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D70 Test Review
and Users Guide
D70 has pretty much evaporated from stores.
As of January 2006 I LOVE my new 18 - 200 VR. There isn't anything this new lens can't do, so if you can afford it I'd strongly suggest you just get it. It's fast, flexible, sharp and more than I can say here. Read my review here.
If you can't spring for the 18 - 200 VR I prefer the cheaper 18 - 55 over the more expensive 18 - 70 lens. To add a tele I'd suggest the inexpensive 70 - 300 G. If you'll be shooting indoor sports I'd suggest the professional 80 - 200 2.8 AF-D. Instead of the 70 - 300. The 80-200 costs six times as much but focuses six times faster and is two to four times more sensitive to low light.
I have an entire page on selecting lenses for digital cameras. loaded with details.
I often get questions from new photo hobbyists like "I have priced the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 and it is the same price as the Nikkor 18-70 f/3.5-4.5G that comes with the D70. Should I buy it instead of the Nikkor? I am not sure of the importance of the extra .7 f-stop vs. the extra 6mm on the wide angle side." Actually, the answer lies on both the surface and substance level.
At the surface level understood by the new photographer this answer is easy: the 2/3 of a stop means nothing today, since you can just increase the ISO of the D70 with little to no penalty in image quality if you run out of light. On the other hand, the 7mm is a HUGE difference in how wide it goes on the D70: it's the difference between a 27mm lens and a 36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. You will always be at the 24mm stop and wishing you could get back out to 18mm on the D70 for a lot of things, at least the way I use it. This is quite clear.
The substance level is something I never appreciated till I had a couple of decades of experience under my belt. A discount lens usually offers more features like faster speed or wider zoom range for less money than camera-brand lenses. Likewise, a cheap car like a Hyundai or Ford usually offers better specifications, like fuel economy, horsepower or number of radio presets, for a lower price than a Mercedes. You may realize that the Mercedes has a lot more fundamental quality for which there is no numeric specification, and so you probably understand why a Mercedes costs more even with worse specifications.
It's the same thing with lenses. Discount brands are usually pushed by camera stores because they make even more money selling them (more here on that). I avoid the discount brands and know of no professional photographer who uses them. Don't you think if even one pro photographer you'd heard of used them they'd push that in their ads? Anyway, the discount lenses cut corners in places that neophytes don't know about, like the internal construction quality. I find them to be a bad deal, but hey, get what you want.
See my lens page for lots more details.
Compatibility with Other Lenses back to top
Everything works with AF-D and AF-G Nikkors. That of course includes all the VR and AF-S lenses. My AF-I 400mm f/2.8 is an AF-D so it should be fine, although I have not tried it yet.
You lose iTTL and 3D Matrix and just get regular, perfectly fine Matrix with regular AF lenses and AI-P lenses. In other words, your 20 year old AF lenses will work just fine.
Manual AI and AI-s lenses will mount on the camera just fine, but are useless for most modern things. It turns the D70 into something as manual as 4x5" camera: you will have no metering and will have to set exposure using either an external meter or by trial-and-error. Watch out using an external meter: zoom lenses can lose a fraction of a stop of light (unlike the fixed focal-length lenses we use on view cameras) which can be enough to give obvious exposure errors for which TTL meters have automatically corrected these past 25 years. Make sure to try and see and use an appropriate compensation factor if you're using a manual zoom lens. heck, all meters usually need some compensation, so always test. This is basic Zone System photography.
RAW FILES back to top
The RAW / NEF ability of the D70 is vastly improved from all previous cameras. The internal processing capability is so improved that it can process a compressed NEF in about half a second. Since there is no longer a delay in processing the lossless compression there is no reason to use cumbersome uncompressed NEFs. The compression is lossless and gives you exactly the same data in as little as half the space.
I prefer using the file openerer provided by Nikon. This way the NEFs open to look the same color as the JPGs and the rear camera LCD. I get different colors using the Adobe Photoshop CS Camera RAW plug in.
Opened with the Nikon software the NEFs look a little sharper than the JPGs as recorded by the camera. To make the JPGs as sharp as the NEFs just apply the unsharp mask in Photoshop to the JPGs with settings of 100%, 0.3 pixels and 0 threshold (or 500%, 0.2 pixels and 0 threshold.)
The RAW files, opened with the Nikon software, have uncorrected Bayer filtering artifacts left in, so if you have strong sharp color transitions you'll see glaring pixel-sized checkerboard patterns where you really just want to see a smooth transition. This looks fine in JPG, but if you photograph fall color with yellow leaves against a blue sky and look at the edges they look nasty in RAW at 100%.
Printed on real photo paper at 12 x 18" I see no difference between BASIC JPG and NEF, although I can see differences on my computer at 100%.
Every brand of software opens the NEFs to look different. Nikon software opens them to match the look of the JPGs and camera's LCD. Other brands of software will give you different looks, so beware if you, like me, are used to getting the right look in-camera.
Photoshop CS now opens the D70 RAW files. Get the update here for the camera RAW plug-in 2.2.
