Nikon’s D7100 has some big shoes to fill. We’ve been using a Nikon D7000 since its launch in December 2010, and even now it’s one of our go-to camera recommendations. The D7100 is an evolutionary upgrade of our long-standing favourite, but it’s a big evolution — a brand new sensor and LCD screen, a new autofocus and exposure sensor module, a re-jigged control system and support for a bunch of new features.
We tested the Nikon D7100 with the kit 18-105mm F3.5-5.6VR lens that it can be bought in a bundle with, although it can also be purchased body-only.
Nikon D7100: Design, construction and control layout
The D7100, at a glance, is identical to the D7000 it’s replacing. Upon closer inspection, there are a few enhancements to the control layout that make the camera easier to operate and more versatile for power users. The biggest difference is a locking switch for the camera’s mode dial on the top left — useful, since stashing the older model in a bag or backpack often led to the dial getting knocked out of place and ruining the occasional rushed photo.
There’s also a dedicated movie recording button near the combination power switch and shutter button, with the exposure mode button moved slightly to accommodate it. There’s a depth-of-field preview button near the DX-crop Nikon F lens mount on the front. There’s a new layout for the rubber connector covers on the camera’s left flank, to make it possible to plug in new accessories like the WU-1a Wi-Fi dongle.
The rear panel of the camera has undergone a minor face-lift too: the combo live-view/movie record switch has been replaced with the AF selector lock and a five-way navigation pad, while there’s now a dual-mode photo and video live-view dedicated button/switch. A fifth button has been added to the camera’s left-hand column, giving easy access to shooting and playback info, while the zoom buttons (for checking focus on your captured photos) have been swapped.
All of these refinements are smart moves, and while it may take a while for existing owners to adapt the overall control scheme is even more user-friendly than Nikon’s past professional and semi-professional cameras. If you want to focus more on taking photos than fiddling with settings, the D7100’s ergonomics make adjustments during shooting simple rather than difficult.
For a more in-depth look at the basics of the D7100’s construction, we’ll point you to our original D7000 review. The D7100 has excellent, professional-grade weather-sealing, although you’ll need an appropriately pro-spec lens to complete the package. Beyond the controls, most enticing about the new camera is its high-resolution, 3.2-inch WRGB rear display — larger and clearer — and top-mounted stereo microphone. The D7100’s feature-set is comprehensive, and unless you’re shooting professionally we don’t think there’s anything significant missing.
Nikon D7100: Image quality, ISO performance and shooting speed
The Nikon D7100 is built around the company’s current DX-size 24-megapixel imaging sensor, producing JPEG and RAW images at a maximum resolution of 6000x4000 pixels, without an optical low-pass filter — the removal of which allows for a higher amount of detail visible with an appropriately sharp lens.
In practice the D7100’s sensor and image processing engine do a very good job, capturing fine image detail in swathes at lower ISO sensitivity settings, and retaining that detail even as higher ISO settings introduce (an impressively small amount of) chrominance and luminance image noise into photos. Images up to ISO 3200 are consistently clean and sharp and detailed, with ISO 6400 beginning to look degraded and show visible incidence of image noise. The camera’s maximum boost of ISO 25,600 doesn’t look great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good to have in a pinch if you’re hunting Bigfoot.
Beyond that, there’s a great Auto ISO mode that dynamically changes the minimum shutter speed before ramping up ISO, depending on the focal length of the lens you’re using — and it even changes as you crop in closer with a telephoto zoom. The previous Auto ISO mode’s shutter speed limit was already a smart feature, but this improvement should be a boon for less settings-savvy users.
Image quality from the Nikon D7100 is consistently good whether you’re shooting in RAW or JPEG mode, with images that look detailed, not over-processed, with good colour and a wide (but sane) range of picture processing modes. Of special note is the camera’s automatic white balance setting — we think it’s a significant and genuine improvement from the mediocre one in the D7000, with the D7100 able to do an excellent job of evaluating the light in any given scene and finding the right balance between conflicting light sources. There wasn’t an image we captured with the D7100 that we thought looked unnatural.
Also worth considerable praise is the D7100's autofocus. Lifted straight out of the professional-grade D4, the D7100 is able to focus accurately and consistently in a wide range of lighting, operating even down to -2EV, a level of light where few other cameras within its class are able to operate. From the sometimes-frustratingly-mediocre performance of its predecessor, this is a huge improvement.
The D7100 can fire at up to six frames per second in its continuous shooting mode at high speed, although there’s a user-configurable low-speed mode as well. The only problem is that with 24-megapixel images, the camera’s internal memory buffer can’t keep up with capturing RAW image files at that high speed, only letting you shoot a single second (of 6 images) before filling up and halving the continuous shooting speed.
Where we can’t praise the D7100 is in its video modes. Like the camera before it, the D7100 is hobbled (although less so than the D7000, we admit) — when you’re in live view video mode, it is impossible to change the aperture setting on the fly, severely limiting your options when you’re trying to shoot a video. Similarly, live-view autofocus is much slower than on a comparably spec’d mirrorless camera from Sony, Samsung, Olympus or Panasonic. The D7100 can capture video at 1080p30 and 720p60, with all the video quality you’d expect to see from a digital SLR — it’s just that usability is a bit hampered.
Nikon D7100: Conclusion
The Nikon D7100 is an excellent camera for the photographer who is capable beyond the limited control sets of an entry-level camera. It’s got an excellent image sensor, a refined set of controls that are supremely versatile, and great autofocus. If video is not one of your key concerns in buying a camera, the D7100 has our strongest recommendation.