This long overdue review of the Nikon D7000 is based on my 3+ month experience with multiple samples of the camera. Due to my busy schedule and a very high demand on the D7000, I was not able to obtain a copy earlier to test. I actually thought it was a good thing to wait, because I did not want to get one from the initial production (which seemed to be rushed, resulting in lots of bad samples out there). Ever since the Nikon D7000 was released, I have been getting many questions from current and potential buyers, asking about backfocus issues, overexposed images, bad video quality, autofocus problems, image quality at low and high ISOs and hot pixels. For this review, I made a note to myself to test the camera against each of the listed potential problems and report on my findings.
1) Nikon D7000 Specifications
- High Resolution 16.2 MP DX-format CMOS sensor
- High Speed 6 frames per second continuous shooting up to 100 shots
- 2,016-pixel RGB (3D Color Matrix) sensor
- Pentaprism Optical Viewfinder with approx. 100% frame coverage and approx. 0.94x magnification
- Twin SD Card Slots with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory card compatibility
- Built-in Speedlight flash with i-TTL and Wireless Commander support
- Optional MB-D11 multi-power pack
- Two User Definable Settings (U1, U2) on the Mode Selector Dial
- Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape Picture Controls
- Virtual Horizon Graphic Indicator
- Full 1080p HD Movie capability with Full Time Autofocus and external stereo microphone jack (up to 20 minutes of recording time)
- Dynamic ISO range from 100 to 6400 expandable to 25,600 (Hi2)
- Customizable 39 point AF System with nine center cross-type sensors
- Magnesium-alloy top/rear covers and weather and dust sealing
- 150,000 cycle-rated shutter system
- 3 Inch, 921,000-dot Super-Density LCD Monitor with 170 degree viewing
- Fast Start-Up time of 0.13 sec and 50ms Shutter Lag
- Compact EN-EL15 Battery (850+ shots)
- Built-in HDMI Connection
- Active D-Lighting for enhancing details in shadows and highlights
- Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close-up or Night Portrait Scene Modes
Detailed technical specifications for the Nikon D7000 are available on Nikonusa.com.
2) Camera construction and handling
In terms of construction, the Nikon D7000 sits between the Nikon D90 (all plastic) and the Nikon D300 (all magnesium alloy) – the top and the rear of the camera is made of magnesium alloy material, while the front and the bottom parts are plastic. Nikon wanted to make the camera tough without adding too much weight, which is why only the most used part of the camera got the extra protection. And it was certainly a good decision, because the D7000 is only 70 grams (2.5 ounces) heavier than the D90. Here is an illustration of the D7000 frame (front and back):
In terms of handling, the D7000 balances and fits nicely on hands, very similarly to the Nikon D90. If you are planning to use the camera with big lenses like Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, then I would recommend to add the new MB-D11 battery grip for additional balance. Speaking of which, the new EN-EL15 battery and the MB-D11 are not something I am thrilled about. I understand that the new EN-EL15 is better, lighter, more compact and more powerful than the EN-EL3e, but then it means that not only I cannot share batteries with my D700, but also I have to carry an extra charger as well. Add the new MB-D11 and now I have to carry two different camera grips on top of that. So if you already own the Nikon D300 or the Nikon D700 and you are looking at the D7000 as a backup body, keep all this in mind. I personally would not buy a D7000 for this reason alone. Unless the upcoming Nikon D400/D800 camera bodies are also going to use the same battery and grip, this is not a smart move by Nikon. On the positive side, I like the new battery safety holder on the D7000 body, which helps prevent the battery from dropping on the ground when the battery door is opened. I’m sure Nikon will add this holder going forward to other Nikon DSLRs.
