Nikon D5200 vs D7100 : Which Should You Buy?
by Matthew Gore
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The Nikon D5200 outclasses any Canon camera in its price range, at least for the time being. It is faster, with a better AF system and image sensor than any of the “Rebel” series cameras, and in many ways surpasses even the (admittedly out-dated) Canon 60D, making it the obvious choice for most photography enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the choice is not so easy when the new Nikon D7100 enters the discussion. Which one is right for you? Below, I’ll compare the most significant differences.
Nikon D5200 vs D7100: What’s the Difference?
To begin with, we can take a look at the most significant specs for the D5200 and the D7100. I’ve also included those of the Nikon D7000, a camera that has been exceedingly popular with amateur and professional photographers alike for the past few years.
|Model||Nikon D5200||Nikon D7100||Nikon D7000|
|Price (with 18-105 kit lens)
|Body Material||Plastic||Partial Magnesium Alloy Frame, Plastic||Partial Magnesium Alloy Frame, Plastic|
|Sensor Resolution||24.1 Megapixels
(Reduces sharpness, prevents moire)
|Total AF Points||39||51||39|
|Cross-Type AF Points||9||15||9|
|AF Motor In Body
(For Using Older AF Lenses)
|AF Light Level Range||-1 to +19 EV||-2 to +19 EV||-1 to +19 EV|
|Autofocus Fine Tuning
|Shutter Speed Range||1/4000th – 30 sec.
|1/8000th – 30 sec.
|1/8000th – 30 sec.
|Expected Shutter Life||100,000 Shots||150,000 Shots||150,000 Shots|
|Max Frame Rate||5 fps||6 fps
(7 shots in 1.3x crop mode)
|Max RAW Burst
|8 shots, compressed 14-bit||7 shots lossless 12-bit
6 shots lossless 14-bit
|11 shots lossless 12-bit
10 shots lossless 14-bit
|Max JPG Burst
|Flash Sync Speed||1/200th sec.||1/250th sec.
(1/320th* sec, or slower,)
|Auto FP Flash Mode
(High Speed Sync)
|Media Slots||1 SD / SDHC / SDXC||2 SD / SDHC / SDXC||2 SD / SDHC / SDXC|
|Body Weight||505g (no battery)
555 g (with battery)
|675 (no battery)||690g (no battery)
780g (with battery)
|Battery Life||500 shots
|Viewfinder Coverage||95% Frame
|Video Codec||MPEG-4 / H.264
|MPEG-4 / H.264
|MPEG-4 / H.264
|Video Resolutions||1920 x 1080 (60i, 50i, 30, 25, 24 fps)
1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)
640 x 424 (30, 25 fps)
|1920 x 1080 (60i*, 50i*, 30, 25, 24 fps)
1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)
640 x 424 (30, 25 fps)
*only in 1.3x crop mode
|1920 x 1080 (24fps)
1280 x 720 (30, 25, 24 fps)
PAL or NTSC
|Video Length Limit||29 min 59 sec.||29 min 59 sec.||About 20 Minutes|
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the D7100 and the D5200 is in their construction. The D5200 is smaller and lighter, with a body made entirely of polycarbonate, while the D7100 is heavier and built for durability, with a metal (magnesium alloy) back and top. Since the D5200 also uses a smaller battery, the carry-around weight of the D7100 is about 30% more than the D5200.
Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage depends on your photographic needs; some photographers (especially those with larger hands) prefer a larger camera with some ‘heft’ to it, while others prefer something more lightweight and easy to carry around, especially travelers and hikers. Needless to say, those who work in harsh conditions will also prefer the D7100’s weather sealing and heavier-duty construction, as a matter of practicality.
The Sensor : Lack of AA Filter Probably Not Significant
The success of the D800e may have led directly to Nikon’s decision to produce an APS-C camera without an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, but whatever led to the fact, the D7100’s sensor is naked. Before the D800e, all of the major SLRs produced their sensors with an AA filter: essentially an extra layer in front of the sensor that blurs the image slightly, in order to reduce the jagged edges and moire that have traditionally been associated with digital capture. With modern improvements in image processing software, though, Nikon was confident that the moire and jaggies could be avoided without the AA filter, so they opted to remove it and allow the cameras to capture finer image detail.
Comparisons of images produced by the D800 (AA Filter) and D800e (no AA Filter) have shown that the principle works; there are subtle improvements in fine detail in the D800e’s images. However, we should not expect such significant improvements in the D7100’s images. The receptors on the 24 megapixel sensor of the D7100 are already much, much smaller than those of the D800e. In fact, the D7100 fits about 56% more pixels into the same sensor area than the D800e1.
Why does that matter? Even with the much larger receptors of the D800, lens resolution has become a serious bottle-neck for image quality2. The dramatically higher pixel density of Nikon’s 24 megapixel sensors will tax lens resolution even more, meaning that the D7100’s images won’t get much sharper unless lenses get sharper first.
So, it is reasonable to expect that the center portion of images taken with the D7100 and your best lenses will show slight improvements in fine detail compared to the D5200, but don’t expect much more… and that is assuming that you’re using a tripod and other best-practices for maximizing sharpness.
