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Nikon D70   -   2005/07/23Viewed 161 times this month, last update: 2006/11/02

Today I bought a new digital camera, the Nikon D70. I've been researching for a couple of weeks, and was torn between the Konnica-Minolta Maxxum D7, and the Nikon D70/D70s. The D7 would end up being about $500 more, with the lens I wanted, but has in-body anti-vibration, and a larger 2.5 inch LCD. The D70, and it's sister the D70s, operate much faster, have better reviews from photographers, and are less expensive.
I went down to my favorite camera store, Samys Camera in Costa Mesa, to check them out. Both are nice, both fit in my big fat hands reasonably well, but there was one critical difference: Samys was running a terrific combination deal for the D70, which included a second (70-300 F4-5.6) lens, bag, tripod, 500 free prints, and a 30 gigabyte "Coolwalker", which is used to store pictures on a trip where you'd fill up your flash card. I usually carry a laptop for this function, but the coolwalker weighs about 1/100th as much, and actually has a larger hard drive than my laptop!

I was intending to buy the D70s with just the 18-70mm lens, unless the D7 blew me away, but the second lens, with the coolwalker made it a no-brainer. I did compare the D70s with the D70, where the primary difference is 0.2 inch larger screen. Noticeable, but not enough to help with any real work, like checking for focus.

The 18-70 lens has been very well reviewed, and is the perfect length (wide to somewhat zoomed) for my normal shooting. No more adding a wide-angle attachment as I had to do with my A80. The 70-300 lens is terrific, good enough for all but the most far-away and tiny subjects.

I've had the camera for only about twelve hours, but I love it. Over the next few days I'll compile a good set of sample pictures. Weeee! I love new toys!

I just tried the RAW file conversion tool DCRaw, using the UFRaw Gimp plugin, and am amazed! I thought that since I'm a UNIX geek, and all the Nikon tools are Windows/Mac only, I'd be using JPEG files only, but DCraw and UFRaw are awesome! Image quality is fantastic! Some people say even better than the Nikon (and especially Canon) tools.

I'm not a professional camera reviewer, but here's my comparison of a 300x300 pixel crop from the the same scene taken in RAW and Fine JPEG modes. I did apply Gimp's unsharp mask to the RAW image, since it comes out of the camera unsharpened, and sharpening is part of the in-camera JPEG creation process.

JPEG (Fine)


I'm very happy I have the capability to process RAW files! I won't use it for every shot, since it's more work, but for those special shots, it's no contest.

100% Crop of moon frame. At 300mm zoom (450mm adjusted), the 2/3 moon fills about 360x360 pixels. Of course, I'd like to get much closer, but the 1000mm VR lens will have to wait.

This was at 1/250 sec, F5.4, iso 200, manual focus.

I just figured out another nifty feature! The D70 has two USB connection modes, "mass storage" where the camera pretends to be an external hard drive, and PTP, which is an industry standard camera-computer USB protocol. Using PTP, it does not seem possible to download the camera contents with gphoto2, as I had with my A80, but it does support the --capture-image function, which causes the trigger release to be released! This means that I can trigger the camera from my computer! And with a simple "while" command, I now have time-lapse capability:
while true; do gphoto2 --capture-image; sleep 60; done
Freakin' awesome! This will also be handy when I get a (or use Matt Bell's) tracking telescope for doing multiple long exposures of a star cluster or galaxy for "stacking".

As promised, a few sample pictures, less experimental than those above:

For information on how I process and archive my pictures, including RAW conversion, color calibration under Linux, and special sharpening and color management tools, please see my article on Digital Photography with Linux.

Over the last couple of months, I've grown increasingly unhappy with the 70-300 f4-5.6 lens. It's got a great range, it's light, and very sharp, but is slow (dark) and has been giving me problems with chromatic aberration; causing halos and purple fringing. So, I've been looking for a replacement. Today I finally settled on just exactly the right telephoto zoom lens lens I wanted. It was a long, heated internal debate between the Nikon 80-400 f4.5-5.6 VR, 70-200 f2.8 AF-S VR, 80-200 f2.8 and the Sigma 80-400 f4.5-5.6 OS (VR) and 50-500 f4-6.3 HSM. I love the range of the 80-400's and the 50-500, but those lenses suck dust when zooming. I loved the 70-200's large aperture and internal focusing/zooming mechanism, but I don't need the VR, and definitely don't want to pay for it.

