The Ultimate Cropped Sensor DSLR?

Toy fire truck, shot with D5000 and 35mm f1.8
Toy fire truck, shot with D5000 and 35mm f1.8

Intentionally or otherwise, Nikon has managed to generate a huge amount of interest in its just-announced but long-rumored D90-replacement, the D7000.

But the D90 isn’t being replaced per se. The D90 was one of a series of Nikon bodies with a cleverly nuanced feature set that made it very attractive for geeky non-pros, but infuriating for serious shooters. If you had old glass — get a D300. If you needed 14-bit RAW — get a D300. Continuous shooting — just a tad slow. The D7000’s feature set isn’t nuanced.

Ignore the headline features — 1080p video, 16MP sensor, and even the weather-sealed magnesium alloy / rubber body. Those will sell the D7000 to geeks. It’s the little things that even reviewers will overlook that are revealing: 2k pixel metering system, 14-bit RAW, support for pre-AF lenses (not just those without AF motors, even lenses that communicate aperture mechanically — indeed you can store lens data for nine lenses), micro-focus adjustment (so you can fine-tune your AF settings per lens, a feature only previously seen in “pro” cameras). Basically every little “only pros will care” feature Nikon leaves out of its mid-range cameras has been included.

It’s the mode dial, stupid

The D7000's mode dial hides the scene modes to stop serious shooters from barfing
The D7000's mode dial hides the scene modes to stop serious shooters from barfing. (Photo from

The biggest visual clue that this is not a D90 replacement is the mode dial. You can tell the “consumer” cameras apart from the “serious” cameras simply by looking for a bunch of dumb scene modes on the mode dial *. The D90 has them, the D300 doesn’t, and the D7000 has them but hides them behind a single “dumb scene mode” setting. Tellingly, the Canon 60D has them and the 7D doesn’t.

Note: * I use inverted commas because this is largely a marketing distinction — a pro photographer can use any camera he/she wants to, and plenty of amateurs with no talent and lots of money shoot Hasselblad. Heck, I would if I could.

Also note: while D7000’s mode dial looks a lot like a pro Canon mode dial, Nikon’s pro models don’t have a mode dial at all. (On Nikon pro bodies, mode changes are a chorded adjustment via click-wheel to absolutely prevent accidental mode changes.)

And by setting the MSRP to $1200 Nikon is basically saying “try selling a DX body for more than this, we dare you.” (Very bad news for Olympus and Pentax. And bad news for Canon which now has the 7D sitting like a beached whale at the D300s pricepoint and the 60D competing with the D90 for about half the price, and the D7000 for $100 more.)

What becomes clear to me is that Nikon is going to be inserting an FX body somewhere in the $1500-2500 price range. Sure, there’s still room for a “D400” — the D7000 “only” shoots at 6fps and “only” has 39 autofocus points (vs. 51 on the previous generation “pro” bodies). A 10fps D400 with even better AF would probably help consolidate Nikon’s position in the pro-sports and wildlife markets. Or maybe they’ll add 1080p60 video to allow still shooters to grab overcranked video.

This also gels with the fact Nikon has released a flurry of FX lenses in the last few weeks. Why release mouth-watering full-frame lenses alongside what seem to be the pinnacles of your DX line?

Replacing the D5000

There’s a lot more room between $800 and $1200 for a D5100/D6000. (Perhaps the rumored carbon fiber camera?) As a D5000 owner (I bought a D5000 having intended to get a D90 and then using both side-by-side), I would hesitate to upgrade to a D7000 simply because I’ve found the articulated display so (surprisingly) useful, and the metal body’s ruggedness comes at a steep price in terms of weight. Although if the D5000 replacement omits much more than the metal body, I’d be inclined to pick the “zero compromise” D7k (or D800…) and keep the lightweight D5k for odd angle shots and portability.