Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nikon D5200 vs D7000 vs D7100 (Updated to Include D5300)




At the high end of the enthusiast camera market, Nikon has now given an interesting choice for dedicated “pro-sumers” between the DX D7100 and the FX D600. Both are capable cameras, and even though both are not professionally-oriented, the D7100 and the D600 will put pro cameras from a generation ago to shame. Such is the progress of technology; all things keep getting better. However, going down the Nikon product ladder, we still have a set of very capable cameras, especially with the D5200 and the remaining stocks of D5100’s and D7000’s. This poses an interesting choice for many people who want a  mid-level consumer dSLR, but who might be tempted into moving up into a more capable camera.

D5100: Best Value


Let’s get one thing out of the way: if you’ve never owned a dSLR before and don’t want to spend a lot of money, the remaining D5100’s offer the most bang for the buck. The higher end cameras are more capable, but also require more skill and experience to extract a meaningful difference in image quality.  If you are moving up from a compact or your smartphone camera and the thought of spending more money on one single lens than you ever did on a camera sounds extravagantly expensive, then the D5100 will fill your shoes comfortably. Don’t worry that it’s the outgoing model; the truth is, at the D5100/D5200 price level, most consumers are happy with the kit lenses. Therein lies the rub; the stock 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lenses are good but aren’t good enough to make much of a difference between 16mp and 24mp. Yes, a newer camera will generate 24mp worth of data, which is 50% more than the 16mp, but the images won’t show the full difference that those 50% extra pixels would be capable of producing. For that, you will have to spend money on extra lenses which is self-defeating if you don’t want to spend big money on a dSLR kit.

D5200 vs D7000: The Lure of Extra Pixels vs Better Handling


This is an interesting dilemma. First off, there is no getting around it, with the same lenses and assuming that there are no hindrances to getting the shot, the D5200 will produce the high image quality of the two. First, to dispel a myth… Despite what might have been true years ago, more megapixels do not necessarily mean worse image noise today. The light gathering efficiency of modern sensors is greater than what was seen in the past. The idea that more megapixels means worse image quality was true at one time when camera marketing pushed the megapixel count faster than technological gains in sensor efficiency, but it must be remembered: this was true of compact cameras, but was never true for dSLR’s! With each new generation of dSLR sensors, be it Nikon, Canon or Sony, image noise has correspondingly gone down as megapixel counts have gone up. To that end, yes, the D5200 sensor is an improvement over the D5100/D7000 sensor.

However, the D5xxx and D7xxx lines are aimed at different users. The fact that there is overlap is an indication of the reduced price discrepancy between new D5xxx and old D7xxx. If you compare the prices of a new D5200 versus its contemporary, the D7100, then the price gap widens again. The single biggest tangible difference is the size of the camera bodies. Compared to the D7000, the D5200 is smaller, lighter and if you pick each up side by side, you’ll probably get the sense that it was made with smaller hands in mind. Even though the vast majority of Nikon compatible lenses will mount on any camera with a F-mount (with varying degrees of functionality), the larger professional lenses will totally overwhelm the D5200.  In truth, Nikon doesn’t expect D3200 and D5200 users to be prolific lens swappers; at most they will add one or two lenses, like a dedicated zoom lens or maybe the 35mm f/1.8-G.

The D5200 more or less replicates the experience that you would get with a “bridge” camera, but in a dSLR format. It’s larger than a bridge camera, and the amount of zoom that you get is less, but in a still compact package, you get a versatile machine that takes excellent still photos, has good video functionality, and has a flip-out rear LCD screen, a useful feature not found on any other Nikon dSLR. Another added bonus is that the D5200 inherits the D7000’s excellent 39-point autofocus system, making it much more capable than the D5100 with tracking moving objects.

