Cameras You Can Rely On: The Nikon D90 vs. The Nikon D7100

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We compare two of the long-lasting cameras on the market. The Nikon D90 vs. Nikon D7100, which will you prefer?

Nikon has a long tradition of making excellent DSLR cameras, especially those using the smaller cropped sensors, typically found in the entry and enthusiast lineup.  Two of the most popular include the older D90, which was introduced in 2008 and has since been discontinued, as well as the D7100, which was first introduced in 2013 and is still in Nikon’s current lineup.  The D90 and D7100 remain excellent cameras capable of producing excellent results and years of service.  Ultimately, the best choice depends on which features best fit your needs as a photographer.


Despite the D7100 evolving from the D90, the two cameras share very few similarities beyond the format used in the two cameras.  In both cases the cameras use the cropped sensor format, which Nikon calls DX.  This format uses a smaller and less expensive CMOS sensor that measures 23.6mm x 15.8mm.  These smaller sensors have been traditionally cheaper to manufacture and are key to Nikon being able to offer these cameras at relatively low price points.  While cheaper and smaller, these sensors are still capable of capturing excellent images.

In both cameras, the photographer has the capability to use a variety of exposure modes including Aperture-Priority Auto (A), Manual (M), Programmed Auto With Flexible Program (P), Shutter-Priority Auto (S), as well as a variety of preset scene modes.  This allows the photographer to take as much control of the cameras as they desire.

Other similarities include a built-in flash, which is very useful in low light situations, as well as for fill in flash in bright conditions, as well as a built-in sensor cleaner.  In addition, images in both cameras can be recorded in either RAW or JPEG files.  Both cameras are very similar in size and weight as well.


As one would expect, there are a number of significant differences between the two cameras, with many related to the change in technology in the years between the introduction of the D90 and the D7100.  One of the most significant differences is the effective megapixel count found in each camera.  In the case of the D90, images are captured at 12.3 megapixels, while on the D7100 the images are captured at 24.1 megapixels.

The D7100 has the customizable U1 and U2 settings, which allow the photographer to save custom user-defined settings in the camera’s memory and instantly recall them by turning the dial.   This is an excellent feature is very useful in the field as it eliminates the need to recall these settings using the camera’s menu.   This feature, which was first introduced on the D7000, does not exist on the D90.

Another significant difference between the two cameras is in the autofocus systems.  While effective and providing excellent results, the system found on the D90 only has 11 autofocus points compared to 51 found on the D7100.  More autofocus points give the photographer greater control over composing the image.  Somewhat related to this is the viewfinder on the D7100 provides 100% coverage compared to 96% on the D90.

While both the D90 and D7100 have slightly different native ISO ranges with the D90 ranging from 200-6,400, while the D7100 has a range of 100-6,400.  However, the ISO range of the D7100 can be expanded up to 25,600, while the D90 can only expand down to 100 and can not be expanded beyond ISO 6,400.

One of the unique features of the D7100 is its ability to capture decent quality images even at very high ISO settings.  The D90 does not share this ability, as an ISO setting of more than 800 in this camera could result in unusable images due to poor image quality.

While both the D90 and D7100 are capable of shooting video, the system on the D7100 can shoot video in HD at 1,980 x 1,080 at speeds ranging from 24-60 frames per second.  Other formats are available with the D7100, however, the D90 is restricted to standard quality at 1,280 x 720 and 24 frames per second.

Other differences include the use of 2 memory slots in the D7100 compared to 1 slot in the D90.  SD and SDHC cards can be used in the D90, while SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards can be used in the D7100.  In addition, the D7100 has a faster shutter capable of speeds ranging from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds, while the D90’s shutter has a range of 1/4,000 to 30 seconds.

Pros and Cons

Every camera has both positive and negative features, as none of the camera manufacturers have been able to figure out how to make the perfect camera yet.  Any photographer looking at buying either the D90 or the D7100 will need to weigh the ‘pros” and “cons” of each camera and how they relate to the type of photography that they enjoy.

The biggest “pro” of the D90 is the low cost of the camera.  Despite being 8 years old and discontinued by Nikon, the D90 can still be found at select retailers for prices as low as $550.00.  This represents an excellent value for a camera with its capabilities!

