The Nikon D7100 DSLR: DX-Format Flagship?

The Nikon D7100 is described as the DX-format "Flagship."  Image courtesy Nikon USA.
The Nikon D7100 is described as the DX-format “Flagship.” Image courtesy Nikon USA.

Last night, Nikon announced the long-awaited D7000 replacement, the new D7100 DSLR. You can pre-order a D7100 here so that you have one in your hands the minute they come out.

The D7000, to me, has always been a “close but not quite” camera. By all accounts, its sensor is really good. However, the smaller form factor and diminished performance (AF, frame rate, bracketing limitations) dissuaded me from getting one as a D300s replacement. The biggest surprise to me when I read Nikon’s announcement was the subheadline:

“Nikon’s DX-format Flagship Provides Agility, Amazing Image Quality and Wireless Connectivity

You read that right; the DX-format Flagship. In my opinion, this means what I’ve been hearing (and thinking) for some time. DX is for enthusiasts, FX is for pros.

Why does that bother me? Well, I keep a Nikon D300s around with a battery grip for situations where telephoto action shooting is desirable. The D300s, with grip and EN-EL4a battery, will shoot 8 frames per second. That’s important when you’re photographing birds and fast-moving action and want to grab a frame at the peak moment. However, the sensor in the D300s is the same 12MP sensor that showed up in 2007, which pales in comparison to the newer Nikon sensors. The newest cameras not only have amazing tonal range, but also even better noise performance. While the D300s is no slouch, it’s IQ doesn’t compare to what you can get from the D7000’s 16MP sensor. I’d still really love a D300s body with the D7000 sensor for bird photography!

Ok…rant over. Let’s look at the basic specs and see what the D7100 really is, which in my opinion is a very good camera for most enthusiasts. In fact, the new features may surprise you!

Sensor

The D7100 sensor now sports 24.1 megapixels, bringing it in line with the rest of Nikon’s DX format lineup. More megapixels means you can print larger, crop more, and get surprisingly good ISO performance on day to-day images and normal-sized prints. The pixel dimensions are 6000×4000 in normal (full DX frame) mode, and 4800×3200 in a new 1.3x crop mode. Note that this is cropped in 1.3x from DX format, not a 1.3x crop from FX. Using the crop mode, you have an effective field of view of almost 2x (1.95) that of an FX-sensor (35mm) camera, and roughly 15.3 megapixels. The big advantage of the crop mode is that you can shoot up to 7fps instead of 6fps in full DX mode.

The sensor has a base ISO of 100, which is expandable to ISO 6400. If you choose to go further, you can use HI-1 (ISO 12,800) and HI-2 (ISO 25,00), but you’ll have a lot more noise to clean up. There is no “Lo-1” or ISO 50 equivalent, at least from what I’ve read so far.

But the really big news about this sensor is that like the D800e, Nikon has chosen to remove the anti-aliasing filter. Clearly, Nikon is not concerned about moiré with this camera. As a D800e owner, I can vouch for that… I’ve rarely found moiré in my D800e images (and it can be removed easily if you shoot RAW). So this means that the D7100 should really kick butt for landscapes and other high-detail scenes. To get the most of this sensor, you’ll want to sharpen your images properly from RAW.

AF System

The D7100 gets a huge autofocus upgrade, moving from the 39-point AF module to the newer multi-CAM 3500DX module, which provides 51-points and allows for shooting with teleconverters even when the effective aperture drops to f/8. That’s excellent news for wildlife and action enthusiasts. You’ll be able to get some serious reach!

Exposure Bracketing: Better for HDR

The D7000 had a serious limitation with regards to exposure bracketing; it only permitted up to 3 frames. That’s tough for HDR Photography where you want to bracket more than ±2EV. The D7100 permits up to 5 frames of bracketing in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1, 2, and 3EV. That means you should be able to get an HDR sequence of ±6EV using 5 frames, 3EV apart. Of course, if the DR of this sensor is anything like Nikon’s other current lineup, you won’t need that kind of range most of the time!

