Nikon D70s: what could be further improved?

As you most likely already know, the D70s is a very capable camera and, at present stage of digital SLR development, a great value for the money. The camera is relatively responsive and boasts an impressive range of features in a relatively light body and at a reasonable price. There are many reviews of the camera on the Web most of which emphasize positive aspects of the camera's handling, features and image quality. While I generally agree with most of them, no camera is perfect and there is always room for improvement. Due to this, I thought it would be beneficial to mention some aspects that could be improved further. Having used the D70s for some time now, I find that the following issues should be addressed in the future upgrades and/or replacements of the camera:

  • The camera's viewfinder is tiny (0.75X magnification)—to the extent that manual focusing is pretty much unrealistic. (This problem was addressed with the introduction of the D200 and the D80.)

  • Auto white balance (AWB) performance is so–so at best. I always shoot in RAW/AWB mode and have to tweak white balance in post–processing much more often than I wish I had to. Those who shoot JPEGs are likely to find this problematic and would be better off setting white balance manually at the point of shooting.

  • ISO is one of the most important settings yet its current value is not indicated directly either in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen on the top panel of the camera (unless ISO is set to AUTO, in which case "ISO AUTO" is displayed). To me, this is a major inconvenience. Most photographers use the lowest ISO setting possible and switch to higher settings only when ambient light dictates so. When you switch to higher ISO settings, however, it is very easy to forget to switch back and keep shooting at the higher ISO setting (thus getting noisier images than you have to). This problem potentially is even more serious if you use the camera as a light meter for a manual film camera (this being said, it is not an application intended by Nikon and the company cannot be blamed for the consequences).

    Quite interestingly, there is a "beep" on/off indicator on the LCD screen—as if most people do not believe their ears and need a visual confirmation whether they hear the "beep" sound . I would prefer to have direct ISO indication instead on any given day.

  • As far as image quality is concerned, I prefer using the RAW + JPG mode when photographing social events. In this mode two files are written for every shot—one in RAW (Nikon NEF) format and one in JPG. This allows me to immediately email and/or publish JPG files and have better quality files (NEF) to print photographs or extract extra image quality when necessary. In RAW + JPG mode, however, the D70s automatically applies Large size (3008X2000 pixels) and Basic quality settings to JPG files. Now, who on earth would want to have a huge file of poor quality? If the size/quality combination has to be fixed, I most certainly would prefer having a smaller JPG file of better quality.

  • The body is made of plastic and built to a price point. This, probably, is fine for a camera of this class and irregular amateur use. However, quality of constriction starts seriously pushing its limits when you mount pro–quality zoom lenses or use the camera in imperfect conditions on a more regular basis. Using heavier lenses inevitably requires a firmer grip on the camera, which puts much more pressure on the CF card compartment door (that is where your thumb falls). As a result, the door starts moving in place and creaking slightly when you handle the camera. I do not think it is likely to break but it does not inspire confidence either. Apart from this, the back panel creaks faintly when I press the DELETE button (this might be the case with my sample only, though). Also, I somehow managed to slightly scratch the outer part of the handgrip, which revealed the cheap materials it is made of.

    Color LCD plastic cover scratches and cracks way too easily—within only several weeks of regular use mine was scratched badly enough that I had to take it off when reviewing images; it finally cracked after about three months of use.

  • Some of the vital functions do not have dedicated buttons and can only be accessed through the menu—namely, autofocus (switching between AF–S and AF–C) as well as AF–area settings cannot be changed directly. This makes adjusting autofocus options pretty much unrealistic when chasing fleeting moments.

  • Whereas I, generally, find the menu quite logical and easy to use, some of the items in it could be classified better. For instance, what are the autofocus (AF–S/AF–C) and AF–area modes are doing in the custom settings menu? They should be in the shooting menu.

  • Inbuilt flash is pretty much useless with bigger lenses (e.g., the 17-35mm f/2.8 zoom) as vignetting occurs.

  • Many Nikon F100 users used to complain that the camera used a dedicated 10–pin remote cable release instead of a mechanical one, which meant that we had to spend more money on additional accessories. The D70s continues this trend—it uses neither a mechanical nor the 10–pin remote cable release and one has to buy either its proprietary remote cable MC–DC1 or wireless infrared remote control ML–L3. This means not only spending more money but also carrying two (or even three) separate remote release cables if you use both digital and film cameras.

  • I personally dislike the amateur scene exposure modes—they probably would be more at home on the D50 than on the D70s. Ironically, I find that they do not make life easier—the time required to figure out what each of them does and what features they disable would be better spent on learning how the basic A, S and P modes operate.

  • Moire appears more often than I thought it would.

  • Self–timer deactivates automatically after shutter has been released. This, of course, is great if you only need to use it once. However, if you need to use it continually, having to activate it every time is a major nuisance (some photographers also use self–timer to compensate for the lack of mirror lock–up). The best solution for this would be having a dedicated custom setting which would allow choosing one-time or continuous activation of self–timer.

  • The camera utilizes USB 2.0 "high speed" interface, which in effect is equivalent to USB 1.1 and allows transferring data at only 12 Mbits per second, which is quite slow.

  • Oh, did I mention that the camera's viewfinder is tiny?

It might be argued that mentioning some of the points above is probably inappropriate considering the class of the camera. However, one should be reminded that when I purchased the camera the only alternatives were the outdated and overall inferior D100 and the bulky (and significantly more expensive) D2X; as of September 2005 options are even fewer now that the D100 has been discontinued. If Nikon believe that these options suffice or fail to deliver a more comprehensive lineup of DSLRs in a timely manner, then all of the points appear appropriate.

Related article: Nikon D70s real–life noise performance