Camera Comparison of 3 Popular Nikon Models: D750 – D7100 – D5100

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No matter which stage you are into the world of DSLR photography, often the big question comes. Which camera do you buy to start or progress your photography journey and get those creative juices flowing?

In this article, I will compare three widely popular Nikon cameras (the Nikon D750 24 MP FX body – $1499, Nikon D7100 24 MP DX body – $724, and the Nikon D5100 16 MP DX body – $189) of different capability levels and price points. It will give you practical insight into their image quality by using them in real-world shooting scenarios (landscape/social events/sports) that you may want to cover in your photography.

According to statistics from explorecams.com, these three cameras (as of 11 September 2017) rank in Nikon photo-count: D7100 first, D750 second, D5100 sixth. So indeed these are cameras trusted and used by Nikon shooters the world over.

This article is not a photography theory, camera specs, best settings, lenses, or camera technical reviews. There are excellent web resources for that and I do fully encourage you to check these out, both here on dPS and other sites. This comparison will give you real-life examples to see which camera may suit your needs, expectations, and wallet better.

All scenarios will have the following structure:

  • A description of the scene
  • Gear and settings used to ensure comparability
  • The output photographs
  • Summary

Landscape Scenario

The Scene

Most probably you will find yourself at some point outside, camera at hand, wanting to capture the beauty that you see around you. In southern Greece, the picturesque village of Planiteros, with its flowing streams and huge sycamore trees, is the perfect setting for our first scenario.

Gear and Settings

Reasonable companions to this type of photography are a wide angle lens, a tripod, and a remote. The Tokina 12-28 f/4 lens, the Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod and the Nikon ML-L3 remote were used. Using the Tokina, which is compatible with both full frame or FX (D750) and crop sensor or DX cameras (D7100 / D5100) allowed photographs of very similar focal lengths to be taken for comparison.

Nikon D5100, capable of handling this situation?

Aiming to give a slightly softer flow rendition of the stream, while maintaining ample depth of field, a longer exposure time and a narrower aperture were desirable. For all three cameras, sensible vibration reducing technique was applied for this type of shooting vision. Mounting the camera on a tripod, using a remote to trigger the shutter, and activating mirror lockup (available on D750 and D7100) or exposure delay (on the D5100, as mirror lockup is not available) are solid steps to getting a good quality landscape photo.

Aperture Priority mode (set at f/8), Matrix Metering, Auto WB, single autofocus mode (AF-S), single point focus, autofocusing on the same point using live view and using the base ISO for each camera (100 for the D750 and D7100, and ISO 200 for the D5100), were the settings applied to extract the best possible quality files from each sensor. Raw files were processed in Lightroom (LR) to produce similar JPGs.

The Landscape Photographs

Look at the photographs below and try to guess which camera produced which picture. The answer comes right after the photographs.

LAND Nikon D750 Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

LAND Nikon D5100 Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

LAND Nikon D7100 Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

Answer: 1) D750 (top), 2) D5100 (middle), 3) D7100 (bottom).

Summary Landscape

If you could not find an edge between one photo over another that makes two of us. I would be glad to hang 12×16″ print from any of them on my wall. Proper technique in this scenario is more important than the camera used and it creates a level playing field for all sensors.

Social Events Scenario

The Scene

Gatherings with friends and family are occasions where you want to grab a candid moment or the ambiance shot that will serve as a memento for many years. Good friends Nikos and Athina were kind enough to invite me and my wife over to their place for a glass of wine. This was the perfect occasion to compare the three cameras in a usual social setting.

Gear and Settings

Contrary to the landscape scenario’s contemplative and slower pace of shooting, social gatherings usually lend themselves more to a handheld, run and gun shooting style. So no particular gear other than the Tokina 12-28 f/4 lens was used here. While this is not a usual focal length for shooting indoors with people, when used from a sensible distance and towards the wider end it can serve the comparison between the three cameras.

