Nikon D7000 Gordon Laing, December 2010
 
   
 

Nikon D7000 verdict

The D7000 is a powerful and feature-packed DSLR which once again illustrates Nikon's canny ability to satisfy the desires of both gadget fanatics and traditional photographers. Unlike some rivals which appear to concentrate on the latest must-have technologies, Nikon never loses sight of what traditional photographers want. So along with 1080p movies, a microphone input, dual memory card slots and autofocusing while filming, the D7000 also features faster continuous shooting, greater viewfinder coverage, more sophisticated metering, and above average construction for its class. There's something for everyone here.

In theory this makes the D7000 one of the most powerful mid-range DSLRs on the market, and one which in some respects even treads on the toes of semi-pro models, including Nikon's own D300s. It is however important to note the D7000 is also one of the most expensive mid-range DSLRs around. Nikon's clearly applied its previous strategy for the D90 here, offering a step-up in features and performance for a slightly higher asking price.

Unlike the D90 which tried to upsell buyers from entry-level models though, the D7000 is aiming higher, offering a taste of semi-pro performance without the complexity, weight or sheer cost of a true semi-pro model. It's undoubtedly an impressive specification, but the questions are whether it's worth spending the extra and crucially just how close do those key specifications come to a true semi-pro body in practice? As we found, a number of the D7000's key features came with caveats.

   
 

 




We'll start with image quality. Under the right conditions, the D7000's 16 Megapixel sensor can deliver excellent results. Nikon's image processing delivered very detailed and natural-looking images in our tests throughout its sensitivity range. Certainly in terms of real-life detail, there was little to no advantage to the higher resolution 18 Megapixel sensor on Canon's EOS 60D, at least when both cameras were equipped with their respective kit lenses. The D7000 also enjoyed an edge at higher sensitivities.

But despite the D7000's more sophisticated 2016 pixel metering sensor, we found it frequently over-exposed our test compositions, in particular those taken under very bright conditions. To be fair we've also experienced this with earlier Nikon DSLRs, and found it no worse than the D90 in this regard, but it is frustrating to commonly require as much as -1EV of compensation to prevent highlights from clipping. You can see an example of this on our first results page where both the D7000 and D90 over-exposed our standard outdoor test scene. Revealingly the exposure with -1EV of compensation applied was exactly what the Canon EOS 60D metered by default just moments later. So anyone shooting in bright conditions beware. There may be some tonal headroom available in the D7000's RAW files, but to avoid saturation on Sunny days, you'll need to apply some negative compensation.

 
 
 




 
 
 

The new 39-point AF system is an impressive upgrade over the earlier D90, and in our tests could easily track erratic-moving subjects. For more predictable subjects, switching to the dynamic 21 or 9-point options delivered very responsive and successful results even with fast motion. Even though only nine of the 39 AF points employed cross-type sensors (thereby matching the nine cross-types on the EOS 60D), the sheer density of AF points on the D7000 ensured the subject was almost always covered.

Unfortunately though, all was not well with our D7000's focusing. Our initial test images looked a little soft, and upon further investigation, our sample kit was suffering from back-focusing. Luckily for the D7000, Nikon includes AF Fine Tune facilities which allow you to correct for front or back focusing on up to 12 lenses, and applying a value of -8 for the supplied kit lens greatly improved our results. Note all of the images on our results pages were taken in Live View with contrast-based focusing, which eliminates any calibration errors, but all those in our Gallery were taken with the viewfinder and phase-change AF system.

While testing the D7000 we read reports from a number of early adopters who's D7000's also suffered from pronounced back-focusing. It's too early to tell if it's an issue which faces all D7000 samples, or just a handful of early ones, but if yours is delivering images taken through the viewfinder which look a little softer than expected, we'd recommend AF Fine Tuning your system. It's ironic that when the D7000 and EOS 60D's specifications were announced, the latter was knocked for not having AF Micro-adjustment, yet judging from early reports it's the former which really seems to need it.

Moving onto continuous shooting, Nikon's boosted the 4.5fps rate of the earlier D90 to an impressive 6fps on the D7000, which also neatly allows it to leapfrog the 5.3fps of the Canon EOS 60D. We tested the D7000 at every single one of its quality settings, including 12 and 14 bit RAW with lossy or lossless compression, along with recording duplicate images to dual memory cards, or RAW files to one and JPEGs to the other. During these tests one thing remained consistent: the D7000 delivered exactly 6fps, thereby out-pacing its predecessor and major rival. Impressively the D7000 could even maintain 6fps when shooting 14 bit RAW files, unlike the D300s which plummeted to around 2.5fps.

