March 3


The Nikon D90 vs. the D7000: Should You Upgrade?

By Dan

March 3, 2011

In yesterday’s post, I ran a practical comparison of Nikon’s current Pro level DSLR camera lineup. Today we focus on the new D7000 and how it compares to the older D90. If you’re like many D90 users out there, you’re probably wondering, should I upgrade? Is the D7000 that much better than the D90? The short answer, is yes, it is, but from a practical standpoint, let’s review both cameras.

Note that this post was written before the new Nikon D7100 was announced, so really, if you were considering upgrading from the D90 to the D700, then you’ll want to look at the D7100.

The D90

The D90 is a great camera. It’s a lightweight 12.3 MP DX sensor body that shoots 4.5 fps, which is certainly fast enough for many applications. When it came out, it was basically the little brother to the D300 and the two bodies shared much of the same technology.

For two years, it was the top model in the so called “entry level” lineup, although I know of at least a handful of outdoor pros who used the D90 because it’s lighter than the D300 and it shoots video. (The D300 was eventually upgraded to the D300s, which also shoots video.)

Image quality is certainly good enough for professional work, and there are many pros, semi pros and serious enthusiasts out there who use the D90 for their portrait, wedding, location, landscape and commercial work.

With it’s 11-point area AF and 4.5 fps, it’s not the ideal camera for sports and action, and it’s certainly not as tough or weather sealed as the cameras in the Nikon’s pro line, but if you generally shoot subjects that don’t move very fast and if you don’t abuse it, the D90 will get the job done.

The D7000

EDIT: The Nikon D7100 is out now, and it’s a fantastic upgrade to the D7000 in every way. So, read what I think the D7000 and then take a look at the new D7100.

14 Bit RAW: Enter Nikon’s newest camera, the D7000. For a camera that’s only two years newer than the D90, it offers a surprising array of new features and technology. A 16.2 MP body, with dual SD card slots, it will shoot either 12 or 14-bit RAW images at up to 6 fps. That’s HUGE.

I use the D700 and I just leave it on 14-bit RAW mode all the time. Why? Because shooting in 14-bit RAW gives you the maximum amount of pixel data, the highest possible image quality and the most amount of shadow definition. (Here’s an example.)

Why wouldn’t you want that for all your imagery, whether you’re a pro or not? Not taking advantage of that capability would be like owning a Ferrari and only driving it in second gear all the time. Score big on the D7000 for this capability in the image quality department.

Low Light/High ISO: And double score with its excellent high ISO sensitivity, which allows for incredible detail, and very low noise when shooting in low light environments. Put simply, shooting with the D7000 opens up a multitude of new picture taking opportunities. With this new technology, you will no longer shy away from shooting inside. That means you can take on new types of assignment work with confidence.

Metering, AF & Video: When it comes to metering and exposure, the D7000 is light years ahead of the D90. Whereas the D90 has a 420-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Meter, the D7000’s meter operates with  a 2,016-pixel system, which offers way more accuracy in difficult lighting situations.

Also, the D7000 has a 39-point AF system. It’s not quite as advanced as the 51-point AF system that the upper level bodies have, but it’s still a big improvement over the D90, which only has 11-point autofocus, and it will handle sports and action much better than it’s predecessor.

Finally, when it comes to HD video, the D7000 leaves the D90 in the dust. Props to the D90 for being Nikon’s first HD DLSR, but two years has seen a huge jump in technology. The D7000 offers 1080 HD video with built in stereo sound and full time autofocus.

Again, HUGE. I could go on, but I’d start to sound too much like a Nikon rep, which I’m not. I’m just a regular user who puts my Nikon camera gear through professional use week in and week out.

So to sum it up, I’ll just equate this with my own experience upgrading camera bodies. As a D300 user (remember, same generation as the D90), I asked myself the same question when the D700 came out. “Should I upgrade?” Well, I did and I’ve never looked back. After all these things are just tools for us to practice our craft and why not take advantage of the incredible advancements that are available?

The Lowdown- Should you upgrade?

If your question is “Should I buy the D90 or the D7000?” then the answer is absolutely clear. Get the D7000, especially when you consider it’s only a $300 difference in price.

