Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nikon D7100 Real World Review

This review is a bit overdue, but I wanted to wait awhile before I put up my real world review of Nikon’s newest flagship DX camera the D7100. Being that the D7100 was closely based on the D600 I was prepared to thoroughly dislike the camera. The D600 was kind of awkward to handle, the AF system was not pro-level despite having 39 AF points being a $2000 FX camera, the oil spot/crud issue, etc. Not to mention my D600 has been into the shop for repairs three times (but let’s not get into that).
I wanted to give the D7100 a fair workout. I spent a couple of weeks shooting around town doing some small jobs with it, but when I was asked to go on the road to play bass for a touring musician I figured I’d put the review off. The best way to really get to know a camera is to bring it on the road. Traveling with a camera affords you the opportunity to put it to use in a plethora of shooting situations.


As with the D600 the D7100 is a compact yet robust camera. It doesn’t have the satisfying heft of the D800, but it’s not engulfed in your hand like the D5200. The D7100 feels a little more solid due to the fact that the back plate of the camera has been upgraded to magnesium making the camera frame ¾ magnesium rather than ½ like the D7000/D600. Despite this there is no noticeable gain in weight.

One problem I had with the D600 was that a lot of the Nikon FX pro zooms dwarfed the camera, being a DX camera the D7100 can be used with the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G and it handles perfectly, especially with the MB-D15 grip. This makes the camera much easier to handle.

In short the D7100 pretty much follows Nikon’s typical design, which is nicely balanced and feels good in your hands.


Nikon camera controls are usually well placed and intuitive and the D7100 is no exception. Anyone upgrading from a D7000 or using it in addition to the D600 will have no problem. The D600 and the D7100 have pretty much the same layout with a few only a fewminor changes. The new i-button allows you to access the Info edit menu with a single press.

The D7100 also fixed an issue that people were having with the D600, which was the limitation of the OK button in playback to only access the retouch menu. Once again it’s programmable for 100% zoom and histograms (and more), this is a great thing. One of my biggest issue with the D600 was this OK button problem.

As usual the menu system is pretty much standard Nikon, easy to navigate, if you’ve used any Nikon DSLR since the D100.


The D7100 is equipped with the same 24MP Toshiba made CMOS sensor that first appeared in the D5200 with one major difference, the Optical Low-Pass Filter / Anti-Aliasing filter has been completely removed (as opposed to the dual filter design of the D800E). This allows the D7100 to capture finer detail, which is necessary because at 24MP when viewing at 100% you need all of the fine detail you can get. I didn’t notice any increased moiré in any of my images despite the fact I went out of my way to shoot subjects that would test this out.

finely detailed patterns like bird feathers are notorious for causing moiré in cameras without AA filters as you can see here there is little to no moiré in this 100% crop. Click to view full size.

I really liked the D5200 sensor. The images were excellent, and the D7100 is pretty much on par with that. The images this camera puts out especially with a lens stopped down about 2 stops are astonishingly detailed. This camera is great for landscapes because of the fine detail and the great dynamic range. A decent wide-angle like the Sigma 10-24 stopped down to about f/8 is going to get you extremely sharp and finely detailed images.

This brings me to a major issue with the D7100 sensor. Well, not an issue with the sensor itself, but with the lenses that need to be used with it. I’ve been using a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G for a long time with great success. The problem is that this lens is old. It was released a decade ago, which in digital terms is a lifetime. The lens simply cannot keep up with the D7100. I shoot wide open a lot and at f/2.8 this lens is soft. It’s not that the image is blurry, you can clearly see detail, but it’s veiled in a soft glowing haze with lots of CA and doesn’t improve until it stopped down. Nikon, if this is you flagship camera you need a flagship lens that is comparable. So, luckily Sigma has released the 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC OS HSM “C”. And guess what? It is sharp. It’s much smaller and lighter, better range, also does close-focusing, and has OS. Since the Nikon needs stopped down to f/4 to look good, the Sigma eclipses Nikon’s flagship lens that costs $1000 more in every way. Great job Sigma! (Sigma 17-70 review coming soon). So I sold the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G. I recommend you sell yours too before this news gets out, because Nikon must be upgrading this lens soon. Buy the Sigma, it’s worth every penny.