The exterior of the camera is completely redesigned and although you can see quite a few similarities with the Nikon D90, there are some newly introduced changes that are not present on any other Nikon DSLRs. The most notable change is the two-step/dual top mode dial that allows the photographer to not only set different camera modes, but also control shutter release modes. Nikon simply took the bottom part of the left top dial from the D300s/D700 and the mode dial from D90 and stacked them together. I personally liked this new “dual dial”, because it gives plenty of control over how the camera functions in one place, without having to go through the camera menu or other additional buttons. On the other hand, I did manage to accidentally change the camera mode a few times when I was shooting – I wish Nikon had made the top dial a little more stiff to minimize such accidents. Another welcomed button change is the way Liveview is triggered. Instead of simply pressing an “Lv” button like on the D90 or D300s, now there is a Live View lever with a red recording button in the middle. I’m sure those of us who shoot video will really welcome this change and I hope Nikon will use the same switch on the upcoming Nikon DSLRs. The AE-L/AF-L button is placed similarly as on the D90 – further away from the rear rotating dial. I wish it was closer or there was a dedicated AF-ON button like on the pro-level bodies, because I usually move the focusing action from the camera shutter to a dedicated button (for focusing and recomposing shots). Lastly, the focus switch located on the front left side of the D7000 has also been redesigned – there is now a button in the middle of the switch that allows changing autofocus modes – also a welcomed change that gives faster and simpler control to photographers. The Nikon D7000 also comes with two SD card slots, and you can select how you want to store data on those two card slots, just like on the pro-level bodies. Overall, I am very pleased with how the D7000 is designed.
As for weather and dust protection, Nikon says that the D7000 is sealed to withstand tough weather and dusty environments. I did not have a chance to test it in a dusty environment, but I did take it with me to shoot in very cold temperatures below zero. The camera functioned very well without any problems, but the battery did not last very long, which is normal, because batteries do drain fast in very cold temperatures.
3) Image Sensor and the new Expeed Processor
The most exciting new change for a gear-head like me, is the more powerful Expeed 2 camera processor, along with the new 16.2 MP (megapixel) high-resolution camera sensor. Although I prefer better image quality over a higher number of pixels, the jump from 12 MP to 16 MP is certainly good for folks like me who are into landscape and wildlife photography. Higher resolution sensor means larger prints and more cropping opportunities when photographing wildlife. Nikon has been quite successful in keeping high ISO noise amounts low, while keeping image quality standards high in their latest generation DSLRs with more megapixels. With a 4 megapixel jump, does the Nikon D7000 keep up with image quality of the 12 MP Nikon D90? The answer is further down in this review, where you will find a detailed comparison between the Nikon D7000, D90, D3100 and D700. In short, the Nikon D7000 is Nikon’s best DX sensor thus far.
I have received numerous negative emails and comments from D7000 owners about hot pixels. Many of the D7000 owners seem to think that the D7000 sensor in particular has a hot/stuck pixel issue. I will write a separate article on different types of pixel issues on sensors, because there are hot pixels, dead pixels and stuck pixels (which all mean different things). The one pixel issue most people report about, is a brightly-colored annoying pixel that appears in random parts of the image when the image is shot at high ISOs above 400 and/or at very long exposures. If you are too worried about this problem, you should not be, because EVERY sensor has pixel problems. I remember when I bought my Nikon D80, I was so annoyed by hot pixels, that I sent the camera to Nikon for service. They remapped the hot/stuck pixels for me (which only showed up at ISO 800 and up), but more similar pixels started appearing after a while. Hot/stuck/dead pixels are normal – they happen everywhere. Your PC monitor might have a stuck/dead pixel, your TV might have a couple and camera sensors are not immune from this problem either. When you deal with millions of pixels in a tiny area, some of them will eventually die or malfunction. Every DSLR I have used so far had pixel problems. My Nikon D3s has both hot and stuck pixels. Why do I not worry or care about these pixel problems? Because some of them eventually disappear and the ones that stay are automatically removed/mapped out by Lightroom/Adobe Camera RAW as soon as I open up the image.
Now it is a different story if you are getting stuck pixels at low ISOs and fast shutter speeds – that should not normally happen or if the number of these bad pixels is unusually high. If you shoot in JPEG and you are annoyed by this, simply send the camera back to Nikon and they will remap those pixels for you. But be warned – your camera will eventually develop more of those bad pixels overtime. One more thing to note – hot pixels show up a lot more in hot environments. Try taking a long exposure shot after shooting a long video and I guarantee that you will see plenty of those hot pixels. So stop worrying about those darn pixels! You can’t see any in my images that I post here, can you? Shoot in RAW and let the software deal with bad pixels. You should be worried about sensor dust more than hot pixels.
4) Autofocus Performance
The Nikon D7000 is equipped with a brand-new 39 Point AF System with 9 cross-type sensors. As I pointed out in my DSLR Autofocus Modes article, the higher the number of cross-type sensors, the better. In comparison, the Nikon D90 has 11 focus points and only 1 cross-type sensor, while the Nikon D300s has 51 focus points and 15 cross-type sensors. During the month of testing the camera, I used it in various environments and have a few things to talk about in regards to its performance and accuracy. Let’s talk about autofocus accuracy first.
I know that some of the Nikon D7000 owners have complained about autofocus accuracy and reported having back/front focus issues. I also know that many of the visitors that read this review will focus on this part of the review more than any other, mostly due to the number of complaints they have seen on various online forums. Let me start off by saying that the Nikon D7000 does NOT have a backfocus problem. Before some of the readers who were directly impacted by a D7000 backfocus problem start throwing tomatoes my way, let me first explain this in more detail. There are many variables that affect autofocus accuracy and a number of reasons why images from the D7000 might appear softer compared to older generation cameras. Many photographers who just got the D7000 as their first DSLR or moved from an entry-level DSLR like D40 to a D7000 simply do not have a solid understanding of how to use different focusing modes to obtain accurate focus. Without doing much reading and learning how to use the different AF modes on the camera, they just take pictures hand-held, expecting the D7000 to produce tack-sharp images. There are tons of photographs of blurry dogs and cats on the Internet photographed in Single Servo (AF-S) mode while they are in motion, with photographers blaming the equipment for out of focus images. In other cases, you hear some photographers say stuff like “my Nikon D40 was much sharper and I never had focus problems with any of my lenses on it”. Wait a second. Before, they were viewing a 6 MP image at 100% on their computer screens and now they are viewing a 16 MP image at 100% and are expecting both to look equally sharp? Of course they are! But they do not seem to understand the following:
- High resolution sensors need better lenses that can resolve more detail. Do not expect your old crappy DX kit lens to give you super sharp images on the D7000.
- Camera shake is more noticeable on high resolution sensors when images are viewed at 100%.
- Even slight autofocus errors are quite visible on high resolution sensors.
So, going back to viewing a 6 MP image versus a 16 MP image at 100%, if those photographers resized the 16 MP image to 6 MP in Photoshop, they would not see much difference in sharpness between the two 6 MP images. Take a look at the following examples:
The first image is a 100% crop from a 6 MP image, while the second one is a 100% crop from a 12 MP image. Looking at the 6 MP image, I can say that it looks acceptably sharp to me and if I add a little bit of sharpening in Photoshop, I will get a very usable image. Now take a look at the second image – this one looks soft/blurry in comparison. Both are taken from the same image and one is simply resized to smaller resolution. That’s why if your lens is not very sharp or if it slightly front/back focuses, you would not normally notice any problems when it is mounted on a low-resolution camera. Many photographers did not even know about front/back focus issues until they tried out the D7000 or saw hundreds of messages on online forums. Simply put, Nikon opened a can of worms with a high resolution sensor and people all of a sudden started discovering focus problems with their lenses.
Front/back focus issues are mostly related to lenses, not camera bodies. Again, as I have pointed out above, a slight focusing problem of a lens might not be noticeable on a low resolution sensor, but will certainly show up at high resolutions. Add camera shake and motion blur at slow shutter speeds and the situation is worsened even more. Not all lenses are perfectly calibrated when they leave Nikon factories, as can be seen from some of my Nikon lens reviews, so you should not be surprised if your lenses are not 100% accurate. If you did not notice a focus problem with your lens before, it does not mean that it did not exist.
Now this all does not mean that a DSLR body cannot have any issues. I’m sure a number of Nikon D7000 camera bodies actually had some focusing problems – a normal problem that occurs when a product is manufactured. Some experienced photographers have clearly demonstrated DSLR autofocus problems and I am not going to argue with them. However, the number of people who truly had an autofocus problem with a D7000 body is extremely small. Inside the DSLR body, AF problems could be caused by badly aligned internal components and other calibration issues that are easy to fix by the manufacturer. If all of your lenses have focus issues which are not present on a different DSLR body, then you might have one of those defective DSLRs that need to be repaired/recalibrated by Nikon. Don’t try to repair or recalibrate the camera yourself. There are some people who advise to use a hex wrench inside the camera chamber to fix the focus problem, but it is not a good idea for two reasons – you might damage your camera and you might make AF accuracy even worse. Nikon uses specialized computer equipment to calibrate cameras and lenses and you should let them handle that instead.
