|The Nikon D7100|
In an era of “less is more” and an onslaught of new mirrorless cameras with small bodies but hefty price tags, Nikon has continued tweaking their excellent line of DSLRs. The D7100 sits at the very top of their models (before heading into the full frame professional options) and stomps on the idea that smaller is better with an excellent array of controls, a comfortable grip and an impressive focus system.
On paper, the D7100 sports a large and redesigned 24.1 megapixel sensor, a 51-point autofocus system, 6 fps continuous shooting, an enhanced viewfinder and LCD screen and an impressive user interface. And with the comfortable hold of a DSLR, the body weighs in at just around a light pound and a half. But, in the hands of a serious photographer, can the 7100 deliver on image quality?
Nikon D7100: Body and Design
There's a significant difference in the body and interface of the D7100 compared to the D5300—on the D7100, there's a control for almost everything, without accessing the menu. A lot of people don't know the full capabilities of their own camera, but the D7100 is the type of camera that even serious users may learn new techniques with years after purchasing the model, because there's just that many features.
|The top view of the Nikon D71000.|
Let's start at the top. The D7100, unlike the 5300 and the 3200, has an additional screen here, right below the shutter release, that displays all the vital information like shutter speed, aperture, white balance, metering and even file type and the number of images remaining before the SD card fills up. Sure, that info can be displayed on the LCD too, but like most DSLRs, the LCD screen doesn't stay on while shooting (unless in live mode)—one of the reasons the D7100 can take 950 shots on one charge. The top display is always on, and even when the camera is off, the display still shows the number of shots remaining. The extra screen is easy to use, and paired with all the buttons and dials on the D7100, makes adjustments faster.
The top of the 7100 also houses a dedicated record button and EV and metering shortcuts, within easy reach of your index finger. A mode dial, stacked on top of a wheel to control single or burst mode, is on the left, but it is the subject of my only design complaint about the 7100. The mode dial has a lock in it, which means it's tricky to use with just one hand. In my five years of shooting with Nikon DSLRs, I've never had a problem with the mode dial getting bumped, the lock is unnecessary and rather annoying.
The back of the camera houses the LCD, which is large and bright, though I didn't find myself using it nearly as often as I use it on other camera models. There's also plenty of buttons, nifty shortcuts to adjusting settings, a diopter adjustment and a switch for going from stills to video. And of course, the control wheel at the top right (there's also a matching one on the front of the camera).
At one side of the camera is not one, but two SD card slots, which you can use as overflow, to back-up the files or to record RAW on one and JPEGs on another. The opposite side houses ports for a mic, USB, HDMI output headphones and GPS/Wi-fi attachments. There's a few more buttons on the front, including one for bracketing, flash and focus mode, as well as a nice big grip with that second control wheel at the top.
|Side view of the Nikon D7100|
In the few weeks I spent with the D7100, I was able to learn how to adjust the settings quickly, often with one hand. The beauty of the D7100's design is that you can make adjustments almost like a second nature, without looking and often without scrolling through a menu. There's also two user slots on the mode dial, for saving frequently used settings. When you do need to access the menu, it's pretty straightforward and well organized. The grip and control scheme on the D7100 just makes it easy to capture excellent, manual pictures (though the automated modes work well too).
Nikon D7100: User Experience & Performance
The design and control scheme is excellent, but what about the performance?
Where the D7100 really performs is in the autofocus. My personal camera is the Nikon D5000 (a few years older and a step behind) and I definitely noticed the expanded 51 point autofocus with the 7100. It's easy to see what the camera is focused on and it's also simple to readjust. I didn't find myself using manual focus with a tricky foreground element in the composition like I do with my D5000. The focus is quick as well. Mirrorless models can't quite compete with the speed and versatility of a good DSLR like the D7100. The continuous focus worked pretty well, though about one in every dozen or so had a shot that was a little soft when using the continuous focus in a burst set.
The D7100 is a pretty speedy camera, even beyond just the autofocus. Start-up is almost instant and there's virtually no lag time even when recording large RAW files. I had to really push the camera by using continuous shooting, RAW, and continuous autofocus before the D7100 was anything but quick, and even then the camera performed quite well.
The D7100 is equipped with all the manual modes. In programmed auto, the camera seemed to read the available light well for photos that were consistent across similar settings. I spent most of my review using one of the four manual modes, and, truthfully, most people don't spend the money on a DSLR to use the automated settings. But, there's a selection of the usual scene and automatic modes, and, when put to the test, there were no complaints.
Nikon D7100: Image Quality
Nikon redesigned their sensor for the D7100, removing the optical low pass filter, which basically means there's less between the sensor and the lens, allowing for better detail and a bit better performance in low light. I didn't notice extra moire with the filter removed, and the images are quite detailed and clear. The resolution and detail are excellent.
Color in the images seemed true to life when used with the correct white balance settings. Edges are generally sharp, though there were a few instances where the autofocus selected a smaller portion of the image than expected, perhaps a tradeoff of the large number of focus points. I did most of my shots in RAW format, yet still did very minimal tweaking, since the shots were very high quality straight from the camera.
In low light, the D7100 lived up to expectations. The noise reduction works really well, and even shots taken at high ISOs don't appear very grainy unless zoomed in.
The speed of the kit lens is around average for a kit, but is still capable of producing a nice depth of field. The 18-105mm range is nicer than most, however, and quite versatile.
Unlike my older D5000, the D7100 can use autofocus while recording video, not automatically, but adjusted using the shutter release. While it's nice to have the autofocus available, it's loud enough to produce a very audible grinding noise in the footage, which leaves it useless for quiet shots. The noise is testament to the cameras microphone, because it's not really that loud when shooting, and this DSLR picks up sounds very well. The footage was as high quality as the images, and the camera adjusts to different lighting while recording very well, the autofocus noise is just rather disappointing for a camera at this price point.
Nikon D7100: Conclusion
If I was in the market to update my DSLR, I'd pick up the D7100. The camera has excellent handling, the images are top notch and it has the right features for even a professional. No camera is perfect, and I was disappointed by the mode dial design and loud autofocus while recording video, but overall, the D7100 was one of my favorite cameras that I've reviewed this year.
The issue for most will be the price. Nikon's smaller DSLRs have excellent image quality as well, and while the D7100 does get a boost in the sensor, the difference isn't extreme. But, it's the image quality combined with the vast control scheme that makes this an excellent camera. The sheer number of controls would likely be confusing for a beginner, but they are excellent for an enthusiast or professional.