The Nikon D7100 has now been superseded by the newer D7200, but it’s still on sale and it’s anywhere from 15-30% cheaper, depending on where you shop. For the price of a Nikon D7200 body, you can get a D7100 and 18-105mm kit lens. Superficially, the D7100 and D7200 look almost identical, so are the improvements in the D7200 worth the extra money, or is the D7100 turning into a real bargain? We’ve updated our original review to take a look at how good a buy the D7100 is in today’s market.
The good news about the D7100 is that it has a 24-megapixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter – this is the very latest type made by Nikon and it’s almost the same as the sensor in the D7200. The D7200 is listed as having 24.2 megapixels, compared to the 24.1 megapixels in the D7100, but the image size is the same in both cameras at 6,000 x 4,000 pixels – the extra pixels in the D7200 are not part of the image area and suggest nothing more than a slight redesign.
Most camera manufacturers use an anti-aliasing filter (AKA low-pass filter) to reduce the risk of interference patterns known as moiré patterning that can occur when an object with a fine texture that’s close to the sensor’s resolving limit is photographed. You’ve probably seen this at some point on the television when someone has worn the wrong tie or shirt and a frenzy of lines is created at an angle to the fabric’s pattern. Nikon claims that the pixel density of the Nikon D7100’s APS-C format sensor is sufficiently high that there are relatively few occasions when moiré patterning is likely to occur, and consequently no anti-aliasing filter is required. The downside of using a low-pass filter is that it softens the images slightly, and this has to be addressed by sharpening the image post-capture.
The Nikon D7100 uses Nikon’s older Expeed 3 processing engine – this is the part of the camera which handles image processing, and apart from general operational speed it can influence the high-iSO image quality and continuous shooting performance. In combination with the sensor, the D7100’s processor enables a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400, which can be expanded to the equivalent ISO 25,600 if required. The Nikon D7200, by contrast, has a newer and more powerful Expeed 4 processor. This gives it an ISO range of 100-25,600, and this can be expanded right up to ISO 102,400 – though images at these higher settings are mono only.
Nikon says the Expeed 4 processor is 30% faster than the Expeed 3 processor in the D7100, though this doesn’t have a direct impact on the continuous shooting speed. The D7100 and D7200 can both shoot at 6 frames per second, though the D7200 does have a much larger image buffer, a criticism of the D7100. This means it can capture more photos in a burst before it has to stop and finish processing them. The D7100 and D7200 both have another trick up their sleeves that enables things to be pushed a little bit further – a 1.3x crop mode. This is useful if you need to get a little tighter in on your subject and don’t want to crop the image post-capture, and it enables the maximum continuous shooting rate to be boosted to 7fps. This could be particularly useful for wildlife or aviation photographers, who typically need the longest focal length zoom available – the 1.3x crop mode will effectively turn a 200mm lens, for example, into a 260mm lens. This isn’t like using a teleconverter, by the way, because in this mode there’s no reduction in the maximum aperture of the lens.
What makes the D7100 and D7200 good for sports and wildlife photography is the inclusion of Nikon’s 51-point Multi-Cam 3500DX AF module, which has 15 cross-type AF points around the centre of the frame. This is Nikon’s best AF system, and the one found in its professional DSLRs. The D7200 does, however, have the newer and slightly more sensitive Multi-CAM 3500II DX module. This one is sensitive right down to a light level of -3EV (the D7100’s module goes down to -2EV). Those who think 51 AF points is a bit excessive can opt to restrict the selection to 11 in single AF mode. As we have seen before with Nikon’s high-end DSLRs, in continuous AF mode the camera can be set to track the subject using 51, 21 or nine AF points after you’ve selected the starting AF point. Alternatively, there’s 3D tracking available in continuous AF mode, which looks at the colour of the subject and attempts to follow it around the frame. However, if you want to keep things simple, the camera can select the AF point for you in Single AF and Continuous AF mode.
The Nikon D7100 is the fifth DSLR in Nikon’s lineup to feature an AF system that is sensitive down to f/8. This means that the camera will continue to focus the lens automatically when a telephoto lens and teleconverter combination results in an effective maximum aperture as small as f/8. Naturally you can shoot at smaller apertures than this and use automatic focusing, since it is only the maximum aperture that is the issue. Like the D7200, the Nikon D7100 has a 2,016-pixel RGB sensor that provides data to the Scene Recognition system that guides the metering, white balance and autofocusing systems. You can also take control over the colour of your images via the Picture Control modes (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape) with options to adjust the sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue of the colour modes. If you habitually shoot raw files, the Picture Control modes won’t make much difference to you, but if you shoot JPEGs you should know that the D7200 uses Nikon’s newer Picture Control 2.0 system. This adds a Flat mode for extra dynamic range when shooting video (and processing, or ‘grading’ the video later) and a Clarity option which increases local contrast for more ‘bite’.