Nikon D7100

Aperture Priority mode (at f/4), Matrix Metering, Auto WB, single autofocus mode (AF-S), single point focus, focusing through the viewfinder and using Auto ISO with no High ISO Noise Reduction applied, were the settings used to extract the best possible quality files from each camera.

Using Auto ISO has to do with my individual shooting style. In this scenario, it is actually the same as using ISO 1600 for D5100 and D7100 and ISO 3200 for D750. These are, in my experience, the highest ISO levels that each camera can handle (especially for straight out of camera JPGs) before noise becomes too obtrusive.

Both the out of camera JPGs and those made following similar processing of raw files in Lightroom are provided in the next section.

The Social Event Photographs

Let’s start with the camera JPGs. Which camera produced which photo will come right after both sets of pictures (camera JPGs and LR processed JPGs).

SOCIAL Nikon D7100 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SOCIAL Nikon D750 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SOCIAL Nikon D5100 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

And here are the LR processed counterparts in the same order.

SOCIAL Nikon D7100 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SOCIAL Nikon D750 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SOCIAL Nikon D5100 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

Answer: 1) D7100 (top), 2) D750 (middle), 3) D5100 (bottom).

Summary Social Events

Again, as in the landscape scenario, you would be hard-pressed to find a winner here. Less than perfect focusing (front or back focus) or camera shake (due to a slow shutter speed) have a lot more impact than the camera model in such shooting environments (e.g. the domestic indoor lighting here).

Sports Scenario

The Scene

Photographing movements, be it your loved ones playing in the backyard or shooting any sport, can generate highly dynamic, catchy, and memorable photographs. Usually, I play football with my friends once a week. For the sake of this article, I put my football gear aside and grabbed my photo kit to shoot the sports scenario.

Gear and Settings

Depending on the sport and the venue, different lenses can be employed in your gear arsenal. The consensus seems to be that a telephoto zoom is an invaluable piece of kit for sports in general. A Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 lens was used for this test, as it is compatible with both FX and DX cameras. A Sirui P-224SR Carbon Fiber Monopod and a Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Tripod Head were used to create the support platform.

Hand holding a DSLR camera with a lens attached is achievable for periods of time. However, when shooting sports, perhaps for hours, and consistently following the action as it unfolds requires more support. This monopod and head combination is working very well for me.

Nikon D750 really excels in this situation.

Usually, sports photography lends its self to shutter priority mode. Select at least a 1/500th of a second. Then take it up from there to freeze action as needed (unless panning is used, where perhaps even 1/60th or slower may be sufficient).

Unfortunately, in the available light conditions of this scenario, not even 1/20th was attainable with any of the three camera-lens combinations, while using reasonable ISOs as discussed before. To somewhat combat this, a minimum of ISO 3200 was used for all cameras. This pushed the limits of acceptable noise, but bought a few more precious tenths of seconds of speed.

With this important point in mind, Aperture Priority mode (varying between f/4 and f/5.6 across the zoom range), Matrix Metering, Auto WB, continuous autofocus mode (AF-C), Dynamic-area AF mode (d9 for comparability), autofocusing through the viewfinder and no High ISO Noise Reduction, were the settings used to extract the best possible quality files from each camera.

Both out of camera JPGs and JPGs following similar processing of raw files in Lightroom are shared in the next section.

Finally, to showcase how high ISO performance has evolved over the years, I will include a bonus JPG with Hi-2 (ISO 51,200) straight out of camera from the D750 (only cropped and lens profiled in Lightroom).

The photographs

First up the camera JPGs, then the LR processed ones. Which is which is shown at the end after both sets:

SPORTS Nikon D7100 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SPORTS Nikon D5100 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SPORTS Nikon D750 CAM Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

And here are the LR processed counterparts in the same order.

SPORTS Nikon D7100 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SPORTS Nikon D5100 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

SPORTS Nikon D750 LR Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

Answer: 1) D7100 (top), 2) D5100 (middle), 3) D750 (bottom).

