A 24.1-million-pixel, APS-C sensor with no anti-aliasing filter should ensure large and sharp images from Nikon's new enthusiast-level DSLR, but there's a lot more to the D7100 than that. Read the Nikon D7100 review...
Nikon D7100 at a glance:
- 24.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor without low-pass filter
- 51-point AF system, with points sensitive to f/8
- 6fps continuous shooting
- Magnesium-alloy chassis and weather-sealed body
- No anti-aliasing filter
- ISO 100-6400 (extended to ISO 100-25,600)
- Expeed 3 processor
- 1.3x crop mode
- Optical viewfinder with 100% field of view
- 3.2in, 1.229-millon-dot rear LCD
- Street price £1,099 body only or £1,299 with 18-105mm lens
- See our test images of the Nikon D7100
- See the Nikon D7100 from more angles in our product shot gallery
Nikon D7100 review – Overview
The Nikon D7100 is described by Nikon as its best DX-format DSLR to date. With its APS-C-sized sensor, the camera sits in the company’s consumer-level DSLR range, above the D7000 (priced at around £400 less), while the other weather-sealed DX-format D300S is now in limited supply.
Nikon D7100 sensor
A 24.1-million-pixel sensor chip is now used in most of Nikon’s latest DX-format (APS-C) DSLRs, including the lower-end D3200 and D5200.
While the D7100 has the same resolution, there is a key difference to its sensor: the anti-aliasing filter, also known as the low-pass filter, has been removed. The only other Nikon DSLR with a similar set-up is the D800E, whose sensor still has the filter fitted but its anti-aliasing effect is cancelled out.
The removal of this filter is fast becoming a trend in new cameras, and it has already been seen in various camera models from different manufacturers – the Pentax K-5 IIs, for instance – so expect to hear a lot more about it in the future.
A key function of the anti-aliasing filter is to reduce moiré patterning in sensors designed with the Bayer pattern array.
The filter achieves this by slightly blurring the image before it reaches the sensor. Its removal therefore results in sharper images and greater detail resolution than the sensor’s pixel count might suggest – but at the risk of increased moiré.
However, Nikon states that the high pixel density of its 24.1-million pixel, APS-C-format sensor reduces this risk and so the filter is not needed.
While the risk of moiré patterning is not removed completely, the number of situations in which it will appear are likely to be fewer, and for those images that do suffer the effect can be removed post-capture using supplied software.
The fact that the Nikon D7100 has both a class-leading resolution and no anti-aliasing filter is a tantalising prospect.
With similar build quality to Nikon’s full-frame D600 and images that are likely to be just as sharp, the Nikon D7100 could prove a suitable alternative to full frame.
This is, of course, good news for those who already own a Nikon APS-C-format DSLR, because the same DX lenses can be used on the new camera.
Full-frame users looking for a second body will also benefit from the Nikon D7100’s 1.5x magnification factor for FX lenses, enabling them to get in closer to their subject.
Nikon D7100 review – Features
While the Nikon D7000 is not being replaced by the Nikon D7100, it is the most similar camera from which to draw comparisons. The D7000’s 16.3-million-pixel sensor with anti-aliasing filter has been surpassed in the Nikon D7100 by a more densely populated 24.1-million-pixel sensor with no filter.
Nikon D7100 output
The Nikon D7100 outputs files at 6000×4000 pixels, from which 20×13.3in prints can be made at 300ppi print resolution. An even larger 25×16.6in print can be made using a perfectly acceptable 240ppi – so the D7100 prints big!
With this new camera, Nikon has for the first time included a crop format in one of its APS-C models, thanks no doubt to the high pixel count that maintains a respectable 4800×3200-pixel output (15.4 million pixels) in this mode.
Nikon D7100 magnification
Its 1.3x magnification provides further reach for existing lenses – for example, an 18-200mm DX lens (27-300mm, 35mm equivalent) will effectively become a 36-400mm (35mm equivalent) lens. Furthermore, when in crop mode, the continuous high-speed burst rate is upped to 7fps and the 51-point AF array virtually fills the entire frame – but more on this later.
