9 April 2005

Nikon D70 real-life review

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> related review: Nikon D70 Firmware upgrade 2.0

In 4 months my Nikon D70 has boiled in the 100 degree heat of Adelaide, sweated in the Singapore humidity, frozen on the ski slopes of Poland, been rained on in Berlin and snowed on in Disneyland Paris. On the way it has taken about 8,000 photos. Plenty of ammunition for a review. Of course, there are already many on the web that go into such extreme detail that I would add nothing. They are all based on the premise that minute differences in image quality are really critical and worth discussing for 20 pages. And I have read them all voraciously. This premise is, of course, largely nonsense. For example, I can't believe how many reviews have criticised the D70 for problems with moiré. In taking thousand of shots of every conceivable type, I have not seen moiré problems once, but I had been whipped into a frenzy of worry about it because of all the reviews.

The sad truth is that camera reviews, typically so influential on our purchasing decisions are seldom based around the question which is ultimately most important—what is the camera like to live with and use day-to-day?

To cut a long story short, the D70 is generally great, but still has several minor annoyances and a few major ones. I'll summarise the good, bad and ugly in this post. In the next few days I'll also post on how the D70 compares with the new Canon EOS 350D (or Rebel XT as they call it in the US) and the DSLR v top end compact digicam dilemma (which isn't really a dilemma at all).

The good
  • The D70 feels great in the hand. Sure it's big, but feels substantial, solid and secure. That’s a real benefit with a long lens.
  • It is responsive and fast. Power on to first shot is virtually instant. It has a large frame buffer, decent shooting speed in continuous mode (expect as noted below) and is always ready to shoot.
  • Image quality is generally superb.
  • Controls are generally well-placed and intuitive, except as noted below.
  • Top plate displays are nice.
  • The 18–70 lens is excellent.
  • The 70–300 costs next to nothing and feels light and plasticky (because it is) but actually pulls in some superb photos. It's a little soft, but for the money it's incredible value.
  • The built-in flash is pretty reasonable. This is something I have generally disliked about previous Nikon digicams I have used.
  • The little protective cover for the back panel LCD is great. It gets very hacked up and needs to be replaced regularly, but imagine your LCD taking that beating. The cover does tend to flip off a little easily though.
  • Battery life is fantastic. An amateur with pretensions like me will never run out of juice if even vaguely organised. In 4 months of heavy shooting I have only had to dig out my backup battery twice. On occasions I have shot 500 pictures or more over 3 or 4 days without a battery change, even though I have been using the flash occasionally and the LCD screen all the time.
The average
  • The viewfinder is too small.
  • I seldom use the depth of field preview any more because the button is just too far away from my pinky to be comfortable and maintain a firm grip on the body.
  • There's a tendency to underexpose from time to time. My pictures have got better; —it just seems to take a while to get used to how the exposure system thinks.
  • I find the image selection/viewing system a little unintuitive. In thumbnail mode using the left/right arrow keys navigates through images, but in full screen mode that toggles other functions and you need to scroll up and down. I'd also like to be able to magnify more so that I can actually see sharpness and noise.
  • The menu system could be simpler. You get used to it, but I think new users will find the little Pentax DS superior in this regard.
  • As I have experienced in the past, Nikon's battery status indicators leave a lot to be desired. They show full for ages, but when they show only slightly less than full you are going to be in trouble very soon. The same has been true of my Nikon 35 mm SLRs and all the Nikon digicams I have used.
  • The remote receiver on the camera body is quite directional. If you are standing on the wrong side of the lens it's often hard to get the shutter to fire.

The downright bad
  • There's no obvious way of seeing what ISO setting you're on without actually checking. Many a good photo has been rendered average because the previous night I had been shooting in low light and had cranked the 'film speed' up to 800 or 1600 ISO and forgotten to return it to 200. Next morning's beautiful shots turn out too noisy and have to be tweaked in a noise reduction package such as Neat Image or Noise Ninja. I'd like to see the ISO setting in the viewfinder and LCD panel all the time.
  • If you want Nikon's software with noise reduction capability (Nikon Capture) you have to fork out extra. That's a rip-off and an argument in favour of P2P file sharing if ever there were one.
  • You have to pay extra for the remote. It's quite cheap, but apparently hard to get in some markets. It should be in the box to start with.
  • Nikon's Picture Perfect software looks good, but in use it sucks. The older Nikon View was much more competent and I believe it can still be downloaded from Nikon websites.
  • My D70 does not shoot at 3 fps. And neither did my previous one. Out of the box it was fine, and then in a week or two seemed to have forgotten how to shoot fast. The camera store and Nikon could shed no light on the problem so they simply replaced my camera body. And now this one has the same problem. Is it something I have set? Probably, but no-one seems to know what.

For the money the D70 is a superb piece of kit. If you are looking at a camera in this price range, then buy one unless you absolutely must have something smaller, in which case the Pentax *ist DS, unpronounceable name aside, is excellent, as is the new Canon 350D (Rebel XT).

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Homo Insapiens said...

Thanks for your visit and your comments. Hope you will pop back in from time to time as I will here.


Candi and Shaun said...

Excellent review. I liked it for a post of mine..

eebahgum! said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
eebahgum! said...

Thanks girl pants. Please feel free.


Russell said...

I just bought a Canon EOS 20D and I love it. I took it to work today and had lots of fun with its ability to take picture after picture. Those who would look at the camera had great expessions that I would have lost with with last camera.

eebahgum! said...

Hi Russell,

You've made a superb purchase there, no doubt. The 20D is a solid, responsive camera which takes great pictures.

What lens do you have for it? I briefly used a 20D with one of Canon's Image Stabilised (IS) lenses. An expensive combination but the stuff of fantasy!

When I win the lottery :-)


Anonymous said...

The slowdown is probably because you have turned noise reduction on. When it is turned on, the camera always does a dark-frame subtraction after every shot, even ones in normal light. This reduces the frame rate a lot. Leave noise reduction off for shots of 1/2 second or less exposure and the camera's responsiveness and framing rate will return to normal.

eebahgum! said...

Thanks for that, anonymous. I will try that immediately.


Anonymous said...

Nikon D70 Demo

kartę r4i said...

This camera is awesome! I have a Nikon N80 35mm film camera and the D70 is basically a digital version of the N80. They look and perform in very similar manners. The D70 is slightly taller and heavier than the N80, though. I do want to warn people that digital photography with a D-SLR is different than film photography with a 35mm SLR.