Nikon D7000 Review

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Nikon D7000 Image Quality

 
Nikon has been the DSLR image quality leader for a few years now so I had high expectations for the D7000. I wanted to see how it compared to my personal camera, the Canon EOS 7D. I also got my hands on a Sony Alpha SLT-A55, which is rumored to use the same sensor. Having all three of cameras at the same time made for a very interesting image quality comparison.

Nikon D7000 - Tractors

I had big expectations for the D7000 so I pushed it hard. Only in the past couple of years have I been willing to shoot over ISO 400 – and then only if I felt I had no choice. But I went out on a limb and shot most of my D7000 action photos at ISO 800. That made it easy to freeze skiers and cyclists at 1/1000th of a second or faster. And just for the hell of it I shot some ski photos at ISO 1600. Printed at 8.5 x 11 inches, ISO 800 and ISO 1600 images looked great. I think 11 x 14 prints would be fine for ISO 1600 and the sky is probably the limit with ISO 800 files. Even ISO 3200 is useable with subjects that don’t need tons of detail. I wouldn’t go over ISO 800 for landscape photos, though.

I shot more than sports with the D7000. I also took it to the Snowcial snow sports and social networking conference where I shot both skiing and speakers under crappy stage lighting. I shot the conference presenters at ISO 6400 and the photos are definitely a bit chunky but still totally usable – especially considering the subject and conditions. Last year I shot the same conference in the same lighting with my Canon EOS 7D and didn’t go above ISO 1600. Those photos have less noise and a bit more detail but there were a lot more throwaways due to motion blur. Since Nikon DSLRs are supposed to have such great high ISO performance I thought, “What the hell?” and went ahead and turned it up to 11 (ISO 6400). Yes, the D7000 also has ISO 12,500 and 25,600 settings. Those are only for show-offs and emergencies, though. They do work and they are impressive. But you don’t want to use them for photos you care about.

Nikon D7000 - Snowcial presentation at ISO 6400

Pixel peepers beware – D7000 photos look a bit hard and chunky at 100%. At first I thought the crunchiness was a problem – I mistook it for increased noise. But after looking at photos at a more reasonable viewing size (50%) and printing a few I’ve decided that’s not the case. I also discovered the Sony Alpha A55 images looked almost the same when viewed at 100% – a pretty sure sign that the A55 and D7000 use the same sensor. I believe the hard grain is a deliberate strategy intended to preserve detail. High ISO D7000 images do seem to render and hold details better than other cameras I’ve used. This was most noticeable at very high ISO settings where image from cameras I’ve used in the past start to get soft and lose detail. For reference, I compared ISO 6400 studio tests for the D7000, the Sony A55 and the Canon EOS 7D. I was surprised to discover that, aside from white balance and exposure differences, the D7000 noise was about the same as the Sony and Canon (see below).

Nikon D7000 - 100 percent sample at 100% Sony Alpha SLT-A55 - 100 percent sample at 100% Canon EOS 7D - 100 percent sample at 100%
        100% crops from (left to right) the Nikon D7000, Sony Alpha A55 and Canon EOS 7D cameras

 
No doubt about it – the Nikon D7000 has great image quality and it’s totally useable up to ISO 3200 and even 6400, depending on your subject. However, after comparing to the Canon EOS 7D and Sony Alpha A55 I have to conclude the image quality is about equal to those two cameras. I have to admit – I expected more from the D7000. I’m not saying it’s bad – not at all. The image quality is great. But based on the past few years of clear Nikon dominance I thought the D7000 would be noticeably better than the Canon EOS 7D and Sony A55.

Nikon D7000 - Lamb Nikon D7000 - Jake - ISO 3200 Nikon D7000 - Utah State Capitol Building
Nikon D7000 - A Tasty Bite Nikon D7000 - Jenni Sipping Tea Nikon D7000 - Salt Lake City Dawn

Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.

Nikon D7000 Studio Test Images
Nikon D7000 Studio Sample Photos
    ISO 125 Sample >>
    ISO 100 Sample >>
    ISO 200 Sample >>
    ISO 400 Sample >>
    ISO 800 Sample >>
    ISO 1600 Sample >>
    ISO 3200 Sample >>
    ISO 6400 Sample >>
    ISO 12,800 Sample >>
    ISO 25,600 Sample >>
    All Digital Camera Studio Sample Photos >>

 
Next – Nikon D7000 Conclusion >>
 

Nikon D7000 Review Navigation
Introduction Features & Design Camera Experience Image Quality Conclusion

 
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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.


