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    August 2012
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My Thoughts on the Nikon D7000

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Ihave finally had a chance to shoot a bit with my new Nikon D7000.  I have not replaced my D700; just “backed it up.” For many years, I carried at least 2 SLR camera bodies. The main reason was that back in the days of film, I often would have a couple different film types I would use for different things and would generally have one type in one body and another in the second body. It was also comforting to know that if something stopped working with one body, I always had the other for “backup.”

I stopped carrying 2 bodies. There were reasons for this, but they were probably not very well thought out

When I switched to digital and my first DSLR (the Nikon D100) in the early 2000’s, I stopped carrying 2 bodies. There were reasons for this, but they were probably not very well thought out.  Other than as “backup” I really didn’t need two bodies anymore.  Digital gave me the ability to “switch film types” every shot; sort of.  And shooting in the camera’s native raw format, I could adjust white balance and color temperature of the light, even after the fact. I could change from (in some cases 100) 200 ISO up to very high ISO ratings with a simple turn of a dial on the camera body, customizing the ISO for each shot, if desired.  So, carrying different film emulsions in different bodies became a thing of the past.

Cost was a major factor.  Used SLR bodies were ubiquitous.  You could find one that would do what you absolutely needed it for a pretty reasonable price.  Not so with digital.  Especially early on, the new digital technology was expensive.  I spent more on the D100 DSLR than I did on my F100 SLR (and took a huge “step down” in terms of the quality of the body, itself.  They weren’t even close to comparable when it came to the camera’s “mechanics”).

We have become more and more dependent on the electronic features offered in these very sophisticated camera bodies.  And these electronics are the part of modern SLR/DSLR camera bodies most likely to fail.  So, the idea of not carrying a backup was probably not well thought out.  I’ve been very fortunate.  Up until my recent Grand Teton trip in 2012, I went for 12 years without any kind of  camera failure.  But in May, that all changed (or threatened to change).

On our first morning, as the light began to “happen” at famed Schwabacher Landing, my D700 started acting up.  Very strangely, it simply would not actuate the shutter and capture an image.  I tried all “the right stuff.” Turn it on and off. Pull the battery. Nothing was working. The battery showed 75% bars.  Finally, after feeling a fair amount of panic, I pulled the third party battery I had purchased (a year ago, which until then, worked fine) and replaced it with the OEM battery and it came to life! Lesson learned, in my view, about third-party batteries.  But nonetheless, a wakeup call.

Electronics are the part of modern DSLR/SLR cameras most likely to fail

The incident convinced me to consider, once again, the wisdom of carrying a second body with me in the field.  Like many enthusiasts, the cost of owning a second, expensive DSLR body is daunting.  Gone are the days when you can find that low-priced, utility, second body.  Digital technology demands that what you carry in a backup DSLR have an internal engine which is somewhat comparable to the main body’s power plant, if you are going to maintain somewhat consistent image quality (the “engine” for film-based cameras was primarily the film you loaded into it; whereas the “engine” for modern DSLR is the sensor and processor under the actual “hood” of the body itself).  A purchase of another DSLR—even a backup—cannot be taken lightly.

The D700 I carry as my primary camera is a “high-end” camera.  Finding an acceptable backup with a reasonably comparable sensor and processor combination means ultimately either matching the D700, going a step “higher” or finding a pretty high-quality substitute.  The D700 is the so-called “full-frame,” 35mm equivalent (as I noted in a recent blog, there really is no such thing as “full-frame”).  But another D700 was going to set me back 2 1/2 times what the eventual choice—the D7000—cost.  So it made sense to do some homework, and some comparison shopping.

