JoziFolk - images of everyday and places life in South Africa


Can an 11 year-old DSLR still cut it?

Is an old DSLR still useful? Nikon D70

Nikon D70. The camera was launched in 2004 and was state-of-the art at the time. But can it still hold its own 11 years later?

Why I still love my ancient Nikon D70

 Introduced in 2004, the Nikon D70 is, at the time of writing, 11 years-old.
 That is 77 in dog and digital camera years! But I love it and honestly believe it will be recorded a classic, like the Nikon F3, film camera.
 Can the "ancient" D70, a six megapixel camera, still hack it today?
 Absolutely - if you know how to use it and have some understanding of photographic principles. In many ways it is more advanced than cameras of today.
 The Nikon D70 was that company's second, affordable DSLR and the first digital Nikon priced at below $1000. The much worse D100 was Nikon's first amateur DSLR and  retailed for $1995.

Plastic body

 Like almost all cameras then and since, the body is plastic, something that causes some photographers to grimace but plastic is in many cases more durable than metal and is used in high-impact situations where almost any other material will fail. Good examples are the stocks and cladding of battlefield rifles. When a metal-bodied camera is dropped it often dents but a high-impact, plastic body simply flexes and may be left with just a scuff. For most users, plastic is not a big deal.
 The D70 is not a "professional" body, not because it is not strong but rather as it does not have the same levels of protection and sealing from elements like dust and rain. However, I've used mine professionally in hairy situations and it never missed a beat. Use common sense.
 The camera has a 6mp CCD sensor. In an age where there are mobile phones with 40mp sensors, six megapixels seems ridiculously inadequate. Don't worry about it. 12 inch lab-prints look perfect and 18" prints are great. With a little manipulation in a program like GIMP, I've printed wedding images, shot with my D70, that are a metre wide and are proudly displayed by clients. I challenge anyone to look at them on the wall and tell me they can see they were not shot with the latest, greatest camera.
 A sharp 6mp source file is enough for just about anything normal people do and vastly better than a crappy source file with more pixels!

High-speed flash synchronization camera

 But what really sets the D70 apart from its more modern counterparts, is its ability to turn the sensor on and off at fast shutter speeds. It has a TTL flash-sync speed of 1/500 of a second and up to 1/8000 of a second with a flash that does not communicate with the camera. No DSLR made today (that I know of) can do that.
 It is a huge deal. For fill-flash for portraits you only need half the power and can shoot at wide open apertures that make backgrounds blur.
 Autofocus works just fine, if you exercise a bit of thought and common sense. Unlike today's cameras, that sometimes have more than 50 focus points and focus-recognition abilities, the D70 has only five focus points, exactly like Nikon's famous F5. It is not intelligent enough to automatically focus on the subject's eyes for portraits, you need to do that. It focuses accurately, where you tell it to, and then requires you lock focus and recompose, just the way photographers did it in days gone by. It's not rocket-science.
 Some people say the D70's auto-focusing ability is slower than that of professional cameras. That may indeed be so but back in the days when I worked for newspapers, I successfully covered sports, including motor racing, with a manually-focused, telephoto lens and the D70 snaps into a focus a heck of a lot faster than that. But it's not big deal anyway. Learn to use hyperfocal and prefocusing.
 I do not know if it is because the D70 has a CCD sensor, as opposed to a CMOS sensor but, in my eyes the images are more film-like and, coming from a time where the smell of a fresh canister of film was intoxicating, it's a look I prefer.

Nikon D70 weaknesses

 Naturally the D70 has weaknesses and limitations. The most glaring is shooting in low-light. There is no doubt, the latest cameras can produce almost noise-free images, at staggeringly high ISO values. There is no contest there.
 As a result, I never shoot with the D70 at an ISO value greater than 400 and most of the time it is set to ISO 200. But it's not a big deal as I grew up on, fast lenses and ISO 100 and ISO 400 film. When it gets too dark to hand-hold the camera, I use a flash or put it on a tripod. Can that limit me? Sure but that's the way life is.
 The D70 came with a number of other smart features, including the ability to control off-camera flashes from the camera itself. It is a very useful feature that easily makes possible, good, professional-quality, images.
 It is said most fishing lures are designed to catch fishermen rather than fish and I am convinced the same can be said for digital cameras. What is today touted by the manufacturer and camera salesman as the greatest piece of equipment ever made, and that delights us and serves our needs, in a year or two is written off as outdated and outmoded.
 Back in 1999 I did freelance work for Africa's largest weekly newspaper. At that point the photographic department bought two Nikon D1 cameras. The D1 was Nikon's flagship, professional DSLR, offered a staggering 2,74 megapixels and came with a price-tag of $5500. By today's standards it's hard to believe anyone could possibly have produced any sort of image, much less a professional image, fit for publication, with it.

Full-page prints

 But the paper's photographers did and not only that, they produced full-page, poster-sized pictures when required. It was the camera, that self-employed, poverty-stricken freelancers like me, would have killed for. Today you'd be hard-pressed to give away a D1. It is bizarre how digital cameras have disposable cameras.
 I have a newer, more modern DSLR. It has more bells and whistles that supposedly makes it "better" than my faithful, old, D70. It has a bigger rear screen, faster continuous shooting, more focus-points, some fancy in-camera filters that I never use, three times as many megapixels and its ability to use high ISO values is light-years more advanced but...
 It sucks when it comes to using fill-flash, file-sizes are so huge they clog and bloat my hard drive and, if the truth be told, the images, shot with the same lenses, are no better. I seldom use it.
 I hope my D70 keeps on going until I am too old to hand-hold it. In fact, someone told me KEH has one rated in "excellent" condition for $129. I think I'll be emailing my son in the US today!




The rear, LCD viewing-screen on the Nikon D70 is tiny by today's standards.

  If you enjoyed this article please share it!