The most significant introduction to the D7100 is Nikon’s inclusion of an entirely new sensor made by Toshiba (the D7000 used a Sony made sensor). The Toshiba offers a major advance and doesn’t need the typical anti-aliasing filter that most digital cameras use. This means much sharper images without the usual aliasing/moire issues that this filter used to deal with. The design of the sensor simply doesn’t need it. The D7100′s Toshiba is a 24mp sensor giving you even more image detail and sharpness and sings with the excellent Nikkor lenses, particularly if you are making large images that show off lots of detail. The D7100 carries over many of the same features that made the D7000 the top of the line DX with some new things that make it even better.
I purchased my D7100 for this review from B&H Photo. This and all of the reviews on this website are done from my own personal experiences – in other words, I don’t do paid reviews. This allows me to be honest with the reviews that I do. They are of course, my opinions but hopefully they will help you become better informed about cameras that we discuss. If you do decide you want to order a D7100, the links on this page are affiliate links. You don’t have to use them, but you can help the site out by doing so which allows me to bring you more reviews.
What’s New – D7100 vs D7000
As previously mentioned, the D7100 is built around a new sensor from Toshiba. So this is really an entirely new camera in that sense, though the features and controls largely evolve from the D7000, with a few nice additions. The new sensor is particularly interesting as we will be looking at image quality, ISO performance etc. This camera delivers.
The first feature that really stands out on the D7100 is the addition of an OLED screen on the back of the camera. This is the first time Nikon have added an OLED screen to a DSLR – all of the previous Nikon offerings have used LCD. The OLED is amazingly clear and brilliant making reviewing images and any in-camera editing a better experience. It looks fabulous and though it doesn’t have any impact on the quality of images you might take, it adds to the experience and luxury of using the camera. Its a nice addition for sure.
The second major upgrade on the D7100 is the addition of more auto-focus points. The D7100 features 51 over the D7000′s 39. If you rely heavily on Nikon’s auto-focus features (if you shoot lots of moving subjects, sports, etc) this is a nice addition, certainly making this the king of the DX DSLRs.
We will explore the video capabilities later in this review, but Nikon added a built-in stereo microphone to the D7100 and a headphone jack. If you are into DSLR video these are both welcome additions. Also greatly useful is the new “spot” white balance mode on the live view. This is extremely nice to have if your shooting a lot of video with a DSLR.
Another addition is a secondary 1.3 crop mode. This mode is further reduced from the DX sensor, so compared to a full frame sensor this gives you a 2.0 crop factor – its basically having the ability to shoot micro 4:3 with the D7100. I’m not sure why this is useful to anyone unless you’re used to and like to shoot in that format and image aspect ratio. If using the 1.3 crop mode, you will get a faster frame rate for burst shooting of 7fps.
The D7100 is slightly lighter than the D7000. Of course this is a moot point if you’re using a heavy lens, but this is a big selling point to me for Nikon DSLR’s. The fact that they are lighter weight makes them easy to hang on your shoulder when you’re out for long periods of time and have to haul a camera around. Very nice.
The battery life is excellent, but is rated slightly lower than the D7000 battery life. This is a little surprising considering one of the benefits of an OLED display is lower power consumption, so I don’t know why this is. Its not a big deal, but worth noting just the same. Its only about 10% so you probably won’t notice it if you’re upgrading from a D7000.
A few notes after charging the battery and powering up for the first time. You’re greeted with usual the welcome screen prompting you to set the date/time/timezone etc. Once the camera is set up the default configuration has image review turned off as well as the stupid beeping focus lock sound. Finally!!! This is a very nice touch as these are the first 2 things I change in the settings. Nikon has targeted this camera to photographers who actually know what they are doing. The only change I had to make immediately was to turn off the auto-focus assist beam. I understand why its there and it is useful, but its also annoying to subjects, and my style of photography is dependent on me being stealth and staying out of the way. Other than that this camera is ready to go right out of the box!
Ergonomics and Handling
The Nikon D7100 is very well built and feels very comfortable in the hand. This is very much in keeping with Nikon’s in general. The Magnesium Alloy body feels solid, but remains light weight for very comfortable use – particularly if you wear your camera all day.
I do have a small complaint about the viewfinder. DX cameras by nature feature smaller viewfinders. Not the end of the world, but it makes me rely heavily on the AF points to make sure I’m in focus. My eyes simply can’t see enough detail. Over the years, DX viewfinders have gotten better and the D7100 is no exception. But my complaint is that the viewfinder is a little dim. Again, not the end of the world, and still usable. But I really wish camera manufacturers would make this a priority of improvement. Just about any old 35mm slr has a very useful viewfinder that I can both see and focus with – I wish DSLR’s would catch up to that. (Note: After a week with this camera I don’t notice it being dim anymore, not a big deal).