The D7000

As I also recently blogged, while it may intuitively seem appropriate, the D7000 is not a D700′ “mini-me.” Strangely, Nikon names the higher-end bodies with lower number series.  Their “flagship” professional body line is the D1, D2, D3, and now, D4 series.  The so-called “entry-level pro” series is the D100, D200, D300 (skip forward) D700 series.  Until the D3, all Nikon bodies incorporated the smaller so-called “APS” sized sensor.  Nikon calls these smaller sensors “DX” and the 35-mm equivalent size, “FX” (see “Size Matters,” for a discussion about sensor size and what that may mean to you).  Why did Nikon skip the 400/500/600? It is not completely clear.  But the D4 was their first foray into the larger 35-mm sensor and at a price tag of nearing $6,000 is considerable for professional and nearing unreachable for the enthusiast.  So, when they finally offered the D700 as the “entry-level” FX camera, at 1/2 that price, they left some “headroom” between the then best “prosumer” D300 and the D700 ( a D600 model has been rumored for some time now and speculation has abounded about whether it would be a next-generation DX step up from the D300/300x models or another iteration of the FX size sensor).

The D7000 is not a D700 “mini-me”

The D7000 is the “logical” next generation from the D300.  Yet is really isn’t; spawning still more speculation about a possible D400 and what that might look like.  Whatever Nikon does next, the D7000 is clearly their top FX offering du jour.  Sporting a 16 megapixel, Sony CMOS sensor with Nikon’s ExSpeed™ processor combination, it is reputed to yield image quality approaching that of the D700.  For the reasons posited in my “Size Matters” blog, I am confident that a head-to-head, technical comparison will show the D700 processor to be the “winner.”  But on a practical level, I am equally confident that it will be difficult for the “eye” to see a lot of difference in the end quality for typical use (prints up to 13″ x “19” and electronic publication).

Once of the factors in my decision was the fact that the D700 is an FX and the D7000, a DX sensor.  In practical terms this means that every lens combination I use on the D700 will be different on the D7000.  Again, in much of my own use, that will be academic (and indeed, in some cases, the small sensor’s “telephoto” effect may even be an advantage.  The primary difference will be in the wide-angle lenses.  Recall that originally, the myriad of available lenses for SLR cameras were designed for the film cross-section of 35mm film.  Because the DX sensor is so much smaller than that, those lenses effectively only used a part of the center-portion of the lenses; yielding a longer “field of view.”  The upshot was that you had an approximate 1.5x factor on all lenses.  In the 10 years following introduction of the APS-sized sensors, camera and third party lens manufacturers have all offered lenses designed for the smaller size sensors; but have continued to measure and express everything in 35mm-equivalent terms—so on all APS sensors, a 50mm lens will still “look” more like a “75-ish” mm lens.   I shoot mainly with zoom lenses, so that really only makes a difference at the ends of the zoom ranges.  But on the wide end, it is problematic, as my current widest “pro” lens is 24mm (so: 24mm on my D700, but 36mm on the D7000).  If I am forced to resort to full-time use of the D7000 in a backup emergency, wider shots will become problematic). But I just couldn’t “justify” spending +$2500 on a camera body (the current price of admission to FX) that would spend the bulk of its time in the bag, only being “dusted off” in an emergency.

At the same time, there have been a number of times that I wished that I didn’t have to do the obligatory “stop-drop-and-roll” of changing lenses every time I had a need for a longer view.  Having a second body that would be ready to shoot and would carry the longer zoom (which I use less often for my shooting style) made some sense.  And having the longer “reach” of the DX sensor combination has times when it can be advantageous.

The D7000 is clearly Nikon’s top FX offering du jour

Hands On

Ergonomics: The D7000 is smaller and lighter than the D700.  In some respects, that is nice.  It is lighter to carry and smaller to pack.  I have medium to large hands and have always felt a comfort in the larger, more beefy bodies for shooting; especially in hand-held situations.  But I have to say that the D7000 feels good; even comfortable in the hands.  I do miss the one or two additional controls on the D700 body whenever I pick up the D7000.  But that may be a function of familiarity more than anything.  For example, the back AF button on the D700 is one of two buttons on the back of the camera and it positioned to the right of the two, closer to immediately behind the shutter button.  It is a button I want to be able to use intuitively, without looking or fumbling for it.   The D7000 combines the two buttons found on the back of the D700 into one.  Fortunately, I don’t use the second button the D700 and therefore don’t miss its function. Likewise, the DOF preview button (another function I want to be able to use “by feel”) is positioned lower and under the lens on the D7000.  When shooting recently, I had to stop and actually walk around the front of the tripod and look for it.  Again, I am hoping it is a matter becoming acclimated.  But it does make switch-hitting between the two more awkward.

