Monday, April 7, 2014

Nikon D610 Versus D7100



Left: Nikon D610     Right: Nikon D7100

Now that the D600 has been updated to the D610, the question of which 24mp Nikon DSLR to get comes up again: the D610 or the D7100. With these two cameras we have one of the most level playing fields in comparing FX and DX. Both have 24mp, both with near identical control layouts. These are essentially the same camera with different sensors... that's it. This is about as equal a playing field as possible between full frame and crop sensors. The real question, of course, is not about debating the merits of these two. When most people ask this question, what they are really asking is: is there a way to justify the full frame camera, which costs nearly double the price.  As they say, bigger is always better... until it isn't.


Updated April 2014. New ISO samples and various additions.

Lenses, Diffraction Limitation and Moiré


All to often, photographers only focus on the noise and dynamic range aspects of full frame cameras versus crop, but the differences in optical systems have just as important influences on shooting experience and image quality.

Diffraction and Perceived Lens Sharpness

D7100
Resolution loss due to diffraction will start creeping into D610 shots around f/11. However, with the D7100, the onset of diffraction begins at f/8.  Emphasis on the word "begin," as resolution doesn't drop off after the initial point of diffraction limitation... it's more a case that contrast begins to gradually decrease. What this means is that moiré is only a potential problem for the D7100 below f/8. Most people don't expect moiré to be a a big issue in everyday shooting, but it's likely that fashion photographers might have to deal with it (textiles and clothing) more so than others. Note that if you are a landscape aficionado, the removal of the anti-aliasing filter isn't any help for small apertures and extended depth of field. Truth be told, as the megapixel counts have increased cameras like the Nikon D7000 and D800 have already already been using lighter filtration than cameras in the past. So diffraction-wise, the advantage goes to the D600; within it's aperture range, you have a slightly wider latitude in aperture before diffraction starts setting in.

Whatever advantages that the D7100 has in removing the low-pass filter are mitigated by the high pixel density of the sensor and the demands this places on the quality of the lenses being used. Even though full frame lenses are cheaper than DX lenses, the larger pixels of the D600 place "less of a burden" on the quality of the glass. T

Kit Lenses

Nikon D610
Speaking of lenses, the kit lens for the D7100 is still available with the 18-105VR as a kit lens. This lens has been maligned a fair bit; it's really not a bad lens as it's actually quite sharp, but it suffers from pincushion distortion and high levels of lateral chromatic aberration.  However, from the end of 2013 onward, the kit lens of choice will likely be with the 18-140VR, which is better constructed and is optically superior. That said, the 24-85VR is a optically a better kit lens for the D610 than either the 18-105VR or the 18-140mm are for the D7100. You can use the D610 combo without really noticing the lens flaws; not so with the DX lenses. However, the 18-140mm, giving the same reach as 28-280mm on FX, is probably a more versatile lens for shooters who aren't obsessed with outright image quality.

An Overlooked FX Advantage

Another advantage of the FX over DX is that for the equivalent depth of field, the FX camera will be using a lens one stop down. At close range, this is an advantage that is often over-looked. Imagine going for a trendy super-shallow depth of field shot with the D7100 and a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Wide open, fast primes have all sorts of optical flaws, though some would use the more flattery term "dreaminess" rather than "flawed." For the equivalent D610 image, an 85mm (because a 75mm doesn't exist) lens shot at f/2 would give the equivalent depth of field. The D610 image would be superior because stopped down, the FX lens would be operating in a more optimal portion of it's aperture range, meaning that even though both lenses would give similar looking out of focus backgrounds, the D610 and FX lens would be more contrasty and would suffer less from chromatic and spherical aberrations.

Lens Reach

This is the big DX advantage, further magnified by the better 51-point autofocus system in the D7100. The 70-300VR is a popular lens for both DX and FX, and gives good optical results up to the 200mm mark on both systems. However, of DX, the lens fully extended gives you the equivalent of 450mm, something that you can't achieve on FX without buying a more expensive lens. When you combine the better AF system and further reach of the DX D7100, you have a camera that is better suited for sports, like soccer and baseball. However, the D610 would be capable of achieving higher shutter speeds because of its extra stop of ISO power.

It bears repeating that there is no inexpensive way to achieve 400mm on either DX or FX. Even "inexpensive" lens options cost over $1000 USD.