If your question is “Should I upgrade?” then unless you just bought a D90 and aren’t ready to spring for another new camera just yet, then I’d say yes, upgrade now, or at least start thinking about upgrading soon. I guarantee, you won’t look back either. And even if you did just buy a D90, well, it never hurts to have a second body…

Note: Right now, D700 bodies are $100 off: Buy it at B&H Photo or Amazon and , you’ll be helping support this site. Think of it as giving me a virtual thumbs-up that you found this review useful.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • Thanks for the comparison – I know where I’ll need to come to review again, if and when I decide to upgrade 🙂 I’m a D90 user and love my camera! So do many others who see it too. A bit of camera envy perhaps. Whatever, you’ve confirmed for me that I do indeed have a good camera, if not quite as good as the D7000.

  • Yes! I agree – with all of what you wrote, Dan! I upgraded from the D90 to the D7000, and I’m very happy I did! I love the dual card slots (which came in handy during a recent events shoot), the super-high ISOs and new sensor. The D7000 is definitely a step up from the D90.

  • In my opinion, if you have a Nikon D90 as I do, the D7000 is not worth the update. Yes, the camera has great new features, but, to me, they are not enough.I have used both cameras side by side and was not completely blown away. I would skip the D7000, save some more cash, and wait for a true D90 replacement (a possibility) or a D300 replacement. However, if I did not have a D90 though, I would go for the D7000. Personally, I am waiting for a D700 replacement. I want to make the jump to full frame.

  • Hahahah! That is a pretty nice cloth. I got one over the weekend when Canon gave out some schwag to all the official Iditarod media. Got a nice little Canon CF zipper card case too.

  • […] Dan Bailey's Adventure Photography Blog Exploring the World of Outdoor, Action and Travel Photography with Tips, Reviews, Imagery and Insight. Skip to content HomeAboutFlyingContacteBooksHow to Become a Pro Photographer eBookMaking The Image- A Conceptual Guide To Creating Stronger PhotographsGearMy GearTop Rated Photo GearInstructionPro Photo CritiquesSubscribe ← What Chase Said, But Remember to Be Good To Yourself Too The Nikon D90 vs. the D7000: Should You Upgrade? → […]

  • What purpose did the comment from a Canon user have here? Perhaps he might try a Nikon sometime. Both make fine cameras, but I find such snide comments in other reviews and don’t find them amusing. Come on, if we can’t be constructive, why waste our time?

  • I’m surprising that people that suppose to know about photography only read the manual and give an opinion……seriously!…..I have the Nikon d90, and 3 canon’s more and I check in the field…not reading the manual…the real thing….I found that the real difference is not the camera(d90 or d7000) is the lens and the PHOTOGRAPHER…not the camera…for example…you are worry about high iso when you should have a low light lens…LENS….d7000 is not worth to upgrade from nikon d90 unless you are the kind of person that buy anything that came up…in that case buy anything you want…but seriously…it is much better and wise buy better glasses and wait until something better that d700…d300s or d7000 came up…remember that the sensor of the d7000 is the same than the d5100…now is the money is not a problem…buy the d7000…but my canon 60d is much better in video and canon have better lens….so big deal….and remember that the d7000 has serious issues with the video performance…so.until nikon solve the problem with the next generation cameras..then will be the right time….the gap between a full frame to the dx format price is reduced…so why the rush….i still use a canon rebel 35mm film from 1994 and have new cameras like the canon 60d and I bought the d90 almost 2 years ago…always will be a better camera…for example the pentax k-5 is much better camera than the canon and the nikon in this level…but you already know that…don’t you…I bought the d7000 and returned…instead..I’ll be wait…because at this point I’m not impress with the d7000 against the d90…I;m talking about the field…not reading a manual….

  • love your blog posts.

    been thinking about upgrading my d90 for a while, but didn’t take the time to find out the differences in the sensors. thnx for this.

    however, I bought my d90 refurbished for an amazing price and i was hoping to do the same with the d7000. might be waiting for a while though, considering the current demand 🙁

  • Thanks for your comments, Jeff. Yes, the D7000’s have been somewhat hard to come by ever since they were released last fall. Batches keep hitting the stores and then quickly selling out. Take care -DB

  • I started with a D70, and then moved to a D200. Meanwhile I used a D40 and then a D60 as a lightweight carry around camera.

