At $999, Nikon returns fire
On the imaging side, the D70's newly designed 6.2MP CCD image sensor captures 6.0MP (effective resolution of 3008x2000 pixels), which is the same as the D100 and just shy of the Digital Rebel's 6.3MP. The roughly APS-size sensor gives the D70 the same 1.5X 35mm lens factor found on all current Nikon digital SLRs. Nikon claims that individual microlenses covering each pixel improve the camera's dynamic range and compatibility with AF and DX Nikkor lenses. And speaking of lenses, Nikon also offers a D70 Outfit ($1,299) that includes its new 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S DX Nikkor lens. Although this lens costs $200 more than the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S Canon that's included in the EOS Digital Rebel kit for $999, it has a slightly wider field of view at 18mm (equivalent to a 27mm lens on a 35mm SLR), a greater maximum focal length of 70mm, and improved low-light performance with its maximum f/4.5 aperture at full tele. But it's heavier (13.5 ounces compared to the Canon's 6.5 ounces), and it can only close-focus to 38mm compared to 28mm. (That's still less than 1.5 inches from the lens!)
Storage speed has greatly improved over the D100, thanks to a new Large Scale Integrated Circuit (LSI) processor. Nikon says this LSI also improves color accuracy and white balance while reducing noise. In combination with its new Dynamic Buffer, the D70 can continuously capture up to 144 normal-large JPEGs at a blazing 3 fps. But we think a better benchmark is its ability to capture up to 14 images at 3 fps in fine-large JPEG mode, compared to four images at 2.5 fps for the Digital Rebel. And RAW fans can also capture up to four RAW+JPEG Basic images at 3 fps, while the Digital Rebel can capture RAW or JPEG, but not both simultaneously. RAW files can also be saved in compressed or uncompressed NEF formats at about the same burst rate. There's a RAW converter in the included software, and advanced conversion with Nikon's optional Capture 4.1 software ($99).
As usual, storage speed depends on the type and speed of the memory card, and we got these results using a Sandisk 256MB Ultra II CF. With this card, the D70 can maintain a speed of approximately 1 fps after the burst is finished and until the card is full. But startup speed, shutter lag, and AF speed are based solely on the camera. Here, the D70 is one of the fastest DSLRs out the gate. By the time you turn it on and lift it to your eye, it's ready to shoot. While the D70 uses the same AF module as the D100 and has similar AF modes, Nikon claims the D70 has improved AF algo-rithms and reduced shutter lag over the D100. After capture, we were impressed by the nearly instantaneous display of images on the bright, 1.8-inch LCD. Other speed improvements include a faster maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec (Digital Rebel is 1/4000 sec), and a higher flash sync of 1/500 sec. In addition, the auto-pop-up iTTL flash has a Flash Value lock, which is especially useful for shooting portraits, and it can be set manually from full output to 1/64 power in 1/3-step increments. Studio shooters will love that it can also be used in Commander Mode to control wireless flash units such as the Nikon SB-800 or SB-600 Speedlights.
Help is here!
While many of the D70's control buttons will be familiar to D100 shooters, there are a few significant additions. The most visible is the Vari-Program Mode dial that lets you choose from one of seven Vari-Programs including Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Landscape, and Night Portrait. But unlike most presets, the D70's Vari-Programs optimize image quality for PictBridge-enabled printers.
Menu settings accessed from the LCD are among the brightest and easiest to read of any SLR; you can set the camera to display either simple or advanced options. But if the variety of image quality and custom functions leaves you dazed, just press the help button and a short description of the control settings you're viewing pops up (see above). Every camera maker should include this function.
White balance is controlled in a similar fashion to the D100, and uses Nikon's 3D Color Matrix metering in partnership with a 1005-pixel sensor. Several preset and custom white-balance settings are also available, and Kelvin temperature fine-tuning can be done when converting RAW files in the computer. Image-quality settings also affect color accuracy, especially when using a calibrated monitor or color-managed printer. The D70's New Generation Color Reproduction System gives you three choices for color space, including sRGB, Adobe RGB, and sRGB Vivid. Other image-quality choices include sharpness, contrast, tone, color, saturation, hue, and exposure compensation. The D70 has metering patterns similar to the D100's, including 3D Color Matrix, a choice of centerweighted patterns, and a tight spot pattern. The D70 also lets you choose among multiprogram, shutter- and aperture- priority, and manual exposure modes.