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First Look: Nikon D7000

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First Look: Nikon D7000

5:34 /

An excellent dSLR for experienced shooters or Nikon professionals looking for a relatively cheap option, the Nikon D7000 delivers on almost all counts.

-Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor with CNET, and this is the Nikon D7000. When it comes to mid- to high-end SLRs, I'm not looking for whizzy new features, bold redesigns, or insane burst rates for either myself or the shoppers I advise. To me, the perfect camera in that class just gets out of the way between my eye and final photograph, and sometimes video. But shooting with the D7000 frequently came close to delivering the photographic rush in a way I haven't felt in way too long. It's not the right camera for everyone and it's not just the best in everything. But its combination of design, features, performance, and photo quality for the price earns it an Editor's Choice. There's a variety of new Nikon tech in the D7000 over the older models including a new Nikon-designed 16.2 megapixel sensor coupled with its EXPEED 2 processor. With this pairing, Nikon ups its analog/digital conversion to 14-bit processing. There's also a new metering sensor and more sophisticated autofocus system. It's also Nikon's first DSLR to rise to 1080p HD video, albeit only at 24 frames per second. And the body's construction incorporates an all-metal chassis with magnesium-alloy coat covers. The rest is polycarbonate. It's also sealed against dust and moisture like the D300S. It's not a light-weight camera but it feels very sturdy and well built, with a solid grip and enough heft to offset the weight of many heavy pro lenses. The viewfinder's lovely, especially compared to the dim, squinty ones found in the cheaper SLRs. It's relatively bright with 100% scene coverage, an optional grid overlay, and large autofocus area indicators. Rubber covers hide the connector for composite and HDMI video, USB, and mic and proprietary GPS connector. There's also a cleverly designed movie/live mode switch and dedicated record button. The location of the lock release button for the release mode dial on the D7000 is toward the back instead of the front, as it is on the D3S. It's a subtle change but I find it easier to use this way. I can hold it down with my thumb while turning the dial. Nikon has moved the control for selecting among the autofocus modes to a clever button-dial combination. And the camera uses a redesigned battery grip that supports double A batteries in addition to Nikon's proprietary lithium-ion power. Of course, I still have a few quibbles with the design, though they are no show stoppers. For instance, Nikon sticks with the traditional vertical arrangement of buttons down the left side of the LCD. They feel identical which requires that you pay a little more attention than I'd like when you're using them. The photo quality is first-rate. And despite the resolution increase, it stands up very well against the D300S, as well as most competitors. But I'd probably say, this D7000, the JPEG photos are clean up through only ISO 800. They remain good through ISO 1600. But at ISO 3200, shadow detail gets pretty noisy. Exposure and metering are solid and consistent, and the camera reproduces color faithfully when you want it to. However, when you compare the neutral picture control setting to all of the others, you can tell that the camera's pushing the contrast to the point where you actually start to lose shadow detail. The video looks solid but not standout. It's sharp but there's a little more color noise and moire than I'd like. The full-time autofocus is pretty useless. Not only is it too easily confused, like most contrast autofocus systems, it hunts a lot. For all intents and purposes, with the exception of burst shooting, the D7000 runs neck-and-neck with the 60D for speed, and they're both really fast. Shooting with standard single-point autofocus feels almost instantaneous most of the time. And while the automatic autofocus is equally fast, it's just as bad as all other auto AF systems. It chronically picks up the wrong subjects. It's got two save setting slots on the mode dial. It's less powerful than the settings banks in Nikon's older mid- to high-end SLRs, but it's a more practical, straightforward implementation that means they're more likely to get used. They are two SDXC card slots, which is both unusual and welcome, and you can configure them in functional ways: for overflow backup; RAW versus JPEG; video versus still. Though it offers a maximum of 3 shots per exposure bracketing, it can handle up to the two-stop interval, which is unusual. Plus, it has a novel two-frame under/over bracket, which I imagine can come in handy for some people. For video capture, you have full manual exposure controls and handful of microphone sensitivity settings. The D7000 looks like both a compelling cheap alternative to the D300S and a significant upgrade over the D90 for not a lot of money. For video shooters, the cheaper 60D still has a slight edge. Though many indie videographers tend to prefer 24p, at least it's nice to have the 30p option. But it's hard to argue against the better coverage for the viewfinder, faster burst shooting with a deeper buffer and fast autofocus, and more durable body construction. The D7000 stands out as a great camera for experienced photographers and pros who don't have specific needs like full frame or the fastest burst possible. It's expensive for a first DSLR and they're plenty of sub-thousand dollar models to fill that need. But if you're ready to replace your current DSLR with something a little more powerful, a look at the D7000 should top your to-do list. I'm Lori Grunin, and this is the Nikon D7000.

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