The D7100 can shoot full HD movies at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, but if you want faster frame rates (for slow motion) you have to swap to the 1.3x crop mode. Even then, the camera has two swap to lower-quality interlaced video. The D7200 offers advantages here, too. Again, you need to swap to the 1.3x crop mode, but now you can shoot 50/60p (progressive) video – one of the advantages, we assume, of the more powerful Expeed 4 processor. If you are interested in video, the improvements in the D7200 probably do make it worth the difference in price. It also offers Auto ISO adjustment when shooting videos in manual mode, clean HDMI output to an external recorder (at the same time as recording video to an internal memory card too) and Zebra mode for warning against overexposed highlights.
Build quality and handling
Although it doesn’t have the bomb-proof air of pro Nikons like the Nikon D4s, the Nikon D7100, like the D7200, feels very nicely put together and has a solid build. Its weatherproof seals also mean that it can be used in a wide range of conditions and you don’t need to head home if the heavens open. It survived a fair amount of spray and drizzle during our testing period. Softly textured coatings on the front and rear grips provide decent purchase so that the camera feels comfortable in your hand, even when carried for long periods between shots. Weighing 675g/1.49lbs, the Nikon D7100 is not especially heavy, but most users will find that they need to use it two-handed, with the left hand supporting the lens and reaching for the controls on the left of the camera (as it’s held).
While the lock buttons are useful for preventing dials from being knocked out of position they can make using those controls a little more fiddly. Initially this seems to be the case with the Nikon D7100’s mode dial, but it doesn’t take long to get used to pressing down the central button while rotating the dial to the correct mode. It’s a similar story with the drive mode dial, but if you press the lock down with your left thumb you’ll find your forefinger has enough purchase on the dial’s ridged front surface to rotate it easily. The Live View switch is near the bottom of the back of the camera and there are two settings; one for stills and the other for video Live View mode. Pressing the Lv button at the centre of the switch activates the Live View feed.
This change to the button layout has meant that the video activation button has had to be relocated and, as with Nikon’s other recent DSLRs, it is near the shutter release button. Nikon has introduced an ‘I’ button at the bottom-left of the back of the Nikon D7100. Pressing this gives you quick access to some key features such as the 1.3x Crop mode, Picture Control mode and HDR mode. It’s a useful addition that complements the healthy collection of direct controls.
The Nikon D7100 and D7200 both use this AF mode button and focus mode selector switch combination found in Nikon’s enthusiast- and professional-level cameras. These controls sit within convenient reach of the left thumb while looking through the viewfinder, and when used in conjunction with the front and rear dials they enable the camera to be switched between the various AF modes and manual focus mode without taking the camera away from the eye. The lettering inside the viewfinder also makes it very clear which autofocus mode is selected – not all manufacturers manage to achieve this.
Since it’s a DSLR, the Nikon D7100 has an optical viewfinder. This is a nice, bright pentaprism device that shows approximately 100% of the image frame, so you can compose with confidence that there won’t be any ‘extras’ appearing around the edges of the image. Despite the clarity of the viewfinder, where possible we would opt to use the magnified Live View image on the 3.2-inch, 1,229,000 dot LCD when focusing manually. This provides a very detailed view even in quite bright light that makes it easy to assess critical focus, so it is especially useful when shooting still life or macro subjects when depth of field is very restricted. It would be even more useful if the screen was articulated like the cheaper Nikon D5200’s, though. There’s no real change in the D7200’s viewing system, except that the rear screen now offers adjustable color balance.
Nikon is aiming the D7100 squarely at enthusiast photographers, and these users like to shoot a bit of everything, from landscapes to sport and macro subjects to wildlife with everything else in between. Consequently the Nikon D7100 needs to be an all-rounder. With its 51 AF points and 6 or 7fps continuous shooting rate, the Nikon D7100 seems like a good choice for sports and wildlife enthusiasts, but even with a Class 10 SD card installed it has a relatively low burst depth. When shooting DX format images we were only able to squeeze out around 12-15 Fine quality JPEG images or six raw files before the frame rate dipped below the 6fps maximum.
