Apologies for the lack of photos on a review of a camera, by a photographer! But I will sort that out, I just wanted to get the words down.
I have paused before doing part two, I don’t want to do a specification sheet review. There is little need for me to tell you about its 24 megapixels and lack of optical low pass filter (OLPF) because you can find that out anywhere, and a lack of OLPF and 24 megapixels does not make good photos. The photographer does that whatever she or he is using. I have always maintained this because it is true – although some cameras will make certain photos easier to obtain than others (i.e. a Leica M2 with ISO 50 film and a 135mm f/4 lens on a cloudy day taking pictures of the Grand Prix will be challenge!)
The thing about a new camera is that to start with, you can see some benefits to it, but also it’s the small ergonomic differences that you appreciate but are still different to something that had been your workhorse previously and a bit of doubt creeps in; will this tool be as natural to me as the previous?
In my case that previous was the D90 (which was a huge change from my Olympus OM2n’s — which I still have), it wasn’t without fault though. The AE-L/AF-L button was small, and too far away from where my thumb felt truly comfortable so as an AF-ON button (through customising the controls) it wasn’t great. But overall I had gotten used to how the D90 handled, and then promptly bought another camera, the D7100.
So the reasons that I bought the D7100 have to come through and shine for it to have been worth the expense, otherwise I may as well stick with the D90 (which is still an excellent camera). Those reasons were auto focus performance and better high ISO performance, certainly at ISO 3200 — however I am not afraid to use flash because there comes a point where actually it is too dark to flatter the subject and some well bounced and flagged flash can do wonders. (That said, gloomy churches need high ISO performance, you can’t really use flash too much if at all.)
I don’t buy gear because I like gear — don’t get me wrong I like a new camera — but because it has to do a job better than the previous bit of kit, and I have had something of a camera sell off this year (I don’t own my Leica for example any more, it hasn’t been used in well over a year, so why let it languish in my cupboard when someone else can get pleasure from it, you can’t take any of it with you when your number’s up.)
I have been using the camera now for over three weeks and done three portrait sessions with it, a little of my A13 documentary (which has yet to be fully worked on this year, but my other business activities have conspired against me doing much!) and general fiddling. There’s only so much you can fit in when your working, going for your run three times a week, having a social life and so forth! The upshot of this is I cannot give definitive answers to all of my questions but I can now provide what are now fairly solid feelings about this camera.
In short: very little if anything to dislike.
Generally the D7100 is similar enough to the D90 to not be a complete culture shock. The main difference is the dial on the right of the body (if looking from the front) where the shutter release mode (S, CL, CH, Q, Timed, Mirror Up) is combined with the mode dial (P, A, S, M), a neat advantage of the D7100 is that unlike the D7000 it has a lock which has to be depressed before rotating either part of the dial. Some people will hate this but I wager anyone uses their camera for their living will like the fact that it can’t get knocked and suddenly you find yourself in A (aperture priority mode) instead of M mode and then miss the shot – it can happen and had a few times on my D90. That said, the shutter release mode dial is fiddly, but I tend to always leave this in CL mode,
The other difference is that the zoom in/out buttons are swapped – I am not sure why this was done but I have got used to it now (although using the D90 is now counter intuitive, this should only be an issue if you chimp a lot though – to which I say, don’t, build trust in your skills – you did or would of have had to on film), also the playback and delete buttons are grouped. In fairness this grouping is not unique to the D7100 (the D300, D7000 etc. all have this).
A minor annoyance which I can’t work out is the D7100 omits the places to fix a plastic screen protector unlike the D600 which is virtually the same body, with the same size screen! Some people hate the protectors, and they aren’t great but when I see how scratched my D90’s protector is, I am glad it’s there. I may not chimp much but I want to see the settings rather than finding I have a smashed screen! Instead I have ordered a D600 GGS screen protector, and I will let you know how that works out.
As noted before, the AE-L/AF-L button is much better on the D7100 versus the D90, it sticks out and is closer to the rear control dial making it easier for my small hands to reach. This is now assigned as an AF-ON button. AF-ON removes the autofocus control off the shutter release making it almost redundant to switch between AF Single and AF Continous mode.
Another neat advantage of the D7100 is the Preview button (in the place Fn is on the D90) can be assigned to AF-L and is within easy reach of my fingers on the grip. Why would you need AF-L if you’re using an AF-ON button? Sometimes I find the D7100 fidgets with the focus if I am keeping my finger on the AF-ON button, and it’s nice to just stop it doing that when I want it to. This might be a quirk of my shooting habits, but it works for me.
