Nikon D7000

Jeff's Rating: 
5
A worthwhile upgrade to the Nikon D90, and an excellent display of Nikon's latest whiz-bang features. Best video recording abilities of any current or past Nikon SLR.

Nikon D7000 - Front

I just received my new Nikon D7000 SLR in the mail today, so I'm working on getting some images and videos together for a full-fledged review.

Handling / Build Quality

The D7000's body, unlike my old D90, has a few parts made of magnesium alloy, rather than the cheap-feeling plastic of cheaper cameras—and you can really tell the difference.

A few buttons on the D7000 feel a bit better than those on the D90, as well:

  • The shutter button, which some people call too sensitive, is just right. Sometimes, in tricky lighting, I would have to set my D90 to continuous mode to get a steadier shot, since the button requires some pressure to trigger. The D7000 requires only gentle pressure after the half-trigger (focus/exposure lock).
  • The live-view trigger-switch is in a perfect place. I can switch on live view while I pull the camera away from my eye without even looking, then hit record in the same spot. The D90 made this operation a chore.
  • The AF-mode selection button on top of the AF/M switch is a lot more intuitive than having three modes on that switch. I always had to look on the side (moving my eye from the viewfinder) to figure out which focus mode I was using. Now, hold down the button and use one of the two command dials to switch between AF-S, AF-C and AF-A, and the autofocus area mode.

I've also purchased the excellent Nikon MB-D11 Battery Grip, and it makes the D7000 feel much more solid, especially when using pro glass like the 70-200 VR lens. Without the battery grip, the D7000 body stays in my hand about the same as the D90 did - my pinkie would like a little bit more area to hold, and it gets it with the battery grip.

High ISO Image Quality

I'm not even going to discuss low-ISO image quality—it's incredible, as is the quality on any other DSLR released in the past two years.

Nikon introduced a few new features which make this camera marginally better than the D90 for high-ISO/low-light photography:

  • Increased dynamic range via 14-bit RAW images (the D90 had 12-bit images)
  • A new image sensor (a slight improvement over the D90... plus it adds a few million pixels)
  • Updated image processing algorithms (Nikon calls it 'EXPEED 2'—I call it a new year, a new software update that improves everything a slight bit...)

For my sample shots, I set up the D90 and the D7000 on a tripod and mounted my 50mm f/1.4 lens and set the cameras into shutter priority mode at f/2.8. Here's the full image, cropped and adjusted for sensor-size differences in the samples below:

Full image - Nikon D7000 at 6400 ISO

Click the image to download the original JPEG (untouched, straight from Aperture)

Here are 100% (adjusted) crops from both cameras - at ISO 1600 and ISO 6400:

  Nikon D90 Nikon D7000
ISO 1600 Nikon D90 ISO 1600

 

Nikon D7000 ISO 1600

 

ISO 6400 Nikon D90 ISO 6400 Nikon D7000 ISO 6400

As they say... go big or go home. I didn't test ISO 3200, because it just doesn't matter much. Even at ISO 6400, there's not a huge difference in image quality between the D90 and the D7000. The actual sharpness and color rendition is close to a match.

However, you can easily notice that the D7000 holds colors more evenly, and has a bit more pleasant noise pattern (same amount of luminance noise, much less chromatic noise). In this sense, I'd say it's very much like the D700 or D3, and that's a very good thing. However, it's not quite to that level—and I fear no DX-size sensor will ever be able to reach that level, due to the physics.

I'd rate the D7000 as the best DX-format camera for high-ISO shooting, though I haven't used the D300s enough to say that for sure. But it's still at least one step down from the D3/D3s and D700 in high-ISO quality. Good enough for me!

Almost Professional

I have used a camera from every slot in the Nikon lineup over the years, from film to digital—consumer SLRs (like the D40), prosumer SLRs (like the D80 and D90), semi-pro SLRs (like the D200 or D300), and pro SLRs (like the D700, sort-of, or the D3/D3s).

The D7000 defies this simple categorization, as it's definitely beyond the prosumer level, and has a few features that put it in the semi-pro range, but it doesn't quite feel semi-pro...

But that doesn't matter to me—it's awesome to have a camera that's priced more like a prosumer, but carries some of these great features:

  • 12-preset lens AF fine tuning (I just profiled all my lenses, and one lens I always thought was soft on my D90 is sharp as a tack on the D7000—because it required a +20 AF fine-tuning adjustment!)
  • Dual-SD card slots (usually, I use it for backup - there's always that one shot that gets corrupted, just when you don't want that to happen... or the card that breaks).
  • 39 AF focus points, and a great autofocus system. It's far superior to entry-level SLR autofocus systems, especially for tracking moving subjects. A very nice improvement over the D90 as well!

Shutter Modes and Quiet Shutter

One of the most interesting new features of the D7000 I was eager to test is the 'Quiet' shutter mode (which is an additional mode setting to the standard Single, Continuous low, Continuous high, and remote options). Instead of the standard Thwack-Whap sound characteristic of Nikon SLRs, the Q mode swings the shutter a little more gently, for more of a Thwump–flip sound. Hear for yourself:

Video - 1080p/24p, Audio Input, Continuous Focus

After the somewhat disappointing quality of 720p video on my D90, I was preparing myself for disappointment with the D7000. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. Unlike the D90, the video is very sharp, compressed well, and is much easier to start and stop.

The D7000 has a live view trigger on the back, surrounding the record button, making live view + recording oh-so-much easier than on the D90. Critical focus is easier to detect while in Live View mode as well. That, mixed with better/faster focusing while in Live View, plus the ability to focus during a recording, makes the D7000's video quality and sharpness much better than the D90.

Rode VideoMic Shotgun microphone on Nikon D7000

Additionally, there's a 1/8" sound input jack on the side of the D7000 that allows me to adapt practically any sound source for the camera, and it sounds very good. In the video below, I compare a set of external microphone solutions that work great with the D7000 (see below the video for links to the mics I used):

Mics Used in This Video

The quality is, in a nutshell, amazing. Check out this other video I recorded using an external lav mic with the D7000 at my home—both these videos were recorded with available light!

For more microphone suggestions, much of the research I've done on external mics (wired and wireless) for the iPhone 4 applies here.

Conclusion

I am quite impressed with this camera, and I feel it will be a worthy upgrade to my D90. To anyone who is happy with the D90, and doesn't need any improvements in high-ISO shooting or video recording, I say stick with the D90. But, if you're like me and you'd like a D3, but can't justify the cost... and love high quality HD video, then the D7000 is a good middle ground.

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