Nikon D7000

 On September 15, 2010 Nikon announced a new high-end consumer camera, Nikon D7000 DSLR. I placed my order on October 1, on Amazon.com. The camera started shipping sometime in late October but I did not receive it until middle of December. In early December 2010, we went on an Australia trip but I could not take this camera on that trip. After I received the camera and played with it for a few days, I promptly sold my D90 on Ebay.

So! What's so great about this camera? Well, I would venture to say, this is the best digital SLR camera for any price below $7500 (at that price you can buy a D3X which has a far superior sensor) and so at $1200 (body only) it is a real bargain. It is better in some important ways than Nikon's costlier models like D300s, D700, D3 or D3s. The only camera better than D7000 would be the D3X, but that costs upwards of $7500, so we are comparing apples and oranges. A casual observer would find this odd that Nikon would introduce new, improved, revolutionary or evolutionary features in their mid-range camera before they show up in their high-end camera. But Nikon has been playing this game for a while. By introducing new features in a mid-range camera, Nikon compels the professionals to buy their cameras two times. For example, Nikon D90 introduced the Live View and HD Video feature first, and then it eventually showed up in D300s and other high end cameras. Same type of thing happened with D700 (a notch lower than D3) where new features showed up in that camera before D3s.

Another interesting thing about D7000 is that with it's introduction Nikon has NOT discontinued D90 which it purportedly replaces. Both cameras will continue to ship. This indicates that Nikon wants to create a new category or range which sits between D90 and D300s. However many experts on the internet argue that in practically every department D7000 features trump the D300s and one would be wasting money by going for D300s.

The camera has been out for a while now and many reviews have started popping up all over the internet. Internet sites have started putting out what they call previews, these are not hands-on reviews, but merely a 'paper-analysis' which is not as useful as the actual hands-on review. See a list of hands-on reviews at the bottom of this article.

I don't have the patience, time or the expertise to write such detailed reviews, but wanted to put down things I like about this camera. Following are the reasons I like this camera and why it was worth it to sell my D90 and get D7000:

  • It uses a new 16MP sensor. The only other higher resolution camera in Nikon lineup is D3x (24MP). Resolution matters more when you need to crop a photo. Not so you can get better quality. You can easily print very good quality 24x36" poster from a 12MP photo.
  • Much improved high-ISO performance compared to all other cameras (except D3x). See Ken Rockwell's very informative article on this subject. This is very useful when shooting indoors and you don't want to use flash.
  • Magnesium alloy body (D80, D90 are plastic bodies), provides sturdier build quality and better weather proofing
  • The view finder is much better and brighter and Nikon says coverage is 100%
  • Auto-focus with 39 focus points. I had no problem with 11 focus points on D90, but with more I'm not complaining. I'm noticing that auto-focus is very very fast and accurate with every lens I have. D300s and other high end cameras have 51 focus points, but I don't see much value in having more focus points.
  • New improved photo metering system. With 2016 segment RGB meter, this is Nikon's most advanced metering system. This is one area where Nikon is far superior than Canon (which still uses black & white metering)
  • It is surprisingly quiet for an SLR camera which has quite a few moving parts and on top of that, it also has a quiet mode in which it is super quiet (very useful if you're in a museum or at a live performance taking photos)
  • It's compatible with pretty much all Nikon lenses made since 1986. Lower end cameras like D3100 or D5000 don't have a focus motor, so they won't work with older lenses that don't have their own auto-focus mechanism.
  • Nikon has removed all the 'consumer' modes from the mode dial and consolidated them all in one position called 'Scene'. The presence of this 'Scene' is what pushes this camera into the consumer realm. A novice user can put the mode dial to Scene and then select from some 19 Scene Modes. I never bother with these, I just use 'P' or in some cases 'A' mode and adjust other settings as required.
  • Instant recall 'U1' and 'U2' mode settings. This one feature alone would put this camera in pro range. You can store all the settings for a particular shooting situation in one of the 2 banks and then recall them by just turning the mode dial to U1 or U2. Pretty much every setting except for a few (related to storage folder, file naming, multi-exposure and time lapsed photography) are stored and recalled. I have set the U1 setting for outdoors/landscape/stills photography with Auto ISO and minimum shutter speed set to 1/30 and max ISO set to 6400. My U2 setting is for shooting things that move: children, people, cars etc. with 1/125 shutter speed and pretty much all the same settings as U1 except for white balance and picture control. You can also store a complete set of settings on your SD card and load them later, so effectively you have unlimited set of settings at your disposal that you can quickly load.
  • Two SD card slots! That is also a pro feature. You can configure these two slots in many different ways: set them up as primary and backup (parallel recording), overflow mode (start with slot 1 and the go to slot 2 when slot 1 SD card is full), use slot 1 for photos and slot 2 for videos, or use slot 1 for RAW and slot 2 for JPEG when you use RAW+JPEG mode (my preference).
  • Its light weight compared to pro cameras. I have played with D300s, D700 which I would consider to be in my price range. But they're too big and heavy for my small hands. D7000 is about same size and weight as D80 or D90.
  • It supports infrared remote (Nikon ML-L3) that costs just $16. It has infrared sensor in front and back. On pro cameras you need expensive accessories for remote triggers.
  • View finder now shows ISO reading (in Auto ISO mode) along with flashing 'Auto ISO'. In D80, D90 it shows buffer capacity. In D7000 you can still see buffer capacity when you press the shutter button half way (in place of ISO reading). This was my pet peeve of D90. I need to know what I ISO I'm shooting at when framing a shot. Thanks Nikon!
  • 'Play' and 'Delete' button placement feels right. In D80/D90 play and menu button are switched.
  • Improved Live View auto-focus speed. It's still not comparable to video camera auto-focus, but much better now.
  • Better Live View button (actually a lever now, instead of a button) compared to D90
  • Much better battery life. Nikon claims ~1000 shots, but people on internet have estimates that go much higher than that. For example, Ken Rockwell claims 1500-2000 shots in his D7000 review.

