Nikon D7100 In-Depth Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Outstanding low ISO performance in both JPEG and Raw files
- Very good default JPEG settings
- Excellent build quality and very good ergonomics and handling
- Effective auto white balance in a variety of lighting conditions
- Comprehensive camera customization options
- Auto ISO selection can be linked to lens focal length
- Fast, accurate AF system (inherited from Nikon D4)
- Center point autofocus at F8
- 1.3x crop mode provides extensive AF array coverage
- 6 fps burst rate (7 fps in 1.3x crop mode)
- Weather-sealing comparable to D800
- 100% viewfinder coverage
- Dual SD card slots
- Built-in flash can act as Commander for multi-flash setups
- RGBW rear LCD offers improved visibility in bright daylight
- In-camera raw processing
- Ability to output uncompressed HD video to an external recorder
- Manual audio recording levels
- 3.5mm Stereo mic and headphone inputs
Conclusion - Cons
- Small image buffer severely limits burst capacity in Raw-enabled modes
- Slow AF in live view and video modes (compared to mirrorless APS-C cameras)
- No real-time aperture adjustment preview in live view
- Noticeably soft video output
- In video mode, the 1.3x crop setting produces upsampled output
- No aperture control in video mode
- When shooting in live view, rear screen is blacked out until data is written to the card
- Maximum magnifications in image playback show pixelated output
As the successor to the well-regarded D7000, the Nikon D7100 has a tough act to follow. It has to offer compelling reasons for current owners to upgrade, while maintaining the attributes that have made the D7000 such a popular enthusiast APS-C DSLR in the first place. We're happy to say that with the D7100 Nikon has done just that.
The headline feature is, of course the D7100's 24MP sensor, which places it alongside the highest resolution APS-C cameras on the market. Indeed, if you were to apply that same pixel density to a full frame sensor, you'd get roughly a 58MP chip. Nikon went a step further though, and removed the camera's optical low-pass filter (OLPF), which in theory offers an increase in resolving capability. In our tests, however, we've found that benefits of the filter's removal are not only minimal but require the use of top-shelf prime lenses shot within a very narrow range of apertures. On a more positive note, in still images we've found very few real world examples of color moiré - the suppression of which is the purpose of an OLPF in the first place - and any moiré that we did see was far from distracting.
The D7100 combines the excellent handling and ergonomics of the D7000 with some of the recent changes Nikon has made throughout its higher-end DSLRs like an integrated stills/movie live view control, AF mode button/lever combination and top-plate mounted movie record button. The D7100 is a fast, responsive camera in most operational aspects. Most impressive though is just how many features it shares with its higher-priced full frame siblings. The D7100 has weather-sealing equivalent to the D800 and inherits the 51-point AF system of the D4. The D7100's focus detection is rated down to -2EV, and only a couple of cameras, such as the Canon EOS 6D and Pentax K-5II/s are rated as going lower. And the D7100 one-ups its Nikon stablemates with an RGBW rear LCD which offers more efficient operation and gives the option for greater brightness than an RGB panel, making the screen much more usable in direct sunlight.
The D7100 delivers outstanding image quality and detail rendition at low ISOs in both JPEG and Raw mode. Noise does start to become visible at the pixel level even at moderate ISO sensitivities, but is kept well under control given the pixel density of its 24MP APS-C sensor. While not a surprise, it is worth pointing out that if you're after the very best that this sensor can deliver, you'll not be well-served by the 18-105mm kit zoom. In both our studio and real-world shooting, we've found noticeably better results with Nikon's high-end primes and fast zoom lenses.
The camera's auto white balance does a fine job of rendering accurate colors in all but the more extreme lighting conditions. We also find that the camera's default JPEG settings produce pleasing files that avoid prominent sharpening and/or noise suppression artifacts. As always, you have the option of tweaking these settings to taste, but we don't find much complaint with the D7100's out-of-the-box JPEG output. Users who demand the utmost in detail and dynamic range will of course be shooting in Raw mode and we've found the D7100's files offer plenty of latitude for sharpening adjustments, retention of highlight detail and - at low ISOs - the opening up of shadow areas with minimal noise penalty.
In our time spent shooting real world images, we did find that the camera's matrix metering could at times return slightly darker results than we'd prefer in lower contrast scenes both with and without the built-in flash. In these situations we found ourselves having to to dial in exposure compensation of 0.3EV - 0.7 EV to produce more pleasing exposures. We want to stress that none of the unaltered exposures were unusable and a conservative exposure that protects highlights is certainly preferable to one that risks clipping this data.
While the camera's video specs are impressive, its video output is a bit softer than we'd like. If you want to record at 1080 50i or 60i, keep in mind that this is only possible after you've set the camera to its 1.3x crop mode. Unfortunately, using this crop mode results in output that is upsampled to 1920 x 1080, making this mode of little use for even amateur videographers.
The D7100 is a very enjoyable camera to shoot with. Solid construction, dust and moisture resistance and twin control dials convey in no uncertain terms that you're handling a camera made for discerning enthusiasts. That all of this comes in a relatively light weight package is even more impressive. In terms of operation and ergonomics, the D7100 has a sensible and efficient control layout that will be largely familiar to any Nikon DSLR user and provides quick access to key shooting parameters.
In addition to a lockable shooting mode dial, focal-length dependent Auto ISO setting and redesigned AF mode control found in recent Nikon DSLRs like the D600, the D7100 offers a few enhancements of its own. A new spot white balance option makes setting a custom white balance in live view mode much more practical for tabletop photography. And changing camera settings from the rear of the camera is more intuitive with the addition of the new 'i' button that sits to the right of the LCD.
While the D7100 is a fast camera to operate and shoot with in most regards, one obvious weakness is in regard to its very limited buffer capacity. If you want to shoot Raw files in continuous drive mode, you're only able to shoot 5-6 images at the camera's maximum rate before waiting for data to be written to the SD card. This is significantly lower than the much older 18MP Canon EOS 7D and makes the D7100 essentially a JPEG-only shooting camera for sports and action photographers, taking for some of them perhaps, a bit of the shine off of the camera's very respectable 6-7 fps maximum rate and its robust AF system.
The Final Word
The Nikon D7100 rounds out Nikon's recently revamped lineup of enthusiast-targeted DSLRs. It may sit below the full frame D800 and D600 in price, but gives both a run for their money in terms of features, handling and performance. In fact, if you don't have a compelling reason to shoot with a full frame DSLR, or have no need for 36MP output, the APS-C D7100 offers a largely similar shooting experience, great looking images and a smaller, lighter body to carry on your shoulder.
While Nikon has made much of the D7100's omission of an image-softening OLPF, we've found that in practical terms the filter's removal is essentially a neutral move. Under the overwhelming majority of real world usage you get no visible benefit in terms of image detail, but neither are you at notably increased risk for generating color moiré in still images.
The D7100's fast and accurate phase detection AF system is compromised by the camera's limited buffer size, which for all practical purposes restricts you to shooting in JPEG-only mode for reasonable burst capacity. Yet, if you accept this limitation, you can capture fast action with confidence, particularly if you take advantage of the extended AF array coverage that shooting in 1.3x crop mode offers. Video output leaves something to be desired, as the results we've seen have been somewhat soft overall and in the 1.3x crop mode have been upsampled.
The D7100 is not a perfect camera, yet we must look at its (relatively few) shortcomings in the broader context of both what its current competition offers and improvements it has gained over its predecessor, the D7000. In terms of the latter comparison, the D7100 maintains nearly every operational and handling feature we liked about the D7000, improves upon those we found fault with and offers a compelling upgrade in resolution, image quality and high ISO performance. And at a list price of $1199.95, the D7100 inherits an impressive amount of features and performance from the much higher-priced full frame Nikon DSLRs, comfortably outpacing its direct competitors from Canon, Sony and Pentax. As such the D7100 easily earns our highest honor, the Gold Award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The D7100 is a well-built enthusiast DSLR that offers impressive image quality and easy access to shooting parameters along with a high degree of customization options. Video output is a bit disappointing and a very small image buffer limits sports shooters to JPEG-only mode.
Apr 6, 2016
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