Slow-starting Nikon launches fast shooter

, posted: 21-May-2004 23:09

After using the electronic displays and viewfinders in digital cameras, peering through the lens of the Nikon D70 in order to compose shots is something of a revelation. You see what the lens projects on to the sensor and there is none of the lag and strange distorting effects that detract from the job at hand - taking a picture. This is why I got a single lens reflex (SLR) film camera in the first place.

However, unlike their film brethren, digital SLR cameras were prohibitively expensive until last year, when Canon shattered the price barrier with its EOS-300D, which can now be had for less than $1900 including GST and an 18mm to 55mm zoom lens if you shop around.

Canon has owned the budget "prosumer" digital SLR market, but now Nikon has released its challenger, the D70.

The specification list of the D70 is as long as your arm, but the vital statistics are: 6.1 effective megapixel
sensor (maximum image size of 3008 by 2000 pixels), shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second, sensor sensitivity settings from 200 to 1600 ISO, three different JPEG quality modes plus Nikon's lossless compressed NEF RAW format for picture files, CompactFlash Type I, II and MicroDrive storage, dynamic buffer allows up to three frames a second shooting for a total run of 144 pictures, LCD monitor with 130,000 pixel resolution, three auto-focus and exposure metering modes and built-in pop-up flash.

We tested the D70 with a Nikkor AF-S 18mm to 70mm zoom lens with 1:3.5 to 1:4.5 aperture throughout the focal range.

First impressions as you take the D70 out of the box is that the camera feels solid despite not having a metal body. It sits nicely in your hands, with all the controls where your fingers expect them to be.

The D70's electronics offer option after option but they're easy enough to navigate with a logical menu system that's visible on the bright LCD monitor. Once you've set up the camera, the LCD monitor is used mainly for picture review.

Changing the various shooting programmes and exposure modes is done by pressing buttons and thumbwheels, with a clear black-and-white LCD on top of the D70 showing which options are active. While it pays to read Nikon's manual and guide to digital photography and learn what the D70 is capable of, the
camera takes great pictures in full auto mode. The only slight niggle was indoors photography, where the D70 tended to produce somewhat dark images with the default settings.

Shooting outdoors produced stunning results. Images from the D70 are sharp, with very little noise even at high ISO settings and with natural yet vibrant colours.

There is almost no delay from switching the camera on to shooting a picture: very impressive. Combined with the fast automatic focus and exposure smarts, it allows for quick-draw point-and-shoot photography that few other digital cameras are capable of.

The speediness makes the D70 great for capturing moving objects as well, especially with the sports programme active.

The D70 is not perfect, however: there are no ISO settings below 200 for super smooth images, and the bundled PicturePerfect image-editing software is disappointingly basic for such an expensive camera. As the D70 is new on the market, pricing is on the high side.

Don't forget that you will need to add the cost of accessories on top of the price for the camera. For example, the D70 needs CompactFlash cards (plan for 256MB minimum) for storing pictures, and you may want to buy additional lenses and a more powerful flash.

If you need an almost-professional digital SLR camera now, the D70 should be high on your list. As with the Canon EOS-300D, however, the D70 is likely to come down in price over the next few months.

Nikon D70 digital SLR
Price: $2890
Herald rating: 9/10
Pros: Fully-featured enough to appeal to professionals, yet easy enough for beginners to use. Instant shooting thanks to fast start-up, auto-focus and exposure smarts. Brilliant image quality.
Cons: Slowest ISO setting is 200. Poor PicturePerfect image-editing software. Price on the high side.


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