DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon D7000 Review
by Jim Keenan -  12/17/2010

Editors ChoiceWithin the space of about a month's time, Nikon has introduced latest-generation entry and prosumer DSLR models with their DX (APS-C) sensor. The D3100 reached market in mid-September 2010 and was followed by the D7000 in October. Both cameras have upped the resolution for Nikon cropped-sensor cameras past the 12.3 megapixel ceiling of the last generation, but to slightly different levels: 14.2 megapixels in the D3100 and 16.2 in the higher performance D7000. The D3100 is the follow-on to the D3000 while the D7000 will slot, pricewise, into the new lineup about midway between the D90 and D300s.

Nikon D7000


Both the D3000 and D90 remain on Nikon USA's website as of this writing, but expect them to fade from view in the not too distant future. It's not clear if the D7000 is the D90 successor, but it could be - "D100" was unavailable because Nikon used up that designation on a 6 megapixel DSLR back in 2002.

More significantly, the D7000 comes equipped with Nikon's new EXPEED 2 processing system, a new 39 point autofocus (AF) system (with 9 cross-point sensors) and a new 2016 pixel RGB 3D matrix metering system. There is a 1080p HD video capability with automatic AF, an up to 6 frame per second (FPS) continuous shooting rate and the ability to capture up to 100 images continuously, a shutter rated for 150,000 cycles and dual memory card slots. The body is a magnesium and composite blend, weather sealed, and features a 3.0-inch LCD monitor.

About the time you start to think the D7000 specs sound more like pro and less like consumer, automatic and scene shooting modes that supplement standard DSLR manual exposure options hedge Nikon's bet and broaden the camera's potential audience. Native ISO range is 100 to 6400, expandable two stops to 25600. You can get a D7000 as a body-only, or packaged in kit form with the stabilized (VR) 18-105mm zoom lens, as was our review unit. Here's the coverage offered by the kit lens:

Nikon D7000
Wide angle, 18mm

Nikon D7000
Telephoto, 105mm

Lens compatibility and functionality is the same as pro-level Nikons (over 60 lenses in the current catalog and most F mount glass dating back to 1959).

The camera has no internal memory and can utilize SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media. Nikon includes a Li-ion battery and charger, rubber eyecup, USB and AV cables, camera strap, monitor cover, body cap, hot shoe cover, complete printed user manual and CD-ROM software with each camera.

New processing system, new AF system, new matrix metering system - let's go shoot the newest Nikon and see what we get.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The D7000 follows typical DSLR design with a deeply sculpted handgrip body, and is the same size as the D90, albeit about 1.3 ounces heavier. The camera body includes magnesium top and rear covers and overall construction appears very good, with materials and assembly commensurate with the camera price point.

Nikon D7000

Ergonomics and Controls
D90 successor or not, besides size and weight the control layout of the D7000 is quite similar to the earlier camera - on the camera back the live view button of the D90 is now a live view lever/movie record button and the playback button has been moved up next to the delete button.

Nikon D7000

On the top of the body the continuous shooting/self timer button is gone, with those functions now assigned to a release mode dial located beneath the mode dial on the top left of the body. The C-S-M focus mode selector of past Nikons remains on the front of the camera body at the left side of the lens mount but now offers AF-M as choices. Once in AF mode, push the center button and rotate the main command dial to select continuous, single or automatic AF on the control panel (camera top). Here's a closer look at the new selector and button.

Nikon D7000

Pushing the center button while rotating the sub-command dial allows you to select the AF area mode on the control panel. The proximity of the release mode and mode dials proved a bit annoying and awkward - changes to the release mode dial are made by pressing a locking button and rotating the dial to the desired setting, but it's easy to bump the mode dial into another shooting setting in the process. And make sure you're setting the mode dial according to the white pip on the side of the built-in flash and not the one for the release mode dial atop the camera body.

Nikon D7000

I had one sequence of a surfer come out well underexposed when I switched from single to high speed continuous and inadvertently knocked the mode dial into manual exposure from aperture priority.

Combined with the kit lens, the D7000 is a fairly light and enjoyable walking around setup.

Menus and Modes
The D7000 may fall into the prosumer class of camera price and features-wise, but menus are definitely slanted toward the pro end of the spectrum for folks who want to involve themselves more completely in the image capture process. You can set the camera on auto or select a scene mode and fire away with little else required from you, but if you opt to customize camera functions there are shooting, custom, setup, playback, and retouch menus along with a "my menu" menu to allow you to customize the other five menus. In the shot below, we've pushed the menu button and gotten the custom settings menu with autofocus highlighted. Note also that autofocus is listed with an "a," metering/exposure with a "b," etc.