Tripping the shutter is also nicer. The D90 had two definite positions in its two stage action, which you may think is better, but I find the more “spongey” D7100 release better, as you’re less likely to “jab” when tripping the shutter to go beyond the first stage of shutter release, quite important if you’re working at 1/30th sec – it can mean the difference between a sharp shot and one that is a bit blurred.
The grip is also more comfortable than the D90 which I found stretched my fingers a bit more in comparison, I feel I have a more secure grip of the D90. I don’t have especially small hands, probably moderately sized, so some peeps with larger hands may find this not so good. For me it feels about right.
Another great feature of the D7100 like other up market Nikon models is the OK button to zoom straight to the AF point the camera used so you can confirm focus very quickly rather than multiple zoom button presses and panning to where you want the focus to be bang on.
One ergonomic change that doesn’t seem to work for me is the flash compensation button (above the bracketing button), on the D90 at a pinch I could reach it without removing my eye from the viewfinder. On the D7100 it just seems a bit further away and I usually end up changing my bracketing rather than the flash compensation. This is irritating. On the plus side because I shoot manual, where I am using flash, my exposures within a short period of time should be pretty consistent (and certain within the capability of the RAW output to correct e.g. sun going behind clouds outdoors) and therefore once my flash compensation is set I don’t usually need to change it that often over a 5-10 minute period. But all the same there are time where this irritates me.
Screen: The screen is a tad larger than my D90s at 3.2″. This is a good sized screen, and annoyances with the lack of provision for the ugly but functional plastic screen protectors aside, and seems brighter than my D90s.
Ok, I will mention this: not all great photos are sharp or full of resolution, so sharpness and resolution are not markers of a great photo. However, this camera is S H A R P with good lenses. When tested with my 17-55mm, 35mm DX, 50mm 1.4D, and 85mm 1.8D the results when in focus (i.e. when I have not ballsed up or when the camera has been right) are fantastic. Don’t pixel peep, unless you plan on viewing all your photos with your nose pressed up to a wall. Print! When this camera is in focus, it’s fantastic.
I have seen no examples of moiré either, yet.
12 megapixels was enough to print large prints when using a good lens and not cropping too much for a 20×16″ print, so 24 megapixels you are good to make prints. As a portrait and wedding photographer, you have to remember that most people’s albums when they order them are not going to be much larger than 12×12″ in size, and the prints inside will be smaller still. 24 megapixels is more than enough.
Where the additional MP comes in handy is high ISOs, here’s a shoddy example of an ISO 6400 scene downsized for the average computer screen (or non-Retina iPad resolution), not bad is it? (The pig’s left eye is the focus point)
Yes there is some noise in the background wallpaper, but it’s not distracting (to me) and when printed any non-photographer will not notice, especially if the photo is any good (which the above isn’t, it’s a load of crap on my desk) and captures a moment, they will love it. An remember, that is ISO 6400 on a crop sensor camera. Print that at 12×8″ and it will be fine.
I accept however the good amount of ambient light does help of course, and it still remains if you underexpose you pay the price with a crop sensor camera at high ISOs. But the extra resolution allows you to do some noise reduction, and then you can shrink the image binning some of the noise (and maybe some detail but export sharpening can help there.)
And if you think where you may print larger, e.g. a canvas, the texture of the canvas will break up your image anyway and grain will be the least of your issues.
So yes, I have seen clear advantages of FX when it comes to high ISO, that doesn’t change. But it is unlikely as a portrait photographer that you would struggle with the D7100. Just make sure you exposure is more or less right, otherwise it’s probably best to start thinking about using some nice well balanced directional flash. I can appreciate that sports photographers may however disagree but I’m not talking about that.
So in short, is it better than the D7000? D5200? D300S? Maybe, no, yes – I don’t know, what I do know is it’s more than good enough. Stop pixel peeping and use the camera for what it was intended, taking photos of things other than stuffed toys in gloomy rooms and only looking at the photos at 1:1 resolution on your screen (unless that genuinely is your whole field of interest!)
All photos are Copyright © 2013 Victoria JK Lamburn. If you wish to link to them, please link to this blog post, not the images directly.
In short the D7100 is an impressive piece of kit. I have seen no instance of left focus issues with my copy, or oil or dust. I only ever get my sensor professionally cleaned, and in fairness my D90 needs it as it has a big splodge top left of every photo I have ever taken with it, not you have ever seen it, it’s either been cropped or cloned out. See, real world usage, photographers work around problems. Perfection is a foolish thing to chase in life, when you accept that things are not perfect, you end up enjoying life more I think 🙂
In part three I will discuss autofocus performance and further general usage performance information such as tracking moving subjects, the buffer fill rate in continuous shots e.g. couples walking etc, and out of camera colour quality.
Again apologies for the lack of photos on a review of a camera, by a photographer! But I will sort that out.