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D7100 and D7000: Focus, Fringing, Video, and Buffer Thoughts

RLDubbya

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RLDubbya Silver Member Nikonian since 24th Dec 2011
Sat 09-Nov-13 02:01 PM | edited Sat 09-Nov-13 03:10 PM by RLDubbya

TL;DR. D7100 has a couple glaring flaws in still performance, but outstanding ergonomics and makes great videos. For my shooting, I can't rely completely on the 7100, and will need another body in the bag.

I've been living with the D7000 for quite some time - enough frames that I'd say I'm on "intimate" terms with this body. I've gone through the back-focus issue on two D7000 bodies, and am perfectly comfortable fine tuning a lens when needed. Incidentally, I just use the "Live View Dot Focus" method, which I've found to be plenty accurate, and takes very little time.

I picked up a 7100 a couple months ago, and now have quite a few frames under my belt. Did some shooting with it around the compoound, and then finally spent a weekend on assignment, and then doing some outdoor shooting at Arlington National Cemetery. Then a few follow up shots around the compound and various places on my daily travels.

I noticed this in reviewing photos taken over the weekend's assignment as well: regardless of lens (in fact, regardless of photographer - I had another photographer shooting a 7100), there were times that focus would just jump from the intended subject to something that was in the background. In the gym, I was set for AF-S.
The assignment was to shoot lifters in a powerlifting gym. They would be training. We were capturing stills and video to be used on websites and in product promotion spots. Nothing would be printed above 8x10". It was OK to assume that images could be heavily processed in post with effects.

A note on the gym: lighting was not great. Had to shoot wide open, ISO 1000 or greater, and that yielded shutter speeds in the 1/160 range. Also, as most "hardcore" gyms go: lifters were typically close to other equipment, or walls. Flashes weren't really possible for lifting sequences.

Somebody said they wanted my impressions. Here goes.

The D7100 is the D7000's older, sexier sister who knows all the moves and knows how to please. She's built for speed.

Ergonomically, she blows away the 7000 - not even close. Controls are well thought out, the viewfinder is much brighter, and I especially like the video controls. Took a few minutes to figure them out, but now the D7000 seems clunky and awkward in comparison. Just being able to assign, for example, histogram to the OK button during playback is great. Everything about the 7100's control layout just makes the 7000 seem clunky.

Definite win here.

Image quality. When the 7100 gets it right, the image quality - with the best glass - has a certain something that might be a little better than the 7000. For me, the best glass means either the Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VR-II or the Nikkor 14-24/2.8. I'll have more to say about this later this month when I pick up my 200/f2.

Clearly, more pixels mean that cropping works out well to save more shots, and you can obviously print larger with less noise. I'm always astounded by how I can crop an image down by what seems like an incredible amount, and still get something usable.

However, there's two big problems I've noticed in my shooting: the 7100 misses focus when it clearly shouldn't, and it also has a problem with (and I'm struggling a bit to describe this) the edges of a ligher object against a dark background, or a dark object against a light background.

First, focus. I took a series of pics of a helicopter parked on a pad. ISO 100, 1/800, 200mm. I was set for AF-C, back-button, single-point, and on each shot, the focus point was locked onto the windscreen of the helicopter, and the camera confirmed focus. The shots were taken over a few second period. There were various objects in between me and the helicopter, but I had clear line of sight. My elbow was propped on a stationary object.

Approximately 50% of the shots were good. The other 50% had focus issues. Focus simply jumped to something else in the frame.

Again, this problem showed up in photos I took at Arlington of the changing of the guard. Using the 70-200/2.8, I took a lot of photos of the guard on watch. If there was nothing in the background, the photos all focused well, and were "tack sharp".

However, there was a group of disabled vets in chairs watching the guard, and from one angle, they're in the background of my photos. Keeper rate on those is 50%, and focus locks onto shiny metal - in this case, the focus clearly locked onto the silver metal of one of the wheelchairs in the background, I'm guessing a good 5-10' behind the guard.


I saw this in gym photos as well. Going through images, there was, for example, a series, taken of an athlete squatting. The athlete was wearing dark clothing. 5-7' behind the athlete was a shiny, white, metal rack. On some of the shots in the series, focus is on the shiny metal rack behind the athlete. Framing of the shots was identical; nothing else about the photo changed. These were taken with a much shorter focal length, I'm definitely not seeing motion blur. The camera clearly mis-focused.

If the subject being photographed doesn't have anything else around them, focus works perfectly. But otherwise, there's an unacceptable (to me) rate of missed focus.

Note that I'm not the only one to notice this: LensAuthority.Com points this out in their capsule review of the 7100.

The other problem I see with image quality on the 7100: a photo with something black in the foreground, and a light background, or vice versa. There seems be an outline of chroma noise (?) around the object; I see, for example, in certain shots of my black furred dogs taken during the day, and of trees taken at dusk.

The 7000 does not display either of these problems.

