By no means complete in all minute details of differences and similarities, the intention here is to compare only the most relevant features. Features which in my view show the amazing evolution of Nikon's digital SLRs development. Those which do make a significant difference from the perspective of the user.
My very personal conclusion is that the D70 is a fantastic camera and, before the D2X is in the stores shelves, Nikon's best. The Nikon D100 is an excellent camera that can deliver amazing photos; but a camera superseded by the D70 in almost every aspect. If you don't absolutely need the vertical grip capability, get the D70. The D1H is also a fantastic camera, built strong as a tank and lightning fast. Surpassed in certain areas, nevertheless still amongst the best in the world for sports photography. I've concluded that if I could have most of the D70 on a D1H body I would be a most happy man ;-)
Yeah, but one could ask "What about the D2H?" Well, it is not in this comparison for two reasons. First, the D2H is at another price range, despite it's dramatic price drop in the USA. Second, I have not used the D2H enough to feel qualified to judge it. I have closely followed the knowledgeable debate about this camera at nikonians.org to know that a D2Hs will soon follow. Evidently, the D2X can't be by itself in the top range of pro DSLRs in Nikon's product strategy.
Nikon D1H - 2001
With 2.7 effective megapixels; S, C, and M shooting modes, the D1H gives us 5 frames per second and up to 40 consecutive shots in a rugged F5-like body. Flash synchronizes up to 1/500 of a second.
When it came to market it was around 3,100 USD. Today can be found used, in excellent plus condition, for about 1,300 USD.
Nikon D100 - 2002
The D100, with 6.1 effective megapixels, allows for 3 frames per second bursts into a 6 frames buffer, in a F100-like chassis. D-TTL flash synchronizes up to 1/180 of a second.
Back in 2003, its price was 1,500 USD. Curently can be still be found brand new for 1,200 USD, 1,000 USD after rebate in the USA.
Nikon D70 - 2004
Then comes the D70, with the same 6.1 effective megapixel rating as the D100. Built over a F/N80-like chassis allows 3 frames per second and a 12 frames dynamic buffer that lets you capture up to 144 pictures in sequence with no buffer stall using selected CF cards. i-TTL Flash synchronizes up to 1/500 of a second, as the D1H.
Current price in the US is 1,000 USD.
In many areas the three cameras performances compare, but it is important to take into account the difference made by their specific positioning in Nikon's product segment strategy. Also, one should remember that there are digital light years of technological advancement in between each of them. The Nikon D70 is, for example, way ahead in some areas, even though the least expensive model, simply because it is the newest member of the family and takes advantage of such developments.
I am not going to deal with the quality of the unprocessed pictures that come out of these three cameras. I see no big difference between them after post processing. Despite that one could think that the effective 2.7 megapixels of the D1H is too little, practice shows that a sensor pixel is not just a sensor pixel.
The size of the pixel is also of great importance. You can see that a 8MP point & shoot camera cannot live up to what a 3MP DSLR performs, simply because the CCD/CMOS-chip in D-SLR is so much bigger. I am not in the megapixel race any longer – that’s for sure, and I doubt that the camera business will be at it for much longer either. There are so many other important factors.
White balance is controlled very well automatically by both the D100 and the D70, and rather poorly by D1H. I generally have the D1H set to Cloudy –3 because Auto simply doesn't work. This of course really doesn't matter when shooting in the NEF format (RAW).
I always shoot everything in RAW format, but I don't doubt that for images straight out of the camera the D70 makes the best in-camera processing. The D1H always needs a lot of post processing, but I don't suppose any D1H photographer wants to print directly off the camera; right…?
In the flash area, the D70 is way way ahead of the other two. The new i-TTL is absolutely fantastic and surpasses the D-TTL system, basis of the flash control in both the D100 and the D1H. In fact I personally find D-TTL rather frightening to use. I always bring the D70 to assignments where I know that I am going to use a lot of flash.
About flash synchronization, both the D70 and the D1H sync up to 1/500 sec. The 1/180 in the D100 may not be enough under several circumstances.
i-TTL, introduced with the Nikon D2H in late 2003, was also implemented in the D70 design. It gives perfectly lit images once you get to know it. You actually only have to be careful with the BL-function that secures that the background and foreground is balanced in exposure. It can lead to underexposed photos until you get to know it well.
