Nikon D7100 Fills the Bill

David Haueter
Oct 11, 2013

Back in February of this year, I blogged about my mission to replace the Nikon D200 DSLR I’ve been shooting with for the past several years. That search would have been easy if Nikon had replaced the D300s SLR (introduced well over five years ago) with a new D400 model, but they haven’t and there don’t seem to be any indications that they will, so I’ve spent this year testing the FX-format full-frame D800 (see the D800 blog), and D600 cameras, and most recently the D7100 DX-format model.

Nikon D7100

Since most of my shooting revolves around cars and motorsports, my priorities for a new camera were that it would be fast, have great autofocus and be rugged enough to survive several weekends a year at race tracks. The D800 filled the autofocus and ruggedness requirements, but I found it to be too slow for shooting motorsport action with its maximum frame rate of 4fps in FX (full frame) mode or 5fps shooting in DX mode. With a price tag of $3,000, the D800 was also a bit out of my price range. The D600 proved to be very similar to the D800 in terms of image quality and was faster at 5.5fps, but was somewhat limited in its autofocus flexibility, as the 39 autofocus points are all concentrated in the middle of the frame. I was also hesitant to buy the D600 with the complaints I’ve seen on online forums about the camera generating oil and dirt spots on the sensor (which presumably has been addressed with the new D610 model that was just introduced).

That brings me to the D7100. I must admit that I was turned off at the idea of owning a D7100 as my primary camera. After all, this is not a “professional level” camera but rather a model meant for enthusiast photographers. I decided to give it a shot after looking at the specs, which are pretty impressive for a $1,200 camera. It has the same 51-point autofocus system as the top-shelf Nikon D4 pro SLR with focus points that fill much more of the frame than the D600. The D7100 can shoot at 6fps in DX mode at full resolution and had weather sealing that seemed to be on par with the more expensive D600. I was also intrigued by the D7100’s ability to shoot at 7fps in its 1.3x crop mode, which seemed ideal for the motorsport shooting that I do. The only initial complaint I was hearing from others on the camera was the limited buffer when shooting in RAW mode, but I almost always shoot JPEG so that wasn’t really an issue for me.

D7100 1.3x crop mode gets you closer to the action

After trying out the D7100 at several motorsport events and car shoots this summer, I pulled the trigger and placed an order for the camera (for those interested I purchased from Unique Photo in NJ). The deciding factor in buying the D7100 came last weekend when I shot a race in Virginia and used the D7100 alongside a rented D4. By the end of the weekend, I found myself leaving the D4 in my bag and carrying the D7100 more, as it was much lighter and was performing nearly as well as the D4. The D4 was much faster of course, but in looking through my photos I found the action shots from the D7100 to be just as sharp and accurate as those from the D4. The 1.3x crop mode has been very beneficial for shooting motorsport, as it not only moves the speed up to 7fps but also gets me closer to the action with my longer zoom lenses.

The D7100 has done everything that I expect from an SLR with the fast paced shooting that I do and I’ve been impressed with image quality, but it’s not without its flaws. The battery grip holds only one battery instead of two, and the battery is held into place by a plastic clip that doesn’t seem all that sturdy. At one point, the camera went dead in the middle of shooting and it turned out the battery popped out of its position, but that only happened once and has not been a problem since. I do wish the D7100 was built with a full metal frame, but overall the camera feels like it’s built to last. I may still find myself saving up for a D400 if and when it ever comes to market, but in the meantime I think the D7100 and I will have a very productive relationship.

 

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