I settled on the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 AF-D ED. It's very quick for non-AF-S and has much better light falloff performance than the 70-200 AF-S VR, which itself is known as the best quality zoom Nikon ever made. I picked one up used for $750, and a Tamron 2x teleconverter, which gives me a range of 80-400, with much better optical quality than either of the native 80-400's. This, and my beloved 18-70 f3.5-4.5 AF-S ED round out my collection quite nicely. Time to hit the road!

Sadly, I had to return the 80-200. I don't know if it was a calibration issue, or a bad interaction with my D70, but I got maybe three sharp images out of it in five days. I really did love that lens, and I'm sorry it had to go back. In replacing it, I originally decided on the Sigma 70-200 f2.8, but decided that ten years down the road, I would really appreciate having the extra features, image quality and robustness of the single best lens Nikon makes, under $4,000. The Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 IF ED VR:

Yes, it's expensive, but every picture out of it is a keeper, VR engaged or not. After having it less than eight hours, I'm already certain I made the right decision. This is a lens I'll be enjoying for years and years, and so may my children some day. Stay tuned, my next trips to the desert, mountains and stables will prominently feature this lens!

Update 2005/11/11:
I'd like to share with you for a minute how much I love my Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 AF-S VR.

This picture was taken on an overcast day, hand-held through a plate-glass window.

This is hand-held from about four feet away.

Immagine how fast the lens had to focus on this skittery guy.

Every picture is sharp. It never focus hunts. I can go out to full zoom in a drab day at the lowest noise setting without a tri/mono-pod. Out of focus backgrounds are smooth and pleasing. Every switch and ring moves silky smooth. It's weather sealed, powder coated. Just wonderful.

Update 2006/0406:
I've been renting macro lenses for the last few weekends, trying out different models. I was thinking about either the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 AF-D, or the Sigma 150mm HSM f2.8. But then, just a few days ago, I discovered a new Nikon macro lens had come out, the new version of the 105mm, with AF-S and VR!

I've been playing with it non-stop since yesterday afternoon, and took it for a short hike today. It's fantastic! Internal, fast focusing that you can just grab at any time, the newest generation vibration reduction, and weather sealing! I now have all the lenses I will need for years. Macro, portrait, wide-angle, telephoto. Covered. I can't wait to take this lens to the cathedrals in Ireland!

Update 2006/11/11:
Well, about a year and a half since I got my D70, it's gone. Stolen out of the back of my truck, in my driveway while I slept. The camera, my 70-200, 18-70 lenses, SB-600 flash and Tamrac bag, as well as my laptop all in one shot.
My homeowners insurance will cover some of the loss, but it's going to cost me about $1200 to make up the difference.
I still have some stuff, my new 105mm f2.8 VR macro and 70-300 lenses, my coolwalker storage bank and my Lee filter set. Not much, but it's a start. I'm planning on getting a D200, but it might take me a while, so who knows. I'm also looking at lenses. I loved my 18-70, and I'm very underwhelmed by the crop of 18-200 lenses, including the Nikkor, so I'm thinking about getting another 18-70, but I'm also looking at some other interesting possibilities. Maybe the new Nikkor 18-135, and maybe the Tamron 18-50 f2.8. We'll see.
I'm totally bummed about the theft. I loved my old setup, and I wouldn't have traded it. Of course, I am excited about the possibilities of new hardware. The D200 is a fantastic machine, and other possibilities like the D2h and Fujifilm S5 make the possibilities even more interesting.

Pete (2005-07-31): I've been coveting one of these for a while now. I'll probably get the D70s at some point here, but I know I can't justify the expense based on my current phography skills. Thanks for the added data point.

Martin H. (2005-08-11): Just a hint: to get the best quality JPEG out of convert without wasting to much space, the ImageMagick developers suggest a quality setting of 95% (you are using 90%).

Erik (2005-08-11): Thanks for the tip!

iwabee (2005-08-24): "Using PTP, it does not seem possible to download the camera contents with gphoto2" - Have you tried gphoto2 --get-all-files? Works fine for my D70.

Erik (2005-08-24): Yep, says "unsupported". My version of gphoto2 may be older. Doesn't get in my way though.

Matt Bell (2005-11-15): I love my 2.8 as well, the background blur is incredible! You can take a foreground subject and just yank it away from the background. While I was in Italy, my dad accused me of having a camera that created light where there was none as he failed to get shots inside churches that I got with ease..

