I want to be clear: the Nikon D5100 is an excellent DSLR camera for amateurs, and I'm sure it's a perfect choice for many amateurs photographers out there. In fact, it shares many important things with the D7000, its bigger sister: the very sensor itself and the image processor. As far as it concerns the image quality you're going to squeeze out of them, they're almost on par: the D7100 has a slightly wider dynamic range (13.9 EV vs 13.6 EV, a 2.2% difference) but so far I haven't succeeded in appreciating the difference.
Many differences between the two cameras are subtle, and many additional features you can find on the D7000 may be of no interest to you, such as the compatibility with older lenses without autofocus motor. On the contrary, some features of the D5100 that aren't available on the D7000 may be valuable to you: on-camera HDR, for example, is a big advantage if you want to shoot HDR photos without the hassle of a complex post-production workflow. I don't shoot HDR, but I recognize that many people do or may be interested in doing so.
If you're wondering about the differences, just Google for it: it's a hot topic. This post, for example, is an extensive yet very well summarized comparison table.
Why, then, did I decide to change it so soon? Basically, for a couple of reasons that are very important to me.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use (If You Shoot in Full Manual Mode)I knew it, but I didn't bother investigating any further. And it was a major error. Ergonomics is important, as well as the organization of the camera controls, especially when it impairs the ability of shooting as quick as you'd like. I'm not a pro, but I'm an amateur that very often shoots in full manual mode. And when I'm not, I'm using Aperture priority mode and, in either case, I often need to tweak the camera settings from one shoot to another. The D5100 falls a bit short on this side and that's just where the D7000 shines.
Basically, when shooting with the D7000, I'm almost never entering the camera menu: just a "flick of a switch" and I'm done. The D7000 lets you change many parameters just using buttons and command dials, including the following:
- Exposure compensation.
- Flash compensation.
- Release mode.
- Metering mode.
- Autofocus mode and autofocus area mode.
- ISO sensitivity.
- White balance.
The settings that are quickly accessible from a combination of a button and a dial are the great majority you usually need. Moreover, the D7000 offers two additional mechanisms to quickly speed up the camera tuning:
- Two user modes (U1 and U2), that let you save entire banks of camera settings and just recall them using the mode dial.
- My Menu: you can build a custom menu and populate it with your favorite menu settings.
With the D5100 I lost some shots because I hadn't got sufficient time to setup the camera. With the D7000, this problem is greatly mitigated. And your subjects won't get bored when you fiddle with your camera, staring at its screen.
The possibility of customising the behaviour of many D7000 buttons and the availability of two additional buttons on the front side of the camera (the function button and the preview button) provide additional flexibility to your setups. I almost exclusively use the AF-ON technique and, since neither camera provide a dedicated AF-ON button, I have to assign this function to another one (the AE-L/AF-L button). Even if I could do that on the D5100 (and you cannot), you would simply run out of programmable buttons. The D7000, on the other hand, lets you assign AF-ON to the AE-L/AF-L button and gives you the possibility of assigning the other two buttons to functions you may need during your shooting session, such as quick switching to spot metering or flash-value lock.
FocusMy first impressions confirms that the D7000 focus system is way ahead, when compared to the D5100's one. First of all, the D7000 offers 39 focus points, 9 of which are cross-type, against the 11 ones offered by the D5100, of which only 1 is cross-type. But the number of focus points isn't just the only important metric. I tried, although not yet thoroughly, to compare the behaviour of the two focus systems when tracking moving subjects and I've got the clear impression that the D7000 is much faster and more precise than the D5100. Both focus systems have their limits and may experience difficulties in certain conditions: but in the same situation (and, of course, with the same lens), I find the D7000 a lot faster.
This fact, along with the fact that the autofocus mode and the autofocus area mode can be configured with the dials, guarantee that the D7000 provides a smoother overall experience when shooting, focussing and tweaking the camera settings.
ConclusionThese two factors influenced my decision making and I finally changed my D5100 with a new D7000. Everyone's got its own needs and priorities and, in my case, the possibility of using the camera in full manual mode with such a great improvement in terms of speed and effectiveness was crucial.
Obviously, I'm benefitting from the additional features of the D7000, but the thing I really missed was its ease of use.
If you've got the same doubts, if you're experiencing the same troubles, or if you think you'll take real advantage of some of its distinctive features, give the D7000 a try. If you're happy with the D5100, think twice before switching and investing more money on a new camera. A better lens instead of a better camera could be a wiser choice.