Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Nikon D70s Full Review 2016/2017: Test Shots And Complete Analysis

Update: 03 Dec 2016

I had been lusting after a Nikon D70s since atleast 2011, you might wonder why?. Many reasons – an extraordinary Sony sensor, almost all features of the D200 in a smaller body, cheap, versatile, the reasons are endless. And yes, it is still relevant in 2017. Thom Hogan, who visits my blog from time to time, (like he does many others for research on his articles) may throw away this camera even if somebody gave it to him for free, but there are many thousands of photogs around the world who swear by CCD sensor cameras like the D70s. Just go into some forums and you will know. 

D70s is the cheapest camera (used camera as of date from Nikon) with a built in auto-focus motor. I bought it cheap for approx $150 from an online buyers forum. Among the cheap backups I initially planned to get a D3200, but since the lack of an autofocus motor is a huge bummer, I wanted to go for a D7000, but then the high prices of this camera put me off. What other options did I have?? Among the older generation cameras I could go for the D80, but its color profile and output is too similar to D200, infact its the same sensor. The D80 has the 2 channel output, whereas the D200 has a 4 channel output (the D300 has a 12 channel output, which explains the high fps which is a result of the faster buffer offload). 


The current photo "Gurus" like David Hobby and Zack Arias started out with the D70/70s in their initial days. Zack even acknowledged in one his training videos the skin tone resolving power of the D70, which he called "mind-blowing". Zack later moved on to the D200, then a D3, then a Mark 1, II, so on and so forth. D70s also heralded the entry of many previously film dependent photographer's foray into digital photography. 

JPEG Latitude


Even the basic JPGS from the D200 have a lot of latitude in editing. Though the same cannot be said about the D70s files, they aren't terribly limited like the files from garbage cameras like Olympus 510 etc. Shooting NEF helps. The images from the D70s are already too perfect and mostly do not need any further processing. There are debates online regarding D70s’s compression algorithm, some say its lossy, some say its lossless compressed, I don't know. NEF files average between 4.3MB to 6MB. Small file sizes aren't taxing on your PC or laptop and you can grab a bunch of them and dump them into an editor for batch processing. If you are shooting in a high volume, the meager 6.1 MegaPixel and the subsequent file sizes are a blessing as they will fast-track your work flow. 


The files of D70s even though dont have as much latitude as the files from D200 or D300 or even a D40x or a D60, or a D80 which have more resolution because of their 10 MP CCD. Whatever the file latitude, dynamic range and IQ, you will get from this camera, its plenty enough for a small shoots. I have ordered prints in varying sizes of 4X6 to 8X10 and they look good enough. Using this camera for professional purposes isn't suggestible as it does not have too many pro functions. At the most this can be an indoor/studio camera or backup to a backup camera. Its suitable for small product photography shoots or catalog shoots for not so demanding clients, who haven't got big budgets and might use the pictures for web use only. 




The limitation of 6 megapixels is evident when compared to modern cameras, but the point is even images from Medium Format digital cameras are downgraded and heavily resized for posting online. Even the portfolio sites of most photographers do not contain high res files. They are highly compressed, resized for saving web data space. Note: The world is going crazy about HD and full HD these days. Full HD , i.e 1080p is approximately only just 2 MegaPixels. Even most multiplexes around the world project digital cinema at only 720p, which is less than 2 MegaPixels. The indie hit 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Cillian Murphy (Now a Peaky Blinder) was shot on a consumer grade digital video camera that had less than 1 Megapixel resolution. It was later telecined and transferred to 35mm motion film. Now you have a 6 Megapixel camera. Think about it. 




I am NOT against using higher MegaPixel cameras like the D800 series or other higher end cameras. I am just saying there is a time and place for everything. I did have an excellent Nikon D800E which I was using to shoot high-end jobs, but unfortunately it was stolen in the April of 2016 from my house along with my 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. I lost jobs because of that theft and ofcourse it still pains me to think that I lost my years of hard earned savings with that camera. I might go for a D810 after a while when I can save enough money. Sigh ! 