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  • Larry Colen says:

    Three years ago, a camera with this level of performance was out of my price range, so I bought an entry level DSLR, that was supposed to tide me over for a few years until something like this was available at this price. My choice came down to the D40 vs the K100D. Since my AIS glass wasn’t really usable on the D40, and the K100 gave more value for the money, I went with Pentax.
    Three years, a couple of intermediate bodies, and an insane number of photos later, I just bought a K-5, and am nearly ecstatic with the camera.

    If these two cameras had been available at their current price back then, I would have probably gone Nikon rather than Pentax, just to make use of the lenses I already owned. I’m very curious to see how the two cameras compare in real world use. I do a lot of low light dance photography. Last Friday I was hand holding my K-5 and shooting ISO 12,800, f/1.8 at 1/10-1/25 second at 31mm, and I’d be hard pressed to give up image stabilization at f/1.8-1.4.

    I don’t feel that one camera can be said to be better than the other, but I’d love to see where each camera excels in relation to the other.

  • Max Archer says:

    On the subject of the dials and exposure compensation-

    The dials can actually be reversed. It’s a custom function, probably under “Buttons and Dials”, although I don’t have a D7000 to check with. You can both reverse the direction they adjust in and switch which ones control aperture and shutter speed.

    As for the exposure compensation, it’s actually quite useful in M mode when working with TTL flash, especially Nikon’s wireless CLS system. It allows you to quickly adjust the flash power while maintaining a chosen shutter speed and aperture.

    Oh, and the intervalometer isn’t actually new. It’s been available on higher-end models since the D2 series, and the D300, 700, and D3 also have it.

  • Photo-John says:

    Max-
    Thanks for the comment and thanks for correcting my error about the intervalometer. It’s hard to get every fact straight and not miss any details. So many details…

    As for the dials – yes I know you can switch them in the menus. I just don’t And I don’t get why Nikon doesn’t just go along with everyone else with the dials. On the other hand, if they did, maybe they wouldn’t be Nikon anymore. They’ve always been a somewhat obstinate company and it would be wrong to say it hasn’t worked for them :-)

    Larry-
    I’d really like to review the Pentax K-5. It’s been quite a while since I did any serious shooting with a Pentax digital SLR. We need to get this site caught up on the latest Pentax has to offer. And yeah, it would be good to see how that camera compares with comparable Nikon and Canon bodies. I’ve been hearing lots of good things about the K-5.

  • Howard J says:

    John, Great write up of the D7000, I’ve been drooling over this for awhile as I save my pennies for my first DSLR, I got to play with one the other day at Costco, good thing the wife was with me to keep me from buying it outright $1799 with a 18-200mmVRII and other goodies was very tempting. The video’s actually better than I thought it would be and seems like for what I shoot it’d work pretty well, I’m just always worried that I should save some more and hold out for a full frame like the future D800 or something, I guess that’s a never ending dilemma though isn’t it…

    BTW thanks for making Utah look so cool, nice to see a pro review coming out of this great place. Need to show some redrock!

  • Jim says:

    Max, John, I recently bought a D7000, and one of the first things I did was reverse the Command dials. It was very easy, and I really prefer them that way. In general, the customization options on the camera are excellent.

  • Max Archer says:

    I understand what you guys mean about reversing the dials. Coming from any other system, it must be difficult. Nikons dials feel right to me, but I suppose that’s because I learned to shoot on them, and have been using AF Nikon cameras for the past 15 years.

    What’s much harder is getting used to the zoom and focus directions, I think. I know that when I was working for a Canon paper, it was very hard to switch back and forth.

  • Cris Mitchell says:

    My impressions of the D7000 after a week of shooting it.
    First off thanks to the person who tipped me off on reversing the dials… Coming from this being my first Nikon Camera it was driving me absolutely bananas.

    The lack of any kind of audio or exposure meter in video mode is a real drag.

    Images seem to have a cool blue tint to them in AWB, anyone else find that to be true?

    Against my better judgement i bought this body with the 18-105mm kit lens which is absolutely horrible, i’ve got a 28-70 2.8 on the way and it won’t be here any to soon.

    The one thing that I do love about this camera coming from the Canon world is there is a button for everything right on the body. No digging through menus, so ergonomically it gets a 10.

