The D7000 was a huge sales success for Nikon, and rightfully so as it was a camera of many great strengths. It served almost as an “unofficial” DX flagship model for several years when it started outperforming the higher end D300s in a few areas, one of them notably being image quality.
But despite that, to many, it still didn’t live up to what many expected out of a flagship DX model. The D300s still had better build, with a faster frame rate and more accurate autofocus with more focus points. So does the new D7100 replace a camera that Nikon users have been waiting several years for?
Officially, the D7000 is not discontinued. Nikon are targeting the D7100 as the next model up from the D7000 and they will both be available side by side in the Nikon line up. This sounds good to those looking for a D300s replacement. So far, anyway. The D7100 also now features the same 51 point autofocus system that was used in the D300s, again closing the gap between the D7000 and D300s.
But once shooting with the D7100, it is clear to see that although a few steps have been taken to close the gap between the two bodies, the D7100 shares much of its structural characteristics with the D7000 rather than the D300s. The top and back body plate are magnesium alloy but the front and bottom are still polycarbonate whereas the D300s’ entire body was magnesium alloy. Indeed the D300s still has the edge as far as robustness goes. And the D300s is still ahead as far as frame rate goes. The D7100 shoots a maximum 6 frames per second in DX mode and 7 frames per second in the additional 1.3x crop mode. The D300s could shoot 7 fps standard and 8 fps with the PDK1 battery grip supplying additional power. Not a huge difference but a difference all the same against the D7100. Although to be fair, the D7100 does manage to shoot at practically the same speed as the D300s despite it having twice the megapixel count as the D300s, a testament to the advancement in processing power of newer cameras.
As already mentioned, the D7100 has a 1.3 crop mode on top of the 1.5 DX crop sensor it already has. In total, the crop factor of the sensor plus the digital cropping combines to a 2x crop factor making it essentially a half frame camera. This can be useful for when a sports or wildlife photographer will need that little bit extra focal length. In the 1.3x crop mode, the camera still maintains a resolution of 15 megapixels which is still more than enough to maintain detailed pictures. (confirm spec)
One of the items making headlines that set the D7100 apart from not only the D300s but also the D7000 is the new 24 megapixel sensor it uses. It is not the same sensor as used by the D3200 or D5200. This sensor has no optical low pass filter at all which means images will be sharper than the sensors used in the D3200 or D5200 despite having the same resolution as those. There is a risk of increased moiré patterns and false colours but Nikon believe that this new sensor is good enough at reducing the effects on its own that it is worth the risk. Indeed when I shot with a pre-production sample I could not successfully reproduce any moiré patterns or false colours even in very detailed surfaces with repetitive patterns. I look forward to testing the production ready version of the camera to test this more thoroughly.
In terms of noise control, the new 24 megapixel sensor seems to perform roughly the same as that of the D7000, and that is a good thing as one of the strongest characteristics about the D7000 was its image quality. This is also impressive considering the D7100’s resolution is quite a jump up in megapixels from the D7000’s 16mp, and on a crop sensor where space is limited, high pixel density usually means weak low light image quality.
The D7100 features a 3.2 inch LCD screen like that of the D600 instead of the 3 inch display of the D7000. The D7100 even feels and looks more like the D600 than the older D7000 in the hands. The screen can no longer take a plastic anti-scratch cover but Nikon claim to not need this as the glass on the LCD is more scratch resistant like that of the D4. The D7100 also uses a different battery grip to the D7000, a feature D7000 users looking to upgrade will find annoying should they already own a battery grip. Thankfully though it still uses the same EN-EL15 battery.
In terms of video, the D7100 becomes the first DSLR to be able to shoot full HD video at 60fps. There are many DSLR’s that can shoot at 60 fps but they all record at slightly lower resolutions – another video first for Nikon.
Overall, some will be a bit disappointed by the D7100 hoping for a camera more along the lines of what the D300s used to be. But if one can look past the build quality that is still not as good as the D300s’ tank like strength, the D7100 looks to be an impressive camera that has done more than just refresh the D7000 by putting a higher resolution sensor inside it. Image quality seems to be impressive at first glance and has a few tricks up its sleeve. A full production review will be coming shortly.