Buffer speed / capacity remains even more of a disappointment on the 7100 than the 7000. I know there are many who feel that it's more than adequate for sports. That's great; I disagree. After this weekend, I disagree even more - if I shot 1.3x mode, jpg fine, I had a usable camera. Otherwise, I was hamstrung.

I don't want to shoot jpg. I don't want to shoot even lower resolution than DX.

I noticed that the other photographer was unable to capture full lifting sequences either - so, going through photos, I see lots of either starts of lifts, locked out lifts, lifts after lock out, but I rarely see a lifter's entire sequence of start-lockout-lower.

Keep in mind, too, that these were just light weights being played around with in a gym setting. Once you get to the platform, a lift might take 10-15 seconds from start to lockout. It might also take 1 second. If you can predict which lifter is going to "grind" for 10 seconds to complete his/her lift ahead of time, I'll call you Nostradamus.

And, yes, this happens: I've personally taken 12 seconds to lock out a 725lb deadlift, and if I'm paying a photographer, I want the stills to show me locking that lift out, and hopefully struggling with it on the way up.

It's nice to be able to show a lifter his / her entire lift, and not say "I'm sorry, I missed you locking out the North American Deadlift Record because my camera ran out of buffer." Especially telling that to a 275lb, heavily muscled guy who looks like he's ready to break you in half. Let's put it this way: if you told that to me, and I was the lifter, I'd be really, really pi$$ed - you wouldn't be working for me ever again. And I'd make sure that it was known throughout the community that you missed the shot.

I honestly have to say that for stills, for my work, I'd probably lean towards the 7000. The ergonomics issue is important, however, especially the mode dial. It's very nice not to have to worry about bumping the mode dial in the heat of the action.

If money was not an issue, I'd say that for me, ultimately, neither the 7000 nor the 7100 fit the bill, which is a shame. I'm not sure what my next attempt will be. I might live with the drawbacks; I might consider moving to a pro body.

I have another on-location assignment in a month, which is just a gym session. It's overseas, I'll just use what I have for now. However, there's a huge international meet in March, close to home. I'm going to rent a D3x and a D4 for that event.

Moving on: video performance is a another ballgame.

Here the 7100 shines - no question. The ergonomics are much improved. The LCD screen actually works well by itself to focus (at least indoors), and I captured some really nice footage. Once again, the same rules apply: you can go "all auto" and get OK results, but you will find stuff to complain about (you'll hear and see the lens servo focusing, it will focus to frequently, the built-in mic on "auto level" is just acceptable).

If you set your camera to manual focus, you get much better results. That eliminates the lens servo issue. Set the recording levels to manual, and you get better results; use an external mic, jacked into the camera, and you get even better results. Pick up an external recorder, learn some external mic techniques, and you get the best results. One thing to remember about video: audio is over 50% of the battle. If you have good sound quality, picture quality can slide quite a bit - it can carry the viewer over bad pans, bad edits, etc.

Anyhow, the 7100, with a good lens - I used the Nikkor 14-24/2.8 - produces stunning video. I used standard still tripods with ball heads for most shooting.

I also did some tethered shooting using a PolePixie adapter on a painter's pole, along with a ball head, an active USB extension cable, and then used Cinemetographer Pro.

Mixed results here: when it worked, I got the same stunning video I'd expect. However, after successfully recording a couple lifters (coincidentally, female), there was a large male lifter next in line for the bench station (he weighed, oh, 375lbs, and tossed huge weights around nonchalantly). I had the laptop and 7100 all setup, and the 7100 just stopped working.

No matter what I did (rebooting the camera, the laptop, unplugging cables, etc), the 7100 refused to work. Of course, we joked that he broke the camera. I grabbed the 7000, hooked it up, and it worked fine. I haven't had a chance to diagnose this any further upon getting back home.

Video: I'm tempted to pick up another 7100 for video. It's that good. I love the results.

I really want to like the 7100 more than I can afford to; the missed focus issue is just a killer for me, as so much of my work takes place in a gym setting, where I can guarantee that the conditions are ripe for having the body blow focus and missing the shot. The video and the ergonomics, as good as they are, just don't make up for this.

The weird fringing that I notice is something that I might be able to live with; it only impacts a photo every once in a while. I could probably come up with a way to correct in post.

I'm still not sure of the 7100's high ISO performance. I haven't had enough time to play with that, but that will be next on the list.

EDIT: ERRATA. LensAuthority.Com should be LensRentals.Com. Specific text from their site is "I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sold on this one. For me, I’d take the D7000 over the D7100 nine out of ten times. The “redesigned” autofocus system is less accurate than the D7000, and the increase in resolution regressed high ISO performance by a couple generations. So what’s the redeeming factor you ask? Well… the optical viewfinder with OLED display is nice, and I suppose the 1.3x (really 2x) crop mode is useful for sports. A great “rent so you don’t buy” item."

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