The goal of this Nikon D7100 review is a simple one: I'd like you to walk away knowing if you REALLY need the features this camera offers.
|Release Date: March 2013
|Price With Lens: $1,197 USD
The Nikon D7100 is definitely more advanced: it's the sort of camera that appeals to photographers who are comfortable controlling cameras manually.
Put another way: you'll really get your money's worth with the D7100 if you leverage the advanced features it offers and you're ONLY going to do this using the manual controls.
The good news is that once you do take manual control of the D7100 the types of images you can capture are exceptional.
In addition to exceptional images, you can also capture a wide variety of photos with this camera. Whether you want to capture sporting events, scenic landscapes or close-ups, the D7100 will help you realize your vision.
The main thing that I noticed during my Nikon D7100 review is that this camera is precise: it offers precise color, precise focus and a shutter that is so responsive that you can capture precise moments in time.
Leveraging this precision takes practice. You probably won't leverage even half of what the D7100 has to offer within the first couple of weeks using it.
As you become more comfortable with the camera over time, you'll find that there's virtually no photographic situation that will prove challenging to the D7100.
Not the D7100, which makes it stand out from the rest of the DSLR crowd.
Virtually every other DSLR ever made – with a few notable exceptions – has a low pass filter that sits in front of the digital sensor.
This filtering device is simultaneously good and bad: while it enhances image quality it also reduces it at the same time. Doesn't make sense, does it?
The reason the filter exists is to prevent Moiré: wavy lines that you can see in digital photos, especially when those photos have repeating patterns in them (brick walls, skyscraper windows, etc.).
Aperture: f/9 | Shutter Speed: 1/1000 | ISO: 400
While the filter does completely eliminate Moiré, it can also make photos look less sharp, especially when those photos are viewed at 100% on a high resolution computer monitor.
Put another way: you may have a really hard time telling the difference in sharpness between a picture taken with a low pass filter and one without.
For better or for worse, the D7100 omits the low pass filter in an effort to maximize image quality.
So of course, the very first thing I did for this Nikon D7100 review was to take LOTS of pictures of repeating patterns to see if I noticed any Moiré in my photos.
Aperture: f/10 | Shutter Speed: 1/250 | ISO: 200
No such luck.
Despite a lot of time spent snapping pictures of brick walls (and some bemused looks from people passing by) I was unable to see even a hint of Moire. So this is good news – at least for the D7100, that low pass filter really isn't necessary.
But is there a substantial and noticeable improvement in image quality?
This question is harder to answer because "image quality" is a very subjective thing. One person's "perfect" photo is another's "garbage" shot.
However, I can safely say that image quality holds up amazingly well, even when you zoom an image to its full size on a computer monitor. With other DSLRs I have used, the images starts to look fuzzy at 100%.
The sample below illustrates this - first we'll take a look at the photo in its reduced form.
Aperture: f/5 | Shutter Speed: 1/500 | ISO: 6400
And now a crop from the image at 100% size. Wow, not bad.
However - and this is a very important point - you can only achieve results like this if you use a really good lens. For the photo above I used the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 which is widely regarded as an exceptionally sharp lens.
If I had instead used an old Nikon lens that I picked up at a flea market, the results might not be quite like this.
One thing that I definitely wanted to do for this Nikon D7100 review is put its speed to the test. The D7100 is a superb camera for action photography, and there are several reasons why:
Let's talk about how each one of these settings helps when you're trying to take pictures of fast-moving subjects.
It's pretty obvious why you want a camera that can tear through 6 photos per second when you're taking action shots.
Great action photos capture the peak of the action: that singular moment where everything is about to make contact.
Since it can be very difficult to predict when such a peak moment will occur, you have to take photos in continuous bursts as the action takes place.
While you will have a LOT of photos that you'll need to edit later (because many won't turn out) the few good ones should be pretty spectacular.
