Outwardly, very little has changed from the D7000 to the D7100, which isn’t a problem as the D7000 handled quite nicely. The body’s front is made of polycarbonate, while the top and rear are made of magnesium alloy. The camera certainly feels solid in the hands. The D7100 looks more muscular in comparison, and while it’s not weather-resistant, Nikon says that the D7100 is dust and moisture-resistant equivalent to the D600 and D800, so it offers some sort of protection against external elements.
Nikon’s usual ergonomics shine through in the D7100, with a couple of notable exceptions. The D7100’s controls are similar to those in the full-frame line-up, with twin control dials, Locked Mode and Release Mode dials, and LED control panel among other features. The camera is comfortable to hold, fast to operate and easy to get from powering on to shooting. The large 3.2-inch LCD is rich and vivid, thanks to the 1.2 million dots resolution.
Now on to the exceptions; Nikon has added a new ‘i' button to the left row of buttons beside the LCD monitor. The Info button to the right brings up an information screen of current settings, on cameras like the D800 you just press the Info button again to open up the settings for change. On the D7100, you have to press the new ‘i' button, which simply feels extraneous.
The level of control is also rather limited, while you can change things like image area and HDR mode, the other commands like ISO aren’t available, even though you can see them sitting on the screen. To get to those, you’ll need to use the dedicated buttons, which means that when you’re in the dark you’ll need to get to those buttons by muscle memory, even though you have a brightly lit screen right in front of you.
The ‘i' button is also used in Live View mode to bring up a list of settings, and here again the list is severely limited, for example you can change image quality settings but you can’t switch ISO. It’s disappointing, as even the most basic of Canon’s DSLR cameras, the EOS 100D, offers much more options in the Quick menu both in Live View and in non-Live View modes.
The AF mode switcher is still in an unmarked, inconspicuous position below the lens release button. We didn’t like it when it debuted on the D7000, we grew used to it on the D800, and now we’re back to not liking it on the D7100. It’s just difficult to hunt for, and makes switching AF modes difficult. To switch AF points, you can use the d-pad on the back, which seems like it has shrunk in size and feels a little cramped.
Even though the D7100 looks similar to the D7000, the insides have been completely overhauled and given a major boost. For one, the D7100 comes with the 51-point Advanced Multi-CAM 3500 auto-focus system, the same used on Nikon’s highest-end full-frame cameras like the D800 and D4. Paradoxically, it means the D7100 has a more comprehensive AF system than the higher-end full-frame D600, which only has 39 AF points bunched in the center, while the D7100’s AF points are spread out over the frame.
While the auto-focus is fast and responsive - as Nikons are known to be - focusing in Live View is still rather primitive and slow, when compared - again, regrettably - to the newest Canon DSLR camera, the entry-level EOS 100D. Canon’s hybrid AF has improved much since its introduction and has made Live View on a DSLR camera actually usable. The D7100 however, still needs to catch up.
To be sure, the D7100 doesn’t handle badly; it’s a well-made camera with most controls quickly available under your fingertips. It just feels like it could be better, especially when you look across the other side and see how Canon is innovating on their DSLR cameras with touch-screens, hybrid AF, a better Quick menu and Live View shooting experience.