    I’m trying hard to LOVE this camera, but so far for me it’s been a love/hate relationship. I’m hoping better glass will make me 100% happy with the D7000.

    Good reviews Dan and John.

    Cris Mitchell

  • Amol says:

    I got my Nikon D 7000 with the kit lens 18~105. I find the combination good and the kit lens is sharp, focuses fast even in low lights.
    I also bought a 35mm 1.8G which is super sharp and fast.

    I am now planning to add a few lenses like 50mm 1.4 G, 105 f2.8 VR micro. I also read a review of the new 28~300 VRII.

    Would love to have suggestions on these lenses and more.

    I usually do landscapes, portraits, and birds, besides family photographs.

    I am armature hobbiest.

  • derek says:

    Now this is what I call a review! Thank you for not rehashing a general review about the specs that can be read from any spec sheet. Thank you for going into your own personal experiences and siting a comparision to the D3s and Sony Alpha. Your camera experience w/D7000 was very insightful and gave great perspective into how far Nikon has come in terms of DSLR evolution. Thanks.

    The D7000 is looking really hot. Maybe its time to trade up from the Sony Alpha to the D7000.

  • Photo-John says:

    Derek-
    Maybe you should wait for my Sony Alpha A55 review – it’s on deck, next up for review :-)

    Glad you liked the review. Our goal with reviews is always to talk about real world useablility over specs. Anyone can spew out a big list of specs – you can do that without even having the camera in your hends. But specs will never accurately tell you what the real world experience with the camera is like.

  • Cris Mitchell says:

    Ok i’m not to proud to admit when i’m wrong especially when it happens all the time ;-)

    After much frustration with the d7000, having spent a week testing and pouring over the manual and a few ebooks I bought on the camera, I noticed a few things that were set weird on the camera D Lighting was turned on etc… so thinking that someone had possibly been playing with the camera at best buy before i purchased it i decided to do a total reset of the camera … probably should have done that a week ago and saved myself much angst. The reset made all the difference in the world, the camera is now firing on all cylinders the 18-105 kit lens while still not great in my book is totally adequate as a walking around lens, light and get’s the job done.

    I purchased a Mamiya 645 to Nikon F Adaptor which arrived in the mail today and let me just say WOW, Mamiya glass on the D7000 body is stupidly stunning.

    I retract my last post, I’m now 100% happy with my purchase of the D7000, ok well if they fix the Live View issues i’ll be 100% let’s say 98.9 % ;-)

    Great Camera, Great Review of it.

    Cris…

  • Photo-John says:

    Cris-
    That’s great news. When experienced photographers say they don’t like something it’s sort of hard to argue. We all have different styles and tastes and sometimes it just comes down to that. Plus, I hadn’t seen your photos so I couldn’t say if I thought something was wrong. I can only go off my own experience, which was very, very good. So I’m happy to hear you’ve sorted it all out and we’re more or less on the same page. I really do think it’s a great camera – even if the image quaity doesn’t walk all over the 7D like I expected it to.

    By the way, thanks for mentioning the metering in Live View. I missed that when I was writing my review. I am aware of it now but when I was using the camera I immediately found a workaround (switch off Live View and meter with the viewfinder) and then never thought of it again. But you mentioning it in the comments section gets the information out there, so thank :-)

  • randy says:

    I got myNikon D7k and shots taken were amazingly shap & Crisp, the only thing that i don’t like about is when i brought it out at night and outside temp was 14-15 deg., the movie rec.mode doesn’work!!! i brought it back home and tried at room temp. and it works!!???

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for adding your experience to the discussion, Randy. Are you talking 15-degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius? I’ve shot video with the D7000 at temperatures below freezing although I’m not sure I’ve done it when it’s that cold. I have heard of other cameas having problems with video at temperatures below freezing but that still doesn’t sound right to me. Did you take it right out into the cold and try to shoot video? Maybe the abrupt shift from warm to cold gave the camera problems. When I’ve shot cold video I’m usually out for quite a while before I actually shoot anything so the camera has had a chance to cool off.

    You might want to try posting a question on our video forum, too. This is the kind of thing that the dedicated video guys might have an answer for.

  • Mel says:

    My son and I just came back yesterday from doing a commercial medical video shoot in Hawaii. Up until now, we had been shooting with rental Canon 5D Mark II bodies and rented lenses. Good stuff, although the Juiced Link audio input was a real kludge, not to mention a real battery eater. 5D Mark II can be finicky about which CF cards you use.