The autofocus points in the Nikon D7100 are laid out across the entire viewfinder. There are a few points around the edges of the viewfinder that aren't covered, but only a few.
This wide coverage means that so long as you are able to see your subject in the viewfinder, at least one autofocus point will be over the subject.
You can even keep the camera stable and the autofocus will track the subject as it moves around, ensuring sharp focus even when the subject is way off-center.
The ISO setting is the action photographer's best friend.
High ISO settings cause the sensor to absorb light faster and result in faster shutter speeds. When it comes to action subjects, you often need the fastest shutter speeds to eliminate motion blur and make subject look sharp.
With a maximum ISO of 25600, the D7100 can achieve fast shutter speeds even in relatively dim available light. This means that even if you're taking your action shots indoors or in the evening, you should still be able to get sharp photos with the D7100.
I took a variety of indoor action shots for this Nikon D7100 review to push the camera's limits, as you can see in the example below.
Aperture: f/5 | Shutter Speed: 1/500 | ISO: 6400
The Nikon D7100 has an exceptionally useful mode that I haven't seen on any other DSLRs.
It's called 1.3x Crop Mode and it artificially increases the focal length of every lens you use with the D7100 by 1.3 times.
In normal mode, the D7100 captures a full 24 megapixels per
shot using the entire sensor area as shown in the photo below.
In 1.3x Crop Mode, the camera uses a reduced
area of the sensor to capture 18 megapixel photos (and 18 megapixels still provides PLENTY of options in terms of prints).
In this mode:
So what's the big deal? Why do I find this feature so fabulously useful?
First, it's great for getting up close and personal with subjects from far away without having to spend hundreds of dollars on lenses with more focal length.
The best news in all of this is that you won't have to guess about WHICH part of the sensor the D7100 is using in 1.3x Crop Mode: it shows you. As you look through the viewfinder, a small box displays the area that will be captured.
Over the years that I have been using and reviewing digital SLR cameras, I have read a lot of articles written by professional photographers about their technique and image workflow.
When you see a stunning image captured by a professional photographer and think "gee, I wish my camera could take pictures like that" you MUST realize this important point: that image was manipulated after it was taken.
When pros take photos, virtually every image they capture is edited with software after the fact to improve various aspects: color tone, brightness, sharpness, etc.
Aperture: f/6.3 | Shutter Speed: 1/800 | ISO: 6400 | Custom Color
Professionals do this so that the final image matches precisely with their vision, not because of flaws in the image at time of capture.
So where am I going with this and what does it have to do with this Nikon D7100 review?
For all of us non-professional photographers who have neither the time nor the patience to spend hours in front of our computers editing photos until they are "just right", the best option is to capture pictures that look as good as possible WITHOUT editing.
You can do this with the D7100 because of the wealth of features it makes available at the touch of a button.
For example, let's say you take a picture of a dark subject against a really bright background. You get something that looks WAY too dark overall.
Aperture: f/5.6 | Shutter Speed: 1/1000 | ISO: 800 | Evaluative Metering
This is because the light meter inside the camera is evaluating all light coming into the viewfinder to set the overall exposure. This setting is the metering mode and the value it's set to is "evaluative".
With the touch of a button and the spin of a dial, you can instantly switch to spot metering mode, so that exposure is set for the darker subject.
Aperture: f/5.6 | Shutter Speed: 1/500 | ISO: 800 | Spot Metering
Yes, this causes the background to become extremely bright, but if this is result you want, then it is easy to achieve.
Let's say that you're taking a photo of a subject in shade and want to use the flash to add some additional light to the scene.
At its default power level, the flash adds too much light: it's obvious in the final photo that a flash has been used, and this is not the look you want.
Again, by pressing a button and spinning a dial you can reduce the power of the flash so that it just adds a hint of light to the shadows rather than acting as the primary light source.