You need the NEF plug in which comes with the newest Nikon View 6.2.2 to open the D70's NEFs otherwise.
Picture Package software replaces Nikon View and I have not tried it. Picture Project will also allow you to save edited NEF files! The files will be saved with the same core RAW image data, and flags indicating your preferred adjustments so they open that way next time. If you want to change the settings in the future no problem, since it's just the flags that change, not the core data. Thus you always save the original even if you've made adjustments and you can undo them later. Of course once you get into anything in Photoshop you'll want to save those images as PSD or TIF or JPG or whatever.
The upcoming Capture 4.1 (extra cost) will also open these NEFs.
These NEFs take 37 seconds each to open in Photoshop on my 800MHz G4 iBook with 640MB of RAM using the Nikon View 6.2.1 plug-in. This delay is a pain, but people who shoot RAW are used to this. Other opener programs should be faster, if you can find one to open them. Photoshop CS can read the D70 if you have v2.2 of Camera Raw here; the older Adobe Camera RAW plug in can't open the D70 NEFs. Others tell me they can open these NEFs in a second or so with other software and faster Macs, so experiment if this is your thing.
The RAW files open to look much sharper than the BASIC JPGs that I recorded along with them in the RAW + JPG Mode. I dislike all the time and space taken up by RAW files. The differences are not due to the formats themselves, but due to differences between the sharpening algorithm set in the camera for JPG and the algorithms in the software when opening the NEFs, thus don't sell yourself on the cumbersome RAW format just yet. If you like to split pixels and only shoot a few image at a time consider RAW, otherwise JPG is the way to go when you are shooting hundreds of images. More here on the two formats.
The D70 no longer offers the obsolete option of recording the very cumbersome uncompressed NEFs as older cameras like the D100 and D1X do since it doesn't need it and you don't want it. I'm the first one to get on (or create) a conspiracy bandwagon, but in this case it really is for our own good. The $8,000 11 MP Canon 1-Ds only records compressed RAW, too. Capiche?
Older cameras like the D1H and D100 could take 30 seconds each to process every single compressed NEF before it was ready to record to the card, so the uncompressed option was needed to allow fast shooting with NEFs. This long processing delay to compress NEFs was required by the older cameras to do all the advanced mathematics required to process the file before recording, and had nothing to do with the speed of the memory card. At 30 seconds per shot you could easily clog everything up trying to shoot fast, so you needed the uncompressed option since uncompressed NEFs are ready immediately for recording to the card.
The info field of Nikon View 6.2.1 clearly states that my D70 NEFs are "RAW (12-bit) Lossless." Some fans have written that some other websites have been spreading misinformation about some other bit depth, as if it matters anyway.
Unlike JPEG which really can throw away some image data depending on the quality setting, the lossless compression of the NEFs is lossless, just like ZIP compression, so you get out exactly the same bits as went in. You just save almost half the space. You can read more about lossless compression here, or ask a data communications professor for an explanation, too.
Some people without the technical depth of an advanced degree from Stanford became fearful from reading too much into Nikon's earlier data referring to this compression as "visually" lossless in some earlier data sheets. This implied that this might have been a lossy compression scheme, which it wasn't. The current data correctly reads "lossless."
If you even care it's pretty easy to show that it's lossless compression. As the math tells us (I really have studied this working with math Ph.Ds developing these algorithms in an earlier life), lossless compression usually gets to about as good as 2:1 compression for regular data like images. It can become even more efficient with word processing and spreadsheet files, however for data that isn't loaded with something easy like 500 empty spaces at a time 2:1 is as good as it gets.
My D70 NEF files are 5.5MB on average (they vary between 5.0 and 6.2 MB), and uncompressed NEFs from a D100 are 9.5MB, or a little bigger than half size. This is exactly what lossless compression does. Try saving an uncompressed NEF as a .zip file and you'll see the same data reduction.
I've confirmed this with actual photography. The compressed and uncompressed NEFs from my D1H look the same. Some of the fragile set have tried this and seen different results. This may be simply because real variations from shot-to-shot on real cameras, which indeed use real mechanical lenses etc., simply vary enough from shot to shot to show some slight differences. Rest assured it's not from the lossless data compression algorithm!
And yes, Nikon's director of digital SLRs in Melville (not just some local tech rep or sales person) confirmed personally that it's a full 12-bit RAW file.
Some hackers seem to be concerned that Nikon is doing some curve shaping before it hits the NEF formatting, which is part of the required linear to gamma conversion. Some people spend their time trying to back-seat-drive other people's engineering work, and others instead get out and make great photos. Forget these details; your attention is far better spent worrying about what really matters: light and composition. I wish these hackers would stop wasting my time asking me all this stuff and go out and actually use their cameras for a change instead of talking about them.
So who cares? Personally I shoot JPG as I've explained here. Even though the D70 is the best camera yet for shooting RAW, these are still cumbersome and finicky files you just can't use as easily as JPGs. As I warn, RAW formats aren't formats: the file is different for every camera, which is why you need new reader software all the time and why no one can read the D70 NEFs yet. Since I shot JPGs I was good to go for my review above.
