Nikon D5300 vs D7100 : Which Should You Buy?
by Matthew Gore
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Nikon’s D5300, the latest update to their already class-leading entry/mid-level SLR, not only widens the gap between Nikon and their Canon competitors, it makes the choice to spend a little more money on the Nikon D7100 even harder. Below, I’ll briefly explain what has been added to (and what has been taken away from) the D5200 to derive the D5300, but I’ll primarily focus on the differences that remain between the D5300 and the D7100. Most entry and mid-level photographers will be perfectly happy with the D5300, but some types of photographers will need to consider the additional capabilities of the Nikon D7100.
NOTE: The D5300 has now been superseded by the almost identical D5500 (which lacks GPS, but adds a touch screen). Read the updated comparison of the D5500 vs D7100 here.
New In the D5300
If you’re deciding between this and the D5200, these are the things that are new in the D5300:
- the Optical Low-Pass filter has been removed from the sensor for (potentially) sharper, higher resolution images
- built-in Wi-Fi and GPS have been added
- the processor has been upgraded to an Expeed 4
- the top of the ISO scale has been increased by a stop, to 12800 / +25600
- the ability to shoot 60 progressive frames per second at 1080p resolution
- its a few milometers shorter and narrower, and about 50 grams lighter
- the rear LCD is now a larger 3.2″ 1,037,000 pixel model
Nikon D5300 vs D7100: What’s the Difference?
To begin with, we can take a look at the most significant specs for the D5300 and the D7100.
|Nikon D5300||Nikon D5200||Nikon D7100|
|Price (with 18-140mm kit lens)||$946.95||$1096||$1,246.95|
|Body Material||Sereebo, (carbon fiber reenforced plastic) body-chassis||Plastic (separate body and chassis)||Partial Magnesium Alloy Frame, Plastic|
|Sensor Resolution||24.1 Megapixels
(Reduces sharpness, prevents moire)
|Total AF Points||39||39||51|
|Cross-Type AF Points||9||9||15|
|AF Motor In Body
(For Using Older AF Lenses)
|AF Light Level Range||-1 to +19 EV||-1 to +19 EV||-2 to +19 EV|
|Autofocus Fine Tuning
|Shutter Speed Range||1/4000th – 30 sec.
|1/4000th – 30 sec.
|1/8000th – 30 sec.
|Expected Shutter Life||100,000 Shots||100,000 Shots||150,000 Shots|
|Max Frame Rate||5 fps||5 fps||6 fps
(7 shots in 1.3x crop mode)
|Max RAW Burst
|6 shots, compressed 14-bit||8 shots, compressed 14-bit||7 shots lossless 12-bit
6 shots lossless 14-bit
|Max JPG Burst
*this number is so much higher than that provided for the D5200 and D7100, it may be a mistake
|Flash Sync Speed||1/200th sec.||1/200th sec.||1/250th sec.
(1/320th* sec, or slower,)
|Auto FP Flash Mode
(High Speed Sync)
|Media Slots||1 SD / SDHC / SDXC||1 SD / SDHC / SDXC||2 SD / SDHC / SDXC|
|Body Weight||480g (no battery)
530g (with battery)
|505g (no battery)
555 g (with battery)
|675 (no battery)|
|Battery Life||not provided||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 (60p, 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)
|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
|Video Length Limit||29 min 59 sec.||29 min 59 sec.||29 min 59 sec.|
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the D7100 and the D5300 is in their construction. The D5300 body is significantly 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 D5300 also uses a smaller battery, the carry-around weight of the D7100 is about 30% more than the D5300.
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 Sensors : Exactly the Same
The success of the D800e may have led directly to Nikon’s decision to produce an APS-C camera without an optical low-pass/anti-aliasing (OLP/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 1 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.
Now, with the success of the D7100, Nikon has also decided to remove the AA filter from the D5300’s sensor. Though this does provide the potential to for the camera to produce sharper images, don’t expect too much.
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 and D5300 fit about 56% more pixels into the same sensor area than the D800e2.
Why does that matter? Even with the much larger receptors of the D800, lens resolution has become a serious bottle-neck for image quality3. 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, using the best quality lenses at their optimal aperture settings, photographers using a properly stabilized camera might see slight improvements in the sharpness in the center of their images, and in the best circumstances, also towards the corners. For most snapshots, though, there would be no difference between this and the D5200’s sensor.
Auto Focus Systems
Unlike most entry and mid-level SLRs, the Nikon D5300 has a very sophisticated autofocus system. While cameras like the Canon T4i and 60D have 9 autofocus points, the D5300 has 39, though only 9 of them are cross-type 4. 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 D5300 (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 D5300 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 D5300’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 D5300’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 D5300; in fact, the D5300 comes out dead even. The D7100 and D5300 can both only shoot 6 14-bit RAW shots before the buffer is full (the D5200 could manage 8). Compare this to the 15 RAW shots allowed by a Canon 60D or 25 in a 7D5, and it will be clear that neither Nikon is probably ideal for photographers who rely on the machine-gun method of action photography.
That said, shooting JPG changes things dramatically. The D7100 can shoot bursts of at least 33 frames (at 6 fps) while the D5300 may be able to shoot 100 or more frames (at 5fps).
The D5300’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 D5300 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 D5300 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 D5300 is not.
As should be obvious from the images above, the D5300 has an articulated LCD screen, which some people find helpful for ground-level shots and video but others find a breakage hazard or amateurish.
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 D5300 (and D7000).
Which to Buy?
The Nikon D5300 is a great camera, and I’d recommend it for the vast majority of amateur photographers with the exception of those who need superior flash capabilities.
To summarize, you should buy the D5300 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
- want to shoot video at 1080/60p
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
- 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.
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.
- The Wikipedia article on moire patterns is very helpful, if you’re unfamiliar with the term. ↩
- 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 ↩