Build and Other Features of Interest to Outdoor Photographers

The D7100 retains the relatively small form-factor found in the D7000. The D7100 is constructed using the same magnesium alloy as the D300s, and it has moisture/dust sealing. The shutter is rated to 150k cycles. The D7100 has 100% viewfinder coverage, and a larger 3.2″ diagonal LCD screen.

The D7100 does not have a dedicated AF-ON button. However, the AE-L/AF-L button should be configurable to use as AF-ON (as is the case with most Nikon DSLRs). The D7100 has a built-in flash that can be used to control iTTL speedlights. The camera syncs at 1/250s, and can use High-speed FP sync up to 1/8000s.

Most notably, the D7100 does not have a 10-pin terminal port. This means you’ll need to use a Nikon MC-DC2 remote cord.

The D7100 has dual SD-card slots. This is very useful for shooters who want either extra capacity, or to shoot RAW on one card and JPEG on the other.

The D7100 will accept an optional battery grip, the Nikon MB-D15. Using this grip gives you a vertical release and controls, as well as extra battery capacity. There is no mention of whether the grip boosts frame rate; my guess is that it does not.

The D7100 has a built-in virtual horizon feature, something I find quite useful in the field.

Frame Buffer: Ok, I had to dig around to find this, as it isn’t on Nikon USA’s website. It is, however in the specs at Nikon.com. The D7100 frame buffer is 6 lossless-compressed 14-bit NEFs, or 7 lossless compressed 12-bit NEFs. That’s really tough to swallow for a camera touted as being fast. I’m afraid that almost kills the D7100 as a birding camera for me.

Video

As with all newer DSLRs, video is being touted as another important feature. The D7100 allows for native HD (1920x 1080) video recording at either 30fps or 60 interlaced fields per second. You can also use 1280×720 HD at 60 or 50 fps. There is a built-in microphone for video, and support for external microphones.

Conclusions

Despite my initial disappointment that there is still no “D400,” the Nikon D7100 seems to nail just about everything an enthusiast would want in a camera, at least on paper. With plenty of resolution, fast autofocus, and expanded bracketing for HDR shooters, the D7100 makes up for most of the weaknesses of the D7000 as compared to the D300s. In fact, the only real limitation of the D7100 as compared to the D300s is the slightly slower frame rate. Of course, even with the D300s, you still needed to use the battery grip to achieve 8fps, otherwise it shot at 6fps. Considering the D7100 is listed at under $1200 US, that’s an incredible value. I think that for all but the most extreme action shooters, the D7100 is going to be a fantastic Nikon DSLR and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking to photograph landscapes and wildlife without spending a small fortune. So while I’d still love an 8fps, 16-megapixel DX body for birding, the D7100 looks like it might be almost as good.

12 thoughts on “The Nikon D7100 DSLR: DX-Format Flagship?”

  1. I think you ate right, Nikon is moving the pro cameras to full frame. They will offer crop modes to give the FX cameras more reach. DX crop mode on a D800 is about the same number of pixels as the D7100. Now if it would only shoot more FPS.

  2. Jason,

    Can you explain more on the frame buffer? What is your reason for saying that is tough to swallow? The literature I read said it will shoot up to 100 continuous frames before filling up the buffer. Is than not true or does it only apply to jpg shooting?

    John

  3. Wow, so disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the D7100 is impressive, and It may be the new “Flagship” of the DX line, but is certainly not a D300s replacement. The small raw frame buffer is a deal-breaker for me. I have used a D7000 along with my venerable D300 for aviation photography for years. The D7000 is a great camera body with a good sensor, but the small frame buffer kept it from being useful for action shots. Now the frame buffer on the 7100 is even less. With over 150K shutter clicks on the D300 and no suitable replacement in the pipeline, I feel like I may have to look at Canon and Sony. I have been a Nikon shooter for over 25 years but it seems like Nikon has let me down.

  4. Nice camera if you like to shoot in jpg. However raw, the buffer is way to slow. Plastic body, missing some key buttons from d300. I do not believe this is a merge of d7000 and d300. Just a very nice upgrade of d7000. It wont work for me as a birder and wildlife person as I always shoot in raw. I will continue to wait it out.

