Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/18/review_camera_nikon_d7000_dslr/

Nikon D7000 DSLR camera

The return of the fiddle factor

By Catherine Monfils

Posted in Hardware, 18th March 2011 07:00 GMT

Review In the months following the launch of its new mid-range DSLR at Photokina, Nikon struggled to keep up with demand, so successful and fabled the D7000 had quickly become. But does it really live up to the hype?

Nikon D7000

Clicking into place: Nikon's D7000

Well, to start with there are quite a few headline-grabbing introductions. The D7000 sports a 16.2Mp CMOS sensor, the highest resolution in the whole of Nikon's DX line, actually only surpassed by the 24.5Mp of the top of the range full frame professional D3x. It also offers the widest sensitivity range of any DX model, spanning between ISO 100 and 25600.

In addition it features the EXPEED 2 image-processing engine, 39-point auto-focus with 3D tracking, improved metering, twin SD card slots, 1080p HD video recording capability and can continually shoot up to 6fps. Quite impressive for a consumer DSLR, and given it can currently be found on-line at around £900 body-only or £1100 with the 18-105mm VR lens kit, it is perhaps no surprise that it’s a best-seller.

Many see the D7000 as the natural successor to the D90, despite Nikon’s claims to the contrary. I’m with Nikon on this though – the two cameras are certainly comparable in size and shape but the similarities end there. The D7000 sports a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body shell which, previously, Nikon had only used in top-end APS-C and full frame cameras. While this makes it 70 g heavier than the D90 it also adds a more solid and professional feel to it.

Moreover, the D7000 departs from the D90 on the handling and control layout front too. This has been partly redesigned to produce a much nicer in-hand experience and a more user-friendly operation. For instance, the AF selection mode switch is now replaced by a button sitting inside the AF/M selector on the front plate, a nice and space-efficient solution. A rotating switch instead of a button activates Live View, encapsulating the movie record control at its centre. This arrangement should prevent hitting it by mistake with the thumb, as I tend to do with the D90.

Nikon D7000

Professional stance: scene mode selection gives way to user customisation options

However, the main change is in the exposure mode dial. Scene mode selection is not available on the main dial anymore, having being replaced by two user defined modes. Certainly, it’s an indication of a slight tweak in Nikon’s marketing strategy, as it appears the company now aims its flagship consumer DSLR at more advanced users inclined to operate in creative manual or semi-manual modes.

Change of scene

There are still plenty of scene modes, actually more than in the D90, but they are all grouped together in one Scene position on the dial. Rather than having individual icons, specific choices are made through the thumb dial. Sitting immediately underneath the exposure dial there is another larger, slightly canted dial, with a lock button to prevent accidental activation, that lets you select drive modes, timer, remote release, mirror-up option and Quiet mode.

Nikon D7000

Viewfinder offers 100 per cent coverage

On the lens mount there are a couple of mechanical differences from the D90 that also give away the market repositioning of the D7000. Like its pro brothers, the D7000 now has an indexing tab allowing aperture control with manual focus lenses of the Ai generation and a mechanical AF drive pairing supporting autofocus for older AF and AF-D lenses lacking their own motor. The D7000 also improves the optical viewfinder, which now has 100 per cent coverage. The LCD remains the same high-resolution 3in screen used all the way from the D90 up to the D3X, which also doubles as additional info display.

While there are relatively few changes in body design between the D90 and the D7000, when it comes to features and performance the D7000 does not merely introduce key improvements over the D90, it completely redefines the mid-range concept. At the heart of the D7000 is the newly developed 23.6 x 15.6mm, CMOS image sensor with 16.2Mp (effective) resolution and 14-bit A/D conversion built-in that can capture images as either RAW or JPEG, or as both simultaneously.

Despite the increased resolution, the sensor has been designed to deliver crisp and detail-rich images even at high ISO speeds. This, coupled with the new Expeed 2 image-processing engine – first seen on the entry-level D3100 – lends this camera to exceptional speed in this price range. Powering-on is virtually instant, there is no shutter lag to speak of and burst capture reaches 6fps, with an increased buffer size that allows continuous shooting up to 100 JPEG files (11 RAW).

The D7000 uses a new Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus module with 39 auto-focus sensors, nine of which are cross-type, and has several customisable focusing options available. The system works seamlessly if the correct settings are selected, locking onto the subject swiftly and surprisingly silently. In single-point AF the active sensors are easily selected by pressing the AF button while using the four-way control pad.

Nikon D7000

The 18-105mm kit lens isn't the fastest performer

The AF 3D tracking system works really well and now takes advantage of the new metering system when following subjects moving across the frame, using colour information to tell the subject apart from the scene. Considering that I tested the camera with a sluggish lens – the supplied 18-105 VR – I was impressed with the results.

Meter reading

In Live View and movie mode the D7000 uses a contrast detection AF system and gives you the option to use Full-Time Servo AF (AF-F), with four selectable focus options – Face, Wide-Area, Normal-Area, Subject-Tracking. In this mode, the camera will continuously focus the lens on the selected area or subject without need to press the AF button.

Nikon D7000

The RGB metering has double the resolution of its predecessors

The other major innovation brought about by the D7000 is the 2,016 pixel RGB metering sensor that is now evaluating colour as well as brightness of a scene when calculating exposure. This new sensor has twice the resolution of that of its pro or semi-pro brothers – such as the D300s and the D700 – and it feeds information not only to auto exposure but also to autofocus, i-TTL flash control and auto white balance, for increased accuracy.

