Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons Learned with my D7000

A month in Africa taught me a lot about what I like and dislike about my Nikon D7000. It also taught me some valuable lessons.

About the Trip

My wife Lesa and I spent most of the first two weeks of our trip in Lesotho. As a volunteer board member of a Canadian charity that supports people living with HIV/AIDs and/or with its effects, Lesa wanted to visit some of the projects and people funded by Bracelet of Hope. My “job” was to take photos and videos to help promote the charity.

What I liked about the D7000

Low-light capability – ISO values of up to 3200 produced usable results, especially with High ISO Noise Reduction on High – values above that started to generate a lot of noise. Here's a shot at ISO 2500 during an evening game drive at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve (70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G lens; f/6.3; 1/60s; High ISO NR: ON (normal); Active D-Lighting: Auto.)

For some better wildlife shots, take a look at my south african wildlife gallery.

User settings – The D7000 provides two sets of camera settings (U1 and U2) that let you save and then recall a ton of pre-sets that you can use to suit the conditions. I defined U2 for videos, being sure to include setting the Focus Mode to AF-S, along with some other less critical settings, and U1 for stills. Once you set up the camera the way you want, you can save the settings from the Setup Menu and then recall them quickly using the mode dial.

Recent Settings menu – This is very handy if you are changing settings that are buried deep in the menu tree, e.g., High ISO Noise Reduction, Set Picture Control, etc. When you choose this option from the default My Menu, you have quick access to the 20 most recent settings you have changed. Note that the manual is not very clear about how to make the switch from My Menu to Recent Settings.

Virtual Horizon – This lets you easily determine if the camera is level, even if you orient the camera for portrait shots, i.e., turned 90 degrees - Pretty cool. I assign this to the Fn (Function) button on the front of the camera for quick access.

What I didn’t like

Built-in microphone – The D7000 manual does note that the microphone “may record lens noise during autofocus or vibration reduction”. In addition, outdoors if it’s windy, noise can be a huge problem (as of course it is with the mics on many other cameras). Also, unless I was within a few feet of the people I was filming during interviews, the playback volume was way too low, even with the Microphone volume set to High Sensitivity. A particular challenge for me was that many of Basotho interviewees were extremely soft-spoken so we had to keep asking them to speak louder.

One time that the mic really did work well, even though it was too dark for the video, was when two white rhinos charged out of the bush late in the game drive. The driver had to boot it in reverse for a minute or so (it seemed quite a bit longer at the time) until they gave up the chase. You can listen to the audio here.

By the way, I checked Vistek’s site yesterday and it looks like you can pick up a really good external mic for about $250 CAD.

Qual button – This button lets you define the file format (RAW and/or JPEG) and the JPEG quality. I think it’s too close to the ISO button which I tend to use a lot. Only once in a month did I intend to change the quality. Several times I must have pressed Qual by mistake and found that I had switched from my standard RAW+Fine to another setting. While writing this though I realized that, in at least one instance, the change in quality setting probably wasn’t the fault of the camera’s design. More likely it was one of the children at the Zulufadder day orphanage who simply couldn’t resist playing with the buttons.

Mode dial – I would like to have a lock on this like the one for the Release-mode dial, or perhaps have it be harder to turn. I was continually putting the camera in the bag and pulling it out again throughout the day, either to protect it or just hide it. Many times after pulling it out and shooting for a while, I found that I had accidentally turned it to a different mode. With the camera slung over my shoulder, or just carried with my hand on the grip (which, incidentally I love), this was less of an issue.

Lessons Learned:

  • For anything new, e.g., shooting video, figure out how it works BEFORE trying to use it for anything important.
  • Every time I pick up the camera, check the mode dial to make sure it's set to what I want, along with other critical settings, e.g., image quality.
  • Whenever possible, particularly for videos, use a tripod. Vibration reduction or holding the camera on my knee just doesn't cut it.

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