Nikon D7000 Image Quality
Nikon D7000 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall accuracy and saturation, with only minor shifts in hue and intensity.
Saturation. The Nikon D7000 pushes dark blues, and some darker greens just a little, but actually undersaturates some cyan tones slightly. Red and orange aren't pushed as much as most cameras. Overall, saturation levels are quite accurate, just slightly higher than the D90, but lower than the D300S. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Nikon D7000's skin tones looked just about right. There were some slight pink tints in places, but overall skin tone looked very natural. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Nikon D7000 showed a few small color shifts relative to the mathematically precise translation of colors in its subjects, but its overall color accuracy was very good. Reds shifted very slightly toward orange, and cyan shifted a bit toward blue, as there were slight shifts in some oranges, greens and purples, but shifts were relatively minor. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Nikon D7000 offers six preset "Picture Control" options. You can adjust Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Hue for any of the settings. (For Monochrome, Saturation and Hue are replaced by Filter Effects and Toning settings.)
Mouse over the links above to see the effect of the presets on our Still Life target. Click on a link to load the full resolution image.
The Nikon D7000 lets you adjust the image saturation and contrast in seven steps each, brightness in three steps, hue in seven steps and sharpening in ten steps. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment worked very well, providing a reasonably fine-grained adjustment over a useful range of control. The saturation adjustment also has almost no impact on contrast. That's how a saturation control should work, but we've often found interactions between saturation adjustments and image contrast (and vice versa) on the cameras we test.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different saturation adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. There is also an Auto setting available. See the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named D7000OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Very warm results with Auto and Incandescent white balance, though good color with Manual and 2,600 Kelvin white balance settings. About average exposure compensation required.*
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
The Nikon D7000's auto white balance had a difficult time with the very warm color balance of the household incandescent bulbs used in this shot, something we find disappointing in a camera in this price and performance range. But the D7000 is by no means alone in this: Many cameras we test have trouble with this light source, and it's important to note that this is far from the worst we've seen. The camera's incandescent white balance setting is obviously tuned for the cooler-hued 3,200K color of professional studio lighting, so it produces the warm cast you'd expect here. The 2,600K and Manual settings produced much more accurate results. Skin tones and white values looked best with the manual option, as the 2,600K setting had a slight magenta tint (though still nearly accurate -- and we could obviously have chosen a slightly higher Kelvin setting if we'd wanted to fiddle with it more). After accounting for the lens (see below), the Nikon D7000 required an average amount of exposure compensation for this shot (+0.3 EV). Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
* Note: These shots were captured with a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro lens, one of the sharpest lenses we've ever tested on SLRgear.com. We use Sigma 70mm lenses in most of our studio test shots because they are so sharp and are available on all major platforms with the exception of Four Thirds. For some reason, though, on some (but not all) Nikon bodies, the Sigma causes the camera's exposure system to overexpose by somewhere between two thirds of a stop and a full stop. The D7000 is one such body (as was the D90 and D300S), as the exposure compensation settings actually used in the images above are lower than normal for this shot. Accordingly, the comments regarding exposure compensation required have been adjusted to match results we achieved with a Nikkor lens. Other than this exposure shift, the Sigma 70mm performs very well on Nikon bodies, so we continue to use it as our "reference" lens, due to its excellent optical qualities.
Good exposure and color outdoors with very good highlight/shadow detail preservation. Options like D-Lighting, and Contrast adjustment are a help when faced with tough conditions like these.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
The Nikon D7000 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight pretty well, and produced good overall color and exposure. The default contrast setting was a bit on the high side (as most users prefer), but shadow and highlight detail in the "sunlit" Portrait shot shown above was quite good. Despite the bright appearance, only a few highlights mainly in the red and blue channels were clipped in the model's shirt, pendant and some of the flowers, though the blue channel was lost in some of the deeper shadows. Shadow noise was however surprisingly low. The +0.7 EV exposure compensation required to keep the model's face bright was about average for this scene. The house shot was slightly overexposed at 0 EV, so it lost some highlights in the white trim , but shadow detail was quite good. Again, shadow noise was surprisingly low. Color looks good outdoors as well, just a touch cool.