Anyway, I digress. The D7100 is a nice camera to shoot and has some new features that I really enjoy. The i button is a great addition to quickly access the Info edit menu and replaces the useless retouch menu button on the D600 (which also had the OK button call up the retouch menu, really who needs TWO buttons to get to a menu hardly anyone uses?). I also find the 1.3X DX crop to be a great feature. Not only does it speed up your frame rate to 7fps it gives you an equivalent 2X (1.95X actually) crop factor. This is great for sports and wildlife shooters. It turns my 300mm f/4 into almost a 600mm f/4 with no teleconverter to lose resolution and no loss of light. Coupled with a 2X teleconverter you get an astounding 1200mm f/8, and guess what? The D7100 new AF system center point can focus down to f/8. Of course using the 1.3X DX crop you lose some MP’s, but 15MP is more than enough for most any applications. And with the new Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 coming out, you can get a 240-600mm f/2.8 equivalent lens in a manageable size without spending a million bucks!

The AF-system of the D7100 is far and away better than the D600. While the D600 focus points are all jammed into a tiny spot in the center the D7100 has a great spread covering most of the frame allowing you freedom to compose as you want while the D600 required you to either compose loosely and crop later of focus and recompose which can lead to focus errors especially when using fast wide-angle lenses. When switched to 1.3X DX crop you get almost 100X frame coverage with your focus points. Once again, great for sports and wildlife shooters as well as portrait photographers.

At high ISO’s I find the D7100 quite capable for most situations. The noise is well under control at 3200 and the grain looks pleasant enough. If you shoot mostly low light this may not be the best option, but it is quite good for the occasional foray into darkness.

The D7100 is about as prefect a camera you’re going to find for under $2000. It’s definitely a step above the D600 in my eyes although the D600 has the edge in low-light performance. I’d say that the D7100 could replace the D600 if only there were a 10-24mm f/2.8 lens that performed as well as the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G.

So, the D7100 is a keeper for me. It’s one of the best cameras Nikon has released in awhile. It’s aces compared to the dog of a D600. I can’t wait to get the new Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 on this thing.

If you’re looking for a new camera I highly recommend the D7100. Even if you’re considering FX take a look at this camera and give it a test drive. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I sure was.

Here are some photos taken with the D7100 and a variety of lenses:
Hopdoddy hamburger in Austin TX, taken with the amazing Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM "A"
ISO 100, 1/125 @ f/1.4

Downtown Texarkana AR taken with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
ISO 3200, 1/8 @ f/2.8

Somewhere in Louisiana taken with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
ISO 100, 1/200 @ f/11

Black's BBQ in Lockhart, TX taken with a Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC OS HSM "C"
(handheld) ISO 1000, 1/13 @ f/2.8

Stairway in Lockhart, TX taken with a Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC OS HSM "C"
 ISO 125, 1/125 @ f/9

Downtown Gilmer, TX,  taken with a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
ISO 640, 1/100 @ f/7.1

Tulip along Front St. in Natchitoches, LA,  taken with a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
ISO 180, 1/200 @ f/2.8 
Cypress tree at Caddo Lake, LA,  taken with a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
ISO 125, 1/500 @ f/8
Shure SM-55 taken with a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM
ISO 100, 1/250 @ f/1.4

Poppies in south Austin, TX taken with a Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC OS HSM "C"
 ISO 140, 1/1000 @ f/4


Anonymous said...

Thanks, nice review! I'm trying to decide whether to replace my D7000 and am having quite a difficult time making up my mind. I'm leaning towards replacement because of the 1.3x extra crop mode and the increased number of af points, all of which would help me to get better bird shots. But I have to admit being torn between replacing now, and getting an imediate benefit, or waiting awhile to see if Nikon introduces a replacement for the D300 series cameras, something with all the features of the 7100, but maybe a higher frame rate and a bigger buffer. Any thoughts?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

This IS the D300 replacement. There will be no DX D400 sadly.

6fps is pretty good (7fps in crop), and the buffer hasn't given me any problems at all when using a fast card (I can't say the same for the D600).

