Monday, August 13, 2018

Saying Hello To The Nikon D7200

The D7000 and I have been together for a long time. Here is a Green-winged Teal back from our early days together, when everything was fresh and exciting and we were still exploring each other's, when I was exploring the D7000 camera body. Cropped and color corrected, 1/800, F6.3, ISO 900. Photographed at Radio Road, San Mateo County.

I've said it in this space over and over and over again...I am not a photographer. Have never claimed to be. I do, however, take photos. Get it?

Some of you do, and that is all I can ask for. With that major disclaimer on the table, I have to mention that I do actually put in some occasional effort to take good photos...BB&B has hosted a large number of photos over the years, and hopefully they are only cringe-worthy every now and then (vagues). I rarely go birding with photography as my primary goal, but let's be real, having good photo ops adds to the quality of any birding experience if you are the sort who likes to carry a camera around.

I do get asked about camera gear, techniques, etc. from time to time, and now that I have a new camera, I thought it was time for the rare (first ever?) BB&B gear post. This isn't going to be super in depth, but it will hopefully be informative for a few readers who are thinking about upgrading their camera, or getting their very first.

For a number of years I have been using the Nikon D7000 (first released in 2010), which has been fine, though not amazing. The vast majority of content you have seen on BB&B for the last four years or so has been shot with that. It has been solid, performing well in low light compared to what I was using previously (the Nikon D90), though I have had some noticeable focus point issues the last couple of years that I'm sure are more the camera's fault than the lens I use. These problems were encountered both with birds in flight and birds out in the wide open, i.e. on the water or mudflats. Now it's no mystery to me why a camera can struggle with knowing where exactly it should be focusing for a sandpiper strolling through the muck 300 feet away, but a big Buteo soaring 300 feet away in good light should not be a challenge for a camera to figure out, you feel me? It won't be a crush, at least with a 400mm lens, but I expect sharp images at least.

The D7000 has never had difficulty figuring out what to do with anything in true crushing distance though, like this California Ground Squirrel surveying its domain. Unedited. 1/1000, F7.1, ISO 800. By the way I rarely post full size images to the blog, but this time they all are; double click on any photo to see it full size/high resoultion if interested. Photographed at Rancho de Bastardos.

Good chance a dirty AF sensor or contact is to blame for my D7000 problems, but now figuring it out is not a top priority. I'm happy to say that this summer I have upgraded to the Nikon D7200, which was first released in 2015 (hey, I didn't say this was a cutting edge post), which is two generations newer than the D7000; the Nikon D7100 came out between the two, but it was so similar to the D7000 that I had no interest in it.

So now to the meat of this post...what is there to like about the D7200? How is the D7200 different from the D7000?

*First and foremost, it is said that the sensor is just better, plain and simple. That is my impression as well. Better sensor, better photos.

*The highest ISO the D7200 allows you to use is really, really high. No one actually wants to be shooting at a six-figure ISO...but now they can!

California Quail, cropped but otherwise unedited. 1/640, F6.3, ISO 900. This is the most confident/acclimated California Quail I have ever seen. Photographed at New Brighton State Beach, Santa Cruz County.

Tricolored and Bicolored Blackbirds. 1/5000, F5.6 ISO 400. Very slightly cropped. Kind of surprised this came out considering the low light, but I just let the camera do what it thought was best (while shooting aperature priority) and it worked. Photographed at Alviso Marina County Park, Santa Clara County; I thought the Tricoloreds were a nice find, it's not something I expect to find along the bay in July.

*With the higher ISOs come higher quality performance at higher-than-ideal ISOs. I would love to shoot at 250 all the time but that is a far cry from the reality of bird photography. Photos at high ISO with the D7200 are noticeably not as grainy as with the D7000. With the D7000, I was always hesitant to shoot above ISO 800 due to the grain factor (up to 1600 was sometimes ok if only minimal cropping was needed), but I think I will have a higher ISO ceiling (comfort zone) with the D7200.

*You have much more flexibility with your ISO sensitivity range, and I LOVE having an ISO range to shoot at instead of just shooting at a fixed ISO - this makes a huge difference in how I shoot. With the D7000, the sensitivity range went 200-400-800-1600-3200-Hi1 (whatever that is). Certainly useful but I felt like there was a lot of ground between 800-1600-3200 that was unavailable to use as a maximum ISO. And to be clear, this is just your options for setting up your sensitivity range, not what all your options are when just setting a fixed ISO. With the D7200, you instead get to set a range between 200-250-320-400-500-640-800-1000-1250-1600-2000-2500-3200-4000-5000 etc. etc. all the way up to 25600. Exactly the kind of improvement I was looking for.

Mourning Dove. Tight crop but no other edits. 1/640, F5.6, ISO 1600. The grain is there but it's really minimal compared to what I would expect from the Nikons I have previously used. Awesome. Photographed at Rancho de Bastardos.

And here is the original photo for comparison. It's not going to win any aesthetic awards, but the colors look really nice both in the background and on the bird (and since I am constantly looking at them at extremely close range, I should remind everyone Mourning Doves are actually attractive birds). I'm impressed with the photo quality considering the ISO. Significantly, the grain visible in the crop above hardly looks different from the original photo, and practically no sharpness was lost. 

*The D7200 allows you to wirelessly download images straight from your camera into your mobile device. Pretty sick if you are into social media or getting an image out of a rarity to other birders ASAP, instead of the classic back-of-camera photo that is enjoyed by nobody.

*The D7000 has a small buffer. I have not been able to field test it yet, but the buffer on the D7200 is supposed to be twice as big when shooting JPEG. That means the camera is able to handle shooting a large number of pictures in a short period of time without becoming a temporarily useless hunk of plastic while it processes the photos you just took. The small D7000 buffer was absolutely killing me one day in Texas this spring while warblers were flopping around on the ground mere feet in front of me...there was some serious crushing going on, but how many crushes were missed? I don't think I even want to know.

*Another upgrade with the D7200 I have not gotten to experience much yet is that it supposedly has a more capable autofocus in low light conditions, which would obviously be extremely useful for bird photography, since birding in low light is often par for the course.

Caspian Tern. Mildly cropped with no other edits. The tern's head is partially in shadow but I really dig how much the bird pops, so to speak. 1/3200,F6.3, ISO 500. Photographed at Rancho de Bastardos.

So there you have it. The D7000 will now be the designated macro lens/landscape/people camera, and the D7200 will be doing the heavy bird lifting. So far I'm quite happy with it, and I look forward to all the memories we will make and the souls we will steal together. If any of you use the D7200 and have any tips or preferred settings for shooting birds, by all means leave a comment!


  1. You still sound like you know a lot about cameras and equipment and photography.... whereas there are a lot of us even less knowledgeable than you and we, too, just enjoy birds and taking photos of them when we grab our camera (set on autofocus) ... and miraculously, get some acceptable shots.... some day I will actually feel the motivation or interest ...maybe finding out something about my camera or a new one or whatever...... sigh......... or not.....

    1. I get it, I shot on pretty much fully automatic settings for a couple years and did ok. Of course now though I think "ooh if I had just done this and that, I could have had so many more sick pictures". I am the last person to push people into putting more effort into photography though, haha.