Positives: a professional-quality camera for a fraction of the price.
Negatives: virtually limitless configuration options might be daunting for some.
This week's gadget review is a little unusual. The Nikon D7000 digital SLR isn't new – in fact it's two years old and you'll find close to 1000 reviews of it online. So what's left to say? And, more crucially, why now?
The answer is cost. With a launch price of £1099 for the camera body alone – and considerably more for one with a lens – the D7000 was aimed at professionals and enthusiastic amateurs rather than casual photographers. Entry-level models such as the D3100 – reviewed here in December 2010 – offered most of their big brother's features for one-third of the price, making the decision easy for keen amateurs on a budget.
But fast-forward two years and the picture has changed considerably. While the D3100 is long gone, replaced by a newer and slightly more capable model, the D7000 remains and is becoming a real bargain. Available for as little as £649, the D7000 is now priced within touching distance of the new entry-level model, the D3200.
On paper, there's perhaps little to choose between the two. Where the D7000 edges ahead in shutter speed the D3200 claws back an advantage in resolution. And while the D3200 is 10% smaller the D7000 sports a viewfinder that's 50% larger.
Crucially, many of the areas in which the D3200 wins are irrelevant. Take resolution: the D7000's 16-megapixel images are good enough for poster-sized prints, so the extra resolution of the D3200 only serves to slow down processing and take up more hard drive space.
More important than any technical spec is how the camera feels. Where the D3200 shutter action sounds wheezy and lazy the D7000 feels like an assault rifle. And while the D3200 has a competent autofocus system, the D7000 has a stunning 39-point 3D-tracking system that makes you feel like RoboCop as you watch the tracking dots dance around, following your subject.
Other professionally-inspired features like dual memory card slots, wireless flash triggering and a built-in focusing motor (to make the camera compatible with lenses dating back to 1986) all add to the appeal of the D7000.
The chunkier grip, larger viewfinder, double battery life and better low-light performance all contribute to a camera that feels light years ahead of its little brother. It's not that the D3200 is a bad camera; it's just that the D7000 offers much more camera for around £200 more.
My tip? Pair a D7000 with the excellent Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens (around £85) to get professional-quality shots for a fraction of the price of professional kit.