RAW + JPG mode only gives you the option of a 3,008 x 2,000 BASIC JPG along with the NEF file. Tough, if you want a bigger JPG later you can extract it from the RAW or you can just shoot in the JPG only mode, too.
The D70 is much better than the $8,000 Canon 1Ds in the RAW + JPG mode. The D70 dutifully records two separate files on your card, ready for immediate use with the same file name and two different file extensions, just like it should. The D70 also requires just one button (no menu) to set all this, and shows the settings clearly on the top LCD. The 1Ds I used, bought in February 2004 by comparison has two firmware and software flaws: 1.) In RAW + JPG mode it forgets to show the JPG indication on the LCD, and 2.) for some reason the Canon software when downloading the camera files saves the JPG as .JPG (good), but tags the RAW file as .TIF (bad!). I don't know if with the Canon you need to rename the files manually or if you really just get a TIF (also bad, since it never asked you for the adjustments when converting from RAW.) I suspect the file is mis-tagged, since the file size was 8MB for the TIFF, the right size for RAW data representing the 30MB TIF, thus I suspect you probably have to rename these. I'm glad I can't afford a 1Ds so I don't have to worry about such things.
WHERE TO GET IT back to top
Avoid the advertisements on my pages, I don't place those ads and can't vouch for them. Please read my page on how to buy photo gear here for all the details, especially about all the scams out there. If the price is too good to be true, it isn't.
Good news: Nikon has a $100 rebate if you buy the 18-70 lens and camera together. The rebate for the body only is only to pay you back for buying a certain printer, so it's sort of like buy the body for $899 and get a printer for free. Personally I prefer to print at Costco. These apply in the USA. You can see Nikon's flyer here. Don't be tempted with gray market, since there's no rebate and there are always firmware upgrades and you'll need support at some time with these from Nikon USA.
Personally I paid full price and I'm a bigger cheapskate than you. The scam artists know you want this and want a great deal, just know that the deals aren't here yet for this product.
Don't send cash or money orders to anyone over the internet. Always use your credit card. Read about scams and general wisdom on where and how to buy here. One place using variations of the name "Finetronics" changes internet addresses often and appears to be a fraud since they only take cash, have no phone number or address and claim to ship their too-good-to-be-true offer anywhere. As of August 23, 2004 I see they seem to have resurfaced as "Digibest.net" and in September 2004 they call themselves digi-best.net and also sunlightics.net and sunlightics.biz. From what I've seen these guys pop up on Google ads with new names every week and it's the same scam site claiming to be in Finland and having no address or phone number and since they are a fraud they only accept money orders. They collect your money orders sent to Finland and then evaporate. You can read here about people who have been conned and who would have been OK if they were vigilant enough only to buy from operations that accept credit cards. That scam took only money orders thus the buyers had no recourse as you do with Visa.
SUMMARY & TIPS back to top
Bravo, Nikon! The D70 eclipses every other DSLR under $3,000 because the D70 provides critical ease-of-use and speed, especially when it comes to the critical flash sync.
Image quality is unbeaten except possibly by the Canon 1D-II and 1Ds, but they cost five to eight times as much and weigh a ton.
The D70 offers superior quality to any point and shoot digital, and especially superior operational efficiency and practical image quality compared to the newest 8 Megapixel point and shoots like the Nikon 8700, Sony DSC-F828 and Canon 8MP Pro-1. Remember the P/S digicams use much smaller pixels, so 8 million teeny-weeny pixels are not as good as the 6 million huge ones on a real DSLR. I have a whole page about this here.
Remember to buy CF cards. The D70 comes with none.
PLEASE set custom function 1, the beeper, to OFF. It's unnecessary and very inconsiderate to have your beeper beep around other people, since everyone else is forced to hear it. It's unnecessary since focus is also confirmed by the big dot just left of the focus area indicator on the left bottom of the finder. Likewise, in AF-S mode the camera won't photograph till it's in focus anyway, so no need for any indication. Not only is it very rude to leave the beeper on, but it's also the clearest way to scream "amateur." Please be polite and turn it off.
Go buy three CR2 batteries to fill up the brilliant spare battery holder and keep it in your bag for an emergency. The CR2s will last, unused, for about TEN years.
Consider a spare rechargeable battery so you always have a fully charged one ready to go in the field if you shoot more than 500 shots in a day. You can get the batteries here. The D70 takes the same EN-EL3 battery as the D100. You probably can get away with just one, since I get about a thousand shots and with the Li-ion battery. It's best to charge it each night anyway.
You may want the ML-L3 infrared wireless remote you can get for $16.95 here.
If you've found the time and money I spent traveling to Las Vegas to research this for you back in February and then actually buying one to elicit every possible trick, please feel free to support my efforts here, or if you order your camera here or here with 18-70 lens or here or here without I also get attaboys.
THANKS for reading! back to top
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