R.I.P. D70

My beloved D70 died the other day with about 48,000 shutter actuations under its belt. Being used for almost 11 years, that’s around some 4,400 images a year. Maybe not that much, but I originate from the film days when that was in excess of 120 rolls a year.

According to this site, 48,000 was rather close to the life expectancy of a D70. For an original $999 investment, that was good value for money. For some reason, the D70s — that should be the same camera except for a slightly larger 2.0 inch screen — has a significantly longer life expectancy. Maybe the shutter got reworked in between the D70 and D70s releases after all?

Anyway, end of D70 story for me. I have to contemplate what to do next. Still in love with CCD rendering. Most differences in color, white balance, tonality, etc between cameras are easily adjusted in post processing, but not the difference between CMOS and CCD. This is also why I sold my Canon Powershot S100 (CMOS) and acquired an S95 (CCD) instead. It was a no-brainer for me since the S95 lens is sharper and I don’t need the improved video of the S100.

R.I.P. D70

D70_Chrome tone curve lost by cloud operator

One of the most popular entries on this blog has been one of the few D70 tone curves still maintained. It gives excellent well-balanced results on the D70. Now, it turns out that the cloud operator that hosted the curve has lost it along with all backups. So much for trusting your data being safe in the cloud. I guess you should back up all cloud data on local hard drives, but that sort of invalidates the core idea of a cloud solution.

Thus, the curve is lost, at least for the moment. I will contact some friends and see if they have a copy.

Below is the message from the cloud operator. Needless to say, I don’t appreciate their “token of appreciation” but would rather have my data and images back. It wasn’t just the tone curve… And the part in the message below that “CX.com has never lost a file” is simply not true – they were the owners of FileDen when my and others files were lost.

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Dear Valued FileDen Customer,

You may be aware of CX.com’s purchase of FileDen a little over 2 years ago. The initial intent after our purchase was to immediately migrate the FileDen system into the CX.com system to maximize your personal cloud experience. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen restrictions CX.com was bound to wait 24 months before making substantial changes. Although there were restrictions for this time period, the goal has always been to continue to migrate systems after the restrictive obligation was met. We have been anxious to give FileDen users the highest quality cloud service possible.

Before CX.com could make the change, the FIleDen third party hosting provider failed in their responsibility to maintain and backup servers over the last several months causing several outages and hard drive failures. The most recent hard drive failure was unrecoverable and resulted in file loss for some users. Further, customer service regarding FileDen user’s questions and concerns has been very poor. This level of service is completely unacceptable to CX.com and goes against our company’s mission of offering a customer focused, quality cloud product.

Due to recent events with FileDen, we are cutting all ties with the third party provider and asking FileDen users to move to CX.com immediately. Please log in to your FileDen account to get further instructions.

In addition to an increased 10GB of free storage, I am confident you will see a difference in quality, response time and improved customer service with your new CX.com account. CX.com is proud to have a zero percent file loss rate in over four years. We value you as a customer and look forward to continue to improve your cloud experience in the future.

Please don’t hesitate to contact the CX.com support department with further questions at support@cx.com.
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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

Due to a critical failure with our third party hosting provider, we regret to inform you that your files are no longer accessible. All exhaustive attempts to recover your files have been unsuccessful. We realize how important your files are to you and sincerely apologize for this major disruption.

As you may have seen on the Facebook post on June 25th, CX.com is scheduled to replace the outdated and overworked FileDen system to a new CX.com system at the end of August. The CX.com system will provide an improved environment for you with increased free storage to 10GB, 100 percent reliability for your files (CX.com has never lost a file), blazing speeds and more features such as streaming music and videos, one click social sharing, private sharing and private groups.

As a token of our appreciation for your patience, all paid users will receive a full refund for the month of July and all future charges from FileDen will cease.

Usable dynamic range

Don’t confuse total dynamic range with usable dynamic range. The total range is what is measured by test rigs as the range between lightest highlight and darkest points lost in noise. The useful range is rather how low you can go until the noise becomes objectionable, i.e. anything further is not useful. I think that imaging-resource is among the best testers of useful dynamic range, so let me borrow a paragraph from them:

A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data “saturates” at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier “useful” in there: While it’s tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. […] What makes most sense then, is to specify useful dynamic range in terms of the point at which image noise reaches some agreed-upon threshold. (from http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/K5/K5IMATEST.HTM)

In the same article, they go on to explain how to define usable range and how to test it. Thereafter comes the really interesting part. I have chosen an older test, that of the Pentax K-5, since it contains the Nikon D70 – the topic of this blog – in its reference tables.

