Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Another 'oldie but a goodie' - Nikon D70

Recently I sold all of my photography gear after finishing my Wedding business, in the belief that the new wave of mirrorless cameras was where it was at. These small cameras are everywhere, and if the new camera elite are to be believed, then the days of the 'traditional' SLR are numbered.

This may well be true - from a technology standpoint. Newer (we are led to believe) is always better, and all the camera manufacturers now seem to be obsessed with creating mirrorless systems - even within the traditional SLR form factor.

But try as I might, I just haven't gelled with these new mirrorless systems. For me they are too small, too fiddly and too 'compact camera-ish' in their handling. I hate having to hold the camera out at arms length and use the lcd screen to compose and take an image. So the more they make these lcd screens act like touch screens on smart phones, the more I balk.

Instead, what I've found myself doing, is going back - way back - to some of the first digital SLR's, and I ended up purchasing a Canon 20D. And what a great camera. Solid, fast, simple menu navigation, lots of customisation - all you could need in a camera. It holds, feels, works and performs like a 'real' camera should - and produces fantastic digital files to boot. I've always maintained that pixels are never where it's at. For me, at least, 8MP is definitely enough. Yes, I'm old (46 this year), and yes, I'm obviously a traditionalist - having learnt the craft of photography way back in the old days of film (which yes, I do still shoot occasionally). Maybe you can't teach on old dog new tricks, and a leopard doesn't change it's spots etc, etc. But I also passionately believe that we are sold a lie every year, by camera manufacturers who are desperate to sell new products to an unsuspecting public who seem just as desperate to buy them. Deep down, subconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) we know we don't need 24MP. But we may as well 'upgrade' to them - right? I mean, it would be silly not to have them, just in case. Just for that one-off billboard sale.

Nikon D70
Damn. I'm sounding like a grumpy old man again. And I don't mean to - honest. And where am I going with all of this anyway? I thought this post was about the D70? Good question. And it is. So this is what happened...

My daughter, Emily, is in her high school production, and it was the final performance last Friday night. We had booked to go as a family to see her final performance, and as we were getting ready to go I thought "heck, I'd better take a camera."

Trouble is, I only have a standard 18-55mm lens and 50mm f1.8 for the 20D at the moment, which in a large school hall probably wouldn't give me the range I needed to get close enough, even if I managed to sit close to the front row.

So I told myself it would have to be a 'photography free' event, and just go and enjoy the performance. But there was a part of me that wasn't happy with this. I'm not the 'always have to capture everything on camera' type of Dad, and am quite happy leaving the camera at home. But this was Emily's first ever production, and I thought that in twenty years from now she'd be glad that her old man took some photos for her to remember the experience with. But would I get away with it on the 20D?

And then I remembered that my wife actually has a camera too - a Nikon D70 I bought for her a couple of years ago - hidden in the wardrobe somewhere. And didn't that have a fairly decent telephoto with it? I pulled it out of the camera bag, and sure enough, along with the standard 18-55mm lens was a Nikkor 75-240mm telephoto. Multiply 240mm by x1.5 and you get 360mm, which was going to be more than enough to get close, as long as I could get a reasonably good seat.

Emily performing in 'Dreams on Broadway' (she's in the middle)
We decided to go early and we managed to get aisle seats just three rows back from the front. I set the D70's ISO to as high as it will go (ISO 1600), and hoped that this would give me a fast enough shutter speed with the relatively 'slow' maximum aperture of 4.5/5.6 on the Nikkor 75-240mm.

Ruby Kemp as Broadway wannabe 'Tracy Charles'
I needn't have worried, Sitting just three rows back (probably about 5 meters from the stage), the 75-240mm gave more than enough reach. In fact, most of the time I found myself pulling back to the middle ranges because 240mm was too close. And with the stage lights, ISO1600 was giving me a very hand-holdable 180th to 250th sec shutter speed (and sometimes down to a 90th depending on the lights). The D70 is such a well balanced camera, and the 75-240mm such a light lens, that I had no trouble hand holding at those speeds. Not all the final images were tack sharp - but most of them were.

Heather Evans doing the 'Time Warp'
So I had the reach, and I had the speed. But the D70 is an 'old' camera... around 10 years old. And I was shooting it at its absolute maximum ISO of 1600. The images will look like mud, right?

Do they look like mud to you? I needn't have worried about the noise, and in fact, when I got them back and downloaded the images into Lightroom I was pretty amazed at the results. Yes, there is noise there at ISO1600 - of course there is. But it cleans up in Lightroom remarkably easily, and even with some sharpening applied, the final result is superb. And I do mean superb. I wouldn't hesitate shooting the D70 at ISO1600 - and I guarantee the same would be true of the Canon 20D (which actually goes up higher to 3200).

Yes, I know the 'latest' and the greatest can shoot at ISO 6 million and give clean results. Whoopie. I didn't need ISO 6 million, did I? 1600 was good enough, and the results were great. It's yet another case of the 'do we really need it' syndrome in technology.

The cast of Greymouth High School's 'Dreams on Broadway'
Am I trying to justify my decision 'not' to spend lots of money on camera gear? Maybe. Would I start using a Canon 5D MkIII tomorrow if you 'gave' me one - you bet (as long as a nice lens came with it)! Would I start using an olympus EP-3 if you gave me one tomorrow? No, I wouldn't. I'd stick to my Canon 20D - and my wife's D70. In fact, now I have a bit of a quandary. With my friends 50D on permanent loan, my own 20D, and my wife's D70 I've probably got more cameras than I need.

But please, if you're out there and you're listening... seriously think about how much camera you actually need for your photography. If you're a sports shooter and a pro, by all means get the latest and greatest D4 or 1D Mk4, although you may not need these either? Don't just buy it because it's the next big thing. Your 'old' camera doesn't stop working just because the newest version is released every year. Don't feel 'inferior' because you have an 'old' camera and uncle Bob has the latest and greatest. It's unnecessary and just plain wrong.

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