It's definitely a worthy upgrade to the D7000. The AF-system is much better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the useful review and suggestion about Sigma 17-70 | C. Is this Sigma good fit for D5200 or is it too heavy for that body?

Did you get a chance to test D7100 with longer zooms like 18-200 or 70-300?

Considering both these lenses are older, do you think they will perform well on this 24MP camera (or D5200)? Or, will they not keep up with the new gen cameras?

Thanks again.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

The Sigma is perfect for the D5200. It's avery lightweight lens.

I did shoot with the 18-200 VRII for about a day. I never really thought that lens was top-notch.

You have to stop down the lens to at least f/8-11 to get really sharp images with that lens. If you shoot daylight stopped down it's an OK lens.

I used an 80-200 f/2.8D AF-S which was OK when stopped down to f/4. The 200-400mm f/4 was perfect and so was the 300mm f/4 both wide open.

Anonymous said...

I just got a D7100 with 18-200 VR II kit lens. Today I went for a walk around univeristy campus and took some pictures. I liked most but not some. I liked the colors in all photos but the green was too green. Or, it seems so given that I have been using an XTi for 6 years and the difference is significant.

As for sharpness, you may be right about stopping down to F/8. When using Landscape or other scene modes, the camera stops down to F/8 or below. If I leave it in Auto ISO, it goes to 200. I put it on ISO 100 and that forced the camera to stop down to F/9, F/10 and F/11.

I am ordering the 35mm F/1.8 DX. I need a good 24mm prime but Nikon F/1.4 is way too expensive.

I am debating with myself whether to return 18-200 and get Sigma 17-70 + Nikon 70-300 VR. I would then get good IQ in 17-70mm range that I use most. I read that the 70-300 performs well between 70-200. the extra 100mm will just be a bonus.

I also debated whether to return D7100 and get D5200 for same IQ. However, I like the feel, dual-card, AF and Wi-Fi of the D7100.


J. Dennis Thomas said...

All-in-one zooms are nice and convenient for snapshots, but the convenience of having a wide range comes at the cost of losing image quality.

What I would do if I were in your spot would be get the Sigma 17-70 first. If you need a little more reach stick it in 1.3X crop mode and get 140mm equiv.

Instead of the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and a 24mm get the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 it's an amazing lens. It's right in between those two focal lengths and should be perfect. The only other option for a 24mm prime lens is the old Sigma 24mm f/1.8, which is pretty awful.

If you don't need a telephoto lens right away I'd save up and buy a good one. The 70-300 is OK, but if you can afford it there are way better options. The Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 or the Nikon 70-200 f/4 are very good (about $1200) or you can buy an older non-VR lens. the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8D is VERY good and you can get it new for about $1000 or used for about $600 or less. They also make an 80-200 f/2.8D AF-S that is very good, but big and heavy. I have one and I love it. I also have a Nikon 300mm f/4 prime that was only about $400 and is VERY sharp, but also very long on the D7100 (with 1.3X crop you can get 600mm f/4).

There are so many options, but ultimately, the Sigma 17-70 f2.8-4 C and the 30mm f/1.4 A are my top recommendations and I'd save up for a good fast telephoto.

Unknown said...

Hi J. Dennis, great blog.

I've been researching about entering the DSLR world. My budget is not enough to go full frame, I was about to buy the D5200, but you've almost convinced about going for the DX flagship, the D7100. It's about $300 more expensive, but that's more or less what I would spend in a lens, so maybe instead of buying three lenses, I would just buy two and save for buying the third one later.

Anyways, I just have one doubt:I have seen the (rumored) specs of the Canon 70D, it seems it would be on the same price range of the D7100. I know you are all things Nikon, but since I will just begin buying gear, do you think it's worth the wait for the 70D?

Another camera which caught my eye was the Pentax k5 II. You know, if that camera were branded Canon or Nikon, I would buy it without hesitation. It seemingly has great IQ, in body IS, bigger sensor, best light sensitivity, and it's $400 cheaper than the D7100!
But I've reluctant to buy not Nikon / Canon, I'm right or maybe marketing brainwashed me?

Thanks a lot, do you a great job helping people here and in the Flickr group.


