March 2011 Archives

In preparation for my NikoniansPress book, Mastering the Nikon D7000, I bought a Nikon D7000 and AF-S Nikkor 18-105 f/3.5-5.6G VR lens. Having purchased virtually every Nikon DSLR released since 2002 I wasn’t overly excited about “yet another camera.” Before I bought the D7000 I had only seen it on the internet and it looked like another D90.  New and improved … yay! (Darrell yawns.)

Figure 1 – Mode dials on the D90, D7000, and D300S

However, when I opened the box and lifted the camera out of its bubble wrap I raised my eyebrows in surprise. I expected to be seeing a D90 clone with some more menu items and the controls in a different place for variety. Instead, what I had in my hand looked and felt more like my D300S than my D90. I noticed immediately that some key controls had been added to the body instead of being buried in menus. For instance the Mode dial on top has a ring under it containing the camera’s Release modes. Look at the pictures in figure 1 where I have compared the Nikon D90, D7000, and D300S.  Can you see how the D7000 is like a combination of the D90 and D300S?

Figure 2 – Body Overview of the three competing cameras

In addition, the camera felt different in my hand. There’s nothing wrong with a D90, it takes great pictures, but the camera body has a plastic feel. The D7000 does not feel like a D90.  The metal body with a better rubber coating gives it a hefty feel in my hand. I feel more confident that the camera can take the daily abuse of shooting lots of pictures. This is something that is hard to take a picture of, but I wanted you to directly compare the way the D7000 looks in comparison to the D300S and D90 (see figure 2). Notice how the grip is more rounded on the D7000, like the D300S.  The D90 has a grip that simply feels different. I find that the D7000 body feels like a slightly smaller D300S in my hand.

Shooting with the D7000

About this time my daughter-in-law decided to give birth.  What better way to test out a new Nikon than on pictures of a cute little baby. I headed for the hospital with the D7000 in hand. I only brought the AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5–5.6G VR kit lens with me.  I’ve found that this lens is sharp and has a great range for general shooting, so it seemed like a good choice for baby and family pictures. Figure 3 shows my new grandson, Rylan Young, only a few minutes after he was born.

Figure 3 – Rylan, Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm lens at 70mm,
1/60s at f/8, ISO 200, Matrix Meter, direct flash from pop-up speedlight. SD Picture Control.

Using the Auto exposure mode, Auto area-AF, along with the popup speedlight I was able to compose some great images with little effort. This is how a camera is supposed to work. When you want a good picture but want to focus on your subject more than photography, why not use a camera that will reliably do everything for you, while you enjoy the occasion.  Both my daughter-in-law and the D7000 delivered.

Noise Control

Once the initial excitement died down I thought I would test the camera for noise control. I had read that the D7000 was better than other cameras at noise control and it was true. I cranked the ISO up to 800 and took a few more shots.  In figure 4 you’ll see both a full sized image and a 100% blowup of the results at 800 ISO. This image is about 1/3 stop underexposed.  Check out the 100% area.  Where’s the noise?

Figure 4 – Rylan, Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm lens at 62mm,
1/60s at f/5.3, ISO 800, Matrix Meter, direct flash from pop-up speedlight. SD Picture Control.

I am very impressed with the noise control that Nikon has added to this camera. It is better than my D2x, D90, and D300S. I shot more images at higher ISOs. At 1600 ISO noise was still not bad at all. It’s hard to quantify something like this, and even harder to show in an article.  Let me just say that the Nikon D7000 is probably about 35% better at high ISOs than my D300S.  It’s an amazing DX sensor.

Image Sharpness

One of the things that I really want out of a camera is a sharp image. Of course, the lens has a lot to do with image sharpness, however, the sensor must be able to produce a sharp image or the lens won’t matter much. Do you think shooting with a kit lens will tell you anything about sharpness? I didn’t think so, until I shot with the D7000 and its AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens.  I took a lot of pictures at the hospital and was really impressed with their sharpness.  Let me show you a picture cutout at 100% again to help you see you what I mean.