Nikon D7000

Pushing the "OK" button (or scrolling the multi controller to the right) gets us the AF menu.

Nikon D7000

You can then scroll up or down through the menu items, going on to the "b" items on the next page, etc. You can also select the "b" or other items directly. While the menus are extensive, they are also logical and quite intuitive for those who choose to venture into them. Within the retouch menu is an interesting option, a cross screen filter. The filter is applied in-camera to post process captured images and produces a star-like effect from point sources of light. You produce a similar effect by stopping down the lens as far you can when shooting a scene with points of light, but the lengthy shutter times require a tripod or some form of camera support and are not conducive to hand-holding. Here's a shot of the Oceanside (CA) pier with the lens stopped down and the same shot with the cross-screen filter applied.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image Nikon D7000 Sample Image

As befits a prosumer DSLR, there are automatic and scene-specific shooting modes along with the obligatory manual exposure options.

Display/Viewfinder
The 3.0-inch monitor on the D7000 has 921,000 dot composition, is adjustable for seven levels of brightness and offers 100% coverage. The protective plastic cover is easily removed and makes using the monitor in bright light a bit easier. I've excerpted portions of Howard Creech's review of a Pentax DSLR to introduce some new data we'll be incorporating into reviews from this day forward:

The DCR test lab is adding a new feature to our reviews - we'll now begin providing LCD peak brightness measurements and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio would fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. That would be bright enough to use the LCD for framing and composition in outdoor lighting, and it would provide a better sense of contrast and image quality. Peak brightness indicates the panel's output of an all-white screen in nits at full brightness - for reference, anything above 500 will be fairly usable outdoors, with improving results at higher levels.

(Those of you unfamiliar with the term "nits" will instantly recognize it by its slightly more formal description, "candela per square meter." If, like me, you're still in the dark (sorry), a nit is roughly the amount of luminous intensity produced by a common candle.)

The D7000 rang up a low 334 peak brightness score, but also produced a very high 1012:1 contrast ratio. In practice I found the D7000 monitor's outdoor performance to be on a par with other 900k pixel 3.0-inch monitors I've reviewed. So while the D7000 comes in low on peak brightness, that high contrast ratio seems to make up for it, at least in the great outdoors.

The viewfinder has a diopter adjustment to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight and offers 100% coverage.

PERFORMANCE
Apart from briefly shooting with the kit lens at home to get an initial feel for the D7000 when it arrived, the first serious outing the next morning found the camera mated to my VR400 f/2.8 tele for some surf work. Compared to the D3 and D300/MB-D10 bodies that usually run with the 400, the D7000 was diminutive and almost looked funny, dwarfed by the fast telephoto it was mated to. Once the shooting started in earnest the D7000 quickly punched out some nice shots that proved it was taking its image capture gig very seriously.

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

And with sunny conditions on several days, I broke out the 1.4 tele converter to give the 400 a bit more reach.

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

Shooting Performance
The D7000 belongs to the "flip the power switch and I'm ready to go" family of DSLRs - the camera turned on, acquired focus and took the first shot as quickly as my right index finger could manage those tasks. Nikon claims a 0.13 second start-up time and 50 millisecond shutter response for the D7000 and the shutter proved itself quick by any standard. In the studio, we measured AF acquisition time as 0.15 seconds with shutter lag coming in at 0.01 seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Olympus E-5 0.01
Nikon D7000 0.01
Canon Rebel T2i 0.02
Pentax K-5 0.03

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Olympus E-5 0.14
Nikon D7000 0.15
Canon Rebel T2i 0.18
Pentax K-5 0.24

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Pentax K-5 31 6.9 fps
Nikon D7000 19 6.4 fps
Olympus E-5 120 5.0 fps
Canon Rebel T2i 170 3.7 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Single shot-to-shot times were as quick as you could shoot, reacquire focus and shoot again - about 0.43 seconds was my best time. Continuous shooting rates met the advertised 6 fps standard and in fact just a bit more, and the D7000 managed about 19 frames before the buffer took a break. You can set the camera to permit up to 100 captures as long as you keep the shutter button depressed, just don't expect them all to be at 6 fps. Here's the middle 4 shots of a 6 shot sequence.