Nikon D7100 image processing
Images are processed using the Expeed 3 processor, as found in Nikon’s D4 professional-level DSLR and 1-series compact system cameras.
Nikon D7100 burst rate
The standard high-speed burst rate of 6fps is possible for up to five full-resolution raw files or 20 JPEG files, using a high-speed UHS-I Class 10 SD memory card.
The length of burst will vary for cards of different speeds. In the lower-resolution 1.3x crop mode, a 30-frame JPEG burst is possible. All in all, this is rather modest. However, reduce the JPEG image size to medium (4496×3000 pixels) and a 100-frame burst can be captured.
Nikon D7100 shooting modes
Consumer-friendly scene modes and effects are available. I found the low-key and high-key modes fun to experiment with, but had less enthusiasm to delve into the 16 scene modes, which includes modes such as pet portrait and blossom. I suspect the target users of the Nikon D7100 are less likely to use these modes.
Other shooting modes include multiple exposure for up to three shots with the option for auto gain, and interval-timer shooting with control over start time, interval time and the number of shots, up to 999 frames.
Nikon D7100 accessories
There are plenty of accessories that can be used with the Nikon D7100, including the Wu-1a wireless mobile adapter (£45) and the GP-1 GPS unit (£200).
Of course, it would be great if these functions were built into the camera and didn’t have to be bought as separate units, or packed separately in the kit bag for each day out.
Further accessories include a new MB-D15 multi-power battery pack (£279.99) designed specifically for the Nikon D7100 (the grip for the D7000 is not compatible), an external microphone and a new, pricey WR-1 wireless remote controller (£649.99) that offers comprehensive control over the camera settings.
Image: Taken at ISO 800, detail in the raw file is slightly sharper than in the JPEG file
Nikon D7100 review – Filter-free imaging sensor
While Nikon’s D5200 and D3200 also use a 24.1-million-pixel sensor, the absence of an anti-aliasing filter in the D7100 should mean that images from this camera will be sharper. I was intrigued to see just how much of a difference the removal of the filter makes, so I have recorded the same scene using the D7100 and D3200 to find out. Each camera is set to the same exposure settings and uses the same 17-55mm f/2.8 DX lens.
When the two like-for-like images are viewed at 100%, there is a difference in fine detail. The D7100 is able to reproduce that little bit extra, with edges showing greater contrast and clarity. Display the images at 50% size and it is more difficult to tell them apart. So, those who are looking to use a camera to its full potential, such as landscape photographers making prints of A2 or larger, are better served by the D7100. However, for anyone who rarely views prints larger than A3 and who shoots general day-to-day images, the D7100’s extra resolving power probably won’t be required.
Image: Detail is so sharp in images from the D7100 that it is largely unnecessary to apply sharpening post-capture, unlike those from the D3200
Nikon D7100 review – Build and handling
Like the D7000, the D7100 is smaller and lighter than Nikon’s full-frame cameras, but it has a larger body than all other current APS-C-format models, apart from the D300S. However, a DSLR at this level, especially one with a high-resolution sensor, needs to be robust, because the user will probably a heavy lens to get the best out of it. Large lenses can throw a small, light camera out of balance, but at 675g (body only) the D7100 is perfectly suited to a lens such as the 17-55mm f/2.8 G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor.
The top and rear sections of the camera are made from magnesium alloy, while the front plate is polycarbonate. Nikon claims that the D7100 is weather-sealed to the same standard as the D800, so it should weather a storm. The new MB-D15 battery grip is also weather-sealed to the same standard. Indeed, during an afternoon out in freezing conditions around a rain-battered lake, the camera’s weather-sealing passed the test just fine, with no moisture build up inside.
A dense rubber grip provides a firm hold, while the shutter release is beautifully flush with the body, making it difficult to press accidentally. The rear of the body also has a good curve that fits the hand well.