However, the D5200 is clearly not an enthusiast’s camera. It has less dedicated buttons than a D7000, meaning that camera settings require a dive into the menu system. For the intended target audience, this isn’t a big issue, as they would already be used to doing that with compacts. Compared to the D7000, the D5200 buttons feel more stiff and “clicky." They have a firm resistance and good give good tactile feedback, but the feeling that you get is that the buttons were designed to be pressed once and forgotten about. Contrary to that, the controls on a D7000 have a better feel if you are changing camera parameters quickly and repeatedly. It’s the difference between a keyboard with a hard clacky key action and one where the keys are soft, but still firm enough to be speedy. (I prefer Microsoft keyboards over Logitech, if that gives you an idea, especially the feel of MS's first split "ergo" keyboard.)

That’s more or less the advantage of the D7000 over the D5200: speed. You can take great pictures with both, but if you know your way around a camera, the D7000 can do things a lot faster than a D5100. The converse is true, though: if you have sloppy technique, you can take sloppy pictures faster with the D7000 as well.

If you are keen on improving in photography, then the D7000 is the better choice. The layout of the controls provides better access to key photographic variables like shutter, aperture, ISO and white balance. You can access these just the same on a D5200, but if you use both back to back, the D7000 will actually feel like the more nature camera to use. As well, the difference in view finder quality can’t be underestimated. The D7000 uses a proper glass penta-prism to relay the image from the lens to the eye piece. The D5200 uses a less expensive penta-mirror system. Mirrors are optically less efficient than prisms, so they produce a dimmer image. To get around this, the final image is reduced in size when it gets to the eye-piece in order to restore some of the brightness (more light into a smaller area = same amount of light, but the illuminated area is brighter). The downside is that you are viewing a smaller image than on the D7000. Try both back to back; it’s really hard to go back to using the D5200 if you’ve used a D7000.

By the way, this is also the reason behind one of the sillier pieces of advice from Ken Rockwell; that you really want a full frame camera because the viewfinder image is bigger and more comfortable. Sheesh. Yes, this is true, because the FX image circle is larger than the DX image circle the view finder image in a D600 is just as a bright as the D7000/D7100, only it’s twice as large. I would consider that an advantage, yes, but not in the way that ken Rockwell states it. It’s like saying that the advantage of having a Ferrari over a normal car is because the engine is louder. That may be the case, and Ferrari/Maserati engines do in fact sound otherworldly, but it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog considering that the point of the faster car and more expensive camera is more performance.

Here’s a simple way to elucidate the difference between the D5200 and the D7000; think kids. The D5200, like take great pictures of newborns and young children. When they start getting into sports, the D5200 will still be a great camera, but that’s when the D7000 and more upmarket lenses like the 70-300VR start coming into their own. Or think about it in another way; at weddings, the D5200 will far and away exceed anybody trying to capture the day with an iPhone, but the D7000 will excel at those “blink and you miss it moments” in between the staged and posed shots.... fleeting facial expressions, kids running down the aisle, bouquets and garters flying through the air... that sort of thing.  I’m generalizing, of course, but each photographer will find his or her own preference.

D5200 vs D7100: Head versus Heart


This is where the rational comparison starts breaking down. The D5xxx and D7xxx cameras are built for two different camps, but at least with the D7000, the reduced price difference makes the comparison a little more reasonable. The difference between the D5200 and the D7100 is at least the price of a decent lens. If you are making this comparison, then you are likely a D5200 user, but long for the more upmarket camera simply because it is better. That’s nothing new; D7000 and D7100 users do the same thing with the D600. This is how cameras are marketed, there's always one that's just out of your reach, but not out of your imagination.

