Nikon D7100 (Kit lens shown, but not tested)
I was a big fan of the D7000 and the D600 was my 2012 DSLR of the Year, so when I got the news that D7100 was coming out I was very excited. When I heard it went the way of the D800E and it shipped without a low pass filter then I got even more excited. I was hoping this was going to be the usable resolution equivalent to the D800E, but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good camera with excellent image detail. However, it’s not going to dethrone the D600 as my favorite Nikon camera.
For this test I got to spend some time with a D7100 using the AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens as the kit lens version was unavailable. Ergonomically it feels about identical to the D600 which is a good thing as that’s an excellent camera to use on a daily basis. Since the D7100 is NOT a full-frame camera it doesn’t suffer from the same compact AF point selection area as the D600 so that’s actually one thing that makes the D7100 better than the D600. The other thing that is in the favor of the D7100 is the fact that it’s about $800 cheaper (as of this writing) than the D600, so it’s a great value choice as well.
Overall I loved the ergonomics of the camera body and it’s vast number of external buttons all within reach (and many are programmable). The rear LCD is supposed to be higher resolution than the D600 (1,229,000 dots vs – 921,000 both 3.2”), but it sure didn’t feel like it. The new info button comes in handy as well for learning more information about the vast features in the menu of this camera.
Overall, it’s a great body that think anyone would enjoy – especially after you get used to the features / quirks of the Nikon system.
Auto Focus Performance
One area where the D7100 really seemed to excel was in its Auto Focus performance. Simply put, it’s outstanding – one of the best that I’ve tested – and a lot easier to use than the D4 system. In fact I quickly got so used to how good it was that I found myself trying to find a way to make it fail, and it handled most tasks that I threw at it without any issue.
I’m a horrible bird shooter so when I coincidentally ran into a big group of birds I just upped my shutter speed in M(annual) and put the D7100 to the test. Even in AF-S mode it was nailing everything I threw at it. In AF-C it did a great job of not getting confused when obstructions approached like in the shot below (which honestly would trip my 1D Mark IV up):
This is scary good AF! I was looking the opposite direction when I heard something.
I turned, shot the frames and this bird was gone. It even didn’t get tripped up by the branches!
f/2.8 @ 62 mm, 1/2000,ISO 100
If you shoot sports or moving objects like birds, cars, etc… then you will REALLY enjoy the AF system on this camera. It’s by far the easiest system I’ve used and it gives my 1D X a run for its money. I can also say with confidence that the D7100 AF system performed significantly better than the D4 that I tested. I wasn’t expecting this when I was out testing this camera, but if I was a D4 owner I’d be demanding that Nikon put this mojo in a D4 firmware upgrade or in a new D4s.
The frames per second is useless unless you shoot JPEG only with fast SD card’s, but if given a choice I’d rather accurate AF than FPS any day.
Real World Sample Images
As always, these images ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (yes, even the lame ones <g>). You may not save, edit, print, redistribute or otherwise use them without expressed written permission.
The full set of images is available at http://www.ronmartinsen.com/nikon/d7100, but here’s a few noteworthy images. Click the image for the original and view using the gallery to see EXIF information. All major settings were camera defaults except Active D Lighting was set to Auto. I was using Auto ISO (full range) and typically AF-S with a single point on my intended subject.
Not bad, but the X20 shot of the same scene was just about as good!
f/4 @ 70 mm, 1/1250,ISO 100, No Flash
Curious about dynamic range? This pretty much exercises the whole gamut!
f/5.6 @ 38 mm, 1/200,ISO 800, No Flash, Shade WB
About Real World Sample Images
I sometimes am asked, “what do you mean by ‘real world’ sample images?” Some have even taken a poke and said “does that mean photos that suck?”
The truth is that as a consumer one of the things that has always annoyed me is when I see the images from a camera on a web site that look fantastic, but when I get it home and use it under normal everyday conditions the photos just don’t have the same “oomph”. As a blogger I began to investigate “why” there were these discrepancies and I discovered three things:
- Some sites doctor their photos so what you are seeing is an edited image that used the camera in question, but that’s not an image you’ll really ever get out of the camera. To me this is useless.
- Some sites only show you photos taken in beautiful surroundings and lighting conditions. While these may be real images, they aren’t the type of image the average person will be taking. This leads to massive disappointment when you get home and are shooting around the house in very difficult lighting and non-ideal locations and think “gosh, this camera sucks compared to what I saw on the web”.
