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Nikon D70

The Nikon D70 is an "entry-level" SLR loaded with features at a sub-$1,000 price.

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Review First Posted: 04/14/2004


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The D70 accommodates a wide array of Nikkor lenses via the standard Nikon F lens mount. It will work with older AF lenses that are driven by a mechanical coupling or with the newer AF-IF or AF-S Nikkor lenses with internal focusing motors. Despite this backward compatibility, Nikon recommends the D70 be used with type G or D lenses. These models inclued a microchip to communicate distance information to the camera, and the G models have apertures that work via electrical contacts, and so have no aperture ring on them (On older lens models, the aperture ring must be locked at its minimum setting to be used in automatic modes.) IX-Nikkor lenses, originally built for APS cameras, are expressly unable to work with the D70.

Functions and exposure modes available with a given lens will vary greatly depending on type. G and D type lenses include a microchip that communicates focal distance information to the camera. Lenses without the microchip will disable 3D-Matrix metering mode. See the table below for a brief idea of the functionality available with different Nikkor lens types (abstracted from the D70's manual, used by courtesy of Nikon USA, Inc.)

The D70 comes in two packages, either bundled with a lens specially designed for the camera, or body only. As such we'll discuss working with the bundle's 18-70 f/3.5-8.5 ED glass DX lens. As was said of the Canon Digital Rebel's 18-55mm lens, getting the camera without the lens would be a mistake, since it will only be available at a higher price than the bundle after the fact. Body only, the camera is $999 street, with the lens it's $1,299 street. Separately, the lens will likely street at $400 with an SRP of $590. Though many prospective buyers will have a few Nikkor lenses, most consumers will not have an 18mm lens, something necessary to achieve true wide-angle shooting with the "DX" sized sensor used in the D70 and other Nikon d-SLRs. (An 18mm lens on the D70 produces the same field of view as a 27mm lens on a 35mm camera.)

This is an excellent ED glass lens, equivalent to a 27 - 105mm lens on a 35mm camera, with all the necessary electronics to make it 3D matrix metering capable, and a Silent Wave focusing motor. Frankly, as a bundle or otherwise, it's a bargain. Its closest equivalent among Nikkor lenses is the AF-S 17-55mm F2.8G ED DX currently going for $1,400. That's more than the D70 and its lens combined, so unless you already own one of these, strongly consider the bundle. Admittedly a zoom that starts at F2.8 is worth a lot of money, but the 18-70mm's range of f/3.5-4.5 is only a half a stop to a bit more than one stop slower, so consumers will do just fine with it.

The 18-70mm has an F3.5 - 4.5 range, something the Digital Rebel's short back focus EF-S lens does not equal despite its shorter zoom ratio, coming in at F3.5 - 5.6. A look at both side by side tells the story, with the Nikkor offering a far larger objective lens, usually indicating greater light gathering ability. Another subtle advantage of the Nikon 18-70: It uses internal focusing, so the front element doesn't rotate when the camera focuses. This means that the angle of a polarizing or other special effects filter attached to the filter threads won't change as the lens is focused. Also, thanks to its use of the Silent Wave focusing motor, you can manually focus the lens at any time, without having to disengage the camera's focusing mechanism. All this is not to discount the achievement in quality, light weight, and low cost of the Canon EF-S lens, a surprisingly good lens for the money, but I mention it to underscore that for only $300 more than the Rebel's bundle, you're getting a lot more lens. (As well as a good bit more camera, as we'll see later.)

Nikon's ED glass helps minimize chromatic aberration, ED being the company's designation for their high-end line, which uses Extra-low Dispersion glass. The lens has an information window that shows the current focus setting in feet and meters, with raised gold lettering all around. Its mechanisms are all very smooth, with no slop or play, giving a feeling of precision. The hard rubber grips on the focus and zoom rings are textured such that they're easy to hold as well as tell apart by touch. The lens body is metal, with a spatter-painted black texture that matches the texture of the D70's body. The front of the lens is internally threaded for a filter, and has external flanges for the included HB-32 lens hood. The overall impression given by the lens' appearance alone is one of precision and excellence. Using the lens tells the same story.

Focus options

The D70 lets you take advantage of auto or manual focus via a small switch on the front of the camera, next to the lens. Setting the switch to "M" puts the camera into manual focus mode, and AF puts it into Auto Focus mode. As just noted above though, AF-S lenses with the built-in Silent Wave focus motor let you manually focus the lens at any time, regardless of the cameras focus setting. To select between the two types of AF, you need to go to the camera menu and Custom Setting 2 and choose between AF-S (Single Servo) and AF-C (Continuous Servo). Single Servo simply means that the camera sets focus only once, when the Shutter button is first pressed halfway, and is best for still objects. Continuous Servo means that the camera continuously adjusts the focus, as long as the Shutter button is halfway pressed, and is best for moving objects.

