This is an in-depth review of the Nikon D7100 DSLR that was announced on February 20, 2013, along with the Nikon WR-1 wireless remote controller. Although I have been shooting with the Nikon D7100 for about two months now, I specifically postponed the review, because I wanted to thoroughly test it and also make sure that I test at least two samples of the camera. I have been very concerned about Nikon’s latest rushed product launches with dust, oil and autofocus issues, so my intent was to examine the camera in detail and test all of its capabilities in various environments for this review.
After taking a long nap with 12-16 MP DX and FX cameras and letting Canon take the resolution throne with practically every newly announced camera, Nikon finally struck hard last year, when it announced the 36 MP full-frame Nikon D800 camera. Ever since, Nikon has been on a megapixel roll bringing one high resolution camera after another and not letting its competition come close. As of today, the whole DX line-up from entry-level to high-end cameras features 24 MP APS-C sensors, and the undisputed resolution king, the Nikon D800, still has no equivalent on the market. Looking back, Canon always had the edge over Nikon in resolution; it seemed like Nikon preferred pixel quality over quantity.
Lately, however, Canon and Nikon traded places – now Canon is slowing down, while Nikon is pushing hard for more and more pixels. Even before the D7100 came out, I knew that Nikon would go for a high resolution sensor – a given, since the previously announced D3200 and D5200 already had 24 MP sensors. But aside from that, I really did not think Nikon would have anything interesting to offer compared to the predecessor, the Nikon D7000 – a camera that was already excellent in many ways. So I had pretty low expectations for the D7100, as I did not think Nikon would bring any major innovations to the table. How wrong I was! When I read the D7100’s specifications for the first time, I was blown away.
Historically, Nikon has been using its 51-point Multi-CAM 3500 autofocus system only on high-end FX and DX DSLRs. Therefore, the only DX cameras that had this AF system were the Nikon D300/D300s, cameras specifically targeted for action and sports photography. When the D7000 came out and replaced the D90, it was clear that Nikon was moving up the semi-professional line-up by bringing in higher-end features and tougher build. At the same time, Japanese manufacturer made sure the D7000 line did not compete with the high-end D300s, because it was inferior in several aspects such as autofocus system, buffer, build (even with use of tougher materials than those of predecessors) and ergonomics. With the introduction of the D7100, Nikon once again upped the game and, by doing so, confused the heck out of many people, including myself. The “Advanced Multi-CAM 3500” autofocus system used on full-frame cameras such as Nikon D800 and D4 made its way into the D7100 – something many of us did not expect to see. Whether the D7100 replaces the D300s still remains a question, since it still falls short in some key areas like buffer capacity and ergonomics. But one thing for sure, D7100 is the best DX camera made by Nikon to date. Read on to see why.
1) Nikon D7100 Specifications
- High Resolution 24.1 MP DX-format CMOS sensor (APS-C)
- High Speed 6 frames per second (FPS) continuous shooting speed and up to 7 FPS in 1.3x crop mode
- 2,016-pixel RGB (3D Color Matrix Metering II) sensor
- Pentaprism Optical Viewfinder with approx. 100% frame coverage
- Twin SD Card Slots with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory card compatibility
- Built-in i-TTL Speedlight flash control through Wireless Commander
- Optional MB-D15 multi-power pack
- Two User Definable Settings (U1, U2) on the Mode Selector Dial
- Virtual Horizon Graphic Indicator
- Full HD 1080/60i Movie capability with full time autofocus and external stereo microphone jack
- Dynamic ISO range from 100 to 6400 expandable to 25,600 (Hi2)
- Customizable 51 point AF System with 15 cross-type sensors
- Magnesium-alloy top/rear covers and weather and dust sealing
- 150,000 cycle-rated shutter system
- 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD with 1,228,800 dots
- Compact EN-EL15 Battery (up to 950 shots)
- Built-in HDMI Connection
- Active D-Lighting for enhancing details in shadows and highlights
- Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape Picture Controls
- Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close-up and Night Portrait Scene Modes
- Compatible with WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter for wireless operation of the camera
Detailed technical specifications for the Nikon D7100 are available at Nikonusa.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
Construction-wise, the Nikon D7100 still maintains the same tough body as the D7000, with the top and rear of the camera made of magnesium alloy (the front and bottom parts are plastic). Build is typically not a concern for most Nikon DSLRs, but magnesium alloy does handle occasional bumps and drops better than plastic. What has been improved is weather sealing – Nikon claims that the D7100 now has “equivalent to the D800 series and D300S” sealing applied to different parts of the body. In short, this camera is supposed to be able to handle tough weather and some moisture. And all this was done using lighter parts, since the Nikon D7100 is actually slightly lighter than its predecessor. Here is an image that shows sealed parts of the D7100:
And here is a skeleton of the camera, showing the magnesium alloy top and back:
Some of our readers emailed me asking if the lens mount is made of plastic or if they should be concerned about the mount potentially bending when using heavy lenses. First of all, the mount is all metal. It is surrounded by very tough plastic that is not easily bendable or breakable. I have used the Nikon D7100 with some heavy lenses like the Nikon 80-400mm and had no problems whatsoever, even when letting the lens hang off the mount. I would not recommend to stress the mount with very heavy lenses, though, but this recommendation applies to any camera, not just D7100. There is a reason why Nikon includes a tripod foot with all heavy lenses, so use that one instead. Generally, if a lens is heavier than the camera, you should always mount the lens on the tripod and let the camera hang instead. More than that, few would find holding such a heavy camera and lens combination by the camera grip alone, so you are unlikely to ever stress the mount enough to damage it that way.
