That really is how it felt to me in so many ways. It’s so automated and electronic, and it’s made of solid … plastic.
These days, a lot of film photographers are at the point of joking about how, once it’s widely known that we use old film cameras, people start giving them to us. I don’t have as many of those stories, but that’s how I got the Nikon N70.
Kate and I had some tasty hand-tossed, wood-fired artisan pizza at Homegrown Tap & Dough one evening last summer, and decided to walk over to Washington Park for a stroll around the lake. I had the Pentax 6×7 over my shoulder and was running an early test roll through it.
I stopped to take a picture of a decaying garage door and some other pedestrians stopped to wait for me. As I always do, I motioned them to continue and said, “Go ahead, I’ll be a minute.” They hurried on past and I finished evaluating the light, focusing and making my exposure.
As soon as the Pentax made its hearty KA-CHUNK, the group stopped again and a man turned around, asking if I was using film (the Pentax is so big and black, I think a lot of people confuse it with a digital SLR if they’re more than a few feet away — until they hear it). I said yes and a brief discussion about the 6×7 ensued.
Then he said something like, “You know, I’ve got a stack of old cameras in the closet I’ve been needing to get rid of. I just live a couple blocks over. Do you want to take them off my hands?” Of course I did.
We followed the family home and waited on the porch a few minutes, and he handed me a shopping bag full of cameras … several old 127 Kodaks and an Instamatic 804 in its hard plastic never-ready case and with its box (since gifted to a friend, since I already have a nice one).
And the Nikon N70 body (his friend wanted the Vivitar zoom lens that was on it). As luck had it, I still had a Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AF lens I’d gotten from Dean Krakel with the Nikon FM2n.
This review isn’t going to be as deep as some of mine, but I wanted to share my experiences and some test photos taken with the N70.
Let’s start by pointing out that the N70 was called the F70 in most of the world outside the U.S. — this may be helpful in finding specs and tips. It was introduced in 1994 and discontinued in 2003 as digital started to outsell film SLRs.
The N70 features all the major exposure modes — shutter priority, aperture priority, program and manual. It has a built-in flash and can sync as fast as 1/125 second.
Light meter with matrix, center-weighted and spot modes, and exposure compensation from -5 to +5 stops in ⅓-stop increments. Nikon’s “Eyepoint” illumination turns on the viewfinder display lighting when the meter is on and the camera lifted to the eye. Auto-exposure lock function.
Single servo and continuous servo autofocus modes. Automatic film advance and powered rewind. Will shoot 2.0 or 3.7 frames-per-second in two continuous shooting modes (low- and high-speed, respectively).
The viewfinder displays flash status, shutter speed and aperture, as well as the metering, exposure and focusing modes, and more. Diopter adjustments can be made with accessory covers.
The N70 takes two CR123 lithium batteries and uses 35mm film. The electronically-controlled focal place shutter fires at a maximum speed of 1/4000 second, and slows all the way down to 30 seconds.
The various functions of the camera’s setup are controlled by several buttons and a knob, with a large LCD readout on the right-hand side of the top cover. The camera can even store several saved setup schemes which can then be switched between quickly.
Basically, it might help to consider that the N70 has most of the features (though some may be more prototypical) found on mid-range digital SLRs as recently as five years ago. For a much more exhaustive list of specs, check out the Nikon F70 Technical Specifications on mir.com.
Notably absent from the N70 are depth-of-field preview, illumination for the external LCD, and any kind of multiple-exposure capability.
When the N70 came to me it still had the factory rubber coating that graces the right-side hand grip and the entire film door. Unfortunately, the rubber on the back was deteriorating and felt very sticky.
I had to scrub it off the camera with 91-percent rubbing alcohol, because it just felt too gross in my hands otherwise. Fortunately, the black plastic underneath the rubber (which was easy to remove with some elbow grease) is shiny and smooth, and quite comfortable. The rubberized portion of the grip seemed to fair better and is still in place and useful, keeping the camera from slipping from one’s hand.
I didn’t have very high expectations for a camera that I discovered was only barely worth what it would cost to ship it domestically, especially after I felt the plastic and sticky rubber coating. But it turned out okay.
Again, though, it feels like using a digital camera. Autofocus felt completely alien to me after several years without using it. The digital readouts, too. LCDs and function buttons and selector knobs and pop-up flashes were all like stepping weirdly back to my years with a DSLR. I didn’t like it that much.
Among the most common complaints with this camera and its siblings with the same control setup is that it’s difficult to handle the settings. The button combinations aren’t very intuitive, and the limitations of the display in the viewfinder necessitate taking the camera away from your eye to use the external LCD for a lot of things.
Another complaint I found in a few places was that the auto exposure was inconsistent, which seems to be true in some of my test shots. It’s not too difficult to override the DX coding and set the film speed a little slower, or just use exposure compensation. In my case, it also could have just been the film, which was likely very, very expired — note the grain and color shifts. A little compensation for that would’ve helped, too.
That said, the placement of the controls is generally good, with the camera feeling comfortable and ergonomic in the hand and the buttons presenting themselves conveniently to your fingers. The N70’s weight — not heavy, but not notably light — is a good match for its fit in the hand, which is meaty and secure with the large molded grip on the right.
The biggest thing that bugs me about this camera is how easy it is to trigger the shutter release. A feather touch is more than enough, and it’s very possible to waste frames if you’re not being very careful.
Not a complaint — more of an observation — but the film advance motor is really quiet. In fact, I accidentally wasted a roll of film trying to determine if it was actually advancing the film correctly (it was).
The autofocus motors also are very quiet. Rather than hearing the N70 working to focus, it’s more like you feel it as the stepper motors hunt back and forth a bit. In addition to that, autofocus is pretty slow compared to modern digital cameras — but that still feels really fast if you’re used to manual focus for everything.
Overall, I’d say it’s a fine camera for the money. If you have Nikkor AF lenses hanging around, the N70 will be a a lot easier way to get some use out of them — and cheap! In spite of all that, though, it just doesn’t excite me. It’s too much like a digital camera for my liking.
Here are a couple more test photos: