Nikon D7000 £1099
21st Dec 2011 | 13:12
Is this Nikon D90 replacement camera worthy of the crown?
As it has 16.2 million pixels on its CMOS sensor the Nikon D7000 has a higher resolution than all other Nikon APS-C (DX) format DSLRs. In fact it is only trumped in this respect by the top-end Nikon D3X, which has 24.5 million pixels on its full-frame (FX) sensor. However, the D7000 is aimed at enthusiast photographers and sits between the 12.3-million-pixel Nikon D300S and D90 in the DSLR line-up, with a list price of £1099.99.
Though it has quite a bit in common with the Nikon D90, the control layout is very similar, the D7000's construction is closer to the Nikon D300S's as both cameras have a magnesium alloy body shell rather than the polycarbonate version of the D90.
In some ways the Nikon D7000's specification surpasses that of the D300S, not least in pixel count. In addition, the Nikon D7000 is only the second Nikon DSLR to feature Full HD video technology, the D31000 was the first, and it has a more advanced metering system than any other Nikon DSLR as it uses a 2,016 pixel sensor.
There's also a new 39-point AF system that sits comfortably between the 11-point and 51-point systems found in the Nikon D90 and D300S respectively.
Nikon has also taken a look at how some of the features we now expect from a DSLR are integrated into the camera and there are a few control changes that are designed to make the Nikon D7000 more straightforward to use.
It all adds up to a pretty interesting offering for enthusiasts, but has Nikon taken a step too far out of its comfort zone with a 16.2 million pixel sensor?
Build quality and handling
Although the D90 isn't a flimsy camera, the D7000 feels a little tougher in the hand, perhaps courtesy of its magnesium alloy body shell and the heftier textured rubber at its key grip points.
With the index finger on the shutter release button, the main grip is just tall enough to accommodate the remaining three right-hand fingers of those with fairly small hands. Photographers with more shovel-like mitts will find that their little finger slips naturally under the camera body.
While the control arrangement on the D7000 is at first glance very similar to the D90's, there are a few subtle changes that make quite a difference to the handling. One of the most significant is the change in the way that the AF and AF point selection modes are selected.
This has been brought about by the introduction of the AF mode button at the centre of the focus mode selector switch, which sits at approximately the 4 o'clock point by the lens mount (as you look at the front of the camera).
Instead of using a switch like on the D300S to set the AF mode (Single point, Dynamic are or Auto Area) and dipping into the menu to set the number of AF points to use in continuous AF mode or to choose 3D-tracking mode, these options can now be selected by pressing the AF mode button while rotating the sub-command dial beneath the shutter release button on the front of the camera.
Though this is a two-handed operation, it can be carried out with the camera held to the eye as the various options are displayed in the viewfinder as well as the top LCD screen. It's a much slicker integration of the AF modes than with other Nikon DSLRs and we expect to it appear in future models.
Like the D3100, the D7000 has a dedicated live view switch around a video activation button to the left of the natural thumb resting place. The live view control is especially useful as it speeds up the process of composing images on screen and is more intuitive to use than the drive mode dial option found on earlier Nikon D-SLRs.
Photographers upgrading from a D3100 or a D90 will find the handling changes of the D7000 a fairly logical progression. Those considering buying a D7000 as a second body to accompany their D300 or D300S, however, may find that it takes a little bit more getting used to with the loss of the AF and metering mode switches.
While we like the new AF system operation, we prefer having a switch to set the metering mode rather than top-plate mounted button that must be used in conjunction with the main command dial.
Controls and features
It is more than likely that the 16.2 million pixel sensor inside the D7000 is the same as, or very similar to the one in Sony's Alpha 55. This pixel count marks a significant departure for Nikon as previously the company was adamant that 12 million pixels are enough for any DX format camera.
Though increasing the pixel count can boost detail capture, smaller photodiodes usually generate a weaker signal that requires greater amplification both of which can result in more image noise. It will be interesting to examine the D7000's images.
Switching from 51-AF points in the D300S to the 39-points of the D7000 is less significant than the 12 point difference might suggest. As with other Nikon DSLRs, there are four AF point selection modes; Single-point, Auto-area, Dynamic-area and Dynamic-area (3D-tracking). In Single-servo AF the Single-point mode is preferable as the user is in able to specify which AF is used.