Figure 5 – Emily Young & Gabriel Bruning – Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm lens at 70mm,
1/60s at f/8, ISO 200, Matrix Meter, direct flash from pop-up speedlight. SD Picture Control.

In Figure 5 is a picture of my daughter Emily and her husband, Gabriel.  When I examined this image at 100% pixel-peeping level on my computer monitor, I was amazed at the fact that I was seeing individual facial hairs and veins in eyeballs resolved. Keep in mind that this is a VR stabilized, handheld, direct-flash shot. What do you think about the sharpness?  Once again, this shot was handheld with the kit lens. Imagine what the camera can do with premium Nikkor glass on a tripod?

Shooting at a Wedding Reception

I recently shot a wedding where I used the D7000 as a backup.  I never shoot the main ceremony with equipment I am not completely familiar with so I used my D300S as the primary camera. However, I took a large number of images at the reception with the D7000 so that I could see how it performs. Now that I am more familiar with the camera I will use it more during the ceremony on the next wedding.

If you’ve ever shot a wedding reception you know that you walk around taking pictures of people eating, dancing, laughing, and having a good time. The room is always dark, to add to the romantic mood, so you need to have good flash control.  The D7000 delivered there as well. I was interested in seeing how a small Nikon SB-400 flash would perform on the camera.  I also wondered how well the popup flash would do.

Figure 6 – Family and Friends – Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm lens at 45mm,
1/60s at f/4.8, ISO 800, Matrix Meter, direct flash from Nikon SB-400. SD Picture Control.

In figure 6 you can see how the SB-400 worked on the D7000. This group picture was well lit and the room light was blended well with the flash. I took hundreds of images with the camera and SB-400 flash and found it much easier to use than my D300S. Why? Well, the D300S makes you think about the pictures. I shoot in Aperture priority mode and f/8 at most weddings so I have to be careful to make sure my histogram is just right. Sure, I could go into ISO Auto mode and let the D300S adjust its ISO, but I invariably forget that I’ve set it to Auto ISO and later lose some shots to noise.  

Instead, I decided to use the D7000 to shoot most of the reception. The camera is not as heavy, the SB-400 flash tiny in comparison to my SB-900, and the Auto mode on the command dial simply gets the shot every time.  Since the D7000 controls noise so much better than any other DX camera I’ve used, I felt comfortable just shooting without thought.  I just walked around and took pictures.  Nearly all of them were exactly what I wanted.  This is one amazing camera. Just look at those nice skin tones! The group image in figure 6 is at 800 ISO, which is where the D7000/SB-400 combo seemed to settle for most indoor flash shots.

Figure 7 – Family and Friends – Nikon D7000, AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm lens at 18mm,
1/60s at f/4, ISO 560, Matrix Meter, direct flash from popup flash. SD Picture Control.

Next, I wanted to see how the popup flash would work. These tiny built-in speedlights are not very powerful, unless you get close, or like in my case, use the Auto mode. When in Auto mode the camera can adjust the ISO to whatever it needs to “get the picture.”  I was curious how the D7000 would handle varying light conditions. Figure 7 is an example of the popup flash at 560 ISO. I wanted to see how the camera would perform when I shot wide in a darkened room.  Most of the lights were off in this shot because they were getting ready to start dancing.  What amazed me is that the D7000 did not burn out the skin tones on these two young ladies even though most of what it could see was dark.  Many cameras tend to burn out the subject when shooting against a dark background.  Look at what the D7000 did in Auto mode.  How much better could you make it perform if you took control of the camera?  The D7000 gives you a choice!

My Thoughts on the Nikon D7000

The Nikon D7000 camera is mature technology—finally. Why do I say that? Well, as an author of camera books and a user of digital cameras since 1999, I’ve seen a gradual progression of technology. So have you, right?