The buttons and controls on the D7100 are very well placed and the camera feels very natural to use.
The top of the camera features stacked dials on the left. The top dial is the shooting mode selector (M, A, S, P as well as “creative modes” for non photographers) and the bottom dial selects the drive modes (single, continuous, self-timer, etc). Both dials have lock release buttons. The right side is the power/shutter release button, video record, exposure compensation and metering mode buttons.
Underneath your thumb/index finger are the usual Nikon dial selector and sub-selectors. These quickly change settings for things like shutter speed, aperture, iso, bracketing, white balance, etc.
The front of the camera features ergonomically placed buttons for Depth of Field preview, FN, flash pop-up, bracketing, auto-focus and the lens mount release. As usual for Nikon – these buttons are logically placed right under your fingers for quick changes and adjustment.
The back of the camera features the viewfinder, diopter, AE-L/AF-L button, view screen and all associated control buttons. You also have the video/still mode selector and live view button.
Preferences can be different depending on the photographer, but for me this has always been one of Nikon’s strong points. Everything is where it needs to be and its a joy to use. Kind of like driving an expensive, high performance sports car, but it takes pictures and is considerably less expensive.
Interface and Features
Nikon has made some nice significant and subtle changes over the years to the camera’s function interface. Its extremely intuitive and familiar, particularly if you’re used to shooting on a Nikon. The menu’s on the D7100 are extremely logical and easy to use. This is important when you need to make a quick change while shooting. You can access all of the settings quickly and easily.
The main menu tabs are “playback”, “shooting”, “custom settings”, “utility”, “retouch”, and “recently changed”. The menus are all accessed with via the multi-selector thumb dial. I like this layout because its quick to find things and change settings. Honestly (and this applies to any modern, DSLR) there are more options here than you probably will ever use, but things are easy to find when you need them. This is important and I feel this is one of the things that makes Nikon such a great choice for field photography when you need to work really quickly. Being able to work fast results in a better experience as a photographer and thus yields better images.
Low Light ISO Performance
This was the selling point for me on this camera. I do a lot of natural light shooting, often in low-light conditions. The ISO performance on this camera is stunning compared to what was available only a few years ago. 6400 is very clean and usable and still retains decent contrast and low noise. Obviously you’ll still want to use the lowest ISO you need, but when you’re in bad light you’ll still get the shot and it looks outstanding.
One of my favorite features of Nikons is the “Auto ISO Sensitivity” feature in the “shooting” menu. When you turn this on, the Nikon D7100 gives you the ability to set the maximum ISO and the slowest shutter setting you want to use. When you go back to shooting, the camera will give you the best ISO setting based on these 2 parameters working in concert with the lowest ISO selected. So for example, I’m set to shoot aperture priority. I select the aperture and the D7100 will select the lowest ISO without going under the shutter speed I assigned. This is EXTREMELY useful.
Bracketing is also easy to deal with. I bracket quite a bit when shooting in low light. The Nikon 3D matrix metering is outstanding, but it wants to brighten up the whole scene based on its advanced computer modeling. Often in low light, I want to retain the darker mood so I’ll set the camera to bracket 2 images with one being a stop or so lower than the calculated exposure. This way if it over exposes, I’ll have a secondary image to choose. Bracketing is a breeze to set up. Hold down the bracketing button on the front of the camera and the primary dial sets the number of bracket shots and the secondary dial sets the amount of stops you want to bracket. This is extremely useful for difficult lighting situations. Using bracketing technique ensures that you’ll get the perfect exposure.
In photography everything is a tradeoff and it seems that sensor design is no different. At higher ISO’s the D7100 does a wonderful job, but you do start to loose detail. I am being really critical because this is only an issue if you blow it up to the pixel level. At 6400 you get a good image, but small details start to go grainy. I kind of wish that the sensor was designed to a lower megapixel rating to compensate for this. I don’t think its a deal breaker and here’s why. Typically a photographer wants higher ISO’s because you’re shooting hand-held in low light. You’re likely shooting street style types of shots, people, etc. These are not the kind of shots that the loss of detail I’m pointing out will make any difference with. If you’re not shooting hand-held, you can use a tripod and select a lower ISO.