On most occasions when outdoors in daylight and with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR (included in the single lens kit) mounted, the Nikon D7000 snaps the subject into sharp focus quickly. It starts to struggle when light levels drop a little or the subject lacks contrast though – especially if the peripheral AF points are selected.
Things improve considerably, however, if a faster optic such as the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G ED is mounted. With this lens in place the D7000 is able to focus on the subject even in very low light. But, there is a difference in price of almost £1,000 between the two optics. Nevertheless, using the better during part of the test proves that the D7000's AF system is extremely capable.
One of the most interesting features of the Nikon D7000 is its full-time autofocus (AF-F) mode that operates when images are composed on the LCD screen or during video shooting. In this mode the camera attempts to focus the lens continuously without any button pressing.
As this relies on the camera's contrast detection system, which operates when the mirror is lifted to expose the sensor, it becomes quite hesitant and indecisive in low light. However, in decent light, especially outdoors, it is impressive how quickly the camera pulls the subject under the AF selection box into focus as it moves around. It's not much good for shooting sport, but it could be very useful when videoing family days out and the like. The focus adjustment is generally smooth, but as light levels fall backwards and forwards adjustment becomes evident.
In Continuous-servo mode, the Nikon D7000 user selects the initial AF point and as the subject moves, the cameras adjusts the focus and, if necessary, selects different AF points to follow the target and keep it sharp.
The D7000's Multi-CAM 4800DX focus module allows the user to set the number of AF points that are used in the Dynamic Area tracking process to 9, 21 or 39. It can be helpful to restrict the number of points when the subject is moving within a small section of the image frame, but a greater number of points may be helpful with more mobile subjects, especially if they are isolated. If the subject is a distinctly different colour from its surroundings, the Nikon D7000's 3D tracking option, which uses the camera's Scene Recognition System and colour information is often a good choice.
One disappointment with the Nikon D7000 is that its LCD screen is fixed rather than articulated. As things stand the Nikon D5100 is the only current Nikon DSLR to feature a flip-out monitor and is surprising this feature has not appeared higher up the company's DSLR line-up. On a more positive note, the screen image is made up from 921,000 dots and there's enough detail visible to allow very precise manual focusing when the magnified views are employed.
When shooting with the camera to the eye, it's nice to know that the images won't have too many surprises around the edges as the viewfinder provides a 100% field of view. Helpfully, the digital level, which can be activated via the function button (set via custom function F3) remains visible in the viewfinder even as the shutter release button is depressed. It can also be displayed on the LCD screen, so there's no excuse for wonky horizons.
Having two SD card slots is also handy as in addition to expending the camera's capacity, it allows different file types to be saved to a different card if desired. However, given the relatively low price of high capacity memory cards, this isn't quite the killer feature it once might have been
Users of older Nikon DSLRs may be disappointed to learn that the D7000 uses the new EN-EL15 battery. Although this has improved life, it has a new shape and is not interchangeable with older batteries.
It is apparent from the images we shot during this test that the D7000's matrix metering system isn't easily fooled into under exposure by bright areas in the scene. In fact, with the Active D-Lighting (AD-L) in its default, Normal, setting, there is an occasional tendency towards slight over exposure.
This isn't usually at the expense of the highlights, but the midtones can sometime benefit from a little darkening post capture. Generally though, the 2,016 pixel matrix metering system does a pretty good job.
As we might expect, images taken at the highest (Extra High) AD-L setting have more visible detail in the shadows than those taken with in the lowest (Low) setting (it is also possible to turn AD-L off). This is despite the fact that our tests reveal the camera sets a one stop longer exposure when the Low option is selected than when Extra High is used.
The exposure difference may vary with the scene, but we found using the higher AD-L values generally reduces the shutter speed – rather counter intuitive. This means that using AD-L has an impact on the D7000's raw files as well as the JPEGs.
In the past Nikon's auto white balance system has been accused of being too efficient and rendering warm light too neutral. Nikon has countered this some extent with the Nikon D7000 by giving it two AWB modes, one of which is specifically designed to retain some of the colour in warmer lighting.
It does a reasonably good job, but the best results are still obtained by shooting raw images to ensure the maximum amount of data is captured for post capture adjustment. For the majority of shooting situations the Standard Picture Control option is a good choice, but it can make Caucasian skins tones a bit too peachy/pink and contrasty and we found it's better to use the Neutral option with portrait shoots.