All of the images I feature for all my camera reviews are only impacted by the in-camera processing which is also what you see on your camera’s LCD (even when you shoot RAW). There is NO post-processing and what you see is what you can expect to get. While I do try to get some images in nice settings so you can see what a nice photo will be like, I also work hard to stress the camera to see how it performs under difficult situations (i.e., backlight, mid-day sun highlights, tungsten lighting, indoors with high ISO, etc…).
It’s my opinion that real world shots really tell you what you want to know about a camera and keep you from being surprised when you get it home. It does mean that I have to take some criticism for shots that aren’t always cropped perfectly (what you see is EXACTLY what came out of the camera), and I show image failures. However, my goal is to be the place that you can trust for a REAL assessment of a camera and a place you can trust.
I didn’t test video on this camera, so I have no comment.
Bookshelf tests are conduction on a tripod with mirror lockup and camera default settings. I did turn D-lighting on and these are the actual in-camera JPEG’s (Fine) with no external modifications.
NOTE: Even though I had the lens set to the 24mm mark, all shots report as 26mm in this article.
Excellent dynamic range is obvious – I was very impressed right out of the camera. Despite supporting ISO 100, I felt ISO 200 gave the best image quality. The overall best shot I got was at the 24-70’s sweet spot of 35mm @ f/5.6 and ISO 200:
That, boys and girls, is goonie goo goo good! The resolution here rivals what I saw with my D800 and D600 testing, but I didn’t have an EXACT comparison so I will not show it here. I can certainly say that in terms of image quality, this is up there with the best of the best. This camera has insane amounts of resolution that you’ll only appreciate on your computer as the camera LCD (despite all of its megapixels) just doesn’t do it justice.
High ISO Performance
The high ISO performance that Nikon’s are legendary for just isn’t there with this camera, so I put it in the same camp as the D800 where you should try to avoid ISO’s above 3200 when possible. The High ISO modes (12,800 and up) are nasty useless to me.
Raw (Lightroom 4.4) vs In-camera JPEG Fine (camera default settings) Comparison
If you had to shoot in the higher ISO’s you’ll be a lot better off turning off the in-camera noise reduction and using Noiseware to clean your image up. The higher ISO creates so much noise that Nikon’s noise reduction destroys the detail.
I was very satisfied with the HDR mode, but terribly disappointed with the fact that you only get a JPEG result of the HDR series. On my 5D Mark III I can still do HDR while shooting in RAW and all the intermediate files are kept so it makes it fun to use HDR to see what the camera will get, but you still have the real RAW files for Photomatix or HDR Efex Pro 2. With the D7100 that is NOT the case, so people who are serious about HDR are going to have to either decide to go JPEG only and except the file the camera gives you OR ignore this feature and just shoot bracketed shots with RAW files (recommended).
With that disclaimer out of the way, I was very impressed with the in-camera results. Except for the HDR High* setting (example), all of the other settings seemed very realistic / natural feeling. What’s more, the Auto setting did a great job but is conservative to avoid that overdone HDR feeling. I can see this being a useful feature for casual consumer shooting when RAW files aren’t going to be needed or desired (rare).
This is a very good camera. It’s a worthy successor to the D7000 which it not only surpasses but literally obliterates in terms of overall image quality. While the in-camera noise levels are pretty good, I still feel like I prefer the higher ISO noise handling of the last generation of Nikon cameras. It just seems that Nikon pushed the megapixels so far on this camera that it followed the same pattern as the D800 where more resolution equals more noise.
For the price, this is a very nice camera for Nikon shooters – especially those who are interested in staying in the DX Format family. For bird hunters on a budget, I’d highly recommend it for the AF performance but the frames per second are going to drive you insane. Nikon advertises 6 fps, but that is only if you are shooting JPEG only I think as RAW felt like about 3 fps.
This camera didn’t capture my instant love like the D7000 or the D600 did, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m just getting numb from the very good cameras I’ve been testing lately. I thought I might love this one so much that I’d get one, but I find myself being happy with the cameras I already own. I still highly recommend this camera for existing Nikon owners looking to upgrade (including D700 and D300s owners), and I think most will be very satisfied with its performance.
Where to order
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