Not quite three years ago I got my hands on a pre-production model of the Nikon D7000. It was a game-changing camera. I loved that camera. Now 30 months after it hit stores, the 7000 has been updated. Meet the D7100. It’s a significant upgrade. It’s a whole new camera thanks to the sensor. But more on that in a minute.
Let’s start with the basics. The D7100 is faster, has an OLED display, better weather sealing, new spot white balance, has better autofocus, better weather sealing, new additional 1.3 crop factor, new video capability and a new 24.1 MP sensor. It is available with a battery grip (not tested) called the MB-D15 Multi Battery Power Pack. Unfortunately the old battery pack for the D7000 won’t work. There is also no LCD cover – something most Nikon users expect. There is no articulating screen. Wireless sharing and control with WU-1a adapter is also available but costs extra since the adapter is not included.
The thing that immediately caught my attention was the 51 Autofocus points. 15 of these are cross type. This is something Nikon used to reserve for pro cameras. Not anymore. The new AF on the D7100 makes an already good AF great. It’s fast, predictable and with the newer lenses, should please even the most demanding photographer.
But back to that sensor. Unfortunately, Nikon is still embroiled in the megapixel madness. The new sensor is 24M.1P. Really? On an APS-C sensor? Come on Nikon. It’s just not necessary. But it is sharp. Why? There is no antialiasing filter. This is something that is optional on the D800 but so far, we only have one version of the D7100 and it’s without an antialias filter. What does that mean? Amazing detail and sharpness, but more moire. It’s really bad news on the video side because anytime you shoot video on this camera and point at a tight pattern you’re going to miss that filter.
In the field the camera feels good in the hand. I like the bright 100% viewfinder. This is something I miss shooting micro four thirds. EVFs are hard to get used to. There are two SD card slots that can be configured for either backup or overflow. Everything just works and shooting operations are all nice and predictable.
The camera handles as expected. It’s quiet. Battery life is good. It’s very fast and low-light performance is very good but in an odd way that I will explain. It shoots up to six frames per second unless you use a new 1.3 additional crop mode that gives you seven. I assume the improved performance is due to the new Expeed 3 processor. Still I can’t help but wonder how great the image quality would be if Nikon had crammed fewer pixels onto the sensor.
Color is good in both jpg and RAW mode. The meter is dead-on and exposure is perfect most of the time. The built-in flash is connected to command mode and will work as a controller for off camera flash units.
The video enhancements to the D7100 are mystifying to me. Nikon added better audio and improved video frame rates, but why? There’s no anti-aliasing filter. This means the camera is very sharp for stills, but suffers from moire when in video mode. I also noted that you cannot change the aperture during video recording. This is a major oversight (assuming you use Nikon G-lenses which have no aperture ring.) I hope that Nikon addresses this with a firmware update. If you are going to use this camera for video, you’ll need to install a variable ND filter and use that to act as an iris control. That will give you exposure control without the ability to change the aperture in video mode.
The images are sharp but even at ISO 560 I see noise that I need to clean up in Lightroom. The good news is that it’s one slider and done and the image still retains appropriate sharpness. But this would be unnecessary if Nikon had not crammed so many pixels on it. I had less trouble with this in JPG mode believe it or not. I am wondering if the SDK that Nikon provided Adobe for the RAW conversion is crippled. Nikon has done this before so that people will be forced into buying Nikon’s own RAW converter software, which was made by Nik Software. Now that Google has acquired Nik and let go almost the entire Nik staff, it will be interesting to see if Nikon continues to try to be the industry maverick and sells its converter rather than gives it away like Canon. I’ll try using Nikon software to decode the RAW NEF files to see if they are less noisy and if so will update this review.
Since my interest in such a camera would be wildlife and sports shooting, I like the new 1.3 crop factor that boosts the camera’s performance but reduces the amount of usable sensor. It reduces the down to a 15.4-megapixel crop (15.4 now that is more like it – too bad they didn’t use this number instead of 24.1) but also means the autofocus area runs nearly to the edge of the frame. In this mode the AF is simply outstanding. One thing that I don’t like (but you might) about this mode is that the viewfinder shows a wider-than-100 per cent equivalent. The D7100’s 1.3x crop records RAW and increases burst mode to be a step quicker at seven frames per second.
The Nikon D7100 is a fine camera but it certainly has its limits and its place. If Nikon had offered a choice of a sensor with anti-aliasing filter like they did on the D800, I’d say this is a great bet for stills shooters who also want to shoot video. But Nikon did not.
If Nikon had not fallen prey to the megapixel wars, cramming 24.1 megapixels on an APS-C sensor, then I’d highly recommend this camera to anyone looking for a $1200 camera body. But in 1.3 crop mode I am a fan.
All that said, the camera is noisy in my opinion but the good news is that this noise can be easily removed in Lightroom. So it’s a non-issue under those circumstances.
The new 1.3 crop mode that effectively makes the D7100’s sensor the size of a micro four thirds sensor. Here is where the D7100 performs as good or better than anything on the market in this range. While it’s odd, and takes getting used to, it works. It improves AF, covers the sweet spot on the sensor, boosts FPS and generally is a wildlife or sports shooters dream paired with the right long lens.
I hope that all the camera companies get off this megapixel madness kick soon. Short of that bad decision and no option on the anti-aliasing filter, I’d give the D7100 a highly-recommended rating. But due to those problems, I’d say highly-recommended if you’re the right match for this camera’s features. Otherwise merely recommended.
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