A Camera You Can Depend On? The Nikon D5100 vs. Nikon D7000

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Nikon has always been one of the leading manufacturers of digital and film cameras, as well as world class optics. One of their most popular camera series to date continues to be the 5000 and 7000 series of cropped sensor cameras.  The cameras in the current lineup are a result of incremental improvements to the original D5100 and D7000 cameras.  Although they have been dropped from Nikon’s current lineup, the D5100 and D7000 are still widely available in the market and remain very popular four plus years after their introduction, due to the advanced features found in both cameras and excellent images that they produce.  Being a bit older, these cameras also represent a great value, especially when compared to the other cameras in the lineup!

The Similarities

The D5100 and the D7000 share a number of similarities beginning with the 16.2 megapixel CMOS cropped sensor found in both cameras.  Measuring 23.6mm x 15.6 mm, these sensors are smaller and cheaper to manufacture than the sensors found in full-frame cameras.  Although these sensors are smaller, they are still very capable of producing outstanding image quality at moderately high ISO levels.  One of the unique factors about cameras using these smaller sensors is that normal lenses are 1.5x longer.  A normal 50mm lens on a cropped sensor camera such as the D5100 or D7100 will produce the same image as a 75mm lens on a full frame camera.

Other similarities include the EXPEED processor that writes the image captured in RAW or JPEG formats to the camera’s SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card(s).   The D5100 and D7000 both give the photographer a great number of exposure and scene modes to choose from, including auto, advanced scene, programmed auto, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual.  Both cameras use the same 3D Color Matrix II metering system, as well as a built-in flash, which can be used as fill in flash or flash in low light conditions.

In the case of the D5100 and the D7000, both cameras have a native ISO range of 100-6,400, with the capability to expand up to 25,600 as necessary.  As with all cameras, it is important to keep in mind that image quality tends to be downgraded at very high ISO settings, as the noise reducing software tends to make images softer as it eliminates noise.  However, at moderate ISO settings in low light situations the image quality in both cameras is excellent.

Other similarities include the ability to capture HD video in a variety of formats, including 1,920 x 1,080 and a variety of frames per second, with images recorded in .MOV format.  Video and still images are viewed thru a 3” LCD display on the rear of the camera.

The Differences

Although both cameras are very similar, there are a number of differences between the two cameras beginning with the viewfinder and the number of autofocus points.  While the viewfinders in both cameras are bright, the D5100 only provides 95% coverage, compared to the 100% coverage found in the D7000.  In the case of the D5100, the photographer will have 11 autofocus points to choose from, compared to the 39 found in the D7000.  In both cases, the autofocus system is very good with the autofocus points spread out throughout in the viewfinder.

A significant difference between the two cameras is the incorporation of the U1 and U2 settings on the D7000’s top dial.  These settings allow the photographer to save into the camera’s memory, their custom settings and instantly recall them by turning the dial.  In the case of the D5100, the photographer will need to navigate the camera’s menu to do the same thing.

Other differences include shutter speed and frames per second, with the D7000 capable of capturing images at 1/8,000, while the D5100 is capable of only 1/4,000.  The D7000 can shoot at 6 frames per second compared to 4 frames per second in the D5100.

The D7000 is significantly heavier at 24.3 ounces than the D5100, which weighs a mere 19.7 ounces.   This is a result of the sturdier build found in the D7000, which includes magnesium alloy shell.  The D7000 is also slightly larger at 5.1” x 4.1” x 3.0” compared to the D5100’s size of 5.0” x 3.8” x 3.1”.  Other differences include a swivel LCD in the D5100, while the D7000 has a fixed screen.  The D7000 also has two memory slots compared to the D5100’s single slot.

The Pros and Cons

As with all cameras, there is no such thing as the perfect camera and all cameras have both “pros” and “cons”.  In the D5100 the biggest pro is the image quality, which as amazing for an entry level camera at this price point.  The quality is the same as the D7000 and is as good as a majority of the digital cameras on the market today.

