Nikon D7100 Review – Part 1

Read: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

I remember saying to a good friend of mine who I know through the photography game that when I bought a D90 last year I hoped it would last me a good five years before I needed to, or felt compelled to upgrade.

I only mention this because since I purchased from MPB Photographic today a Nikon D7100, that has completely fallen flat on its face; as he even said to me it would at the time. However, I am keeping the D90 as a second body.

So I am awaiting the arrival of a brand new D7100 tomorrow from the courier, exciting times.

D7100 (1)

However, I am far from a gear head. I don’t really know what all the technical stuff means, however I do know a thing or two about taking pictures. I am a recent ‘convert’ to digital, having stuck with film right through to the beginning of 2012. I made the transition because the writing was on the wall, Kodak discontinued all of its E6 slide film (never was a massive fan of Fuji E6), and the expense was getting too much. Also, in that time digital had improved leaps and bounds and whilst it required learning a whole new batch of skills; it was worth it.

So what are the reasons for switching hopefully to the D7100 and why have I stuck with a DX body when I could easily have bought a second hand D700 for the same money and therefore moved up to full frame FX format. And did Canon have any role to play in my decisions?

Why the D7100?

This year I have increased the amount of jobs I am doing by a considerable amount, and whilst it was clear the D90 was a perfectly capable camera, it did have some limitations. The biggest one is in the autofocus department. Sometimes, in poor light, it just does not cut it, you can miss moments, although with the centre cross-type AF point and my usual focus and recompose method of working you could do pretty well; but sometimes the lenses would rack back and forth and not nail the focus. A shame indeed.

Secondly the one everyone cites, high ISO performance. High ISO a year ago for me was Kodak Portra 800 or if I was being mad, Fuji Provia 400X pushed 2 stops. By comparison at the time the D90s ISO 3200 performance seemed great. A year on, it is bearable but doesn’t do skin tones the best justice; and skin tones are important to me.

Some smaller improvements which I value are a base ISO of 100 (opposed to 200) and a maximum flash sync speed of 1/250th (versus 1/200th). 1 1/3rd stop isn’t masses but that can make a big difference when using flash outdoors to fill in or so forth (i.e. you can reduce your depth of field a little rather than having to shoot at f/11 or some such to keep within flash sync speed.) Also in theory the base ISO 100 should be less grainy than ISO 200 although I have always been very happy with the D90s ISO performance up to 1250, and 1600 for low light events.

The rest is frankly fluff. I don’t really care about 51 AF points or 1080p video recording. The dual SD card slots are a definite bonus.

But I am somebody who mostly uses the camera set in M(anual) mode, with Active D lighting on normal, and uses largely the centre AF point. There are hundreds of things I don’t use or know about on the D90, and I am sure there is a lot I won’t use on the D7100.

Why not a D7000, D300 or D400?

I did give the D7000 some strong consideration. Especially with Nikon’s current £100 rebate offer. But the fact that it had an AF system which was somewhere between the D90 and D300 in performance made me think, is this again another half way house to what I really want? I had also heard lots of comment about skin tones and so forth, frankly I paid no attention to those, I shoot RAW, I use Lightroom and I can get gorgeous (to my eyes) skin tones from my D90 with a bit of thinking through on my processing so I saw this as a non issue. Otherwise the D7000 was a strong contender.

Why not the D300/D300S, ISO performance not markedly or at all better than the D90. Otherwise it would have been a very strong candidate.

Why not the D400? Simple, it does not exist yet, if at all, ever; and I need a camera now.

Why not FX, or Canon?

Whilst I do own some full frame lenses (AF-D 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8), I also own the 35mm f/1.8 DX and 17-55mm f/2.8 DX lenses – which I love. The cost of upgrading to a 24-70mm would increase the cost exponentially and I really do like the 17-55mm lens. It’s fabulous. In all I have a setup I love using on the DX format.

I have no doubt that FX would offer me something if I went for it, but also I don’t actually like bigger cameras. I have smallish hands, and also I intend using the camera when I am out marching around the Essex marshlands for the A13 stuff, and I remember how much I came to loathe my Canon EOS 3 due to its heft pulling on my neck.

Which brings me to, why not Canon? Two things – lens investment again. Secondly, I don’t get on with Canon’s ergonomics, except I much prefer their ISO button location. But I have never really got on with Canon’s rear control dial, even when I owned the EOS 5. (Yes the 1992 EOS 5, not 5D.) Otherwise Canon makes exceptional cameras.

I have zero interest in the Canon versus Nikon debate, as good photographers make good photos, not the cameras alone.

Next time

I should receive the D7100 tomorrow and I will do an unboxing of the D7100 and recall my first impressions. I understand that Lightroom 4.3 (and 4.4 RC) do not support direct importing of D7100 RAW files but I will find a way to process my initial images anyway.

I’m not sure how many parts this will be, and I’ll probably have some ongoing thoughts that I record about this camera (i.e. longer term thoughts on its performance on the job so to speak), so I hope you find it useful.

Read: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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