On the whole, there is little new to speak of concerning the D7100’s body, as it is very similar to the D7000 and D600. It is packed with buttons, which is likely to intimidate a first-time DSLR buyer or anyone stepping up from an entry-level model. It is also easy to miss some controls, such as the function button underneath the lens. Of course, this all means that there are lots of direct controls on the exterior, as well as plenty of scope for customising the camera.
The shooting-mode dial is dual layered, with drive modes on the lower dial. Each dial has a lock to prevent accidental turning, but I find the dials a little fiddly to operate single-handed. On the side of the camera are a number of ports under three separate rubber doors. In the past, all the ports have been under one door, which means that all of them are exposed to the elements when just one is in use. The separate doors on the D7100 are therefore very welcome.
For anyone who likes working on images while on the go, there are plenty of in-camera editing options via the retouch menu. Adjustments to exposure, colour filters, cropping and the horizon level are just a few of the useful controls available.
Nikon D7100 review – LCD, viewfinder and video
Enthusiast photographers are likely to use the optical viewfinder most frequently to compose images. In the D7100, the viewfinder displays 100% of the frame, so one can be sure of what is going to appear in the final image. It also features an impressive 0.94x magnification, which means the display is not only bright, but also large for clear viewing. The only real difference between the D7100 and the D7000 is that the digital overlay providing shooting information is brighter and clearer. In short, the viewfinder is excellent.
Naturally, the D7100 also has a rear LCD, with a wonderfully large, 3.2in fixed display. Unlike the screen on the D800, which is also a 3.2in unit, the display on the D7100 uses a white pixel for every red, green and blue pixel, which increases its resolution to 1.229 million dots. White pixels are also used in Sony’s WhiteMagic rear-screen displays, and the improvement to the screen’s contrast is notable. An articulated screen would be useful in certain shooting situations, such as for tricky ground levels or overhead angles, but currently the D5100 and D5200 are the only models in Nikon’s line-up to have such a screen.
A switch on the camera’s rear activates live view so that scenes can be composed using the rear screen. Live view is particularly useful for manual focusing, because focus magnification can be employed for closer viewing to ensure the subject is pin-sharp. The mirror can also be locked up when in live view, and when combined with the self-timer mode it can provide the most stable set-up for still capture without the use of a cable release. When using the viewfinder, one must choose between self-timer and mirror-lock drive modes.
On the top-plate is a button for recording movie files. The camera offers full HD 1080p at 30fps, 25fps and 24fps. In the 1.3x crop mode, the frame rate can be upped to 60fps, and one can benefit from the 1.3x focal length multiplier as in stills capture. There is a port on the camera’s side for an external microphone, and audio levels can be monitored in-camera.
Nikon D7100 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm, f/2.8 macro set at f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
I was particularly keen to see how well the D7100 performs with our resolution charts. The raw images have been converted to TIFF files in Nikon’s View NX2 software, and then further processed in Adobe Camera Raw. At ISO 100 and 200, the camera is able to resolve all the way to the end of our resolution charts, which is a staggering performance and a first for an APS-C-format camera.
A little moiré patterning can be seen further down the charts, but all the lines are distinguishable right up until the end. There is a sharp tail-off at ISO 400, down to the 30 marker, which is more in line with what we would expect of a camera at this level.
There are still signs of detail further up the charts at this setting, but it is at the 30 marker that moiré patterning in particular disrupts the clear distinction between the lines.
Detail in JPEG files from the D7100 can only match the raw files up to the 30 marker at ISO 100. It is clear that for the crispest possible detail, shooting in raw format at ISO 100 or 200 is essential.
With 24.1 million pixels, the D7100’s sensor is more crowded than the 16-million-pixel units in the D7000, Pentax K-5 IIs or Fujifilm X-Pro1. It therefore comes as little surprise that the D7100 suffers more from noise – luminance noise is present in all sensitivities and can be seen when viewing an image at 100%.
