Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for D7100_18_105_front34l.high.jpg
  • 24.1-Megapixel CMOS Imaging Sensor
  • 3.2-Inch, 1.2 Million Dot LCD Screen
  • 18-105mm Lens (with Kit)
  • RGB Sensor for Face Priority and Continuous AF in Movie Mode
  • Available WiFi and GPS accessories
  • Effects Shooting Modes
  • Scene Shooting Modes
  • Full 1080p HD video capture
  • Pop-up Flash Unit
  • Built-in Stereo Mic
  • HMDI output
  • External Mic input
  • Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slots
Pros
  • Fast and accurate AF system
  • Excellent Shooting Performance
  • Outstanding image quality
  • Incredibly sharp images
  • Optical Viewfinder with approx. 100% coverage
  • Huge, 3.2-inch LCD Display
  • Dual Memory Card Slots
  • Full 1080p HD video capture
  • Continuous AF in Movie Mode
  • Excellent Battery Life
  • HDMI Output
  • External Audio Input
  • 80 Available lenses for any situation
Cons
  • Slow AF while shooting in Live View mode
  • We were only able to reach 5fps burst shooting (6fps claimed)
  • Unacceptable noise levels in the Hi settings
  • No screen protector to save the 3.2-inch LCD
  • Steep price for a non-full frame camera
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 0.9 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 2/10 to 6/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 0.76 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 1.16 seconds
  • High Speed Burst = 5fps @ ISO 3200 for up to 100 images
  • All tests were taken using an SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 (95MB/s), 8GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
The Nikon D7100 leads the way for their DX-format line of dSLR cameras, as well as most of the other cameras with anything less than a full-frame sensor in image quality. Sporting the highest resolution and sharpest images in its class, it has no problem keeping up on the performance end either.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for one of the highest quality APS-C dSLRs on the market.
Nikon's new flagship DX-format dSLR camera, the D7100, features a 24.1-Megapixel DX-format CMOS imaging sensor that specially designed for this camera. Combining the sensor with Nikon's EXPEED 3 image processor gives it fantastic performance, excelling at both burst image capture and autofocus speeds. This combination also keeps noise levels down and allows the camera to provide several special effect shooting modes, including in-camera HDR. As one of the larger DX-format cameras, the D7100 features a very solid build with a magnesium frame and a moisture and dust resistant body.

As with all Nikon dSLR cameras, you also have the full line of 80 DX and FX Nikkor lenses at your disposal. GPS and Wireless networking are also available with available adapters that can greatly increase what the camera is capable of. 

Much like the higher level dSLR cameras, the D7100 is a very powerful camera that not only sports the top of the line features and performance, but the ease of use of a point-n-shoot as well. Its Automatic shooting mode, scene modes,  and effects modes all provide the ease and creativity that allow anyone to use the camera. Use of the 3.2-inch LCD in Live view and for video recording also gives you the feel of a point-n-shoot.

On the high performance end of the camera's specs list, it features 51 focus points, including 15 cross-type sensors for both speed and accuracy. At the same time, a full color metering sensor detects brightness, color, contrast and distance to assure accuracy, as well as allowing for features like full-time auto focus during movie recording and face priority shooting. 

Coming in just slightly smaller than the FX-format D600, which is the smallest of the full-frame Nikon dSLRs, the D7100 is a big camera compared to most. Its size, weight and solid build may take a little time to adjust to if you are not used to a large camera, but you will soon feel very comfortable wielding it.

The D7100 fits very well into most hands, with all of the controls lying right at your fingertips. Both mode dials lock, keeping the camera in the correct shooting mode all the time. Both mode dials are also stiff, preventing them from being changed by accident as well.

Framing your images is easy, whether you prefer to use an OVF or LCD. Nikon has included a new OVF with a low-power display that has approx. 100% coverage of the camera's image area. This means no guessing at what the edges of your final images will be. If you prefer the LCD, its 1.2-million dots will not disappoint. This LCD provides crisp, detailed images, both while shooting and while reviewing what you have already taken. With 11 adjustable levels of brightness, the LCD is easy to see in all lighting conditions. You will have to take care with this camera, however, as it does not feature the replaceable LCD covers that are found on past D-series Nikon models. 

Bundled with the D7100 kit is the AF-S NIKKOR 18-105mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED lens, giving the kit a versatile and quality lens to get you started. Featuring Nikon's VR optical image stabilization, you can shoot handheld at up to 3 stops lower than without. The 5.8x zoom range is more versatile than what you will find with most 18-55mm dSLR kit lenses. It also focuses just within 1.5 feet, making this a great all-around lens to carry. The lens itself features stiff, sturdy switches for the focus and VR modes, helping keep them from being bumped and changed accidentally. Its zoom and focus rings turn very smoothly, allowing for smooth and steady zoom and focus control. 

The D7100 boasted some pretty hefty numbers in our performance tests. When turning the camera on, it only takes it 9/10 of a second to start, focus and capture its first image. Shutter lag is almost instantaneous when the camera is pre-focused, but ranged between 2/10 and 6/10 of a second when allowing the camera to autofocus. Shot to shot delay in single shot mode  was very impressive, taking just 0.76 seconds between shots without the flash. With the built-in flash the delay went up to just over 1 second between images. For burst shooting, the D7100 has two modes, High and Low. The low mode allows you to set the frame rate in which you would like to shoot, between 1-6fps. The High mode is set to the highest rate, which Nikon claims is 6fps. Unfortunately, during our tests we were not able to capture higher than 5fps. If you are shooting in JPEG only mode, the camera can keep this up for up to 100 images. If you switch to RAW shooting your rates will slow dramatically and the burst shooting will be limited to just 7 images before the camera starts to lag. All of our tests were completed using a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 (95MB/s), 8GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto (except for burst shooting at ISO 3200), flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. 