The bonus ISO 51,200 file from the D750.

SPORTS Nikon D750 CAM HI 2 Nikon Camera Comparison of Three Popular Models: D750 - D7100 - D5100

Summary sports

Shooting sports is indeed a completely different animal. Gear that will get perfectly adequate photos in normal situations (e.g. nature and social situations as above) simply will not be enough for sports. It is not an accident that you see big glass and pro bodies used in sporting venues the world over.

Having said that, it is possible with any of the three cameras discussed here to get some usable shots by capturing the peak of the athletes’ movement. My learning is also that increasing ISO even well above 3200 may be sensible for all these cameras. The higher shutter speed benefit offsets the increased noise.

The key differentiator between the three Nikon cameras is not the quality of the keeper photos. It is the vast superiority of the D750’s autofocus system, frame rate and ISO performance that will allow you to create a lot more keepers, long after the other two bodies have given up trying.

Conclusion and proposals

You went through a lot of info here. Now it is time to make some sense of it. I will hopefully help by offering my insights following this Nikon camera comparison and my few years of trying to decipher photography principles and gear choices.

Newest and biggest isn’t always necessary

The latest most expensive camera, with more Megapixels, is neither necessary nor is it a guarantor of getting good photographs. The 4/2011 launched DX D5100 coupled with a suitable (i.e. with built-in focus motor) lens, can create the same quality photographs in many situations as its more capable 2/2013 launched DX D7100 or the 9/2014 launched (and much more expensive) FX D750 siblings.

Solid shooting technique and basic gear (e.g. a tripod) is essential no matter which camera body is used.

In some cases, bigger is better

Higher spec bodies do offer tangible shooting benefits other than image quality. This was apparent in the sports scenario. Be it superior focus performance, internal focus motor, larger viewfinder, commander flash capability, AF fine tune, physical buttons for more functions at hand, prosumer (D7100) or semipro (D750) bodies can help you get your photography to that next level of refinement.

Consider carefully your lens purchases. Ensure the best possible compatibility in case you ever decide to move from DX to FX. A few clever purchases can give you great value-for-money FX and DX compatible lenses (hint: Tokina).

However, do rent or try out gear from friends before you commit. I cannot overstate the real-life ease-of-use factor versus any specs’ sheet excellence.

So here are my proposals to you depending on your stage in the photo journey

Just starting out. Don’t feel pressured to get an expensive high-spec body. A sensible approach may very well be to grab a dirt cheap used D5100 and an 18-200mm inexpensive used lens. See if DSLR photography suits you and your lifestyle and take it from there. Give it time and do not splash out immediately on many different lenses. Plus the D5100 can also act as a great video camera thanks to its rotating screen.

The bug has bitten you. It takes an honest discussion with yourself to see if you really need all the bells and whistles of that new body versus an early D5xxx or a D7000 model. If the answer is yes, then my proposal is to hang in there. Skip the D7100 and save the cash to spring for the D750 (new or used), unless the more recent D7xxx series have similar autofocus and ISO performance for a lower price.

You are ready to make money from your photography and turn semi-pro or even full-time pro. Congratulations! By now you have probably outgrown even the D750 for the sake of other pro FX and DX bodies. There’s not much I can offer in terms of advice here, other than a D750 can always be a light backup body, great for both stills and video.

Conclusion

Thank you for the time reading this article and see where your photography passion takes you next!

Do you have and use any of these Nikon cameras? What types of photograph do you shoot? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Konstantinos Skourtis is a Greek photographer based in Athens. He is fluent in English and capable of destination shoots for weddings, artists’ portfolios, blog and commercial photography and videography. His professional differentiators are creating win-win partnerships and an unparalleled attention to detail. Please check out his work and reach out using the links below.