Personally, I don’t think the D7100 is right for you if you are comparing it to the D5200... at least not now. In favour of the D7100: it could very well be the last dSLR that you will ever need. We’re entering the age of diminishing returns, and even though it’s the camera companies’ jobs to make you keep wanting the next newest and greatest thing, the truth is that if you buy a D7100 now it will last you for quite some time. Should you, though? Let’s just say this; I’m every bit a guitar enthusiast as I am a camera enthusiast, but my camera skills exceed my guitar skills by quite some measure. That doesn’t mean that I don’t long for a genuine Martin guitar; it’s just that it’s not going to make that much of a difference with my skill, or lack thereof. That said, reaching for a D7100 on a D5200 budget is a much less unreasonable proposition than reaching for a D600 on a D7100 budget. If  you aren't on the continual upgrade path, and there is a chance that the next dSLR purchase might be your last one for quite some time, then it's perfectly reasonable making the stretch. You'll have more camera than what you would know what to do with, but at least it will last for the long haul.

Update - D5300 (October 2013)

As was inevitable, Nikon introduced an update this fall to the D5200 in the form of the D5300. The major improvements are Wi-Fi/GPS, the removal of the optical low pass filter, a slightly larger screen and improved battery life. In real-world use, all of these things are incremental. For most users... even advanced ones... the extra detail given by the removal of the anti-aliasing filter is subtle; it's something that you won't notice unless you are directly comparing images side-by-side. The inclusion of Wi-Fi is handy if you want to try using Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility app, but be warned that because the Wi-Fi is in-body, the range is likely to not be very far. The real issue with the D5300 for value-oriented buyers is that it is only bundled with the 18-55mm or the 18-140mm kit lens... no more 18-105mm. From a performance standpoint, this is a good thing as the 18-140mm is better optically and construction-wise, but it is also more expensive. Nikon has effectively bumped up the price of the D5300 kit compared to the D5200 when it was launched by switching lenses... at the time of writing a D5300 with 18-140mm kit is $1,399 USD list. That will come down over time, but a *much* better alternative is the D7000 18-105mm kit for less than $999 USD if you can still find it (some locations may have body-only).

26 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. That was terrific thanks, most helpful comparison I've read. I''m a previous SLR user, then went compact/smartphone whilst busy with family life.
      Been considering this for some time now but worried about the time commitment.
      You've talked me up to the D7XXXs & I'll probably go (against your advice) to the D7100.

      Delete
  2. I would probably talk myself into the D7100 if I were in the same position. ;-)

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  3. Nice comparison! They are both great camera's no doubt, but if money wasn't an issue i think it would be the 7100 over the 5200.. Thats just me though.. Please take a look at my comparison chart of the D7100 over other cameras on my blog.. Thanks
    http://www.squidoo.com/nikon-d7100-best-price-and-review

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  4. Hi, nice comparison without getting into specs, tests and pixel peeping :)

    I did get a D7100 but the bad part was the 18-200mm that came as a bundle. You are absolutely right about being self-defeating if not willing to spend for better lenses. To me, it seemed like a waste of $600 on that bundled lens (after $250 discount).

    For my type of use, the weather sealed body and faster controls didn't make a big difference in one month's use.

    I am ready to return this bundle, mainly because of the lens. However, looking at how much the 'desired' lenses cost, I won't get them for a while and also need to spend less on camera. In that direction, I may be opting for D5200.

    The D5200's attraction for me over D7000 is the flip-out screen and lighter weight, in addition to being newer/better sensor. I am referring to better technology of the sensor not just the MP count. I was shooting the D7100 at 13.5MP setting most of the time.

    Thanks!

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  5. Flip out screen and lighter weight make the D5200 a win, especially at half the cost.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I will choose 7100 over 5200 as most reviews give high rating on 7100.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Excellent pieces. Keep writing such kind of info on your site.
    Im really impressed by your blog.
    Hey there, You've done an incredible job. I'll definitely digg it
    and in my view recommend to my friends. I'm sure they will be benefited from this
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    My blog post: nikon problems

    ReplyDelete
  8. First I'm not a photographer, I own the D7100 for 2 weeks only, i will go back with D5200 because i missed a lot of shots because no flip out screen and i feel myself need ladder or have to jump on trees and rocks to take the picture, don't buy D7100 just go and get D5200 and save money for better lens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! That was exactly what I needed to hear!

