[Imaging Week] The Nikon D7100 is the younger sibling of the famous Nikon D7000, a star product which was launched in late 2010. On paper, the Nikon D7100 is much more of an upgrade than its numbering scheme may lead you to believe. First of all, the sensor goes to 24 Megapixel (from 16), the auto-focus (AF) system now samples 51 points, and the video recording mode can shoot up to 1080 at 60 FPS (interlaced) or 30FPS progressive (from 1080/24p previously on the D7000). In addition to that, Nikon as managed to make the body a little lighter – what’s not to like? Finally, a much talked about aspect of the Nikon D7100 is the lack of low-pass filter in the sensor – I’ll tell you more about it since it this generates quite a buzz in the forums.
As usual, the list of specs is very long, but if you have to take away a short list, here’s what I think most people may be interested by:
24 Megapixel CMOS Sensor (no low-pass filter)
3.2″ display with 1.2M pixels
1920×1080 recording at 60i or 30p (H.264/MPEG4, 30mn max recording)
Full specs at Nikon.com
No low-pass filter! Err…What is a low-pass filter?
Low-pass filters are usually not a big topic of interest to the general public, but savvy enthusiasts do know about it, and sometime care passionately about this topic. It’s basically a way to “blur” the image before it gets to the sensor by adding filters that scatter the light horizontally, then vertically, thus spreading some of light to neighboring sensor pixels. You may ask “why would you want to blur the image before it reaches the sensor, don’t we want photos to be sharp?!” Well, this was introduced to avoid situations where certain patterns would be highly visible and overly noisy (it’s called Moiré). That’s the same reason why TV presenters don’t wear shirts with a very distinctive pattern or thin lines: because it could look very noisy (and flicker) on TV.
The obvious downside of having a low-pass filter is that it blurs the image a little… and that’s a shame for anyone who doesn’t care for those weird patterns, since they are effectively losing some sharpness in their photos. Nikon has probably decided that dealing with the Moiré effect can be done elsewhere (in software, or post-sensor for example), and that it wasn’t worth blurring the image sharpness for every shot.
Typically, removing the low-pass filter may be inconvenient for folks who shoot indoors, or shoot specific things (like clothing, or displays). However, it’s great for those shooting landscape photos since they can get all the details that nature has to offer. Finally, note that the removal of the low-pass filter may increase the sharpness of the image, but this is under the condition that you are not limited by the sharpness of the lens itself. It wouldn’t surprise me if cheaper lenses yielded no improvements at all.
You can find easy to digest information on low-pass filtering on this page, or if you want to more “comprehensive” version, here’s a link to wikipedia.
I don’t use Nikon cameras that much, but I found the Nikon D7100 to be well built and rather comfortable to hold. The front grip feels deeper than it is on Canon EOS DSLRs, and there is ample room to rest my fingers without pressing anything unintentionally. I haven’t used it enough to tell you if the layout is more “efficient” than on the EOS 50D that I normally use, but this is probably a matter of personal preferences anyway.
The build quality is very good, and the body feels extremely solid. The back of the camera even has a little “rugged” feel to it, but that’s mainly because of how it’s designed. I don’t think that Nikon would pitch it that way.
The lens I used with the D7100 is a 18-300mm that could be a great “do it all” lens. Despite its relatively large size, the camera was well balanced and nice to use. Obviously, there’s a large array of lenses available from both Nikon and 3rd party vendors so it is easy to find something that would fit your particular usage.
The Nikon D7100 is very snappy, as it is fast to process photos and the auto-focus performance is rather high (this was in bright light conditions). I was impressed with the burst mode, and if you are willing to lower the photo resolution to 15Megapixel, you can shoot up to 7 frames per second, which should be quite good for action/sport shots. Action shots is also where the 51-points AF system comes in handy, since you potentially have to track subjects running around.
Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to try shooting with the D7100 in low-light, but given the specs and the established performance of its predecessor, I think that the D7100 should do very well. These low-light is the final frontier for a lot of people these days, and I’m a little bummed that I couldn’t push the limits of this camera at this time.
I have shot some photos with that 18-300 lens, some of which were shot using the zoom all the way (that’s the worst-case scenario). I didn’t try to do anything fancy, but if you’re curious, you can check the Flickr images for a close inspection. With the fancier lenses, the results could be sensibly superior. While shooting movies, the D7100 reacts like most modern DSLR: the auto-focus was a little slow, but the quality was high. There was no “jerkiness” in the auto-focus, even in slightly difficult situations (strong back-light ..) so this is very promising.
I’m very impressed by the Nikon D7100 as it is a very good performer that has great specs, great build quality and performance for an MSRP of $1200. I have little doubt that this particular model will represent a very potent option to Canon cameras within the same price range. Actually, I’m wondering myself if I should stick with Canon as I’m due for an upgrade. Nikon has managed to build a very attractive package and I can’t wait to take a retail unit for a field trip.