I owned a variety of film SLRs in my early days as a photographer; a Nikon N90 still lurks on a shelf somewhere in the house. Over time, my interest in photography as an art and craft wane, and I became that dreaded animal, the Snapshot Parent. As digital photography began to mature in the early 2000s, digital SLRs far exceeded my budget. So I used several different point-and-shoot digital cameras, the most memorable being a Minolta DiMage XT which worked fine as a snapshot camera.
The Nikon D70, arriving on the scene in 2004, piqued my interest, so I acquired one with the 18-70mm kit lens. The D70 opened up a whole new world, rekindling my interest in more serious photography. I shot hundreds of photos over the next several years, most pretty terrible, as I relearned composition and exposure all over again. The D70 gave way to a D70s, not because I needed the minor update, but because my original D70 met a fateful end when I left it on an airplane, never to be found again. The D70 and D70s are really the same camera, with extremely minor tweaks.
I learned the hard way the limitations of kit lenses when I tried to shoot my daughter’s indoor volleyball tames. Nearly every action shot was out of focus or blurry due to the inability to capture fast motion. The D70’s offered relatively limited low-light performance, particularly at the f/5.6 aperture of the kit lens at maximum zoom. So acquiring good glass became the next step, with the 24-70 f/2.8 and the 70-200 f/2.8 joining my kit. I won’t say my action photography dramatically improved, but the better lenses also proved to be better learning tools.
I lugged the D70 and associated lenses on vacations, where I also began learning the art of landscape photography. And as I shot more family photos, my photos became less like snapshots and more like portraits, though my portrait skills remained pretty limited. I learned a few lessons about lighting, but a better understanding of lighting in photography — both natural light and using flash — would only come later. My limited understanding of light and exposure let to my pathetic initial attempts at product photography, which mostly made me wince. Those skills wouldn’t improve for several camera generations and a lot of failed attempts.
In the end, the D70 proved to be more learning tool than artistic tool. Mostly, I learned how badly my skills had deteriorated. But sometimes learning just how much you need to learn can be the most valuable lesson of all. I suppose I could have been discouraged, but every now and then I’d capture a great moment, and that made me hungry to learn exactly how I’d done it. I twas only later that I got smarter about figuring out how I did what I did.