Erik (2005-11-15): Yep, a 2.8 maximum aperture plus IS/VR makes for some pretty low light pictures, often without even going to high ISO values! When you told me that story I thought you were talking about your 100-400 IS, which is f4.5-5, right? f4 isn't bad either, but every stop helps!

Matt Bell (2005-11-15): I only recently bought the 100-400, in Italy I was using the 70-200 F2.8L. It is amazing in that it is 2.8 in all zoom settings.

Erik (2005-11-15): Ah yes, well it's the same then, I've heard that both the Nikon and Canon models are hard to find these days since they're so popular. I had to go to a San Diego store to get one! I've been having nothing but fun with it. I'm planning on getting a set of B+W close-up filters to use with it too. I can't wait to get back out to the desert, mountains and Ireland with it!

Digger (2005-11-25): I agree with many of your comments. I have an older 80-200 Nikon. Dependable, crystal clear - SLOW to focus on a D70! SW motors are the only way to go, but $$$ is an issue. Haven't been able to find one at a good price. Did you say Samy's had good prices?

Erik (2005-11-25): Yep, glass is expensive, but it depreciates much less than camera bodies, and will last you a lot longer. 50,000 images is nothing for a lens, but it the expected lifetime of a body.

Sammys has about average prices, a less than some, more than others. However, I do most of my purchasing there because I can try stuff out before I buy. They have almost everything too, so it's convienient. However, the used 80-200 I got from a camera store called Camera West in Mission Viejo. Another good store.

Kevin (2006-02-20): Hey this is hilarious. A couple days ago I found your site while looking for ways to calibrate my monitor (running an older Red Hat system) and found your site on photography with Linux. Since my wife and I have recently bought a house we're busy with renos and I've just now started to poke around your site. I've got some drainage issues in my yard too and (when it gets warmer) I'm going to build a gravel trench just under the sod, and clean out my drainage tile, and, I also have the 70-300 D but am looking for some time to put it up on eBay because images from mine have horrible bokeh and the lens is too slow. I've also upgraded to the 70-200/2.8 VR but had to check three units in different stores because they all performed differently. I'd like to replace the 18-70 with a med zoom f/2.8 but at the current prices I have to wait.

I'll more thoroughly read about what everyone's doing to calibrate their monitors when I have time. I've just downloaded Bibble but haven't tried it yet -- been shooting JPEG for the last eight months or so (D70s).

Erik (2006-02-22): Hi Kevin, I'm glad you like my site! I'd love to hear what you replace your 18-70 with, and how you like it. Personally, I still absolutely love my 18-70, but I do think it needs to be supplemented with a wide aperture normal lens for indoor shooting.

Brent (2007-01-08): So sorry about the theft. What a loss!

My wife bought me a used D70 from a pro for Christmas. I love the camera and am looking for a tele/zoom lens and a macro lens. Your comments were helpful.

Erik (2007-01-09): Thanks Brent, I'm glad I could help! The D70 is a great camera, you're going to love it! As for lenses, if you can, rent both or either the 60mm and 105mm VR macro lenses. I've used both, and both are fantastic! For tele, I too am looking right now. I still have my 70-300, but I'm looking for something better. The sigma 100-300 f4, or Nikon 80-200 might be good options if you don't have the money (like me) for the Nikkor 70-200 or 200-400.

(2008-11-26): ...hi...i have a nikon D70s, which i just love!!! i'm a 'lazy' photographer, i.e. i love auto focus and just shooting thins as i see them! my first love is macro...so what kind of lens would anyone recommend? i don't mund getting 'up close and personal' with my subjects, but realistically, some great shots are lost by getting that close...so what do i get to still get the macro image??? thanks!!!

Erik (2008-11-26): Paula,
I love my 105mm VR (above), but it is kind of pricey! Others swear by the 180mm, and I have two friends with the 60mm. They're all great. The 60mm I've rented before and love, but you do get very close to the subject, which doesn't work so well when the subject is an animal.

You can also try extension tubes, which shorten the focal length of an existing lens you have. These will get you in close, for a lot less cash, but you loose some versatility. (You loose focus to distant objects, and possibly auto-focus, depending on the rings you get.)

If I had to get a macro lens again, I'd totally go for the 105mm VR, but if I were strapped for cash, I'd probably keep an eye on ebay or camera stores for a used 60 or 180.

See also: September 5th, 2005 - Living Desert, Hunter the Kitty, July 30th, 2005 - Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, August 19th, 2005 - Mammoth, Nikon D200, Digital Photography with Linux


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