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Nikon D7100 review: A good camera, but not a no-brainer buy

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The Good The Nikon D7100 is a fast-shooting, well-designed camera that's comfortable to use.

The Bad While the image quality is quite good, it's not significantly better than that of the D7100's cheaper sibling, the D5200. And the lack of aperture control in movie mode gets a facepalm.

The Bottom Line While it's still a great prosumer dSLR, the D7100 may only be worth the extra cash if you need a faster Nikon right now.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

Despite some high-profile changes in the Nikon D7100, such as a new sensor, updated AF system, and better build quality, this long-overdue update to the Nikon D7000 doesn't stand out from the crowd as much as it should for the money. Where once the company had to worry only about Canon with respect to advanced amateur SLRs, Pentax and Sony now produce some killer cameras, sturdily built and capable of shooting great photos with great speed. Plus Nikon's own D5200, while not as fast or as well-built, may be good enough for a lot of folks. Don't get me wrong -- the D7100 is an excellent camera. But with missing capabilities and excellent-but-not-class-leading image quality, it's not a no-brainer buy.

Image quality
Though it has the same sensor resolution as the D5200, the D7100 uses a new and different sensor that does away with the optical low-pass filter (OLPF), aka antialiasing filter, much like the Pentax K-5 IIs. Dropping the filter is intended to increase the sharpness of the native images without introducing the types of artifacts you get when sharpening in post. The trade-off tends to be increased moire, which the camera can usually address adequately for stills but less so for video. Unlike Pentax, which offers a more traditional OLPF version, Nikon's putting all its pixels in one basket and offering just the one model -- for now, at least. (Not a clue what I'm talking about? Try reading this primer.)

When scrutinized, the images from the D7100 look sharper than the D5200's, and the extra bit of sharpness helps compensate for noise as the ISO sensitivity rises. That said, nothing about the D7100's photos noticeably outclasses those of the D5200; they're similarly good. Despite using the same metering systems, they seem to have slightly different settings, though, as the D7100's matrix-metered exposures appear a 2/3-stop brighter in our lab tests -- that's better -- than those of the D5200. And it does not seem to have the same focus issue in our lab tests that the D7000 did.

JPEGs look good clean through ISO 400, though at ISO 400 I start to see a tiny bit of softening; they're good up to about ISO 1600, and potentially usable up through ISO 6400, but as low as ISO 800 you can get better results from raw files (or play with the noise-reduction settings).

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Overall, the D7100's got good dynamic range and tonality, though there isn't a lot of recoverable detail in the highlights. The default Picture Control does shift the hues a bit and increases contrast till it clips a little more than I like, but the neutral style delivers more-accurate colors without looking flat.

Video looks good, without many of the edge artifacts I expected to see and decent resolvability for 1080p, but with the typical blown-out highlights and crushed blacks (on default settings) that you find with this class of camera. The bigger problem for shooting video is the lack of aperture control -- you can control shutter speed and ISO sensitivity only. I'm sure Nikon has a good reason for it, but it's a really big hole in the camera's feature set if you care about video.

The D7100 maintains the excellent performance of the D7000, and it's about what you'd expect for a $1,200 camera. (Note that though I've included the D7000 results in the chart for reference, they're not directly comparable since our testing methodology has changed since we tested the D7000.) The sensor has improved readout speed over the D7000's, which Nikon attributes to a more efficient design rather than more output channels, and improved noise reduction in part because of an upgrade to the current Expeed 3 image-processing engine.

The camera powers on and shoots in just under 0.3 second, and typical shot-to-shot time (which in our tests essentially measures shutter lag) runs 0.2 second for either raw or JPEG; that increases to about 0.8 second overall with flash enabled, which is still pretty zippy, but it also varied quite a bit from a low of 0.6 second to a high of 1.9 seconds during testing. Shot lag -- the time needed to focus, expose, and shoot -- runs approximately 0.4 second in bright conditions and 0.5 second in dim. The lens movement is the bottleneck for shot lag, and the 18-105mm kit lens isn't terribly fast in that respect.

For single-shot photography in bright light, the D7100 is about on par with the D5200, but earns its price premium for low-light autofocus and continuous shooting. It delivers an excellent 6.3 frames per second for an effectively unlimited number of highest-quality JPEGs (equipped with a 95MBps SD card, at least). I was a little disappointed with the raw burst, which maintains a 5.8fps rate, but only for six shots. Once the buffer's full, it drops to about 2.9fps.

Nikon made improvements to the contrast (Live View) autofocus to ameliorate that annoying pulsing that appears when focused on a stationary subject during movie shooting, and now it looks rock-steady. It's also faster than the D7000's. Improvements Nikon claims to have made to the autofocus system include increasing center-point sensitivity up to f8 (compared with f5.6 for the D7000), a big deal for serious telephoto shooters.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon EOS Rebel T4i
Nikon D7000
Nikon D7100
Canon EOS 6D
Nikon D600
Nikon D5200

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