    Why rent? We both own a lot of Nikon glass, and didn’t want to have to invest in its replication. So we have been waiting for a Nikon version of the 5D Mark II, full frame shooting 1080p video.

    At my urging, my son did some research on the D7000, and with considerable skepticism, agreed to test the D7000. Within 24 hours, he called to pronounce it superior to the 5D Mark II in ease of handling and competitive web-video quality. I immediately bought a second body, and it arrived the day before we left.

    For several days, we shot simultaneously with both cameras, one with a lavalier mike and one with a Rode shotgun; one with a Nikon 85mm f1.4 or a Nikon 50mm f1.4 on the subject’s face, and the other with a Tokina 11-16mm or a Nikon 35mm at a different angle.

    We also had a bit of time to see Oahu, I did a lot of shooting of scenics and a bit of indoor stuff (dark Japanese temple). I shoot only in RAW, so I cannot tell whether what I found would be comparable if I shot in jpeg.

    Conclusion:

    1. Video is outstanding. Need to set up so we can listen to the audio in while recording. Would be better if monitoring built in. Rode mike + D7000 is absolutely AMAZING.

    2. The sensor is amazing. It blows away the Canon sensor in dynamic range accommodation.

    3. Quality of stills at ISO 1600 is darn close to that of the D300 at 400, and ISO 3200 is easily better than 1600 on the D300. I never had the confidence with the D300 to shoot it ISO 3200, so I have no comparison. I found

    4. The autofocus for stills on the D7000 is CLEARLY superior to that of the D300. I generally hate the results of the Nikon 18-200 first-generation zoom on the D300. I was amazed at how much more accurate it focuses on the D7000. I am anxious to try the D7000 with my big Nikon 80-200 f2.8 zoom, which was similarly problematic on the D300.

    5. The D300/Nikon 35mm f2 is a deadly sharp combo. Ditto with the D7000. I did a few street shots at ISO 3200 with the D7000 and the 35/f2. Again, the dynamic range of the D7000 imaging chip was amazing.

    6. I have no interest in video autofocus. My son correctly maintains you have to learn to use manual focus in video mode. The slightest focus hunt would be unacceptable, as would the noise.

    7. Quiet mode is interesting. Essentially useless because of lag, but interesting.

    Bottom line: The D7000 is a winner. Can’t wait to see a full-frame 1080p Nikon (D800?) when released.

    Mel

  • Mel says:

    I decided to test how my new D7000 compares to my D300 in resolution and general rendition. I set up my tripod about 15 feet away from a shelf, and shot both images with a 55mm f2.8 Nikkor, wide open, 200 ISO, 1/50th second.

    Here is the D7000 image:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/melsnyder/D7000VsD300#slideshow/5590825165226991138

    Here is the D300 image:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/melsnyder/D7000VsD300#slideshow/5590825164398469090

    I think the D7000 is clearly superior

    Mel

  • Photo-John says:

    But it is true. My tests were made very carefully and they haven’t been manipulated at all. I took a look at the samples on the site you linked to and they’ve both had Fill Light applied at 100. I’m not sure what exactly that means in terms of exposure but it does show (if the tests are to be trusted) that the Nikon files can be pushed harder with the Fill Light adjustment than the Canon can. That’s great I still expected the D7000 to be a lot better than the Canon than it actually was in my tests.

  • Digitelle Traveler says:

    I am not even close to professional. I’ve owned D40s and D90s, as well as many point and shoot cameras. The D7K, which I bought last December, out classes anything I’ve seen or used. The pics are fantastic. Videos are great.The camera is easy to use and until Nikon makes a full frame that I would be able to afford. I’ll stick with my D7000.

  • stephen mccallum says:

    Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 6:15 pm
    i want to know the price for a brand new nikon F80 camera on its on i already no the price of the nikon AF NIKKOR 28-80mm lense if you could help me with that it would be a great help thanks

  • Photo-John says:

    Stephen – try when I want to find a price on used gear I check the final prices on eBay and http://www.keh.com. KEH is on one of the best sources for used camera gear. The price will be in US dollars but that’s as good a place as any to start.

  • stephen mccallum says:

    stephen mccallum
    Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 6:19 pm
    Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 6:15 pm
    i want to know the price for a brand new nikon F80 camera on its on i already no the price of the nikon AF NIKKOR 28-80mm lense if you could help me with that it would be a great help thanks

  • sravanthi says:

    Best camera i ever owned ! great review :)

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