The D7000, to me, has always been a “close but not quite” camera. By all accounts, its sensor is really good. However, the smaller form factor and diminished performance (AF, frame rate, bracketing limitations) dissuaded me from getting one as a D300s replacement. The biggest surprise to me when I read Nikon’s announcement was the subheadline:
“Nikon’s DX-format Flagship Provides Agility, Amazing Image Quality and Wireless Connectivity“
You read that right; the DX-format Flagship. In my opinion, this means what I’ve been hearing (and thinking) for some time. DX is for enthusiasts, FX is for pros.
Why does that bother me? Well, I keep a Nikon D300s around with a battery grip for situations where telephoto action shooting is desirable. The D300s, with grip and EN-EL4a battery, will shoot 8 frames per second. That’s important when you’re photographing birds and fast-moving action and want to grab a frame at the peak moment. However, the sensor in the D300s is the same 12MP sensor that showed up in 2007, which pales in comparison to the newer Nikon sensors. The newest cameras not only have amazing tonal range, but also even better noise performance. While the D300s is no slouch, it’s IQ doesn’t compare to what you can get from the D7000’s 16MP sensor. I’d still really love a D300s body with the D7000 sensor for bird photography!
Ok…rant over. Let’s look at the basic specs and see what the D7100 really is, which in my opinion is a very good camera for most enthusiasts. In fact, the new features may surprise you!
The D7100 sensor now sports 24.1 megapixels, bringing it in line with the rest of Nikon’s DX format lineup. More megapixels means you can print larger, crop more, and get surprisingly good ISO performance on day to-day images and normal-sized prints. The pixel dimensions are 6000×4000 in normal (full DX frame) mode, and 4800×3200 in a new 1.3x crop mode. Note that this is cropped in 1.3x from DX format, not a 1.3x crop from FX. Using the crop mode, you have an effective field of view of almost 2x (1.95) that of an FX-sensor (35mm) camera, and roughly 15.3 megapixels. The big advantage of the crop mode is that you can shoot up to 7fps instead of 6fps in full DX mode.
The sensor has a base ISO of 100, which is expandable to ISO 6400. If you choose to go further, you can use HI-1 (ISO 12,800) and HI-2 (ISO 25,00), but you’ll have a lot more noise to clean up. There is no “Lo-1” or ISO 50 equivalent, at least from what I’ve read so far.
But the really big news about this sensor is that like the D800e, Nikon has chosen to remove the anti-aliasing filter. Clearly, Nikon is not concerned about moiré with this camera. As a D800e owner, I can vouch for that… I’ve rarely found moiré in my D800e images (and it can be removed easily if you shoot RAW). So this means that the D7100 should really kick butt for landscapes and other high-detail scenes. To get the most of this sensor, you’ll want to sharpen your images properly from RAW.
The D7100 gets a huge autofocus upgrade, moving from the 39-point AF module to the newer multi-CAM 3500DX module, which provides 51-points and allows for shooting with teleconverters even when the effective aperture drops to f/8. That’s excellent news for wildlife and action enthusiasts. You’ll be able to get some serious reach!
Exposure Bracketing: Better for HDR
The D7000 had a serious limitation with regards to exposure bracketing; it only permitted up to 3 frames. That’s tough for HDR Photography where you want to bracket more than ±2EV. The D7100 permits up to 5 frames of bracketing in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1, 2, and 3EV. That means you should be able to get an HDR sequence of ±6EV using 5 frames, 3EV apart. Of course, if the DR of this sensor is anything like Nikon’s other current lineup, you won’t need that kind of range most of the time!
Build and Other Features of Interest to Outdoor Photographers
The D7100 retains the relatively small form-factor found in the D7000. The D7100 is constructed using the same magnesium alloy as the D300s, and it has moisture/dust sealing. The shutter is rated to 150k cycles. The D7100 has 100% viewfinder coverage, and a larger 3.2″ diagonal LCD screen.
The D7100 does not have a dedicated AF-ON button. However, the AE-L/AF-L button should be configurable to use as AF-ON (as is the case with most Nikon DSLRs). The D7100 has a built-in flash that can be used to control iTTL speedlights. The camera syncs at 1/250s, and can use High-speed FP sync up to 1/8000s.
Most notably, the D7100 does not have a 10-pin terminal port. This means you’ll need to use a Nikon MC-DC2 remote cord.
The D7100 has dual SD-card slots. This is very useful for shooters who want either extra capacity, or to shoot RAW on one card and JPEG on the other.
The D7100 will accept an optional battery grip, the Nikon MB-D15. Using this grip gives you a vertical release and controls, as well as extra battery capacity. There is no mention of whether the grip boosts frame rate; my guess is that it does not.
The D7100 has a built-in virtual horizon feature, something I find quite useful in the field.
Frame Buffer: Ok, I had to dig around to find this, as it isn’t on Nikon USA’s website. It is, however in the specs at Nikon.com. The D7100 frame buffer is 6 lossless-compressed 14-bit NEFs, or 7 lossless compressed 12-bit NEFs. That’s really tough to swallow for a camera touted as being fast. I’m afraid that almost kills the D7100 as a birding camera for me.
As with all newer DSLRs, video is being touted as another important feature. The D7100 allows for native HD (1920x 1080) video recording at either 30fps or 60 interlaced fields per second. You can also use 1280×720 HD at 60 or 50 fps. There is a built-in microphone for video, and support for external microphones.
Despite my initial disappointment that there is still no “D400,” the Nikon D7100 seems to nail just about everything an enthusiast would want in a camera, at least on paper. With plenty of resolution, fast autofocus, and expanded bracketing for HDR shooters, the D7100 makes up for most of the weaknesses of the D7000 as compared to the D300s. In fact, the only real limitation of the D7100 as compared to the D300s is the slightly slower frame rate. Of course, even with the D300s, you still needed to use the battery grip to achieve 8fps, otherwise it shot at 6fps. Considering the D7100 is listed at under $1200 US, that’s an incredible value. I think that for all but the most extreme action shooters, the D7100 is going to be a fantastic Nikon DSLR and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking to photograph landscapes and wildlife without spending a small fortune. So while I’d still love an 8fps, 16-megapixel DX body for birding, the D7100 looks like it might be almost as good.