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) – it 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.
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.
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 the 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.
Table of Contents