    Then I got a D700 and the heavens opened and the colors and detail shone through.

    But the D700 is a big beast to carry around, and full frame means that getting a long reach with lenses is a problem – who can afford a 500mm lens?

    So I got a D7000 and I love what comes out of that camera.

    That’s my experience.

  • The Canon comment refers…I bought a D90 and was at first disappointed with the detail which seemed a bit on the soft side. I then returned it for a Canon 60d. A week later I had my D90 back. The image quality of the D90 was much better than the 60d and I found that I got more over the detail issue when I tweaked the settings in the menu. I also preferred the build quality of the D90 which was far superior to the 60d. As for a replacement…well it depends on what will replace the D700

  • Thanks for the comment, AJ. Recounting experiences such as yours really helps others in their decision making process. And I’m also curious as to what will replace the D700.

  • Thanks for the post Dan. Yesterday I bit the bullet & bought a D7000 and was feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse. However I’m upgrading from a D80 so I have a feeling I’ll be even happier with the decision than those who are upgrading from a D90.

  • Awesome, Billy! I think you’ll be really happy with the D7000- the sensor quality and pixel data are light years ahead of the D80. You a great photographer, so you should really benefit from everything that it has to offer. Can’t wait to see some shots!

  • What a great, well written review! You come across with credability, solid knowledge base and trustworthy. I was considering both of these and i’ll be going for the d7000. Are there any 2 or 3 lenses specifically you’d recommend?

  • Thanks for the post Dan. However I find your HUGE admiration for the d7000 a HUGE overstatement. Yes its an upgrade. As far as a HUGE upgrade I disagree whole hearty esp after trying both out. Heck, I still prefer to shoot some things with my d70s (mainly because of the shutter syn). Again, disagree with the “HUGE” statement.

    Not worth the upgrade yet until unless its a frame IMO.

  • I’m using a D80. I want to upgrade, but don’t have the money. Darn.. What am I doing wrong..?

  • Hi Dan
    I am thinking of upgrading from a d90 to a d700 but I fear the jump might be too big for me and therefore move to the D7000. . On the other hand it might be the right time to take this jump and move once and for all to FX
    what are your thoughts
    Thank you

  • Cinzia, I love the D700 for it’s full frame capabilities and I make full use of my FX sensor. If you’re on a budget, though, the D7000 is a fantastic body and it costs half what the D700 costs.

  • Yet another paper comparison, yawn…it’s like reviewing a car and not driving it. Show us some photo’s so we can judge whether it’s $300 dollars well spent and not just regurgitate the technical spec supplied by Nikon.

  • I’m still flip/flopping whether to upgrade from my D90 to the D7000. Right now I’m leaning towards keeping my D90 and just buying a new, fast lens like the Sigma F2.8 70-200. But I’ve had my D90 for two years. This may be a dumb question, but do digital cameras wear out; lose pixels; get burned-out spot; need professionally cleaned or refurbished?

  • Yes, Dee. While modern DLSRs are built to last for years, cameras do wear out from heavy use, especially in difficult environments. Occasionally you might find a dead pixel, but the do need to be cleaned and maintained if you’re really beating them up. Think of all the dust and fine particles that accumulate inside a DSLR that’s used outside. Depending on how you use your camera, in two years, it might be still close to brand new, or it might need some serious attention.

    If your camera is still in good condition, you should make your decision based as much on the features that you think will aid you in your photography. Also, it’s not a bad idea to have a second body. I’d always recommend having a backup. So, you could think of it not so much as upgrading, but adding a a new, powerful tool to your arsenal. Thanks for reading!

  • Hi
    I have a used d40 that has served me well. I’m thinking of upgrading and wonder should I do a d90 or d7000? I am not a professional but pretty good amateur. what do you think?

  • Burney, I would certainly advise upgrading to the D7000. It has much more up to date technology than the D90 and will serve you well as you progress as a photographer and improve your skills and creativity.

  • Hi Dan… nice review. Thanks. I have new D7000 with kit lens (18 – 105mm). It’s good camera. I found AF-S 1.4 50mm lens. What is your opinion for this lens. Is it suitable for me?

