13 year old DSLR, still relevant in 2017?
Always hungry for faster camera bodies, more megapixels and lower noise levels, I decided to give myself a test and see if I could get satisfying results out of my first DSLR, purchased 12 years ago. Paired with a 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor that I picked up for 80 euros, I put the camera and lens to its paces, both at home and during a photo shoot with model Charlotte Janus.
First thing I noticed, after having ignored my old camera for years, is that the camera still feels very good in the hand. Slightly bigger than my current Panasonic G80 body, it has an excellent grip. It must be said though, that I've always been a big fan of the Nikon body layout and controls, much more than the Canon bodies.
At its introduction, the original D70 was marketed as Nikon's first consumer oriented DSLR, competing directly with the Canon EOS 350D. The build quality and primary layout of the camera are pretty similar to the current mid-range DX bodies offered by Nikon, featuring a top-LCD display, a mode dial on the right and dual control dials for exposure settings. The camera feels solid and comfortable to hold, but lacks weather sealing. Its relative small 2-inch LCD display and the large door to access the compact flash card on the back are the only real giveaways that this is not a current model camera. When looking through the viewfinder, seeing only 5 autofocus points gives another clear hint that this camera body is not the latest gear. Despite that, the autofocus works excellent when you know how to work with limited autofocus points.
Using the camera
When shooting, I notice that the camera lacks the speed and refinement that I'm so much accustomed too using my Panasonic Lumix G80. For portrait shooting however, speed and features aren't always necessary.
I set the camera to ISO 200 because I know the quality of this old sensor drops dramatically at higher ISO. Working at open aperture gave me just the right shutter speeds for handheld shooting. Of course, I had to keep in mind that both the lens and the body don't have any form of stabilisation, something that allows me to shoot handheld at 1/15th of a second using the Panasonic.
Using an autofocus system with only 5 autofocus points forced me to focus on the eyes and adjust my composition once I had focus locked. Trying to get the most out of the 6 megapixels sensor, I got real close to my model so that no post cropping was necessary and the smaller details of her face would provide a great showcase of what this camera is capable of.
6 megapixel CCD sensor
Having only 6 megapixels leaves very little margin for cropping. You've got to frame your picture exactly the way you want it to appear. But still, at this resolution, the images are 2000x3000 pixels total size, which is more than enough for displaying on most devices, and even printing at 16 x 24 cm.
Loading the raw files into Lightroom, more shots than I'm used to seem out of focus. But with few files, the focus was spot-on and the whole picture actually looked pretty good. On pixel level I might even say cleaner than what the Lumix can produce, or perhaps even many of the current CMOS sensors.
The reproduction of skin colours seems excellent at first glance, and at ISO 200 the images from the CCD sensor are very clean and leave enough room to bring up the shadows and work on the contrast.
I edited the photo as I normally would and threw it in with the rest of the portraits, shot with the Lumix.
To my surprise, this picture had a distinct different feel from the other pictures, but definitely not better or worse. I'm actually pretty confident that nobody could have noticed it was taken with an older camera.
Sure, I love having a flip-out-touch-screen, focus peaking and wifi on my Lumix Camera, and the face recognition autofocus with eye detect works like a charm when shooting portraits. But in the end, it's the picture that counts, not the tools that were used making it.
The D70s is a very solid and decent camera with all controls you expect from a mid-range DSLR. The autofocus is out-dated but as a photographer that doesn't rely heavily on having over a hundred individual tracking autofocus points, it's very workable.
Can the sensor compete with modern day cameras? Not when you count pixels, compare dynamic range or expect excellent low light performance. But when you know what you are doing, the camera can create excellent results, producing photos that can easily be published or posted on social media without anyone doubting the quality of your gear.
Written by Gijs de Koning, December 12, 2017.