CLOSE-UP AND MACRO STILLS
I was keen to put the D7000 to work shooting macro after two years behind a FX Nikon. Suddenly depth of focus always seems to save you, instead of never quite being enough – and lenses give me the right amount of magnification, rather than not quite enough! I shot the camera with the Nikon AF-S 105mm and 60mm and really enjoyed it. Despite its small size, the Nauticam housing is light in the water (helped by the fact the D7000 is not a heavy camera) and a real pleasure to use for this type of shooting.
My main interest for this review was testing how well the optical TTL metering and autofocus would perform with the D7000’s new metering and AF systems. Both really impressed from the outset, although did require a little fiddling with the settings in the menus to get the best results (I’ll expand on this below). On my first macro dive with the camera I shot a range of fish scale detail shots on free swimming fish. The AF locked on and the TTL handled the exposure. This is a really easy way to shoot.
The D7000’s exposure meter is a newly developed 2016 pixel RGB sensor that evaluates auto exposure and iTTL exposure as well as contributing to autofocus performance. In 3D AF tracking it can identify subjects by colour, which aids in tracking them around the frame, but more of that in a moment. The last 18 months or so has seen more and more housing manufacturer’s switching over to ease of use and convenience of fibre optic flash triggering, which also makes it straightforward to incorporate TTL. The new exposure metering for the D7000 should make this more accurate because the 2016 pixel sensor is used to control the TTL.
I found I had to dial in +0.7 flash exposure compensation (with my Inon Z240s) and once I’d done this, all my shots exposed reliably including a wide range of fish images, shot against different backgrounds. Even when a fish was small in the frame (we can’t always get as close as we’d like!) the camera still produced reliable exposures. And even when I tried the more extreme technique of fluorescence images, the TTL did a great job, while testing out Glowdive’s filters (more about them in a review, coming soon). The D7000 was very impressive in controlling exposures. I didn’t try TTL for wide angle.
Autofocus performance is likely to be a critical factor for some photographers in deciding whether to go for the D7000. The D7000 trumps the D300s in most specifications, but the biggest exception underwater is autofocus. The D7000 uses a new Multi-CAM 4800 DX autofocus sensor compared with the D300s’s Multi-CAM 3500 DX. But don’t be fooled by the names: the D7000 has 39 points including 9 cross type sensors, while the D300s has 51 points and 15 cross type sensors (the significantly lower specified D90 has just 11 points and 1cross type sensor). The D7000 clearly sits between the two, but closer to the D300s. The question is how close?
I normally shoot with a Nikon D700 (which like the D300 uses the Multi-CAM 3500) and really didn’t miss it. All the DX Nikon’s have a better frame coverage with their AF, than the FX Nikon’s. In the bright conditions in the Red Sea and in the gloomy British lake I never struggled with the AF, it just got me shot after shot. It is always a good sign when you don’t notice a technology; you just get on with shooting. We often dived into the evening (Red Sea days are short in November) and I never needed a focus light. At night the camera focused very well with the red light mode of my Sola 600 and even with the UV light of the Glowdive torch, when shooting fluorescence. Ultimately, I was very happy with the D7000 AF. It is certainly not a step on from the D300/D300s/D700/D3, but doesn’t feel far away.
That said, D7000 AF modes are not all useful. I found the default AF-A mode (Auto-server AF – which switches automatically between AF-S and AF-C) was just too confused by the underwater world through a macro lens. I prefer AF-C (Continuous) underwater because generally neither you nor the subject can be guaranteed to be stationary. I found the Auto Area AF and 39 point dynamic area AF a little disappointing. But the 3D tracking mode (driven with data from the new metering system) was very good for moving subjects (or for focusing then recomposing on a stationary subject – where the AF point will track the subject as you recompose). I also really liked the 9-point dynamic area AF mode, particular for off centre composition as you can move this cluster of 9 points around the frame. If you are a D7000 owner, I’d suggest starting with these two for macro.