  • whomeyeahme

    The 2nd paragraph says “Nikon D5100 16 MP DX body – $189)”. I think that price is wrong.

  • Oscar Corrales

    http://oscarcorralesfotografop.blogspot.com.co/ Whit a D3100 NIKON and 85mm f1.8 -35mm f1.8, That rigth..! IIt is not the arch .. neither the arrow .. is the Indian..!!

  • West

    I thought the same thing

  • Veronica Roberts

    Likely a used body, the 5xxx series is up to 5300 or 5400 maybe higher. To get a 5100 he would have to find one used. My wife uses two 5100s, her original and mine, One with a short lens, one with a long. Faster to swap cameras than to swap lenses. She still gets excellent usage out hers 6 years after we bought them.

  • Mark Miller

    Sorry, I’m not buying it. All things being equal (they weren’t), this was a poor comparison. You might as well have thrown in a few point and shoots and a cell phone or two.

  • Kostas

    Hello Mark and thank you for the comments.
    Would you mind being a little bit more specific on the points that could be improved, especially the aspects that have apparently let you down?
    Thank you again for the input.

  • Mark Miller

    Hi Kostas. You lost me with the crop sensor difference on all comparisons, and use of vr while on a tripod with the landscape comparison. Also a 1x enlargement of the photos might have shown a better comparison. There was also, besides the crop factor, an obvious white balance difference with the social event photos. If your intention was to show that acceptable results can be achieved with DX format, it was a success. My point is, acceptable results can also be achieved with a cell phone.

  • Kostas

    Thank you very much for the clarifications. I will do my best to provide some answers.

    Crop factor
    Only on the landscape scenario I tried to create photos of similar focal lengths (on FX terms). Shooting on DX at 14mm and at 21mm on FX provided equivalent FX focal lengths and also allowed the Tokina to act as an FX lens (as it does above 18-19mm). On the other scenarios I just shot the frames as they evolved not worrying about the crop factor.

    VR
    It may be that my phrase ‘vibration reducing technique’ gave the impression I used VR. It actually meant all the means employed (e.g. remote, timer and mirror lock up) to reduce vibration. As the Tokina 12-28 does not come with image stabilization, VR could not be possible. You are right, in any case, to point out that mixing VR and tripod do not yield the best results.

    WB
    AutoWB was used in all unprocessed shots. For the LR ones originally I thought of using my trusty WhiBal card. In the end I just used what felt best in my eyes for each shot, hence the differences.

    The 1x crops are a good suggestion and I will try to incorporate it in future articles.

    Finally, regarding the purpose of the article, it was to show what kind of results these (quite different) cameras could yield between them.
    You are absolutely right to point out that cell phones can also take very successful shots. Especially so, I might add, by using manual controls and shooting dng or some other kind of raw format. Such a comparison could be the purpose of another article.

    Thank you again for the engagement and your time.

  • Felix Arenas

    Thank you for that, Kostas. Very informative. We can do a very close comparison but as you stated at the beginning, that wasn’t the objective. Many people, me especially, are looking EXACTLY for this type of head to head look. Do I buy bigger? Is it justified? Should I just learn my camera better? I have/use a D5100 and love it. Portraits at 16×20 are very nice, no noise or artifacts at all. I had been thinking of the 750 recently. Thanks for looking at it.

  • Kostas

    Thank you for the kind words Felix. Glad the article helps at some level.

    I stuck with my D5100 for a few years learning the basics (I still am learning no matter the camera by the way) and found it absolutely satisfying up to A3+ prints from my Canon PRO100. Macro and video became easier thanks to the swiveling screen.

    Now with the D750 the improvement on AF and High ISO makes things much easier in certain shooting situations for me (mainly blogging and sports).

    The D7100 on the other hand is something in between. More capable than the D5100, but the buffer for my style is limiting for action. Also not having the moving screen can be restrictive at times (e.g. low macro shots and video). With hindsight I would have kept the D5100 alongside the D750. At some point a D500 most probably will replace the D7100.

