Nikon D7000 & D7100 & D600 – 2 brothers and a cousin.

When the Nikon D7100 was launched my usual curiosity kicked in and made me wonder how it would improve on its older brother, the D7000. As I use the D7000 for my 360 panorama work I was interested in one thing only. Image quality. The increased resolution of the D7100 isn’t a critical point for me at all. The D7000 has plenty of pixels to play with. Did the D7100 offer me a better image that I can use to produce even better work.

On a busy morning at Nikon HQ I had the chance to make a quick comparison test between the D7000 and the D7100. As the D600 shares pretty much the same body as the other 2 cameras I thought it a good idea to try that too.

The lens used on the quick-n-dirty test was my old but trusted Nikon 10.5mm fisheye. This being a DX lens was a direct disadvantage for the D600 which would only be able to use the lens it the ‘crop’ mode that reduces its FX sensor area to match the DX format, consequently dropping the final image resolution.
There are a couple of quirks with the 10.5mm, one of them is the fact that it does actually produce a lot of chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame. Having 24mp I assumed the D7100 might accentuate this issue even more. I was wrong. All 3 cameras seems to have pretty much the same level of colour fringing going on. Thankfully, just about all RAW processing software quickly and accurately corrects this. One click in Lightroom and all the nasty fringes were eliminated.

Just about the only issue I have had with the D7000 is that I feel it quickly crushes the black tones in an image. Shadows can become very muddy, very quickly. The graduation of grey tones towards black can be very abrupt. In the samples below you’ll see a crop of the TV. The D7000 and D7100 have a noticeable difference in the shading towards the right of the TV screen. The D7100 holds onto the graduations longer before dropping to black. The D600 compared to the D7100, there isn’t a lot in it there. Both hold up very well.
There is also a noticeable difference in image noise between the D7000 and the other pair. I shot the samples at ISO500 as that’s the maximum I use for my 360 panoramas.

Image size: With the D7000 at 4928 x 3264px I have always had plenty of pixels to play with. The D7100 and the D600 have a hefty 6000 x 4000px but only the D7100 uses all of those pixels with the 10.5mm lens. The D600 drops to DX mode and provides 3936 x 2624px. Which on the face of it is still plenty.

So. If the D7000 is to retire, which would replace it?

If I go the D600 route I’d have a couple of options. I could stick with the DX crop and continue with the 10.5mm of I could source the Nikon 16mm fisheye. This is a very old lens though and just won’t hold up well on the digital cameras of today. I could look to using a 3rd party lens supplier. Sigma have a 15mm fisheye for FX sensors but the importer for Belgium isn’t exactly approachable when it comes to letting testers test their material and I’m rather loathed to buying one to find out it isn’t up to scratch.

If I take the D7100 route I can still use the Nikon 10.5mm which actually did surprise me with image quality on the larger sensor. No low-pass filter in the D7100 could potentially lead to sharper and crisper images. It could also lead to the moire issues that big scared so many buying it’s big cousin the D800E. Oddly, I spotted more moire issues in the D600 image than the D7100.
The D7100 is substantially cheaper than the entry level FX sensor D600 so that could sway the decision.

The image quality between the D600 and D7100 would be totally and utterly down to the wire. Both show me good details, both have noise under control both have a lot of latitude for post processing.

All in all, the D7000 has not been kicked into touch by it’s younger brother of big-sensor cousin. It can still proudly hold it’s own. Although there is a difference in image quality between the D7000 and the D7100 or D600 it is not as significant as I had expected.

The jury is still out on this one.

This shows the obvious difference in image size between the 3 cameras. I full size version of this image can be downloaded from here

Chromatic aberration comparison between all 3 cameras fitted with the Nikon 10.5mm

The right side of the TV screen shows noticeable difference between the subtle tones on the D7100 and D600 compared to the D7000

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