Nikon D7000 Review

It may be small, but the D7000 packs a very powerful punch and as I write this, pretty much stands as the best DX DSLR to roll out of the Nikon factory to date. Despite the size and lower spec, I’ve found it actually compliments the mighty D3s (yes, really) as a second body quite well and I’ve enjoyed shooting with it not only at home in the UK but as far afield as the freezing valleys of Yellowstone National Park in winter. And, with the exception of a couple of small points, this is certainly a very good camera indeed for those of you looking for the advantages of a crop sensor when shooting with telephoto lenses (I’m looking at you wildlife photographers). But with such an impressive spec list, I personally feel it will not only suit keen amateurs out there but also deserves to be looked at as a possible addition to the kit bag of even the more serious photographers among you. So what is it that makes this little camera such a hit?

D7000-front.jpg
This relatively small DSLR packs a powerful punch

The D7000 sits above the D90 in the Nikon DSLR line-up, but casting your eyes over the specs, the camera appears more of an upgrade on the D300s. I was very keen to get my hands on this little powerhouse as I’ve used the D300 as a backup to the D3s for some time now and was keen to see how I'd find this latest DX offering. Having shot with it now for several months, what you will read below are my impressions of the camera after real world usage, as to me, that is more important than carefully constructed test shots. The images below taken with the camera can all be clicked on to view at 1000px wide, and have all had levels/contrast/saturation and sharpening but none have had any noise reduction either in camera or in editing.

Size and layout

The first thing that struck me about the D7000 when I got my hands on it, was just how small it felt. This was quickly followed by finding the control layout a little less intuitive than I was expecting. But I then had to remind myself that although this camera is so feature packed, it is still a replacement for a consumer body and not a pro body. Once I familiarised myself with the way this little camera operates I was quite comfortable shooting with it, although it's not quite as ergonomic as some of the other Nikon DSLRs due to it's compact size. The buttons and switches all feel quite firm and smooth to operate though and although there are some differences in control layout it's got a few familiarities with some of it's bigger brothers which is nice. I particularly like the dual rotation of the main command/mode dial, allowing you to switch between all the various shooting shooting modes such as aperture priority, shutter priority and user set modes on the top, and then select the shooting speed, timer etc on the smaller lower command dial, which is locked and can only be rotated via a small button being held down. Whilst some may not like that it is locked in place, it's better than being able to turn it by mistake, which I've done with the top dial on a couple of occasions and missed a couple of shots before realising the settings were off because I'd switched to a different shooting mode.

command-dial.jpg

The buttons on the back are all full size and have the same feel and look to them as the top end cameras and whilst that might sound like an odd thing to comment on, I used to get annoyed with the smaller 'play' and 'delete' buttons on the D300. But they are now gone and everything feels a little more grown up.

It's also a very welcome addition to get dual cards, which can be set up in various ways, from the second card just being overflow, to it recording any video whilst the images go to card one. I've always been a compact flash card user, but the D7000 takes SD cards, so be ready to buy new cards if you currently use compact flash.

Dual-SD-card-slots.jpg

Video

Yep, it's Nikons first DSLR to offer full HD and it offers full autofocus during video capture, although I wouldn’t expect overly ‘useful’ auto focus during video capture as whilst it is much faster than previous generations and there are various modes you can set it to, it’s still a bit hit and miss and I’d much sooner stick to manual focus. The dreaded jelly effect is also still apparent so if you like to walk around doing handheld shots or fast panning so you’ll still have to be careful you don’t make too many sudden or jerky movements. But that said, if you want to film from a tripod and do smooth controlled pans etc, then you’ll be rewarded with nice video clips and glorious full HD resolution. Video is activated with a nice little flick switch to enable live view, then the press of a red record button on that same switch to start recording. My only real problem with the video is that you cannot set the aperture when shooting video in manual mode. You can adjust the shutter speed and ISO, but the aperture can only be changed before you engage live view. Not a deal breaker, but certainly less useful than the if it were real full time manual.

Record-button.jpg

Image Quality

As far as image quality is concerned, this camera wins hands down over the D300 generation. Not only does the D7000 manage to squeeze in an extra 4 megapixels but it does so with far superior noise control under real life shooting conditions. I’ll be honest, I was never a huge fan of the D300 and would only be happy shooting at ISO 800 if I really had to, but otherwise would try to keep it at 400. Well, I’m happy to report that with the D7000 I’ve been mostly happy to shoot up to ISO 1600 and not worry too much even when images that have crept up to ISO 2000 or just over. Of course, my level of acceptance to noise may be higher or lower than yours so you may find that you'll be happy going to ISO 6400 or not happy going above ISO 800. It's all down to individual tastes but what I can tell you is the noise 'looks' better on the D7000 than previous generation DX sensors, looking a little more akin to grain with less chroma noise (coloured specs) appearing so quickly. Of course getting the exposure right will always help with noise control, and that is certainly still the case here compared to the Full Frame bodies. For example if you under expose the shadows too much, they’ll be quite hard to rescue the detail from in the higher ISO ranges, but get the exposure right and you will be rewarded with some really nice shots even as the ISO creeps up. You'll notice from the images in this review that even the ISO 2000 image still retains some nice detail in the Coot, but then if you look at some of the out of focus background on that and other shots you'll see it can look a little rough. But again, this is without noise reduction to give you a better idea of the quality.