Aperture: f/14 | Shutter Speed: 1/160 | ISO: 200 | Fill Flash
These are just two examples of how versatile the controls of the Nikon D7100 are, and how they let you make all kinds of adjustments to the look of your photo when you take it so you don't have to spend hours correcting it on your computer.
Every digital SLR has something I call "bonus features".
These are the features that you won't use every single day, nor even every single time you use your camera to take pictures.
However, they are nice to have around, and when you discover them there a wonderful "aha" moment, like you've just discovered treasure on a sandy beach.
This one really caught me by surprise because I've never seen it on any other DSLR.
One day as I was scrolling through pictures that I'd taken for this Nikon D7100 review on the camera's LCD, I decided to zoom in on a portrait I'd taken of my son and daughter to make sure their faces were clear.
As soon as I zoomed in a bit, the camera displayed squares over each of their faces. Using the thumb wheel on the back of the camera I could quickly switch back and forth between their faces to check focus.
This is a great feature for anyone who takes lots of group portraits.
As group portrait photographers know, the more people you include in a picture, the higher the chance that someone will be blinking right when you snap the photo.
This feature of the Nikon D7100 lets you zoom in on each face to make sure that everyone looks awake and has a decent expression.
It's not like image retouching is new on the D7100 – many other Nikon DSLRs have this feature, which lets you edit your photos in-camera after the fact.
I've used this feature before and never been all that interested in it, but during the course of this Nikon D7100 review the benefit of these image adjustments finally clicked.
Once I'd applied a filter once to an image, I deliberately went looking for other photos where I could leverage that same filter.
For example, the miniature effect works best when you are taking pictures from a high vantage point looking down. With this in mind, I kept seeking out locations where I could shoot down on my subject.
This type of creative thinking really fires up the right side of the brain and allows you to imagine how a filtered image might look as you are in the process of taking it.
These two features are definitely NOT for everyone, but they're included with the D7100.
Multiple exposure photography is limited to people with a truly artistic sensibility: those who prefer an abstract image rather than a realistic representation of a scene.
I've never gotten into multiple exposures, but it's yet another way that you can creatively experiment with the pictures that you take.
I also haven't gotten into timelapse photography, but for a different reason: I have neither the time nor the patience.
A timelapse of a few seconds can take hours to capture and – unless you are really in the middle of nowhere – you can't just walk off and leaver your camera while it is snapping pictures.
The end result of a timelapse can be incredibly beautiful, but it takes a certain type of photographer to capture them well.
If this is the first DSLR you will ever own then consider carefully.
The D7100 is not a starter camera and can quickly overwhelm with its sheer number of features and customizable settings.
It's a bit like competing in Olympic trials when you've only just learned how to swim.
You also have to ask yourself (and answer honestly!) if you have any intention of learning how to manually control a DSLR camera.
If your goal in buying a DSLR is to just "take better pictures" but you have neither the time nor the patience to learn a new hobby then get something cheaper.
The whole point and purpose of a camera like the D7100 is for you to take full manual control, and quickly (and continuously) make adjustments to shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO, white balance, metering mode, flash exposure mode and more.
Aperture: f/6.3 | Shutter Speed: 1/250 | ISO: 1600
Having given the beginning DSLR photographers due warning, I can safely say that intermediate and advanced photographers will find a lot to like in this camera.
Regardless of what you want to take pictures of and how you want your camera set up, the D7100 can handle it. Its speed and versatility put no limitations on the types of photos you can take, nor the conditions you can shoot in.
From dawn to dusk, indoors or out, sun or rain, you can capture photos.
While you can take the camera out of a box and start firing away, it will take even a seasoned photographer some time to fully master the controls.
For this Nikon D7100 review I had the camera for 10 days, and it wasn't until the 7th day of continuous use that I could easily tweak the ISO, white balance and lens aperture all at once.
Once I was able to quickly make manual adjustments to account for the available light and my specific subject, I got MUCH better results.
Aperture: f/6.3 | Shutter Speed: 1/160 | ISO: 400