Nikon D70 Digital Camera Reviewed

by Bjørn Rørslett  

3. Image Quality

Nikon D70 has the potential to deliver image quality much better than its low price would indicate. Do not let the its low price lead you to consider it a toy camera, because it can deliver images with exceptional sharpness. Pitched again the (by now quite weary) old champion, D1X, D70 has in fact the upper edge in terms of image detail sharpness, albeit D1X still wins the contest as far as smoother, silkier tonality and lower colour noise are concerned.

Since I've already demonstrated that D2H is superior to D1X on a pixel-by-pixel basis, it was only natural to test D70 against D2H. I did this using the same setup as before, meaning the cameras were moved to align the image angle subtended by each pixel to identical value (within a few percent of error). For those keen on delving into the subtilities, the earlier description can be consulted. I ran the test using my AFS 300/2.8 lens mounted on a Sachtler ENG 2 HD tripod with a Burzynski head. Typical results are depicted below and clearly show that D70 images virtually match D2H in terms of detail. Add to this that the files from D70 are larger (by 40%), and you begin to understand that this neat little camera isn't something to sneer at.

D70 vs D2H

Image quality of D70 vs D2H, with AFS Nikkor 300 mm f/2.8 at f/6.3, both cameras set to 200 ISO equivalency, NEF format.

Crops are 269 by 256 pixels, processed in Nikon Capture 4.1 with no sharpening or colour balancing performed

© Bjørn Rørslett/NN

To exploit fully the potential of D70 imagery, using raw (/NEF) files is the optimal approach. D70 offers only a compressed NEF format, but unlike other cameras (D100 springs to mind), the internal processing and writing of these files are blindingly fast, so there is no performance penality to pay. However, as only Nikon Capture 4.1 at this time of writing supports D70 NEFs, we don't tknow yet if other (third-part) software might improve the image quality even further*. Nikon Capture 4.1 itself has a user interface marred by a slightly vulgar "XPish" quality, and although the program runs smoothly on my dual-CPU machines, it isn't a superfast performer in any way. However, image output quality is superb both from D1-series as well as D70 or D2H NEFs, so I won't complain too much (if they only could improve the interface, I might even take a liking to this program). Be aware that the newest version 4.1 is slightly more buggy than the earlier 4.0 software**

*   Bibble 4.0 handles D70 NEF files even better than Nikon's own software
** The latest Nikon Capture 4.1.2 has fewer bugs than the earlier version, so should be used

A camera such as the D70 implies the end users may or may not be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of digital photography. This ranges from understanding the "dust on the CCD" issue and how to avoid it, to appreciate the differential characteristics of film vs digital recording. I've seen discussions in which CCD blooming was held against the camera, and because of failing insight into the matter, nobody mentioned why this occurred or how the ill effects should be abated. Blooming is a feature of any CCD and if you point the camera directly against the sun you are certain to exceed the dynamic range of the CCD. This is a major difference between digital and film recording, because film will "burn out" in a gentle manner, whilst digital will sooner or later clip the signal leading to harsh transitions. The remedial measures to be taken are simple,

To ilustrate these points, see the test images below.

Blooming with 45 mm lens

Shooting directly into the sun with a 45 mm lens (set to f/22) produces diffraction sun "rays" and visible, although not extensive blooming with the D70. Exposure compensation set to -1 EV, and this is a small crop of the frame.

Blooming with 20 mm lens

Substituting a 20 mm lens for the 45 mm lens, but otherwise keeping the same exposure and aperture settings, gives a visually more pleasing result. Blooming is brought under even better control using the shorter focal length.

Both images © Bjørn Rørslett/NN

The phenomenon of moiré is always possible with any digital camera, whatever resolution it may have. Moiré occurs because scene detail, with a repetetive pattern,  is not resolved sufficiently and thus false colour (s) (and detail) results. D70 images were not troubled in particular with this issue, and shooting architecture with fine detail didn't provoke moiré. However, I spotted one or two frames with traces of moiré on finely-textured clothing. Nothing to worry too much about and the moiré reduction feature of Capture 4.1 eradicated this entirely anyway.

Nikon D70 Reviewed

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Last update 27 July, 2004