alan little’s weblog

my other new toy

27th August 2004 permanent link

Pascale Willi emailed me to ask for my impressions of my new Nikon D70. Here are some. These are just thoughts as they occur to me, not an attempt at a systematic review. I like it. I haven’t printed anything from it yet and I haven’t shot extensively with any other good digital camera.

instant feedback

Is nice, and you shoot more with digital because an individual shot costs nothing. You can have several goes at a shot until you get it something like right. This should be good for one’s photography – or should it? I worry that it might encourage a less focused (mentally), contemplative attitude to picture taking. We shall see. This is not a controlled experiment, though – my chances of doing any contempative art photography whilst travelling with a toddler would be pretty much nil with any camera.


Excellent for me. Sits nicely in my hand with every lens I’ve used it with. Very much a right-handed design, but then so are pretty much all modern SLRs, so left handers presumably must be used to it. Menus & buttons are ok, there were only a couple of things I had difficulty remembering/finding when I didn’t have the book with me (selecting autofocus points, using the self timer).

build quality

Feels solid enough. I was walking about with it in a light shower yesterday and wasn’t worried.

battery life

I haven’t had any problems. Have shot hundreds of frames over two or three days, with a lot of reviewing on the LCD and some fill flash, without emptying the battery. Bought a generic no-name spare battery on ebay for $10 (compared to the $40 that Nikon want for printing their name on one) anyway just in case.


Is clear and bright enough, but small. Compared to my other Nikons (an FM2 and an F801s) it’s sharper but smaller. Small enough to possibly make it diffcult to compose effectively with. Not remotely in the same league as the wonderful finder on a friend’s D1x that I had a brief play with.


Said to be the same metering system as the legendary F5 but with more up to date software. Whatever. It’s hard to get it to do anything wrong. Fill flash metering is consistently spot on. Digital sensor can’t handle anywhere near the contrast range of black & white film, but that’s a different matter.

no mirror lock

Pretty much rules the D70 out for serious landscape photography, but so does the fact that it’s 6 megapixels and so at best roughly equivalent to 35mm film.

sensor dust

I have some. It’s trivially easy to clean up if falls in a fairly blank area of the picture such as the sky, a pain in the ass if it’s right on top of some crucial detail. Much less of a pain in the ass than spending hours spotting dust and scratches on film scans though.


Is a dream compared to working with scanned film. No hours of scanning, no hours spotting dust & scratches, no hours pissing about with colour balance. Noise is so low that you can easily just sharpen the whole picture instead of having to construct elaborate edge masks to avoid sharpening grain as you do with scanned film.

Being able to switch ISO at will without worrying about what film you have with you is great too, as is not having to reload film every few minutes. Having to have some means of backing your pictures up would be a major drawback for serious travel/backpacking photography; but so is trying to keep film from getting baked on week long desert hikes.


I’ve never used a modern autofocus camera before. Autofocus is great. I consistently get sharp shots of still subjects with a 50mm f1.8 wide open. I can’t do that focusing manually.

I haven’t tried any focus tracking of fast moving objects (e.g. my son) since I found the menu option to switch the AF to continuous tracking, so I can’t comment on how well that works.


The 18-70 zoom that comes as a kit lens is getting good reviews and is a pretty decent general purpose lens. But it’s no substitute for fast primes for low light and portraits. Take a look at these pictures of my son. Most of them were taken with the zoom, two of them with a 50mm f1.8 prime. To my eye it’s obvious which are which. It’s nice that a humble and cheap 50mm f1.8 is almost the same effective focal length on this camera as a significantly more expensive 85mm portrait lens.

It’s nice, too, that my relatively humble but optically excellent 180mm f2.8 that I bought years ago for about $600 used is now almost equivalent to a 300mm f2.8 costing several times as much. I’m tempted by the new 1.7x teleconverter for $400 or so that would make it into a nearly 500mm f4.5. I have no idea what one of those costs except that it’s probably an order of magnitude more.

It’s less nice that my nice wide 24mm is now a not very wide at all 36mm, that the 18-70 zoom at the wide end isn’t quite as wide and that something as wide as the 24mm would cost a lot more money. Like most people I have difficulty composing effective wide angle shots and can’t really handle anything wider than 24mm. But I have a fairly good success rate with the 24 and have taken a lot of my favourite pictures with it since I got it (used, cheap) three years ago. 27mm equivalent isn’t quite wide enough.

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