There is a notable increase in luminance noise at ISO 800 in dull conditions, but its appearance is uniform so images are still relatively clean. At the extended ISO 12,800 and 25,600 settings, luminance noise is prominent, as are chroma noise and banding. As such, I would recommend sticking to the native ISO range.
At the enthusiast DSLR level, the camera is unparalleled for work in good light, but there are other, lower-resolution cameras available, such as the Nikon D5200 and Sony Alpha 77, that offer better control of noise for low-light work.
As always, it should be remembered that higher-resolution cameras give greater scope for scaling an image down to create what appears to be crisper images.
Image: At ISO 3200, detail in the D7100 is rather mushy because luminance noise is prominent and non-uniform. There are other cameras, such as the Fujifilm X-Pro1, that provide crisper detail
Nikon D7100 review – Metering
Like the D7000, the metering system in the D7100 makes use of a 2016-pixel RGB metering sensor. Information is taken by scene recognition, but it is difficult to see this. Exposures using evaluative metering are often too bright, showing no clear indication that the metering changes according to different shooting situations.
Certainly, when using evaluative metering for a scene that contains only small highlight areas, it is well worth dialling in around -0.7EV compensation to prevent the loss of this highlight detail. If time permits, a more accurate spot reading can be taken from the selected AF point, covering approximately 2.5% of the frame.
Nikon D7100 review – White balance and colour
Image: Auto white balance has a magenta colour cast, because it has compensated for the dominant green tones in this scene. Using the cloudy white balance preset produces a warm tone
As I have come to expect from a Nikon DSLR, the colour rendition using the standard colour mode is natural rather than punchy and dynamic. Of course, the vivid colour setting can be employed for anyone wanting these tones. Monochrome shooters will be pleased with the filter effects available, suited as they are for scenes such as dramatic landscapes (red filter) or portraits with great tonal depth (green filter). Colour filter effects, such as skylight, red intensifier or warm filter, can be applied to images post-capture.
As seen in the D7000, there are two AWB modes: the standard one that works to neutralise any colour cast; and one that preserves the colour of warm lighting. The latter is ideal for capturing warmth in a scene, and is particularly useful for sunsets or under tungsten light. The standard AWB mode can, like any other, record unwanted colour casts when a dominant colour tricks its metering to compensate for the tone – a green landscape can, for example, take on a magenta cast.
Taking a custom white balance reading has unfortunately always been a little tricky with a Nikon DSLR. For the most part the same can be said for the D7100, apart from the new spot white balance feature in live view. This is much more intuitive and speedy than the usual Nikon method.
Nikon D7100 review – Dynamic range
Image: HDR mode adds welcome punch to colours and tones, but a tripod is necessary. This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1/125sec and initially appears sharp, but when reviewed at 100% details is slightly soft
Given the history of Nikon’s recent DSLRs, I expect the D7100‘s dynamic range to be in the region of 14EV in studio tests, which is very good. In real-world images, there is that little extra detail in an overcast sky, where otherwise there would be a white mass in an image from a camera with a lesser dynamic range.
Active D-Lighting adjusts the levels to brighten and darken shadow and highlight areas respectively. This processing makes detail in these areas more obvious straight out of the camera. On the whole, the auto setting works well, providing a subtle and welcome lift to the tones in a scene.
The highest setting brightens shadow areas too much for my liking, and can result in a flat-looking image with HDR-like tones. Active D-Lighting can be turned off altogether, but leaving it in its auto mode is fine.
There is a dedicated HDR mode available in JPEG capture only, which is a genuinely useful tool where the ambient light is dull. It gives the scene a pleasant lift to the colour saturation and tonal detail in particular.
Nikon states that two exposures are captured at the same time, but looking at the results when using this setting I would strongly recommend the use of a tripod, because there is a blurred edge where detail would otherwise have been crisp. Needing a tripod limits the mode’s effectiveness for day-to-day shooting, where one would not want to lug a tripod around.