On the other hand, some of the controls on the D7000 are more “intuitive” and simpler.  I have often marveled that a $2500 camera body clearly aimed at professionals and advanced shooters has all the “dumbed-down” automatic functions like “shooting modes,” and micro-sized jpg capability.  I have wished, on occasion, that I could remove or turn off and hide all that junk that I will never use.  Likewise, the complex menu system found in most P&S cameras (and unfortunately carried over into high-end DSLR bodies like the D700) seem to make little sense to me (one of the huge draws to me for the Canon G12 was its retro-styled, mechanical dials for settings).  The D7000, for example has a “user-1” and “user-2” setting on the main settings dial to the left of the viewfinder.  I love it.  I wish I had it on the D700 instead of the complex “shooting bank” menus which require delving into the menu system to change. 3 different custom “user” settings (the camera’s main setting is one and U-1 and U-2, add 2 additional) is more than enough for my shooting style. Just a quick turn of the dial (it is rumored that the upcoming D600 will look much like the D700 but will have the U-1/U-2 setting on the settings dial).

Build Quality: The D7000 is weather-sealed and has a magnesium chassis and all-metal lens mount combination, which sets it apart from all the “down-line” current offerings (the D300x is still in production and is arguably better built—I wouldn’t consider it “down-line” but due to its age and cost, I ultimately didn’t consider it an acceptable second body).  The shutter has a sound and reaction to the shutter release that inspires confidence. Although light, it feels solidly built.

Does anybody at Nikon remember the rule-of-thirds???

Viewfinder: The D7000 has a 100% viewfinder.  That seems to me to be a near-essential feature for a serious photographer.  Here’s a real brain-twister: the D700, “full-frame,” entry-level, pro offering by Nikon does not have a 100% viewfinder! Nikon……what were you thinking here?  I compose in the viewfinder.  I find that I spend a lot of trial and error “fiddling” (especially in landscape format) with the framing with the D700.  In the D7000 viewfinder, what you see is what you capture.  I like that.  But it will again, be a point of awkwardness when switching back and forth.

Speaking of viewfinders, does anybody at Nikon remember the “rule-of-thirds?” All of Nikon’s current bodies, inexplicably, have the horizontal divided into near-equal fourths and the vertical in unequal fourths (I don’t think there is a rule of fourths :-)).  I understand that sometimes there are engineering issues (like where the AF points and exposure sensors for the matrix metering system fall).  But it seems to me they should be able to superimpose a “rule-of-thirds” grid on the viewfinder glass.

Accessory Points: I think one of Steve Jobs’ genius traits was the approach of making all the Apple gear have a consistent look and feel.  I wish Nikon engineers retained a little more of that approach.  In fairness, they seem to have been better than their competitors over the years, insisting on engineering “backward-compatibility” in their lens mounts from the time AF and electronics hit the scene, for the most part forward.  But still, the small touches are significant, too.  A huge inconsistency with newer Nikon bodies is the placement of accessories and accessory attachment points.  From my D100 to the D200 to the D700, I was able to use the same MC-35 corded remote.  I like the corded remote.  It is instant and reliable.  It is attached to the camera so I am not constantly fumbling to find it.  But most importantly, it attaches to the front of the body where it does not interfere with tripod mounting—especially the L-bracket attachment. Again, Nikon ….. what in the world were you thinking (clearly, Nikon engineers don’t shoot the way I do).

I purchased a wireless remote. The “coolness” factor is there. The utility is not

With the D7000, it is virtually impossible to have a corded remote and an L-bracket (in my view, an absolutely essential piece of gear) without resorting to a “rube-goldberg” extender.  I have purchased a wireless remote.  The “coolness” factor is clearly there.  It is wafer thin, ultra light, and can fit in my pocket (where I am constantly fumbling and trying to remember which pocket it’s in :-)).  But the utility is just not there. You have to set the dial specifically on the wireless setting (to the exclusion–from what I can see–of the other settings—most notably: the mirror up setting!).  There is a lag (almost reminiscent of the “shutter lag” on early P&S cameras).  You have to have the remote directly in line with the back of the camera and cannot be far away (try moving your shadow out of the way of a shot by standing to the side and the remote simply won’t work—very dodgy).

