D90 vs D70: Image Quality and Pixel Peeping

I typically don’t like pixel peeping and encourage myself to just go take pictures, but I wanted to see how my shooting might be affected by the D90 and if I need to change my post-processing. These shots were all done with AUTO WB in “Program’ mode with no post-processing. Click each comparison for a bigger image.

Quick shot of my home theater system in difficult light. The D90’s white balance is much better and the Active D Lighting brings up shadow detail on the front of the speakers without blowing out the window.


Quick outside shot. Color on the D90 is just better overall. No idea what the D70 is doing with the sky.d90d70-2

Zooming in at 100% shows some more significant differences. The bigger sensor translates to more detail, but the D90 also includes built-in chromatic abberation correction. In the D70 image, chromatic abberation rears its ugly hard along the roof and on the very right side of the trim. The D90 corrects this with magic.d90d70-3

Another tough indoor shot. Active D Lighting brings out detail in the chair and the bricks on the left.d90d70-4

Wow 100% view of my checkbook! Testing a little low light/high ISO performance here and the difference is just night and day. When the D70 cranks up the ISO its color performance plummets. The D90’s performance here is incredible compared to what I’ve had to live with on the D70. Before I’d be wary of shooting at ISO 1600, now I wouldn’t think twice.d90d70-5

Last little comparison highlights low light performance again with the compact Canon SD700 thrown in for a sense of how different point and shoots and dSLRs are. The SD700 does a good job with white balance, but the noise at just ISO 800 is appalling. The D70 fails miserably on white balance here (indirect sunlight bouncing into the kitchen) and the level of chroma noise further degrades the image. The D90’s sensor handles chroma noise much better which results in a more useable picture.d90d70-6

Just putting the D90 in “Program” with AUTO ISO and AUTO WB (tweaked warmer with A3) results in much more useable shots. In fact, since switching to the D90 I haven’t had to process an image in Photoshop. Now I can import straight into Picasa, crop, make any other quick tweaks and export straight to the web or out for printing.

Amazon has a very competitive price on the D90, but if you order one somewhere else be sure to stay away from the shady Brooklyn photo dealers.

6 Replies to “D90 vs D70: Image Quality and Pixel Peeping”

  1. An interesting comparison. I know it will not interest the people who do not have D70 but since D70 is available at quite low prices used , it may serve some purpose for people thinking of buying D70 or saving for D90. Personally i was interested to see this as I am thinking of getting a D70 for infrared work and was curious to check the ISo performance. More than the ISO thing, i was a bit surprised to see colour differences in the trees etc. in the outdoor shot. But then some might argue that on all auto mode the differences are expected.

    Thanks for the review

  2. The HD video thing just annoys me. If I wanted a video camera, I’d get one. What model number will follow the D90?

  3. This is an excellent review of what really matters: white balance, exposure, colour and noise. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. As a D70 owner, I am looking to upgrade to something better and the D90 seems to fit the bill for the price. A D300 would be nice, but its also $500 more! I can purchase a prime lens, a grip, etc. with the difference.

  4. Thanks for the comment Brent. I’ve got 370 pics from a recent trip to Boston to pick through and post, might get them up this weekend if you want to check my front page in a couple days to see some more interesting real life shots.

    The only thing I’ve had to get use to is the Matrix Metering. The D70’s meter tended to underexpose quite a bit, noticeable in the first and last shots above. On the D80/D90 they bumped it up like 1/3 or 2/3 a stop and gave the area around the focus point more weight. Just something to get use to.

  5. I think the camera doesn’t matter – you can pretty much do almost everything with the D70 that you can do with the d90…

    yes ofcource the fast that the d90 works better at higher ISO definetly helps out in the shaded areas…

    the big display also helps but outside of that there is no point in moving up to d90 – in a year there will be another version of a nikon prosumer that is going to be smaller faster and with even bigger display…

  6. MUCH better high ISO performance. Built in chromatic aberration correction! More AF points. Bigger viewfinder. Better picture control. Customizable white balances. Better white balance, exposure and color. Support for a cable release. Customizable function button. Super convenient customizable “Top Items” menu. Faster continuous speed. Bigger and HIGHER RESOLUTION LCD.

    Look at what the D70 did to the sky in the second example, I had to deal with that for years and never really thought the camera might be flawed in some way. D90 shots are much more usable straight out of the camera and with the better LCD I find myself paying more attention to exposure and focus right then, not later in Photoshop. I had the D70 for over 4 years and in that time I struggled to get shots to come out just how I wanted without major processing. Picked up the D90 and all that frustration went away.

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