Nikon D5200 vs D7100 : Which Should You Buy?

Nikon D5200 vs D7100

Nikon D5200 vs D7100

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.

 
 
 
 
ModelNikon D5200Nikon D7100Nikon D7000
Price (body)
$696$1,046.95$896
Price (with 18-105 kit lens)
3/15/2013
$1096$1496$1096
Body MaterialPlasticPartial Magnesium Alloy Frame, PlasticPartial Magnesium Alloy Frame, Plastic
Sensor Resolution24.1 Megapixels
(Toshiba)
24.1 Megapixels
(Toshiba)
16 Megapixels
(Sony)
Anti-Aliasing Filter
(Reduces sharpness, prevents moire)
YESNOYES
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
+25600
100-6400
+12800
+25600
100-6400
+12800
+25600
Total AF Points395139
Cross-Type AF Points9159
AF Motor In Body
(For Using Older AF Lenses)
NOYESYES
AF Light Level Range-1 to +19 EV-2 to +19 EV-1 to +19 EV
Autofocus Fine Tuning
Adjustments
NOYESYES
Shutter Speed Range1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Expected Shutter Life100,000 Shots150,000 Shots150,000 Shots
Max Frame Rate5 fps6 fps
(7 shots in 1.3x crop mode)
6 fps
Max RAW Burst
(buffer size)
8 shots, compressed 14-bit7 shots lossless 12-bit
6 shots lossless 14-bit
11 shots lossless 12-bit
10 shots lossless 14-bit
Max JPG Burst
(fine, Large)
353331
Flash Sync Speed1/200th sec.1/250th sec.
(1/320th* sec, or slower,)
1/250th sec.
Wireless Flash
(Built-in Commander)
NOYESYES
Auto FP Flash Mode
(High Speed Sync)
NOYESYES
Media Slots1 SD / SDHC / SDXC2 SD / SDHC / SDXC2 SD / SDHC / SDXC
LCD Size3.0"
921,000 pixels
3.2"
1,228,800 pixels
3.0"
921,000 pixels
LCD ArticulatedYesNoNo
Body Weight505g (no battery)
555 g (with battery)
675 (no battery)690g (no battery)
780g (with battery)
Battery Life500 shots
CIPA Standards
950 shots
CIPA Standards
1050 shots
CIPA Standards
Viewfinder Coverage95% Frame
.78x Magnification
100% Frame
.94x Magnification
100% Frame
.95x Magnification
Video CodecMPEG-4 / H.264
.mov
MPEG-4 / H.264
.mov
MPEG-4 / H.264
.mov
Video Resolutions1920 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 Limit29 min 59 sec.29 min 59 sec.About 20 Minutes
Headphone JackNoYesNo
Internal MicStereoStereoMono

.

Build Quality

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.

D7100 vs d5200 back

Speed

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.

Overhead, Nikon D7100 and D5200

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.

Please Comment!

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.

  1. Further details and measurements can be found on DigicamDB.
  2. See this DxO Mark article for further details.
  3. If you don’t know why cross-type points are so important, I recommend watching the first half of our Photography Notes video
  4. with the most recent firmware upgrade. Originally, the 7D also shot about 15 RAW frames before filling the buffer

197 Comments

  • Joe says:

    Hi, Matt. Talking about D5200’s downfall (lack of flash commander), can we overcome this by using Yongnuo YN-622 wireless commander? It’s around US$ 36 each on Amazon (around $78 for a couple). Thank’s in advance. I have D5200 for about 2 months now.

  • Rechelle says:

    Wow very insightful – one more question. Would you say the canon t5i w/ 70-200mm f/2.8L would be of any comparison to Nikon d7100 w/ 70-200mm? Which brand better or camera offers more? Sports photography mainly occasional portrait

    • The T5i isn’t really a comparable camera… either the Canon 70D or 7D would be closer, though the 7D is set to be replaced next month.

      There’s no answer to the question which brand is better. A good photographer with the appropriate camera from either brand will be able to make excellent photos. In my experience, Canon is more popular with sports photographers, but Nikon is certainly very capable. Canon’s super telephoto lenses are probably better than Nikon’s, but many of Nikon’s wide angle lenses and some of their portrait lenses are better than Canons. In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice.