Another reason why we hear so much about backfocus issues on the D7000 is because Nikon gave the ability to use AF Fine Tune on the D7000 (Nikon D90 and entry-level DSLRs do not have this feature). Many photographers, especially newbies, experiment with AF Fine Tune too much and they end up with even worse results. Tweaking AF Fine Tune values requires careful testing using special charts for accurate results, so I would not just use any arbitrary number and hope it will work. Obviously, using other people’s AF Fine Tune values is no good either… Lastly, autofocus problems on DSLRs and lenses have been known for many years now, pretty much since the day autofocus was invented. If you search for “backfocus test” in Google, you will find articles from 10+ years ago. So it is NOT a new problem on the D7000 – there were back focus issues even back in the film days.
I hope this clears things up. Let’s get back to the Nikon D7000 AF system and what I think of it.
The new 39 point AF system behaves similarly to the 59 point AF system used in higher-end Nikon DSLRs. While it might not be as good for fast-moving subjects, it performs quite well in most situations. If you are used to the simple Nikon D90 AF system, you will find the AF system on the D7000 to be a huge upgrade and overall a much better, more reliable and more responsive AF system. In bright conditions outdoors, the Nikon D7000 snaps into focus very fast. Lenses with fast AF motors like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G perform exceptionally well on the D7000. In low-light conditions, the AF accuracy starts to suffer depending on the amount of ambient light. I had a few cases where the D7000 indicated that focus was acquired properly, when in fact it was not. Switching to the center AF point indoors certainly helps a lot and AF performance gets more reliable though (you have to be careful about focusing and then recomposing when shooting at large apertures and shallow depth of field, because you could end up with an out of focus image, due to a change in focus plane). If you have been using an entry-level DSLR or a D90, you will definitely like the D7000 AF system. However, if you have been using a pro-level DSLR like Nikon D700/D3s, you will find the low light AF performance to be a little weak in comparison. Once you get used to how the D7000 autofocuses, you will be able to get great results, even indoors.
Here is an example of a portrait that was shot indoors in low light with the Nikon D7000:
Here is the full-size version of the above image (4.8 MB JPEG – RAW to JPEG conversion performed in Lightroom, some sharpening was applied to the image – Amount: 50, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 50, Masking: 20). Focusing was performed in ambient light (Single Servo/AF-S) and the shot was taken with a single off-camera flash positioned on the left of the subject, shot through an umbrella. Shot with Nikon D7000 + Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II @ 112mm, f/2.8, 1/20, ISO 200, VR On. The rest of the EXIF data is embedded in the file.
Here is another example, shot in a studio in good light:
The full-size version of the above image can be downloaded from here (1 MB JPEG – RAW to JPEG conversion performed in Lightroom, some sharpening was applied to the image – Amount: 50, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 50, Masking: 20). Continuous Servo/AF-C mode with two studio lights using an octabank (main light on the left) and a softbox (positioned to the right as fill light). Shot with the Nikon D7000 + Nikon 50mm f/1.4G @ f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 200. The rest of the EXIF data is embedded in the file.
Overall, I am very pleased with the new AF system on the D7000.
