THE NIKON D7000
At first glance the Nikon D7000 looks a natural successor to the D90/D80/D70 series, but on closer analysis its release is clearly at odds with recent Nikon product cycles. Since its first pro-sumer digital SLR, the D100, Nikon has used its top pro-sumer model to showcase new sensor and other technology before passing them down, about a year later, to a smaller, lighter, cheaper camera. The 6MP D100 was followed the 6MP D70, the 10MP D200 led to the 10MP D80, the 12MP D300 spawned the 12MP D90. This time the new 16MP sensor has appeared first in the D7000. Perhaps this is simply where the biggest sales/profits are? Or perhaps it represents a realignment of the Nikon range.
The D7000 has certainly moved upmarket in build quality (with a magnesium-alloy chassis) and price from the D90 and out specs the similarly priced, and still on sale, D300s in almost every important area. It could be that the D7000 is intended to replace both the D90 and D300s, and another camera will replace both the D300s and D700: with three becoming two? We shall see, but it may mean that holding out for a vapourware D400 might not be a good plan.
While we are talking about the Nikon range, it is worth a quick note to say that the lesser Nikon SLRs (D40/D60/D3000/D5000/D3100) are not well suited to underwater photography because they can only focus with AF-S lenses, which prohibits any fisheyes. Also their single control dial means it is fiddly and time consuming to alter shutter speed and aperture. So, surprisingly the D7000 may become the best choice as the entry level Nikon SLR for underwater use, and currently the best DX Nikon for underwater use (being only beaten for resolution by the FX D3X). Make no mistake this is an important camera for UW Nikon users.
The headline grabbing features are 16.2 MP sensor (with 14 bit analogue to digital conversion, which was not on the D90), with an ISO range of 100-6400, which is highly useable throughout. The camera scored particular well in the DXO Mark tests of image quality (as has been discussed in the forums, http://wetpixel.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=38585). The D7000 introduces the 39 point Multi-CAM 4800 AF system and 2016 pixel exposure metering system. The new EXPEED 2 processor is important in enabling high frame rates, full HD video and providing the best image quality (such as smooth tonal gradations). It is the first Nikon for underwater photography that has full 1080 HD video and, uniquely (currently) for a video SLR, offers autofocus during video shooting. In conclusion, the D7000 is an impressive machine, but not a total bargain, costing approximately $1350 USD, £1050 GBP, €1200 Euros.
An important feature for underwater photographers is that the flash will synch to 1/320th, which is always valuable when wanting to reduce ambient light, such as in controlling sunbursts or shooting strong black backgrounds. The synch speeds for similar cameras are: D90 – 1/200th, D300s – 1/320th, 7D – 1/250th and 550D – 1/200th.
The D7000 is a fast, responsive camera, with a robust sounding shutter. It is not the most handsome Nikon, being narrow and tall, and a little square shouldered, but is has a more tactile rubber covering than the D90/D80. The viewfinder is bright, but not that large (and I would recommend buying an external magnified viewfinder, such as the Nauticam 180 I used here), but importantly provides a 100% view. I do not have a D300/D300s for comparison, but the D7000 viewfinder seems identical in specifications.
In addition, to the headline stats it has some interesting features tucked away in the menus. AF fine-tune and exposure metering fine-tune could be beneficial. Nikon’s impressive active D-Lighting is also included, which opens up the dynamic range of images. The D7000 does not have a dedicated AF-ON button, but the AE-L/AF-L button on the back can be customised to function as AF-ON, which simultaneously disables the AF function of the shutter release. This mode can be very useful for focusing, then locking focus supermacro, fast action subjects and other conditions where the camera’s AF might hunt. I use it frequently.
The camera features a new battery, the EL-EN15, which lasted all day in the Red Sea (4 dives) shooting video and using the pop-up flash to drive TTL strobes. However, most users would feel reassured by buying a spare (especially if they plan to shoot lots of video or rely on optical TTL). Unfortunately, older Nikon batteries are not compatible with this camera.
The D7000 has double SD card slots and is compatible with both SDHC cards (up to 32GB each) and the latest SDXC cards, such as SanDisk’s 64GB monster! The second slot can be used as an overflow, a backup or for sending different file types (e.g. JPGs or movie files)
In conclusion, whatever its position in the Nikon range, this is a heavily spec’ed and impressive camera.