ND – Grey, Cold, Blue
So Nikon finally dropped…
…the bomb. Certainly the announcement of the D3100, and more specifically some of it’s claimed specifications really set the tone for a new series of substantial upgrades to their range, and the new D7000 does nothing to dissuade us that Nikon now means business.
16.2Mpixels, a claimed usable ISO range of 100-6400, 6 frames per second fast shooting, 1080/24p video and a sealed magnesium alloy body is a significant leap over the D90, that this camera either replaces, or sits just above – a point that is not completely clear right now. Nikon have stated though that the D90 will remain available for a little longer at least.
Honestly, it has been a while since there was a really exciting announcement from Nikon. The D300s was a simple incremental upgrade to the excellent D300, but nothing to set our hearts aflutter. The D3x with its 24Mpixel sensor would have been good if people could actually afford it and it wasn’t the professional brick that a few have bought into.
Really, the last great announcement before today was the brilliant D700; to all intents and purposes, the vast majority of a D3 inside an (almost) D300 body with superior menu interface and a self-cleaning sensor.
That’s where ND planted some money.
The D90 was launched…
…at the same time as the D700 in 2008, and whilst it was a really great upgrade to the D80, and also the first DSLR camera to sport video capabilities, it was not the game changer that the D7000 superficially appears to be.
The camera manufacturers need to bring out new kit at reasonably regular intervals, but some of the technology behind it is moving at a slower rate, and the general cycle for major sensor upgrades is roughly every four years at the moment. For DX / APS-C sized sensors we’re finally entering a new four-year cycle and the claims for the D7000’s eye, along with the new Sony Alpha 55 are clearly a step ahead of the previous generation.
FX sensor upgrades can’t be far behind, and we should certainly be seeing the FX four-year cycle flip over in the coming months.
Compared to the FX D700…
…the DX D7000 (there’s going to be confusion here unless the D700 name is deprecated soon), superficially holds its own. Both cameras now boast similar ISO capability, but with an extra four million pixels to play with on the “smaller” D7000. Wow!
We still need to see the honest results of this medium-sized sensor high ISO trickery, and just how well will the images fare in terms of noise and grain? The D300s claimed usable ISO’s up to 3200 before the admittedly grainy overblown “Hi” settings that Nikon offer. However, compare the results of ISO 1600 shots of the same scene from the D300s and its little sibling, the D90, and you’ll see a marked difference in sharpness from the same sensor due to the way the D300s tries to cover up its noise and grain with aggressive filtering and noise reduction techniques. These numbers are offered by the marketing departments to get people to dump their old kit and buy new, when there’s nothing wrong with the old.
But now a slightly wider ISO range (100-6400 for the D7000 as opposed to 200-6400 for the senior D700) is being boasted, yet the sensor is smaller and the heavy increase in pixel density means they’re even smaller than on the 12.3Mpixel D90. Seriously, has Nikon reduced the pixel size from the D90 and really, honestly, without trickery pushed the ISO’s up to D700 levels with similar results? That would be amazing, but be on the lookout for aggressive software in-camera producing a compromise somewhere.
If you really want genuinely clean high ISO’s then buy an FX D700. I’d be fascinated by the near term possibilities if the D7000 comfortably proved me wrong.
Twin SD card slots…
…are a novel feature for a body this size. Certainly, they’re a mark of a more professional upgrade to the D90 concept, but with 32GB SDXC cards now available, the bulk storage advantage it offers is moot. Setting the camera to write all images to both cards so that you have in-camera backups is worthwhile if you’ve ever lost images from a camera because the card was corrupted – but I suspect most haven’t. That sort of feature is essential for jobbing pros who won’t get a second shot at it (pun intended) and are paid to perform without compromise, but you and I will rarely benefit.
Alternating which card sequential images are written to can benefit everyone though as it will speed up the writing process through parallelism so the camera can shoot for longer before slowing down. Certainly, with 6FPS (frames per second) on offer for fast bursts then this feature will support that.
On a slight downside,…
…and I really don’t want to take the shine off an otherwise fabulous announcement, Nikon have finally redesigned their venerable EN-EL3 battery pack that has been a constant throughout most of their range for some years now. The new EN-EL15 battery appears similar in style and bulk to the EN-EL3, but the contacts have been changed and are now recessed to prevent short circuits.
Having owned Nikon’s D80, D200 and D700 bodies, a range of lenses compatible with all, and with them all coming with EN-EL3 batteries and identical chargers, I’ve had a great base for mixing and matching what I needed on any photographic trip, but this redesign means that there will be a period of time that I’ll be carrying two different battery and charger types when going on longer trips to cover multiple camera bodies from the “old days” and the new ones.
Despite this inconvenience though Nikon is claiming an approximately 23% increase in the number of shots that can be taken from a fully charged battery over the D90. Bear in mind, that whilst the battery may be better, so too are the electronics in the D7000, with the new EXPEED-2 system boasting improved performance. It should be noted that, as ever with battery life claims, your mileage may vary depending on what settings you use, whether you deploy the built-in flash regularly and how much time you have the rear screen switched on. I have been able to squeeze (just) over a thousand shots out of the old battery on my D700 though, so maybe the new claims are simply catch-up rather than a real advance in this area.
Can’t stop progress I guess!
I guess all of this asks…
…where does this leave the D300s and D700? with superficial numbers attempting to snap at the heels of the bigger, and much more expensive cameras, it certainly puts the D300s in a trickier position. There’s no doubt that despite the modifications to the D7000’s body and controls, it’s still not as advanced a direct interface as the larger cameras. There’s also no doubt that the large viewfinder found in the FX cameras is a joy to use rather than squint through. But the D300s is going to need a serious hike in performance to keep pace, and that can only mean that the D700 is not long for this world in its current guise.
The D300/D300s range used effectively the same sensor as the D90, but in a larger semi-pro body. Maybe their replacement will go the same route and the sensor and specifications you see here will be similar or only very mildly tweaked from those of the D7000.
I can’t wait to get…
…one of these in my hands and see what it’s really capable of, but remember this folks; Photography is NOT about the equipment, it’s about what you do with it. I can take the exact same photos with my D80 today as I could last week.
And Ansel Adams used an old wooden box 😉 Sort of.
Which will improve my images going forward?
…buying more gear, or learning new techniques and discovering new ideas with my current toys?