There's an important difference between Single and Continuous Servo modes: In Single Servo mode, the shutter won't release unless the lens has achieved focus (Focus Priority). In Continuous Servo mode however, the camera will fire regardless of the state of focus (Release Priority). If you want to be sure that the camera is focused when you snap the picture, use Single Servo mode. Use Continuous Servo for moving subjects, and/or times when the specific instant of shutter release is more important to you than guaranteed sharp focus.

As discussed earlier, focus can be confined to one of the five specific focus points in Single Area mode, or with Dynamic Area which offers focus tracking. Single Area AF simply means that the camera sets focus based on the specific area you've designated. Dynamic AF employs all five of the autofocus areas. When Dynamic Area focusing is enabled, the camera first focuses on the subject in the chosen focus area. When the subject moves to a different AF area, the camera shifts the focus to "follow" the subject. This is great for irregularly moving subjects. (Sports and kids come to mind.) Closest Subject Priority was automatically enabled in both Dynamic and Single Area on the D100, but now it occupies its own slot in the control system. This option means that the camera first focuses on the closest object that falls into one of the five focus points.

In Single Area AF mode, you can change the primary focus area by unlocking the Multi selector (the Four-Way Arrow pad on the back panel) with the sliding switch beneath it and then shifting the focus area using the up, down, right, or left arrow keys. You can lock the focus area selection by turning the switch back to the lock position. By default, the D70 does not "wrap" the focus area selector as you scroll between focus areas. Through the Custom Settings menu though, you can opt for a "Wrap" function. What this means is that if you press the right arrow key again, after the right focus area is already selected, the selection will immediately jump to the left focus area. The same happens when moving the focus area selection vertically.

There are two methods by which you can lock focus on the D70. The first is via the shutter button, placing your subject in the selected focus area, halfway pressing and holding the Shutter button, then realigning the composition and firing the shutter. (This is the default behavior of the shutter button, but it can be disabled.) Unlike most cameras, you can choose whether or not the shutter button also locks exposure, via an option on the Custom Settings menu.) Alternatively, when using Single Servo AF, you can press the AF-L/AE-L button to lock focus (and exposure, unless the button is set for focus-only in the Custom Settings menu). Keeping this button pressed will maintain the focus and/or exposure lock, even if the Shutter button is released. This lets you recompose the photograph without keeping your finger on the Shutter button, but on the AE-L/AF-L button instead. (Reducing the chance that you'll accidentally trip the shutter when you don't intend to.)

There are several options available for the AE-L/AF-L button, which can be set via Custom Settings Menu 15. You can program it to lock either focus or exposure separately, or both together (the default). You can also change its operation so a single press locks and holds the exposure setting. (No need to keep the button pressed down.) Finally, you can set the AE/AF lock button so it alone controls the autofocus system, meaning the autofocus won't actuate when the shutter button is half-pressed, only when the AE/AF lock button is pressed instead. Finally there's the FV lock option, which locks the flash level and keeps it locked until the button is pressed again. (If you're a novice user considering purchasing a D70, and all this sounds confusing, don't let it worry you: The camera's default operation is very straightforward, but the availability of features like these is really liberating for more advanced users.)


Sensor Cleaning!

Everyone understands that lenses sometimes get dust on them and need to be cleaned, and there are a lot of lens-cleaning cloths, solutions and other accessories on the market that work well. BUT, what do you do when your sensor gets dusty? Dust specks on the sensor tend to show up when shooting at very small apertures, appearing as dark blobs on your images. They're distracting at best, a terrible nuisance at worst, if you end up having to retouch every image to rid of them.

Most of us are naturally leery about the idea of poking around inside the delicate innards of our d-SLRs to wrestle with recalcitrant dust specks. Gently blowing the sensor surface (actually, the surface of the anti-aliasing filter) with compressed air gets rid of some dust, but there's invariably a lot that just stays stuck, no matter what. So what do you do?

If you've got dust specks on your sensor (and sooner or later you will), you're going to need to clean it. There are a lot of products out there intended to address this need, but a distressing number of them work poorly (if at all), and many are grossly overpriced. Advertising hype is rampant, with bogus pseudo-scientific jargon and absurd product claims run rampant. And prices - Did I mention prices? How about $100 for a simple synthetic-bristle brush?

So how do you know what product to use?

We don't pretend to have used everything currently on the market, but can tell you about one solution that worked very well for us. The "Copper Hill" cleaning method is straightforward and safe, and in our routine usage here at Imaging Resource, highly effective. Better yet, the products sold by Copper Hill Imaging are very reasonably priced. Best of all, Nicholas R (proprietor of Copper Hill) has put together an amazingly detailed tutorial on sensor cleaning, free for all.

Sensor cleaning is one of the last things people think about when buying a d-SLR, but it's vital to capturing the best possible images. Take our advice and order a cleaning kit from Copper Hill right along with your d-SLR, so you'll have it close at hand when you need it: You'll be glad you did!

(Other than a few backlinks on their site, we receive no promotional consideration from Copper Hill. We just think their sensor cleaning products are among the best on the market, and like their way of doing business. - We think you will too. Check them out.)


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