Starting with my first DSLR, the Nikon D100 in 2002, I’ve taken digital photography very seriously. As each new camera feature arrived I’ve enjoyed it; yet I wanted even more. I was always reaching for more resolution, faster autofocus, larger monitor screens—bigger, better, faster, more, more, more. Every 18 months, or so, I’d buy the latest thing out and rejoice over its superior goodies. Now, after over 10 years of doing this, the technology has progressed to the point that more, more, more is not as appealing as it once was.

Like you, I enjoy a new camera, and I’m sure we’ll both keep right on buying them. However, with the mature technology found in the Nikon D7000 it isn’t absolutely necessary to buy for several years. Think about it. How many megapixels do you need? The D7000 has 16+ megapixels. With file sizes that large you can make huge prints, even up to wall mural and roadside billboard sizes. Do you really need more megapixels? Honestly, we don’t need more, even if we might want more. Only specialist photographers really need more than about the 12 megapixel level. So the D7000 has a mature image size.

Figure 8 – Multi-CAM 4800DX AF Module

What about autofocus? The D7000 with its new Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus system can focus in light levels in which you can barely focus your own eyes. It has 39 focus points spread around the viewfinder in a pattern that covers the subject well and multiple modes that allow you to shoot static or moving objects equally well. It has all the AF modes a semi-pro camera needs, including 3D color-based tracking of moving subjects. Birders and race car shooters should pay attention to this camera.

Figure 9 – 16.2 Megapixel Imaging Sensor

The imaging sensor has sensitivity levels that range from 100 ISO to 25,600 ISO. With that much light gathering capability you can literally shoot in the dark, getting excellent images and video. Do you remember the old film days when 400 ISO film was amazing? Well, just imagine 25,600 ISO. Do you need more—really?

Figure 10 – 920,000 Dot 3 inch LCD Monitor

The camera’s LCD monitor screen has the resolution of early computer monitors in a size that lets you see detail down to the individual pixel level. It can display pictures, slide shows, and movies. What more do you need?

The D7000 has nearly any exposure mode you could desire, with full and partial automation available, or even complete manual control; all with the turn of a dial. It can capture up to six images in one second, allowing you to shoot action shots with ease.

Figure 11 – Magnesium-Alloy Body

The camera has a robust magnesium alloy body in the most critical areas, with a nice easy-to-grip rubber coating. It’s built for years of faithful service. The weight of the camera is not too heavy for most. It makes a good camera for daily use, hiking, events, and general shooting. I particularly like the external controls on the camera body. Unlike its predecessor, the Nikon D90, the D7000 has the most important controls on external dials and switches. That moves it into a different class of camera.  In my opinion, you should consider the D7000 much closer to a semi-pro camera, like the D300S/D700, than the earlier D90. Instead of digging through menus to adjust the camera, you can just turn a dial or flip a switch for immediate results. That is a professional-level feature. It feels like a mini-D300S. 

Figure 12 – New control switch and button for Live View and Video

If you are interested in shooting video, the D7000 is better than most other DSLRs. With full-time autofocus and a stereo mic input you can buy all the goodies that converts a DSLR into a balanced, leveled movie maker, or you can just flip the switch and push the button for some excellent 1080p video of your family and friends. 

Figure 13 – Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots

Added to that is the dual card slots, giving you plenty of storage capacity for shooting until you’re satisfied. Honestly, what more do you need than the Nikon D7000? What I’m trying to say is simple. You may be like me, with a chronic case of NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome), which compels you to buy the latest camera Nikon makes. However, with the mature level of technology found in this highly desirable camera, it’s no longer necessary to upgrade constantly.

Figure 14 – Nikon D7000 and AF-S Nikkor 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens

Maybe it would be better to keep using the D7000 camera body for years to come and buy some great lenses instead of a new body. The lens is more important than the camera body for great photography. Combine a great camera body, like the new D7000 (see figure 14), with some excellent Nikkor lenses and you’ll be making the best images you’ve ever created.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

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