Nikon D70

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  • essellar
    15 August 2012
    It's funny what a few years can mean in the digital world. There was a time, a mere eight years ago, when a fellow might have been tempted to do something highly immoral for a camera like this one; today I find myself almost subconsciously hiding the number plate at the front left lest anybody see what I'm using.

    It has an amazing six (count 'em. six!) megapixels. Once upon a time, kids, that was worth crowing about. (I know that the spec sheet says 6.1MP. Specs lie. It has a picture resolution of 3008 by 2000 pixels, and the extra 8 need to be trimmed off for most purposes. The ".1" includes the metering pixels that aren't used in the image.) You can print a good 6x9" image or a tolerable 8x10/8x12", and it's enough for the web. It has a useful ISO range of 200. "200 to what," I hear you ask. Just 200. Good noise reduction software will let you work with well-exposed pictures (pictures with the histogram pushed to the right) at ISOs up to 800, but you really do need the noise reduction starting at just ISO 400. The ISO 1600 setting is just a decoration as far as general photography is concerned -- it results in pictures that are really only good enough for, say, surveillance photos. In terms of raw image quality, the cheapest entry-level DSLRs made today simply blow the D70 out of the water. The only remote release is an IR transmitter (there is no wired release or cable release socket), and that can only be used from in front of the camera.


    The D70 handles very well. It has both front and rear control dials, easy access to things like ISO, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, metering modes, autofocus point selection and so forth that make it a pleasure to use. You don't need to fish through menus for any of the settings you need to change while shooting, and can do almost everything with your eye to the viewfinder. The only fly in the handling ointment is that there is no, neither has there ever been, a vertical grip.

    It's built like a tank. It's solid, weighty without being burdensome, and fits the hand well unless your hands are very tiny.

    It has a built-in focus motor, so you can use any AF lens from the oldest "D" types and third-party lenses made for the early Nikon autofocus 35mm film cameras to the newest ultrasonic AF-S "G" marvels.

    It uses a CCD sensor rather than CMOS, and has a hybrid electromechanical shutter. The focal plane shutter never goes faster than the X-sync speed. For faster shutter speeds (up to 1/8000), the CCD is turned off rapidly while the shutter remains open. What that means, boys and girls, is that you can sync with any flash at any speed (as long as you're not using TTL flash metering). Find out the flash duration of the flash equipment you're using, and that's the "sync speed". (You can go faster than that, but you'll lose flash power.)

    Best of all, this camera is available on the used market (body only) for well under $US 200 in excellent condition. (That would be what used equipment dealers label either "EX" or "8+", meaning that there are no mechanical or electronic problems, and no real cosmetic issues either. The only ratings higher are "like new", which means that all of the original packaging, manuals, etc., are present, and "new".) It can use the same batteries as the D80 and D90 (the EN-EL3/A/B family) so they're still available new if the battery in the camera has gone flat.

    The price and the handling features make it an excellent learners' tool. Combine it with an AF 50mm f/1.8D and a 4GB CF card, and you can be up and running with full professional-level control for well under $US 300. You can spend a little of what you saved elsewhere on things like a tripod, flash, lenses or reflectors that will do more to improve your photographs than starting with a whiz-bang body ever could. If you're shooting for the web or small prints, or just sharing photos on Facebook, you can easily be satisfied with a camera like this one. And if you can learn how to make the D70 sing and dance, you will be immeasurably happier with your new camera when you decide it's time to upgrade.

    VERDICT: Hopelessly outdated in a lot of ways, but an excellent entry point for somebody who want to really learn the craft of photography.