Nikon D7100 review
24 megapixels, no low-pass filter, 51 auto-focus points will make this a great camera for underwater photography
By Scott Gietler
Nikon had a winner with the popular Nikon D80 back in 2006, and they followed it up with even better models such as the D300, D90, D300s, and D7000. Many photographers purchasing their first dSLR purchased one of these models, and have been patiently waiting for a good reason to upgrade. Many photographers spoke about “waiting for the D400”, but the time of waiting may end for some.
Nikon has put its best sensor and best auto-focus system into the D7100, and appears to have merged the D70/D80/D90 and the D200/D300 lineups. With 24 megapixels, the body of the Nikon D600, the latest CMOS sensor with Expeed 3 processing, and additional video enhancements, the D7100 is poised to set the new standard for cropped sensor dSLRs.
In this Nikon D7100 review we will cover:
- Key specs and features
- Body and Handling
- High ISO tests
- Detail compared with the D7000
- Auto-focus speed tests
- Sample images
- D7100 Underwater housings (jump to housing reviews)
- Recommended Lenses & Strobes
Key Nikon D7100 specs:
- 24 megapixels, vs 16 megapixels on the D7000
- 6000 x 4000 pixels
- 1/250 sync speed, 1/320th in auto-fp mode; flash recycles quickly
- Removal of the low-pass filter means sharper images, more detail and 100% crop (assuming the image is in focus and the lens can resolve that much detail)
- 51 Auto-focus points, versus 39 on the D7000. The Nikon D300 and D300s have much better auto-focus capability than the D7000. The D7100 improves upon the excellent D300 auto-focus. Macro photographers will see a nice improvement.
- 1.3 crop factor for stills & video - this is really nice, especially when you want less angle of view than your lens delivers. For example, when using the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye or for wildlife videography
- AUTO-ISO capability has been improved. This is huge for topside action and ambient light photography, because you can program the camera to react quicker to changing light conditions.
- SPOT white balance in live view mode - this could be great for underwater video, You can choose the spot on the screen you want to use for white-balancing. This will make white-balancing for many more much more convenient and accurate, especially for video.
- Dual SD card slots
- 1080p video, up to 60fps, MPEG-4 and H.264 format
- Ultralong battery life, CIPA rated to 950 shots
The D7100 also has some nice features such as:
- Uncompressed HDMI video output
- LCD size of 3.2 inches (versus 3 inches on the D7000)
Price: $1200 body, $1600 with 18-105mm lens
Nikon D7100 1.3x crop mode
The 1.3x crop mode of the Nikon D7100 is poised to be a very useful feature of this camera, for times you wish your lens wasn't so wide, or that you had more reach.
You basicaly see a cropped portion of the sensor in the viewfinder, giving you the equivalent field of view of a 1.3x version of the lens. So instead of shooting with a 10-17mm fisheye lens underwater, it will be like shooting with a 13-22mm lens. Instead of shooting with a 60mm lens, it will be like using a 78mm lens. For wildlife photography, shooting at 400mm will now be like shooting at 520mm.
The autofocus and exposure will be acting on the cropped portion of the lens. You'll be able to compose your picture more easily. You'll only have 15 megapixels instead of 24 megapixels, but who cares? 15 megapixels is still a huge number.
Also, when used in 1.3x crop mode, your D7100 can take photos at a rate of 7 frames per second, a nice bump the 5fps offered by the Nikon D7000.
NIkon D7100 auto ISO mode
Auto ISO is an excellent feature that more photographers should use. It basically tells your camera to boost the ISO until desired shutter speed was reached. The problem was, previously, if you are using a zoom lens, you always need a faster shutter speeds for longer focal lengths. The Nikon D7100 has added some functionality to address this issue.
I find auto ISO mode indispensible for wildlife photography. For example, for hummingbirds, I set a minimum shutter speed of 1/800th. The camera will automatically raise the ISO until this shutter speed is achieved, up to whatever maximum ISO that I set. Magic!
