Nikon's latest DSLR for the serious amateur packs a lot of punch for the price.
WHEN the Nikon D7000 was announced a little while back, this DSLR caused quite a buzz online.
The reason for this is that this DSLR packs in 16-megapixels, features a 1080p movie mode and tons of other functions for about the same price as its predecessor, the D90.
So it all looks good on paper, at least, but how does it perform? Read on to find out.
Look and feel
Out of the box, the D7000 doesn't look all that different from the D90 - it's about the same size and has the same design cues on the front.
Pick it up, however, and you'll feel the difference - apart from feeling more solid, the grip is covered in real rubber instead of a rubber-like finish on the D90.
As far as weight is concerned, the D7000 is only 80gm heavier than the D90, so it's not a big change in this area.
On the back, however, you can see a great number of changes. The most obvious of which is a combination live view and video record switch.
Flip the switch and you engage live view mode, while a single press of the orange button in the centre will start video recording.
Having this dedicated controls for live view and video recording makes it very, very intuitive to use.
The other big change is the drive mode - instead of a single button which changes the drive options in the menu, the D7000 now has a dedicated wheel under the shooting mode dial to switch drive modes.
Rotating this drive mode wheel gives Single Shot, Continuous High speed shooting (up to 6fps) , Continuous Low, Self timer, remote control, "Q" (for Quiet mode) and a Mirror Lockup function for minimising vibration due to mirror slap.
This drive mode wheel is similar to the ones found on Nikon's high-end cameras and though it is a bit fiddly to use at first, it actually allows you to quickly see what drive mode you are in at a glance.
The D7000's other big surprise is that it has a dual-SD card slot which supports the latest high-capacity SDXC standard.
What the D7000 does with these two slots is pretty interesting. Not only does the camera allow you to switch over to the second card when the first card is full, but you can also choose to, say, record JPEGs in one while recording RAW into the other, or store photos in one card and videos in the other, or even make a simultaneous backup of the first card as you are shooting.
In fact, if you are shooting with only one card and later want to make a backup copy of the entire card into a second SD card, you can do so.
This isn't new for a Nikon camera - the dual-slot D3S and D3X also give you these options, but the D7000 is the first consumer grade Nikon DSLR to offer this.
Viewfinder and autofocus
Like the rest of the D7000, the viewfinder has undergone a major upgrade from the D90 -now with 100% coverage and a glass pentaprism (instead of the pentamirror setup of the D90), the optical viewfinder is brighter than before.
In terms of autofocus, the D7000 also features a new 39-point autofocus sensor. In use, autofocus was extremely fast and noticeably faster than my D200 and the D90 using the same lenses.
While having 39 autofocus points may be a lot fewer than the 51 autofocus points of the higher-end Nikon DSLRs, I found the coverage to be about the same and you don't really notice that there are fewer AF points in practice.
Nikon has also introduced a new metering sensor with the D7000. It's still an RGB sensor which recognises colour like on every other Nikon DSLR, but the company has basically doubled the pixel count from 1005-pixels to a 2016-pixels.
In theory, this means a lot more accurate exposures, though you'll likely not see much of a difference in practice.
Apart from compatibility with motorised Nikon lenses, the D7000 also has a built-in motor in the body which can drive older, non-motorised Nikon autofocus lenses.
The D7000 falters a bit here - the built-in autofocus motor is slower than on the D300s and its more expensive siblings, which means screw-drive Nikon autofocus lenses will tend to focus quite a bit slower than Nikon lenses with built-in motors.
If you have a Nikon lens older than that, the D7000, like its more expensive siblings, can accept and meter with manual focus Nikon lenses as long as you enter its focal length into the camera's settings.
While the AF/Manual focus switch is still located down near the bottom of the camera next to the lensmount, the switch has also gained a little button. Pressing this button and rolling one of the two input dials will allow you to choose the autofocus pattern and the focus mode (AF-A, AF-S or AF-C).
AF-S is of course single servo autofocus - focus once and lock - while AF-C will continuously focus on whatever you're pointing at, while AF-A will automatically switch between AF-S and AF-C depending on whether it thinks your subject is moving or not.
In live view mode, Nikon has vastly improved the image sensor-based contrast detect AF on the D7000. It's noticeably faster than the D90 when focusing on subjects.
While a lot faster, the D7000's contrast detect autofocus still tends to hunt a bit especially in low light, so it's still not nearly fast enough for continuously focusing during video recording.
It also has face-detect autofocus in live view mode, which is actually really useful for video recording.
When the D90 was released, it was officially the first DSLR to offer HD video recording although it was only 720p with mono audio and there wasn't much in terms of manual control.
Well, video recording has really moved on since then, and the D7000 now offers 1080p video recording at 24fps with the option to record in stereo if you jack in an external stereo microphone into the 3.5mm stereo port on the side of the camera.
If you're serious about shooting video, you should really look into buying an external microphone - like most cameras with video recording, shooting using the camera's internal microphone also captures the whirring sound of the autofocus motor.
The D7000 even features some very basic video editing in-camera. In the editing menu, you'll get the option to trim a video shorter by cutting off a specified part of the beginning or end of the video.
It's a bit clunky to use in practice but it is there and may be useful if you don't want to mess around with video editing software on the PC.
As far as video quality goes, all I can say is that video quality was phenomenal - I shot some really high-quality 1080p video with the camera.
In fact, video quality was noticeably better than the D90, even when shot at 720p, thanks to the image sensor's better performance in low-light situations and better auto white balance.