DSC3135.jpg
Even at ISO 2000 the D7000 captures some nice detail

One thing I have noticed, is that it seems the 16mp sensor does put lens optics to the test as I've noticed image quality with teleconverters does seem to be a little trickier to obtain as sharp results compared to some of the previous generation Nikons. For example, in the past I've been quite happy shooting wide open with the 1.4x TC on most of my telephotos, but with the D7000 I find myself having to stop down a full stop to start seeing some of the sharpness and detail I'm normally used to when the teleconverter is added. But given how many pixels are being squeezed in to such a small area and that they are recording detail through such a small section of glass something has to be compromised a little somewhere. But that's the downfall of ever increasing resolution. Eventually you're going to hit a point where the sensor out resolves the lens optics.

DSC3085.jpg

Focus

Focus speed is also impressive. On offer is a new focus system with 39 AF points and I've thrown some quite demanding lens combos and lighting situations at it so far but it was still able to, for example, track Red Kites in flight with a 600 VR and a 1.7x Teleconverter (giving me a min aperture of f6.7). Of course focus speed was reduced for initial subject acquisition, however once the subject was within focus, the D7000 was more than capable of tracking the birds as they glided through the air. I’d say the focus is at least on par with the D300s although I have found it a little 'twitchy' at times and eager to switch targets in contrasty situations.

DSC2330.jpg
The D7000 was more than capable of tracking this Red Kite

It's also quicker to lose the ability to find it's subject as the light fades compared to my D3s, but again, it does a fine job up until the point the light is dull enough that your average enthusiastic amateur wouldn't want to be shooting anymore anyway. The only time I’ve so far found myself  not being able to rely on the autofocus was in Yellowstone when we got hit by a blizzard. The snow was so thick that the camera just tried to focus on the snow and would jump back and forth constantly. But that is far from the D7000's fault as any camera would do the same. I simply switched to manual and carried on shooting in the cold, snowy and wet conditions – and without a cover on so it got covered in snow but still happily worked away.

DSC0747.jpg
In the snowy and wet conditions the camera held up well

Battery Life

It's also worth giving a quick nod to the battery life. Even when faced with near -40f cold weather all day, I never once found the battery go below 60% after a days shooting. And in warmer climates, I have gone a couple of days without charging. Of course, this is all subject to how many images you shoot and how much video you film, but what I can say is the battery life has impressed me big time.

DSC1142.jpg
The D7000 battery held up well while shooting in cold weather

The Cons

But it’s not ALL good. There are some problems with this little DX shooter (but, it’s worth remembering, these are problems to me, and my shooting needs – so they may not be problems for you).

The first, is the size. Even with my relatively small hands, I find it a touch on the small side. The grip will help with that, but I didn’t have one, and swinging a large heavy lens around on the front will make things feel quite unbalanced. Oddly, having a 600mm on the front felt better than having a 70-200, but that's because the 600 was on a tripod and the 70-200 was handheld, and that's where the weight difference was really noticeable. Stick a small, lighter lens on the front that isn't made of metal and the weight isn't an issue. Actually, one time the size and weight came in very handy was on the way back from Yellowstone. I had to make space in my hand luggage and the D7000 was just the right size to put in a coat pocket, freeing up valuable space in my rucksack.

The second is the buffer. Shooting 14bit RAW, you can only shoot 10 images before you hit the buffer, and the wait for that buffer to clear can be very slow. I was photographing some mating Red Kites, and missed quite a few shots as the action didn't last long, and once the initial burst had been fired off I was sat waiting for the camera to write the images to the card, and by the time it was done, so were the kites! Switching back to 12bit only increases the buffer by a single RAW, to 11 images, and does reduce the buffer clear time a little but regardless, if you often find yourself photographing action that requires high speed shooting, you may, like me, find the D7000 can sometimes hinder you.

The third. There is no 10 pin terminal for connecting accessories. This may or may not be a problem depending on what you want to connect to the D7000 but I did miss the ability to not be able to hook up either my shutter release or my remote shutter release cables (although, if you have one you can fire it off via an IR remote).

Fourth. The main command/mode dial is easy to turn by mistake and change shooting modes without realising.

They were the only real downsides that I found for the shooting I do. So given that this is NOT a pro body, and I'm in essence comparing it to pro bodies, I think you'll agree it stacks up quite well.

Final Thoughts

I'm impressed. As I said I’ve been using it as a backup to the D3s, and it’s done an admirable job of keeping up in all the conditions I’ve thrown at it. Shooting in -39f, no problem. Shooting in a blizzard, no problem. Shooting in dull light and tracking birds in flight, no problem. You get the idea. There hasn’t been a single 'realistic' situation I've yet faced where I’ve felt really let down by the camera.

The only people who I'd recommend buy this with caution, are those that need high speed shooting. The buffer here won't keep up with high paced sports and certain wildlife situations. But, if you do shoot those types of things and find yourself needing extra reach sometimes, then it's the perfect backup to your main high speed body.

So if you’re looking to upgrade to a new DX sensor body, or you want a backup to a full frame camera, I can’t recommend the D7000 enough. Don't get me wrong, it's not a replacement for the top end of the DSLR market, but it certainly does a good job of trying to keep up with it.

Ratings

Ease of use 7.5/10
Style 8/10
Image quality 8.5/10
Build quality 8/10
Likeability 9/10