Nikon's new D70s boasts faster, more accurate AF, faster image processing and buffering and a bigger LCD than the old D70. It's joined by the new, budget D50 model, designed to compete with bargain-basement models from Canon (the EOS 350D) and Pentax (the *ist Ds).
Let's take a closer look at the improvements that have gone into the D70s. The increased processing speed means that the camera's capable (technically) of shooting up to 144 shots consecutively. This is under very specific conditions, however - namely JPEGs shot at Normal quality, with specific high-speed memory cards.
The quoted capacity when shooting RAW files or Fine quality JPEGs is far lower, at four frames and nine frames, respectively. You may find, then, that the D70's as quick in all but very specific circumstances.
The same applies to the new, speedier, improved AF system. Some users may find the improvement obvious; we don't.
That just leaves the 2-inch LCD display, up in size from the 1.8-inch screen on the old camera. Hardly a big difference, but the larger menu text may prove more legible for some users.
The D70s is so similar to the D70 that, apart from the badge on the front, it feels identical. That's no bad thing: plastic it may be, but the D70's a million miles from the EOS 300D it once competed against, and it's still better than the EOS 350D which replaced it. No other camera in this price range has this feeling of solidity and quality.
The D70s is a comfortable size. The *ist Ds and EOS 350D are a little too short in the shoulder to offer a really secure grip, leaving your little finger waving about ineffectively under the base plate. The grip on the D70s, though, is tall enough for all your fingers to curl around firmly.
This camera uses two control wheels instead of one. The rear control wheel handles most shotto- shot adjustments as well as shutter speed in Shutter Priority and Manual modes. The front control wheel handles a smaller number of secondary functions, and controls lens aperture in Aperture Priority and Manual modes. It's easy to remember: rear wheel - shutter speed, front wheel - aperture.
You've got to remember which wheel does what though, as the D70s doesn't drop out of Quick Review mode when you attempt to adjust the controls. You've got to half-press the shutter release to return to Shooting mode before you can make white balance, ISO and other adjustments for the next shot.
This is a camera you've got to learn how to use. There's a full Auto mode and a small selection of Scene modes for novices, but it's not really aimed at them. It's aimed instead at photographers who know what they want to do and who're prepared to make the effort needed to explore this camera's considerable depths.
The old D70 is good but not perfect. The exposure system is the biggest issue. In fl at lighting there are no problems. In bright, contrasty lighting, however, you never quite know what the 3D Color Matrix metering is going to do. It might produce a perfectly judged exposure. Or it might - as often as not - go over-protective towards the highlights and underexpose the midtones so that a super-saturated vibrant subject comes out distinctly muddy. The D70s is just the same.
Now if you shoot in RAW mode, this isn't going to bother you. It's a simple matter to tweak the tonal distribution to restore the colours and midtone brightness, and you have the advantage of nicelypreserved highlights.
But while the RAW files produced by the D70s are compact (5-6MB), you don't get proper RAW conversion software with the camera. All that the bundled Picture Project software can do is carry out a basic no-frills conversion that leaves you little better off than shooting JPEGs in the first place.
And you'll want to shoot RAW files with this camera. Its JPEG images aren't bad, but they lack the dynamic range and sharpness of well-converted RAW files. Using only what's in the box, the D70s's performance is distinctly unremarkable, even against £700 budget DSLRs. It's only its RAW files that do this camera justice.
This won't be an issue for those people who use Photoshop CS and its Camera RAW plug-in. Provided you don't mind waiting for an update, which includes support for the D70s, that is.
This remains a very good camera. Its superiority to the original D70 is so marginal that you realise all over again just how good that camera is. Until the dealers have cleared their shelves, the D70s's biggest rival could be the D70... Rob Lawton