The latest mid-level dSLR in the Nikon line-up, the D7000 is a well equipped 16-megapixel unit that is loaded with Nikon's latest and greatest technologies. Nested tightly between their popular D90 and D300/D300s models, the D7000 does offer various options to set it apart from its brethren. These include a newly developed 16-megapixel DX-format CMOS image sensor, EXPEED 2 image sensor, an upgraded 39-point AF system, a more robust metering sensor (2,016-pixel), and full 1080p HD video recording to name a few. Not to mention the D7000 boasts a rugged magnesium-alloy chassis with a weather and dust resistant exterior. All of which combined make this an appealing rig for a large majority of professional photogs; along with us enthusiasts too.
Being an advanced camera, the D7000 is loaded with a wealth of exposure controls and in-camera processing options. These include Aperture and Shutter speed priority modes, and full Manual. From here, you have access to the a plethora of custom functions to fine-tune the D7000's operation in various areas (Autofocus, Metering/Exposure, Timers/AE lock, Shooting/Display, Bracketing/Flash, Controls) as well as custom tailor your own shooting modes (U1 and U2). While all of these are things professionals demand, the D7000 can still be used successfully by those with less experience. You have the fully automatic operation of Auto and Program AE modes, along with various Scene mode settings like you'd expect to find on a point-n-shoot camera. These will help beginners still pick up the D7000 to start capturing some high-quality snapshots, and as their knowledge and experience grows, the D7000 will help them grow further.
Other impressive features Nikon packed into the D7000 include their new high-speed EXPEED2 processing unit, dual SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots, a top notch 3.0-inch LCD with 921k pixels of resolution, a broad sensitivity range from IS0 100 - 6400 (expandable up to ISO 25,600), exposure compensation of up to ±5 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps, full 1080p HD video capture with full-time AF and manual exposure control, a much simpler method of entering Live View mode, and a high-quality pentaprism optical viewfinder.
The D7000 is a large yet comfortable dSLR. With almost identical dimensions to the D90, the D7000 measures approx. 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 inches and weighs in at about 24 ounces (body only). I enjoyed handling the camera in my large hands while out on several outings to capture our sample photos. The control layout is very similar to the D90's, with the addition of a new Drive dial that's position underneath the exposure mode dial. It uses a handy lock to ensure you don't accidentally change the drive mode while you are changing exposure programs. I found it worked rather well, however I did have a few instances where it was hard for me to quickly change the drive mode; mostly due to my large fingers I think. All of the other controls are located in familiar positions if you've used a Nikon dSLR in the past, all of which felt comfortable while operating the camera. The new Live mode switch is a welcomed addition, which allowed me to quickly change to Live View mode to capture video, etc. The movie record button is located in the center, which falls comfortably under your right thumb while holding the camera; making video capture very easy and comfortable.
The D7000 continues the use of a high-quality 3.0-inch (921k pixel) LCD screen. This is a fantastic display that offers 100% frame coverage when in Live View mode, a nice bright backlight, and Nikon also includes a protective plastic cover to help protect the screen; something you will not find with any other manufacture. Due to the screen's large size, the menu system offers easy to read icons and text. These screens are arranged in a familiar fashion when compared to past Nikon models, with logical organization. Like I mentioned earlier, the D7000 offers a wealth of camera settings and custom functions to choose from, which does make the menu system quite long. The Shooting
Information display option works just like past models, offering up icons indicating exposure mode, aperture, shutter speed, ISO,
metering, etc. The Shooting Info Display also acts as a shortcut menu, allowing you to change various settings without having to enter the main menu. For those who are a bit more "old school" like myself, the D7000 also offers a nice monochrome data LCD screen on the top of the handgrip. These screens are very useful for making changes to camera settings while using shortcut buttons, giving you a quick view of what is currently being used as well as allowing you to see changes being made in real-time. The unit on the D7000 is nice and large, and offers a backlight that is activated by rotating the On/Off switch to the light bulb position.
NIkon equipped the D7000 with a very nice pentaprism type, eye-level optical viewfinder. This unit offers approx. 95% frame coverage with large 19.5mm eyepoint and -3 to +1m-1 diopter adjustment for those of us with falling eyesight. The included DK-21 rubber eyecup was quite comfortable, and also blocks out a great deal of ambient light when you press your face firmly against it. The field of view inside the viewfinder is very nice, and there is plenty of exposure information and icons along the bottom. The focusing screen allows you to easily see which of the 39 AF points are being used (depending on focus mode), without blocking your view of the subject. Overall, I truly enjoyed using the OVF on the D7000.
The D7000's shooting performance results were . From power-on until capture of the first image took only 5/10 of a second. Shutter lag, the time delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and between 2/10 and 3/10 of a second with autofocus, depending on the degree of focus change required by the attached 18-105mmVR lens. In single-shot drive mode, I was able to capture images at 7/10 of a second intervals without flash, and between 9/10 of a second and 1 second intervals with flash.