During tests, I found that the sensor had a tendency to overexpose in some instances. I had a few washed-out skies on scenes where my D700 would have preserved highlights much better. Having said that, the metering system performed very well in other high-contrast scenes and wasn’t fooled by bright coloured subjects or large areas of shadows.

In use, I got the impression that this sophisticated sensor – that identifies the main subject more easily – is inclined to lock its evaluation on the subject, rather than merely averaging the histogram like the old-fashion matrix systems did. This certainly works wonders for most scenes but occasionally manual adjustment is necessary. Once you understand what scenes will result in highlights overexposure, you can easily compensate for that.

The reality is that this camera, although marketed to the advanced amateur, is quite complex and sophisticated. So to truly achieve the results it is capable of, the user has to have quite a sophisticated understanding of the camera’s settings and workings. In fact, the D7000 is not the easiest DX DSLR to use and I suggest potential upgraders give full consideration to this aspect before taking the plunge.

Nikon D7000

A good low light performer, but flash is there if you really need it

The D7000 has a native ISO sensitivity range between 100 and 6400 but it can be extended to 25600 ISO. Images up to 800 ISO are sharp and detailed with virtually no noise showing. At higher ISO some noise in the shadows starts to appear but it is not until 6400 ISO that the noise becomes quite visible. Even at that speed though images are incredibly clean for a DX format camera.

Sample Shots and Video

18-105mm (27-157mm) kit lens tests

Nikon D7000

Wide-angle
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Nikon D7000

Standard
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Nikon D7000

Tele-photo
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Nikon D7000

Flash
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Nikon D7000

New RGB metering can lend itself to overexposure in some scenes
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Sample Video

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Nikon D7000

Still from video
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Sample Shots

In-camera effects

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Original
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

D-light dynamic range effect
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Original

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Cross-screen effect

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Original

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Green intensifier effect

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Original

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Straightening tool

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Sepia
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Miniature effect
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Sample Shots

Nikon D7000

ISO 400 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 200 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 1600 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 1600 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 800 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 800 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 800 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 1600 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 500 - click for a full-resolution crop

Nikon D7000

ISO 220 - click for a full-resolution crop

ISO Tests

Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 100
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 200
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 400
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 800
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 1600
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 3200
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

ISO 6400
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Hi 0.3 ISO 8000
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Hi 0.7 ISO 10000
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Hi 1.0 ISO 12800
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Nikon D7000 ISO tests

Hi 2.0 ISO 25600
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Retouch and go

Unsurprisingly, the extended ISO range reveals quite substantial amounts of chromatic noise, but the results would still suffice for web sharing. The ISO performance of the D7000 is one of the best, if not actually the best, I’ve seen in DX cameras and shames some of the pro models currently in circulation.

Nikon D7000

The on-board image manipulation has all the right tools

The image quality of the D7000 is first-rate. Pictures are sharp, detailed with broad dynamic range. This can be further improved by selecting the correct D-Lighting setting – Nikon’s in-camera dynamic range optimiser. Colour reproduction is realistic with just the right amount of saturation. In very low contrast scenes, colours might suffer from a lack of punch, but I don’t dislike that slightly understated result.

If results are less than perfect – or you’re tempted to tinker with its creative effects – the D7000 has on-board some of the most useful and comprehensive sets of retouching tools available. Among its features are perspective, distortion and straightness correction to effects such as miniature, colour outline, sketch and filters.

I tested the camera with the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. It’s a versatile lens with optical stabilisation and silent wave drive (AF-S) kit lens. This zoom has a barrel made of plastic but operates quite smoothly and feels relatively solid. It is certainly not the fastest or sharpest zoom lens on the consumer market, but considering it notches up another £200 on the body-only price, it is good value for money.

Nikon D7000

Video gains

The D7000 records full high definition 1080p videos at 24 frames per second for a maximum of 20 minutes and delivers automatic continuous focus during recording. Manual aperture and shutter control is allowed, as well as exposure compensation and AE-Lock. Clips are sharp and smooth and although the internal mic is mono, the sound is clear and balanced. A 3.5mm jack input allows external stereo mic recording, if required.

Nikon D7000

Power step: if you've concerns the standard battery isn't going to last you...

The D7000 also uses a new battery pack, the EN-EL15, which shows a remarkable performance surely helped by the more power-efficient new image-processing engine.

Verdict

RH Recommended Medal

The D7000 is an outstanding release by Nikon. This camera is a real treat for the enthusiast photographer but can work equally well as a back up body for professionals. You do have to master its features to get the best out of it though – refining the results through trial and error – to appreciate its responsiveness in different environments. This may be too much of a challenge for some, who might be better served by something like the Canon EOS 60D, but there are plenty that appreciate these subtleties which make the D7000 more than some kind of refreshed D90.

The only way to consider it an heir to the D90 is in its reception, which has been very enthusiastic, ranking very highly on on-line sales lists from Amazon and Jessops. Indeed, I daresay the D7000 could prove more problematic for the D300s sales than Nikon might like. Admittedly, it is a shame the kits lens does not show off all of the camera’s potential, but there are no shortage of lenses in the Nikon arsenal that will. ®

Catherine Monfils is a professional photographer specialising in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion.

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