Nikon F70 SLR Camera

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As I acquire items I will try and write a short item on each product with brief notes on operation and features and also talk of features the item doesn't have or can be tricked into having. This way you are not digesting sales literature but actually reading a real users report.

The Nikon F70 (N70 in USA) is a controversial camera for some people as its operator controls are unconventional. The people who complain about it are the people who don't use the camera. Once you own it and use it for a while it all becomes very easy with many functions available with only simple controls.

Most cameras you can take out of the box, put a film in and after a few seconds of fiddling with controls, start shooting. The F70 is not one of those cameras, you must read the manual before taking it out of the box. Once you understand the basic control method it becomes very easy to use.

First thing is to describe the maybe significant features the F70 doesn't have...

Work-around notes
No depth of field preview With the lens set to the aperture desired (aperture priority or manual mode), press the lens release button and gently move the lens as though removing it. Only a few degrees movement will allow the aperture to stop down to see the effect of the aperture chosen in manual or aperture priority modes. Then twist the lens back to the home position.
No multiple exposure ability Hold the back firmly closed and slip the back latch down as though to open the back, take the first shot. Then release the latch button and take the second shot. The camera is fooled into not feeding the film when the latch is open. Make sure the back doesn't open!
No high speed flash sync Can't do it. Flash sync is limited to 1/125 sec maximum shutter speed, unlike the F90x, F5, F100 which can sync up to 1/4000 sec when using the SB-28 flash albeit with lower flash output and only manual setting, not TTL.
No LCD panel light Now this is a pain when trying to do mode changes in the dark. You have to have a little torch (flashlight) handy and a third hand to manipulate everything.

To understand the camera operation a little better, it may be time to look first at the part most people fear. The main LCD and the control buttons.

Unashamedly I hereby present a portion copied from the camera manual....

The F70 LCD on the top deck

Controlling this nuclear submarine style battle station computer display are essentially only two buttons and a thumb wheel.

View of top of F70 taken with a scanner

My usual cheap and stingy flat bed scanner photo.

The "Function" button is the biggest button in the left hand group and used in conjunction with the thumb wheel selects the function (thumb wheel dim in this view, but is on the back just below the  LCD panel) . Eight function types with no flash and ten function types with flash. In the LCD diagram the functions are the eight fan shaped segments, the little arrow head in the bottom of each segment indicates which function is selected. In the above shot everything is displayed but in real life only one arrow head at a time appears.
Summary, hold the Function button and rotate the thumb wheel to select the desired function.

Once the function is selected then release the function button and hold the "Set" button below it. Now when rotating the thumb wheel the various modes that can be selected within that function are indicated. When the desired setting is reached then release the Set button and the camera is ready.
Summary, hold the Set button and rotate the thumb wheel to select the mode within the function.

For instance, to change the metering mode from matrix to spot, hold Function button, rotate thumb wheel to function marked (15) in red in the top diagram then release function button, hold Set button and rotate thumb wheel until the spot meter is indicated, release the Set button. The mode will stay even with power off.

It is not necessary to go through all the functions in detail, but rest assured that it is a very versatile camera indeed and the simple two button and thumb wheel interface makes life simple in the long run. A half hour read of the manual will tell you everything you need to know.

In the canned program modes or in shutter priority mode, the aperture ring has to be set to the minimum (f/22 whatever, plus lock it with the little latch on the lens). The camera makes the decision on what aperture to use and displays that on the top LCD panel and in the viewfinder. If not set to minimum then the aperture display shows "FEE" instead of the current computer determined aperture.

In manual or aperture priority mode, use the lens aperture ring to set the desired aperture. As usual, the aperture ring does not have to be on a click stop, it can be anywhere.

The top LCD panel and the viewfinder will show the true aperture in one stop steps even though the actual aperture may be something slightly different. It  shows the aperture change that occurs when you zoom a variable aperture lens. It also shows the aperture change when you close focus a macro lens like the AF 105/2.8 D macro.

Other buttons seen in the drawing on the left are "out" and "in", these are used to store and recall custom modes that you frequently may use. One stored mode is reserved for factory default settings and three stored modes can be customised.

On the right side are the usual shutter button, the on/off switch and two more switches for controlling auto focus area and canned program modes - portrait, sport, landscape etc. Hard to see in this shot on the right side near the thumb wheel is the auto exposure lock button.

To rewind the film at any time two top panel buttons are pressed at the same time.

I remember one person complaining in a forum about how hard it was to take a number of shots with exposure bracketing. Obviously he had never actually used the camera.
To set up exposure bracketing hold Function rotate to item 12 (if flash is on you can select either ambient bracketing or flash bracketing),  hold Set and choose the bracket value you want. Then take the three shots, under, on, over. If you need to take another bracketed shot at the same settings then quickly press Function button and then Set button and it is ready to go again. Very quick to do. By defaulting back to normal operation after a bracket operation is the safest state to leave the camera in.