But any initial excitement over the speed can quickly turn to frustration in the field as you bump up against the limits of the buffer. Set the D7000 (not unreasonably) to Large Fine JPEG with optimal quality and you could find the buffer filling after just 15 to 20 shots. Switch to any of the RAW modes and it drops to around ten shots. At 6fps, this would cover you for around 3 or 1.5 seconds worth of action respectively before the camera decelerates to around 1fps. To shoot for more than 20 frames at 6fps, you'll need to reduce the quality, such as selecting Large Normal JPEG, optimised for size; but even then we only managed to fire-off around 30 shots with a Class 10 card. To be fair, Nikon doesn't hide the fact the D7000's buffer isn't particularly big and quotes burst figures both in the back of the manual and also on the camera's displays as you're shooting, but the limitation may still come as some surprise.

Turning the release dial to Continuous Low and selecting a slower speed can slightly extend the burst depth, but not by a significant degree and besides that's missing the point. Most people quite rightly want to use the maximum speed at the maximum quality - at least for JPEGs. The question then is whether three seconds of coverage at the top speed and JPEG quality is sufficient for your needs. Unfortunately we frequently found the camera stalling around halfway through many action sequences. It's another example where the initial specifications of the D7000 appeared superior to the Canon EOS 60D, yet in reality its rival will happily shoot over 50 Large Fine JPEGs (of similar file size) at a speed that's only fractionally slower, making it more practical in the field.

Moving onto the movie mode, Nikon's completely revamped what was available on the D90, which lest we forget was the model which kick-started video on DSLRs two years earlier. The D7000 represents an upgrade in almost every respect: you can now shoot in 1080p (albeit only at 24fps), the maximum recording time in HD is four times longer at 20 minutes (and with a top rate of 150 Megabytes per minute you'll actually achieve that time before the 4GB file limit too), there's manual control over exposures (although you'll need to fix your aperture before entering Live View), and the microphone input has the potential to greatly improve your audio quality.

For all those new features though, the one that's gathered most attention is the continuous AF capability while filming. While this proved reasonably effective at tracking subjects approaching or receding fairly predictably, it was less successful when used erratically like a typical camcorder. Like the D3100 before it, the D7000's Full-time Servo AF mode searches very audibly and visibly every few seconds while filming, which can prove very distracting. The trouble is traditional DSLRs and their lenses just aren't designed for quick and discreet focusing while filming video, and once the initial novelty of full-time AF has worn off, you'll almost certainly switch the D7000 to manual focus.

   

This eliminates the D7000's key advantage over the EOS 60D when it comes to movies. The Canon offers a fully articulated screen, a choice of frame rates at 1080p, greater manual control during composition, audio level meters and higher bit rates (albeit limiting the maximum HD recording time to 12 minutes per clip). The bottom line is while the D7000 offers considerably better movie capabilities than its predecessor, there's few high-end enthusiasts or professionals who'd choose it over one of Canon's bodies for video alone. And for consumers, Sony's hybrid models like the SLT-A33 deliver far superior continuous autofocusing capabilities.

Moving onto the body itself, the D7000, like all Nikon DSLRs, feels very comfortable and confident in use. The use of magnesium alloy in the upper and rear plates (but not the whole body) also suggests a degree of toughness you won't find on the EOS 60D, although not having dropped or seriously knocked either model while testing we can't confirm which is ultimately stronger. Both models certainly felt equally well-built in our hands and there's aspects where each takes a lead over the other in terms of ergonomics, as discussed in the video. But the bottom line is the D7000 feels a lot more like the D90 than the D300s, and if you're going to be really rough with your camera, we'd recommend going for a true semi-pro model with 100% magnesium alloy construction and full weatherproofing.

Nikon's certainly raised the bar for the viewfinder on a mid-range DSLR though - boasting 100% coverage, there's no surprises when composing with the D7000, as what you see really is what you'll capture. This coverage along with the on-demand LCD alignment grid and AF points which disappear when inactive gives the D7000 a true advantage over the EOS 60D and other mid-range DSLRs, although in terms of magnification it still falls below the latest semi-pro bodies. It is also a little annoying to still have to choose whether to see the ISO or shots remaining in the viewfinder when both should really be visible at all times.

Nikon's seen no reason to change the 3in VGA screen from the D90, and it's certainly very good quality, although the wider panel on the EOS 60D allows its images to fill the area and exploit all the pixels for a slightly more detailed view. Like the EOS 60D, the D7000 now offers a single axis electronic levelling gauge, but Nikon continues to resist implementing a live histogram on a non-pro body - a foolish decision for a camera which regularly over-exposes, and one which looks increasingly odd when Canon implements it on even its cheapest body.

Live View on the D7000 has however been greatly enhanced over the D90 thanks to a much more detailed image when you zoom-in to confirm focus. Where the D90's live image became increasingly fuzzy as you zoomed-in, the D7000's remains pin-sharp right up to the maximum magnification - this significantly aids precision focusing. Again this is something Canon has long-offered on its Live View implementation, but it's great to see Nikon catching up in this regard.

Of the D7000's new features, the one which delivers 100% on its promise without disappointment or caveats is the dual memory card capability. This is a wonderful feature to find on any DSLR, especially a mid-range one, and allows you to record duplicate images to both cards for backup, or RAW files to one and JPEGs to the other for easier management; or you can simply configure one to take over when the other one fills. Impressively in our tests the D7000 also maintained its 6fps speed and buffer sizes when recording to both cards simultaneously.

So overall the D7000 is undoubtedly an impressive DSLR, although one where almost all the features come with conditions you should be aware of. It's also important to note while some of the specifications imply semi-pro performance at a mid-range price, the experience falls short in most respects. The body may include magnesium alloy elements, but in your hands it feels a world apart from a true semi-pro model, and with rough handling or poor weather you could quickly come unstuck. The continuous shooting speed is certainly quick, but the modest buffer will prove restrictive for all but the shortest bursts. The viewfinder coverage is impressive, but the magnification is less than you'd expect for a new semi-pro model. Then there's things like the basic three-frame bracketing and lack of PC Sync port which firmly place the D7000 the mid-range category. Don't get us wrong, the D7000 is very good, but it's no semi-pro DSLR.

It's finally worth noting that for all the video modes, both Nikon and Canon remain fairly conservative in developing new features for their DSLRs. Sony is really taking the lead here on its latest models with a variety of modes which combine multiple frames in-camera to lower noise or motion blur, increase dynamic range or even create panoramas.

So before our final verdict, how does the D7000 measure-up against its predecessor and major rival?

 

Compared to Nikon D90

 
 
 
     

Nikon's D7000 resembles the earlier D90 from the outside and also shares the same 3in VGA screen, but under the hood lie significant differences. In terms of headline specifications, the sensor resolution has increased from 12.3 to 16.2 Megapixels, with a quadrupling in maximum sensitivity to 25,600 ISO. The D7000 will also record RAW files with 14 bits of tonal data and with lossy or lossless compression.

The 720p / 24fps movie mode of the D90 is joined by 25 and 30fps options, along with a Full HD 1080p setting, albeit at 24fps only. The D7000 also makes the switch to H.264 encoding for video, includes an input for an external microphone and even offers continuous autofocusing while filming.

Continuous shooting has accelerated from 4.5 to 6fps and the viewfinder coverage increased to 100% over the previous 96%. The D90's 11 point AF system has been boosted to a new 39-point system, while the metering now employs a 2016 pixel RGB sensor instead of the previous 420 pixel system. Nikon's also toughened-up the D7000 by using magnesium alloy on the upper and rear plates, and there are now dual SD memory card slots.

These all add up to a significant upgrade over the earlier D90, both in terms of gadgetry and core photographic capabilities. Those in the market for a new mid-range DSLR should look very carefully at the D7000, including existing D90 owners looking for a boost in performance. In the meantime though, the D90 remains a great DSLR which could fall in price and become a bargain for those on tighter budgets. Keep a close eye on prices, and check our Nikon D90 review for full details.

 

Compared to Canon EOS 60D

 
 
 
     

Two years ago, Canon and Nikon regularly positioned their mid-range and semi-pro models roughly in-between each other. Back then the D90 slotted between Canon's EOS 450D / XSi and the EOS 50D, while Nikon's D300 was a step above the 50D. Last year though, Canon pitched its EOS 7D directly against the Nikon D300s, and now the EOS 60D is positioned head-on with Nikon's mid-range category. This makes the Canon EOS 60D the arch rival for the new Nikon D7000, and there's considerable differences to weigh-up

In its favour, the EOS 60D features two extra Megapixels, although you'll need decent optics to see even a minor benefit of this higher resolution. It also allows you to shoot Full HD 1080p movies at 24, 25 or 30fps, whereas the D7000 is limited to 24fps at this resolution; the 720p movies on the Canon are also offered at 50 and 60fps as oppose to 24, 25 and 30fps on the Nikon. The Canon EOS 60D also features a wider 3:2 screen which matches the shape of its images, while also twisting and flipping to allow easy composition at unusual angles. The articulated screen is the major benefit of the 60D over the D7000 and will be greatly appreciated by anyone using the cameras to film video. The 60D also offers greater control over audio levels with proper peak meters and fine adjustments, along with a live histogram in Live View.

