I admit: I too can sometimes find a new camera so appealing that I have to try it out. In the case of the Nikon D7000, it's so popular and hard to find right now that I saw little risk in buying one. If I didn't like it enough to keep it I would have little trouble selling it. I haven't yet made my final decision. In the meantime, though, I thought I'd share my impressions with you. These impressions are based on having used the D7000 primarily for street photography, which constitutes the majority of my personal work, and secondarily for studio photography, which is what I do professionally if and when the opportunity presents itself.
For street photography I prefer a camera that is comfortable to carry and hold; relatively unobtrusive; available with small, fast primes; responsive; has accurate autofocus, especially in low light; and that takes only seconds to set and shoot. The less I have to concentrate on how to set the camera and the more I can concentrate on what’s going on around me, the better. The D7000 meets practically all of these requirements.
My studio photography needs are less demanding. The camera will almost always be mounted on a tripod and my subject will be lit by a powerful studio flash unit. A PC flash sync connector is handy but not necessary as long as the camera has a functioning hot shoe. What’s most important is that the camera is easy to set manually from the rear and with the camera locked down. The D7000 meets these requirements as well.
If you’re interested in how well, read on.
As with all menu-driven digital cameras these days, you can either use the D7000 as it’s set up by the factory or you can alter various controls and functions to suit your tastes. I’ve been shooting long enough that I have very specific ideas of what I want a camera to do. Aside from a few minor compromises on my part, I had no trouble setting the D7000 up to my liking. My changes included:
- Moving focus activation from the shutter button to the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera. I prefer to have focus activation separate from the shutter button because once I lift my thumb off the back button the focus is locked, whether I’m using single-frame focus or continuous. I then never have to worry that touching the shutter button will cause the camera to shift focus from where I want it.
- Changing the release priority from focus to shutter. In its default mode, the D7000 will allow the shutter to release only if something is in perfect focus. The exceptions are if the camera and/or the lens are set to manual focus. For a street or sports shooter that could mean a lot of missed shots, hence the change.
- Assigning “Show ISO/Easy ISO” to the main command dial on the rear of camera. When I use aperture-preferred metering I can then control the aperture with the sub-command dial on the front and ISO with the main command dial on the rear. When I use any other exposure mode, the front dial still controls the aperture, the rear controls the shutter speed, and the ISO stays at wherever it was last manually set. Exposure compensation is controlled by a small button located just behind and to the right of the shutter button, so it’s easy to get to.
Note that although the D7000 allows up to plus or minus five stops of compensation, the analog exposure scale shows only 2 stops in either direction. Fortunately, there's also a digital readout, so if you've set the camera to "- 2.7" stops you'll be able to tell.
This was shot at 1/30 second at f/5.6 with the ISO set to 1400. The lens was the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 G Nikkor, zoomed to 46mm and at maximum aperture. This photo looks bright but I shot it at 5:30 p.m. on a rainy fall afternoon. There was barely enough light to focus. And in case you're wondering, no, I didn't do any noise reduction. What you see is what I got.
Another available option is to set the camera to Auto ISO, in which case it will adjust the ISO automatically, up to whatever maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed you pre-set. This will happen only if the camera can’t otherwise produce an “optimal” exposure with the ISO setting you’re using. I discovered that a potential problem with this approach is that the D7000 generally tries to keep the ISO as low as possible, so if you pre-set the shutter speed limit too low (1/15 second, for example) and you’re shooting in Program or Aperture Preferred mode, you can end up with a lower ISO and shutter speed than you might otherwise choose.
A third option is to assign “Show ISO/Easy ISO” to the main command dial, which allows you to use your right thumb to adjust the ISO upwards or downwards at will. This setting also displays the current ISO in the viewfinder. The ISO setting would otherwise be shown only on the top control panel or the rear Info display. Unfortunately, you have to choose between assigning Easy ISO or Easy EV to the main control dial. You can’t get both at once. What you can do, however, is assign one group of settings to User Setting 1 (U1) and another group to User Setting 2 (U2) on the mode dial. I would personally limit the differences between the two, otherwise I’d have trouble remembering what they were.
Nits to Pick
The controls in general are well laid out and there are enough of them that once the camera is set up to your liking you shouldn’t have to do much menu-diving. As a long-time Canon and Pentax user I found the D7000 easy to get used to—with a few exceptions. Let’s start with the top control panel. It measures only about 20mm x 35mm (1-3/8” x 3/4”). It’s not so much that the panel itself is small, it’s that it’s crammed with too much information and most of it is therefore tiny. Shutter speed, aperture, and remaining exposure count are barely 3mm high. The rest are even smaller. Worse yet, the contrast is low, making the information even more difficult to see.
The D7000 does have an “Info” button at the lower right corner of the viewfinder. Pressing this button reveals a much larger and brighter information display on the rear LCD panel. Unfortunately, it too is cluttered, at least to my eyes, and it’s only minimally interactive. You can only use the multi-selector on the back of the camera to navigate among the ten menu items at the bottom of the screen, which include features such as long-exposure noise reduction, color space, and auto-distortion control. The Pentax K-7/K-5, Canon EOS 60D and 7D displays are a lot better in this regard. No matter; the Info screen was still a great convenience when I was using the D7000 for studio shots or in low light.
This was shot handheld at ISO 800, 1/50 second, f/3.5 with a 35mm f/2.0 D Nikkor. For a cropped and down-sampled JPEG, straight out of the camera, with auto exposure and auto white balance, I'd say it's pretty impressive.
That’s it for now. In my next installment I’ll share what it’s like to shoot with the Nikon D7000 and a variety of lenses, including the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S, 35mm f/2.0 D, 50mm f/1.8 AI-S, and 85mm f/2.0 AI Nikkor. In the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to submit them as comments. If you'd like similar efforts in the future, feel free to drop a tip or two in the jar. Consider it a tax-deductible contribution to support photographic research.