Very high resolution, ~1,950 to 2,000 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, slightly higher from converted RAW files.
|Strong detail to
1,950 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
2,000 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
2,100 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
|Strong detail to
2,000 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,950 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,000 lines per picture height in the vertical direction in JPEGs. (Some might argue for over 2,000 lines, but aliasing artifacts begin to appear earlier.) Complete extinction didn't occur until around 2,800 lines in both directions. We were able to eke out a bit more resolution (about 2,100 lines) in the horizontal direction with RAW files processed through Adobe Camera RAW, but not in the vertical direction. The ACR processed RAW images were crisper (thanks to strong/tight unsharp masking in Photoshop), but didn't contain much more detail. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Very good detail but a hint soft straight from the camera, with relatively minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Minimal noise suppression artifacts at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Nikon D7000 produced very good detail, but there's a slight softness overall, even when using the sharp Nikon 35mm f/1.8G prime lens at f/8 as was used for the house crop above left. f/8 is slightly beyond the diffraction limit on the D7000, but our testing on SLRgear showed that the sharpness loss from f/5.6 to f/8 was very slight: So the slight softness here is almost certainly the result of the camera's low pass filter and its image processing, rather than any loss optically. Some minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but overall results are still quite good. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing color and tonal differences right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows only minimal detail loss due to noise suppression, as the darker areas of the model's hair show a lot of detail. Individual strands are still distinguishable even in the lighter shadows, though they begin to merge as shadows deepen, and in places where the tone and color of adjacent strands is very close. All in all, a very good performance here for Nikon's highest-resolution DX sensor to date. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D7000 does a pretty good job at capturing lots of detail, but JPEG images are slightly soft at the default settings. A little more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, though, without introducing additional artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking the link will load the full resolution image. Examples are all shot at ISO 100, and include in-camera Fine JPEG, the RAW file processed through Nikon's free ViewNX software, and the RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) version 6.3b, then sharpened in Photoshop. We used default settings for ViewNX. For Adobe Camera Raw, we found best results with strong but tight 350% unsharp masking with a 0.3 pixel radius.
As is frequently the case, the demosaicing and sharpening in Adobe Camera and Photoshop deliver finer detail than either the camera or the manufacturer's own software. Looking very closely at the images, ACR extracts a bit more detail that wasn't present in the JPEGs from either the camera itself or Nikon's software package, but the main difference is in the fineness of the rendering. Fine details (the tree branches against the sky, for example) look a little coarser in the various Nikon renderings than in that from ACR/Photoshop. This isn't without cost, though: While they don't look as crisp, the Nikon renderings are smoother-looking. We'd personally go the Adobe (or other high-quality third-party RAW converter) route here if we were concerned about making the sharpest-looking print possible from the D7000's files.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good handling of noise vs detail to ISO 1,600.
|Noise Reduction = Default|
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
The Nikon D7000's images were very clean at ISO 100 through 800, which just a touch of luminance noise becoming more visible in the shadows as ISO increased. Detail was still very good at ISO 1,600, with a tight film-like noise "grain" and very little fine detail lost to noise reduction. At ISO 3,200, subject detail takes a bigger drop than previous steps, with stronger blurring and more visible noise "grain", but detail is better than average. Images at 6,400 and ISO 12,800 are notably less detailed than those at lower sensitivity levels, and ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 in particular shows a lot of chroma noise as well, in the form of yellow and purple blotches. Of course, the impact of noise and detail loss are highly dependent on the size the photos are printed at, and pixel-peeping on-screen has surprisingly little relationship to how the images look when printed: See the Print Quality section below for recommended maximum print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
|ISO 100||ISO 6,400|
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with very good highlight and shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
The Nikon D7000 handled the deliberately harsh lighting very well in the above test. Though contrast is a little high, highlight and especially shadow detail are very good. The camera's contrast adjustment also did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without producing strong color variations; see the section below. The +0.7 EV exposure did the best job here, as the model's face was a bit too dim at +0.3 EV and we thought that too many highlights were lost at +1.0 EV. At +0.7 EV, only a few highlights were blown in the model's shirt and bright flowers, while very good detail was still preserved in the shadows with lower than average noise. These shots were captured with the Nikon D7000's Active D-Lighting control set to its default of "Off."
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D7000's contrast setting meets both challenges, the contrast steps actually being a little finer than those for saturation, and thus even more to our liking.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the D7000 did a really excellent job of preserving a bit more highlight detail, maintaining natural-looking skin tones, and bringing nice detail out of the shadows. The D7000 captures good color outdoors, though just slightly on the cool side. Overall, very good results here, especially when the contrast setting is tweaked. (This is a really tough shot; the Nikon D7000 does a better than average job handling it.)