      Delete
  9. I've been reading reviews for 2 days trying to decide between the 5200 and 7000. This is the only one that's convinced me to make a decision. The 7000 it is. Thx

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  10. Most helpful review on D5200 and D7000. Wonderful.
    Everybody seems to know Ken Rockwell :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. which sensor is better 5200d, 7000d or 7100

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you nail the exposure, the D7100, because you are getting essentially the same per-picture noise and dynamic range, but with more resolution. If you do a lot of post-processing and don't need 24mp, then the D7000. The choice between the three really comes down to ergonmics and handling; below ISO 3200 and if you don't abuse the files in post, you won't see much difference, except for the resolution.

      Delete
  12. I have been using DSLR for quite some time & have tested 3 bodies & 7 lenses.Trust me guys Bodies have actually no significant role in delivering brilliant images. Have seen ppl using fx body got no rank while basic dx user took the cake away. Sharpen your senses & go on clicking. M sure this will develop your taste towards photography, accordingly buy lenses .Nature is the best teacher.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Appreciate your thorough explanation in making my decision. Now I need to compare the 7100 to the Nikon 1 v3. I have the Nikon d40 which takes great digitals but no video. Need something that does both well.

    Also, resist the urge to be critical. You are not elevated by diminishing another.

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    Replies
    1. There's a very big difference in terms of size and weight between the D7100 and V3, so you have to prioritize whether you want the best image/video quality, or if you prefer to save weight. Perhaps the D5300 kit (18-55 or 18-140) may be a good "in-between" solution; after all, there isn't much of a size difference between the D5200/D5300 and your D40, but the technology is newer.

      Delete
  14. This is actually really helpful for me, thanks a lot for this comparisson, I've never seen something as precise as this. Thank you so much.

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  15. the D7000 with kit lens is the same as d5200+18-105mm lens. on d7000 u miss the flip out screen while on d5200 u miss the top lcd n 2 dials which offer quick use. for me i guess even a d7000 would produce nice pics than the d7100 unless i intend to use wifi n gps explicitly n that low pass filter really bothers me.

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  16. i just bought a d5200 on sale for 599. now d700 is on sale 629 at best buy. should i return my 5200 for the upgrade?

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    Replies
    1. I'm guessing you mean the D7000. If you have a chance at it, I would go for it, but if you just wanted something smaller and more portable, $599 for a D5200 is a fair price at this time of the year. If you are looking at the D7000, make sure that it is a new camera and not a demo or return, as it has been quite some time since that camera was "new". I'm also going to guess that the BB price is body only, in which case it's not that cheap because you have to add a lens. If it's $629 for a kit, then I would definitely snap it up.

      Delete
  17. I always buy the 3-4 year old model used... and invest more $$$ into lenses. The bodies depreciate and are basically disposable now, just buy one on ebay, sell it again in 2 years, buy whatever is next.

    Lens will hold their value much better.

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  18. I feel D7000 is a better option as because of its in built auto focus. We need to spend more for lens on D5200 as because of lack of auto focus. while in D7000 the manual focus lens works great as because of in built auto focus.

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    Replies
    1. If you live in an area with a lot of independent camera shops, the built-in AF cameras are always a serious pick, but those AF-D lenses are from an older era and are only so-so optical wise. For example, the 50mm AF-D f/1.4 is theoretically "better" than the 50mm f/1.8G, but most people will find no difference, or that the "G" lens is slightly better to their tastes.

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  19. old thread but never mind: My questions on all this are
    1. what VR lenses are there which are not AFS - for longer lenses this may be important and takes out the advantage of the focus motor.
    2. A lot of talk on the outside controls. However, if using RAW then WB and quality for example are irrelevant and the 5200 has ISO access and in viewfinder adjustments in AP or SP.I found the 5000 menu button hit twice goes straight to main needs quickly

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    Replies
    1. To my knowledge, there were no non-AF-S VR lenses, all VR lenses are also AF-S.

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