Internationally-published travel photographer Jacob James explains how the Nikon D7000 took him around the world...
Jacob James is an internationally published photographer, writer, photo educator and keynote speaker specialising in travel, humanitarian and cultural documentary photography. You can read more about his wide and varied career on his personal website.
At the start of 2010, I was in the position that most hobbyists reach at some point in their photographic life: I had played around with near enough every style of photography until that point, dabbling in sports, macro, portraiture and landscapes, but had never really clicked with any of them.
It wasn’t that I was struggling to produce decent images; I was just not enjoying the process. I was suffering from the photography equivalent of writer’s block and had absolutely no desire to get out and shoot anything meaningful.
“Back in 2010, the camera market was a little easier to navigate.”
It was around this time that I signed up for a six-week volunteering trip to the rural west of Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar. My trusty Nikon D40 was by now getting old and starting to show its limitations, particularly when shooting in low light.
As the weeks went by, I started to consider upgrading my camera. At the time I was just about finishing sixth form and, like most poor, part-time-employed 17 or 18-year-olds, the idea of spending a significant lump of cash on a decent camera was a tough decision.
Back in 2010, the camera market was a little easier to navigate. Compact system cameras were in their infancy and not really thought of as ‘real’ cameras by most photographers, so the choice
was either an APS-C cropped sensor or full frame for the majority of hobbyists.
Straight away I knew that the cost of full-frame lenses would prevent me from heading in that direction, so I started to look more closely at the professional end of Nikon’s DX sensor range.
I began tossing up whether to stump up the cash for the D300S or save some money and get the D90 along with an extra lens or two. I liked the idea of the pro features of the D300S, such as the weather-sealing, magnesium-alloy body and upgraded video features, but I wasn’t ready to spend that kind of money on a camera body just yet.
It was in September 2010 that Nikon launched the D7000. When I first saw the spec sheet, with its magnesium-alloy body, 16.2-million-pixel sensor, weather-sealing, full HD video, class-leading dynamic range and ISO performance, I knew that it was my dream camera. It seemed that somehow Nikon had listened to my needs and made a camera that ticked every single box – and at a price that wouldn’t make it inaccessible to me.
“…despite my initial impressions, my relationship with the D7000 was rocky for the first two to three months.”
After a few more weeks of saving every penny I could, I finally took the plunge and ordered a D7000 body. Upon its arrival it was clear that this camera was a step up from what I was used to. For the first time I had a top LCD screen, dual control wheels and a built-in AF motor to allow me to make use of Nikon’s huge range of lenses.
Surprisingly though, despite my initial impressions, my relationship with the D7000 was rocky for the first two to three months. Coming from the simple 6.1-million-pixel sensor on the D40, the D7000’s 16.2-million-pixel resolution was brutal on my technique.
Many of my images were coming out slightly blurry, which meant I started to grow frustrated. It wasn’t a flaw of the camera – it was just that the lower resolution of the D40 had been covering up my shortcomings.
After months of frustration and lots of time working on my technique, I gradually grew to love the camera. But it wasn’t until I took the D7000 out of the UK that my passion for both the camera and photography really blossomed.
Elephants and Power Hoses
After six weeks of shooting images in rural Thailand, I was hooked, not just on the camera but on travelling in general. During my stay the D7000 had performed flawlessly despite it even being temporarily submerged in a monsoon-flooded river while I rode on the back of an elephant.
After that first trip my interest in travel photography really took off. I set up my website and got
my portfolio out, and I started to make inroads and occasionally even a bit of cash from my work.
It was then that I realised I wanted to try to make a living out of travel photography.
A second D7000 joined my first just a few months later, in time for my departure back to Asia. I was due to spend five months on the road, travelling through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, and this time I wanted to really start creating a solid portfolio of images.
Only seven days into my trip, a power hose unfortunately destroyed my old D7000 during the Thingyan Water Festival in Myanmar. Fortunately, my second body held up after a few days’ drying out and went on to perform flawlessly for the next three years – and is still going today, though minus a bit of paint and the addition of a couple of dents.
Durability is the Key
The D7000 will always be special to me because it was the camera that got my career going. It travelled with me for 12 months across south-east Asia, during a hitchhike across Europe, on camel-back in the Sahara, while standing neck deep in the Mekong River and even on the back of a motorcycle for three weeks through the rainy season in Rajasthan, India.
It has worked equally well on the streets of Budapest in Hungary and Prague in the Czech Republic as it did on the streets of Delhi in India and Hanoi in Vietnam. The D7000 has dealt comfortably with almost everything I have thrown at it. Whether cityscapes or landscapes, portraits or documentary work, I discovered very few faults.
