WIDE ANGLE STILLS
I shot wide angle in both the UK and Egypt. I was keen to see how this new sensor performed in terms of detail, colour, dynamic range and noise. Unlike the D90, the D7000 has the 14 bit A/D converter (first introduced on the D3) meaning it can produce 14 bit RAW files. This, combined with processing from the new EXPEED 2 chip, promises strong performance across the image quality board. It comfortably outperforms the D300s and D90 on the, sometimes controversial, DXO Mark tests.
One of the things I like about all the post D3/D300 Nikons is their picture controls, which are standardised across the range, so the colour response of one model is similar to another. I adjusted the D7000 to the same settings as I use on my D700 and when I downloaded my first Red Sea dive into Lightroom, the pictures looked just like my D700 shots. As a result, I was really happy with the colours that the D7000 produced from dive 1.
A continuing area of interest in digital sensors is their ability (or not) to capture the beauty and atmosphere of a sunburst underwater. The root of the problem is that slide film was naturally predisposed to dealing with excessive highlights, which is what a sunburst is. Digital sensors have a more linear response to different intensities of light and once it gets too bright, no data can be recorded and detail is lost or clipped. As an analogy, we can think of film as having more elasticity in its response to light. As more and more light hits film so it stretches and copes with the exposure. A digital sensor has a less elastic response and once the light levels get too high it is overwhelmed (it snaps). But with each generation the sensors get better and better, more elastic if you like.
Unsurprisingly, I was able to test this many times with the D7000 in Egypt and much more shockingly, also in England! The D7000 is at least as good as my D700 at capturing sunbursts. Arguably better, although I was never able to shoot them side by side to be sure. This camera seems one of the best I have seen yet, in this regard.
One of the strengths of the D7000 is its high ISO performance, which is one of the very best of any non-full frame SLR. I posted a “straight from the camera” full res JPG, shot of a woodpecker at ISO 3200, on Wetpixel forums a while ago, if any wants to see. I had hoped to use the UK dives to examine high ISO noise, but the viz in Stoney was so poor that even the low ISO shots are full of grain - from the particulate in the water! Making them useless for this purpose. Luckily I was able to find a dark corner of a cave in the Red Sea.
Unlike my D700, which shows no noise from ISO 100-800, followed by a gradual increase in noise there after. The D7000 is different and noise builds gradually with each successive rating, but even in the RAW files is never ugly and would certainly print really cleanly. The cave shots below, at ISO 1600 and 3200, would be perfectly useable. Its performance has caused me to recalibrate what I thought possible for a DX high megapixel camera at high ISO.
I generally shot the D7000 at ISO 200 as standard. ISO 100 is available, but the advantage in image quality takes some dedicated pixel peeping to spot. I am not sure I can see it. I preferred the extra stop of ISO 200. Open water is reproduced cleanly and there is great detail at 100%.
A couple of other things of note: I found that the 39-point dynamic area AF was all I needed for wide angle. The AF sensors cover a large percentage of the frame and this mode kept my pictures in focus in both the UK and Red Sea with the 10-17mm. Simple. Things are more complex for macro.
The final surprise was Live View. As a Nikon user I have got pretty used to Live View being a waste of space, with a neverending click-clack-clunk of shutter lag whenever you want to take a picture. The D7000 is very different and live view will take pictures instantly as long as it is in focus. So we can either focus and then shoot, or what I favoured with a wide angle lens, focus and lock the camera in manual focus – meaning there is no lag. This makes live view really useful and I used it quite a bit when shooting wide angle from low angles where I couldn’t get my eye to the viewfinder. At certain times, such as shark dives, I could see myself shooting exclusively this way. I think that many Nikon users will find many uses for shooting their D7000, at arms length, like a compact.