Monday, January 24, 2011

B&H Hands-On: Nikon D7000 & 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

Nikon D7000 & Nikkor 24-120mm lens
Photo taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

Allan Weitz has an article on B&H insights! called “The New Nikon D7000: Simply Amazing”, and after using this camera with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens I’d say I have to agree.

I’m a Canon shooter, but I had heard a lot of great buzz about this camera during the fall of 2010. While I had hands-on use of the D3, D3s, and D700 over the year, as well as the occasional interaction with other models that my students own during my classes, I typically don’t write about my experiences. Much of my research is for my own use and for keeping my Which DSLR Should I Buy? article current, but I had such fun with this camera I thought I’d add my 2 cents for the record on the blog.

Keep in mind this article is really just a short blurb about my experience using this camera, but for a proper full review I recommend the DPReview review of the D7000.

A Word About The Images In This Article

All of the shots taken with the D7000 that appear in this article are straight out of camera JPEG originals that are hosted on my smugmug account. If you go to you can see all the images in a gallery together as well as download the originals (for your personal and private viewing only – Copyright 2011 Ron Martinsen - all rights reserved). To download the original in-camera JPEG just hover over the image and choose Save Photo (the file folder with the down arrow icon) to save the original to disk as shown here:

Hover over photos to see the menu option to save originals

D7000 Camera Thoughts

1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800, 58mm (18-105mm kit lens)
SB-900 Flash @ –1 Flash Exposure Compensation

For this article, I had the Nikon D7000 DSLR Camera Kit with Nikon 18-105mm DX VR Lens but B&H also sent the  Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens as well as a SB-900 flash.

Mouse over to see 18mm, mouse out to see 105mm
Mouse over to see 18mm, mouse out to see 105mm

I took a variety of shots with the kit lens and found the range to be quite useful and the results to be acceptable for a kit lens. The results naturally weren’t as good as the 24-120mm that I’ll talk about later in this review, and there’s a whole slew of great lens available in my Which Lens Should I Buy? article, but this is an acceptable starter lens for those on a tight budget.

Overall I found this camera to be very fun and easy to use. It’s very quirky going from Canon to Nikon so I struggled a bit at first to get used to the differences. After I got over this mental hump, I appreciated Nikon’s attempt to have all of your important controls available on physical camera body buttons instead of being nested in menus.

Pop-up Flash

1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 1600, 24mm (24-120mm)
Pop-up Flash Example

I’ve always been impressed with the quality of Nikon’s built-in pop-up flash, and this camera is no different. I felt it did a reasonable job of providing some fill light without sending a nuclear bomb of light onto my subject.

High ISO Performance

1/500 sec at f/4.0, ISO 6400, 100mm (24-120mm)
ISO 6400 looks pretty darn good

In typical modern-day Nikon fashion, the high ISO performance was outstanding. The shot above is not modified in any way (and to be fair you need to see a large one to appreciate noise) it came out of the camera pretty darn good. Now the camera does do a bit of its own noise reduction, but the raw image was definitely a lot better than what I’ve seen from the Canon 60D.

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 2500, 24mm (24-120mm)
ISO 2500 is excellent out of camera & when printed

Naturally the images at 6400 were a bit softer on detail, but for a simple family snapshots like these I thought it did a good job.

White Balance

1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 2500, 105mm (24-120mm)
Fluorescent White Balance was much better than AWB
for this indoor shot under fluorescent lights

I’ve always despised Nikon’s Auto White Balance (AWB), and even some of the white balance presets, and this camera is no different here. I prefer the warmer and more vibrant results I get out of my Canon cameras, so I found myself wanting to do more post-processing work on the few images I played with than I’d typically do on my Canon images.

There’s a reason why Scott Kelby and Joe McNally are always talking about which white balance setting to use in Nikon cameras in their books – because Nikon’s AWB just doesn’t make good decisions much of the time.

Not all is well in paradise

The BM-11 LCD Cover for D7000 breaks easily
Photo taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

I’m probably preaching to the choir of Nikon users, but I found out on my last day shooting with the D7000 that great care must be taken when trying to remove the LCD cover (BM-11) that is included with the camera. I just made one false move and it cracked instantly as shown in the photo above.

It’s funny that something that is meant to protect the LCD is so fragile, but I guess if you leave it in place you’ll be fine. I had to remove it because some moisture somehow made its way under and I wanted to clean it out quickly. Lesson learned, and apparently one that Nikon expects to happen as this is an easy to order part on B&H.

The Lens

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 6400, 31mm (24-120mm)

I’ll cut to the chase and say that as a Canon user my 24-105mm lens is my go to ever day lens, but when I tested a D700 with the Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED I fell in love. Just like the 24-105mm in the Canon camp, the 24-120mm offers consumers the trade off of weight and speed for a greater range and vibration reduction (VR). The tradeoff is great from the standpoint that this is a very nice range for this lens and the VR well, but this lens is no match for the sharpness of the Nikon 24-70mm in my opinion.

1/15 sec at f/11, ISO 4500, 120mm (24-120mm)
Vibration Reduction did its job very well here

If not compared side-by-side, I think anyone would love this lens as much as I did during my review. While it doesn’t have the wide angle or reach of the kit lens, I found it to be an excellent upgrade to get crisp, sharp images that were fewer and farther between in my daily testing of the kit lens. This is why you’ve probably noticed by now that most of my images in this article come from shots using the 24-120mm instead of the kit lens – despite shooting roughly the same amount frames with both lenses.

