I was, briefly, a professional photographer back when Ronald Reagan was President, and my interest in serious photography has been picking up again of late. Since my 35mm cameras are now old enough to vote for President, I decided to upgrade to a high quality digital SLR. I had looked at the Canon 10D and Digital Rebel, and the Nikon D100, but ultimately the combination of features and price led me to the just-released Nikon D70.
I took the camera out for an afternoon on Sunday, taking US 129 across the tail-end of the Smoky Mountains into North Carolina. I shot over 100 images, giving me a good feel for the camera's operation and — when I got home — a chance to inspect the images for quality.
Overall, I'm quite pleased. The Nikon handles well and feels natural in my hand, which is a big deal for a camera that will be used a lot, often in split-second situations. The body is solid and well-shaped; the weight is just right — heavy enough for steadiness, light enough for comfort. The optical viewfinder is easy to use, with or without glasses. The controls needed for basic operations are well-placed and intuitive, and I didn't need much time with the manual to be able to figure most things out, though there are a few surprises lurking deep in the menu trees. That's just a reason to spend some time with the camera, like I did, and review the manual again before taking it out on an assignment or expedition where mistakes really matter.
The metering seems quite good, though with a slight tendency (on my particular camera, at least) toward underexposure in some settings. Autofocus is fast and precise, but a bit finicky at times: Once or twice backgrounds of moving leaves or water confused it. When that happens, the camera's default setting refuses to let you take a picture: you can either switch to manual focus or change the autofocus to a more forgiving style. (That's one of those lurking surprises, though it is spelled out in the manual.)
The various autoexposure programs have a similar character: this is a camera that works a little too hard, in my opinion, to keep you from taking a bad picture. That's also adjustable — or you can just use manual exposure and spot-metering, like a proper purist — but I'd rather have a bit less nannying. Sometimes a bad picture is a lot better than no picture at all.
Aside from these minor complaints, though, the camera has been a delight. I've taken it out several times and in all cases have felt that I got a much greater number of really good pictures than I would have gotten with a 35mm film camera. The camera doesn't get in your way, really, and does an excellent job of capturing what you see through the viewfinder.
Image quality is also excellent. I've posted a gallery of sample images over at Iverdean's new ExposureManager photo site. If you've got a high-bandwidth connection, you can even download the original, fullsize image for close examination or Photoshop experimentation and analysis. Two of the images there — the one of the two men on the pier, and the one of the trashcan with the warning sign — were exposed at IS0 1600. I printed them at 8X10 size and they looked very good, with surprisingly little artifact or grain. Images exposed at IS0 200 or 400 are very smooth indeed, and I was very impressed with the quality of 8X10 print they produced. (I didn't post any, but I've also taken some indoor available-light pictures at IS0 1600, often in very low light levels, and they've produced excellent prints as well; the auto white balance is very good, too.)
These were all shot at the highest-resolution .jpeg setting. The camera will also capture RAW format images, which are much larger and more detailed. Those require conversion via the proprietary Nikon Capture software that comes with the camera; I haven't gotten around to installing that yet, but it promises higher quality still, though at the cost of much greater memory consumption.
I sharpened and brightened a couple of the images using PhotoShop, just to give a sense of how they might look with the kind of typical, minor alterations that people often do to digital photos (you can tell which ones from the filenames). Though the quality of these images isn't up to what well-exposed and -processed medium format film images can produce, it's a lot closer than I would have expected.
The bottom line: I'm extremely pleased with the D70. It's more evidence that digital SLRs have reached a point where neither quality nor price should be a significant barrier.
Read - Instapundit
Read - D70 Tech Specs