Today, we'll continue our photographic exploration beyond compact consumer cameras to more capable digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras...

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Today, we’ll continue our photographic exploration beyond compact consumer cameras to more capable digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

From shooting indoor sports to capturing close-ups faraway, DSLR cameras can do more, but they’re also bigger and a lot more expensive. Clearly, the step from compact camera to DSLR is one to take cautiously.

So far, we’ve covered two DSLR cameras (Getting Started, April 9 and May 28) — the Canon EOS 20D ($1,500 body only) and the Olympus Evolt-300 ($800 body only). Now, we’ll look at the Nikon D70s ($900 body only) before choosing.

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The D70s features 6.1 megapixels, pop-up flash, auto focus, and a 2-inch viewing screen. It uses a CompactFlash card or Microdrive for storing images, and has shutter speeds up to 1/8000 of a second, several exposure modes (from auto and shutter or aperture priority, to portrait, landscape, sports and others), and it saves in RAW or JPEG formats. It also supports continuous shooting at 3 frames per second.

The challenges I’ll put this camera through are the same as I did for the others — mainly indoor action both day and night, plus indoor portraits and some nature shots outside.

I’ll be using two Nikon lenses, the Nikkor 17-55mm (26-83mm film camera equivalent) f/2.8, and the 80-200mm (120-300mm film camera equivalent) f/2.8.

When the Nikon arrives, I charge the battery, set the date and time, and load a 1GB CompactFlash card ($74 from Crucial.com). None of the three DSLR cameras I’ve tried come with a storage card.

With three 1GB CompactFlash cards, I can simply switch cards when the camera’s memory card fills up. It’s faster than transferring images to a temporary storage device and doesn’t drain the camera’s battery.

At home, I shoot a few dozen family portraits indoors, attempting to be quick enough to capture the 2-year-old and clever enough to engage the 11- and 25-year-olds in a productive photo shoot. With the 17-55mm f/2.8 lens at 1/125 of a second and ISO set to 400 with sun coming through the windows, I’m able to catch them with good results, I think.

Later, I switch to the 80-200mm lens for indoor action at my daughter’s karate dojo. This time, I use a monopod because the lens doesn’t have vibration reduction (there is a 70-200mm lens that does) and begin shooting at 1/250 of a second with the ISO at 800 and sometimes up to 1600.

Half the time I face a row of sunlit windows as background and notice some of the shots are way underexposed while others look properly exposed. When I switch from center-focused metering to spot metering, the exposure is more consistent and more accurate. This reminds me that with a more capable camera, the photographer should be (or learn to be) able to take advantage of the camera’s additional capabilities.

The long lens brings me close to the action so I can capture facial expressions and hand movements along with other close-ups, which is pretty exciting.

Back home, I slip the memory card in a CompactFlash card reader and transfer the images to my iPhoto Library. I’d rather use a card reader ($7 from Crucial.com) than connect the camera to the computer for upload.

Recently, I’ve been setting the camera to save images in RAW (rather than JPEG), processing them in Adobe Photoshop, and saving the edited images on an external drive in the uncompressed TIFF format for printing and storing. I also save the edited images in highest-quality JPEG to keep in my iPhoto Library for use in projects that require JPEG-formatted photos, such as e-mailing and Web posting.

While processing the D70s images, I’m happy to see there is little visible noise at ISO 800 and the noise is manageable at 1600. (Noise refers to the artifacts that show up in a photo when the ISO is set high). Using the Photoshop Highlights/Shadows sliders, I temper the sharp contrast in backlit images and the results look good.

It’s time to print some of these experiments to see how they look on paper.

Wonderful! I love moving in close with this telephoto lens and I love the complex skin tones and subtle colors the Nikon produces, which aren’t as saturated and contrasty as the Canon images, for instance.

The Nikon D70s has two megapixels fewer than the Canon and Olympus DSLRs, so I’m eager to see if the Nikon’s 6.1 megapixels can (as some claim) print as large as 11×14 and 13×19 inches and still look good.

Printing with the Epson Stylus Photo 1280, I get the best results when processing RAW image files with Photoshop, then saving and printing them as uncompressed TIFF files. The full-frame photos look good at the largest size I can print — 13×19 inches — and my heavily cropped images retain good detail at 11×14 inches.

In summary: I love the Nikon D70s and conclude that all three DSLR cameras are excellent. It will be hard to choose one … next week.

To read more technical reviews, go to www.dpreview.com and www.imaging-resource.com.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted