Nikon D7000: Video and Image Quality

by Jim Keenan Reads (3,557)
Editor's Rating
8.60

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
The D7000 offers 1080p HD video capability along with lower resolution options. In fact, you can order up 1920 x 1080 at 24 fps in either normal or high quality; 1280 x 720 at 24 or 30 fps and normal or high quality, and 640 x 424 at 30 fps in normal or high quality. Shifting into movie mode involves going to live view via the live view switch, acquiring focus via a half push of the shutter button and then commencing capture by pressing the movie record button. Clip size is 20 minutes or 4GB.

Utilizing a CMOS sensor, the D7000 is a candidate for rolling shutter effect during video capture and while there is some to be seen during rapid panning motions, the effect is minimal unless you’re panning at speeds far in excess of normal. In fact, its performance in this regard reminded me of the Sony A55 I reviewed not all that long ago – and not surprisingly since the two cameras almost certainly are sharing the same 16.2 megapixel sensor.

The automatic AF in live view or movie mode works pretty well, but is not perfect – the default is AF-S (in this case, AF-S is single servo autofocus, not the AF-S silent wave focus motor) but that establishes focus initially and retains it for the length of any particular clip – a setting best suited for stationary subjects. For movers, select AF-F, full time servo AF. The automatic AF seems to work better on the shorter lenses – it worked pretty well on the 18-105 and my VRII70-200, but it drove me crazy with the VR400/2.8, possibly because of the magnification and small field of view with that lens. The AF system for live view and movies is contrast detection rather than the phase detection process used for regular still image capture, and with a field of view of only 4 degrees on a DX sensor Nikon, it seemed a bit more prone to jump in and out of focus on a moving main subject a bit more than the shorter lenses. Still, the automatic AF was easier to use than manual focus the great majority of the time, particularly when hand holding the camera.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed with the image quality at the 1080p HD setting. There are high quality and normal quality options, both at 24 fps. That 24 fps rate is touted as the same used for motion pictures but seems to be a problem in this case – captures at that speed had a slightly uneven look to them when moving subjects were involved. On the other hand, 720p HD offers 24 or 30 fps options, and the 30 fps just looks a bit smoother with moving subjects. Here are two clips of the break on a pool table, shot in 1080 and 720 at high quality. Watch the motion of the balls as they slow in each clip – the 1080 balls seem to twitch a bit as they come to a stop while the 720 clip balls stop more evenly. Both clips were shot with the camera tripod-mounted and at a fixed focus point.

1080 HD

720 HD

Next, notice the motion in the clip of the surfers, shot at 1080 on a tripod and also a fixed focus point. The motion of the rider is erratic and even the waves lack the smooth, fluid (sorry again) motion of moving water.

Given that a lot of videos will be shot hand held and induce some level of shake as a result, the less than smooth nature of 24 fps video capture will only make things look even worse. If I were a D7000 driver I’d probably make 720p at 30 fps and high quality my video choices.

The D7000 is susceptible to recording stabilization, AF, lens zooming and wind noise during video capture with the built-in microphone. I didn’t experience any noise when zooming lenses and shot with stabilization disabled, but there were AF and wind noises noted on occasion. Nikon recommends the use of an external microphone to combat these issues.

Image Quality
In a word, darn good. OK, that’s two words, but since a picture is worth a thousand words these will save you some reading.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image

Color palette choices will be familiar to Nikon users – here are the standard, vivid, neutral and monochrome options.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Standard
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Neutral
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Vivid
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Monochrome

Default shots out of the D7000 looked very good from a color fidelity standpoint, but I did increase the in-camera sharpening over the default setting. The 16.2 megapixel sensor produces files sized at 16.43 inches by 10.88 inches at 300 dots per inch, capable of producing very large prints or allowing for aggressive cropping while maintaining decent picture quality. Here’s an original shot and 8 x 12 crops at 305 and 212 dots per inch.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Original
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Cropped at 305 dpi
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Cropped at 212 dpi

Auto white balance and direct sunlight settings were used for most of the shots in this review, and both worked well. Auto WB shot a bit warm under 3200 degree incandescent lighting – there are two auto WB settings, with the second designed to “keep warm lighting colors”, but both looked the same visually and with histograms. The D7000 offers a selection of WB presets, as well as a custom setting and temperature setting.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The new 3D matrix metering was used for most exposures and while it did a very good job with normally lit scenes it also seemed to lose highlights a bit more than the 1005 point metering system in the D300 and D3 series Nikons when scenes went brighter with some high contrast elements. Not a major concern to folks shooting with manual controls as exposure compensation will handle this, but with the D7000 targeting an audience for whom automatic and scene shooting modes are apt to be the preferred method of capture (and for which 3D matrix metering is the default), exposure compensation is not an option. The exposure characteristic seems consistent from manual to automatic shooting modes.

There’s very little difference in noise performance between 100 and 200 ISO in the D7000 – virtually indistinguishable. ISO 400 picks up a tiny bit of grain but will be hard to tell from 200 unless print size is large, and probably not even then. ISO 800 adds a bit more to the mix but is also hard to distinguish from 400 and this likely holds for prints as well.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 100
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop

Stepping up to 1600 adds some grain, but fine details and color are remarkably similar to 800. The jump from 1600 to 3200 shows a more dramatic increase in grain, but fine details like the small image on the Sunpack filter case or the markings on the Auto Zone disc are doing surprisingly well. Another more pronounced jump from 3200 to 6400, but 6400 continues the steady but fairly un-dramatic progression of grain along with the gradual deterioration of fine details. The ISO 6400 image looks to be quite usable for small prints or internet activity. The overall impression is that the D7000 slowly adds noise in a steady progression, rather than suddenly taking a dramatic swing from one sensitivity to the next. This holds true to at least the 1600 to 3200 stage, and even then the effect is fairly muted. The D7000 produces the best high ISO noise performance of any cropped sensor Nikon to date.

I shot my personal D300 and D3 bodies head to head with the D7000 in an informal high ISO noise comparison. Each camera had high ISO and long exposure noise reduction settings disabled in the camera, and I used my VRII70-200 lens for the shoot. Each camera was shot at 6400 ISO, f/11 at 1/60th of a second.

D3 Sample Image
D3 ISO 6400
Nikon D7000 Sample Image
D7000 ISO 6400
Nikon D300
D300 ISO 6400

Not surprisingly, the D3 wins overall – after all it is a full-frame camera and including it in this comparison is an apples to oranges kind of deal, but the D3 has exceptional high ISO noise performance and it looks to me about a stop better than the D7000. And the D3 isn’t even the 800 pound gorilla in the Nikon forest – that honor falls to the D3s, which is over a stop better than the D3. What the comparison does show is the D7000 sets a high bar for cropped sensor cameras as the D300/300s is no slouch in the noise department. After adding 4 megapixels to the practically same physically sized sensor as the D300/300s, the D7000 is the clear winner in the Nikon cropped sensor sweepstakes, and that makes it a strong competitor for anything else with a cropped sensor no matter who’s making it.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image


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