Hummingbird from Venice Beach, California. F4.5, 1/800th, ISO 2500, Nikon 200-400mm lens @400mm, taken in Av mode using Auto ISO
Fitting the D7100 into the D7000 / D600 underwater housings
The dimensions of the D7100 are very, very close to the D7000. However, several buttons and key contols are placed in different positions. You can see the comparison photos here. Still, the aperture & shutter speed dials and the shutter release look to be in the same positon, so it is possible that you could get very basic functionality of the D7100 in some of the D7000 underwater housings. But the camera tray will probably give you some difficulty in attaching.
It is much easier to fit the D7100 into a D600 housing. We were able to fit the D7100 into a Nauticam D600 housing, and the many of the key controls like image review, aperture/shutter speed dials, and the shutter worked.
Nikon D7100 underwater housings
Ikelite and Nauticam both have D7100 housings out, and we expct Aquatica, Sea & Sea, and Hugyfot soon. The Ikelite D7100 housing will be shipping around April 19th, and is the best value at $1,500, and will also have their excellent TTL capability built into the housing. You can watch the Nauticam D7100 housing product video. We expect the Sea & Sea D7100 housing, and Aquatica D7100 housing will have similar excellent ergonomics as their D800 housings have (both housings will be ready in early July), and the Hugyfot will have their Hugycheck vacuum-check system built in to the housing.
Kelp forest from the Channel Islands, California - taken by the Nikon D7000. I'm sure the D7100 will not disappoint underwater!
Adobe Lightroom support for the Nikon D7100 & a hack
So you want to open up your Nikon D7100 files in Adobe lightroom? Adobe Lightroom does not yet support the Nikon D7100 raw files, but there is a great hack listed here that works great. It basically fools lightroom into thinking that the photo came from a Nikon D5200, which pretty much has an identical sensor.
Nikon D7100 - detail compared with the D7000
In my real-world shots taken with the D7000 and the D7100, I found that it was difficult to notice a large improvement in the details of the 100% crop. I up-resized the D7000 files so they would be the same number of pixels across as the D7100 files, which I thought was a more fair comparison. For certain subjects, I did notice more detail in the D7100 files, but it was not across the board. I did the tests with the Nikon 60mm F2.8 lens because of its excellent resolution.
Photo of a mural taken with a Nikon 60mm F2.8 lens. F5, 1/400th, ISO 200. See the 100% crops below
100% crop, taken with the D7000. Image upsized 20% so it is the same pixel width as the D7100 image below.
100% crop, taken with the D7100. Resolution is great with both cameras.
100% crop, taken with the D7000, upsized by 20% so it is the same pixel width as the D7100 photo below.
100% crop, taken with the D7100. Resolution is great in both images, but appears to be slightly better in the D7100.
Nikon D7100 sample images
Egret looking for food. Nikon 60mm AF macro lens, uncropped. F3.2, 1/800th, ISO 100
Ducks hanging out. Nikon 60mm, F3.2, 1/500th, ISO 200
Duck about to jump in. F3.2, 1/640th, ISO 200
Egret photo from above, 100% crop
Duck photo from above, 100% crop. Detail looks great!
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash. F10, 1/250th, ISO 800
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash
Hummingbird moth in Marina del rey, taken at night, with Nikon 18-200mm lens, pop-up flash
Nikon D7100 high ISO tests
The D7100 appears to be just as good as the D7000 at high ISO, even though it has a smaller pixel size, which means decent to good images at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. If you're looking to shoot with very high ISOs, you may want to be shooting with the D600, D800 or Canon 5D Mark III.
I am very, very happy with the high ISO performance of this camera, as I was with the D7000. I shot the D7000 at ISO 6400, and took the same shots with the D7100 at ISO 6400, leaving the high ISO noise reduction to normal. I then downsized the D7100 jpegs to be the same size as the D7000 jpegs, which I thought was a more fair comparison. I could not see any significant difference between the 100% crops of these shots. See the sample images below.
Tree in the nearby park, Nikon D7100, ISO 6400
ISO 6400 from above, 100% crop. F8, 1/800th
ISO 6400 photo from the same spot, taken right afterwards with the Nikon D7000, 100% crop. F8, 1/800th. Both of the ISO 6400 shots were taken in JPEG mode, high ISO noise reduction on normal. We'll be doing some more high ISO tests during the week.
Nikon D7100 auto-focus speed tests
The Nikon D7100 camera has an improved auto-focus system, with 51 auto-focus points, and better low-light capability in the center of the sensor. But how does this translate into the real world?
I tested the auto-focus between the D7000 and the D7100 in low-light, with various lenses including the 60mm, 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter, 18-200mm VR, and the 200-400mm VR. Across the board, I noticed faster auto-focus and less hunting with the D7100, especially when using a teleconverter. This was a welcome discovery because I did feel that my camera’s auto-focus took a step backwards when I switched from the D300 to the D7000.
I also did some night photography with the Nikon D7100 and the 18-200mm lens. I had a sola 800 red light focusing on the subject (a hummingbird moth), and the camera focused quite well. You can see the images in the sample image section.
Best Nikon D7100 lenses, topside
For landscape photography, I like the Nikon 10-24mm, or the Sigma 10-20mm – depending on your budget.
For wildlife photography, the 80-400mm VR will be a staple for most people. If you have the budget, the 200-400 F4 VR lens is excellent for wildlife with a great bokeh, and older versions of the 300mm F4 or 300mm F2.8 should also be checked out if quality of shots is more important than flexibility.
For portraits, picking up an inexpensive 50mm F1.8 lens is a must.
For general purpose travel, you can use the 18-135mm kit lens, although I prefer the extended reach of the 18-200mm VR.
People who want to cover indoor events or do street photography will probably want to pick up a fast F4 or F2.8 zoom lens in the 16-35, 17-55, or 24-70 range.
The Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes would be the go-to strobe for most people, due it is amazing power and small size. A second contender would be the Ikelite DS-160 strobe, with its superior recycle rates, great color temp for wide-angle, and the ability to do TTL with any housing with the optional Ikelite TTL converter cable. Its only downside is the much larger size and weight vs the YS-D1, and its proprietary battery back vs the 4AA batteries of the YS-D1. Learn more about strobe positioning underwater.
Nikon D7100 compared with past models
Photographers upgrading from a compact or mirrorless camera are in for a pleasant surprise if they upgrade to the Nikon D7100. Owners of previous Nikon dSLRs like the D80, D200 or D300 will enjoy the additional detail in their photos, high ISO capability, and low-light auto-focus speed. D7000 users probably have less of a reason to upgrade, as detail and ISO performance are similar, although the auto-focus improvements are very nice.
Which underwater photographers should get the D7100?
We expect the NIkon D7100 to be the top choice for new underwater photographers looking to upgrade to a dSLR. People who especially love macro may want to upgrade their older Nikon to the D7100. And it will certainly tempt some macro photographers who had been previously looking the at the Nikon D800.
Underwater photographers focused on wide-angle will find the D7100 an excellent choice, although they may also be looking at the Canon 5D Mark III or the NIkon D600 for improved dynamic range.
Nikon D7100 concerns
With 24 megapixels on a DX size sensor, the pixel size is getting small. This is equivalent to 54 megapixels on a full-frame sensor (24 x 1.5 x 1.5). The main concern with small pixel size is the dynamic range being recorded by the sensor - especially for the wide-angle underwater photographer. High ISO noise had been a concern, but as you can see in the above tests, the Nikon D7100 high ISO performance looks quite good. We'll be doing some dynamic range testing soon.
Nikon D7100 conclusions
So far - we really like the camera, it feels very similar to the D7000, yet has a little better resolution, a little better focusing, and some other nice features that make it a nice upgrade for people shooting a D200 or D300 / D300s, or a great choice for first time dSLR users.
The D7100 again raises the bar for cropped sensor dSLRs, with its excellent low light auto-focus capabilities, excellent picture quality at ISO 6400, and the largest number of megapixels of any DX format camera. It is possibly the best choice out there on the market for serious amateurs, and we anxiously await Canon’s response. For underwater photography, the D7100 will serve the needs of most serious hobbyists, and many professionals who don’t need the increased sensor size and cost of a full-frame camera.
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