5) Metering and Exposure
Nikon has introduced a brand new 2,016-pixel RGB sensor into the D7000 that is supposed to properly expose scenes shot even in some of the most difficult lighting conditions. The sensor is based on a scene recognition system that can identify human skin tone and faces. Because of this, the Nikon D7000 exposes subjects differently than previous generation DSLRs, putting more priority on properly exposing people’s faces, sometimes disregarding other bright areas of the image. I first noticed this when I was photographing Lola outside (we needed her portraits for her business) – the camera would overexpose almost every time, no matter what kind of light I had in the background. I found myself dialing negative exposure compensation between -0.7 to -1.7 for almost every single shot. Lola was wearing a black winter coat, which was not easy to meter, but still, in almost every case the camera overexposed by at least a stop. Take a look at this example (as it came out of camera, no adjustments in Lightroom, including WB were made):
I had to dial a negative -0.7 exposure compensation for the above shot (which I think is still a little overexposed), because the camera was grossly overexposing the image in matrix metering. I focused on Lola’s face with a single focus point in Continuous Servo/AF-C mode, so I initially could not understand why the D7000 was overexposing the scene. Only after getting home and reading more about the new color and pattern matching sensor on the D7000, I finally understood what was going on. The camera was simply trying to expose Lola’s face properly and it did not pay much attention to what was going on elsewhere in the frame, even when the background was much brighter than the foreground. This is good news when we shoot subjects in backlit situations (with the sun or another bright source of light on the back of the subject) – looks like now we don’t have to dial positive exposure compensation to brighten up people’s faces. For all other situations when photographing people, however, I believe that this new system does result in overexposure quite often. I did not see any problems with overexposure in Matrix Metering when photographing scenes without people (landscapes, architecture, etc) though, which is good news. One more thing to add to this – if you are photographing in Single-Point AF-Area Mode, your camera will meter based on where you are pointing the focus point. Therefore, if the object you are focusing on with the single AF point is dark, the rest of the image might come out overexposed. This is normal behavior, because the camera is simply emphasizing that focus area.
6) Movie Recording
Although I personally do not shoot much video (except for occasional family videos), the high-def 1080p video mode on the Nikon D7000 was very tempting to try. I shot a couple of videos of my kids indoors in good light and the video quality was indeed impressive. After seeing some reports about hot pixels showing up in videos at high ISOs, I decided to see if my copy of the D7000 was affected. Indeed, a couple of rather large hot pixels did show up when I shot videos at ISO 3200. I then updated the firmware of the D7000 to the current 1.01 version and the hot pixels did not show up again. Other than this, I did not see any problems with video recording on the D7000. Manual exposure control is nice, but you cannot change aperture or ISO while recording video, so do it before pressing the red record button. Live View/Video mode is super easy to switch to, thanks to the new lever on the back of the camera and I certainly like it much more than the “Lv” button on other Nikon DSLRs.
7) Dynamic Range
When it comes to dynamic range, the Nikon D7000 seems to have a very similar dynamic range as other DX cameras like Nikon D90 and Nikon D300s. I did not perform any scientific tests to measure dynamic range, but I did a few RAW adjustments to some images and I was able to recover plenty of highlight/shadow detail. One major difference between the Nikon D7000 and other current-generation DX and FX sensors I have not talked about yet, is Nikon D7000’s base ISO. Most current Nikon DSLRs (except for the new Nikon D3100 and Nikon D3x) have a base ISO of 200 and it looks like Nikon is going back to ISO 100, judging from the D3100 and D7000 sensors. Why is this important? Because all DSLRs have the highest amount of dynamic range and lowest amount of noise at base ISO. If you were to shoot a high contrast scene (with dark and bright tones) at base ISO and then shoot the same scene at a higher ISO like 800, you would be able to recover more data from the base ISO shot. Therefore, if you want to recover more details without doing any bracketing or HDR, you should use ISO 100 on the Nikon D7000. This is especially important for architectural and landscape photography. As for Active D-Lighting, if you shoot RAW and do not use Nikon’s Capture NX2 product, you should turn it off. For all other cases, leaving Active D-Lighting at “Auto” works great.
8) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some technical junk:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 3000 Temp, +9 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 100
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens with VR set to “Off” was used for all tests
- Aperture: f/4.0
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW/NEF
- Imported images into Lightroom and cropped to 100% – no resizing was performed in Photoshop
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon D7000 performs at low ISOs that I use the most. Here are some crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
As I have already stated earlier, the noise levels at base ISO are typically the cleanest, as the above crops indicate. ISO 100 and ISO 200 look identical in terms of details, but ISO 200 already has a little more luminance noise in the shadows (visible on the right side of the image). ISO 400 picks up noise even more, with grain starting to appear in other darker parts of the image. At ISO 800, noise starts to affect the shadows, but the image details are still preserved across the frame. Overall, the ISO performance of the Nikon D7000 at ISOs 100-800 yields very good results.
9) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality. Here is how the Nikon D7000 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
ISO 1600 adds a bit more grain when compared to ISO 800, but there is still plenty of detail to work with. I would not hesitate to use ISO 1600 on the D7000 as well and would probably use noise reduction software if I needed to get rid of the noise. At ISO 3200 we are seeing loss of detail, especially in the shadows, but the image is still usable. ISO 6400 looks too grainy for me and there is a high level of noise across the frame. Judging from the above crops and my field tests, I personally would shoot between ISO 100-1600 and push ISO to 3200 every once in a while when needed, staying out of ISO 6400 as much as possible.
10) High ISO Performance “Boost” (ISO 12800-25600)
Nikon D7000 has two extra ISO “boost” levels – ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for extreme situations. Take a look at these:
As you can see, there is plenty of detail/sharpness loss at ISO 12,800 and chroma/color noise is quite visible. The shadows on the toy have no texture left and there is lots of high magnitude noise across the frame. ISO 25,600 is much worse and looks unusable to me.
10) ISO Performance Summary
It is hard to judge the performance of the Nikon D7000 without direct comparison against other cameras, which is why you should definitely check out the next section of this review. One thing for sure – the Nikon D7000 performs very well for a 16 MP DX camera. Let’s see what kind of a difference there is between the Nikon D7000 and the older generation Nikon D90.
Compared to Nikon D90
Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality. Additional information and differences in camera features is provided in my Nikon D7000 vs D90 article.
Any time a comparison between two different sensors is made (especially with different megapixel counts), one has to make sure that the tests are performed carefully, since any error could result in incorrect/invalid results. Resizing images in software to compensate for the field of view/resolution differences is never a good idea. Therefore, I used the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II for this test (which is very sharp across the zoom range) at different focal lengths to get equivalent sizes of objects at different resolutions. The only other method was to move my setup back and forth or show crops at different fields of view, but I did not want to do that, because it would be hard to compare the images. The Nikon D7000 was shot at approximately 86mm and the Nikon D90 was shot at approximately 102mm. To make sure that I do not get major differences in depth of field, I changed the aperture to f/8.0. I turned off Active D-Lighting and Noise Reduction on both cameras and used exactly the same shutter speed and ISO.
Whenever manufacturers increase the number of pixels on the same size sensor, pixel density increases and individual pixel size decreases. This ultimately results in less dynamic range and higher amounts of noise, unless new sensor technologies and noise-reduction algorithms are employed. So far Nikon has been doing a pretty good job in keeping ISO noise levels to the minimum whenever a new sensor with higher resolution is released. Let’s see if the same holds true for the new D7000.
11) Nikon D7000 vs D90 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
At low ISOs between ISO 100 and 800, both Nikon D7000 and Nikon D90 have about the same noise levels with slightly cleaner shadows from the D90. In terms of details though, the Nikon D7000 images appear a little more “punchy” and slightly more detailed than D90 images. At first, I thought that it was a focus issue, but then I retested both cameras after carefully acquiring focus through Live View and got the same results. Take a look at the below crops at ISO 100 (L 1.0 on Nikon D90), 200, 400 and 800:
Please note that ISO 100 on the Nikon D90 is not the base ISO. That’s probably why the D90 image at ISO 100 came out slightly brighter.
As you can see, the amount of noise is very comparable at ISO 100 and 200, but the D7000 fur details look better.
At ISO 400 and 800, the noise levels on the D90 look slightly better, but the D7000 still leads with the amount of details.
12) Nikon D7000 vs D90 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? Let’s take a look:
At ISO 1600, the amount of detail and the level of luminance noise on both D90 and D7000 are about the same, although D7000 seems to retain detail a tad better.
As we increase ISO to 3200, both again look very similar, with D90 starting to add some larger artifacts to shadows. Nikon D90 also starts to lose some colors when compared to D7000.
ISO 6400 is not a native ISO mode on the Nikon D90 (H1.0), so we start seeing some amount of chroma noise and more artifacts on the D90. The Nikon D7000 image has about the same amount of luminance noise, but retains the colors slightly better. Shadow details on both look about the same, while the highlight details on the D7000 are still better. Either way, I personally would not shoot at ISO 6400 on either camera.
