With higher ISOs, faster burst rates, and better resolution, this upgrade has something for everyone
If you’re serious about your photography, but just as serious about value, Nikon’s D7100 ($1,197, body only) has likely caught your eye. Its 24MP APS-C-sized CMOS sensor promises lots of resolution; dual card slots help you organize while shooting and afford plenty of storage; and the pop-up flash can wirelessly trigger off-camera units. Plus, the 6-frame-per-second burst is fast enough for sports, while the 51-point autofocus system can track subjects while you capture the action.
While the D7100 isn’t as much of a tank as the D300s, it’s no wimp. Its magnesium-alloy body should prove tough enough for most shooting conditions, and it has almost as much weather-sealing to ward off dust and moisture as Nikon’s pro bodies. Best of all is how well it fared out in the field and in the Popular Photography Test Lab.
In the Test Lab
Ample resolving power, adequate noise control, and accurate color reproduction earned the D7100 an Excellent rating in our tests from its lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 100 through ISO 1600. That’s one stop beyond the range of Canon’s 18MP EOS 60D ($899, body only) when we tested it in our February 2011 issue, but obviously that competitor is now ripe for replacement.
Barely outresolving Nikon’s D5200, the D7100 turned in 2820 lines per picture height at ISO 100, well past the 2500 line cutoff for an Excellent rating. In fact, not until ISO 6400 did the D7100 dip below that goal, at 2470 lines. At the top sensitivity of ISO 25,600 (Nikon calls it Hi2), resolution hit 2230 lines. At its best, the Canon 60D delivered 2600 lines and held most of it—2500 lines—at ISO 6400.
In our color accuracy test, the D7100 easily won top honors with an average Delta E of 7.0. The 60D, which scored 6.8, nearly tied it.
Noise? Superbly controlled at lower ISOs, with Extremely Low ratings at ISO 100, 200, and 400. It doesn’t rise to a Low rating until ISO 1600 and doesn’t reach Unacceptable until ISO 12,800. Not surprising, since Nikon’s DSLRs often cross our limit of acceptable noise precisely at the point the company labels sensitivity “Hi” instead of a numerical ISO.
Autofocus proved speedy, but not the fastest we’ve seen. It was a tad slower than the 60D at every light level in our lab test. (In our field testing, AF speed was never a problem.) But it offers a slight improvement over its predecessor, the D7000, focusing faster at EV 4, 2, 1, and 0. Plus, it managed to reliably achieve focus at EV –2, albeit with more variation in speed than we’d like to see; the D7000 couldn’t reliably focus in such dim light.
Overall, the D7100 performed as expected. It offers a two-stop improvement over the D7000 in usable sensitivity, and more than 400 lines more resolving power.
In the Field
As usual for Nikon, the D7100 has a nicely sculpted grip that feels very comfortable in the hand. Ample dedicated function buttons mean no digging through menus to change the most important shooting settings—in many cases, you won’t need to take your eye away from the viewfinder.
You’ll need both hands to operate the D7100 efficiently in some instances. For example, the AF/MF switch, on the front left of the body, has an embedded button that lets you switch other parameters, such as the AF mode and the number of active focus points, using the two command wheels on the right side of the body. Once you’re used to using both hands, it’s a fast way to prep for your next shot.
Similarly, pressing the ISO button on the left of the 3.2-inch 1,228,800-dot LCD lets you use the command wheels to change the ISO setting or choose between auto and manual ISO. This can be awkward: Your thumb goes between your face and the camera. Sure, space is tight on a DSLR, but the ISO button might be better placed elsewhere—Canon puts it near the shutter button on many of its DSLRs.