Even though color profile is similar to D200, D300, albeit few differences in hue, it can still be used alongside them. I suggest buying a D40x or D60 or D80 as a back up or indoor cameras because of their higher resolution. The D40x or the D60 can also be excellent back-ups to the D200 or D300 as the 10.2 MegaPixel CCD gives enough latitude in editing, but ofcourse they don't have an auto-focus motor, its definitely a drawback as they wont focus with the D lenses, which are considerably cheaper than the AF-S type, but when all you shoot is catalogs or stock photography at home in controlled lighting conditions, you can get away with manual focus any D lens you may have. It doesn't matter anyway, as you are in no hurry.  





I personally love old cameras and I am a big fan of CCD sensors. As mentioned earlier, I was planning to buy the D70s since atleast 2011, but couldn't find a piece that was good enough and the prices were too high. Another reason I wanted to buy the D70s was that I didnt want to strain my D200 for each and every small hanky panky shoot. I needed a camera for favors that you do for friends, and jobs where the client pay is dicey, small, no budget shoots, that don't require the heavy duty D200.

The higher MegaPixel count of the D200 or D300 Trump (Yeah MAGA bitches) this camera in a lot of ways.  Do not ignore the D60 or D40x as back-up cameras, yes even in 2016. SOOC JPEGs from both the D60 and D40x are mind blowing to say the least. Yes even in 2016. Thanks to their excellent sensors. Getting good color and dynamic range from the D70s requires some good lighting techniques in either day light or with strobe lighting and also some minimal, but clever editing and enhancing. However, low light images cannot in any way be saved. 


Observe the color shift of the D70s in the below comparison picture. Yes its a bit yellow.

D70s Menu

There is nothing I miss from the D200. All the important menu items I use regularly on the D200 are all there including the custom picture profile. It would have been wonderful if there was ISO 50, but unfortunately no,  the base ISO is 200. Though its not much of a deal breaker as at the 200 base ISO the pictures are noise free because of the CCD sensor. This attribute is absent even in the pro D300 which has the same base ISO of 200 but the micro level noise is apparent in the D300. Sure there is low ISO setting, but I couldnt tell the noise pattern difference at the base ISO of 200 and low ISO of the D300. 


Another surprising omission is the kelvin temperature on the D70s. There are 3 levels of adjustment in daylight white balance, which if went down can come down to between 4600-5200 kelvin. I generally shoot between 4500k and 5000k on my D200. Anything above 5000k is too yellow in Nikon color schemes. I miss this one feature from the D200. Because of this omission, I have been shoot with daylight white balance with the -3 setting ever since, which is more or less there in terms of white balance. Mostly I shoot with Auto White Balance and adjust levels in the editor. It sometimes solves the problem, sometimes doesn't. Mixed bag. 


X-Sync


At this side away from leaf shutter lenses which have crazy sync speeds of 1/1600th , its just the D70s the stands as an old guard to the sync speed capacity at 1/500, it is still crazy given the fact that all modern DSLRs come at 1/250 or worse yet with cameras like Nikon D610, its just 1/180, which in my opinion is a bit lame. 1/500 may not be enough to cut down all that ambient light, but you can capture subtle movements of the subjects in an instant with the high shutter speed, meaning sharper images. This will also give you more light control if you are shooting with strobes. If 1/500th isn't enough, you can always use a cheaper ND/CPL combination from amazon, that will do the job. 

Commander Mode


This was a surprise to me. This meager 6.1 mega affordable DSLR has a commander mode for off camera strobist work. Wow. You can set the flash power on the camera down to 1/128th power and this flash pulse can be used to trigger your SB series speed lights. I personally have a SB-600 and with a little googling I learnt how to sync it to my camera. The resultant images were a revelation. I love strobist work. Btw to my knowledge, the Nikon SB flashes are not "dumb" slave flashes and wont slave sync with other off brand flashes, they either need other SB flashes or can only be controlled through a commander mode on some select Nikon DSLRs. Correct me if I am wrong. 


Other cameras that have 1/500th flash sync are-

1) Nikon D1, D1x, D1H, 
Nikon 70, D50, D4 also sync to 1/500th 


Sensor Tech.