It only takes just over two seconds to fire off these JPEG shots (or one second for the raw files), so timing is of the essence – not that this will phase most experienced photographers. This is where the larger buffer capacity of the D7200 will make a big difference, both for raw shooters and even those who are happy to shoot JPEGs. It’s one of the main criticisms of the D7100 for action fans. On the plus-side, the autofocus system in the D7100 (just like the D7200) is fast and accurate, getting the subject sharp in next to no time in most situations and successfully tracking moving objects. Using the new Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED lens with the AF-S TC-20E III 2x teleconverter we were also able to confirm that the AF system continues to function when the maximum aperture falls to f/8.
And rather than just the central AF point functioning, in half-decent light the whole array of 51 are operational, although using the 15 cross-type sensors gets the subject in focus quicker than the outer points. If light levels fall, however, you have to stick with the central AF point. Our resolution tests indicate that while the Nikon D7100 can’t resolve any more detail than the 24MP Nikon D3200 and Nikon D5200 at the lower sensitivity settings, the images look very slightly sharper at 100% on-screen. The images are also a little more naturally sharp straight from the camera, with no sign of haloing and a very smooth loss of detail as the resolution limit is exceeded.
As the sensitivity level is pushed up, the Nikon D7100 manages to record more detail than either the Nikon D3200 or Nikon D5200, but this is at the expense of a little noise. The advantages of the non-anti-aliased sensor design look subtle rather than obvious in this instance. Comparing high sensitivity images from the Nikon D7100 with those from the Nikon D5200 and Nikon D3200 reveals that the Nikon D7100’s images have quite a bit more chroma noise. We suspect that Nikon has set the D7100’s processing engine to produce noisier images to preserve the detail, because this is more likely to appeal to the photographic enthusiasts.
These experienced users are more likely to shoot raw files and process them carefully to strike the right balance between noise and detail resolution than novice photographers, who are more comfortable with the Nikon D3200 and shooting JPEG images. At ISO 3200 and 6400 the Nikon D7100 generally produces images with fine-grain noise without any clumping or the banding that troubles images from the Nikon D5200. As a result they look good when sized to make A3 sized (16.5 x 11.7-inch) prints and they make excellent monochrome images. There are no surprises with the Nikon D7100’s automatic white balance system, since it manages to cope reasonably well with most lighting conditions that it encounters. As usual, though, a custom white balance setting is the best option under mixed or artificial lighting.
In most cases the camera manages to produce vibrant but natural-looking colours, only occasionally over-saturating bright greens when the Landscape or Standard Picture Control options are selected. The reactions of the D7100’s metering system are a little complex. In many situations it delivers a perfect result when left to its own devices, but there were quite a few occasions when shooting under an overcast sky during this test that we had to use the exposure compensation control to get the result we were looking for. In most instances we had to dial in 1/3EV or 2/3EV, but some shots required as much as 1EV extra exposure above what the Matrix metering system suggested. Conversely, on a few occasions a little underexposure was required to preserve the highlights in the sky.
Those who like to dabble in sports photography will also not be disappointed by the D7100, provided you are happy to time your shots carefully and don’t press the shutter release too early. The autofocus system is extremely capable and it gets the subject sharp even in quite low light. Thanks to the 1.3x crop, photographers can also get a little closer to their subject in-camera. Image colours are typically Nikon-like, with the Standard Picture Control setting producing pleasantly vibrant images in most situations. If you do shoot JPEG images, though, you may find the new Flat and Clarity options in the D7200’s Picture Control 2.0 system a useful advantage.
We usually recommend that you keep an eye on the histogram view when shooting to ensure images are correctly exposed, and this is sound advice with the Nikon D7100, since the Matrix metering system is prone to underexposing in some situations. But at least it protects the highlights. Although Nikon has given the D7100 a pretty extensive feature set, it would’ve been nice if the company had pushed things a bit further and perhaps included Wi-Fi technology in-camera to enable remote control via a smart phone or tablet. You can add this, however, with Nikon’s inexpensive WU-1a adaptor. If you’re going to do that, though, you might just as well save the extra outlay and put it towards the D7200 instead, because this has both Wi-Fi and NFC built in.
There are a few extra things we would have liked to have seen in the D7100, but its performance as a conventional stills camera is still really competitive. If you’re interested only in regular stills photography, the cost-saving over the newer D7200 is undeniably tempting. But if you’re interested in action photography, movies or wireless control and transfer, the D7200 is really the one to go for. For action fans the extra buffer capacity will be crucial, and videographers benefit from some useful new features. And while the WU-1a wireless adaptor works perfectly well with the D7100, it’s much simpler to have it built in with the D7200.