In operation the camera is very smooth to use and the noise it generates is fairly low. The mirror slap can be heard but not motor gear noise when the film winds on (unlike my very noisy N8008s/F801s). Rewind can be switched to slow mode to make it less disturbing if you need to rewind in a church or quiet place.

The flash TTL operation is handled by a five segment off-the-film sensor and is more accurate than the usual single sensor. This flash sensor has nothing to do with the normal matrix ambient light sensor which is located near the prism on top. The flash sensor is down in the bottom of the mirror box. See my other page for metering info.

The flash operation is even more clever when using an appropriate flash on the camera (or the pop-up flash) in conjunction with a D type lens. The flash sends out up to maybe 16 very small normally invisible flashes just after the mirror goes up and before the shutter starts moving. In conjunction with the distance information from the D lens the pre flashes test the scene sector by sector until the logic works out in which sector(s) the subject is located. Some assumptions are made, like, if no or very low reflectance from some sectors then they are assumed to be unimportant background so are ignored in the final flash output control. There is no single clear explanation I have seen of how this logic works, every description I find has a slightly different story. When you are using a non D type lens then the same multi segment decisions are made but the lack of distance focussed information may lead to different results. The pre flashes are reflecting off the face of the closed shutter at this time. This pre flash sequence adds no apparent delay to the shot being taken.
Once the logic is happy with where the subject is located then the pre flashes stop and the shutter is opened and the flash fired at the appropriate time, now the critical segment (or more)  is the area where the camera knows the subject to be so that segment(s) of the five segment flash TTL meter is the area that controls the flash and when to turn it off. At this time it is measuring the light bouncing off the actual film surface.
This more clever flash control allows a person to be anywhere in the frame against a black sky background or even a reflective background like a mirror and the person will be exposed correctly.
Remember it is the distance measured that counts so if you have three people spaced out so that one is close to you, one a bit further away and one further away again, then it will be the person you focus on that gets the correct exposure, the others will be under or overexposed depending on their relative distance to the focussed subject. People have complained that this feature does not always appear to work but the suspicion is that they are judging prints where the lab could have got the print density wrong by averaging it over the whole scene. The only way to test this feature is to run a slide film through under all possible configurations and then judge how good it is. From there on, better communication with the processing lab is the only way to get good results.
If experimenting with this feature, comparison flash shots can be taken by turning the camera to manual mode where the pre flash test sequence is not used, only the five segment TTL sensor is used to measure the light coming back off the film surface.

Reputedly the Nikon system is way ahead of others in tricky situations but remember that the pre flash sequence is turned off in camera manual mode and when the attached flash head (SB-28 etc) is not pointed straight ahead. Set the flash head down 7 degrees as though doing closeups or set it up/sideways for bounce flash and the pre flash sequence is turned off. So far I am not sure what happens when the flash is attached to an SC-17 cable and held away from the camera.

If using a remote slave trigger like the SU-4 or an SB-26 set to slave mode, then the pre flash sequence or red eye reduction must not be used. False triggering will occur. Go to manual mode to disable it.

Even though the ambient light metering and flash TTL metering is very clever, it still won't work correctly in 100% of cases, but it does dramatically improve the situation over earlier efforts.

A comment in the camera manual under the section Exposure Compensation lets users know that they know the camera can't do everything....
"We do not recommend using any manually or automatically applied exposure compensation when using Matrix Metering. If you identify an extreme condition under which Matrix may have some difficulty, such as a severely backlit scene or one with extremes of contrast, we recommend using your camera's other built-in meters, Centre-Weighted or Spot. Ultimately, only you know what the subject or part of it requires in terms of exposure measurement."

Conclusions so far....

It's a very nice camera to use with a very good function set. The only things I may miss from time to time are depth of field preview and multiple exposure, but it can be tricked to do both those anyway.
My wife has been using the nice, simple, but works well Pentax MZ-50 and on one photo outing when she had battery problems she borrowed my F70 with the Nikon 28-105 lens and had no problems even though I left it in aperture priority mode and she had never used the camera before. OK she didn't have to change any mode settings but she was doing both daylight and night time exposures with it on slide film and all turned out perfectly. Plus she said she liked the feel of it and how it worked.

Some people think that the F70/N70 is an "underpowered" amateur camera but it really is a better camera than the F90x/N90s as it has more features built in (and you can trick it for DOF preview and multiple exposure) and a slightly more modern auto focus module. Unfortunately it doesn't have the same size auto focus motor as the F90x/N90s, but it does handle the S model lenses with the ring motor built in. For a carry anywhere camera it is light and has the advantage of the pop-up flash.

