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Field Test: The Nikon D7000 (Day 2)

by Matt Beardsley on 02/02/2011

My first outing with the Nikon D7000 was to the grand opening of Mountain View, CA’s Computer History Museum. Working with a good friend, Shawn Clark of Versatile Light in Miami, FL, I ran a red carpet photo studio with on-site printing. The very hip event was an excellent test for the camera, with drastically mixed lighting, and a strong color palate. While not distracted with pesky clients, I was able to cruise around with Nikon’s newest DSLR and put it to the test.

Handling

The D7000 is a more discrete tool than bigger Nikons, with relatively compact dimensions and a smoother sound. I will venture to say, in fact, that the D7000 is the best-sounding camera I’ve used in a long time. It has a smooth clack with no digital whine or obnoxious clap (the D3? not a quiet camera!) The camera can also be set to the drive mode ring’s “Q” setting. The Quiet mode changes the character of the sound from clack to gentle roll. The sound, while only a little quieter than normal settings, is fun to have and might help a photographer be less obtrusive during a quiet event.

In addition to sounding good, the camera does a nice job placing all the right shooting controls within quick reach. It has both front and back customize-able control wheels, and dedicated buttons for ISO and White Balance. As I discussed during Day 1, I’m a little baffled by the placement of the ISO button, with a metering area button where the ISO control should be. Indeed, during this shoot, as always, I switched ISO frequently while moving between a relatively dark exhibit hall and a bright atrium. I couldn’t think of a good reason to switch metering area. I suppose Nikon would have us consider auto ISO, and, indeed, I’ll have to test it.

I like, however, the exposure mode dial. Continuing the tradition of the D70, D80, and D90, the D7000 has a beefy and easy-to-read dial that is refreshingly simple with very little digital fluff. I’ve heard other reviewers comment that the wheel can be turned inadvertently, but haven’t experienced that myself. In fact, I’d be reluctant to trade the D7000‘s big, unguarded wheel for a locked-with-a-tiny-button design like the Pentax K-5 we tested last month. Also, it’s worth noting, the wheel is not a bad trade from the exposure mode control of Nikon’s professional cameras. Nikons like the D300s, D700 and D3-series, have an exposure mode button that a photographer holds while turning a control wheel to make selections. I believe it’s partially a concession to photographers who shoot tethered and control cameras remotely (can’t turn a big, firm dial from a computer).

Speaking of inadvertent settings, though, I was surprised when I accidentally adjusted the camera’s diopter drastically. It’s a wheel next to the camera’s eye cup and if unwittingly set to an extreme will make you think you’re going blind, at least that was my experience. By comparison, the D3 has a firmly locking diopter wheel and the Pentax K-5 has a tough diopter slider, neither of which are particularly easy to adjust, accidentally or by design.

Also, I’ve read elsewhere online criticisms of Nikon’s choice to use a drive mode selection wheel on the D7000. I like that the control has, compared to the D90, graduated to having its own, visible setting. It’s much more like the D300S, D700 and D3-series now and is intuitive and easy to use.

Shooting the D3, for example, I like to be able to switch quickly to continuous shooting in preparation for some action shot or to be able to find Mirror Up mode in the dark (it’s at the end of the wheel’s turn). Compared to the D3, the D7000 moves Live View down to its own button, which makes it much more accessible and useful (though I wouldn’t give up my D3′s AF button for it!)

Say Yes to Dual Card Slots

Like the D3, the Nikon D7000 has dual card slots, which is wonderful (dual CF slots for the D3, dual SD slots for the D7000). I routinely keep two cards in my camera and have it set for overflow. The amount of time I spend rummaging for empty cards in my bag has gone down by half. It’s also proven useful on several occasions to shoot JPGs to one card (for previewing on a laptop) and RAW files to the other to take back to the studio for processing. and to shoot duplicate copies when working, for example, as a second or assistant photographer (one card goes back to the boss, the other comes home for my portfolio).

Like the D3, the D7000 has two cards that are the same. Other cameras, like certain Canons and Leicas, have one CF and one SD, which is nice in another way. That gives you the option to shoot two formats to take advantage of both bigger, faster, cheaper CF cards, and SD cards which, can for example, be inserted directly to the current generation of Mac Book Pros. It might be, based on recent trends towards SD cards, even for professional cameras (the Pentax 645D, the Leica S2, and the Canon 1D Mark IV all have SD slots) that SD is gradually replacing CF, but I’m just speculating, and not looking forward to my whole collection of memory cards going off to e-bay. In the meantime, it’s nice to see the elements of pro Nikons that have proven to be useful in the field, trickle down to these more reasonable cameras.

Image Quality, Too Much Grain?

16.2 MP is a tremendous file size for Nikon. For several generations of cameras, the company has favored image quality over image size, a distinction from the philosophy at Canon. That could be in the process of changing now, and the D7000 is strong evidence. Files have nice color, good detail, and good tonal reach. The files, though, also have a grainy texture to them that is significantly less present in files from the full-frame, but only 12 MP D3. I’ll have to do more testing, but find the files to be noticeably noisier than the Pentax K-5, though without the K-5‘s tendency to show purple fringing. It might be that Nikon was willing to let in a little noise to raise file size, if that proves to be true during our tests, it would come as a disappointment!

It should be noted that example images for this post were all shot at ISO 1000 in relatively low light. Other images, from brighter settings, however, have also demonstrated a tendency to grain I find surprising. I’ll plan to test the in-camera noise reduction as well as response to RAW file processing in Adobe Lightroom.

All images for the post were shot using a D7000 and Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.4D.

Conclusion, Day 2

The Nikon D7000 is a smooth-handling camera with good control layout and a sturdy, comfortable frame. I especially like the camera’s exposure and drive mode controls and its live view/video controls. I miss the AF button and more prominent ISO button placement of bigger Nikons, but this is a more affordable, smaller, and lighter camera that does a nice job drawing design elements from both professional and enthusiast models.

My initial impression of the camera’s image quality is that, while producing vibrant, detailed, relatively large files, the camera also produces more than expected grain at moderate ISO. It’s too early in the testing to be certain, but it’ll certainly be something we keep a close eye on as the test moves forward. Next time, I’ll head out for some shots in bright sunshine and give the autofocus a workout!

Image Gallery (click thumbnails to open files in a new window)

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