Electronics: The D7000 autofocuses quickly and surely (despite some comments I have read to the contrary) with both of my Nikkor f2.8 zooms, my Nikkor f2.8 60mm micro and even my cheap Vivitar-manufactured 19-35 f3.5-5.6 zoom.  The matrix and spot metering system appear to be a accurate as any of the modern Nikon metering systems I have used in recent years.  Battery life appears to be decent and the rear LCD, as good as any Nikon DSLR I have owned.  I have not been a “live-view” user or aficionado, preferring the old-fashioned compose-through-the-viewfinder method.  For me, it’s a matter of comfort.  Nor have I even tried the video capability of the camera.  While I may “play” with it at some point, I am not a videographer and consider the video function one of those things I could do without (and maybe spend a little less?).

Image Quality (where the rubber meets the road): Based on my research and preliminary results, and the results of my best friend and frequent photography companion, Rich, there is no doubt that the D7000’s Sony sensor and the new exspeed processor yields impressive image quality results (Rich carries the D7000 as his main body.  He is among a growing group of skilled photographers: enthusiast and professional alike).  I am hard-pressed to see any difference on typical daylight shots between the D700 and the D7000.  Images are smooth, and have good color.  Raw images, before any processing, are reasonably sharp, and free of noise.  And the camera appears to hold the highlights as well as any DSLR I have owned.  I have not used it yet in a low-light shooting situation, but have high expectations, based on my current testing and my research.  In short, Image quality is everything I expected and hoped for.  After all of the other items are considered, image quality is the really critical factor.

Image quality is everything I expected and hoped for

Conclusion

There are a few other items that probably will just take some getting used to (for example, the ISO setting button has been moved from the top of the camera body to the back.  I think that is a minor difference that will be easily internalized).  I really am satisfied with the D7000 at this point, especially as a backup body.  For the most part, it has the familiar, “Nikon” layout that is intuitive and comfortable for long-time Nikon shooters.  But some of the differences may mean that – depending on price-point and my personal “fortunes,”  a D600 (or possibly even a D800) will be in my future.

If you are a serious (or even semi-serious) FX user who is looking to upgrade, I think the D7000 is a no-brainer.  There is just too much good going on with this body to really consider any other current offering.  If you are shooting a D300x and are happy with it, you may want to wait and see what Nikon announces/introduces later this year.  I will not be surprised to see a D400 DX / D600 FX offering.  Given the way technology and improvements are “piggy-backed,” a D400 DX is likely to be yet a step above the D7000, especially for a serious photographer or a pro.  But depending on the cost, I am not sure you could go wrong with not waiting and acquiring the D7000 (the best piece of advice I read when someone asks about purchase/upgrade to a particular model is to determine what you are going to do with it and choose accordingly).

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5 Responses

  1. You shouldn’t be surprised. D600 should be released on 13 Sep with a D400 soon to follow. The D600 is essentially the D800 with a 24 (or so) mp sensor. It will cost around US$1500. It is full frame. It is more-or-less the same sensor that the SONY NEX7 uses. Don’t know much about the D400. Or, if that is just speculation.

  2. Thanks, Ray. I hadn’t seen that price, though I had seen some of the other information. At that price point, its got to garner a serious look from me. In an earlier exchange, you suggested that the D800 was probably as good as I could do in a DSLR for my type of shooting. What has held me back is the price tag. Do you think the D600 becomes the “main” body and relegates the D700 to “backup”?

    • No question of that since Nikon has already discontinued the D700. If everything I read holds true, the D600 will be a much better camera than the D700, which was a great camera. But, time marches on. And technology waits for no man. The D800 would still be the best for you, but as you say that price tag is a serious consideration.

  3. Thank, Ray. I’ll be watching with anticipation next month!

  4. […] polarizer (especially useful for foliage) and cable release. I have recently added to my own gear, a backup camera and a backup […]

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