The Nikon D7000 uses a 16.2-megapixel APS-C size sensor (23.6 x 15.8mm), a first for the company. Its most expensive DSLRs feature full-frame imagers (23.6 x 36mm) but expect to pay at least $2,500 for one. While not the 18-megapixels of the APS-C 60D, at these levels you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference, unless you’re blowing up your images to fill a Times Square billboard. Both are overkill for most shutterbugs, but if there’s no compromise with image quality at these high numbers, what’s the harm? Note there is definitely harm with many 14- and 16-megapixel point-and-shoots with their tiny CCDs — that’s why we suggest avoiding nose-bleed figures in that category.
At 16.2MP, you’re capturing 4928 x 3264 pixel files. We put the camera into RAW+JPEG Fine mode to test its ability to push piles of pixels. As usual, we started in Auto, then moved to manual options since it’s a shame not to play with a camera of this level. Videos were shot at the highest resolution.
When we were first shown the D7000, Nikon execs were really stoked describing the new 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix metering system. They claimed it would deliver incredibly accurate exposures. They noted the $8,000 D3x uses the “old” 1,005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II setup. This—along with the new sensor—are among the key advances of this DSLR, as is the speedier burst mode of 6 fps versus the 4.5 of the 12.3-megapixel D90. The D3s is Nikon’s fastest camera, at 9 fps, but it costs $5,199 (body only). Another advance is increased ISO sensitivity. Native is 100 to 6400, but it hits 25,600 in the Hi 2 setting, for shooting in near darkness. Toss in a new 39-point AF system with nine center cross-type sensors, and you’ve got one impressive DSLR in your hands. Now it was time to see if all the pieces in the puzzle came together.
It’s dead of winter in the Northeast, and it’s hard to find anything moving quickly to test the burst mode in our neck of the woods. Not so in Manhattan, where yellow cabs and red buses fly by along with silver-clad messengers on scooters. We used Continuous H to capture them.
Before getting to the results, let’s state that using the Nikon D7000 is quite enjoyable. Response time is blazing fast even shooting RAW+JPEG Fine; peeling off bursts of 10 to 20 images, the camera barely seemed to breathe hard. Once we got the feel of this beefy DSLR, changing parameters was quite simple, even that odd Release Mode dial.
After filling our SanDisk card, we made prints, reviewed the files closely on a monitor and watched the videos on a 50-inch plasma HDTV via HDMI. Nikon claims with the expanded ISO range you can “capture just about every moment that captures you.” Well, we had to try shooting a single candle in a very dark room at 25,600 ISO — the results were predictable as we had a pixilated mess. Oh, you can clean up the noise in the RAW files, but the JPEGs were pretty bad. You need a full-frame sensor, and to spend twice the money, for solid results at those levels. That on the table, the D7000 handles noise unbelievably well up to ISO 3200, with noise making its presence felt at 6400. At 10,000 the snowstorm turns into a blizzard, but if you stay within the native range of 100 to 6400, you’ll be quite happy.
Colors, as you’d expect, were very accurate. Although we tend to like ours more saturated and vivid, you can tweak the D7000 to whatever level suits you, as Nikon has a suite of retouching options available during playback. We’re talking fine-tuning here, as the basic photos are much better than acceptable. The new metering mode handled some difficult in-and-out of shadow subjects but it’s not perfect — you still need your fill flash and exposure compensation skills for best results. Focusing was super sharp, and very fast, with terrific detail.
We had no trouble capturing fast-moving vehicles flying down Manhattan streets with hardly any blur. This will be a great camera for parents with budding athletes, or if you have a hyper-energetic kid (aren’t they all?).
We can go on and on about the D7000’s still capabilities, but you get the idea, it’s a very fine DSLR. It is not, however, a very fine camcorder.
Our issues with contrast-phase-detection focusing systems remain on the table. Nikon’s AF system works OK, and colors are spot on, but when you touch any of the controls, such as pressing the shutter or working the zoom, the mic picks it up, something no camcorder does. Sony’s SLT-series DSLRs with phase-detect focusing still remain the video leaders, as far as DSLRs are concerned.
Having extensively tested the Nikon D7000, it’s easy to understand why this camera ranks up there in popularity, even with a $1,200 price tag. Simply put, if you’re serious about photography, you want this camera. As for the video, it’s a nice feature, but not the raison d’être for this very impressive DSLR. Good luck finding one—or getting a deal.
- 16.2MP APS-C DSLR
- Terrific photos
- Very responsive (6 fps)
- Top ISO of 25,600
- Fast focusing, excellent detail
- Hard to find and forget about a price break
- Weird Release-Mode dial
- Heavy noise above ISO 10,000—which is pretty amazing anyway
- HD video still problematic