Romeo Cabrera.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Thanks Romeo,

The D7100 is worth every penny over the D5200 if you're going to be investing in a camera for the long run.

The thing about rumors is that they may or may not be true. The 6D was supposed to be a great camera but fell WAY short of the D600, which was not a great camera itself.

I don't recommend waiting for the "next best thing" because there will always be something else on the horizon. I haven't done much research on the new Canon, but from my use with the D7100 I know that it is one of the most perfect cameras I've ever used.

I also don't know much about the Pentax camera except that the AF system is about the same as the one that came out with the Nikon D2X. 10 years ago. The D7100 has a current pro-AF system. Also, and this may not mean anything, but I've NEVER met anyone that uses a Pentax (well not a digital one, I have 3 or 4 film cameras). Pentax does have built-in IS if that matters to you (it's not as good as Canon/Nikon's lens IS/VR though.

I don't get paid to recommend Nikon cameras, and if I thought there was another camera that was as good as the D7100 I'd recommend it. But the D7100 is just about as perfect as a camera as I've seen.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your honest answer, you have been very helpful. I have been reading, researching for three weeks now and felt a bit confused. Things are a bit clearer now!

Romeo C.

Alonzo said...

This is cool!

Jane said...

I plan to use my new D7100 during kayaking trips for nature photography.

I will appreciate your suggestions:
*what lens will be the most versatile for estuary paddle trips?
*is there a way to protect the camera in wet conditions i.e. rain or fall into river?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Hi Jane!

I too am a kayaker! I do not however bring my DSLR with me anymore after a fateful loss of my old D70. DSLR's do NOT float! I wouldn't even think of bringing my D7100 on the kayak.

Honestly, I recommend getting one of those waterproof/freeze-proof/impact resistant compact cameras. Like the Nikon AW-100 or the Fuji XP-60. They are much easier to use than a DSLR and they are made for that environment. In good light the IQ is quite impressive.

That being said, I don't know how rich you are, but for only $1500 you can get an underwater housing for your D7100. THAT would be the only way I'd ever take my D7100 out on the kayak with me.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Ikelite Underwater Housing for Nikon D7100

Jane said...

Looks like there's no magic bullet here... And nope...I'm not a rich person... So my Canon SX40 will remain my kayak companion for now. It's main problem is speed and focus, so some photo moments get lost.

Thank you for the other camera suggestions, I'll look into those as well.

I like your blog and will continue to read as more folks talk about their D7100 experiences ( me included).

J. Dennis Thomas said...

The cool thing about a waterproof camera like the AW-100 is that you can take pictures at angles that you can't get from other cameras, like underwater!

dimzPhoto said...

omg, amazing picture shrap
Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

Anonymous said...

I have a D90 with a 18-200 mm Nikon zoom. I am thinking about upgrading to the D7100 with the 18-105 Zoom. The camera store says I can take it back if I dont like it but I hate to do that. Do you think that there will be a significant improvement in quality as this will cost about $1000 and I dont want to be looking and wondering, "Where"s the difference?"

J. Dennis Thomas said...

There's a definite improvement over the D90 in both handling and image quality.

And if you don't like it, take it back. You're the consumer. Its your right.

I think you'll like the D7100 much better than the D90.

Kristina said...

Thanks SO much for all this great info! I'm looking to upgrade my D90 and have been going back and forth between the 7100 and the 610. I love taking pics, though I need improvement on technicalities. Mainly I shoot landscapes/vacation pics. I'd like to get good enough to provide small packages of senior pictures to area low income high school kids. After reading everything here, I'm really leaning toward the 7100. Again, thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Roman N said...

So, what about the d7100 and the newer d610 comparison?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

@ Roman N: What about it? The D610 is the same exact camera with new mirror box. .5fps increase. Everything else is the same.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I upgraded from a D5100 a couple of weeks ago to the D7100. I was blown away by the quality and the sharpness. It is a bit confusing learning all the button layouts as I knew the 5100 like the back of my hand but am getting there. Attached to the Sigma 18-250 3.5 macro it is a wonderful camera, and with the 70-200 2.8 VR1 it is amazing when stopped down.
Regards, Bren