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Nikon D7000 vs. Nikon D40

I’ve had the pleasure of owning a Nikon D7000 for a few days at the time of writing this and wow… I can say that it’s absolutely amazing.  I used my Nikon D40 for about 2 and a half years and it’s an excellent camera.  It’s spectacular for learning how a DSLR operates and you will get some wonderfully pretty pictures from it, but I outgrew the camera and needed more features and better image quality so it was time to step up…

I chose the D7000 based on it’s feature set and image quality… but I was not without worry.  There were a few rumors about this camera having problems with back focusing and soft images… I spent three days taking pictures over and over of things in my room trying to find a problem and in the end there was nothing.  I’m going to cover a few things that I feel are a significant upgrade upgrade over the D40 I grew used to.

AF System

The D7000 auto-focus system is a lovely 39 points.  It’s definitely a huge jump over the 3 I was used to before… and while auto-focus isn’t the most important thing in the world, it’s very wonderful to be able to focus where I want to without having to recompose all the time which sometimes caused me to lose focus on the object from having to move around.  It also has a new 3D tracking mode that will let you focus on an object and the camera will track it as it moves around the frame.  It’s very useful for just selecting a focus point in the center than recomposing if you prefer doing that in the first place, or for things that are unpredictable like sports.  I usually don’t use this mode personally, but I think it’s very cool.

The AF system has the same three basic modes that my D40 had.  It has AF-A which is the automatic mode where it selects the focal point for you. AF-S is single point AF and AF-C is continuous AF where once the point is selected it will continue to focus on that point.  AF-A ans AF-C have secondary options that let you select a single point, group of 9 points, group of 21 points, or all 39 points.  Both also have the 3D tracking described above.  I almost never used AF-C with my D40 because of the very few AF points available; I had to recompose too often.  I like AF-A with 9 points the most so far since I can specify the group of points so it’s basically limiting AF to a region rather than the entire frame.  It eliminates the chances of the camera focusing on something I don’t want it to focus on.

Metering

The metering is better on the D7000, especially with Flash.  Even the built in flash produces acceptable results, I’m really really impressed by this. Combined with the SB-700 I get incredible flash photography results indoors.

Flash

The pop up flash is just that but… The real advantage here over the D40 is the commander mode.  I can control my SB-700 wirelessly using the pop up flash which greatly enhances the creative lighting options I have!

There is a single disadvantage for the D7000 regarding flash.  That would be the 1/250 sync speed vs. 1/500 for the D40.  The D7000 does allow Auto FP to get around this but this isn’t as effective as the real max sync speed.

Reported Issues that I haven’t run into…

  • Many internet sites will complain of a back focusing issue with this camera.  I haven’t seen it. None of my 4 lenses fail to deliver sharp results.  Update 02/13/2012: After testing, I’ve found that I’ve needed to dial in all of my lenses with the AF-Fine tune feature between -3 and -8.  When I still owned the 50mm f/1.4G that one needed -12.  Update 09/18/2012: After *MORE* testing, I found that using AF-S gave me absolutely perfect focus resoults and using AF-A with the 9 point estimation needed fine-tuning.  To avoid focusing problems, stick with AF-S.   The main reason that people experience “back-focusing” issues with the D7000 is because of the higher megapixel sensor and the fact that the resolution brings out any little errors.  Also notable is that this camera’s auto-focus system is far more modern and very advanced so you have to be sure that you’re focusing on the correct spot and the camera’s resolution is so good that it will show minor camera shakes and other issues that keep you from having your subject in perfect sharp focus. I never noticed these things with my D40 because of fewer pixels. Moreover, AF-C mode defaults to a setting that lets you fire without the image in perfect focus. If you use AF-C and get out of focus pictures then you probably need to go into your Menu, then Custom Setting Menu -> Autofocus -> AF-C Priority Selection. Change the priority to Focus and it will not let you fire until you have your object in focus.
  • The D7000 is not soft.  It’s a popular camera with a lot of features… unfortunately a lot of people either don’t read the manual, or don’t fully explore the options. The default Nikon settings for sharpness are at 3 out of a max of 9.  I bumped this to 6 and it’s plenty sharp.  I can’t imagine what it would look like at 9.
  • Certain elitists will say things like, “the D7000 will expose your cheap lenses and force you to upgrade.”  I’ve seen posts from people that were asking the same question I was in my head about whether the D40′s kit lens would look bad on my D7000.  A lot of people stated that the 18-55 was crap and to discard it for a 17-50 Tamron lens that was better.  Well, the only thing that’s been exposed from my cheap plastic 18-55 II lens is how sharp cheap glass can be because pictures taken with it look absolutely amazing with my D7000.  Keep your old lenses if they cover the correct range is all I have to say!
  • If you read Ken Rockwell’s D7000 review, he’ll state that the SD Card slots aren’t readable through USB without Nikon’s software installed. Ken Rockwell uses a Mac I believe. This issue is non-existent for me in Windows 7. I can plug in my USB cable and take images directly off of the camera without extra software. Take that, Mac users! As of December 2011 I am a MacBook Air owner but I did find that it lets you transfer the images outside of using Nikon software.  However, I still do have issues just plugging the camera directly in as a drive so Windows still wins for managing my images.  I enjoy my Air for sure but OS X does have it’s faults, so I’m not going to stroke the ego of Apple.  Sorry~

Actual Issues…

  • 6 FPS Continuous shooting works… but the buffer is crap. While the specs say this camera can do up to 100 shots before stopping, when I tested with RAW, it stopped after 10 shots.  With JPG (Fine) it stopped at 15. This is with a 8 GB PNY Professional Class 10 SD card so there’s no lack of write speed.  I haven’t tried lower quality settings yet.
  • The dial on the left is a little easy to turn.  I accidentally switched it to U2 from Manual once and thought I had accidentally reset my camera to default settings xD

Advantages over my faithful D40…

  • More modern sensor; better in low light / better dynamic range in higher light
  • Meters more accurately
  • Better Battery Life
  • More Features
  • Better AF system
  • Meters and Focuses older Nikon Lenses (including my dream lens….)
  • Faster continuous shooting
  • Less Menu Diving
  • Better LCD – Can spot missed shots before going home and swearing once I’m there xD
  • Automatic Sensor Cleaning.  D40 is dust prone if you change lenses.
  • ADR.  The D40 was one of the last Generation I DSLR cameras from Nikon without this feature and it really helps to nail the exposure with those bright backgrounds.

Battles the D40 wins…

  • Weight.  The D40 is much lighter and it’s a pleasure to shoot the D40 portrait style or with one hand.  The D7000 tends to wear on my right hand after a bit if I try to one hand it.
  • Flash Sync Speed.  1/500 is pretty pro.
  • User Friendliness.  I wouldn’t give the D7000 to a DSLR newbie, I’d much rather give them the D40 and have them learn on that.  It will significantly reduce the learning curve for a beast like the D7000.

Why I’ll still use my D40…

Getting a new camera doesn’t always mean you discard your old one.  The D40 will become my secondary camera in case I’m shooting an event and need a completely different setting or to quickly cover a shorter / longer focal range. Also, revisiting the last section, I want a capable body to teach my girlfriend about DSLRs and camera settings.  I’d much rather do this on the user-friendly D40 before I turn her loose on the beastly D7000 ^^

 

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