Our outdoor image samples show us the incredibly high resolution of the 24.1-Megapixel CMOS sensor, showing us more detail within these images than we are used to seeing. Exposure and color are very accurate, giving us an overall excellent image.  As we have seen with our handheld compact digicams, shooting with the camera's Auto or Smart Auto shooting modes, the images show more vibrant colors which really make them pop. This helps to assure that just about anyone can pick this camera up and capture wonderful images, no matter how much experience they have with photography. We did notice that the AF was sluggish while shooting some of our outdoor image samples in Live View mode in order to use the camera's digital level. This was no surprise, as most all Live View systems are a bit sluggish when it comes to AF performance; other than Sony's SLT Alpha dSLR models, thanks to their translucent mirror technology.

Looking at our indoor sample images we can see the incredible quality of the D7100 throughout the entire ISO range. At the lower ISO settings, the images are crystal clear, showing an amazing amount of detail within the frame. At ISO 1600 and below, the amount of noise for each setting is incredibly low. Once you get up to ISO 3200, the smaller details start to fade away to the noise, but we are still provided with images that are suitable for printing. Once we started shooting over ISO 3200, the noise quickly increased into unacceptable levels. Using the different levels of Noise Reduction (NR) does make a little difference, but as the NR increases the sharpness of the images will go down, giving you a softer overall look.

Assisting with your low-light images, the D7100 features a small but fairly powerful pop-up flash unit. With a range of Approx. 12/39 m/ft at ISO 100, it was more than enough to handle our sample shots at ISO 100. This flash also works as a commander to control multiple other external flash units in up to two groups.

Nikon's powerful metering system allows this dSLR to use shooting modes like face priority mode to assist photographers with less experience. Face Priority shooting is only available when the camera is in Live View shooting mode. With a higher end dSLR like the D7100, we imagine that this feature probably will not be used very often, but the ability to do so is always nice to have. This helps to assure that the image is optimized for the faces that are found within. Our sample image, taken in program mode, shows excellent exposures and skin tones, both with and without the flash. The high resolution of the images, even at higher ISO settings, allow you shoot your portraits in just about any situation without too much difficulty. Once again the built-in flash can be a big help on the go or to command a much more complex external lighting setup. 

The D7100's special shooting modes include some that you will find on most compact cameras, including Miniature, Selective color and even a night vision mode. All of these effects capitalize on the high quality images of the camera before applying the effects, which gives them a higher quality look than what you get from most compacts. Also built into the D7100 is a single shot or multi-shot HDR shooting mode. While it is not completely adjustable, it does have an Auto mode, as well as Low, Normal, High and Extra High. While the camera does a decent job, it is still no match for HDR software and its additional control over the final images.

Shooting video with the D7100 is a pleasure thanks to its ability to continuously autofocus while recording, a feat that most dSLR cameras are not capable of. On top of the AF, a great selection of lenses and external audio inputs allow for some of the highest quality movies available on a HD dSLR. Our full HD sample shows the high quality of the video in less than perfect lighting conditions. The video is very clear and sharp, all the while playing back very smoothly on both the computer or on a HDTV via an optional HDMI cable. Our sample audio is lousy due to the background noise with the built-in stereo microphone, but the addition of a higher quality external microphone will greatly increase the quality and take your home movies or amateur videos to a new level.   

Powering the D7100 is a 7.0V, 1900mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. This powerful battery pack provides enough power to capture up to 950 individual frames or 3550 burst shots on single charge. It can also capture up to 100 minutes of High Definition video footage. This is a good battery life for this level of dSLR camera, but a spare battery is almost a must. If you are planning full days of shooting, video or even if you plan on using some of the Live View features, the battery will go faster than you think. This battery was enough for us to complete all of our tests while capturing Approx. 400 images and several short videos, including several using Live View and the special shooting modes. A portable quick charging unit is included with the camera, which makes it easy to keep your battery and a spare charged and ready to go all the time. Also, adding the optional MB-D15 Multi Battery grip ($308 USD) will offer you even more versatility with options for EN-EL 15 Li-ion or AA power sources; not to mention vertical orientation controls (shutter release, AE/AF lock button, multi selector, and command dials).

Bottom Line - The Nikon D7100 is their new top of the line DX-Format dSLR, sporting a new 24.1-Megapixel imaging sensor, EXPEED 3 image processor and possibly the best image quality for any camera in its class. The new sensor allows for increased sharpness and clarity thanks to the lack of an optical low-pass filter. Performance was not lacking either, as the camera's speedy AF system and processor work well together for outstanding results. All of these features have been combined nicely into an incredibly easy-to-use dSLR. With a MSRP of US $1,199.95 (body only) or US $1,599.95 (with the kit 18-105mm VR lens), the D7100 is expensive. However, this is a high quality option for anyone looking to upgrade to a more powerful dSLR, start out with a top of the line model, or someone who is not quite ready to make the commitment to a Full-Frame FX-Format camera; but still wants professional quality and performance. 


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