At a Glance
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, measuring just 5.5 by 4.4 by 3.1 inches, and weighs only 1 pound, 9 ounces without the 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 your 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. In contrast, the Digital Rebel XT, which has just one dial, makes you hold down a button so the dial changes the aperture instead of the shutter speed.
Also, you can also control most of the settings on the D70s 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 you need to use both hands: 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 4-way thumbpad. A single rechargeable battery powers the camera; it lasted for 500 shots, the cutoff point in our tests, and easily enough for a weekend trip.
One curious omission is the ability to store custom settings; 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.
Although the 2-inch LCD is a slight improvement on the 1.8-inch screen on the D70, it still looks small compared with the 2.5-inch screen on the Maxxum 7D. 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 was very quick to start up: It was ready to take photos less than a second after we turned it on, so you aren't likely to miss a shot while waiting for the camera.
Serious photographers are more likely to manually adjust settings rather than be content with automatic settings. That's why our SLR testing now includes some shots taken using manual adjustments, in addition to shots using automatic settings. All of the SLRs we tested improved their color accuracy scores under manual settings, but none more dramatically than the D70s: It earned the lowest score under fully automatic mode, but scored higher than most of the other SLRs after we set a custom white balance and adjusted its exposure settings.
We found that the automatic metering of the D70s consistently underexposed our test images, leading to weak colors. 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 D70s did earn one of the highest scores for its noise reduction (only the Canon EOS 20D scored higher); the pattern of noise was less obvious than with other cameras--none of the annoying white dots that we saw in the Finepix S2 Pro's images, for example. For exposures longer than a second, the D70s includes an additional noise reduction mode, whereby 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.
On the other hand, the D70s did not score 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 moir?? artifacts, with unsightly color fringing in some areas.
At $1299 for the kit we reviewed, the D70s costs a few hundred dollars more than some other SLRs we've tested. But it is a good value for the money if you don't own any lenses: the 18-70mm Nikkor lens that comes with the kit is excellent. But if you already have Nikon lenses, you can save a bit of cash by buying the body only, which goes for $899. You can use the D70s with most lenses that use the Nikon F mount; only a few older lenses won't work with it.
The small, lightweight Nikon D70s offers conveniences you won't find on other models, though its image quality lags behind many other SLRs.