New Camera with the Old Name

(news and commentary)

Nikon introduced the overdue replacement to the D7000 today: the D7100. The new camera continues the use of the D7000/D600 platform, but makes a few internal changes: 24.1mp sensor with no AA filter, the CAM3500 51-point AF sensor, the full set of video formats to match the D5200 and D600, and not a lot else. Externally, we get a 1.3m dot 3.2" LCD (does not appear to have an ambient light sensor) and one small button shuffle. Most everything else, including the 6 fps, pretty much stays the same as on the D7000. Oh, there is a 1.3x crop at 7 fps and a new spot WB feature, but the other new stuff is pretty low level.

The specs make one wonder: what took so long? 

I'll have more to say late in the day after I've had time to talk to a few Nikon folk about the camera and get additional details, but this looks like nothing more than a simple and relatively modest D7000 update to me. Other sites have predicted the demise of the D300s as the top of the DX lineup with the D7000 replacement being some sort of melding of the D300s/D7000, but that's not what we got. And if this is the new top, something's wrong with Nikon's thinking. Nikon has clearly left room for a true performance camera at the top of the DX line. Whether or not they'll make it is another matter. I still say they should and probably will. The buffer on the D7100, like that of the D7000 before it, is still pretty thin for continuous NEF shooting, amongst other problems.

  • Aside: Some suggest that Nikon thinks that all the D300 users will (or already have) just move up to the FX line. To some degree, Nikon has been marketing that way. But let's think this through just a bit. The D300 was introduced with the D3, and it was introduced as a pro body at a lower cost. Basically a smaller twin of the D3 but with a smaller sensor. That was a remarkably successful strategy, and resulted in quite a few people moving to a high performance DX body over the lesser ones. Moreover, the DX crop turns out to be a good compromise for wildlife shooting: at equal overall pixel counts you get more pixel density on distant animals with DX than you do with FX. Simply put, Nikon created a group of photographers who found high-end DX to be the right product for them. To suggest to those same folk that they move to the low-end of FX is ridiculous. And to suggest that Nikon would create such a group and then abandon them is even more ridiculous. To expect them to shell out three times the money they spent for their body to get a high performance FX body is a reach, especially when it likely involves them having to go to longer lenses. 

    Nikon seems to be doing a really slow modest iteration of their DSLRs. Other than bumping pixel counts with new state-of-the-art sensors everywhere, there's not a lot else happening in these new models. They're just old school modest iteration projects other than the core. Thus, doing a D300 followup should be just as easy as doing the D7000 followup. As I've written before and will write again: Nikon should create a D400 followup to the D300s. To not do so is to leave money (and users) on the table. 


Back to the D7100.

The 51-point AF sensor was expected, as was it's f/8 maximum lens capability. Note what Nikon has been doing with all the DX DSLRs: upgrading certain specs, including AF, to the next level when they update a camera. The logical move for the D7000-to-D7100 upgrade was 39-to-51 point, therefore. That certainly will be welcome to many who like this level of body, as it starts to reach the focus system into the one-third points on DX bodies. It also adds more dual axis detection out of the central core of the AF system (15 cross sensors instead of 9). 

24mp was also expected. From the actual sensor size, this appears to be the Toshiba sensor, and that makes for a slightly higher than 1.5x crop. There would need to be something ridiculously special--e.g. frame rates or buffer size--to get by with a lower count on the top consumer DX body. The removal of the AA filter, however, is a little unexpected. Certainly with fast lenses that will improve acuity over what the D5200 achieves, but once we're at the long end of the kit zooms diffraction is going to start chewing into that, so the tangible benefit is probably gone by f/8. An interesting decision on Nikon's part, but it feels a bit like putting dual exhausts on an engine that doesn't need them.

The serious DX crowd--the folk that are shooting with D300's and want a replacement--probably aren't exactly seeing the D7100 as their salvation. Great, 6 fps, 24mp, no AA, and the 51-point sensor. But no 8 fps in what they want to be a 10 fps world, no tougher body build with a full metal frame through the lens mount for those big lenses, no 91k pixel metering/focus sensor, no large buffer, no better weather sealing, no dedicated WB/QUAL/ISO buttons, no AF-ON button (updated: note that the D7100 is like the D600 the only way you can move the focus from the shutter release is to reassign the AE-L/AF-L button to AF On), and dare I say it: no integrated grip with a bigger battery. There's room for a D400 should Nikon decide to follow through with one. I'm on record saying they should, and on record saying they eventually will.

Something about the D7100 feels decidedly blah to me. New sensor, more AF points, not much else to excite. Oh sure, we get the WU-1a WiFi accessory and a new remote wireless controller. Still feeling weak. If you already have a D7000, do you really lust after the D7100? Not really. Those extra pixels won't deliver a lot of bang (18% linear resolution increase, just barely into the visible range; or since every time I write something like this I get the croppers sending me email: 18% more linear cropping capability). 

Then we have the name. Why D7100? The DX 100's are already end-of-life. Why the heck would you want to be marketing a D3200, D5200, and D7100 when you could have just called the last one D7200 and make it clear this is the same generation? Since the low end camera iterates about every 12 months and the top end iterates every two or three years, we could have a D3400 and a D7100 being sold side-by-side if Nikon isn't careful. Heck, we could end up with a D3400, D5300, and D7100 side-by-side. It's not like Nikon is likely to run out of D7xxx numbers. Even skipping every other one they have enough numbers left for sixteen years or so.

In the end, the D7100 is to the D7000 what the D5200 was to the D5100 and what the D3200 was to the D3100. An iterative step forward with a few parts trickling down from above. In some ways that's comforting: Nikon is acting like Nikon acts. But we really have to wonder if it's enough to keep the base excited.

Am I going to resurrect my DX bag? Well, truth be told, I have to in order to get enough experience with the D7100 to write the book on it. Do I think my DX bag will still be active a year from now? Difficult to say for sure until I've used the camera at length, but I feel really on the fence about it emotionally at the moment. It really depends upon how that sensor delivers without the AA and in tough light, I think. Time will tell.

But yippee: new camera. Double yippee: doesn't look like Nikon strayed from the update course and gave us the expected D7000 update. The last yippee will only come after I've tested it and it passes the "moves the bar forward" test.

Oh yeah, you want to know price and availability: US$1200 for the body, US$1600 with the 18-105mm kit lens (really, Nikon, no new kit lens for a sensor without an AA?). The camera ships in March. And one more thing: there's yet another new extended grip: the MB-D15 is what fits onto the D7100. Why the D7100 and D600 couldn't share a grip, I don't know. Those wacky Japanese, iterating things like the bottom plates of cameras slightly.

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