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

Anytime a company trots out a new system such as the 39 point AF system in the D7000 there's perhaps a bit of apprehension as to how it will perform. After all, how would you feel if you plunked out some serious money on the latest model camera and found you'd gotten a faulty AF system? D7000 owners have nothing to fear based on my time with the camera. The Multi-CAM 4800DX system did a good job of acquiring focus in good to dim conditions (it features the same -1 to 19 EV detection range as Nikon's D300 and D3 series) and tracking moving subjects, particularly in the manual exposure modes. With a little customization you can select 11 or 39 AF points, and single-point, dynamic-area, 3D-tracking or auto-area AF. While the camera performed well tracking moving subjects in the auto and scene modes that first-time users may gravitate to, the D7000 will reward more experienced shooters with precise AF performance if they take the time to adjust settings to their shooting style and subjects. Here's some AF shots with a busy background, of zoo critters through glass and through glass in low light and a gull head on.

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

The D7000 built-in flash has a guide number of 39 at 100 ISO, which gives it a range of about 11 feet at the f/3.5 maximum aperture of the kit lens at wide angle, and about 7 feet at telephoto's f/5.6 max aperture - minimum range is 2 feet. The flash will cover the field of view for a 16mm lens. The maximum recycle time that I encountered was about 3.5 seconds, and the camera can disable the shutter for a brief time if too many flashes in rapid succession pose a threat to damage the flash tube from overheating.

Battery life is listed as 1050 shots according to a CIPA standard which usually has proven accurate.

Lens Performance
As mentioned in the flash section, the 18-105 kit lens offered with the D7000 has maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at the wide and long ends of the zoom. Not overly fast, but about average as kit lenses go. Since there's very little noise penalty in making the jump from 100 to 200 ISO, I tended to shoot at 200 to gain an extra stop unless circumstances dictated otherwise.

Kit lens or not, the 18-105 is an AF-S lens and features Nikon's Silent Wave Motor, which uses ultrasonic waves converted to rotational energy to focus the lens. The 18-105/D7000 combination offer fairly quick AF acquisition and focus. When I match the D7000 with my pro AF-S lenses (VRII70-200, VR200-400 and VRII400/2.8 for this shoot) they seem a tiny bit quicker, but the kit lens acquits itself well in this arena.

There is some barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom and edges and corners are a bit soft, with some slight light falloff in the corners. At about 24mm the peripheral distortion is pretty much absent, and then the lens shifts over to pincushion distortion as it zooms beyond 24mm. Edges and corners are better at telephoto with only slight softening. The D7000 has an "auto distortion control" (off by default) that may be enabled to help reduce barrel and pincushion distortion during shooting. These shots at about 48mm with and without distortion control enabled show the effect.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Without Distortion Control

Nikon D7000 Sample Image
Distortion Control Enabled

Distortion control may also be applied in-camera as post processing in the retouch menu. There is some chromic aberration (purple fringing) at both ends of the zoom, but it is fairly benign and needs larger magnifications to make it visible with some close scrutiny. Overall, the 18-105 does a fairly good job.

The D7000 has the ability to store information on 10 non-CPU lenses (CPU lenses communicate lens and other info to the camera via contacts on the lens base) that may be recalled to "tell" the camera when a particular lens is attached and permit exposure metering in the A or M shooting modes. Cameras with non-CPU lenses onboard seem to expose about a stop or so under, so this shot with my 1975 Nikkor 50/1.4 AI lens got about 2/3 of a stop of exposure compensation dialed into the camera.

Nikon D7000 Sample Image

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

CONCLUSIONS
As the D90 and D300 introduction dates approached two years in the rearview mirror, rumors of impending successors began to fly. It appears the D90 question has been answered by the D7000; those of us awaiting the D400 will probably get our answer in September 2011, but given the impact of the D7000 and its niche in the Nikon DX sensor lineup, the stage could be set for a technology tour-de-force arriving in the form of a full-pro DX sensor D400. Maybe a translucent mirror and continuous shooting rate at or in excess of 10 fps? Speculation is fun, but the D7000 is here now and it's an impressive instrument.

Still image quality is excellent and high ISO noise performance is the best in the Nikon cropped sensor fleet by a fair margin. The new AF system is quick, accurate, and doesn't want to let go of the track on a moving subject once it acquires. If you've got old Nikon lenses, welcome aboard - the D7000 responds to legacy glass like any Nikon pro body.


As good as the D7000 is, Nikon has left themselves some room for improvements. For example, a 1080 HD video that captures moving subjects a bit more smoothly than the current 24 fps system. A bit less tendency to clip highlights in bright, high-contrast scenes. A less awkward mode and release mode dial interface. None of these concerns are so major that they can't be addressed relatively simply, except perhaps for the dial conundrum - D7000s anyone? When I did the first look review on this camera I mentioned that if the awkward dials were the worst the D7000 had to offer that I expected Nikon to sell a bunch these cameras. A couple other gripes have joined the list, but I still think Nikon's got a winner on their hands.

Pros:

Cons: