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Nikon D7100 review – Still one of the best SLR’s around

Nikon D7100
Our Rating :
£366.00 from
Price when reviewed : £1047
inc VAT

A well-rounded enthusiasts' SLR with exceptional image quality and ergonomics


23.5×15.6mm 24.0-megapixel sensor, 5.8x zoom (27-157mm equivalent), 1.2kg

The Nikon D7100 has for an age now, been the top-end camera the Nikon offers for photography enthusiasts. A decent upgrade from the Nikon D7000, it’s been a definite favourite here at Expert Reviews ever since it launched way back in 2010. It’s also currently the best-specified of Nikon’s cameras based around the APS-C sized sensor, and is only around £500 at the moment.

The thing is, full-frame cameras, such as the Nikon D610, have dropped in price considerably recently but it’s also worth pointing out that the successor to the Nikon D7100 has now been released in the form of, as you could probably guess, the D7200. What this means is that the D7100 body only price has dropped to just £500 if you shop around. While the D7200 certainly improved on an already winning formula, it’s debatable whether or not the improved autofocus and continuous shooting are enough to justify the high price.

Nikon D7100

Sharing plenty of similarities with the older D7000, the D7100’s main success has certainly stemmed from its updated controls and ergonomics and it’s good to see that not all that much has changed. The nicely sized optical viewfinder, the generous 950-shot battery life, passive LCD screen for displaying settings and the dual command dials set it apart from much cheaper SLRs, such as the Nikon D5200. Likewise, the twin SDXC card slots and robust weather-sealed magnesium alloy body are a rarity to find, given the price.

We really like the control system here, with plenty of dedicated buttons for a wide range of functions such as ISO speed, white balance, metering, autofocus mode and bracketing too, simply adjusted by holding down the button and turning the command dials. The dual dials are used quite effectively, including adjusting the ISO speed with the rear dial and toggling the Auto ISO with the front dial. It’s worth pointing out that many of these buttons are accessed with the left hand, leaving the right hand in charge of the dials; it’s definitely this two-handed operation that we find to be incredibly fast and all around intuitive. While the main menu isn’t exactly the quickest to move around in, but with so many physical controls, there’s very surprisingly very little need to visit it. The exposure mode and drive mode have dedicated dials too, both of which have locks to avoid accidentally hitting them.

Nikon D7100

At first glance, any external changes compared to the D7000 are tricky to spot, but there are some welcome additions here and there. The generous 3.2in screen is a smidge bigger and its resolution has increased to a respectable 1.2 million dots, with white pixels joining the usual RGB for increased brightness. There’s also a new button marked i here, which gives you quick access to an extra ten functions via the screen, such as HDR shooting, colour presets, strength of noise reduction and the option to customise the two buttons on the front of the camera.

The live view, video record and autofocus point lock buttons have been rearranged to a bit more of a logical layout, and there’s also a lever to toggle the live view mode between photo and video duties too. Setting the aspect ratio to 3:2 or 16:9 (for photos and videos respectively), this also makes it clear that videos can’t actually use shutter speeds slower than the selected frame rate too and that the aperture can’t be adjusted while recording either. These restrictions, although available, weren’t all that obvious on the previous D7000.

Nikon D7100

Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be all that much improvement to the live view mode, though. Autofocus becomes frustratingly sluggish in this mode, with shot-to-shot times plummeting from 0.45 to a somewhat unacceptable 4.8 seconds in our tests. Live view is obviously still useful for fine-tuning manual focus, and it’s worth pointing out that the D7100 reveals significantly sharper detail than the D5200 when magnifying the live view image.

Focus speed

The main list of changes compared to the D7000 can be found inside the camera itself. Thankfully, the sensor’s resolution has gone up from 16 to 24-megapixels, while dispensing with an optical low-pass filter in order to maximise detail levels – something I’ll get onto later. The autofocus sensor also now has 51 points, including 15 cross-type points for increased sensitivity. The D7000 definitely already lead the way at this price with its 39 points, but we’re more than happy to have even more, further cementing Nikon as leading the charge. The dense cluster of points covers most of the frame, and makes it easy to focus precisely on the subject rather than have to line the subject up with an autofocus point.

More points should typically improve the accuracy of the 3D tracking focus mode. While didn’t have the D7000 on hand to compare it with, the D7100 did a fine job of tracking subjects as they moved nearer, further and around the frame, with more than half the shots in sharp focus.

Shooting speed

Continuous shooting performance is quoted as 6fps, which is a figure exactly the same as the previous D7000. The higher resolution has actually taken its toll on the camera’s endurance however. With a fast SDHC card, the D7000 kept going at 6fps for 100 shots, while the D7100 only managed 18 frames at 5.9fps before it slowed to 3.4fps. Of course, this isn’t exactly a terrible result, though, and should be perfectly capable in most situations. There’s also a 1.3x crop mode on offer, which uses a significantly smaller central area of the frame to offer 15.3-megapixel photos at 7fps, which was around 6.8fps in our tests, which lasted for 24 frames before slowing to around 4.2fps.

Continuous raw performance was much shorter-lived, starting at 4.9fps and slowing to just 1.4fps after only five frames (the D7000 lasted for ten). We were able to raise the initial speed back up to 5.8fps by switching from 14- to 12-bit raw formats, but it still only lasted for five frames – less than a second – before slowing dramatically. The 7fps, 1.3x crop mode managed nine frames before slowing.

Continuous JPEG shooting also took a big hit when Auto distortion control (for counteracting lens distortion) was enabled, slowing to 1.9fps after seven frames. The bottom line here is that sustained fast performance is possible, but only if you’re willing to forego raw mode and distortion correction, and possibly lower the resolution. These are choices we’d prefer not to have to make on a £1,000 camera.

Video mode

Thankfully, the video mode has some useful upgrades. There’s a nice headphone out to complement the microphone input, plus a stereo rather than mono built-in microphone too. The frame rate is no longer fixed at 24fps, with a choice of 24p, 25p and 30p, plus 50i and 60i in 1.3x crop mode. It’s a bit daft that the crop mode must be set elsewhere first, or else the 50i and 60i options are greyed out – why not just perform the crop automatically? There should be more than enough detail from the sensor to produce sharp 1080p video from this 1.3x crop area, but videos in this mode sadly weren’t as detailed as when using the full sensor area.

Other than that, video quality was excellent, and we were pleasantly surprised to find very little evidence of moiré interference – something that previous Nikon SLRs’ video modes have suffered from. Heavy handed video autofocus remains unresolved, though. It must be updated on demand and spoiled the soundtrack when using the internal microphone. Shutter- and aperture-priority modes aren’t available for video, but manual exposure is, making this a solid choice for serious video work.

Image quality

Our in-depth SLR photo quality tests didn’t really throw up any big surprises, but we were interested to see the effect of the D7100 not using an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). In pretty much all other digital cameras, the OLPF softens details very slightly to avoid moiré interference – the rippling patterns that are caused by two regularly repeating textures that are overlaid on top of each other, including two layers of translucent fabric. It also happens between the regular pattern of pixels on a camera’s sensor and repeating textures such as fabric and bricks too. Obviously in theory, omitting the OLPF on the D7100 should improve image sharpness, but there is an increased risk of moiré.

Our test shots only outlined a little evidence of either effect. While we did do our level best to create some moiré interference, it took a lot of effort to generate just some mild examples. We didn’t really spot it once in the rest of our test shots.

Nikon D7100 sample shot This is the worst example of moiré interference we could muster (the faint horizontal stripes on the roof)

Photos were incredibly sharp, and the fidelity of subtle details in bright conditions was far beyond reproach. However, direct comparisons with the D5200, which shares the same 24-megapixel resolution but uses an OLPF, weren’t quite as dramatic as we initially expected. We noted in our review of the D5200 that we often struggled to achieve sharp focus, which appeared to be mostly down to problems with its kit lens’ optical stabilisation (a problem we were thankfully unable to replicate on the D7100 and its kit lens).

With optical stabilisation switched off on both cameras, there wasn’t a huge amount to choose between them for detail. The differences became smaller when we used the same lens on both cameras, and disappeared completely when using the same lens and processing their raw output in Lightroom.

Nikon D7100 sample shot Comparing the D5200 and D7100, the D7100 shows a small but decisive advantage for detail here. However, the D7100’s superior autofocus and kit lens could well have played just as much a roll as the D5200’s OLPF (Click to enlarge)

Nikon D7100 sample shot Under controlled studio conditions using the same 18-105mm lens on both the D5200 and D7100, the D7100’s detail advantage is very slight. The 18-megapixel Canon EOS 100D compares well to the 24-megapixel Nikons (Click to enlarge)

Nikon D7100 sample shot Switching from JPEGs to raw (processed to maximise detail in Lightroom 5), the differences between the D5200 and D7100 all but disappear. The EOS 100D still looks pretty good in comparison (Click to enlarge)

Noise levels at fast ISO speeds were also impressively low, especially when you consider the high resolution. Comparing the  raw output in Lightroom with noise reduction switched off, noise was significantly lower than from Canon’s latest-generation 18-megapixel sensor (we tested the EOS 100D) at ISO 6400 and above. Comparing their JPEG output narrowed the gap – it seems that Canon’s noise reduction is superior to Nikon’s – but the D7100 still came out on top at ISO 12800 and 25600. It also even nipped at the heels of the full-frame D610, especially when comparing their JPEG output. As a result, it seems very safe to say that this is the best APS-C sensor we’ve seen.

Nikon D7100 sample shot ISO 6400 produces print-worthy results, particularly after processing raw files in Lightroom

Nikon D7100 sample shot Comparing JPEG output at ISO 12800, these three cameras are surprisingly close in terms of noise and detail levels. The Nikon D7100 should by rights come last considering it has a much higher pixel density than the 18-megapixel EOS 100D and the full-frame 24-megapixel D600

Nikon D7100 sample shot The three cameras’ raw output (without noise reduction) reveals D600’s finer, subtler noise texture, but the D7100 squarely beats the EOS 100D here

Nikon D7100 sample shot Here are the same three raw files again, this time with noise reduction applied in Lightroom 5


With the D7100 now costs around £550 for the body only, it’s one of the best budget SLR’s around. These prices, coupled with its specifications, mean there isn’t exactly a direct equivalent model in other manufacturers’ SLR ranges. This can make it a little tricky to work out if it’s the right model for you. We’ll take you through all of the options to help, though.

If you’re after a well-priced enthusiast camera, the Nikon D7100’s weather-proof body and great handling make it the perfect choice. Before you part with your cash, the main competition comes in when you start to look at the current crop of lower-price full-frame DSLRs, such as the Nikon D610

Nikon D7100

Initially available for £1,499, the D610 has the same resolution (24.2 megapixels), but in a full-frame sensor. This means there’s a lot less noise in shots and some better ISO performance to boot. We also found that depth-of-field looked better on the D610 too. Full-frame cameras really are a step in image quality and it’s generally the point that all amateur photographers want to get to in the long-run.

Of course, the choice boils down largely to compromises. With the D610 you have to pay more and you’ll need full-frame FX lenses, which are much more expensive, as there’s more glass in them. While telephoto lenses are easy for cropped-sensor cameras, such as the D7100 (a 70-300mm zoom acts like a 105-450mm lens), on a full frame camera you get the focal lengths written on the side. Admittedly, it’s significantly easier to get good wide-angle lenses for full frame, but if you’re going to do a lot of wildlife photography on the D610, it means bigger and more expensive lenses.

If you decide to opt for the Nikon D7100, you’re given marginally better auto-focus, and cheaper DX lenses to choose from. However, you can buy full-frame lenses as an investment now, so that if you do upgrade to a full frame camera, you can maintain the same lenses. However, the downsides you get are much worse low-light performance, and a poorer depth-of-field too.

A bigger concern is definitely going to be price, with the D610 now considerably more expensive, if you can find it anywhere. There’s quite a chunk of money difference and it could force your hand. If you are going to opt for the D7100 now, it may be worth buying full-frame lenses for it, so you’re ready for an upgrade to a full-frame model down the line.

If you do choose the D7100, you’re getting a great camera. It’s not as much of a stand-out, groundbreaking camera as the D7000 was when it first appeared. Being spoiled for choice doesn’t exactly diminish the D7100’s appeal, though. The short-lived continuous raw speed is our only serious disappointment, especially as this could have been the perfect camera for wildlife enthusiasts with its large viewfinder, seasoned autofocus and weather-proofing. Otherwise, it’s very hard to fault, with class-leading image quality, fantastic ergonomics and sophisticated autofocus that keen photographers will definitely appreciate. The D7200 successor is undoubtedly a great Best Buy award-winning camera but it’s not a drastic improvement, so you might well find the now much cheaper D7100 more than sufficient for your needs with the savings put towards lenses.

Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels24.0 megapixels
CCD size23.5×15.6mm
Viewfinderoptical TTL
Viewfinder magnification, coverage0.94x, 100%
LCD screen size3.2in
LCD screen resolution1,228,800 pixels
Articulated screenNo
Live viewYes
Optical zoom5.8x
Zoom 35mm equivalent27-157mm
Image stabilisationoptical, in kit lens
Maximum image resolution6,000×4,000
File formatsJPEG, RAW; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slotDual SDXC
Mermory suppliednone
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)950 shots
ConnectivityUSB, mini HDMI, microphone in, headphone out, wired remote
Body materialmagnesium alloy
Lens mountNikon F
Focal length multiplier1.5x
Kit lens model nameAF-S DX Nikkor 18-105MM F/3.5-5.6G ED VR
AccessoriesUSB cable, neck strap

Buying Information

Warrantytwo years RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed30 to 1/8,000 seconds
Aperture rangef/3.5-22 (wide), f/5.6-36 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution)100 to 25600
Exposure compensation+/-5 EV
White balanceauto, 12 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, brightness, hue, noise reduction, Active D-Lighting, colour space
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus45cm
Auto-focus modes51-point
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre, face detect (live view only), tracking (live view only)
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, flash bracket, Active D-Lighting bracket, HDR, interval, multiple exposure

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