Review Date: August 1st 2005
Ease of Use
On first impressions the Nikon D70s is a solid piece of kit, with a chunky handgrip and a "business-like" design that is functional rather than pretty. This isn't one of the new breed of digital SLR cameras that aim to be as small as possible - the D70s is designed for large hands. This is partly because the D70s is one of the more complex DSLRs available in terms of functionality and the number of external controls that it offers, with over 25 in total and many of them having more than one function. Despite the presence of so many buttons and switches, the Nikon D70s doesn't feel too cluttered or intimidating and quickly becomes second-nature to use.
So what is the Nikon D70s actually like to handle and use? The D70s is very comfortable in terms of handling. The camera has a deep, contoured handgrip on the right-hand side, coated in a rubberized compound to aid grip, that enabled me to use four fingers to hold it and my right forefinger to operate the shutter button. There is a contoured area where your right thumb sits which is also the door of the memory card compartment, with the rest of the body finished in a mixture of matt black, slightly textured plastic. The standard 18-70mm kit lens feels well-balanced on the Nikon D70s and it fits into place with a reassuring mechanical click. The shutter release action on the Nikon D70s is quite loud and mechanical, something that you will either love or hate. I liked it, although it isn't great for close-up candid photography as your subject will probably hear you if you get too close.
|Mode Dial||Power Switch / Shutter-release Button / Metering Mode Button / Exposure Compensation Button|
The Nikon D70s is generally very well-made and designed. I liked the Memory Card slot, which is protected by a cover that is opened by a catch, preventing accidental removal of the card and possible data corruption if an image is being written to it. The Memory Card cover also doubles up as the place where your right thumb naturally grips the camera and is coated in a rubberized compound. I particularly liked the way that Nikon have implemented the Shutter-speed, Aperture and Manual modes on the D70s. There are two dials, one just below the shutter button on the top of the handgrip which changes the shutter speed, and the Main Command dial on the rear of the camera which changes the aperture (this can be reversed via a custom setting). Having a separate dial for shutter speed and aperture is very intuitive and allows for quick changes to the camera settings in the advanced modes. Thoughtful positioning of key controls continues with the Exposure Compensation and Metering Mode buttons, which are located next to the shutter button. Hold down either button with your right forefinger and spin the dial on the top-rear of the camera with your thumb to adjust their settings - simple and intuitive. The only design element that disappointed was the Multi Selector (arrow pad) which felt spongy and rather unresponsive. I also disliked the positioning of the metal strap eyelet on the right of the camera body, which occasionally dug into my right hand.
Considering that this is a complicated digital SLR camera with an array of advanced features, the Nikon D70s has a clean and uncluttered design that will be familiar to anyone who has used a DSLR before, although it will be intimidating for someone who hasn't used one. I counted over 25 external controls in total, so I strongly recommend that you read through the excellent user guide first, which contrary to recent trends is actually printed rather than supplied on a CD. The Nikon D70s follows conventional DSLR design in having a shooting mode dial on the top-left of the camera, which allows you to select either an advanced mode like Aperture-priority or one of 6 commonly-used scene modes.
|Menu Button / ISO/Thumbnail Button / White Balance/Protect/Help Button / Image Quality/Playback Zoom/Enter Button||Multi Selector / Focus Selector Lock / Delete Button / Memory Card Access Lamp|
The LCD panel on top of the camera displays a comprehensive amount of information (22 settings in total), including the current aperture or shutter speed, flash mode, battery level, drive mode, focus point, metering, white balance and the number of remaining frames. A large number of settings (16 in total) are also displayed in the viewfinder, mainly in a horizontal strip along the bottom. Despite this wealth of detail, which could be rather overwhelming, the Nikon D70s does a good job of providing easily understood information about the settings that it is using.
Nikon have redesigned the menu system of the D70s. There are now 4 main menu options, Playback, Shooting, CSM (Custom Settings Menu) and Set Up, represented by both icons and text. The various options in each of the 4 menus are clearly displayed in a large font size, and cleverly the current setting for each one is shown to the right as an icon - very neat. The most complex menu is the CSM one, with 25 different options available, although many of them will only need to be set once (and you can also change the menu to "Simple" mode so that only 9 options are shown). Overall I found the menu system easy to read, understand and use - full marks to Nikon.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Compartment|
The start-up time of the Nikon D70s, from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo, is very quick for a DSLR at around 1/2 second. Focusing is also quick and consistent in good light with the standard kit lens and the camera happily achieves focus indoors and in low-light situations thanks to the powerful AF Assist light. The 18-70mm kit lens is very quiet in operation and feels well balanced on the D70s body. It even has a metal lens mount, although the barrel is made from plastic. The large 2 inch LCD screen is bright, clear and has a perfectly acceptable refresh rate. It takes about 2 seconds to store a JPEG image at the highest quality setting with no discernible lockup between taking shots, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. For RAW images the Nikon D70s takes about 5 seconds to store an image and there is also no lockup between shots until the buffer is full - at this point you can still see through the viewfinder but you can't fire the shutter until the buffer has cleared. In the continuous shooting mode you can hold down the shutter button and take one RAW photo roughly every 0.25 seconds for up to 5 images. In the best quality JPEG mode, the capture rate is largely dependent on the memory card that you are using - I managed to take around 12 images at the same rate of one every 0.25 seconds.
Once you have captured a photo, the Nikon D70s has an excellent range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (in 2 different sizes), zoom in and out up to a magnification of 5x, and view detailed information about each image by pressing left or right on the Multi-selector. You can also delete an image, rotate an image, view a slideshow, protect images so that they cannot be deleted, hide images and set various printing options. Importantly the Nikon D70s displays a histogram after taking a photo which is a great help in evaluating the exposure, plus any areas that are over-exposed flash on and off in the LCD preview to show you what you should be compensating for with your next attempt.
In summary the Nikon D70s is a very well constructed, complex yet still intuitive to use digital SLR that inspires confidence and allows you to get on with taking pictures. It builds on the success and design of the older D70, adding a number of refinements that enhance an already well-designed camera. Overall I was very impressed with the Nikon D70s in terms of its usability.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Nikon D70s have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.