And here are some reasons I like the Nikon cameras in general which also applies to D7000 of course

  • Adaptive Dynamic Range (ADR), Nikon's marketing name is 'Adaptive D-Lighting'. It helps enhance the dynamic range of the photos by identifying the highlights that will be lost and control them by shooting (or probably sampling) at lower stops and then recovering shadow details. All this happens automatically. There are 5 different levels you can apply: Off, Low, Normal, High, Extra High, or use the Auto setting and let the camera decide. I use 'Auto' and adjust as required in the RAW file on my computer.
  • Picture Control - In the film world this would be equivalent to using different films (not just ISO, but other characteristics like Color, saturation, texture etc.). Since now we're in digital realm, we have even more settings and levers to tweak. Picture control allows you to give a particular 'look' to your photos. For example, for landscape and nature photos I use Vivid+3 setting but for portraits I use either Standard or Portrait picture control where colors are not as saturated, sharpness applied is moderate and lower contrast than in Vivid mode.
  • Much better ergonomics. 'Info' button especially is absolutely wonderful. It shows you all your camera settings at a glance, and also allows you to quickly change some of these settings. I feel much better shooting with Nikon, the camera doesn't come in the way of taking photos.
  • Auto ISO: This is the best feature of Nikon digital SLR cameras. It allows you to set a range of ISOs that will be automatically used and also the minimum shutter speed that can be used. The camera does the rest. The minimum shutter speed is important for sharp pictures. It essentially tells the camera, that if there is not enough light, first try to reduce the shutter speed (up to a minimum) and if light is still not enough then bump the ISO. Shutter speed matters in some situations: you need high speed to capture action and low speed to get special effects (like slow shutter for a waterfall picture, to give it that dreamy look).
  • Face Playback: Automatically zoom onto faces. Very important if you take a group photo and want to quickly check if all the faces are sharp and good (no closed eyes, frowns on faces, not looking straight at the lens etc.).
  • Wireless flash system with built-in command mode in the in-camera flash (only very. This is a rare gem for which with any other system you'll have to spend extra money.

And here are more things that I really don't care about much but blogs, experts and reviewers rave about:

  • Fast 6 fps shooting mode. I don't use it that often. My interests usually are landscapes, portraits, and macro shots. But it's useful when objects are moving and you want to take quick shots.
  • Two types of white balance modes. I don't bother with these though. I shoot raw and then adjust white balance as required on my computer.
  • Dedicated AF mode switch that you can reach without having to take your eyes off the finder. This is indeed critical for you if you shoot all day and depend on it. For a hobbyist shooter like me, the D90 AF mode switch was OK too.
  • 1080p movies. Yes you can shoot great HD movies on the SLR cameras these days. The lenses you usually use in SLR cameras give much better dramatic movie like effect (because they can throw the background out of focus much better than the dinky lenses you find on consumer video cameras), they are much higher optical quality than consumer video cameras hence much sharper image with less distortion. In fact some professionals have started using DSLRs for shooting videos in place of professional video cameras in some situations. Videos is not something that interests me, so I don't bother. It's too complicated and needs much more time fiddling/editing on computer; I don't have patience for that.