The sensor tech in the D70s is from 2005, when similar cameras like Minolta maxxum 5D, 7D, Fuji S5 pro were released.  6 megapixel was the absolute ceiling for APS-C sensors then. Incidentally the S5 pro has a Kodak sensor (Kodak sensors are legendary). The D70s also has a very high pixel pitch of 7.8 microns. The Nikon D100 also sports a 6 MegaPixel sensor, I dont know if its the same one as the D70s, but from the look of the D100 images i can surely tell the algorithms of both cameras are very different. The D100 is a more pro leaning camera. 

The D70/70s sensor is very special. It isn't your run off the mill sensor. It belongs in the sensor hall of fame, graced by other almost magical sensors like the ones in the D100, D200/D80/D40x/D60, Maxxum 5D/7D, Leica M8/M9 and Fuji S5 Pro. 

D70s sensor and the kit lens 18-70


Nikon realized the fact that the D70 sensor is too contrasty and paired it with a lens that has low contrast to offset and compensate for the sensor’s over enthusiasm in color. This lens was specifically developed by Nikon for the D70/D70s. There is neither any problem with the D70s sensor or the 18-70 lens. This is a subjective issue. I personally love rich, colorful pictures.





Image quality/comparison with Leica M8 and M9

All the pictures of this product are Basic JPEGs from the D70s. Unfortunately you can't shoot 
JPEG Fine and NEF at the same time. 

Doing some research I was surprised to come across a site called Nikon D70 fan on the interwebs. The link is here. There are quite many articles relating to the D70 (D70 and D70s both share the same sensor, but you know that already). Here the author of the blog says that the image quality of the D70 is equal to that of Leica M8 and M9..really??? I want to believe :P
https://nikond70fan.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/sensors-in-deep/



UPDATE as on 13 Nov 2016: I was just flattering myself with the comparison with Leica M8 and M9, which are in many ways a lot ahead of the D70s. This could be a poor man's Leica and it deserves to be so. This camera needs lots of light if you want to shoot good pictures. Low light/indoor flash pictures from the D70s are an abomination. Editing them cannot save them. Incidentally I didn't face this problem with the D200, D300 pictures. There's only so much you can do with the D70s pictures shot indoors in low light. 

External Controls and Body



Though the body is plastic, it does not feel cheap or flimsy. Compared to the D200, the multi-selector wheel is too small for my big fingers. Thankfully there is a dedicated ISO button. The Camera shares the CF card door to the Nikon D100. Additionally there is a top LCD and an illumination button which is absent on the D200, wherein its a menu item.


Deal Makers For The D70s
  • Built in auto focus motor
  • Top LCD
  • Dirt cheap price
  • CCD sensor
  • Accepts CF card 
  • Separate scroll wheels for both aperture and shutter speed
Deal Breakers For The D70s:

  • Meager 6.1 megapixel sensor (problem starts when you start comparing MP)
  • Low torque auto-focus motor
  • Occasional hue shifts
  • Compressed RAW and JPEG (not a lot to wok with, but that could be a blessing in disguise) 

UPDATE as on 13 Nov 2016: Should you buy this camera in 2016/2017 ?? If you are a home shooter, shooting catalogs, stock, micro stock like me then this camera is for you. BTW the skin tones from this camera are 100% dead on accurate due to the CCD sensor, so you can use it for portraits and such. If you are or want to be a "Professional" photographer, with big aspirations, then this isn't for you. However, if you are a photographer who makes or wants to make a living, making ends meet with what they can afford and needs a cheap throw away camera, then this is for you.  However if you are looking for something to shoot indoors for say a product, clothing or a jewellery catalog or still life etc. under controlled strobe lighting, and dont need large files and are primarily shooting in huge volumes then you can use this camera, but in hindsight you are better off with something like a D80 or D40x or D60 which have 10.2 MegaPixel CCD and will give you a lot more resolution than the D70s. If you are feeling a little extravagant then a D200 would be great too, though D200 in itself is NOT a battery champion (soon coming: article on increasing the battery power of Nikon D200 in a 2017 review of the camera), compared to the D80, D40x or either the D60.   

Note: All the pictures of the D70s DSLR are shot with the Nikon D200 DSLR and I have kept the EXIF data intact for your technical review and personal study. Have fun. 

Hope this article was helpful. Let me know in the comments. It keeps me charged up. 

Cheers & Happy clicking.

Viisshnu Vardhan.

P.S: Here is an interesting comparison/thoughts on the Epson RD1 and Nikon D70s/D100

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