- Small and lightweight, fast startup and autofocus times, superb colours in manual mode
- Controls can be awkward, settings cannot be saved, poor image sharpness
The small, lightweight Nikon D70s offers conveniences you won't find on many other models, though its image quality lags behind many other SLRs.
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Compared to some other digital SLRs--such as the bulky Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro or the heavy Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D--the Nikon D70s feels small and lightweight. The D70s fits comfortably in the hand and weighs only 800 grams without a lens.
Although the camera offers a profusion of buttons, the most commonly used ones fall under the fingers, such as the buttons to change metering modes, exposure, and focus lock. The two control dials--one on the front and one on the rear--fall naturally under the index finger and thumb. Having two dials makes controlling the camera in full manual mode much easier than with cameras that have only one dial. On the D70s, one dial controls the shutter and the other changes the aperture.
Most of the settings on the D70s can be controlled using a combination of a button and one of the control dials, instead of having to navigate an on-screen menu. For example, to change the ISO setting on the D70s, you hold down the ISO button and turn the control dial. This method can be a little awkward because both hands are needed: one to hold down the button and one to rotate the dial. The settings can also be accessed through the menu, which is navigated with a four-way thumbpad.
A single rechargeable battery powers the camera; it lasted for over 500 shots in our tests--easily enough for a weekend trip.
The ability to store custom settings is a curious omission from the Nikon; most digital SLRs allow them. However, the mode dial on the D70s does have seven scene modes (for portraits, sports, night shots and so on), plus the usual manual exposure modes: shutter-priority, aperture-priority, program and full manual.
Nearly all SLRs improve their colour accuracy under manual settings, but few more dramatically than the D70s. It performed poorly under fully automatic mode, but after we set a custom white balance and adjusted its exposure settings there was a dramatic improvement.
We found that the automatic metering of the D70s consistently underexposed our test images, leading to weak colours. To be fair, most digital cameras underexpose because it is easier to recover details in an underexposed picture than in an overexposed one. The images I shot were underexposed only by around half a stop, so they were easy to fix in my image editing application of choice, Adobe Photoshop.
Outdoor images looked more impressive, though the shots I took on a sunny afternoon did have a slightly bluish cast to them. Exposure was more accurate in daylight, although some images were still underexposed using automatic metering.
As expected, we were less impressed with the images when we increased the ISO setting (as when shooting in lower light): we noticed noise in our test images beginning at ISO 800; noise was very noticeable in images shot at ISO 1600. However, the pattern of noise was less obvious than with many other cameras. For exposures longer than a second, the D70s includes an additional noise reduction mode, wherein it takes a second exposure with the shutter closed in order to gauge how much digital noise the image sensor's electronics are introducing, and then uses the reading to subtract noise from the first shot.
The D70s did not rate well in our sharpness and distortion tests. Though it did an impressive job in rendering fine lines distinctly, the sharpening process that the D70s uses to bring out these details also introduced some moire artefacts, with unsightly colour fringing in some areas.
Although the camera's 2" LCD is a slight improvement on the 1.8" screen on the D70, it still looks small compared with the 2.5" screens some camera models have. The Nikon screen is clear and bright, however, and is easily viewable in anything but direct sunlight.
We found the autofocus of the D70s to be very responsive, focusing quickly in most lighting situations. The D70s can be used with most lenses that use the Nikon F mount; only a few older lenses won't work with it.
The D70s was very quick to start up: it was ready to take photos less than a second after we turned it on, so users aren't likely to miss a shot while waiting for the camera.
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