Nikon's D3S currently leads the field for high sensitivity noise control, managing to produce impressively detailed images even in very low light. The Nikon D7000 has a smaller, more densely packed sensor so we can't expect quite the same standard, but the results at the highest sensitivity settings are still impressive.
There is very little chroma noise in images taken at the highest native sensitivity setting (ISO 6400) when the noise reduction in its default 'Normal' setting. This has a slight softening effect on the images and better results are obtained at more every day sensitivity settings (ISO 400-800) if the noise reduction is turned off.
Nikon supplies View NX2 with the D7000 and this doesn't afford any control over the noise reduction that is applied to raw files. Users who want to take control over this post capture have a choice of waiting for third part software manufacturers to update their raw processing software, or investing in Nikon Capture NX2 for around £170. It's worth bearing that in mind when deciding your budget and which camera to buy.
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon D7000, we've shot our resolution chart with the Sigma f/1.4 50mm lens mounted.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the 24 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 12800, score: 14 (see full image)
ISO 25600, score:14 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 12800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 25600, score: 16 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
TIFF images (after conversion for raw) from the D7000 are on par with those from the Sony Alpha 580, Pentax K-5 and Canon EOS 60D. At the lower end of the sensitivity scale up to ISO 1600 the Nikon D7000 shows a better signal to noise ratio result than the other cameras.
TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Nikon D7000 capture a wide tonal range at sensitivities upto ISO 1600, beating the Sony Alpha 580, Pentax K-5 and Canon EOS 60D. However as the sensitivity increases the dynamic range results drop dramatically from ISO 3200.
Nikon D7000 V D90 and Canon EOS 60D
Larger images, better auto focusing, improved video technology with full-time AF, an electronic level, a viewfinder that provides a 100% field of view and revised handling makes the Nikon D7000 a compelling proposition for the D90 user, especially those who want to shoot more movies.
Keen sports photographers will also appreciate the jump to 6fps maximum continuous shooting rate. So how does the Nikon D7000 measure up against the Nikon D90?
Nikon D7000 = 0.12EV
Nikon D90 = 0.27EV
Canon EOS 60D = 0.18EV
In this lab test the D7000 delivered the most accurate results.
Nikon D7000= 111%
Nikon D90 = 112.2%
Canon EOS 60D = 110.8%
Closest to 100% is best, so the D7000 beats the D90 for colour accuracy, but is itself beaten by the Canon EOS 60D.
The figures here reveal the impact of the developments that took place during the two years between the Nikon D90 and D7000 coming to market. The newer camera beats its forebear on both counts.
My best shot with the Nikon D7000: 1/40sec at f/11, ISO 100 (Click to view full size image)
Active D-Lighting (ADL) Test
ADL Off (Click to view full size image)
ADLNormal (Click to view full size image)
ADLLow (Click to view full size image)
ADLHigh (Click to view full size image)
ADLExtraHigh (Click to view full size image)
Raw vs JPEG Test
Jpeg: 'normal' high ISO noise reduction, 1/200sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400 (Click to view full size image)
Raw: adjusted for best noise & detail ratio, 1/200sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400 (Click to view full size image)
1/60sec at f/4, ISO 100 (Click to view full size image)
Our tests reveal that the Nikon D7000 is an excellent camera that is capable of capturing a high level of detail across the full sensitivity range. However, getting the best from it requires a little bit more than is provided in the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR kit box.
While this lens offers a versatile effective focal length range of 27-157.5mm it hampers the camera's AF system in less than ideal lighting conditions. With a professional-level lens mounted the D7000 proves itself to have an excellent AF system capable of accurate results in very difficult situations.
An ever expanding feature set makes greater demands on a cameras menu and control systems. Nikon has obviously spent some time thinking about this and the D7000 is easy to use.
With the right lens the revised AF system is superb, and the way its more advanced features have been integrated into it mean they are far more likely to be used by the photographer. It's a shame the LCD screen isn't articulated though.
While View NX2 is an improvement on Nikon's earlier software options it doesn't really offer the enthusiast enough control and many will be eagerly awaiting Adobe's Camera Raw update to allow greater control over noise reduction, especially at the lower sensitivity settings.