When it comes to burst capture, the D7000 blows away the competition in
this price range. There are two burst mode settings to choose from, Continuous Low and Continuous High. CL mode allowed me
to capture 29 Large/Fine JPEG images in 9.8 seconds (approx. 3fps), with no signs of buffer slowdown. Using CH mode, the D7000 fired off 40 frames in just 6.8 seconds, which is a whopping 5.88fps. I will not that after about 42 or so frames I did see a slight decrease in speed due to a full buffer, however it only slowed the camera to about 4.5fps. While just falling short of Nikon's claim of 6fps, I will note that these times were taken under some good overhead lighting with the camera in Auto mode with ISO at Auto as well. By placing the camera in program mode and raising the ISO to 1600, I was able to capture 26 frames in just 4.1 seconds; which is approx 6.3fps. So, the D7000 can surpass the 6fps mark, it all depends on the settings being used, lighting, etc. While I didn't see much buffer slow down, other than what was noted, I will say that when using these burst settings it takes the camera about 1 second per frame to process these images for playback. While that won't hold you back from capturing more sequences, it will cause a small delay when wanting to look over the images. The longest sequence of images I captured was almost 60 frames, and it took all of one minute for each of the frames process for playback.
When switching to NEF (RAW) format, the D7000'S shooting performance didn't change much, only the frame depth was shortened due to larger file sizes of these images. I will note too that when changing the camera's JPEG compression setting from Size Priority to Optimal Quality, frame depth also changed as it seems the camera uses a bit less compression when using Optimal Quality mode; making for larger files. All of our shooting performance tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme (Class 10, 30MB/s) 4GB SDHC memory card, Auto and Program modes, ISO Auto, the kit 18-105mm VR lens at 18mm, flash off, preview on, and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, media used, camera settings, etc.
I was excited to get on my PC and examine the photos we captured using the D7000's newly developed 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor. First off, one thing I'd like to mention is Nikon has added some new JPEG compression settings to choose from. Not only can you choose the size and quality (Fine/Normal/Basic) of your JPEG images, but you can now choose the type of compression the D7000 uses on JPEG files. Two settings are available; Size priority and Optimal quality. Size priority is the default option, and Nikons claims "images are compressed to produce relatively uniform file size". For Optimal quality, they note that the focus is quality and that file sizes will vary depending on the scene being recorded. We kept the camera set to the default setting for the majority of our tests, however we did post up a M&M man series of photos using the Optimal quality option for you to examine. One of the first things you'll notice about these images when compared to those taken using Size priority are the file sizes, which jump by about 0.5MB - 1MB. I also saw a slight change in color temperature between the two settings. While this is a nice option to have, I did not see any huge improvement by choosing the Optimal settings over Size priority, and being I like to capture as many photos as possible on my memory cards, I personally would leave the camera in the default mode; this is of course personal preference, you'll have to decide which setting best fits your needs.
On to our image quality findings, I was mostly pleased with what we saw coming from the D7000 using pretty much factory default settings. Images show very accurate colors, along with pleasing sharpness and contrast. The new 2016-pixel RGB 3D Matrix Metering sensor has been hyped by Nikon as being a groundbreaking sensor, and in combination with their Scene Recognition system, will help the camera offer improved light metering and flash output/control. When using the D7000's automatic exposure options (Auto, Program, etc.), I felt that the camera produced some very strong exposures. This caused some loss of highlight details in many of our outdoor scenes. While these images are still pleasing to the eye, I was surprised by this performance as I expected more from this new metering sensor.
We tested the D7000 with the kit 18-105mm VR zoom lens, which I feel offers a very nice focal range for a wide variety of photographs. With almost double the telephoto reach of your standard 18-55mm kit lens, this unit will make a great first lens for the majority of D7000 users. Overall it helped me capture some pleasing photos with average amounts of barrel distortion at the wide end, noticeable pincushioning at the telephoto extremes, and some visible purple fringing in areas of extreme contrast. The VR (Vibration Reduction) system built into the lens was a big help when using its telephoto capabilities while shooting handheld photos and videos. Overall, I feel the AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens compliments the D7000 nicely, and makes for a great first lens for those who are just entering the dSLR world.
When reviewing our standard M&M man shots, I was very impressed with the D7000's ability to manage noise throughout the ISO range. Our series was captured using Aperture priority mode at f/8.0, and in my opinion images look excellent all the way up to ISO 6400; the maximum setting without ISO expansion. All the way up to ISO 3200 you can see the camera handles noise well, with only some slight color shift when you reach 6400. Fine detail is retained throughout the sensitivity range, with even the ISO expansion settings looking quite usable. Peeping at 100% will obviously show both chroma and luminous noise once you start climbing in the higher sensitivity settings, however like I mentioned the remaining fine detail is what really makes these images look good. I had no problem reading the small print on the cardboard behind the Ozium spray can, which is usually first to go. Overall, the D7000 performed beyond my expectations when it comes to high ISO, low-light shooting. This is sure to be one popular model for 2011, and the years to come.