The useful dynamic range table in that article is a REALLY interesting read. It explains why countless folklore stories of superior dynamic range of full-frame cameras never seem to materialize in real-world images and real-world pulling of shadows. The Nikon D3S and D3x have worse useful (real-world) dynamic range than the D7000. At least 1/2 stop and even up to a full stop worse. The D3 and D700 are even further behind. The latter ones are equal to the good old D90. Make sure you swing by the URL above and have a look at that revealing table, look in columns 0.25 and 0.1, no others (the table is sorted by the 0.1 f-stop column).

In the same table, you can see the D70 fare pretty badly. One unsatisfying thing about the table is that only the JPEG range is shown for the D70 while for many others, both JPEG and RAW are shown. RAW beats JPEG by a wide margin, and the most indicative figure for the D70’s RAW performance ought to be the D40 figure of 8.30 (beating the D3100 and being close to the D300). The table underlines the well-known truth that you should shoot RAW at least in scenes with higher dynamic range and that you can pull a lot more out of the sensor than JPEG engines can, especially a ten year old one. Let a modern RAW converter such as Capture NX-2 or Lightroom 5 do the work and like magic you have bypassed ten year old software in the D70 camera body. Another unsatisfying fact is that the table lists the camera bodies at base ISO, which for the D70 is ISO 200 making it look much worse than some of its rivals. It’s a full stop behind the full-frames D3S, D3x and D700, and two stops behind the D7000 which is the usability king in this respect (confirming real-life experiences). Nowadays, the site does not publish a table, only individual scores. While the D800 did only fairly well (above D3x but below D7000), the D600 scored the best so far by 1/3 stop. The D4 equalled the D7000 as did the D7100. This all underscores the truth that you should choose half- or full-frame firstly based on your desires regarding depth-of-field, and secondly on your interest in high-ISO shooting. Dynamic range is not a factor in this.

Speaking of the D90, even better figures are achieved by its slightly younger and much lighter sibling, the D5000. An overlooked gem that you can pick up for $150, often with little mileage. It is the modern counterpart of the Nikon FM, FM2 and FM3, and of course the FE and FE2. Small, light, excellent. Pair it with the smallest 18-55 kit lens and a couple of small primes and you have a fantastic real DSLR travel and take-anywhere kit. The prime selection is actually quite simple: Nikkor DX 35 f/1.8 G and Nikkor 85 f/1.8 G. Both truly outstanding in image quality and fairly small. If you want something wider, that’s a little bit problematic. I suggest you stay with the Nikkor 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 G VR. It’s good, especially at wider focal lenghts, but not outstanding. Or go with the Voigtlander 20 f/3.5 SL-II. Better image quality than the Nikkors, both autofocus and manual focus versions. Especially good on DX cameras. It has manual focus but the D5000 recognizes the chip in the lens and thus it’s able to meter automatically in the normal way. Very small and light, plus quite easy to focus manually since it is an ultrawide lens. Huge depth of field on a DX camera.

Another notable entry in the table is the D3100 which I own and write about in the sensor blog entry. Its old Toshiba CMOS fares worse than the CCDs of the D40 and D60. This is also consistent with how it works in practise, pulling shadows in some photo editor. A final note is that the table confirms the long held view that both the D300 and the D300s are inferior to the D90 and D5000 when it comes to useful dynamic range. The virtues of the D300 bodies rather lie in durability and handling, among other things.

The Canon bodies are behind the equivalent Sony equipped bodies (most Nikons, Sony, Pentax). The Toshiba sensor of the D3100 is behind similar Sony sensors. The old Fuji S3 Pro is impressively placed before all Canon bodies and not that much behind the best Nikon ones, even if the gap up to the D7000 is considerable.

It’s a surprisingly little discussed fact that DxOmark‘s dynamic range measurements are made using total dynamic range instead of useful range. I would love to see the imaging-resouce table plotted in a 2D graph for every ISO value. I am sure such a diagram would correspond more closely to how different cameras are percieved and felt during post processing. But as of lately, imaging-resource have given up their measurements because of their test instruments being surpassed by recent sensor developments. Unfortunately, they now use DxOlab’s figures and charts that only correspond to the least informative column of imaging-resouce’s tables, the leftmost one showing unusable (total) dynamic range.

Perhaps this rather long entry sheds some light on why my sensor blog entry is true even though a lot of people wish it wasn’t. Or perhaps it does not…in which case I have to try and rephrase my thoughts once more…

Happy Anniversary, D70

This year (2014), it’s ten years since the introduction of the Nikon D70 and thus the real start of the digital revolution for amateur photographers.

