September 18, 2004

The Nikon D100 and D70

by psu

In an earlier article, I outlined my general thoughts on digital cameras. In that article, I noted that digital cameras fall into two basic categories: point and shoot cameras, and digital SLRs. At the time, my main camera had been a Nikon D100. So I thought now I'd write a more specific piece about that body and its more recent cousin, the D70.

The D100

The Nikon D100 handles and shoots basically like a high quality mid-end Nikon film body, except that it captures digital files instead of slides or negatives. Light goes in one end, hits a sensor, and out the other comes a digital representation of what the camera was looking at. I will forego the particulars and specifications of the body because you can google for that.

Instead, I'll concentrate on what I like and dislike.


  • Shoots just like a normal film camera.

  • Starting with the raw CCD data, this camera makes files that I've made into prints that are better than any color prints I have ever had made from 35mm slide or negative film. This is especially true at higher ISO values, like 400 or 800.

  • Shoots just like a normal film camera.

There isn't much more to say than that. The thing is awesome. Now here are my picky whiny quibbles:

  • The Nikon RAW (NEF) files are ludicrously large. Unlike the Canon bodies, when you shoot RAW files with the D100, there is no compression. Somehow they left a hardware compression pipeline out of the image processing hardware. This means I have to put up with 10MB NEF files instead of the 5MB files that you'd get with a Canon. The big files also take a long time to write to storage, so when the camera's memory buffer fills, the wait is long.
  • The memory buffer in the camera only fits 4 NEF frames. And, when it fills, it takes a long time before you can shoot another frame.

  • The big NEF files make you want to shoot JPEG, but in camera JPEGs don't always come out right, so you really want the NEF file too. The D100 makes you choose.

  • I've never been happy with the JPEG files that D100 makes. They seem to be soft and noisy at the same time, especially at higher ISO speeds. Also, the color always seemed off. Maybe I just never got it tuned right.

  • Setting ISO, white balance, and image quality and other things on the D100 requires that you put the camera in "set this parameter" mode. In this mode, the shooting engine of the camera is locked out. You have to put the camera back into shooting mode to shoot. This blows.

  • The interface for zooming in playback mode is a bit clunky.

  • I don't like the little knob that sets the metering mode. I like the little button that my old Nikon 8008s had.

  • The flash sync is too slow to do fill flash out doors under most conditions.

  • The viewfinder is not as nice as the better ones on Nikon's film bodies. This turns out not to be a huge problem.

The D70

Summary: The D70 is the D100 with most of the above quibbles fixed.

The only thing that isn't really improved in the D70 is the viewfinder and the interface for changing some autofocus modes that I never change. Here is a more detailed summary:

  • NEF files are now compressed in hardware. So they are nice and small.

  • The D70 has a NEF+JPEG mode that shoots a NEF file and a proof JPEG at the same time. Perfect! If a good picture requires some touchup, you have the NEF file. When the JPEG works out well, you can put the proof right on the web and even make 8x10 or bigger prints from it.

  • The D70 writes to the card faster than the D100. So even though the memory buffer still only fits four frames, with a fast CF card you can shoot NEF files at almost 1fps, which is a lot better than what the D100 could do.

  • In camera JPEG files seem somewhat better than what the D100 did. But this might just be the piece of mind that comes from knowing I have the NEF file around.

  • In playback mode, hitting "Enter" now puts you right into a zoomed view. This is nice because most of the time it lets you quickly evaluate sharpness, which is all you do with this mode anyway.

  • ISO, WB, and such are now set using a button+dial interface in shooting mode.

  • They put the metering mode button back where it was on the 8008s. Yay!

  • Flash sync is now 1/500th! Take that Hasselblad wankers. This is great for fill flash.

  • The viewfinder is not better, but it's not worse either.

All this, and they fixed the flash system too. Although I have to buy a new flash to get the new features.

Two Updates

First, the NEF+JPEG isn't as useful as I'd hoped. The JPEG files are not tagged with the right color space, and they are full size. I like to make proof JPEG files that are half size. Also, the new NEF files preview very quickly at nearly full resolution (apparently the preview image embedded in the NEF is now a full sized JPEG instead of the teeny tiny one the D100 put in), so I don't really need JPEG files for quick proofing. They are mostly just useful for my dual catalog workflow.

Second, the lens hood casts a shadow. I never noticed this before with my D100.


This article is also at my main web site, so I'm gonna link to it here to up my google points: here you go.

Posted by psu at September 18, 2004 08:11 PM | Bookmark This


any interest in attending a photo meetup?

Posted by rich at September 21, 2004 10:01 AM

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