Buffer

Buffer capacity is the most glaring shortcoming of the D7100. Though it is rated at 6fps, the buffer will fill after only 6 shots in NEF mode. However 12 shots are possible in JPEG FINE mode before the buffer fills. In comparison, the D610 can shoot approximately 14 NEF images before its buffer fills, or roughly 30 images in JPEG FINE. The D7100's small buffer size is an especially aggravating issue for bird photographers; if you are interested in this area of photography, its recommended to use the fastest SD card that you can get a hold of so that the camera is still (somewhat) usable during an extended burst after the buffer is full.

  ISO/Safe Hand Holding Ability


With the D7100 for non-professional usage, ISO 3200 is about as high as you would want to take it for quality results.  ISO 6400 would be the equivalent limit with the D610, which is in keeping with the 2.3x increase in sensor surface area. Under equivalent circumstances, you would get one additional stop in terms of safe hand holding speed. However, one additional stop is not the advantage that it used to be. In the D3/D300 generation, ISO 1600 was as high as you would want to take DX, and ISO 3200 for FX. As the ISO ranges of cameras increase, the additional stop of light gathering power becomes less significant. Here are high(er) ISO samples (pop refrigerators) for the two cameras, normalized for field of view and depth of field. Images are out of camera JPEG (L).

  • D7100 with 18-140mm, 24mm, f/5.6
  • D610 with 24-85mm, 35mm, f/8

Click on the following images to view at 100% crop size:

ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

With the current set of cameras, assuming viewing angles close to "normal" human vision (however you define it), you can safely handhold the D7100 at maximum ISO and aperture in an indoor room. The extra stop that D610 gives you means that you can safely handhold if the room is dimly lit. The take-home message is this: the advantage that the full frame D610 gives over the D7100 depends on what lens set that you are using. If you are already using a f/2.8 fast zoom with DX, then a move to the D610 would be less of an improvement than if you were using DX with a variable aperture kit-zoom. However, when shooting conditions become dim, you will still produce sharper results by using the built-in fill-flash.

However, there's a subjective difference that isn't as easily conveyed by objective tests. Shooting with a D610 tends to produce more "3-dimensional images" due to the shallower depth of field, the greater apparent acuity coming from the full frame lenses and the higher dynamic range of the sensor.

Video 


There is not much of a meaningful difference between these two cameras. If you go for the D610, you get the extra 'dreamy' bokeh from having a larger sensor, but if you were serious about full-frame videography, you would have likely gravitated to Canon because of the larger videographer following in that community.  Even though Canon's are regarded as the go-to cinematography DSLR's, on a video quality basis alone, all modern Nikon's are extremely competent in this field, and easily the equal of their Canon counterparts.

Reliability

Having endured a year of troubles with the D600 debris issue, Nikon hopefully will have turned a corner with the D610. Truth be told, almost all of the recent launches seem to have had some quality issues, though the D7100 appears to be relatively trouble free at the moment. A bit of oil splatter on a new camera is not unheard of, but the problem with the D600 was that oil and debris accumulated with continued usage. As much of an annoyance this can be, especially when you are spending $1000 or even $2000 for a camera, the bright spot is that Nikon did finally issue a broad based service advisory for all D600 cameras.  For Nikon, their communication has been a much bigger sin than their servicing.

Value for Money


This one's not a contest. The D7100 gives much more bang for the buck than the D610. Both cameras can do most things on a relatively equal footing. The D610 does what traditional full frame cameras do well: creating quality images that have a smooth tonal transitions. There is no question that the D610 will produce higher quality and more pleasing images, but you have to have the ability to bring it out of the camera if you want to produce images that stand out from the DX crowd. Think of all of those "what camera did this come from" threads that you see on DPReview... The D7100 is a more versatile camera, though, and its high speed crop mode and more advanced autofocus system alone make it a more intriguing choice.

That said, both models represent Nikon well at their respective price brackets, and offer photographic capability that was dreamt of at these prices not just a few years ago. However.... in certain circumstances, a full frame system can be less expensive than a DX system, depending on the incentives that are in place. This was certainly the case for the D600 in the Christmas season after its launch.  However, the market conditions at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013 aren't likely to be seen again, and all things being equal, a FX system will for most people, be more expensive in the long run than the equivalent DX system.