      The most important thing is to know your camera, practice with it all the time until the controls are second nature, so that you can forget about the camera and just do your job of watching what’s going on, composing and capturing.

      In any case, the Nikon D7100 is better than the T5i with the same lens, mostly because of its autofocus system.

      – Matthew

  • Rechelle says:

    Would Nikon D7100 with 18-140mm Lens be a good fit? Primary focus: sports photography or do you suggest a different type of lens

    • Hi Rechelle,

      The kit lens is a great all-around lens, but it’s not great for sports. There are two problems:

      1. Most sports photographers use 200mm, 300mm, and 400mm lenses for shooting sports. Otherwise, it’s really hard to fill the frame with your subject from the sidelines. A 140mm lens will work some of the time, but you’ll miss a lot.

      2. For sports, especially at night, you want a lens that can let in as much light as possible. That makes focusing faster and it also allows you faster shutter speeds and lower ISO so that you get less noise/grain. At 140mm, the kit lens has a maximum aperture of f/5.6, which doesn’t let in a ton of light.

      Alternately, if you used a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens… an f/2.8 aperture lets in 4 times as much light as the f/5.6.

      Lenses like that are expensive, though. The Nikon costs about $2500. The Tamron version, on the other hand, is just about as good as the Nikon, and costs $1000 less. Still not cheap… but it’s on Amazon here: Tamron 70-200 f/2.8

      Alternatively, you could go with a 300mm zoom, which would solve half of the problem. The 55-300mm is a little less expensive, but the 70-300 is a little sharper.

      At amazon, and probably elsewhere, the D7100 is available in a kit with the 18-140 and the 55-300.

      – Matthew

  • Anshuman Dev says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for the article.
    I had bought 5200 few months back and experimented a lot,but somehow am not satisfied with the outcome. Now,i really feel i should have spent somemore and got d7100….
    I received an offer today for a used 7100 with 18-200 lens at 1/3 price.
    Should i go for it ?

    Please illuminate……

    Anshuman Dev
    dranshumandev@gmail.com

    • It really depends on what sorts of issues you’re having with the images from your D5200; the cameras are so similar that it’s very likely that your issues are caused by the camera setup or shooting technique rather than a failing in the camera itself.

      That said, a D7100 at 1/3rd price is a good deal… it would be hard to pass up, regardless. I personally would not use the 18-200mm lens; the optics simply are not sharp enough for the high resolution sensor of these cameras (or even for a 12 megapixel sensor, for that matter, in some parts of the zoom range), but you could almost certainly sell the lens or keep it in reserve as a backup.

      I’m afraid that without knowing more about why you’re dissatisfied with your D5200’s images, I can’t be any more specific than that.

      – Matthew

  • Kate says:

    Thanks for comparing them but I’m still not sure.. . What is the best camera for traveling & day trips? I want to make pictures of nature, people & animals. I’m a girl, not that big and the d5200 is smaller en lighter but the nikon d7100 is wheater sealed. I’m a beginner but I use the S, P & A mode quite often.

    • Shine says:

      If i have to choose between Nikon D5200 and Canon 700D Which one you suggest ? I am looking for good image quality, easy to use and video.

  • Luis Ramos says:

    Thanks to this discussions I opted to the 7100. Nice camera so far. One thing I am missing and will love to do is to shoot films at very low frame per sec, say one every 10 minutes, then watch at normal speed. That is great to see natural events that you can’t perceive normally. However the 7100 allows to shoot frames at every defined time, so one can make a film. That will require a special program… Any hint on this regard?
    Thanks! Luis

    • Hi Luis,

      After you have taken the shots, there are a variety of programs that will let you convert them into a film. The easiest one for me is Adobe Photoshop, but Adobe After Effects is a close second… and of course Adobe Premier also will do the job.

      In fact, any video editing program should be able to do the job (Sony Vegas, for example)… just import your images as a JPG sequence (rather than a movie clip).

      – Matt

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