The D7100 has an internal focus motor – this means you can use any Nikor AF lens on the D7100. This is cool, but not as cool as the fact that you can dial in the settings and get full Matrix metering with any older Nikon AI manual focus lens as well. This excludes the funky fish-eye models and non-AI lenses, but it does mean that I can use my all time favorite Nikon lens – the 105mm 2.5 portrait lens… with full matrix metering!
Also very nice is the camera’s setting for automatic lens correction. This is huge for a DX camera. What this does is correct the image for various distortions produced by the physics of the lens. In the past this is why I’ve favored full-frame cameras. I grew up shooting 35mm and got used to how geometric distortions worked according to focal length. This is why you often hear of 85mm or 105mm lenses as “portrait” lenses. When shooting faces, these focal lengths produce the least amount of distortion so faces tend to be the most pleasing at these lengths. With DX cameras there is a crop factor, so you throw on that 105mm lens and it acts more like a 168mm lens and you’ll need to stand further away from your subject. Worse are wide angles. Because of the crop factor, wide angle lenses tend to venture into fish-eye territory which work, but are very distorted.
You can now use the auto correction to compensate for these. For me – this solves the problem of the DX sensor. This might be the most significant feature on the entire camera. Its literally a game changer. This might sound like a subtle detail, but it is a gigantic difference for photographers who know what they are doing. To enable this, press the menu button, go to “shooting menu” and select “Auto Distortion Control” to enable.
Nikon is known for its superior auto-focusing capabilities and the D7100 falls right in line with what you’d expect. There is an internal auto focus motor which increases the compatibility with auto focus lenses as previously described. Its also very fast and accurate.
As good as the auto-focus is on Nikon’s in general, I still prefer to use selective auto-focus for my style of photography. Nikon’s are set up for predicting the focus for you and it takes adjusting a few settings to dial this back so I can just select what point I want in focus. The really nice thing on the D7100 is that there are 2 user memory settings (U1 and U2). This makes it nice to “recall” a specific way you have your camera set up. I set up U1 for manual video work and U2 for predictive auto-focus stills. This way I can bounce back and forth between the two.
Multiple Exposure Mode
Now this is actually pretty interesting. At first I thought this was a bit of a gimmick, but I actually like it. You can set the D7100 to “multiexposure” mode and select the number of exposures. This allows you to recompose and shoot again as if you were making multi-exposures back in the film days. Of course you can do this with a great deal of control in Photoshop, but I actually like the camera to process it. Its very cool and does an interesting job – behaves very closely to the way film used to back in the old days.
Video on the Nikon D7100
Okay – there’s good and bad news here.
First the good news:
The D7100 shoots wonderful video. The video looks really nice at high ISO settings which is great for low light. Get the right lens on here and the video looks really beautiful with shallow depth of field. You get a pretty clean image up to just under 3200. At 3200 you start to see some noise, still usable though. I haven’t noticed any moire or aliasing problems and the “jello” or rolling shutter effect is minimal. Its there, but its way better than most DSLR’s I’ve worked with. Considering the cost of this camera – its worth it if you want to make DSLR video – its stunning.
And now the bad news:
Nikon released this camera with some major firmware bugs. These should be fixable, but its slightly annoying. The biggest is the live view problems. There’s two live views – one for still and one for video. Both are buggy. In video live view you can’t adjust the aperture (unless you’re using a lens with a aperture ring). This means you have to turn off live view – set and turn it back on. In still mode its worse – it shows the adjustment being made to aperture, but doesn’t actually adjust it. Then your image is a different exposure when you take it.
Now personally I couldn’t care less about still live view – I never use it. But video is essential and this makes the camera cumbersome to use. Hopefully this will get fixed in a release fairly soon.
The video looks great, but is throttled when recorded to the card. You can get a clean signal out of the HDMI port. I’ve done some tests recording RAW video to my Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle and it looked great. This is nice if you have the demands of using lower compression, but its a pain to work with RAW video. Either way it can be done if you like.
All in all this is a usable DSLR for video and gives good results. Its just not the easiest to work with. Lots of fiddling around. Hopefully this will get fixed.
This is a very serious camera – especially when you consider the price point of about $1200 for body alone. The amount of stuff that Nikon has packed into this camera is amazing. If you need a serious camera on a shoestring budget – I personally wouldn’t look at anything else right now – this is your new camera. Really I think you’re going to be hard pressed to find the same feature set at a lower price point. It really is impressive. Even with my problems on the video workflow – it still works and is very good.
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