Camera Reviews

Nikon N70

When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.

Nikon N70

More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.

Nikon N70

It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.

Nikon N70

The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.

Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.

The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.

To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.

All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.

  • First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
  • Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.

The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.

But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.

By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.

Getting lubricated

I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

One Way Alley

The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.

Old house in Lebanon

I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.

Boone Co. Jail

I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.

Striped pants on Kirkwood

The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.

Cafe Pizzaria

It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.

Nick's English Hut

The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.

The Von Lee

When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.

Puzzles in the window

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N70 gallery.

If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.

Standard

13 thoughts on “Nikon N70

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Thanks for the review of this! I know very little about Nikons of this era. As a pro, I rarely used 35mm at all for anything, but I’ve cycled through more than a few systems.

    In the early manual years, it was all Nikon: F’s, FTn’s, F2’s. When cameras started to go auto-focus, and multi-pattern exposure reading, I did a very concise A/B testing series between Canon and Nikon, when I had to re-outfit and upgrade a photo department I was managing, and have to say Canon beat Nikon hands down on almost everything. Canon’s redesign of their lens mount to set them up for the future, vs. Nikons idea of sticking with the old mount, and incorporating a weird “screw-head” auto-focus shaft, was a huge factor. Especially since, as most pros know, that Nikon lens mount really didn’t work across the whole line, and was dependent on buying the most expensive of Nikons newer cameras. Canons intuitive auto focusing on “all points” was also quite a bit better than Nikon.

    All these cameras were basically left behind by me, so I find them interesting today! I’ve never even seen that weird “fan” setting control, that’s wild! I have to say that freelancers I knew that had a lot invested in Nikon glass, couldn’t make the same decisions I did running a big corporate place, and ended up migrating to the Nikon N8008s and F4.

    • I have used some EOS Canons and find that they are good machines to use — but I found that the lenses rendered images too “clinically correct” for me — lacking warmth and character. It’s why I got rid of all of my Canon gear, including a very nice EOS A2e, a few years ago,

      I reviewed an N8008s this year (in F-801s guise) and found it to be ponderous and slow.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Of course, for retail advertising, “clinically correct” lenses are right on the beam! Especially when the number one reason for sending apparel back to the store is “color not as shown”. Number one goal is to make the clothes look nice and have the exact color (even needing to tweak in pre-press). As for warmth, nothing like an 81 or 81A to fix that up when correct color isn’t a necessity!

        Funny you should mention “warmth” and Nikon, because when I went digital myself, I bought into Nikon because the Nikon lenses were considered more neutral, and the output more neutral and “transparency” like, whereas the Canon digital looked more warm and color negative portrait like. Lots of wedding and portrait guys buying into those Canon 5D’s!

        Even my early Nikon digitals had very poor auto-focus performance….

      • tbm3fan says:

        Ponderous and slow. How ironic as first it was the new current tech at the time so much like the Ford Model T it needs to be appreciated in it’s time. Two, while slow by todays standards, it is still faster than any average used could ever manually focus a manual camera with a ground glass prism. Can you manually focus an F2 faster than the 8008 can autofocus? I think not as I know I can’t. I might keep up with a split image viewfinder and while the 8008 is sometimes fooled I have been sometimes fooled and missed the focus and I am sure you have many times. So for an average user, not doing fast moving subjects, the 8008 would work just fine for them.

  2. A very interesting review. It’s fun to see the evolution of Nikon’s user interface for what they saw as their target audiences. I’ve owned several of the plastic auto-everything Nikon SLR’s but only the newer ones that work with the VR lenses – I am increasingly dependent on either a tripod or vibration reduction lenses.

    • It is definitely interesting to note the evolution of the AF SLR interface to the standard we see everywhere today! I’m not quite to the place yet where I need to rely on VR, thankfully.

  3. When I got serious about film photography again in the 1990s after a 20+ year hiatus, the N70 was the second in a trio of Nikon SLRs I bought new. It went like this…N50, N70, N90s. I was lucky to live close to a nice Mom & Pop camera store then and the owner allowed generous trade-in allowances. Of course, I really wanted the way over my budget F4. It took another 20 years to get one of those!

  4. Christopher May says:

    Neat review and a lot more useful than some of the very passionate discussions I’ve read about the camera. After reading this, I’d guess that it’s not my cup of tea but probably not quite as bad as some reviews make it out to be.

  5. arhphotographic says:

    Thank you so much for the review. It must have been hard to decide how to make so many features in the N70 accessible to the user. I’m a fan of the fan. I got my version out , the F70 which has the data back and I noticed it has a panorama switch ??? Just discovered it now makes my F70 now a F70D. So thank you again I wouldn’t have appreciated that had it not been for your blog😊

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.