The biggest “con” of the D5100 is the build of the camera.  At 19.7 ounces it just feels too light, almost like a toy because of the plastic build.  While many may prefer the lightest possible body, any photographers prefer a more ‘solid” feel, especially when a larger lens is attached.  Related to the build quality is the swivel screen, which seems to be a possible weak link in the D5100 and could be easily broken if mishandled.

There a couple of really positive aspects of the D7000, with the first “pro” being the U1 and U2 settings.  While it may seem like a small item, it makes shooting with the D7000 much more fun, as it means less time fooling around with the camera’s menu.  The other “pro” is the outstanding build of the camera, which feels solid, tough and durable.  Although it is in Nikon’s enthusiast lineup, the build of the camera is very similar to the build found in their “professional” lineup.

It is really hard to find anything negative to say about the D7000 because it is such a great camera.  However, depending upon the size of the photographer’s hands, the biggest “con” of the D7000 could be the size of the grip of the camera, which may seem small for someone with big hands, especially when shooting it for long periods of time.

Just the Facts, A Side-By-Side Comparison

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Nikon D5100and the D7000 have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

  Nikon D5100 Nikon D7000
Year Introduced 2011 2010
Format DX DX
Crop Factor 1.5X 1.5X
Megapixels 16.2 Million 16.2 Million
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Image Format RAW or JPG RAW or JPG
Sensor Size 23.6mm x 15.6mm 23.6 mm x 15.6 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Autofocus Points 11 11 Up To 39
Modes Auto, Advanced Scene, Programmed Auto (P), Shutter Priority Auto (S), Aperture-Priority Auto (A), Manual (M), Special Effects Mode Auto, Advanced Scene, Programmed Auto (P), Shutter Priority Auto (S), Aperture-Priority Auto (A), Manual (M)
Metering 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Center-Weighted and Spot Metering 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Center-Weighted and Spot Metering
View Finder Coverage 95% 100%
Virtual Horizon Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 4 6
ISO 100-6,400 100-6,400
Highest Expandable ISO H1 (12,800) and H2 (25,600) H1 (25,600)
Shutter Speed Range 1/4,000 – 30 Seconds 1/8,000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash Yes Yes
Card Slots 1 2
LCD Size 3” 3”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Swivel Fixed
Video Yes Yes
Video Format .MOV .MOV
Video Type Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 / 30 FPS), HD (1,280 x 720 / 24 FPS) or VGA (640 x 424 / 30 FPS) Full HD or VGA

(1,920, 1,080, 24p)

Internal Autofocus Motor Yes Yes
GPS Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Wireless No Optional Accessory
Wi-Fi Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
                                                    Battery  Single EN-EL14a Single EN-EL 15
Unique Features Preset Scene Modes U1 and U2 Settings
Size Without Lens 5.0” x 3.8”x 3.1” 5.2” x 4.1” x 3.0”
Weight Without Lens 19.7 Ounces 24.3 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens Sold Either Way Sold Either Way
Included Accessories Battery, Manual, Charger, Cables Battery, Manual, Charger, Cables
Cost, Body Only N/A $999.00** (For the latest discounts and prices.)
Cost With 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Kit Lens $699.00* (For the latest discounts and prices.) $1399.00** (For latest discounts and prices.)

*The D5100 has been discontinued but is still available with select retailers.  The price shown is the current street price of the camera.

**The D7000 has been discontinued but is still available with select retailers.  The price shown is the current street price of the camera.

My Overall Recommendation

Although I really like both the D5100 and the D7000and found them both to be excellent cameras that are fun to shoot and produce excellent image quality, I prefer the D7000 to the D5100.   This preference is not related to image quality, but to the incorporation of the U1 and U2 settings, as well as the fixed LCD screen, on the D7000.  In the field, I found the ability to instantly recall my custom settings quickly without going thru the menu really made my shooting experience more fun and allowed me concentrate on capturing the image.

As far as the fixed screen is concerned, I tend to be a bit rough on cameras and am always a bit skeptical of swivel screens or anything else not flush with the body of the camera, as they seem to be something that I could damage easily.    The D5100 and the D7000 are both excellent cameras and it is obvious why they, as well as the rest of the cameras in the D5000 and D7000 series, continue to be so popular with photographers at all levels.

Robert Alexander

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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