Nikon D7100 Review: Fantastic Flagship
by Chris Gampat -  4/4/2013

Nikon's D7100 has been named as the new flagship DSLR of the APS-C lineup. The camera, in a way, then is the successor to both the D300s and the D7000. Indeed, Nikon's D7000 was tough to keep in stock because everyone wanted it. With the high ISO abilities, marksman type autofocus, and excellent build quality consumers flocked to it for the great camera that it was for the price.

Nikon D7100

The D7100 is in many ways Nikon's way of showing that APS-C DSLRs still have a place in the world despite how much the ILC market has grown. The camera boasts  24.1MP sensor, 51 point autofocus system, that can autofocus down to f8, 7fps shooting, a 3.2 inch 1,229K dot LCD, ISO 100-6400 natively, dual SD card storage, and weather sealing.

Being the flagship camera of the DX format series, this camera isn't meant for the newbie photog. It is laden with buttons and dials all over that native Nikonians will find pleasing. The company has had years of experience creating award winning DSLRs. When it comes to the APS-C format, it started with the D300--which won the hearts of many photojournalists due to to super clean high ISO settings. That was the year a magazine declared that ISO 1600 is the new 400; effectively meaning that we can now shoot at higher ISO settings without any fear. Today, we're far beyond those days--and it's quite amazing to see what APS-C sized sensors are capable of doing.

But does that mean that the D7100 is another hit for Nikon?

When you pick the Nikon D7100 up, you know that it is a Nikon DSLR that comes from a specific heritage. Every DSLR has their own make and feel, but what makes the D7100 feel so right at home is not only the size, but the overall build quality combined with the professional layout. My hands are relatively small in the big picture, but they're large for my size due to years of bass and guitar playing. This camera fits perfectly in my hands without my pinky hanging off the bottom the way it does with a D5200 and below. When you pick up this camera, you know it was designed for business but also know that it isn't as capable as something with a larger sensor.

Nikon D7100With all of this said and kept in mind, we also must emphasize just how light the camera really is. We've walked around tradeshow floors for years with DSLR cameras and felt the weight eventually start telling on us. But the D7100 with the 35mm f1.8 G and a flash attached felt nowhere as heavy as the messenger bags we tote around. In a way, it was quite a liberating feeling knowing that something this light is still able to have so much power. It surely puts some mirrorless cameras to shame in real life use and travel.

The Nikon D7100 measures in at 5.3 x 4.2 x 3" (135.5 x 106.5 x 76mm) and weighs 1.7 lbs (765g) with battery and memory card when the body cap is not attached. To take the most advantage of this camera's weight, we used small, light primes as well as the included zoom lens. Overall though, it was still a really featherweight option (or our muscles have turned Herculean over our years of schlepping around DSLRs.)

Ergonomics and Controls
If you're stepping up to the D7100, we really hope that you've had some sort of DSLR experience before or you are extremely committed to taming the beast. For those that have never used Nikon DSLRs before, this may also be a confusing camera to learn. However, with persistence you can wrap your head around it.

Let's start with the front: we already know that this camera is meant for those with big boy pants by the control layout. The front of the camera is characterized by the on/off switch around the shutter release, aperture control dial, depth of field previous button, custom function button, pop-up flash button, bracketing button, and the focusing selection switch. And of course, there is the lens release.

Nikon D7100

Look at the top and you'll find some relatively simplistic controls here. This is where users can see the info display LCD, exposure compensation button, metering button, video record button, hot shoe, shutter release and the mode dial. The dial has a button in the center that needs to be pressed in order to change the mode--and in real life practice this is quite nice. Around the dial is another dial for the drive mode.

This brings us to the back of the camera, where there are quite a bit more controls. First off the viewfinder--which is bright and beautiful. Near this is the diopter control. Below the viewfinder is the new 3.2 inch LCD screen which is surrounded by loads of buttons. But first we take you to the only dial on the top right side of the back of the camera. This dial will control the shutter speed in manual mode. The buttons control various other functions. On the right of the LCD is the focus point selection button which also has a lock around it. In the center of this button is another soft key that says, "OK." Below this is the Live View switch for photo or video. And below that: you'll find one of the info buttons.

Even more controls are around the left side of the LCD screen. Here is where you'll find the playback and trash buttons. Below this are the menu button, white balance/explanation/lock button, zoom in/quality switch button, zoom out/ISO button, and another info button.

Around the grip area of the camera is where the memory cards are stored. This camera can hold two SD cards and they can be set up to either have one serve as an overflow, mirrored, or have JPEGs go to one while RAWs go to the other.

The left of the camera is where Nikon decided to put loads and loads of ports. The microphone jack, USB jack, HDMI jack, headphone jack, and GPS dongle port are all situated here.

On the bottom is where you'll insert the battery and find the tripod socket. If you want to attach a grip to the camera, you'll need to remove the battery door.

Menus and Modes
If the user wants to use the Scene or Effects modes, they are encouraged to use the Live View mode first and then select them. Truthfully though, we're not sure why one would use them vs doing the work in post-production.

The D7100 has the standard menus of many Nikon DSLRs typical of the ASP-C range of cameras. Going into them and getting out is straightforward as they are both color coded and symbol coded.