  • Thanks Dan. I want to know about Kelvin settings (white balance) . I use 5250k setting. But skin tone going little bit magenta. Can you tell me how can i get correct skin tone. (I use this settings for wedding couples)

  • White balance settings are not an exact science. Most of the time, I use Auto WB and then if things look like they need adjustment, I just tweak as needed to get the desired look in Lightroom. If you’re shooting weddings, you could set your auto WB on the white of the wedding dress or the groom’s shirt, which you pretty much know is a neutral white.

  • So – I’m ready to “pull the trigger” on either …… I can go D90 and kit lens for 800.00 or D7000 and kit lens plus SB 600 flash for about twice that (both lightly used, as new condition, under 2500 actuations) I feel like going D90 and have change left for a lens or two would be my best route at the time, but having the “leading edge” D7000 would be nice. I’m no pro but will be selling images and don’t know if the 12 vs 16 mp will be a factor for larger prints ? Some of my shots with my D70 @ 6mp wouldn’t make the cut on one site for customers to purchase larger than 11 X ….

  • My advice is go for the D7000. The D90 is getting older every year, and even though it’s certainly less expensive, it will get closer to the end of it’s relevant life as a digital camera before the D7000 does. The D7000 also has better low light shooting quality and more video capabilities than the D90. The reality is that it won’t take long for you to save up again for a good second lens. Treat yourself to new technology.

  • Thank you for your advice. I’m in Sri Lanka. Thing is some people skin fair or fairly black. I thought white balance is main thing for correct skin color. I think your opinion i must think about correct exposure (not white balance). (some time i use 2 flash guns. first one on camera & second one use with radio slave for fill) (sorry about my English). Again thank you very much.

  • Exposure controls proper brightness of the image, while White Balance controls the overall hue and color of the image. If you’re having trouble with color shift in skin tones, then you’ll want to make adjustments to the White Balance, but if you’re having trouble with brightness and darkness of the fairly black skin tones, then make adjustment to your exposure. Hope that helps.

  • Thank you for your quickly reply. I’ll think about it. I think quality photography is everything that you talking about (white balance, exposure & etc.). I’m learning every time. This is my second camera (D7000). My 1st one is D3000. You have more experience about photography. It’s really helpful for anyone like me. Thank you.

  • So you just peeled the spec sheet off and did you use the cameras?
    Huge this and that real world stuff convinces more

  • Nice review… been reading all of what you wrote here and it seems very informative for me being a beginner in this world of photography… my first Dslr is a D90 and so far im very happy with its performance…I shoot mostly portraits. Now, Im planning to upgrade … im having trouble what model to upgrade to… judging from your write ups here the D7000 is the model to buy but im leaning towards the D300s do you think this is wise? which of these two models do you think is a better upgrade for me… I really need your help on these guys…

  • Two years on from the D7000 and the decision seems even harder to make. I’ve a D90 and want to upgrade. In theory, Nikon should have been replacing the D7000 now with perhaps a D7100 – but no, we get the full-frame D600 instead at more than twice the price.

    I’d hate to go for the 7000 and then 1 month later see the 7100 come out… but then, we can waste our lives away waiting for the next technological advance.

    If I go full-frame, I’d probably also need to replace only 1 lens, but it’s extra money.

    Decisions, decisions.

  • Technology comes out as soon as the engineers put information up on the drawing board, every camera produced so far has a basic set of rules that applies to that camera. Each new camera is a continuation of the last one produced, so every two years Nikon puts out a new camera but that does not mean that we have to jump up and buy one. I am still using the old Nikon D100 from 2002 (6.1mp un-compressed image). Nikon D40, D70s, D80 & D90 so now do I wait for the D7100 at $1199 (body) or go for the D7000 at $799 (body) you have to say to yourself is it $400 more to go for the new camera or wait until it proves itself, before I buy this model?

  • I have same question in my mind as deepu, and your guide make me clear where should I start my investment vs leaning photography. D90 is best start after do lot’s of Google research.
    Please advice D90 with Nikon 35mm dx lens is good choice?
    The reason I chose 35mm DX lens rather than kits len “18mm-55m” is because most of forum asked me to go with this lens as good for Portraits pictures.
    Please advice.

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