The biggest “con” of the D90 is the camera’s age.  In the world of digital camera technology, 8 years is a long time with many changes over that time period.   To put it in perspective, the D90 was replaced by the D7000, which was replaced by the D7100.  While the D7100 is still in Nikon’s lineup of DSLR cameras, the D7200 has been introduced as the replacement to the D7100.  That being said, it is important to keep in mind that older does not mean incapable, as the D90 is still a very capable camera.

As far as the D7100, the camera’s biggest “pro” is the excellent image quality, even at relatively high ISO settings.  The gap between image quality in full frame sensors and the crop sensors is rapidly decreasing and the introduction of the D7100 in Nikon’s lineup played a big role in closing that gap.

The biggest “con” of the D7100 is the relatively small size and weight of the camera.  Users with larger hands may find the camera difficult to grip for extended periods of time.  Related to this is the weight of the camera, which may make it feel out of balance when using larger and heavier zoom lenses.

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 D90 and D7100 both have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Nikon D90 Nikon D7100
Year Introduced 2008 2013
Format DX DX
Megapixels 12.3 24.1
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Processor EXPEED 1 EXPEED 3
Image Format JPEG or RAW JPEG or RAW
Sensor Size 23.6 mm x 15.8 mm 23.6 mm x 15.8 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Auto-focus Points 11 51
Modes Aperture-Priority Auto (A), Manual (M), Programmed Auto With Flexible Program (P), Shutter-Priority Auto (S), Plus 5 Pre-Set Scene Modes Aperture-Priority Auto (A), Manual (M), Programmed Auto With Flexible Program (P), Shutter-Priority Auto (S), Plus Various Scene Modes
Metering 3D Color Matrix Metering 3D Color Matrix Metering II
View Finder Coverage 96% 100%
Live View Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 4.5 6
ISO 200 – 6,400 100-6400
Lowest / Highest Expandable ISO Lo-1 ISO 100 Hi-1 (ISO 12,800) and Hi-2 (ISO 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 3.0” 3.2”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed
Video Yes Yes
Video Format  AVI MOV
Video Type 1,280 x 720 at 24 FPS Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 at 24-60 FPS); HD (1,280 x 720 At 50-60 FPS)
Internal Autofocus Motor Yes Yes
GPS No Optional Accessory
Wireless No Optional Accessory
WIFI No Optional Accessory
Battery EN-EL3e  EN-EL15
Unique Features Discontinued  U1 and U2 Settings
Size Without Lens 5.2” x 4.1” x 3.0” 5.3” x 4.2” x 3.0”
Weight Without Lens 22.0 Ounces 23.8 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens Body Only and Kit With 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Body or 4 Kit Options
Included Accessories EN-EL3e Rechargeable Battery, MH-18a Charger, DK-5 Eyepiece Cap, DK-21 Rubber Eyecup, CUC-E4 USB Cable, EG-D2 AV Cable, AN-DC1 Strap, BM-10 LCD Monitor Cover, Body Cap, BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cover, Software CD and Nikon ViewNX Browsing and Editing Software EN-El15 Rechargeable Battery, MH-25 Quick Charger, UC-E6 USB Cable, AN-DC1 Strap, DK-5 Eyepiece Cup, DK-23 Rubber Eyecup, BF-1B Body Cap, BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cap, NikonView NX2 CD ROM
Cost, Body Only $550.00** (For the latest prices and discounts.) $1,199.95*** (For the latest prices and discounts.)
Cost With Kit Lens N/A Varies Depending On Kit Lens Option Selected

*Information from Nikon’s website, including pricing.

** The D90 has been discontinued, although the camera is still widely available.

*** The D7100 can be found on sale as low as $799.95 for the body only.

Overall Recommendation

While the D90 and the D7100are both excellent cameras that are capable of capturing excellent images, I prefer the newer D7100 to the D90.  The reason for this preference is the presence of a number of features that make the overall experience shooting the D7100 more enjoyable.  These features, which include the U1 and U2 settings, the 100% viewfinder and the faster shutter, justify the higher price point of the D7100.  However, it is important to keep in mind that this preference is not based upon image quality, as the image quality of the D90 is excellent, despite the technology used in the camera being 8 years old.  You cannot go wrong with either camera!

Nikon N90s SLR Body
Price: $118.95
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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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