With a new DX-format CMOS sensor and EXPEED 2 image processing, a compelling feature set, full 1080 HD movie capture, and impressive low light performance—to name just a few of its attributes—the D7000 will appeal to discerning photo enthusiasts and semi-pros alike.

Built around a magnesium alloy top and rear cover, the weather-and-dust resistant D7000 is made to withstand heavy use, both indoors and out. At 1.5 pounds, the camera has enough heft to counter-balance long lenses and, thanks to its well-designed grip, is comfortable to hold with easy access to the D7000’s extensive controls, including the forward and rear command dials. The D7000’s glass pentaprism optical viewfinder offers a bright, almost 100% view and the 3-inch, high resolution 921k-dot LCD works well for reading menus and shooting in Live View.

Current Nikon users will feel right at home with the D7000’s buttons, dials and menus and welcome the addition of a convenient Live View switch and dedicated video button that make moving between still and video capture quick and easy. Custom options, including two user-definable modes accessible via the Mode Dial, complement the camera’s manual, semi-manual and automatic options. Nikon’s Picture Control and 19 Scene modes are also available.

Other features of note include a Virtual Horizon Graphic Indicator for keeping horizons level and overlaying a grid during Live View shooting. Dual SD card slots (compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards) can be programmed to use the second slot for overflow, backup or to separate RAW and JPEG recording. Movie files can be designated to either slot. The on-board Speedlight flash offers i-TTL and Wireless Commander support for expanded lighting flexibility and the D7000 can accommodate the optional MB-D11 multi-power pack/vertical grip, although the single in-camera battery will last for about 1,050 shots.

Bested only by the D3x’s 24 megapixel sensor, the Nikon D7000 offers the second highest resolution in the Nikon DSLR line. Still, the camera cranks out a speedy 6 frames per second and handles image noise very well, even at its expanded ISO of 25,600. High ISO Noise Reduction levels can be set to High, Normal or Low or turned off completely. Even without noise reduction, the D7000’s high ISO capture is impressive.

Thanks to a new 39-point AF system, the D7000’s autofocus is equally impressive in both speed and accuracy. Expanding the camera’s usability, multiple AF modes—including Face Detection and tracking—can be accessed in Live View. Better still, full-time autofocus is available in movie mode, making the D7000 easy to use in every capture mode.

The bottom line, of course, is image quality and the Nikon D7000—in part thanks to its new 2,016 pixel RGB 3D Matrix Metering system—rises up to the challenge even under a variety of shooting conditions. With accurate exposures, natural color rendition and its ability to capture images in low light, the Nikon D7000 is a great option for D-SLR users who want to step-up to a more sophisticated model or need a back-up for their pro-level cameras.