1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 160, 120mm (24-120mm)
The D7000 metering handled this tough contrast situation
very well in-camera under studio lights

For an unbiased and accurate review of this lens, look no further than SLRGear’s blur index tests where you can visually see where this lens is sharpest and where it fades out. As they mention in their review, I can confirm that I also saw a much higher than expected amount of Chromatic Aberrations especially at higher ISO’s. Even still, it is an improvement of SLRGear’s review of the Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED AF-S which really has sharpness and speed going for it, but not much else especially it’s higher price tag.

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 5000, 38mm (24-120mm)

Ultimately both the 24-70 & 24-120 are great lenses, so Nikon shooters face the same tough dilemma Canon shooters face, but if you buy either and simply ignore the other you’ll be a very happy camper as both are excellent lenses. For more information about my lens recommendations, please check out my Which lens should I buy? article.

SB-900 Flash

1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 200, 50mm (24-120mm)
SB-900 Flash @ –1 Flash Exposure Compensation is still very powerful

Joe McNally  shows the power of the Nikon flash system in his excellent books The Moment it Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries, so I don’t really need to write much here about this flash. I will tell Canon users that when mounted to the hot shoe, I’ll take the Canon 580 EX II over this flash any day, but when you get the flash off the camera is where this flash’s power and Nikon’s CLS system really shine.

Here’s a good review of the SB-900 for those who are looking for more in-depth details about this product.


1.0 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24mm (24-120mm)

I love the D7000.

If I had the extra money right now I’d keep this camera as it’s very fun to use and has a ton of powerful features I have yet to explore. It’s not a camera that makes me want to switch platforms, so I’m still very happy with my Canon gear, but I’d pick this camera over the D700 and D300s due to its great image quality, excellent features, and overall bang for the buck.Of course, people’s purchase decisions aren’t always about value, so naturally there are cases where you need the burst mode performance of the D700 but I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t pick this camera over the D300s.

I just barely tinkered with the video even though that’s an important feature of this camera. However, as a Canon 5D Mark II and 1D Mark IV owner, I’m spoiled with amazing video features so I was a bit underwhelmed at first glance.

My main gripes with the D7000 are the slow burst mode (6 fps), the dual SD lots (no CF) instead of support for UDMA 6 Compact Flash, and too many megapixels. I’d sacrifice megapixels for quality any day, and I can’t help but think how much better its images would be if Nikon had thought the same thing.

From spouse friendly usability features like the scene modes, to important features like True HD (1920x1080) video and a greater ISO range, there is much to love about the D7000 (especially over the D300s). It’s no wonder these cameras are so hard to find in stock!

Click here to see full-size versions of all of the in-camera JPEG’s (sorry, no raw). All images are copyright Ron Martinsen, 2011, and may not be reused or retransmitted using any medium without expressed written consent. Downloads are for individual educational use only and should be deleted the same day of the download.

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Unknown said...

Great review! I've been shooting with the D7000 for two weeks now. I love the ergonomics of it, something you didn't mention. Especially the User Modes, since they act as a default template that you can build off of, and they're reset when you switch off them. Didn't think I'd use that but it's fantastic for learning the camera!

Did you try the AWB II settings? It shifts the AWB settings to warmer colors. It'll take Nikon users some time to get used to it, but people used to Canons will really appreciate it. said...

Good point Robert, and I must say that I didn't discover the AWB II feature before I returned this camera to B&H.

Thanks for contributing this extra feedback!

indy.crowley said...

Great review. Did you have the opportunity to compare the D700 and D7000 on low light performance, especially for ISOs above 6400? The D700 is full frame and thus for me is not directly comparable to the D7000 for those of us who use the advantages of full frame photography. Nikon's best ultra-wide lenses are FX and I'll take the extra width over the added pixels. However; low light performance may be one advantage that would motivate the D7000 over the D700. said...

Yes, Indy I had a chance to look at images shot at the same ISO's for both but I didn't have both cameras at the same time so I couldn't post a side by side comparison.

The DXO results|0/%28brand%29/Nikon/%28appareil2%29/680|0/%28brand2%29/Nikon

suggest a slight edge for the D700 but this doesn’t translate it a major difference in real-world usage.

The target audience for these two camera bodies are different so I'm not saying that someone who is about to get a D700 should get a D7000.

What I am saying is that I like D7000 better as a camera and that it is a better choice than the D300s and it gives the D700 a good run for its money in all but sensor size and burst mode performance. In fact, in some respects it exceeds the performance and features offered in the D700 so for those who are only looking to buy the D700 because it is more expensive or because their buddy says they should get that, I say take a hard look at the D7000 as it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

I can't imagine anyone who has experience with cameras being disappointed in the high ISO performance (at least up to 6400) of the D7000, which is why I posted in-camera jpegs with no additional processing.

The D7000 is an outstanding value.

indy.crowley said...

Thanks again for the review and comparisons. What caught my attention is how well both the D700 and D7000 did compare to any Canon model on the DxoMark analyses.