    How do you see your buying decision (if any) going?

    Also is there anything additional you would find useful in a future comparison article (e.g. on cameras, lenses etc.)?

  • Felix Arenas

    For my needs Kostas (portrait, studio and landscape), my D5100 is still right on the money. I love telling people how much I paid for the camera that their great shots came out of. While others say they paid hundreds-thousands, I got my D5100 in 2013 for $450 with the two std. zooms.
    I keep looking for good, affordable lenses, especially AF. My portraiture is mostly informal, live action, not posed or staged. So, I need fast, accurate AF in zooms and primes. The most I’ve ever paid for a lens was $360 in 1980, so now I’d probably go up to $500. This is where your type of comparison articles would help me, as well as others I’m sure. Thanks, Kostas.

  • Norma.D.S

    As you said, Tamron 70-300 is really awesome. I have been using it more than 3 years and getting fantastic result ever. But I like the nikon d5600. This camera impressed me with few exceptional feature. ( https://callofphotography.com/nikon-d5600-review/ ). Overall, I think photography is not matter of camera and gear all the time. at the end of the skills needed to get the best photo. 🙂 Best wishes to all photographers.

  • Kostas

    Hi Norma and thank you for your contribution.
    I agree with you that most of the time even ‘lower’ level gear can produce great results.
    Regarding the Tamron 70-300 it can be a decent low cost solution for medium telephoto zoom.

    I do not have any experience with the D5600.

    All the best with your photographic endeavours.

  • Western

    I am dipping my toe into photography, but already love the adventure. I am using a 2005 Panasonic Lumix DMZ FZ30 8MP. My main interests at this time is landscape and night sky photography.
    Am I doing myself a disservice by not upgrading now to one of the more modern DSLRs where there is more capability and interchangeable lenses?

  • Kostas

    Hello and all the best in your adventure. Join the club!
    Unfortunately, I personally do not have experience with your camera as to provide feedback to your question.

    I would propose reading and asking on relevant sites about this camera, relating to the fields of your interest.

    Then again you may be lucky enough that one of the numerous DPS readers chimes in with great relevant information.

    in any case best of luck with your efforts.

  • EndUser

    Yes, absolutely you are not realising your full photographic potential. To put things in perspective, the optical quality from a 13 year old camera is probably worse than what you could achieve from the smartphone in your pocket. Something like a more modern FZ1000 (https://www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au/panasonic-fz1000) will make a great upgrade to your FZ30. Alternatively, an interchangeable lens camera (eg. https://www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au/panasonic-lumix-gx9-12-32mm-fa35-56-lens) which allows you to change lenses for specific purposes (eg a large aperture lens for astro photography, wide angle for landscapes) will ensure you are better equipped as you continue on your photographic journey.

  • Excellent Comparison.
    Thanks for Sharing
    http://www.fernandocoutinho.com

  • konstantinos

    Thank you Fernando. Are you using any of these cameras?

  • Hello Konstantinos

    I have the Nikon 7100 and I plan to soon buy the D750 which is a lot better equipment. A great friend of mine has this camera and I already had the opportunity to photograph with this equipment. Unfortunately in Brazil, a new camera comes to cost more than 60% of the US value. And this hinders the lives of photographers who like me have photography as their main source of income. Congrats again by the post. Ahh when you can visit my website and see what you think of my work. I would love your opinion.
    http://www.fernandocoutinho.com.br

  • konstantinos

    Thank you for the kind words Fernando. You will love the 750. Here in Greece, as well, photo equipment is quite expensive compared to our spending power, but thanks to online sites bargains exist. I hope you get one as well.

    I will check your site out and let you know.

  • Fotografo Sandro Vieira

    That’s right, I totally agree. The Indian is the one who commands the arrow well, in this case the clicks for a good result. https://www.sandrovieira.com.br

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