  5. The D300 has a buffer of about 20 shots at 12Mp so it is not surprising if it is true that the buffer on the D7100 is about 6 shots. Pity though, how much would a little extra memory have cost!

  6. While I won’t be switching from Nikon in the foreseeable future, I do agree that their current lineup is a confusing mess of features for anyone who wants reasonably fast performance without spending $6k on a D4.

  7. Nikon UK says the D7100 is NOT the DX “Flagship” and the D400 is in the works. Let us hope.
    You can read that in a thread on DPReview on the PRO DX Forum. I saw it yesterday but have not checked today.
    The D7100 has some nice features over the D7000. However, the Scene Modes, no 10-pin connector, and no AF-ON button(dedicated) make it a non starter for me.

  8. I shoot 2 D300 with 17-55 f/2.8 and 80-200 f/2.8. and I need the 10 pin connector for the remote release. I feel abandoned by Nikon. I have (had) the top of the line DX and it was considered the semi-pro. Now to maintain competitiveness with other shooters, it looks like I will have to sell all my gear and start over with FX. The specs on the 7100 look good compared to the 300/300s and would be good for shooting weddings but already some are specifying second shooters must be 700/800 or 3/4 Nikons. No more D300 and 7000 is not good enough.

  9. I am really confused by the direction Nikon is taking their lineup. The D700 was a great FX camera if you didn’t want a D3. Then the D800 comes out with comments in PPA magazine and elsewhere walking about how the resolution/IQ is so high that you almost have to use a tripod. Things that were not visible in the 700 now show up in the 800 images. So what we have is the consumer line and the the expensive top end D4 – D800. For the semi-pro shooter that used the D300 ( or the D700 for that matter) they are left alone in the cold. I know 700 shooters that do not want to go to the 800 so they feel abandoned also. There seems to be a large void between the 4/800 and the consumer line.

    For me the lack of the 10 pin connector on the 7100 is a deal breaker. The 7100 is almost but not enough. What we need is a D400 and a D750 but it makes no sense for Nikon to put the guts of the 7100 in a 300 body (with 10 pin connector).

  10. I’ve got all the Nikon FX bodies except the D4 – that’s later this year. But I like to keep a DX body for using with older DX lenses left over from the dark ages of digital photography – like about 10 years ago. The D300s was one of Nikon’s sweet solutions to the needs of the budget conscious newspaper photographer. Took a beating, kept on ticking, decent ISO range, good for all daytime outdoor sports and some night time stadium and gymnasium sports, especially with the grip attached. All it needed to make it a really fine DX camera was a bump up to 16 or 18 megapixels and a doubling of the ISO. Call it a D300x or a D400, whatever, but if Nikon made one I would buy it. Would I add a D7100 to my kit? No. Like the D7000, even with the improvements, the D7100 is a cutesy-poo solution to any photographer’s real needs – be he or she enthusiast or professional.

    A couple of final notes: Everybody goes pixel crazy, like that would give them better images. It’s pixel pitch that counts. And what’s with Nikon trying to make all of their newer bodies smaller? I prefer the size of my D700 to the newer D800. In fact, I think the D700 is the superior camera. The D800’s pixels are excessive. I would like to see a D700s with the D4’s 18 megapixel sensor. But hey, who am I? I’m just a guy out here trying to earn my living with Nikon products. Why would they listen to me? Right?

  11. I have the D7000 and I like it very much – but not the buffer, it is too slow, and this buffer here is even slower!!!!!

    They have not followed the developement in pixels – asume the same buffer as for 16 MP, therefore so slow, this is very bad.

    We must interpretate, that they want to have a huge edge to the D4,buy hey….what does a bigger buffer cost – does it not just need some more RAM ? If so this is not expensive.

    Look here how slow the buffer is and it is compared to a very slow buffer:

    http://nikonrumors.com/2013/02/21/nikon-d7100-vs-nikon-d7000-specifications-comparison.aspx/

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