't have a tripod with you!
The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion as well as vignetting (dark corners) at the wide end of the lens. I did not see any vignetting in my real world test shots.
I should probably mention that the D70's photos have a 3:2 ratio, making them much wider than your typical digital camera.
The D70 did a fabulous job with the redeye test, showing only a little flash reflection. I wasn't too surprised by the results, as the flash is quite far from the lens.
Aside from one occasional issue, the D70's photo quality is top-notch. Exposure and color were consistently accurate, with no wacky issues like I had on the Digital Rebel (with the random overexposure). Images were very sharp, which leads to the one issue that holds the D70 back from image quality greatness: moire.
What is moire? For a technical definition, as well as some suggestions for getting rid of it, Nikon has posted some info on their site about it. What does it do to your photos? Have a look:
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As you can see, moire is quite nasty, and I was shocked to see so much of it from a camera that's otherwise close to perfect. Is it in every shot? Nope. In fact, I went out shot the house photo several more times on different days and never saw it again. I've heard that shooting in RAW mode may help reduce it, but since I couldn't get the moire to show up in that photo again, I don't know for sure. Another thing to try is to shoot troublesome subjects from different angles, or to focus on different areas of the frame.
The moire issue is the only photo quality issue I have with the D70. I should also mention that purple fringing was not a problem based on my test shots.
Only you can decide if the D70's photo quality is right for you. View our gallery, print the pictures, and come to your own conclusions.
No digital SLRs would be caught dead with a movie mode!
The D70 has a pretty standard playback mode with zero gimmicks. Features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection and hiding, image rotation, and zoom and scroll.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term; Nikon calls it playback zoom) 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. You'll find this feature useful for checking for proper focus, and geez, I guess moire too.
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 D70 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.
How Does it Compare?
With the exception of an occasional problem with moire, the Nikon D70 is the best camera you can buy for under $1300 (if you already have a few Nikon lenses, the price for the body-only kit is just $999). The D70 takes excellent pictures, though they are marred by moire patterns that show up way too often for a camera like this. There are many ways to try to get around it, and by all means: experiment! Photos are very sharp, with accurate color and exposure, and no purple fringing to speak of.
In terms of performance, the D70 is truly amazing. It starts up instantly, focus quickly (even in low light), has no shutter lag, and an impressive 3 frames/second burst mode. Even playback mode is fast. The camera has more manual controls than the Canon Digital Rebel, including a bunch of custom options that let you choose how your camera functions. As with all D-SLRs, the D70 supports a wide range of lenses and external flashes. The lens included with the $1299 kit is quite the value, as well.
There really isn't much to hate about the D70. I already mentioned the occasional problems with moire, so here are a few other complaints of mine. One, the camera supports the slow version of USB 2.0 (AKA USB 1.1). If you're not going to give us FireWire, at least give us USB 2.0 high speed! Secondly, the included PictureProject software leaves much to be desired. They should throw in NikonCapture for free, in this reviewer's opinion.
Inevitably, people will come down to choosing between the Digital Rebel and the D70. Which should you pick? Since they both cost around the same thing without the lens, budget shouldn't be a huge issue (though the Rebel with the 18-55 lens is quite a deal). Already have an investment in lenses of either manufacturer? Stay with them. Lensless? That's a tough one. As much as I love the Rebel and its arguably superior photo quality, I think the D70 is the better camera in terms of features and build quality. But you really can't go wrong with either. They're both great tools that make it fun to just go out and take pictures. Try them both and see which you fall in love with!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
I've got tons of photos in our gallery!
Want a second opinion? How about a few more?Check out other opinions about this camera at Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, DP Review, and 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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