The D7100 is the last APS-C sensor camera in the line before you move up to a professional full-frame (FX format) camera that costs $1000 more. Good news is that the D7100 comes loaded with a lot of hand-me-down tech from Nikon's FX line, which might make spending extra cash worth it.
As with the D3200 and D5200, the D7100's APS-C sensor has been boosted to 24-megapixel resolution. But it's not the same sensor—this one has been engineered without the low-pass filter designed to help eliminate aliasing distortions. Nikon says it's improved the sensor to the point where the filter isn't necessary anymore. In keeping with the cheaper DX (APS-C sensor) models, the D7100's top standard sensitivity is ISO 6400. That's good enough that you should be able to get good shots in dark situations or capture well-let, but fast-moving subjects without blur.
Other key new features include the new 51-point autofocus system. The only other Nikon camera with that system is the badass $3000 D800. Not even the $2100 full-frame D600 has the new 51-point system. The D7100 is also the cheapest DSLR out there to offer an uncompressed video feed from the HDMI output—that was one of the most talked about features of the D800 when it was released last year.
Indeed, the 7100 is a full-fledged video beast: It's got on-board stereo mics in to the 3.5mm mic input and a headphone output for monitoring. For the price, you can't find a camera with all three. The camera's video recording sizes are pretty standard. It records 1920 x 1080 MPEG-4 video at 24, 25 and 30 fps. You can get up to 60 interlaced frames at 1080 resolution as well.
Nikon has made a few interface and handling tweaks, including a higher-resolution 3.2-inch display should be easier to see. A "I" control button has been added to the back, allowing you to quickly access common settings. In high-speed continuous shooting mode, the D7100 squeezes out 6 fps compared to 5 fps on the 5200. If you switch over to the newly added 1.3x crop mode, you can get up to 7 frames. Nikon even upgraded the tiny display that shows you shooting settings inside the viewfinder to OLED LCD. It's noticeably easier to read than the old green LCD blurs that used to be in there.
This all sounds fantastic, but the biggest problem is that while we just rattled off a load of highly-desirable features, there's not a single one that's compelling enough to seal the deal. And at $1200 for the body alone, the D7100 is asking a lot of people in a price-conscious class of consumers. The camera not only misses the crucial $1000 cutoff for what people consider a "budget" DSLR, it's also $400 more expensive than the D5200. Is this stack of advanced features worth $400 if realistically you're working with the same image sensor from cheaper cameras in the line? We'll have to wait until the D7100 comes out next month to find out. [Nikon USA]
• Price: $1200 body only ($1600 with 18-105 kit lens)
• Sensor: 24.1-megapixel, 23.5 x 15.6 mm APS-C
• Max ISO: 6400 (25000 expanded)
• Video: 1920 x 1080 24/25/30/50i/60i
• Max Drive: 6 frames-per-second at full resolution (7 fps with 1.3x crop)
• Screen: 1.229-million dot, 3.2-inch LCD
• Weight: 23.8 ounces