Another interesting point came in in a question asked in the late non-lamented Photoshopper forum.

Sean Mulcahy asked...

I am trying to use my N70 in Aperture Priority mode with flash, but it seems that whatever aperture I select the view finder screen shows over exposure.
When I use the Portrait mode it all seems to work, with the N70 selecting an aperture that I tried in the AP mode.
Is the meter lying to me or am I totally confused?

I replied...

Hi Sean,
I tried all the fiddles on my F70 and the answer seems to be....

When you pop up the flash in any auto exposure mode (with one exception below) the shutter speed is limited to 1/60 up to 1/125. OK, the 1/125 is the fastest shutter speed you can use and still get full flash coverage of the frame, the computer limits the slower speed to 1/60 to try and stop camera shake being evident if you've got reasonable background light. Trouble is, depending on film speed and aperture chosen (if in Aperture Priority mode) that 1/60 to 1/125 range may show either under or overexposure in the LCD display. Which will show up in the background exposure, but the flash will be OK.

If you go to the "portrait" or whatever program mode, the computer doesn't  tell you it's under or over, it just doesn't want to bother you with this fact.

The "cure" for this is to use appropriate film speed for the situation if you want backgrounds properly exposed in your flash shots, if you keep getting overexposure indication then it appears you are using fast film in daylight and attempting fill-flash. A neutral density filter may help with the background light but will decrease your flash range something savage.

If you were getting under exposure message then you could select "slow sync" mode (flash symbol + "slow") where the shutter, with flash on, will select speeds as slow as 30 seconds. You will need a tripod for this mode.

It appears that the camera is trying to help you but also in some modes it confuses you a little by displaying more information than is probably needed at the time. 

Also Shirley had a problem where she tried flash compensation +1, +2 etc and couldn't see any difference in the result.

And Hi to Shirley,
The flash does vary but I think your problem may be the printing. The print labs just average the scene and all shots of different densities come out looking the same. Ask the lab to print with same density through the test shots.

Years ago with another camera using a self auto flash I tried a series of shots of the same subject with print film. One shot at the selected aperture then a series of +1, +2, +3 then -1, -2 , -3 stops each side of that correct shot. All resulting prints turned out looking much the same except for the two +3 & -3 prints which were still usable but not great quality. Print film is enormously forgiving of flash errors but some intervention with the lab operator may be necessary to get the best results. Slide film has to be spot on, so that same experiment would fail miserably for all other shots than the correct one.

Flash useage seems to cause more grief than any other item with the average user. Nikon has made the use of flash very easy and very reliable but there still is a degree of confusion. I find I always get good results by using a little common sense when shooting with flash. If the flash indicates underexposure (it blinks to say it made a full dump of the capacitor into the flash tube and didn't receive a TTL off signal), then open up another stop or two (always learn to use aperture priority mode). Don't expect the pop-up flash to illuminate the whole stadium you are in!

F70 SPECIFICATIONS (from the back from the camera manual)

