Product Reviews » Three of a Kind: Nikon’s D70, D700 and D7000
I am not a gambling man; that is, I only bet when I am really sure that I have a good chance of winning. If I were a poker player, I would bet on three sevens in a hand of stud poker. Three of a kind is hard to draw, and sevens are near enough to mid-way through the range of values. To bring this home to what we are here to discuss--digital photography--there are three Nikon camera models that begin with seven, that I have bet on and would suggest go into the Nikon Hall of Fame. These are the D70, D700 and D7000. Maybe it is a coincidence, or maybe whenever Nikon gets it right, they use the number seven. But these three cameras are the real deal.
Nikon's first generation digital cameras
When Nikon first launched their digital line, slightly after the curve started by Canon, they had the heavy D1 and D2 cameras. These cameras were expensive and were generally used by pros who had large budgets backing them up—like newspaper photographers. My dad told me to never buy a car the first year it came out, and I guess I carried that piece of advice over to camera purchases. Cameras or cars, in that first year of release, there are usually bugs to be worked out, and it may take 2-3 years for a new model to work out these kinks and become as good as promised. So I stayed away from this investment in new technology. Soon thereafter, Nikon launched the D100; I thought this a little better overall, but the buffering time was terrible unless you had it adapted. I know pros that used this model, but they were not wowed by it—it was serviceable, but not stellar. It was the first of a continuing evolutionary wave of models.
Nikon releases the D70
To my mind, the D70 is where Nikon came into its own in the new digital world. Way too much camera for the price! Light, well-designed and well-constructed, with a fair number of options and good enough to use at an entry professional level. It was not really made for the pro market, more 'pro-sumer.' The Raw files were only 6mp, but that is enough for a photojournalist. Once worked in, they bulked up to 40mp TIFF files. That will make a fine double-page spread in most magazines or books. So the limited file size did not hold me up. The D70 was the first digital camera I used on assignment for books and magazines, and I became an immediate convert! Film—who needs it?
I have always liked smaller, lighter camera bodies, which is why my main film bodies were the FMs, not the Fs. Let me explain. The Nikon Fs are a proud and noble line; they did not even need batteries to operate, were extremely well designed and built, with great glass. They were the only cameras to literally take into a war zone, as they could just keep taking amazing quality pictures under all conditions. A veritable workhorse. The Nikon FMs were introduced many years later with a lighter, smaller body. I have small hands, so they fit me well. And I have always avoided shooting in war zones, so these new incarnations worked ideally for my needs. The FMs were also workhorses but of a slightly different breed. My war zone was the mosh pits of the California punk rock scene, where I always has an FM around my neck.
So the lightweight digital D70 was an appropriate successor of my lightweight film FM. I found the D70 quite affordable and a great introduction into the digital camera world. Today, when people who I know use Nikon film cameras are looking to get into digital and want a gateway camera with great optics, lots of room to learn and the ability to shoot on either Auto or manual, I recommend they look for a used D70. The price of a good used D70 is less than a new point and shoot. The D70 was the first seven in my hand, both literally, as I used it for shooting, and metaphorically, poker-wise.
|The Nikon D700, our second seven.|
Nikon hits it big with the D700
In what seemed a steady, slow gain on the digital wave led by Canon, Nikon went on to improve the D100 which evolved into the D200 and then D300—I still use them today. These are both high-end but relatively affordable professional cameras. They also started some consumer lines, but we will skip those for now. To me, the D700 was a major hit out of the park. Sturdy, well designed, lots of options, higher resolution than we had seen before, with a full-sized sensor. So all of the fixed lenses which I had in my camera bag were back to being their actual focal lengths.
A 24mm wide lens was just that. A 200mm long lens was just that. This was something we pros could count on once again. I have used the D700 to shoot many magazine assignments and major book contracts. It is an extremely well-made tool, which can be relied upon to perform. Unfortunately, they were, and remain, somewhat costly, at least for an amateur to buy—still over $2000. Pros use them a lot, as do dedicated and somewhat affluent amateurs. The D700 was the second seven Nikon got right, and it has now given us a pair of sevens in our imaginary poker hand. Still not enough of a hand for me to bet on though...