 Recommendations

If you're a hobbyist photographer like me, this is the camera to get if it fits your budget. What lenses should you get? Being a prosumer camera, D7000 is also available as a kit with a 18-105mm VR lens. This is a good lens, but not a good deal for the price (even discounted price in the kit). For just ~$250 more you can get a much more capable 18-200mm VR, so why bother? Lenses are far more important than the camera for good picture quality.

I have these 4 lenses:

  • Nikon 35mm f/2.0D I bought this lens back in 2006, when the newer and DX specific Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX was not available yet. If I were buying today, I would certainly get the DX lens. For ~$200 it s a bargain. Don't get me wrong this 35mm is not bad at all, but it's older lens with mechanical auto-focus which is obviously slower. See a few samples.
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8D Every Nikon camera owner should have this lens. It goes for ~$110, and has the best optical quality of any Nikon lens. On a DX camera this is equivalent to a 75mm angle of view, so works more like a portrait lens. I have shot quite a few good photos with this lens. See a few samples.
  • Nikon 10-24mm DX This is a specialty lens. It takes special skill to be able to use a wide angle lens like this. I'm still learning and experimenting. This lens doesn't have VR, so it's not useful in low light. It needs brightly lit scenes. The sharpness of this lens is extraordinary, even in corners. Most useful for shooting landscape scenes. See a few samples
  • Nikon 18-200mm VR DX This lens stays on my camera most of the time. It's a do everything lens with very good optical quality. It also has VR which helps in low light situations. It is very sharp and auto-focus is very fast. It is a bit heavy, so sometimes I just remove this and use my 35mm (especially during low light situations). See a few samples.

If you're on a budget, just get 35mm f/1.8 DX and forget the rest. Sure, you'll have to move/walk a lot when composing photos with this lens, but you won't have to compromise on optical quality and worry about indoors/low light situations.

If you want only one lens that can do everything and don't mind the weight get the Nikon 18-200mm VR. You'll have to use a flash when indoors even with the high ISO capabilities of this camera, because this is a very slow lens.

If you're like me and like to experiment with many different things and gadgets, start with 35mm f/1.8 DX lens and build up your lens collection as you go. That's what I did. I now have the above four lenses but I started with only the 35mm and 50mm lenses. Then I bought the 24-120mm VR lens. It was not as high quality as other Nikon lenses so I got rid of before I got the 18-200mm VR. Then last I got the 10-24mm DX lens recently.

Another interesting although a bit expensive 3 lens combo would be to get the Nikon 10-24mm DX and Nikon 28-300mm VR and then use the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX for low light situations. That would come out to be a total of ~$2000 worth of lenses but a very formidable team I would say. Nikon 28-300 is a full frame lens that is equivalent to a Nikon 18-200mm VR in the DX world. It's been getting rave reviews just like the 18-200mm VR.

If you have a good fast lens like 35mm f/1.8 DX you may not need flash at all in most situations. But I like to have that convenience. I own the SB-600 flash. It can also be used in Wireless mode, which comes in handy if you want to add backlight in a portrait or use flash coming from a different angle. If weight is an issue you can go with the much cheaper SB-400, but you'll lose the wireless capabilities for carrying convenience.

I also have th ML-L3 infrared remote that sits in its pouch which hangs by the neck strap. It comes in handy when you want to shoot a self portrait, a group photo or even when you are using your camera on a tripod. The camera has infrared receiver in both front and back, so using the remote from pretty much any angle is easy.

Sample Images

[G2:35556][G2:35578][G2:35587][G2:35597][G2:35612]

Links

Ken Rockwell's review
In-depth review by DPReview
Robert Bromfeld review
Review on Photography blog
Photoradar review
CNET review

Videos
Camera Labs review Youtube: DigitalRev hands on

 

Youtube: Peter Gregg review

 

Youtube: QQQQCon hands on

 

Yourube: Cameralabs hands on