Type of camera Integral-motor autofocus 35mm single-lens reflex
Picture format 24mm x 36mm (standard 35mm film format) Panorama (for F70d only): 13 mm x 36mm
Lens mount Nikon F mount 
Lens Nikkor and Nikon lenses having Nikon F mount (with limitation; see chart on p112 of manual) 
Focus modes Autofocus, and Manual with Electronic Rangefinder
Autofocus area Wide and Spot selectable
Autofocus modes Single Servo AF and Continuous Servo AF
Focus tracking Automatically activated when subject moves
Autofocus detection system Nikon CAM274 autofocus module
Autofocus detection range Approx EV -1 to EV 19 with 100 ISO 
Autofocus lock Possible once stationary subject is in focus in Single Servo AF
Electronic rangefinder Available in Manual focus mode with AF Nikkor and other Al-type Nikkor lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster
Exposure metering Three built-in exposure meters Matrix, Centre-Weighted and Spot
Metering range (at ISO 100 with
          f/1.4 lens)
EV -1 to EV 20 for Matrix and Centre-Weighted metering; EV 3 to EV 20 for Spot metering
Exposure meter Activated by lightly pressing shutter release button; stays on for 8 sec after finger leaves button
Exposure modes Programmed Auto (Auto-Multi Program and Vari-Program), Shutter-Priority Auto, Aperture-Priority Auto and Manual
Programmed Auto exposure control Camera sets both shutter speed and lens aperture automatically; Flexible Program possible in
increments of 1/3 EV
Shutter-priority Auto exposure control Aperture automatically selected to match manually set shutter speed
Aperture-priority Auto exposure control Shutter speed automatically selected to match manually set aperture
Manual exposure control Both aperture and shutter speed are set manually
Vari-Program Eight kinds built-in: Portrait Program, Hyperfocal Program, Landscape Program, Close-Up Program, Sport Program, Silhouette Program, Night Scene Program, and Motion Effect Program; each has its own program line
Quick Recall function By QR button the original or favourite camera settings can be recalled; up to three settings can be memorised
Exposure compensation With exposure compensation button;  +/- 5 EV range, in 1/3 steps
Auto exposure lock By pressing AE-L (auto exposure lock) button while exposure meter is activated
Shutter Electromagnetically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter
Shutter release By motor trigger
Shutter speeds Lithium niobate oscillator-controlled speeds from 1/4000 to 30 sec in 1/3 EV steps; electromagnetically controlled bulb setting is provided
Viewfinder Fixed eyelevel pentaprism high-eyepoint type; 0.77X magnification with 50mm lens set at infinity; approx. 92% frame coverage
Eyepoint Approx. 18 mm
Focusing screen New Nikon advanced B-type BriteView screen III; fixed
Viewfinder information Focus area, focus indications, exposure metering system, exposure mode, Flexible Program, shutter speed, aperture, electronic analog display, exposure compensation and
flash output compensation are all shown in LCD readout; also shows flash recommended light and ready light LED
LCD panel information Shutter speed, aperture, QR, focus area, film speed setting mode, film advance mode, focus mode, exposure mode, exposure metering system, flash sync mode, exposure compensation/flash output compensation, All Mode Exposure Bracketing/Flash Exposure Bracketing and frame counter/compensation value, film loading, film rewind, self-timer and battery power
Viewfinder illumination  Automatically activates when exposure meter is on
Film speed range ISO 25 to 5000 for DX-coded film; ISO 6 to 6400 can be manually set
Film speed setting At DX position, automatically set to ISO film speed of DX-coded film used; manual setting possible
Film loading Film automatically advances to first frame when shutter release button is depressed once.
Film advance In single-frame and single-frame silent rewind mode, film automatically advances one frame when shutter is released; in continuous high or continuous low shooting mode, shots are taken as long as shutter release button is depressed; in continuous high mode, shooting speed is approx. 3.7 fps* and in continuous low approx 2.0 fps*; in Focus Tracking, approx 3.1 fps for Continuous Servo AF. *At shutter speeds of 1/250 or higher in the Manual exposure and Manual focus modes.
Film rewind By pressing IN and Ps buttons; fast rewind or silent rewind is selectable; for fast rewind, rewind speed is approx. 12 sec with 36 exposure film or approx. 9 sec with 24 exposure film, and for silent rewind approx. 22 sec with 36 exposure film and approx. 18 sec with 24 exposure film.
Frame counter Additive type, counts back while film is rewinding.
Self-timer Electronically controlled; blinking LED indicates self-timer operation; cancellable.
Reflex mirror Automatic, instant return type.
Camera back Hinged back; unchangeable.
Accessory shoe Standard ISO-type hot-shoe contact; ready light contact, TTL flash contact; Mount receptacle for SB-28/27/26/25 Posi-Mount System is provided.
Built-in flash Guide number; 14m at ISO 100; flash coverage; 28 mm or longer lens; Red-eye Reduction, TTL flash control including 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash, Slow Sync and Rear Curtain Sync are possible.
Flash synchronisation Up to 1/125 sec.
TTL Multi Sensor Five-segment multi sensor used for TTL auto flash control.
Automatic Balanced Fill-Flash with TTL Multi Sensor Possible when AF Nikkor or AI-P Nikkor lens is used with built-in flash or with SB-28/27/26/25/24/23/22/20 etc.
Monitor Pre-flash Built-in flash or Nikon Speedlight SB-28/27/26/25 fires Monitor Pre-flash(es) for TTL multi sensor when AF Nikkor or AI-P Nikkor lens is used.
Flash recommended light Lights up when flash is recommended.
Flash ready light Lights up when flash is ready.
Battery life For 36 exposure rolls, (24 exposures in brackets) all very approximate.
Without flash at 20 C = 115 (150), at -10 C = 80 (100)
With flash for half the exposures at 20 C = 25 (30), at -10 C = 20 (25)

Most people find these figures very optimistic.... Guy

Power source Two CR123A type lithium batteries.
Battery power confirmation A full battery displays on the LCD panel and power is good, a one third full battery displays blinking and the batteries are nearing exhaustion, An empty battery display or no battery display means the battery is flat or improperly installed.
Dimensions Approx 151 x 103 x 70 mm
Weight (no batteries) Approx 585 gr

any errors or corrections, please contact