Another problem I discovered pretty quickly when using D70 and the SB-600 flash, was that a lot of my “people shots” came out with sleepy looking people or even closed eyes. The short “measuring" pre flash very often caused people to blink too early. In the beginning I had to throw a lot of shots away because one or more people were in the beginning of a blink. It takes some training and you learn to shoot more that one shot of each motive. The way to make it work quickly and avoid the blinking is to use the FV-lock function, where you fire the measuring flash via the AE button. FV-lock will measure, analyze and lock, so the exposure will be the correct one when you fire the flash.
i-TTL and 3D matrix measurement always, and I mean always, give correctly exposed pictures. If it doesn't it is my own fault. You just need to get to know it, and I recommend that you train yourself and practice until you get there…
Another unique feature with the D70 and i-TTL, together with a SB-600 or SB-800 flash, is the fantastic Commander mode, where you get wireless remote control over the flash. On the D70 you pop up the integrated flash, as it -via micro pre flashes- controls the SB-600 or SB-800. The flash can be placed wherever you want it, or handheld, or way out to a side when making people photos.
I had a press photo assignment to shoot some kids who had won a small "play house".
Here I placed a SB-600 inside the small house to light it, while I was shooting from the outside through the door. The story in the paper was that they were so happy with their new house, that their parents had cleared the master bedroom and installed the house there for the winter. The kids actually slept there every night.
The lighting created a special atmosphere that couldn't have been made so easily with any of the two other cameras.
For example, the Canon 1D-series can have an infrared transmitter mounted in the flash shoe. It can do the same kind of wireless control, but with a completely different price tag. The D70, together with SB-600 or SB-800 can do as standard gear without having to buy any additional equipment. My D70 is always set to Commander Mode.
Li-ion technology in D70 and D100 is far superior to the NiMh technology in the D1H. With the D70 I always make more than 1000 shots on a charge, D100 easily makes 500 and is almost as good. The batteries have no memory effect and can be charged in small portions and when you want to.
The NiMh batteries in D1H are heavy, big, expensive and bad. Already after 200 shots the indicator begins to warn about lack of power, and I haven’t heard of anyone making more than 300 shots on a charge. You always end up carrying extra and half full batteries around, as they cannot be charged before they are completely empty. It takes a lot of power to run the fast motor, the giant buffer, etc. on the D1H. With the D70 you never have to be concerned about power, there is always enough power.
The Multi-CAM900 autofocus module in the D70 and D100 doesn't come close to the Multi-CAM1300 module in D1H. The Multi-CAM1300 is the same AF system as in one of the worlds fastest 35mm SLRs the Nikon F5; it needs almost no light to focus and can keep up with every and any situation. There is enough torque to keep a good speed even in older big tele lenses.
However, I must say that I have used the D70 a lot for sports/action photography and it works pretty well. It is just that the D1H is even better.
Once spoiled with the D1H, it is somewhat annoying that on the D70 it takes work in the menus to change from Single to Continuous autofocus shooting mode.
This switching to Manual, Single and Continuous can be done with a single button at the front of the camera on both the D1H and D100.
On the D70 you can only choose between Manual and AutoFocus from a button, Single or Continuous have to be set through the Menu.
Ergonomics & Handling
The design and build of all three cameras show Nikon engineers dedication to ergonomics and consistent logic, making their handling so easy. The controls and their location always follow similar -if not identical- layout and logic, as you may have been used to. Once you become acquainted with such logic you can always operate a Nikon camera in total darkness.
The fingers find their way to the right buttons, always in the right place. You become an elite soldier who can operate, disassemble and re-assemble his weapon blindfolded. An often unmentioned major advantage is that such logic always follows through, from model to model. Compared to any of its competitors, Nikon is consequently better at this.
On competitors models you often have to press two buttons at the same time as you have to turn a dial, or you are forced to get into the menus. Either is most unpractical when in the middle of concentrated photography. In general, the more advanced and professional a model the more you can operate it directly from the outside of the camera, without taking your eyes off the viewfinder. But then, that is true for almost any Nikon body.