Concluding Thoughts


Choosing between the D7100 and D610 is likely a decision about wants rather than needs. The D7100 is an extremely competent camera; the D610 more so. If it were truly an issue of need, the camera in consideration would not be the consumer-oriented D610, but rather, the (mostly) professional quality D800 instead. The great thing about the D7100 and the D610 is that they are basically the same camera with different sensors. Compare that to the Canon pairing of the EOS 70D and the 6D; even though the 6D gains in image quality with it's full frame sensor, it looses out in autofocus ability against the 70D. Nikon thankfully hasn't forced the consumer into that dichotomy; except for pixel density, a photographer will for the most part have a superior shooting experience with the D610 compared to the D7100. So it always comes back to whether or not the performance increase justifies the cost....

20 comments:

  1. Wonderful explanation!!!

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  2. For the reasons stated (esp.AF system) have held onto my 7100 and resisted getting a 610.. Curious about FF though. Have a shot at a nicely priced d700 - would that give me a good taste of FF ( and place to park some FF primes ) or should I keep saving and resisting. Great articles, especially the AF one.Thanks for your work.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment. For me, it comes down to what price you can get that D700 for and what lenses you pair with it. My own equipment is still DX + a 50mm, but it's just not the same as a D800 and a 85mm. Even though it's only 12mp, you'll gain in the tonality at higher ISO, and of course, the whole bokeh thing.

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  3. Since both are 24mp, does the D610 capture more detail than the D7100 at lower iso due to the FF sensor

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    1. The short answer is "yes" but you may be hard pressed to see it if you don't practice rigorous shot discipline. It's a combination of two things: the D610 has larger pixels, meaning that each pixel is looking through a physically larger area of glass than on a D7100 (less pixel dense). This tends to produce crisper edges and more micro contrast, but if anything, you won't see the difference on hard edges (e.g. eyelashes) but rather, on soft subtle details (eg. peach fuzz on skin). The other reason why a D610 image will look more detailed is that the larger pixel wells make for more dynamic range.. the D610 can produce slightly more shades of grey between black and white than the D7100. *However*, in ideal conditions and with good glass, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between prints based on detail alone.

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    2. Many thanks doug

      I was undecided between the D610 (Nikon 28-300) or D7100 (18-300) as a walkabout DSLR with walkabout lens. Since 95% of my shots will be below ISO 3200 (Landscapes, Streetlife), i will buy the D7100, i can also take advantage of the x1.3 crop (15mp) for a bit of extra zoom
      Ive been using the fujifilm S100FS for the past 4 years which is a nice camera but only good upto ISO 800 and is now showing its age a bit

      Thanks again

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    3. You can't go wrong either way, but if reach is a concern, then the D7100 is definitely the way to go.

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  4. The D7100's joke buffer is a total deal breaker.

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    1. Only if you're a 'spray & pray' shooter.
      Fact is, most pro's know their subject/sport and shoot in short bursts and more often than not in JPEG.

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  5. I've had a 7100 for about a year and have been frustrated by the lack of wide angle,as I was with my d80 This week I bought the the 610, Now I have the 610 for wide angle and the 7100 for telephoto work.
    Both set up the same 800 ISO, second slot raw and rear button focus,
    The fx lenses come from my film camera and lens collection, so no cost there,
    I enjoyed your review,it was informative and detailed where it needed to be, now I have the best of both worlds.
    I've noticed on a few American websites that the comments when people ask the question 7100 v 610 a lot of answers are the same unhelpful rubbish like. the 7100 is the top of the range dx but the 610 is the bottom of the range fx and probably a piece of xxxx..Totaly unhelpfull and nothing like this site,keep up the good work
    I still shoot film on a regular basis. F and F2 but my every day film camera is the F4,36 frames not two 64gb cards. shot discipline is the only way to go.
    As to price, My 7100 came from a high st shop the 610 came from an internet retailer they both cost about a £1000

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    1. Thanks very much for the compliment; sounds like you have your ideal setup working for you.