In a recent blog post, highly regarded Nikon expert Thom Hogan noted: “The camera makers want to sell you a new camera. I can tell you right now that if you have any DSLR made in the last 10 years, you have a very competent camera already.” (see http://www.dslrbodies.com/newsviews/ultimately-only-you-are-the.html)

Notice that he said 10 years, not 6, 8 or 12. I am 100% sure he had the D70 in mind, and thus we agree on this. The D70 is still a good camera, and it marks the start of an era.

It essentially lacks only in two respects compared to newer bodies: usable dynamic range and high-ISO performance. I will say something on usable dynamic range in a separate post as I find it a less well understood concept, not to be confused with theoretical dynamic range as in DxOmark.

Speaking of DxOmark, the D70 still easily beats any newer camera with a similar DxOmark score (around 50) in real image quality. To see why, have a look at my post on sensor differences. (Hint: you must look at the graphs, not the single numbers for each category. Cameras with higher base ISO fares much worse in DxO scoring.)

Thus, I wish you a Happy Anniversary, D70!

Nikon D70 summary

Once again welcome to this Nikon D70 blog. The last post will appear first so I will make a short summary here. This set of posts shows that the Nikon D70 is one of the best DSLR cameras ever produced when judged in its entirety. The posts were written over some time and are now republished in this format. They go through ergonomics, functionality and sensor/image quality. Several prejudices are defeated. The main message is that image creation is much more fun and important than pixel peeping or tech spec peeping will ever be, and image creation is indeed supported in an excellent way by the D70. If you are interested in photography, read on.

Nikon D70 conclusion

The posts today conclude the publishing of my writings on this subject. They were originally written for a local photo club magazine (which is not – yet – on the web). I found myself constantly defending using my D70 when “everyone” (including myself) had “better” cameras. But I never once saw images from me (or anyone else) that suffered badly from being captured by this or that camera as long as they were modern DSLRs (2004 or younger). Much more problems with lenses – bad lenses can really have an impact on image quality. But if you stay away from the bad ones, there are many good enough lenses. Among those, ergonomics and functionality matter the most.

Sure enough, if you make wallpaper-sized prints, you would certainly notice even minor differences. But in the slide film days, would you stand up and walk to within a few feet of the projector screen and claim the image quality was bad? No, that’s not the intended viewing distance. Same for digital. Digital images are captures of something, not magnifying glasses to view details hidden. Anyway, I grew tired of explaining my position over and over, and instead wrote these small essays. To my surprise, because of the written format (and possibly more coherent argumentation) people now started to appreciate my position, maybe with the exception of the sensor essay which many found hard to accept. A few stubborn “enthusiasts” kept reiterating the “manufacturers’ dream view” of every new item being better just because it is newer – even after they were faced with being unable to tell images from different camera generations apart. Be that as it may, now these writings are being made available on the Internet. Enjoy if you like, but above all enjoy taking pictures and stay off the tech spec and pixel-peeping tracks.

Nikon D70 operations

One of the most important things is to know in detail how to operate your camera. Otherwise, you will not get the most out of it. It is not enough to read the manual from cover to cover or to buy one of the how-to books about your camera. You must know how each function operates and how to configure and activate them. In a series of postings, I will show how the D70 functions operate in the various camera modes. The D70 (as well as other Nikon DSLRs) operate in two sets of general modes: PSAM modes, where you are in control of all parameters and settings available, and Scene/Green modes, where the camera designers have bundled preconceived settings together in themes like sport or landscape. In the Scene modes, some settings are possible while others are not. In the tables, there will be different columns for PSAM and Scene so that you can see what is available in each mode. Further, the functions are divided into field settings (that you will do in the field between shots) and configuration settings (that you will do between sessions, not shots). The sign of an ergonomically well-designed user interface is that most of the first category settings are available through buttons, thus you don’t have to go through menus to change frequent settings. The less common configuration settings should be available in menus – otherwise you would drown in buttons. Any function available through a button is labelled Button in the operations tables, and any function available through menus is labelled CSM X for the number X is has in the Custom Settings Menu or labelled Shoot if it is found in the Shooting menu. The more Button and less CSM you find in the ordinary settings, the better designed the user interface is. Of course, it cannot all be buttons, there would be too many of them and that’s not good interface design. But my D3100, for example, is practically devoid of buttons. Well, no it’s not, but it feels like that with no ISO, QUAL, WB, etc. accessible through buttons, instead having to click through settings on the LCD screen.

The tables that looked really nice in the publishing tool used for the photo club magazine look awful on this blog. My apologies for that, but I don’t have the time for now to remake the tables into a format suitable for this blog editor.

Edit: the table posts have been removed for now. They will reappear in a more readable format later. In the meantime, you can view the tables without commentaries in a pdf file.