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. There is also an Auto setting available. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
One very nice feature of Nikon's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on color saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. Nikon did a good job here.
Nikon's Active D-Lighting
The series of shots below show the results of the available Active D-Lighting settings (once again, with an equivalent exposure compensation of +0.7 EV), used to preserve highlight and shadow detail in high contrast images. Active D-Lighting is different from the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly doesn't apply tonal adjustments like this to RAW file data. NEF files, however, are tagged so that Nikon software can automatically apply the effect when converted.)
|Outdoor Portrait Active D-Lighting|
Mouse over the links to see how the various levels of Active D-Lighting affects our "Outdoor" Portrait shot. Click on a link to get to the full-res image. (Active D-Lighting's effect can be a little subtle in shots like those above, so we decided to use a mouse-over to better show how each setting compares to Off.)
When Active D-Lighting is enabled, the camera exposes for the highlights in an attempt to preserve more of them (in this case, faster shutter speeds were used at higher ADL settings), then adjusts the tone curve to bring the midtones and shadows back up to produce an image that doesn't look underexposed. As you can see from the thumbnail images and histograms above, higher values of Nikon's Active D-Lighting do a very good job at preserving highlights while bringing up shadows and deeper midtones, without making the image look too flat. There's a touch more noise visible in the darker areas of the test shots above with Active D-Lighting enabled, but noise levels are very low to begin with that the slight increase is of no practical concern.
|Far-field Active D-Lighting Examples|
Here are the results with our Far-field House shot. Again, Active D-Lighting does a very good job of taming hot highlights while bringing up some of the shadows and deeper midtones a bit. Also note the slight blue cast in the white trim of the house as the strength of Active D-Lighting is increased.
Low light. The Nikon D7000 performed well here, able to capture usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night), at all ISO settings. The D7000's metering system struggled a bit with getting the exposure right at the lowest levels though, so we used manual exposure for these shots. Color balance with auto white balance was fairly neutral at higher light levels, but took on an increasingly strong blue or magenta cast as light levels dropped. Noise was quite low up to ISO 1,600, and even a higher ISOs, there's still a lot of detail to work with when high ISO NR is set to "Off" (which still applies some filtering at ISOs over 1,600). The Nikon D7000 gives you four options for high ISO noise reduction: Off, Low, Normal, and High, so you have some flexibility in deciding how much noise to trade for detail. Except for the "No NR" shots in the table above, these were all shot using the Normal NR setting, and Long Exposure NR was enabled so it was applied to exposures longer than eight seconds. There are a number of hot pixels visible starting at ISO 400 at lower light levels (in addition to the cluster visible in good lighting), and the number increases at higher ISOs. We did not detect any significant banding issues.
The Nikon D7000's phase-detection autofocus system also performed very well here, able to focus on the subject down to well below the 1/16 foot-candle light level with its AF assist light turned off, and in total darkness with it enabled. In Live View mode with contrast-detect autofocus, the D7000 was able to focus down to only the 1/4 foot-candle, which is about average. (Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D7000 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Printing tells the clear story of the Nikon D7000's image quality. ISO 100 images make a very crisp 24 x 36 inch print with no trouble. This remains true at ISO 200 and 400, with slight luminance noise starting to encroach in the shadows at ISO 400. Prints up to 36 x 48 are fine for wall display purposes.
ISO 800 shots finally start to show some softness in fine detail, but it's still quite good at 20 x 30 inches.
ISO 1,600 prints are nice at 13 x 19, with only minor noise in the some shadowy areas and reminiscent of film grain.
ISO 3,200 yields a nice 11 x 14, if just a bit soft in some areas for fine detail.
ISO 6,400 is good for 8 x 10s. Chroma noise is visible in the shadows, but not too badly.
ISO 12,800 suffers from more chroma noise and snowy luminance noise at 5 x 7, such that it's not really usable. However, reducing size to 4 x 6 is fine.
ISO 25,600 prints a decent 4 x 6 for less critical applications, but is not what we can officially call "good".
That's what we call an impressive performance, producing excellent images from ISO 100 to 400 at very large 24 x 36 inch print sizes, and even at ISO 12,800 you can get a good 4 x 6 inch print.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)