In its favour, the Nikon D7000 offers double the maximum sensitivity (25,600 ISO versus 12,800), slightly faster continuous shooting (6fps vs 5.3), a viewfinder with on-demand LCD markings and 100% coverage (versus 96%), broader AF with 39 points (versus 9 on the 60D), AF Fine Tune (to correct for front and back-focusing), continuous autofocus while filming video, and more sophisticated metering. The D7000 is also tougher with magnesium alloy top and rear plates, and additionally features dual memory card slots. In our tests, the image quality was similar at lower sensitivities, but the D7000 enjoyed an edge at the highest ISOs.

The D7000 certainly offers more to traditional photographers and the only area where it really falls short compared to the EOS 60D is a fixed screen. But if you're into video, the 60D's articulated screen along with its fine-tuneable audio levels and choice of frame rates for 1080p are key benefits. It's also important to look closely at the specifications and performance in practice as the 60D can keep shooting continuously for much longer bursts than the D7000, and we found its metering more consistent under bright conditions. The D7000 may have 30 more AF points, but both cameras share the same number of sensitive cross-type sensors: nine on each. So while the D7000 may have initially stolen the thunder from the EOS 60D at launch, Canon's latest continues to impress in use and should definitely be on your shortlist for an upper mid-range body - especially at its lower price. Check out our Canon EOS 60D review for full details!



Compared to Pentax K-5

Some of you may also be considering the Pentax K-5, but unfortunately we're unable to comment on or recommend any Pentax cameras as the company refuses to send us review samples.

 

Nikon D7000 final verdict

Like its predecessor, the Nikon D7000 raises the bar of what can be expected from a mid-range DSLR. There's no arguing with its impressive feature-set nor Nikon's canny ability to satisfy the demands of both new technology fanatics and traditional photographers. As we said at the start of this page, there's something for everyone here.



 
   
But with such powerful specifications at a reasonable asking price, it's important not to let your expectations get carried away. Yes the D7000 enjoys a number of features you won't find on the D300s, like 1080p video and 14-bit RAW continuous shooting at its top speed, but that doesn't make the D7000 a budget semi-pro body. The build quality, continuous shooting buffer, connectivity and bracketing just to name a few all fall below true semi-pro performance.

Indeed as discussed in detail above and during our video tour, many of the D7000's features effectively come with asterisks indicating certain restrictions. Be in no doubt, this is a mid-range DSLR, albeit one positioned high its category.

With expectations set so high for the D7000, it's inevitable to come away with a slight feeling of disappointment when it doesn't miraculously deliver semi-pro performance at a 'bargain' price. But it's important to put those feelings behind you as when compared more fairly against other 'upper' mid-range bodies, it delivers an impressive and well-rounded experience.

What does become clear though after shooting for some time with both the D7000 and EOS 60D is how there's less between them than originally thought from the specifications. At launch, the D7000 appeared to trump all but the video capabilities on the EOS 60D, but in our tests, the Canon could shoot continuously for much longer, while enjoying more reliable metering and suffering from no focusing errors.

Don't get us wrong, the D7000 isn't a poor camera. On the contrary it's very good and one we can easily Recommend, but it's neither the budget semi-pro DSLR nor EOS 60D thrasher which many expected when the camera was announced. Serious limitations with the buffer along with the metering and focusing errors described above mean it misses out on our top award, but like the EOS 60D it still comfortably earns our Recommended rating. Nikon should also be commended for continuing to push the boundaries in each DSLR category as while there are certainly limitations with the D7000 in practice, it remains a very impressive mid-range model.



Good points

Great quality across its sensitivity range.
Viewfinder with 100% coverage and VGA screen.
6fps continuous shooting at all quality settings.
Dual memory card slots.
1080p video with AF, manual control and mic input.

Bad points
Continuous buffer limited in depth.
Metering frequently over-exposed in bright conditions.
Continuous movie AF indiscreet in use.
Back-focusing error on our sample kit.



Scores

(relative to 2010
mid-range DSLRs)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20

88%


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