Nikon D7100 review - Still one of the best SLR's around
23.5x15.6mm 24.0-megapixel sensor, 5.8x zoom (27-157mm equivalent), 1.2kg
The Nikon D7100 has for an age now, been the top-end camera the Nikon offers for photography enthusiasts. A decent upgrade from the Nikon D7000, it's been a definite favourite here at Expert Reviews ever since it launched way back in 2010. It's also currently the best-specified of Nikon's cameras based around the APS-C sized sensor, and is only around £500 at the moment.
The thing is, full-frame cameras, such as the Nikon D610, have dropped in price considerably recently but it's also worth pointing out that the successor to the Nikon D7100 has now been released in the form of, as you could probably guess, the D7200. What this means is that the D7100 body only price has dropped to just £500 if you shop around. While the D7200 certainly improved on an already winning formula, it's debatable whether or not the improved autofocus and continuous shooting are enough to justify the high price.
Sharing plenty of similarities with the older D7000, the D7100's main success has certainly stemmed from its updated controls and ergonomics and it's good to see that not all that much has changed. The nicely sized optical viewfinder, the generous 950-shot battery life, passive LCD screen for displaying settings and the dual command dials set it apart from much cheaper SLRs, such as the Nikon D5200. Likewise, the twin SDXC card slots and robust weather-sealed magnesium alloy body are a rarity to find, given the price.
We really like the control system here, with plenty of dedicated buttons for a wide range of functions such as ISO speed, white balance, metering, autofocus mode and bracketing too, simply adjusted by holding down the button and turning the command dials. The dual dials are used quite effectively, including adjusting the ISO speed with the rear dial and toggling the Auto ISO with the front dial. It's worth pointing out that many of these buttons are accessed with the left hand, leaving the right hand in charge of the dials; it's definitely this two-handed operation that we find to be incredibly fast and all around intuitive. While the main menu isn't exactly the quickest to move around in, but with so many physical controls, there's very surprisingly very little need to visit it. The exposure mode and drive mode have dedicated dials too, both of which have locks to avoid accidentally hitting them.
At first glance, any external changes compared to the D7000 are tricky to spot, but there are some welcome additions here and there. The generous 3.2in screen is a smidge bigger and its resolution has increased to a respectable 1.2 million dots, with white pixels joining the usual RGB for increased brightness. There's also a new button marked i here, which gives you quick access to an extra ten functions via the screen, such as HDR shooting, colour presets, strength of noise reduction and the option to customise the two buttons on the front of the camera.
The live view, video record and autofocus point lock buttons have been rearranged to a bit more of a logical layout, and there's also a lever to toggle the live view mode between photo and video duties too. Setting the aspect ratio to 3:2 or 16:9 (for photos and videos respectively), this also makes it clear that videos can't actually use shutter speeds slower than the selected frame rate too and that the aperture can't be adjusted while recording either. These restrictions, although available, weren't all that obvious on the previous D7000.
Sadly, there doesn't seem to be all that much improvement to the live view mode, though. Autofocus becomes frustratingly sluggish in this mode, with shot-to-shot times plummeting from 0.45 to a somewhat unacceptable 4.8 seconds in our tests. Live view is obviously still useful for fine-tuning manual focus, and it's worht pointing out that the D7100 reveals significsntly sharper detail than the D5200 when magnifying the live view image.
The main list of changes compared to the D7000 can be found inside the camera itself. Thankfully, the sensor's resolution has gone up from 16 to 24-megapixels, while dispensing with an optical low-pass filter in order to maximise detail levels - something i'll get onto later. The autofocus sensor also now has 51 points, including 15 cross-type points for increased sensitivity. The D7000 definitelyalready lead the way at this price with its 39 points, but we're more than happy to have even more, further cementing Nikon as leading the charge. The dense cluster of points covers most of the frame, and makes it easy to focus precisely on the subject rather than have to line the subject up with an autofocus point.
More points should typically improve the accuracy of the 3D tracking focus mode. While didn't have the D7000 on hand to compare it with, the D7100 did a fine job of tracking subjects as they moved nearer, further and around the frame, with more than half the shots in sharp focus.
Continuous shooting performance is quoted as 6fps, which is a figure exactly the same as the previous D7000. The higher resolution has actually taken its toll on the camera's endurance however. With a fast SDHC card, the D7000 kept going at 6fps for 100 shots, while the D7100 only managed 18 frames at 5.9fps before it slowed to 3.4fps. Of course, this isn't exactly a terrible result, though, and should be perfectly capable in most situations. There's also a 1.3x crop mode on offer, which uses a significantly smaller central area of the frame to offer 15.3-megapixel photos at 7fps, which was around 6.8fps in our tests, which lasted for 24 frames before slowing to around 4.2fps.
Continuous raw performance was much shorter-lived, starting at 4.9fps and slowing to just 1.4fps after only five frames (the D7000 lasted for ten). We were able to raise the initial speed back up to 5.8fps by switching from 14- to 12-bit raw formats, but it still only lasted for five frames – less than a second – before slowing dramatically. The 7fps, 1.3x crop mode managed nine frames before slowing.
Continuous JPEG shooting also took a big hit when Auto distortion control (for counteracting lens distortion) was enabled, slowing to 1.9fps after seven frames. The bottom line here is that sustained fast performance is possible, but only if you're willing to forego raw mode and distortion correction, and possibly lower the resolution. These are choices we'd prefer not to have to make on a £1,000 camera.
Thankfully, the video mode has some useful upgrades. There's a nice headphone out to complement the microphone input, plus a stereo rather than mono built-in microphone too. The frame rate is no longer fixed at 24fps, with a choice of 24p, 25p and 30p, plus 50i and 60i in 1.3x crop mode. It's a bit daft that the crop mode must be set elsewhere first, or else the 50i and 60i options are greyed out – why not just perform the crop automatically? There should be more than enough detail from the sensor to produce sharp 1080p video from this 1.3x crop area, but videos in this mode sadly weren't as detailed as when using the full sensor area.
Other than that, video quality was excellent, and we were pleasantly surprised to find very little evidence of moiré interference – something that previous Nikon SLRs' video modes have suffered from. Heavy handed video autofocus remains unresolved, though. It must be updated on demand and spoiled the soundtrack when using the internal microphone. Shutter- and aperture-priority modes aren't available for video, but manual exposure is, making this a solid choice for serious video work.