In terms of handling, the D7100 balances and fits nicely in hands, very similarly to the Nikon D7000. The MB-D15 battery pack is also available for better balancing with heavier lenses and convenience for switching from landscape to portrait orientation. D7100 continues to use EN-EL15 battery, which is nice, because that same battery is now shared across the following Nikon camera bodies: Nikon 1 V1, D7000, D600 and D800/D800E. So if you already own any of these cameras, you do not have to worry about bringing a separate charger with you when you travel or buying several different extra batteries.
The exterior of the camera went through some changes compared to the D7000, though nothing too major. Ergonomically, the camera is now a little more “curvy” around the edges, which is nice. The grip has been slightly modified on the D7100. I still prefer the more textured rubber on my D800E grip, but it feels pretty darn close overall. Aside from these changes in ergonomics, the buttons and switches on the front of the camera are the same as on the D7000, as seen below (Left: Nikon D7100, Right: Nikon D7000):
In comparison, the top of the camera did see some changes. First of all, the camera mode dial is now lockable. You will no longer be able to accidentally change the camera mode as on the D7000 – you need to push the center button in order to move the dial (something we previously saw on the D600). Next, there is a new “Effects” mode on the dial, which allows you to apply the following digital filters to your images: night vision, color sketch, miniature, selective color, silhouette, high key and low key. The Nikon D7100 sports a stereo microphone, which sits right next to the flash hotshoe. The shutter area also went through a change – the metering button has now been moved to the lower left to make space for the dedicated movie record button, just like on the D600.
The back of the camera is where we see the most changes. The layout of the buttons to the left of the LCD has been rearranged – now there are five buttons, two of which (zoom in and out) have traded places. This is consistent with what Nikon has been doing on the latest cameras, but certainly worth considering for existing D7000 owners if they plan to use both cameras. The fifth “i” button brings up the interactive menu to make changes to camera settings. To be honest, I do not see the point of adding this button. Nikon has been using a single Info button on the D800/D800E to accomplish what the D7100 does with two buttons – you just press the Info button twice and you can make quick changes to the camera. Nikon designers should have kept only four buttons on the left back of the D7100, similar to the D7000.
The new 3.2″ LCD screen with 1.2 million dots on the D7100 is gorgeous. Images look crisp and beautiful, with vibrant colors. However, Nikon has done the same thing that Canon has been doing for a while on its DSLR cameras – it got rid of the attachable plastic LCD cover. While there is still a protective cover, it now sits recessed into the body and cannot be removed. So if you end up scratching the surface, you will have to send your camera to Nikon for cover replacement. Images are certainly reproduced better on the new LCD, but at the cost of this snap-on cover. Unfortunately, you cannot buy a third party snap-on cover and attach it either; there is no place on the back of the camera to attach the cover to. Don’t worry too much – there are some great stick-on type protectors available on B&H. In some ways, they are much superior to Nikon’s old snap-on covers. For example, I’ve seen small sand crystals get between them and the glass screen, which often resulted in the screen being chipped.
The Live View lever with the video record button is now gone from where it was previously. The D7100 is now consistent with the D600 and D800/D800E cameras – the multi-selector button gained the same locking mechanism and the Live View button with camera and movie mode selector sit right below, followed by the Info button.
Speaking of Live View, the D7000 Live View mode was mainly designed for video, which made it difficult to use for normal focusing. On the D7100, it works just like with other Nikon DSLRs with camera and video modes, and that is great. However, I encountered a few annoying issues with D7100’s Live View implementation. First, although Live View now has a camera mode, the autofocus area is huge, just like in the movie mode. Forget about being able to point to a small area, zoom in and focus on it like you can on higher-end cameras. When you press the zoom in button once in Live View, the focus area occupies half of the space! Second, Live View is very laggy, especially after focus is acquired. Third, you cannot change the aperture of the lens when Live View is engaged – the same problem that we keep seeing over and over again. I don’t understand why Nikon keeps crippling this important feature. Perhaps to distinguish D7100 from higher-end cameras?
3) Menu System
Menu system on the Nikon D7100 is very similar to the one on the D600. As expected, there are some new firmware features found on the D7100 that are not there on the D7000. For example, the “Exposure delay mode” menu option now allows you to choose between 1 to 3 seconds of delay, while the D7000 only had two selections to turn Exposure delay mode on and off. Auto ISO has also been updated – now you can set your minimum shutter speed to “Auto” and tweak the Auto behavior even further by making the shutter speed slower or faster than the focal length of the lens. This is a great feature that I use quite a bit on my Nikon DSLRs.
Another great addition to the D7100 is the ability to instantly zoom to your image at 100% using the “OK” button on the multi-selector. This feature was previously available only on professional Nikon DSLRs – even the Nikon D600 does not have it. If you do not have it turned on, I highly recommend that you do. Go to “Custom Setting Menu” -> “Controls” (f) -> “OK button” -> “Playback mode” -> “Zoom on/off” -> “Medium magnification”. I like mine set to medium magnification, but you can set yours to “High magnification” to zoom in even further. Once you do this, you can simply press the “OK” button the multi-selector when displaying images on the LCD and the camera will zoom in instantly to your selected focus point. You do not have to press the zoom in button several times anymore. This saves me a ton of time when taking pictures and I can check if my focus was dead on or not. If you press the OK button again, the camera will zoom out back to the full image. Great stuff!