Nikon D7100 review – Autofocus
Like Nikon’s professional-level D800 and D4, the D7100 uses a 51-point AF system, which means it is a capable performer when shooting high-speed action. Fifteen of the central AF points are the more sensitive cross-type. In fact, in the 1.3x crop mode, all 51 points cover virtually the entire frame. Nikon claims that some of the AF points are sensitive down to f/8, which means they are just as responsive with a lens closed down to this aperture setting or with a 2x teleconverter mounted to an f/4 lens. I used the camera with the FX-format AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens (105-300mm equivalent), which becomes a 210-600mm optic with a 2x converter, and the camera’s AF points proved to be just as effective.
AF modes are selected via the focus mode selector, which is located next to the lens mount and also features the AF/MF switch. Focus can be switched between single, nine-point, 21-point, 51-point and 3D tracking. In each mode, single, continuous or auto AF can be used, the latter of which automatically switches between single and continuous, depending on the subject, making it perfectly suitable for everyday use. Even in low-light conditions, the AF system of the D7100 is, once again, perfectly capable. Nikon states it can focus down to -2EV (moonlight), and although AF is not as responsive under such conditions, it is possible to get sharp focus while failure to focus at all is unusual.
Nikon D7100 review – The competition
As Nikon’s high-end APS-C model, the D7100’s direct competition is the Sony Alpha 77, the Pentax K-5 IIs and the long-standing Canon EOS 7D. There is competition within Nikon’s own product line, too, from the D7000 and D5200.
Image: Pentax K-5 IIs
The Alpha 77, D5200 and D7100 are all 24-million-pixel models, which is a class-leading resolution for an APS-C-format sensor. The D7100 is the first model with this resolution without an anti-aliasing filter. The Pentax K-5 IIs also has this filter removed, but has a 16.3-million-pixel resolution.
Image: Sony Alpha 77
The Alpha 77, K-5 IIs and D7100 are all very well built, encased in weather-sealed, magnesium-alloy bodies. The AF system of the D7100 is the most sophisticated, while the Alpha 77 has the advantage of a fully articulated LCD screen and faster frame rates.
Nikon D7100 review – Our verdict
Given the build quality and feature set of the Nikon D7100, I would be surprised if the much-rumoured D400 will ever materialise to replace the D300S. Instead, it looks as though the D7100 may do the job of fully replacing both the D7000 and D300S. The D7100 impresses greatly on paper, with a 24.1-million-pixel sensor and no anti-aliasing filter, 51-point AF system and 3.2in LCD screen.
In the hand, it is clear the camera is built to a very high standard. It’s a responsive machine, with quick start-up and an AF system that is more than able to keep up with fast-moving subjects and provide sharp results. The high-speed burst shooting is more limiting, but when the JPEG image size is set to medium the burst can last up to 100 frames.
As for the images, the D7100 is class-leading within certain situations. Shoot raw format in good light using ISO 100 or 200 and resolved detail is excellent – the best we’ve seen from an APS-C-sized sensor. At ISO 800 and higher, I am less enamoured with the picture quality, although it is still very good. Overall, the D7100 does not disappoint, suiting a variety of photographic work.
Nikon D7100 – Key features
The key drive modes are accessed here and include single, continuous high and low, quiet, mirror up and self-timer. The wheel is locked with a catch and can be a little fiddly to release and turn with one hand.
The built-in pop-up flash has a GN of 12m @ ISO 100, and can be used as a wireless commander for external flash units.
While D7000 users will need to buy a new grip should they want a grip for the D7100, the cameras use the same EN-EL15 battery. The CIPA measured shot life is down from 1,050 to 950 shots, although this is still very respectable.
Under three rubber doors are connections for an external microphone, headphone jack, mini USB, HDMI and a port for a GPS unit.
Dual SD card slots
Like the D7000, the D7100 has two SD memory card slots, with the option to dedicate each card to record either raw, JPEG or movie files.
The i button brings up the same display as the info button, but this option acts as a quick menu for the user to make changes to functions such as crop mode and the customisation of some buttons. This leaves the info button somewhat surplus to requirements.