While shooting some indoor portraits, the D7000's built-in flash did rather well. I was hoping to test the D7000 with a powerful external flash unit, however I was not able to find my old SB-600. Flipping up the built-in unit, I was thinking it was going to be a bit under powered; that wasn't the case here. I found the flash was able to illuminate our M&M man photo quite well from several feet away, even while using a narrower aperture (f/8.0) and ISO 100. Switching to my lovely daughter, I again saw excellent flash exposure from several feet away. While there's an obvious shadow from the angle of the direct flash, it even seemed to illuminate the background well. The only issue I saw while reviewing our indoor flash shots was some occurrences of red-eye. Thanks in part to the D7000's awesome high ISO abilities, a good stabilized kit lens, and a powerful built-in flash, I'd say the D7000 is an excellent choice for indoor photographs.
Like I mentioned earlier, Nikon has added a new 39-point AF system on the D7000, compared to the 11-point system found on the D90. This new system offers a high level of customization and accuracy, with a new new Multi-CAM 4800DX AF module that offers 9 cross-type sensors in the center of the frame. There are various AF configurations for you to choose from, including Single or Dynamic AF modes. Using Dynamic, you can choose from 9, 21, or 39 points as well as incorporate 3D-tracking. For low-light situations, Nikon included a powerful AF-assist lamp which boasts an effective range up to almost 10 feet (9 ft. 10 in. to be exact). I found the D7000's AF system was fast and accurate in a variety of situations, and it had no problems focusing in a very dimly lit room at night. I was not able to test the 3D-tracking with a fast moving subject, but the tests I performed tell me this option works quite well. Overall, I found the D7000's 39-pint AF system to be extremely robust and accurate, and give Nikon kudos for adding it.
Nikon has taken their HD video offerings to the next level on the D7000. Resolution has jumped from your typical 1280x720 (720p) to full 1920x1080 (1080p) resolution. They still offer the lower resolution setting as well, down to 640x480 if needed. The frame rate is fixed to a cinema style 24fps in the full HD mode, however when shooting at 720p resolution you can choose 24fps or 30fps. The D7000 also offers full-time AF during video capture, along with manual exposure control. This further enhances the creative abilities of this camera when recording video. Due to our weather conditions here in the Midwest, and the lack of much outdoor activity, I was not able to test the D7000's video function outdoors. Indoors however, I found the camera was able to capture some excellent video, which is crisp and plays back smoothly. Noise levels are very low (thanks to the camera's High ISO abilities), and the camera did well with keeping my subject in focus; even after a minor change in focal length. We did see some strong exposure which caused some detail loss on my daughter's cloths, however the light coming in from our picture window was quite strong. Audio was surprisingly good when considering it's coming from a built-in microphone, however you'll still want to be cautious of your positioning to ensure you don't pick up unwanted background noise. I think the addition of full HD on the D7000 was a wise choice for Nikon, and after seeing these results I'm sure those who are into recording HD with dSLRs will want to get their hands on the D7000 ASAP.
Battery life is right on par with most of your mid-level, professional dSLRs. Nikon includes their powerful EN-EL15 Li-ion battery pack with the D7000, which they claim will give you up to 1050 shots using CIPA standard testing. Obviously, if you are not using the flash much, or are using an external unit, you can capture quite a bit more. I never depleted the D7000's battery during our testing, which included about 400 or so photos, several short indoor video clips, and extensive use of the camera's menu and playback functions. If you need more power, I'd suggest adding the MB-D11 Multi Power grip to your purchase and a second EN-EL15 battery pack. This will give you double the battery life, the ability to use AAs in a pinch, and you get the additional grip surface area and portrait (vertical) orientation controls. Including the second EN-EL15, you're looking at about an additional $300 to your purchase; which I feel is well worth it if you are shooting portraits, sports, weddings, etc.
Bottom line - Nikon has hit a home run with their latest D-series model. The D7000 exceeded almost all of my expectations, with only a few "issues", such as the strong exposures it created outdoors. Its high ISO capabilities are almost unmatched in my opinion, and the camera's shooting performance in both single and bursts modes is smoking fast. With a plethora of exposure controls and options, the D7000 will please the most advanced of users, while at the same time appealing to those who are just entering the dSLR world with various fully automatic settings and Scene modes. With a street price of about $1200 US for the body alone, or $1500 with the versatile AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 18-105mm
f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens, the D7000 offers an outstanding degree of value, and I have no problem giving it Steve's highest recommendation; to be honest, the D7000 has made me consider crossing over to the dark side from Canon.
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