The D1H is by far the easiest camera to operate. It feels enormously good in your hands and you can feel that it is quality you are holding. The D100, more so with its vertical grip, is very nice too. The D70 feels a bit flimsy, plasticy and small. Especially if you have just been using a D1H and then pick up the D70, it will feel like a toy. But don't be fooled by that. There is no vertical grip option so you have to live with that. There are non-original third party products on the way, but I doubt they will be really good.
The menus have gradually gotten better and better from model to model. The D70 has even better and most logical menus compared to D100, more so when compared to the D1H. The D1H, on the other hand, have the function button that allows you to change custom functions, directly, without visiting the menus. On my D1H I have made it possible to instantly switch between Single autofocus and closest subject priority dynamic AF. On the other hand, the LCD on the D1H shows a poor image that it is close to useless, as there is no way you can tell if an image is sharp or not. This has gotten gradually better and better in later models.
In general you could say that D70 can be operated by anyone, regardless of experience level, thanks to all of its automatic variprograms. The D100 is somewhere in between, and the D1H is almost impossible to operate if you have don’t have the fundamental knowledge of the craft. I have no knowledge about how the cameras work on the variprogram settings, I have never used any of them. But from reading numerous experiences accounts, it can be concluded that the D70 is very beginner friendly. In the recent past, before the D70, I think you had to say that if photography was not a fundamental interest/hobby, you should stay away from DSLRs and choose a simpler point & shoot camera instead.
On the D70, to keep costs down, some compromises were made. So it takes work in the menus to change from Single to Continuous autofocus shooting mode.
This switching to Manual, Single and Continuous can be done with a single button at the front of the camera on both the D1H and D100, at a higher price.
On the D70, on the other hand, you can easily choose between both traditional pro settings and beginner variprograms, as shown at right.
From a very critical user perspective, I will list below what I consider the more important strengths and weaknesses for each of the three compared bodies.
Extremely solid build. Ergonomics and handling very good. Weatherpproof. Very fast at 5fps. With a buffer as large as for 40 jpef fine files. Strong and fast autofocus, with the Multi-CAM1300 system. The best viewfinder among the three bodies. Flash sync up to 1/500 sec.
Most importantly, the battery technology. D-TTL flash control is bad and unreliable for me. Automatic white balance useless. The LCD screen is obsolete and useless for picture quality checking.
The possibility to mount a Nikon vertical grip. The AF-S/AF-C button on the camera body. Mirror lock-up. And some would say that the metal chassis is an advantage over the composite build of the D70, but without the vertical grip, 105 grams / 3.7 ounces make no big difference in weight feel.
Bad for me D-TTL flash control. Slower than the D70 and the D1H in every aspect. Only 1/180 sec flash synchronization is not always appropriate for fill-flash under several bright light situations. Most important weakness is speed. The slower and smaller buffer with only 6 frames capacity, compared to the 12 frames buffer capacity of the one in the D70, makes a big difference for me, more so when it can take up to 144 consecutive frames when with selected CF cards.
Low price. Fantastic i-TTL flash technology with very reliable results and the possibility of using Commander Mode. Flash synchronization at 1/500 sec. Fastest shutter speed of 1/8000 sec. Better Auto ISO. Better handling in menus and the buttons. Until now the best ever battery technology. 3D color matrix metering from the Nikon D2H. Zero startup time and shutterlag. Big enough buffer to use it for press and sports photography. Lots of settings for internal picture processing.
Missing AF-S/AF-C button. You have to switch modes from within the menu. No original equipment manufacturer vertical grip.
The Nikon D70 is a fantastic camera, and currently the one with the best price to value ratio.
The Nikon D100 is an excellent camera too, capable of fantastic pictures, but it has been overtaken by the D70 in almost every aspect. If you don’t need the vertical grip or mirror lock-up, I see absolutely no reason to buy a new D100.
The Nikon D1H is still a fantastic camera, build like a tank and very very fast. Outmoded in certain areas, but for sports and press photography still among the very best.
Again, my personal conclusion is that if I could clone the image sensor, the battery system and the i-TTL flash control from the D70 over into the D1H, I would be a very happy man :-)
More articles that might interest you