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  6. I fell in love with the 7100 when it came out. I sold or gave away all my Canon SLR equipment, and purchased a 7100 with an 18-300 mm zoom lens and a SB-700 speedlight. One of the things no one seems to mention is ergonomics. I usual use manual exposure and mainly take nature and travel photos. The front and back knobs for controlling shutter and f-stop settings, as well as the ability to program some buttons to suit your needs, like the metering mode and flash lock, are absolutely brilliant. I have captured many birds in flight that I would have missed with the Canon exposure control configuration. It is true that buffering is slow, but I seldom use burst mode. Rather I press the button rapidly when the subject is properly framed. I returned last month from a ten day safari in Botswana. I was the only person in our group with a Nikon SLR and I got many photos that that the others missed. The extra telephoto range with the DX format was a big help. Noise was not an issue except at dusk, but software fixed it. All of the Nikon SLRs from the 7100 upward share certain attributes, including a large pixel count, compatibility with the CLS flash system, robustness, and great weight. In this regard I recommend a well padded shoulder sling. I have never shot a movie with the camera and have no desire to do so. That, and the success I had on the safari, have caused me to decide to stick with the D7100 system, at least until a full frame camera with the specs of the 810 but at half the price becomes available.

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  7. a used sigma 70-200 with 1.4 teleconverter gives you a marvellous 400mm equivalent on d7100 for 450 euros

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  8. All I can say is once you go full-frame, you will not be satisfied with APS-C ever again. The biggest difference is in night photography and portraits. A brick wall will look identical on both cameras, but when it comes to subtle detail, FF will pick it up. I went from a D600 to a D5300, both 24mp and I'm selling the D5300 and going back to the D610.

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  9. The DX and FX debate goes on and on. For most hobby amateur photographers is will be personal preference as even pixel peeping the difference is tiny. It isn't a smack in the head difference. I have shot both D600(same as D610) and D7100 and even on fairly large enlargements I don't see a difference. If there is one it is most likely a result of my shooting ability vs the camera. The biggest improvement for me on FX is the larger/brighter viewfinder for focusing and framing but in the actual photograph nothing I can't live with. I presently shoot DX but if/when I go FX it will be the viewfinder advantage for my aging eyes.

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  10. Nice review! I have both these cameras, as well as a d3100, and shoot them all regularly, often using the same higher quality FX prime lenses.

    When it comes to the the d7100 and the d610, in low light the d7100 AF is superior but the images are distinctly noisier - and that includes indoors in lamplight at night. In good light it's much harder to choose between them.

    I especially like the d7100 with a Tokina 11-16, Nikon 85 F1.8 and the Tokina 100 ATX macro, which also performs very well on the d610. A great lens for the money if you can accept a little CA.

    While it's harder to choose between them with portrait work, the d610 is better in challenging light internally and also at wider angles, especially in low light at night. The d610 with a 20 1.8 or the Tokina 16-28 is distinctly superior to the the DX combination - I'd think it pixel spread but the imagers have the same MP. Still, the d7100 and the Tokie 11-16 are very good for much less money and weight.

    Entertainingly, the 14MP d3100 with light build and dinky controls takes a lovely image with DX 40mm 2.8, FX 35 F1.8 and 85 F1.8 and I'll often find an image that pops from a folder and right click for detail and be surprised the camera that cost only 200 pleases me so much.

    If I had to keep only one it would be the d610 with the Nikon 20, 35, 50 (1.4), 85, Tokina 100 and Nikon 180 2.8mm. But there would be many times I'd long for the walk-around discretion, lightness and flexibility of the d3100 with an 18-140mm, or the d7100 with a Sigma 17-50mm, or an old but wonderful 200mm F4 AIS.

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    1. The 20mm f/1.8 is one of my "widh-list" lenses. I think it's overshadowed the AF-S 24mm f/1.8 in popularity even.

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  11. I have compared D7100 vs D610 jpeg images, and I wonder why the pictures taken with the D7100 are much sharper than the D610 ones? It is really a big difference. Raw files compared is another story, they are much the same. Poor jpeg engine in the D610?

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  12. There are just a multitude of reasons, but its more or less the same EXPEED 3 generation. It might be how the lenses are rendering or if a lens is out of calibration. IF ther's no difference in raw then it's probably because of a higher contrast/sharpening settign on the D7100? I haven't held either in while so I don't know if it's because the default setting are the same.... but theoretically, with the same generation of EXPEED and at the same settings, the rendering should be fairly similar.

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  13. Maybe the D7100 JPEG machine has an easier task due to the missing AA filter ? Í have now tested on 2 other computers win7 & win10 , same result.

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