“The majority of my best work has been shot on fairly inexpensive lenses…”
I believe the D7000 is one of the best all-round DSLRs that has ever been made. There are many features that I love about it: the 16.2-million-pixel sensor is still, even today, one of the best low-light crop sensors on the market, and I’ve shot work at ISO 5000-6400 that has been printed in publications around the world.
The beauty of the Nikon system is its wide range of lenses, even though they were made decades ago. One of the main reasons for my step up to the D7000 was for autofocus with the whole range of Nikon lenses. The majority of my best work has been shot on fairly inexpensive lenses, like the 50mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4. The sharpness of Nikon’s primes really complement the D7000 sensor and offer a huge weight saving over the much larger and more expensive pro zooms.
The D7000 was also one of the first Nikon DSLRs to sport full HD video capture. Looking back now, the process of shooting video on the D7000 is really not very intuitive. The codec is very poor, there is no headphone input or audio control and even exposure control during filming is pretty much non-existent.
Impressive Dynamic Range
The standout feature of the D7000 when it was launched was the incredible dynamic range of its sensor. Even four years on, and with many advances in sensor technology in that time, it still has one of the highest dynamic ranges of any camera with an APS-C-sized sensor.
With around 13.9EV of dynamic range, there were very few situations where I genuinely wished for something greater. More often than not, I will shoot fairly spontaneous subjects, such as people in markets, but even when shooting in the harsh midday sun, so long as I exposed for the highlights there would normally be plenty of detail to lift the shadows and capture a decent exposure.
The advantage of the dynamic range is not just being able to capture highlights and shadows in the image – with the D7000 you also get great exposure leeway when processing its raw files.
One feature that is excellent is the D7000’s wireless control over Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS). I spent almost three weeks in India shooting purely off-camera flash portraits. Never once did the system let me down, even in monsoon rains and high humidity.
If I had to find a weakness with the D7000, it would definitely be with the focusing system. Autofocus was neither the quickest nor the most accurate. In broad daylight it worked fine for most subjects, but as the light started to fade the D7000’s Achilles heel really started to show.
This is a weakness I learned to deal with over the four years of owning the D7000, but it’s the only weakness that I felt prevented this camera from being truly legendary.
“In the end, I was starting to leave gear in my hotel room…”
As with most things, over time my preferences and needs started to change. I was beginning to find two D7000 bodies and a bunch of lenses rather cumbersome, especially as my travel started to get a little more extreme. I was finding that carrying a rucksack with 5-6kg of camera gear was no fun in hot climates or over rough terrain. In the end, I was starting to leave gear in my hotel room and even some at home.
I decided to make a move to a smaller system and finally made the move to a Panasonic Lumix G micro four thirds set-up to reduce the weight and size of my gear. As I start to look back over the work I have shot with the D7000, I have slowly come to remember just what an awesome camera it is.
Full Frame Not Essential?
I have seen many photographers over the years turn their noses up at cameras because they aren’t full frame.
For the four years I owned the D7000, I never once felt the need to upgrade to a full-frame system. The image quality really is outstanding and the cropped sensor has never been a hindrance to getting my images published.
It’s all too easy to get caught up with wanting the most recent and best camera, but even today cameras such as the D7000 and D300 still produce images that will be suitable for 95% of photographers.
“…the D7000 is a very sentimental camera to me…”
Unless you need to be able to shoot in darkness or really enlarge your images, then often new cameras are more of a want than a need.
As you might have gathered, the D7000 is a very sentimental camera to me, and despite my two bodies being relegated from my kit bag I still haven’t sold them. I think I’m still secretly holding on to them for now, and sometime in the future I will give them one final run out.
The Nikon D7000 may be discontinued, but it’s still widely available on the second-hand market. If you’re struggling to get your hands on one, why not consider one of the model’s successors – either the Nikon D7100 or the Nikon D7200
Nikon D7000 Key Specs
Making sure that images are exposed correctly is a 2016-pixel RGB sensor, which is the same sensor used in the current Nikon D610.
For time-lapse photography, the Nikon D7000 has a built-in intervalometer that allows users to set the camera to take a number of images at set intervals.
The Nikon D7000 has 39 AF points, nine of which are cross-type. The AF sensor is the Multi-CAM 4800DX, which allows for 3D tracking.
Images are composed using the pentaprism viewfinder, which has a 100% field of view.
The D7000 is capable of shooting full HD video at 1080p resolution.
With magnesium-alloy top and back panels, the D7000 is strong and lightweight, and is fully weather-sealed.