Finally, the D7000
Nikon was kind enough to deal us the third seven with the recent release of the D7000 - now we have a bankable hand. I am amazed at this beauty. I would say that price-wise, this camera is at the high range of an amateur camera. But it is at the low range for a professional camera and well worth that price. You can usually find them with a respectable zoom for around $1200. Nowadays the D7000s are a little hard to find, partly because of their successful history and reasonable price point. Additionally the recent earthquakes, tsunamis and related issues in the Far East have affected the ability of Nikon and other camera manufacturers to produce enough stock. Keep your eyes open for a D7000 if you are looking for a new camera body that packs a wallop. It might have been designed as a replacement for the well-built D90, but this new incarnation has amazing additions and revisions.
The D7000 is a very pleasant surprise. While it resembles the high-end D300s in many ways, it actually outgunned its predecessor. It has the feel of a pro camera like the D300, not a consumer feel. It produces a 16mp file, the second highest of any of the Nikons (that honor is held by the Nikon D3X with a list price six times that of the D7000--$6500).
The D7000 has several new and improved metering options - making color recognition better. And it is now harder to fool the meter with large black and white areas.
The D7000 has a 39-point autofocus array that is actually better than the old 51-point system, and a 2000+ pixel RGB metering sensor, which means great autofocus tracking. The camera focuses well in low light, using a wide area of the frame, which is a major improvement. The focus control settings are improved and easier to reach and change, and can be changed while looking through the viewfinder. The upgrade to full 1080 HD allows you to maintain focus during live-view and movie shooting when on AF-F (full-time servo autofocus.)
|A view of the SD card slots on the D7000.|
The D7000 has what I call burst shooting, either high or low, up to 6fps. It has twin SD cards slots; now check this out. One slot can be used as a back-up so you have two versions of each shot. Or you can use them separately and shoot for what seems like days. It has an electronic Virtual Horizon, which comes in very handy making sure the shots are not tilted. The ISO range goes up to 12,800, which can even be pushed up one more stop to 25,600. This is high enough to shoot on the dark side of the moon! However this is not a full-sensor camera, which means while there is a marked improvement in noise reduction—unmatched for the size of the sensor--it is still not the same as a full sensor. I am so used to shooting with grainy B&W fast film that this noise just seems like grain to me and rarely bothers me. And it hasn't bothered any of my photo editors or art directors either.
|The D7000's body is made of a metal alloy for strength and light weight.|
|The D7000 features a pentaprism viewfinder.|
The body of the D7000 is made of magnesium alloy, which had previously been reserved for Nikon’s high-end full-frame cameras. The new body has great ergonomic design, with a slightly thicker and improved rubberized shell. The customization options in the shooting menu are extremely improved—so many that I have not been able to scratch the surface yet. (One I discovered was the fisheye look—it simulates the look of the fisheye lens for special effect imagery.) The body is compatible with the older AF and non-AF, AI lenses. So it has many non-CPU lenses that can be locked in—including my old favorites like the 55mm macro and 85mm fast telephoto. While these are not supported on autofocus, they are supported on manual, which is all I need. Pay attention here; you may only be thinking of using your new AF lenses; this baby opens up the whole range of older AF and non-AF AI lenses; a more complete arsenal you could not want! Lots of lens choices for a very long time means many years of shooting with the best glass in town. And the camera is tested for 150,000 exposures and beyond.
|A view of the D7000's easily readable and intuitive LCD screen.|
Other D7000 features include:
A Winning Hand
The D70, D700 and D7000 are all great cameras, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is a winning hand, three sevens. Take it to the bank. Take time to use the D7000, make mistakes, test it out and master it. This is a steal of a deal! In my mind, the D7000 is the best high-end camera that a consumer or amateur can buy. I usual buy a pair of matching cameras so all accessories are shareable. And this pro has two D7000s in his bag now.
The D7000 is my recommendation for the amateur wanting to buy the best camera for the money; and I put my money where my mouth is. You will without doubt receive a pro-level camera able to help you make the transition to pro-level work. This is your best money spent!
Follow the light…f-stop