13) Nikon D7000 vs D90 Summary
As you can see, the Nikon D7000 is very similar to Nikon D90 in terms of handling noise, which is great, given the 4 MP difference between the sensors. I was surprised to see images from the D7000 with more details in both highlights and shadows though. With the higher number of megapixels, it should technically be the other way around. In addition, the Nikon D7000 seems to be retaining the colors at high ISOs better than D90, with less artifacts and chroma noise. I personally try not to shoot above ISO 800-1600 when using cropped-sensor/DX cameras, so performance differences above ISO 3200 are not as vital for me.
Compared to Nikon D3100
For the Nikon D7000 vs D3100 test, I used the same focal length at the same distance due to a relatively small difference in megapixels and field of view (Nikon D3100 has a 14.2 MP sensor, while the Nikon D7000 has a 16.2 MP sensor). Again, both cameras had the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO values and Noise Reduction + Active D-Lighting were turned off as well. Focusing was performed via Live View contrast detect.
14) Nikon D7000 vs D3100 High ISO Comparison
Low ISO performance between ISO 100 and ISO 800 looks almost identical on both Nikon D3100 and Nikon D7000, with a very equivalent amount of noise and detail. The same seems to hold true for high ISO performance – take a look at these crops at ISO 1600, 3200, 6400 and 12800:
At ISO 3200 the Nikon D3100 seems to add some artifacts here and there and the shadow detail seems to be lost more. However, the amount of noise is about the same on both cameras, which is good news for the Nikon D3100.
ISO 6400 looks poor on both, with lots of noise and loss of detail/sharpness.
And ISO 12800 is even worse, pretty much unusable on both.
12) Nikon D7000 vs D3100 Summary
Although the Nikon D3100 does not have many of the Nikon D7000 features, it performed quite well against the D7000. I believe Nikon uses the same noise-reduction algorithm on both cameras, because noise pattern and levels look very similar on both. The Nikon D7000 still wins though, because it has 2 MP more resolution and seems to retain details better at high ISOs.
Let’s move on to the next comparison between Nikon D7000 and Nikon D700.
Compared to Nikon D700
There is no such thing as a fair comparison when you put a DX sensor against an FX sensor. A larger sensor means larger pixels, which translates to cleaner images. I know FX vs DX is always a heated debate, with plenty of people defending each side, but for me – the low ISO performance of a full-frame sensor was something that made me permanently switch to FX. I was simply never happy with noise showing up even at base ISO on DX sensors. Everybody talks about high ISO performance difference between FX and DX, but people rarely show examples of low noise of the FX sensor at low ISOs. Take a look at this crop from D7000 at ISO 200 and compare it to a crop from D700 at the same ISO:
See what I mean? Images from full-frame sensors will always be cleaner at low ISOs when compared to DX and the above example is a clear demonstration of this. The same is true for all ISO levels between ISO 200 and ISO 800 – FX looks better in all cases.
Now let’s take a look at what happens at high ISOs between ISO 1600 and ISO 25600.
15) Nikon D7000 vs D700 High ISO Comparison
I typically set my Auto ISO max value to ISO 1600 on my Nikon D700, due to low amount of noise and plenty of detail in both highlights and shadows. Let’s see how the Nikon D7000 compares against the D700 at ISO 1600:
As you can see, the difference is pretty clear – the Nikon D700 is much cleaner at ISO 1600. What about ISO 3200?
The situation at ISO 3200 is very similar to that of ISO 1600 – Nikon D7000 is showing plenty of noise in comparison.
ISO 6400 is my threshold on the D700 for worst case scenarios where I need to use a high ISO. D700 is still much cleaner than D7000 and it certainly retains a lot more details in shadows and highlights.
ISO 12,800 and 25,600 is a little better on the D700, but still unusable on both cameras for my taste.