Auto Focus Systems
Unlike most entry and mid-level SLRs, the Nikon D5200 has a very sophisticated autofocus system. While cameras like the Canon T4i and 60D have 9 autofocus points, the D5200 has 39, though only 9 of them are cross-type 3. As you can see from the chart above, this autofocus system, which also incorporates color information, has been adopted from the Nikon D7000.
The D7100, however, shares the same AF system with the flagship Nikon D4 and the D800: 51 AF points, including 15 cross-type… the best system available in a Nikon body.
For all but the most dedicated action photographers, the system in the D5200 (and D7000) will be more than sufficient, even if you’re buying a camera primarily for shooting sports. If your paycheck, however, is going to depend on your focusing system, the extra several hundred dollars will be well spent on the D7100.
When it comes to speed, the differences between the D5200 and D7100 are more modest that you might expect. The D7100 does have a top shutter speed that is one full f-stop faster than the D5200’s (ie, 1/8000th vs 1/4000th). When it comes to shooting bursts of photos, though, the D7100 only provides an additional frame per second over the D5200’s 5 fps (unless you’re shooting in 1.3x crop mode, in which case it will give up an additional frame per second).
More importantly, though, the under-sized buffer in the D7100 does not allow longer bursts than the D5200; in fact, the D5200 comes out on top in this case. While the D5200 can shoot bursts of 8 RAW (or 35 JPG) shots, the D7100 can only shoot 7 RAW (33 JPG) before the buffer is full. Compare this to the 15 RAW shots allowed by a Canon 60D or 25 in a 7D4, and it will be clear that neither Nikon is probably ideal for photographers who rely on the machine-gun method of action photography.
The D5200’s Downfall
Flash. With the popularity of “Strobist” techniques over the past several years, flash photography has become increasingly important to amateur and semi-pro photographers, and this is where the D5200 falls short: it lacks high-speed-sync (Auto FP Flash, henceforth AFP) and external flash control with the built-in flash. External flash control may not be a big deal; many of us prefer to use radio-units instead… though the built-in IR system can be very useful with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS).
The lack of AFP, however, is a serious problem. Consider this situation: you’re shooting a portrait outdoors during the day, and you want to use a large aperture to blur the background… perhaps f/2 or f/1.4 . This will push your shutter speed beyond 1/1000ths of a second, much higher than the camera’s 1/200th sec. maximum sync speed. So, if you want to use a flash to soften the shadows or create a catch-light in the eyes of your subject, forget it: the flash will not sync. The same is true if you want to use flash for sports and a high shutter speed, and while you can purchase external command modules or radio transmitters for off-camera-flashes, there’s nothing you can buy to work around the lack of AFP. You’d need to buy the D7100 instead.
All the Little Things
There are a few other assorted differences that deserve mention here, but they’re mostly the same differences that we saw between the D5100 and D7000. First, the D5200 does not have an autofocus motor built into the camera body, so it will not be compatible with the full range of (old school) Nikon lenses, while the D7100 does posses the motor. And speaking of “focus”, the D7100 is capable of micro adjustments to correct for front or back-focus problems on lenses, while the D5200 is not.
As should be obvious from the images above, the D5200 has an articulated LCD screen, which some people find helpful for ground-level shots and video but others find a breakage hazard or amateurish. The D7100, on the other hand, has a slightly larger LCD at 3.2 instead of 3.0 diagonal inches.
Finally, if you are interested in video, the D7100 has been given a headphone jack for monitoring audio while you shoot. The jack is absent in the D5200 (and D7000).
Which to Buy?
The Nikon D5200 is a great camera, and I’d recommend it for most amateur photographers except for those who need superior flash capabilities.
To summarize, you should buy the D5200 if you:
- want a great, all-around camera
- shoot primarily with natural light or studio strobes
- have smaller hands, or need the lightest body while maintaining high performance
- need an articulated LCD screen for video or photos
Buy the D7100 if you:
- are hard on your equipment and need a more durable body
- use flash for action or fill and need high-speed sync
- use Nikon’s CLS and want to use the built-in command module
- have first-rate lenses and shoot images that depend on the sharpest detail
- shoot macro (or other focus critical work) and need to make micro adjustments to your lenses
- shoot a lot of video and want a simple headphone jack on your camera
For the sake of simplicity I’ve tried to focus on only the differences that, in my experience, will actually be important. There are, of course, numerous differences between the two cameras, though, and some features may be more important to particular photographers.
If you think that I’ve left out something important, please feel free to let me know.
If you have additional questions or comments, please let me know, below. I’ll do what I can to answer questions and clear up any confusion.
Finally, if you have found this article useful, please support us by following one of our links if you decide to buy a camera. It will cost you nothing, but will help support additional independent, unbiased comparisons such as this. You can buy from Amazon here for the D5200 and D7100, or B&H Photo here for the D5200 and D7100.
This article is the intellectual property of the author, Matthew Gore, and/or Light and Matter, and may not be reproduced without their expressed written consent. All rights reserved.
- Further details and measurements can be found on DigicamDB. ↩
- See this DxO Mark article for further details. ↩
- If you don’t know why cross-type points are so important, I recommend watching the first half of our Photography Notes video ↩
- with the most recent firmware upgrade. Originally, the 7D also shot about 15 RAW frames before filling the buffer ↩