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!
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24 responses to “Nikon N70”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        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….

      2. tbm3fan Avatar

        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. Doug Anderson Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    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!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You moved right on up the ladder! I just listed this N70 on eBay but I’m keeping my N90s and hope it keeps working for many, many more years.

  4. Christopher May Avatar
    Christopher May

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s not bad at all. And if you’re like most people and leave it on P, you just turn the camera on and ignore The Fan.

  5. arhphotographic Avatar

    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😊

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice. Have you reviewed your N70? If so drop a link in here.

  6. arhphotographic Avatar

    No not yet , it’s in the queue.

  7. […] Jim Grey reviewed this just a few week ago and like me found a good camera hampered by the interface. Peggy Marsh at camera Go camera has also take one for a spin. Camera legend list it as one of the worst cameras of all time but did note once you got past the fan it was quite capable. I’ve already mentioned Popular Photography’s 1995 review which is a helpful historical perspective. They oddly gave it 4.5 out 5 stars […]

  8. Gil Aegerter Avatar
    Gil Aegerter

    Very informative review. I have an N70 that I left at my mother’s house in Alaska after I bought it a year ago. I go back every three minths or so for a few weeks, and I always have to familiarize myself with the fan before I use it again. I’ve shot a couple of rolls through it, with nothing remarkable to show. I’ll finish off another roll on this trip.

    The fan looks like the sort of thing that made perfect sense to a high level engineer/designer on the edge of the spectrum, and nobody below him had the guts to say no. After setup, it operates well, as long as you don’t need to change anything!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Gil, yes, if you use the N70 infrequently, you do have to learn the fan all over again each time! I expect that if it were a daily shooter, in time you’d be able to use it easily and fluidly.

  9. Marc Avatar

    The F70/N70 is clearly the odd ball into Nikons AF SLR LineUp, and i have that lineup, F55, F60, F65, F75, F80, F90x & F100. I must say, i hated the Teletubbi Body design of the F70, and the horrible LCD.

    If one does need the cheapest, no frills, basic Nikon AF SLR, i’d recommand the F60. If more feaures are being needed and 2 dials,
    I’d say N80, or F100. But these days, i see that i am using the F60
    more than my F80, though. The handgrip is even bigger.

    Needless to say, the body design of the F70 is that what i’d call fugly, for real. I don’t know, what the Nikon designers have been smoking, but it wasn’t healty… :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree on the N60. I owned one for a while. It’s the camera I specifically mention to people who want to start in film photography.

  10. Dalibor Vit Avatar
    Dalibor Vit

    I bought F70 camera in 1998 and used it until 2007, when I replaced it by D80. The FAN control was quite strange, but it wasn’t an issue, especially if I had used to operate it in most of situations in Manual mode, where aperture was set by lens ring and shutter speed by thumb wheel. Quite fine was built-in speedlight, thanks to it I have lot of shots that would have never arise. The issue was battery consumption and its capacity drop in frizing weather. The set of CR123 lasted about 4-6 films, depending on flashlight use and thermal conditions. Its price in my country was about 10 contemporary Euros. Morover, when batteries ‘died’ in frizing weather, after its recovery or replacrment the camera behaved just like if you had put a new film in it, it simply advanced it about 3 frames ahead and started to count them from Nr. 1. Terrible!!! Apart from F90, there wasn’t an extended battery pack option. As I have been capturing mostly landscape, details or portraits where I didn’t need automatic advance neither autofocus, I regret till these days I hadn’t bought mechanical FM2 instead of it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How frustrating that the F70 didn’t like the cold! That’s a challenge with a lot of cameras. I was shooting my Pentax KM yesterday in just-above-freezing weather and the shutter kept hanging up. This is a freshly CLA’d camera so I am left to conclude it just doesn’t like the cold.

      My F90x is the one Nikon auto-everything SLR that I’ve kept. Terrific camera.

  11. Lyn Whiston Avatar
    Lyn Whiston

    I owned a N70 and found the fan very difficult and slow to use. Much preferred my N90s and 8008S. The Contax 167 MT is somewhat like the N70, not user-friendly, with several buttons to push to scroll thru actions like shutter speed. Other Contax SLR are much easier to use as long as you get used to unorthodox control knobs.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree that the N90s is terrific! I have not tried the Contax cameras yet. Hope to someday.

  12. Zed Avatar

    Impressive reading the responds. Just found this page after looking up the F70 specs and reviews

    Just bought F70 today $49.99 Took me a while to figure out the Fan UI. At first I didnt realised there was tiny arrow underneath the pre program selections on top. I didnt see that one at the shop before I bought it. I just found out after fiddling the Fan features suddenly saw a tiny arrow hopping from left to right or vice versa when i was wheeling. Yeah, totally big difference between the Ai’s cameras, older versions than F70 and newer version than F70. Yeah, one of the oddest model to have Fan features. Been using F2, F3P, F90X then F100 then F80’s i still have all these cameras except F3P. Personally, I like F80 because lightweight and slightly compact but dislike the type of battery. F90 is good as an all rounder but annoying when changing the aperture f on Mnaual mode. F100 is great for everything, bit heavier. Thank god F90 and F100 runs so much longer with 4x AA batteries. There was a day i fogot to turn camera off over night or all day and the batteries doesnt really drain and still good for another 10-30 film rolls The only problem I have with F70, I still cant figure how to change the aperture f in Manual mode. PAS yes but not M. The wheel only change speed because one of lens doesnt have aperture ring. Its auto focus without aperture ring.

    The only thing i hate about Nikon slr motorised rewind ate all the negatives into the cassettes without leaving the sleeve tip out. I like to leave the sleeve negative tip out.

    Im gonna try use it for surfing shoots with 150-500mm lens this week. I do mainly shoot underwater rigs for surfing. Subal and Sea & Sea housings for F90x, Sea & Sea housing for F80 but missing the plate. Sea & Sea housing N100 for F100. Loves them. I prefer Nikonos II and III because much lighter to handle in water.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like you have big plans for your F70! Enjoy!

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