16) Nikon D7000 vs D700 Summary
Once again, comparing a cropped-sensor camera to a full-frame camera is never an apples-to-apples comparison. I decided to provide the above crops simply as a reference, for people to see how the new D7000 compares against the older D700 full-frame DSLR. Yes, the Nikon D7000 is a superb high ISO performer when compared to other cropped sensors, but it still is not on the FX league in terms of noise handling, especially at low ISO levels. Obviously the Nikon D7000 has a 4 MP advantage we should not forget about, but even downsizing images to 12 MP does not ultimately result in the same clean look FX gives to images. Even ISO 3200 on the D700 looks better than ISO 1600 on the D7000, so there is still more than a stop of difference between the two.
Without a doubt, the Nikon D7000 is a very impressive camera that is packed with plenty of features to make every photo enthusiast happy. Its high-resolution 16.2 MP sensor delivers great performance at both low and high ISO levels, providing even better details in shadows and highlights when compared to previous generation Nikon DSLRs. The 4 MP of added resolution is certainly good news to those that want to upgrade their older DSLRs, because the extra resolution on the D7000 comes without sacrificing image quality. The tougher construction, added speed, new 39-point AF system, ability to record 1080p movies, dual memory card slots and better controls make the D7000 a nice upgrade for the current Nikon entry-level and D70/D80/D90 owners.
The Nikon D7000 has a few features that can only found on the D300s and higher pro-level DSLR bodies. For example, the ability to fine tune autofocus on lenses (AF Fine Tune), ability to use older manual focus lenses (Non-CPU Lens Data) and triggering camera at different intervals for time lapse photography (Intervalometer) are not present on any entry-level DSLRs and semi-pro bodies like Nikon D90. Oh, and unlike the D300/D300s, shooting 14-bit RAW does not slow down the D7000! While all this sounds good, Nikon D7000 does have a few annoyances worth talking about.
Let’s start with autofocus performance of the D7000. Although I did not have any front/back focus issues and the AF system on the D7000 was quick and accurate in most situations, there were some cases in dim light when the camera indicated that focus was accurate, when it was not. For fast-action photography, although the AF system performed quite well when I photographed birds, I still like the versatility of the 59 AF system on the D300s more – it seems to be more responsive to sudden changes than the D7000. On top of that, the D7000 has a much smaller buffer than the D300s, so it was not very practical to shoot fast action in RAW at high speeds. After a short initial burst that lasts less than two seconds, the camera starts to crawl, even with the fastest Class 10 SD Cards. To really take advantage of the 6 FPS (frames per second), you would have to switch to JPEG and lower its size – not something I would want to compromise on. So if you are heavily into sports and wildlife photography, I would recommend getting a D300s instead.
The second issue is with its new 2,016-pixel metering sensor that seems to cause images to get overexposed when photographing people. Its pattern/color/skin recognition system can put too much emphasis on a certain part of the frame, practically ignoring the rest. When compared to other Nikon DSLRs, the metering behavior is different and will probably take some time to get used to. Although over-exposing your shots a little (metering to the right) is generally a good practice, you do not want to overexpose too much, because you will start to lose highlights. In some situations, I had to dial between -0.7 EV to -1.7 EV (exposure compensation) to get good exposures. I am OK with dialing -0.3 to -0.7 EV, since some older Nikon DSLRs are also known to overexpose a little, but -1.7 EV is just too much. Nikon should have tweaked their new metering system a little better.
Lastly, I am not very happy with the new battery, charger and MB-D11 grip that only work with the D7000. Although the new battery is supposed to be better and should last longer, it is unfortunate that I cannot use my EN-EL3e batteries that I was happily using with the D300 and D700 cameras. My MB-D10 that could easily swap between the D300/D700 also cannot be used with the D7000. Unless the new battery type and holder are going to be used in the upcoming Nikon D400/D800 cameras, I’m sure this is something the current D80/D90/D200/D300/D300s/D700 owners will brag about.
Other than the above issues, the Nikon D7000 is a winner in pretty much every other category.
18) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon D7000 body only for approximately $996 (as of 11/13/2012).
19) More image samples
Click here to download the full-size version of the file (1.3 MB).
Click here to download the full-size version of the file (5.6 MB).
Click here to download the full-size version of the file (5.9 MB).
Click here to download the full-size version of the file (1.3 MB).
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Packaging and Manual
Photography Life Overall Rating