This ambitious new camera comes with a rock solid spec including a viewfinder at 100%, a 16 Megapixel sensor, a new 39 point autofocus system and two SD card slots.
HandlingThe new camera body is well-designed and manages to combine the compact form of Nikon's enthusiast SLRs with some of the usability of its professional models. You'll find the battery and memory cards nestled in foam-lined slots, a separate dial to control the shutter release mode, room for two SD cards (one for JPEG and one for RAW photos for instance) and a toggle switch that moves from using the optical viewfinder to Live View on the screen-and therefore to recording video. The optical viewfinder has been upgraded since the D90: not only is it as wide and bright as before, it now covers 100% of the field you're about to photograph.
The body is solid and inspires confidence, with a shutter that's guaranteed for 150 000 cycles immediately marking it out as a serious camera. At the back, an LCD screen display 920 000 pixels (VGA resolution) across three inches. It's reasonably accurate and has a removable plastic cover that protects it from scratches. The D7000 has composite video outputs, HDMI and USB, and you can connect 3.5 mm mic to its mini-jack input or a GPS to geotag your photos. All that's missing is the flash sync port that you'd need for studio photography, but we're not sure that that's really Nikon's target audience with this camera.
Not much has changed in the menus: they're dense and so full of options that it's not always clear where to turn. This is very much a camera for people who know what they're doing, and somebody who buys a D7000 really wants to be able to set things up the way they want. If you spend a little time with the manual, you'll be able to control the smallest detail.
ResponsivenessThe D7000 has a new 39-point autofocus system; if you're desperate to have the details, it's called the Multi-CAM 4800DX. It's joined by a 2016 pixel sensor for scene recognition and subject-tracking.
The camera gets the focus right and is usually pretty fast. Although the 39 point autofocus is good at tracking the movement of a subject in 3D, we preferred using just the points in the centre of the frame which speeds things up. With the 18-105 mm lens that comes with the D7000, the focus is quiet thanks to the SWM motor and even works in low light conditions.
In Live View, the D7000 is faster than any of Nikon's other cameras, or anybody else's for that matter. It's still not as fast as using the viewfinder though, or as impressive as the Panasonic GH2 that we tested recently. It's more than fast enough to capture a static subject from a tripod, but it's not yet responsive enough to be able to focus on a moving subject in either photo or video mode.
The burst mode reaches the six frames per second promised by the spec for twenty shots or so if you use the 'High Quality JPEG' mode and around 10 fps if you use 'RAW + JPEG'.
Image QualityThe new 16 Megapixel APS-C sensor is absolutely incredible. After been blown away by the photos produced by the Pentax K-5, we were once again very much impressed by the D7000's ability to handle electronic noise.
The appearance of aberrant colored pixels is kept in check up to 3200 ISO and you can go even higher without too many worries, which is a real achievement for an APS-C sensor! Of course, the very highest sensitivities of 12800 and 25600 ISO are best left for what we'd call special occasions, but they're still there if you need them.
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The 18-105 mm kit lens is a good quality all-rounder, but the unit that we received for testing had a few problems in tele-photo mode, something we haven't seen reproduced on other units. Exposure is correct in the majority of situations and anybody who's looking to get things perfect will be able to photograph in RAW mode and rely on the D-Lighting system to pick out details in both brighter and darker areas of the scenic.
VideoNikon was the first manufacturer to offer video on an SLR with the D90, and it's continuing that fine tradition today with a 1080p video mode at 24 fps or 720 HD at 25 fps. It's a shame that there's no 50 fps for following fast-moving action.
The autofocus is as impressive as ever when filming, but still not fast enough to follow a moving subject. The D7000 has a mono mic, so if you want to capture stereo sound, you'll have to plug an external mic into its 3.5 mm line in. In manual mode, you can adjust the ISO sensitivity and shutter speed, but aperture is fixed while recording, so you have to make sure you get it right before pressing record.