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(Pocket-lint) - The Nikon D7000 is a new DSLR sandwiched between both the consumer and semi-pro categories. A lot is new: a brand new 16.2-megapixel sensor can capture stills and 1080p HD movies, while a new 39-point autofocus system and 2106 pixel RGB metering sensor show there’s a lot going on under the hood. But just how good is this new tech and is the D7000 the true next generation DSLR?

The D7000 is one of a pair of DSLR cameras to appear from Nikon this year. The first, the D3100, amped up consumer expectation of what an entry-level DSLR could bring to the table and the D7000’s impressive specification looks to hold a similar stance for what Nikon describes as the consumer-level category.

With a high-resolution 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor at its heart, the latest EXPEED 2 image processing engine can render images from ISO 100-6400 as standard, and two “Hi” settings produce equivalent ISO 12,800-25,600 at full resolution too. It’s clear that low light shooting needn’t be a worry.

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The D7000’s body is an amalgamation of part magnesium alloy on the top and base, and part polycarbonate for the rest of the body. This produces a halfway house between extra sturdiness and more standard construction, so it isn’t quite as weighty, sturdy or fully weather-sealed as a pro-spec camera would be, but it’s a tougher build than many others, including its clear-cut competitor, the Canon EOS 60D.

A 3-inch screen on the rear has a 920k-dot resolution, and a 100 per cent field-of-view optical viewfinder is located above this. Although the screen doesn’t have the highest available resolution out there, it’s still more than ample for providing good preview and playback of detail and the readily available zoom buttons to the left side of the camera can be pressed for zoom in and quick assessment of sharpness as required. The viewfinder is very good indeed and fills a large area thanks to its 0.94x magnification, though the eyecup itself could do with being a spot larger to encompass around the eye more significantly.

Storage comes in the form of twin SD memory card slots (no CompactFlash to be found here), which provide a variety of overflow, backup and still/movie options as desired.

The brand new Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus system offers 39-points and can be used in a highly customisable fashion. In fact the various array of options is pretty exhaustive: the three main focus options are AF-S for single focus, AF-C for continuous focus (ideal for moving subjects) and AF-A for automatic focus that jumps between AF-S and AF-C depending on whether the subject in frame is still or moving. Beyond this the 39-points can be utilised in their entirety as a wide-AF area, or set to the 3D-tracking mode that is designed specifically to follow subjects not only left and right, but towards and away from the camera itself too.

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For specific work a single-point selection can be made from any available point and is easily adjusted using the d-pad on the rear of the camera. Then there’s the option to deactivate certain points of the AF-point array which is particularly useful for tracking subjects more central to the frame. But the detail extends way beyond this in the main menu as it’s possible to set the delay of the continuous focus (you don’t want it to be immediate if, say, a subject walks past the camera and interrupts the focus just briefly) down to whether a shot is fired only in absolute focus or the moment the shutter release is pressed.

And this is before considering live view’s focus options which, as it happens, is altogether less detailed by comparison. Flick the switch to the top right of the LCD screen to enter the mode and accessing the menu will open up four possible focus types: face detection, wide-area, normal-area and subject tracking AF. As a contrast-detection system is employed for live view work it’s not nearly as fast as shooting through the viewfinder, yet is successful in its ability to focus and the fact the focus-area can be shifted right to the very edges of the frame proves very versatile. Using live view for movie shooting can be adjusted between AF-S and AF-F (full time) depending on your preference of a fixed focal point or continuous re-assessment - the latter can be problematic due to ever so slight under- and over-focusing.

It’s not just the D7000’s autofocus that’s fast, as a 6fps burst mode means shots can be reeled off rapidly at full resolution. The Nikon D300s, above the D7000 in the Professional range, provides a 7fps burst mode, so the difference between the two cameras is relatively slight. Using a Class 10 card it was possible to shoot 8 RAW + JPEG frames before there was any form of delay, showing that the buffer isn’t as big and accommodating as it perhaps could be. Continuous autofocus continues to work well when burst shooting too, though this is one area where the 18-105mm kit lens finds its comeuppance. Attach a faster lens and it’s clear to see that D7000 body is more capable than the lens it comes boxed with and, although the 18-105mm is adequate, there’s plenty of room to expand up the Nikon range without the need to fork out more cash on another camera body.

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Another exceptional area of performance is just how long-life the D7000’s new battery is. It can record several hundred images and dozens of video clips without coming close to a fully depleted state.

The D7000’s image quality is very impressive from ISO 100-800, with almost no image noise visible whatsoever. ISO 1600-3200 starts to show subtle signs, particularly some colour noise in the shadow areas, which is further amplified at ISO 6400. However, all these settings could still produce an A4 print without anyone so much as batting an eyelid - the quality is really very impressive and the grain-like noise that is present isn’t especially problematic to final detail either.

Admittedly the Hi1 and Hi1 (ISO 12,800 and 25,600 respectively) are there for emergencies only as the quality here suffers a fair amount of softening from noise reduction, in a bid to hold back the otherwise much more prominent instance of image and colour noise.

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The only real drawback to overall quality is the new 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor which, despite a high number of zones to conclude final exposure value, had a tendency to plump for overexposing the highlights. This wouldn’t be especially unusual if it was skies that bled out, but can occur in a variety of exposures even when least expected. Having a +/-5 EV exposure compensation can prove useful, particularly as you may find it’s often set to -0.3 or more, though exposure bracketing is also available and can prove invaluable.

When the images are on the money though they really are fantastic. And it’s not just the stills where the D7000 excels either: the 1080p HD movie setting captures at 24fps, which is a “cinematic-like” quality. All the manual modes can be used as you please, including fixing aperture and ISO settings for more dramatic shots. The compression is minimal, with a high bitrate delivered in the H.264 compression format for very decent final quality. Even the sound is 16 bit, 48,000Hz stereo PCM - the same as you’d find rendered onto a music CD from all your favourite artists - and can be captured from the camera’s body or via an external microphone (via the 3.5mm external jack). Admittedly focusing can be a little off as the contrast-detection system can easily shoot slightly beyond and then back to the subject before actually focusing, which is also captured in the final recording.

So the D7000 has a whole lot of specification for the money. Though at £1300 it has to be said that it’s retailed towards the higher end of its price bracket. It’s a tough market out there given the Canon 60D can be bought body-only for under a grand and the Canon 7D is available for around £1400 at the time of writing, but the new AF system gives the D7000 that little extra something to shout about.

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To recap

Halfway pro, halfway “consumer”, the D7000 is an exceptional DSLR. The new 39-point AF system and 6fps burst mode are both superb, the resulting images look great and 1080p movie is of top quality too. There’s very little to moan about indeed and, although it’s not exactly a cheap buy, you’d be hard pressed to find a much better model on the market at this price point

Writing by William Perceval.