Nikon D7100Spy with your little eye into the viewfinder of the D7100 and you'll be peering into a 100% viewfinder. That means that you won't be able to change the focusing screen to a matte if you want. But that's okay because Nikon's built-in rangefinder system is also really quite good. When going through the menu system you can select what you would like displayed in the viewfinder such as the rule of thirds settings, focusing points and more. Unfortunately, the focusing points don't stretch more towards the edges of the viewfinder--and they really should because this is an APS-C sized DSLR. That oversight might be forgivable if we were dealing with a full frame camera, but we are not.

By pressing in the focusing button located on the front of the camera and moving the exposure dials around, you can cycle through various focusing selection modes such as areas, single points, 3D tracking and more. When combined with the focusing selection button the on the back being unlocked, the D7100 turns into an extremely formidable camera.

Nikon's D7100 has a 3.2 inch LCD with 1,229K dots of resolution. Those dots go a long way when it comes to needing to pixel peep your images on the back of the LCD in order to make sure that you have absolute sharpness. They also come in handy when recording video.

The Nikon D7100 has nary a problem when it comes to pure performance numbers. The autofocus abilities in any lighting situation prove that Nikon's focusing system emphasizes sheer speed and accuracy. Though the focusing speed suffers a bit in low light, it is still very good for most DSLRs.

This camera has the option of coming with an 18-105mm kit lens or body only. Most people will go for the body only option as they'll probably be moving up from another DSLR and will use the glass they've already acquired. Unfortunately, the kit lens doesn't really have performance that makes us drool over our MacBook Pro Retina display laptop keyboards while analyzing measurements in Lightroom 4. This is quite telling as this sensor also does not have a Low Pass filter--which means that images should be sharper. It's only when Nikon's very good Nikkor primes are attached were we nodding our heads in approval. Additionally, Sigma's new 17-70mm f2.8-4 lens proved to compliment the D7100's sensor quite well. It was even better when we used a flash.

Overall image quality though was very top notch for a camera in this segment--and we once again have no complaints.

Shooting Performance
The D7100 focuses quite fast in most situations, but can be a bit sluggish in low light situations. If you want a speed boost, we recommend attaching a Nikon speedlight to the camera and using the infrared AF assist from the flash.

The D7100's pop-up flash can also act as a master to trigger other slave flashes via infrared command. That's really all that we recommend it for though.

This camera also has 3D tracking, which can be selected by pressing in the AF/MF button and scrolling through the control dials. With the right lenses, it's just as good as Nikon's higher end DSLRs.

Potential buyers will also be happy to know that the battery life performance is excellent and it can take a very long time to kill the camera's power source. While cold weather will really beat up a battery, we didn't find this to be a problem. We took the camera in 30 degree weather to a pier to shoot a timelapse and when we returned from our slightly insane testing, the battery was still over 80%.

Nikon D7100Lens Performance
For this test we used the Nikon 35mm f1.8 G, 50mm f1.8 G, 40mm f2.8 Macro G, Sigma's 17-70mm f2.8-f4 and the 18-105mm kit lens that comes with the camera. It should be stated straight off the bat that the kit lens isn't the best performing one out there and suffers from sharpness and fringing issues.

Other lenses that we tested all performed very admirably and took full advantage of what this sensor is capable of doing. We recommend purchasing this camera in the body only option and building your lens kit from there.

Video Qualiy
While video footage from the Nikon D7100 looks very good, there is one major problem that the company still needs to fix. At the time of writing this review, one cannot change the aperture of a lens that is electronically coupled while the camera is in video mode. It is an issue with other cameras as well from the company, and they state that they're working on a fix. If you really want to be serious about shooting video with this camera though, we recommend working with Rokinon or Zeiss cinema primes instead.

However, on a related note many users will be very happy to know that the company has incorporated Interval shooting into the camera--which is essentially timelapse recording. Though you can't stitch all the images together into a 4K movie of some sort, it is very nice to know that you don't need an external intervalometer.

Image Quality
Image quality from the Nikon D7100 is overall really quite excellent. The images look extremely digital and not film-like. From ISO 100-3200, we saw very excellent results in terms of detail capture thanks in part to the lack of a low pass filter.

To get the most out of this camera's sensor, we highly recommend that you spring for lenses other than the kit. Nikon's 50mm f1.8 G, 35mm f1.8 G, and 40mm f2.8 Macro are all great options for those on a budget. We've also been using Sigma's new 17-70mm f2.8-f4; which is the latest addition to their contemporary line of glass. It also performs quite well on this camera.

High ISO results between 3200 and 6400 kept noise down quite well, and due to the lack of the Low Pass filter, we also saw no loss of details.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D7100

There isn't much that we can say is wrong with the D7100 except for a couple of minor quibbles. But in the end, this may just be the best darned ASP-C DSLR that we've seen in a while. The fast fps shooting abilities will appeal to birding shooters, the dad photographing their kid's basketball game (and this is probably the perfect camera for it, and for the weekend landscaper. The sensor performance is top notch and that images yielded from the camera are super crisp due to the lack of a Low Pass filter.

As far as autofocusing performance goes, everyone will be happy with just how fast the D7100 can keep up with whatever subject matter you choose to photograph. Granted, it will suffer in low light, but it will still be overall quite good.

While we don't really recommend this camera for video capture, the quality overall can be very good but you'll want to use a cinema prime to take the most advantage of what's capable of this camera.

In the end, Canon, Sony and Pentax will have to create quite a killer camera to combat this new flagship from Nikon--and Nikon's large selection of lenses won't make it easier.

Pros and Cons