Live View/Video

While pressing the start/stop button was pretty much the only control you had over movie recording on the first video-enabled DSLRs such as the D90, this latest generation offers many more ways of manual intervention. In both live view and video modes the D7000 offers full manual control (with some caveats - see below), AF during recording and the option to pick a Picture Control setting or color space. After the D3100 it's also only the 2nd Nikon DSLR to offer 1080p full HD capture.

Live view contrast-detect autofocus offers a range of modes, from face detection to the ability to target AF to a specific point absolutely anywhere in the frame, and including the new AF-F mode that attempts to track a subject continuously around the frame. Focusing is fast by DSLR standards (certainly much quicker than any of the Canon Rebel series), but still lags distinctly behind what we're now used to from mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras like the Panasonic G series.

In the PASM shooting modes, the live view image will darken or brighten to reflect any exposure compensation you set, although sadly there's no live histogram to help judge the optimum exposure. To compound this there's no exposure meter display in live view, so to get an accurate idea of exposure you need to leave live view, and take a look at the meter display on the 'info' panel.

The D7000's Live View aperture control behaviour also shows an odd quirk that first appeared on the D300. When you enter Live View, the camera will stop down to the currently set or metered value (offering an undocumented depth-of-field preview in the process), but what it won't then do is readjust the aperture opening 'live' if you change it. It will honour the set aperture when actually making an exposure, and indeed return to live view at that aperture afterwards; alternatively you can force it to readjust by exiting and re-entering live view.

This behaviour is, simply, a bug, rather than some fundamental limitation of the F-mount; the D3 series bodies can continuously adjust aperture in live view, exactly as you'd expect.

Overall, the D7000's Live View is certainly quite functional as a basic means of framing for stills and video shooting, as long as you understand its limitations. However it lacks many of the more advanced features you'll find on more expensive SLRs, or full-time live view cameras such as the Sony NEXs or Olympus Pens.

Video specification

The Nikon D7000 offers a maximum video resolution of 1920x1080 (1080p) at 24 frames per second. At 1280x720 (720) you have the choice between either 24 fps or 25/30 fps (PAL/NTSC). For smaller file sizes you can also record SD video (640x424). The built-in internal microphone captures mono audio, but there is also a socket for a 3.5mm external microphone that allows recording of stereo sound. The sensitivity of the microphone is adjustable.

AF is available during movie recording and shutter speed, aperture and ISO can all be set manually if you so wish (aperture has to be set before the start of recording). Some basic in-camera video-editing is also possible: clips can be trimmed and you can select and save individual frames.

Sizes 1920x1080p: 24 fps
1280x720p: 24/30 fps (NTSC), 24/25 fps (PAL)
640x424: 30 fps (NTSC), 25fps (PAL)
Audio 44.1kHz Mono (Internal Mic), Linear PCM, stereo recording possible with external mic
Format MPEG-4 AVC, H.264 (.MOV files)
File size 5.5 MB/sec (1080P), 5.5 MB/sec (720P), 2.8 MB/sec (VGA)
Max file size per clip 4GB or 20 min

Using Movie Mode

Recording movies on the D7000 is a straightforward affair. Flick the switch on the back of the camera to get into live view mode, then press the red movie button to start and stop recording. Shutter speed, aperture and ISO are usually set automatically, but if you turn the manual movie settings on in the shooting menu this allows you to adjust the aperture before recording and, if you're in M mode, the shutter speed during capture. As noted in the 'live view' section, above, you cannot adjust aperture in live view mode or during recording. In aperture priority mode, aperture value responds to control dial input, but does not actually stop down. In manual mode, the aperture value is completely fixed.

This might all sound rather confusing - and frankly we think it is. The crucial point to remember is that the camera enters live view at the currently set (or metered) aperture, then remains there no matter what changes you make, until you either exit live view or take a (still) picture. This means that movies aren't always recorded at the currently-set aperture. For example, if in A mode you set the camera to F5.6 and enter live view, then change the aperture to F16 and start recording, your movie will be shot at F5.6. But if you then take a still image and start recording again, your movie will now be shot at F16. This is, obviously, somewhat confusing until you understand what's going on - at which point it's merely inexplicable.

During recording you can also lock exposure by pressing the AE-L button and apply exposure compensation of up to +/- 3 EV. In the movie settings you can also choose the video quality and resolution, the sensitivity of the microphone and the memory card slot you want your footage to be saved to.