Some users have reported hotspots or bright spots when recording video in low-light. However, in the sample I tested, I only noticed two hotspots when shooting video in low light situations.
Nevertheless, the problem seems to be pervasive enough that Nikon is going to release a firmware update that will fix it.
As mentioned before, you can autofocus while recording video and is particularly useful when you turn face-detect autofocus on - when it works, it's fast, but about 50% of the time, it will fail and start hunting.
Since this is its core functionality, the D7000 doesn't disappoint when it comes to taking photos.
Paired with a good lens, the D7000 is capable of some astonishingly detailed shots, as some of the photos here will attest.
In use, I found the D7000 produced a higher number of accurately exposed shots than on some Nikon DSLRs I've tried, but when it does get things wrong, there's a slight tendency towards overexposure.
ISO performance is excellent, with noise levels that are almost non-existent from ISO 100 to 800, and a hint of noise at 1,600.
At the still-usable ISO 3,200, noise is visible and the noise reduction goes into high gear, but even in this respect, Nikon has kept chroma noise (or colour noise) to a minimum while still retaining detail where it matters.
By the time you reach ISO 6,400, of course, noise is quite evident and at the Hi1 (equivalent to ISO 12,800) and Hi2 (ISO 25,600) boost settings, noise is really heavy and there is a slight colour shift towards blue.
In an actual use scenario, I wouldn't hesitate to shoot from ISO 100 to 1,600 even for important events and perhaps ISO 3,200 but only when absolutely necessary.
If you'd like to check out the noise comparison shots for yourself, check out bit.ly/gNppXq for the full-size photos.
The new 6fps capable shutter deserves a special mention here - unlike the frankly clunky "ka-thunk" of my D200, the D7000 has a light, quiet and very low vibration shutter.
By choosing the Q mode, you can lower the noise level a bit by separating the shutter sound and the mirror return sound.
In this mode, depressing the shutter release will flip up the mirror and shoot a photo, but the mirror will only return when you let the shutter release go.
While not new on a Nikon DSLR, Active D-Lighting is also worth mentioning. When turned on, this mode tries to increase the visible dynamic range by exposing for the highlights and then adjusting the tonal curve so that you effectively get an exposure for dark areas and bright areas at the same time.
Active D-Lighting is handy for bringing out a lot more detail that would otherwise be overexposed in tricky backlit situations.
There are actually two D-Lighting modes, one which works when you are shooting, and the other works for shots you've already taken. Needless to say, D-Lighting works better when its turned on during shooting.
Another feature I really like that's trickled down from the high-end models is the Virtual Horizon - in Live View mode, you can turn on the Virtual Horizon (by pressing the Info button a few times) display to help keep your camera level.
The Virtual Horizon is also available in the viewfinder if you set the FN button to turn it on, in which case, the exposure compensation bar inside the viewfinder will act as the level meter.
Generally, battery life was excellent - I've done some heavy shooting, taking several hundred shots over the course of three days before the battery started running low.
The battery drains faster if you shoot a lot of video or use the live view a lot, but even then, you can easily go through a day of heavy video shooting before the battery on the D7000 runs critical.
Of course, since the D7000 isn't quite up to the level of a pro-level camera, there are some things missing.
For one thing, there are no dedicated buttons for white balance, ISO, and picture quality - these buttons, like on the D90/D80 etc, are shared by the same buttons that are used for zoom and lock.
One other feature missing is that on the pro-level cameras, you can set the OK button in the middle of the directional pad to automatically zoom in to your captured image in playback mode.
Surprisingly, that's about all that's missing in the D7000 - most of the features, including an intervalometer that automatically takes shots at predetermined intervals, is there too.
The D7000 is a great camera, not because it takes great photos (it does) and not because it's feature-packed (it is), but because it packs in so much for such a reasonable price.
With this DSLR, Nikon has brought many high-end features down to the D7000, effectively moving the camera up a couple of notches in quality and performance.
In fact, apart from a couple of differences, the D7000 is actually more feature-packed and has better performance than the semi-pro D300S, and for a vastly lower price.
Of course, the company is surely set to introduce new high-end semi-pro DSLR models that will address this imbalance.
Highly recommended if you're a serious hobbyist.
Pros: Fast shooting speeds; great picture quality; 1080p video recordingat 24fps; good high ISO performance; fast autofocus with the new 39-point AF sensor.
Cons: AF during live view is faster but still not fast and positive enough for video; no 30fps or higher 1080p video recording.
Check out our video of the D7000 at youtu.be/vwBZgd6VdTw.
SENSOR: 16.2-megapixels (4928 x 3264-pixels)
VIEWFINDER: 3.0in TFT LCD (921,000-pixels)
SHUTTER SPEED: 30sec 1/8,000sec, plus B
ISO RANGE: 100 to 6,400 (25,600 in ISO boost mode)
SHOOTING MODES: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Manual, Auto, Scene modes
VIDEO MODE FORMAT: MOV, H.264
BATTERY: 19000mAh Lithium-ion battery
STORAGE: Dual SDXC card slots
INTERFACE: USB 2.0, HDMI, Video-out, GPS input
OTHER FEATURES: Live view with face detect AF
DIMENSIONS (W X H X D): 132 x 105 x 77 mm
WEIGHT: 780g (with battery)
PRICE: RM4,398 (body only), RM4,998 (with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR kit lens)
Review unit courtesy of Nikon (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, (03) 7809-3688