The end of the search: the Nikon D7000

So, there we have it. After spending around three months considering my requirements and comparing many other cameras and solutions, I have chosen the Nikon D7000. With the exception of the main photo of the camera itself, all other photos in this article were taken with the new D7000 during my first outings with it in the U.K. at the end of February.

The D7000 is the latest in a line of digital SLR cameras, following on in sequence from the D80 I’ve been using since May 2008 via the D90, which was (as photographer Chase Jarvis noted) a “game changer“: the first affordable digital SLR to have video capability and a camera (along with the equivalent and in fact superior Canon 5D) which kicked off the change in filming techniques a couple of years ago. Since the launch of these two video-capable SLRs, they have become an increasingly popular choice: not just for for low-budget film makers, but even for television studios such as Fox, who went as far as shooting the season finale of “Howells-Mead favourite” House M.D. using the Canon. The Nikon D7000 takes the experience and lessons learned through the production of the D90 and brings professional quality, full HD digital filming ability to the affordable amateur camera market.

On a photographic point of view, the reasons I chose the D7000 are simple. The camera accepts all of the lenses I have in my kit, which is a major reason why I have remained loyal to Nikon over the past fifteen years, the low-ISO performance is tremendous, and the 16 megapixel sensor makes the D7000 a good alternative, less expensive option to the pro-level D700. My search for a new camera took in the D700 but in the end, my “serious amateur” status couldn’t justify the additional expense of a more expensive pro-level camera and the subsequent need for me to spend even more money by upgrading to full-frame lenses as soon as possible. This is my long-term goal, but in the meantime, I need an affordable camera with which I can obtain professional-standard results.

The basics

Aside from the obvious technical benefits of owning a camera with the most up-to-date, high resolution sensor, the look and feel of the camera are high on my list. The camera feels like a pro-level camera, with a solid feel, good weight (not too light, not too heavy) and a satisfyingly reassuring click as the shutter releases. The mirror can be locked up for long exposure shots, avoiding camera shake, and there’s even a “quiet shutter” mode, which lifts and lowers the mirror slightly more slowly and quietly for occasions when one wants to be a little more discreet. The screen on the back of the camera is much larger than on the D80, offering a much clearer view of the picture taken, and the “live view” option is a great addition. Whereas I’ve never gotten on with using cameras without real viewfinders, the ability to film using the screen as a monitor is much easier than trying to film using the small viewfinder image. In practice over the last few weeks, too, I’ve found the screen a great way to compose landscape photos when the camera is on a tripod, aligning the image precisely before switching the screen to “Shooting Information” mode to set ISO, aperture, shutter and white balance settings without needing to strain to see the small camera-top display; or worse, the in-viewfinder display. This Shooting Information Display is one which I’d seen on Jo’s D60 when she bought it and it’s been one of the great additions to the Nikon SLRs; especially for those of us who use the camera mounted on a tripod for landscape photography.

Sensor and low light performance

One of the biggest problems with the D70 and D80 was the poor image quality when shooting red lights, particularly at night, when the built-in infrared filter (which I believe protects the sensor) meant that all sense of detail in red details was lost. I’m very happy to see that this has been vastly improved in the D7000, so that reds are represented just as well as any other colour. (The image below is optimized for web; clicking on it will take you to the uncompressed version at Flickr.)

The high ISO performance was one of the biggest selling points for me, as I mentioned in previous articles, and the D7000 doesn’t disappoint in this respect. Whilst high ISO video is still fairly grainy, I have found that I can shoot stills (in RAW format) with confidence at ISO 1600, add a little of the noise reduction filter built into Adobe Lightroom, and come out with an all but grain-free image. This is going to prove very useful for ambient light event photography and I’ve already begun noticing the difference at ISO 400 and ISO 800 for regular use; these two settings mean much more usable shutter speeds for hand-held photography, being pretty much grain-free without any post-processing.

Timelapse photography

Although I still have my intervalometer, bought last year to make my timelapse sequences, I am slowly getting used to the built-in timelapse tool in the D7000. Whilst it’s a bit of a fiddle to go through the process of starting a sequence, and there’s an upper limit of 999 individual frames, it’s much easier to be able to set a pre-defined sequence of frames and have the camera finish the sequence after a certain amount of time. For example, if I need a 30 second timelapse sequence at 15 fps, I know that I can simply set the camera to fire off 450 frames and then stop.

Video capability

The addition of a video-capable camera to my bag will mean that I can also make further explorations in this area, which I’ve wanted to do for a while now. My tentative experiments with an old handycam in the 1990s, a pro-level video camera loaned from work several years ago, and more recently in point-and-shoot or iPhone video, will all stand me in good stead for learning more about this new medium. I’m a comparative newcomer to the world of SLR video, so I’ll save a detailed article on this topic until I have a little more experience. The sole efforts I’ve made and edited using a digital SLR are available through my YouTube and Vimeo accounts and embedded below. The first is a short filmed in 2009 with a D90, and the second, my (slightly under-exposed) first effort with the D7000 from early March.

In summary

The D7000 is great and even though I’ve been more than happy with its predecessors, I have to say that the past six weeks’ photography has shown me just what I am capable of with when I have the right equipment. The combination of a camera bag containing the D7000, my SB-900 flash, 35mm lens and my long-standing favourite Sigma 10-20mm landscape lens (pictured above) are helping me to produce better photographs every time I go out. That is the aim of any equipment purchase for me, and the quality, reliability and capabilities of the D7000 feel that I am moving on with my photography almost as much as I did when I first switched to digital SLRs, and when I first really began getting the hang of off-camera flash.