During shooting you can lock the focus at any time by half-pressing the shutter button. In terms of Auto Focus the D7000's movie mode offers all the options you also get in live view: you can choose between single and continuous AF and pick one of the focus area modes: normal area, wide area, face detection or subject tracking (AF-F). Nikon recommends the use of AF-S lenses in video mode as their design and quiet focusing is more suited to video requirements than the standard AF Nikkors. However, no matter what lens you use you should be aware that Auto Focusing in video mode with a large sensor camera is often a tricky affair. Due to the limited depth of field, and focussing errors are very obvious, and whilst fairly effective, AF-F can be a little 'jumpy' as it tries to keep up with the action. Focusing manually gives you more control and can yield better results. That said, AF-F performs pretty well - certainly better than we expected, and only really struggles when tracking sudden leaps from close to distant focus.

The lack of a hinged screen on the D7000, though, makes movie shooting a little more difficult than with cameras which offer this feature. Like all DSLRs, its ergonomic design (including the grip shape and button/dial placement) is very much optimized for working with the viewfinder to your eye - something that's not an option when shooting movies. The D7000 essentially forces you to shoot hand-held footage with the camera out in front of you so you can see the screen, which isn't a particularly comfortable or stable way of working.

Movie mode displays

Movie settings in the shooting menu allow you to choose a video resolution and quality, the microphone sensitivity and the memory card slot your footage is saved on. You can also activate manual settings here. Switching on manual movie settings lets you manually set shutter speed and ISO if you're in M mode.

There are three sensitivity settings for the microphone. You can also switch sound recording completely off or let the sensitivity adjust automatically. The standard movie shooting screen shows the selected movie quality and microphone sensitivity and the remaining recording time. Confusingly the black bar at the bottom shows the current meter values, not the parameters the video is recorded at.

Video quality comments

In its 1080p full HD video mode the D7000 produces screen-filling footage with smooth motion that is in on par with other cameras in this class. In low light the Nikon's output can get noisier but compared to other cameras in its class the D7000 is very good in this respect.

With its APS-C sensor the Nikon D7000 cannot quite produce the very shallow depth-of-field footage that the Nikon D3s or other full-format DSLRs offer but it still gives you much more control in this respect than most consumer video or digital compact cameras. While this allows you to use the focus creatively in an almost cinema-like fashion, on the downside it's very easy to record out-of-focus footage or have focus 'jumps' in a clip (when using continuous AF). Therefore a video-enabled DSLR such as the Nikon D7000 is generally more suited to creative videography than shooting a holiday or birthday video. For the latter you're typically much better off with a digital compact camera. Their smaller sensors provide a much greater depth of field and as a consequence the focus plane is much less of a worry.

Like pretty much all other video-DSLRs the D7000 can suffer from distortion caused by its rolling shutter. The readout of the sensor means horizontal lines of the image are scanned, one after another, rather than the whole scene being grabbed in one go. The upshot is that verticals can be skewed if the camera (or the subject) moves too fast - the top of the image has been recorded earlier than the bottom, so vertical lines can be rendered as diagonals. On the D7000 this effect is relatively subtle compared to some of the competition, presumably thanks to a fast processor and sensor read-out. Transition from bright to dark scenes works pretty smoothly and quickly as well. There are no obvious exposure 'jumps' as the camera adjusts the gain and/or aperture.

The internal microphone is quite prone to wind-noise (there's no wind-cut setting) and usually the sounds that are created by the lens when focusing or zooming are clearly audible in the footage. If sound quality is a priority for you it's probably worth considering the purchase of an external microphone.

Sample videos

Caution: very large files

Sample video 1

This clip shows the D7000's video capabilities in low light conditions.

1920 x 1080 24 fps, MPEG-4, .MOV file, 21 sec. 50.0 MB

Sample video 2

This is another low light clip that also gives you an idea of the capabilities of the built-in microphone.

1920 x 1080 24 fps, MPEG-4, .MOV file, 9 sec. 24.2 MB

Sample video 3

In this video you can see the focus shifts caused by the continuous AF catching on to the passing vehicles. Continuous AF in video mode can be a useful tool in some situations but you need to know exactly what you are doing in order to get useful results.

1920 x 1080 24 fps, MPEG-4, .MOV file, 11 sec. 31.3 MB

Sample video 4

this video demonstrates the 'jelly effect' which on the Nikon D7000 is comparatively subtle. You'll need to pan pretty quickly to make it too intrusive.

1920 x 1080 24 fps, MPEG-4, .MOV file, 5 sec. 16.8 MB