Nikon D7100 tips and tricks
by Douglas Klostermann
Whether you are already shooting with a Nikon D7100 or still contemplating the purchase of one, you are likely well aware that it is a highly customizable and versatile camera. There are numerous Menu options and Custom Settings that you can make use of in order to fine-tune the camera to perfectly fit your needs, your shooting style, and the type of scene you are photographing.
The autofocus system and its modes can be adjusted and used to best capture the situation, the exposure metering system can be tweaked to achieve the exposures you desire, and the camera controls can be customized to work more seamlessly with how you photograph. In addition, the camera’s displays, white balance and ISO settings, and several other camera functions can all be adjusted according to your preferences.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the Nikon D7100 as I researched and wrote my latest e-book, a user’s guide to the D7100 called Nikon D7100 Experience (PDF and ePub) (Kindle edition at Amazon.com), and below are some of the top “tips and tricks” I’ve discovered for setting up and photographing with this powerful dSLR. For more in-depth explanations of these tips as well as all of the other features of the D7100, be sure and have a look at Nikon D7100 Experience.
1. Take Control of the D7100 Autofocus System
Before making use of some of the powerful features and functions specific to the D7100, one needs to first take control of the basic functions, including the autofocus system and exposure metering settings. This will help you to consistently capture sharp, well-exposed images. The D7100 boasts a 51 point autofocus system, upgraded from the 39 point system of the D7000. The large number of focus points and their positions in the viewfinder will allow you to focus exactly where you wish with minimal recomposing when working in Single-Servo AF-S mode, plus will better enable you to lock onto and track moving subjects throughout the frame when working in Continuous-Servo AF-C mode. The various Autofocus Modes (AF-S, AF-C, AF-A) and the autofocus AF-Area Modes (Single Point, Dynamic-Area, 3D-Tracking, etc.) may be intimidating at first, but once they are understood, it is easy to determine which combinations fit your shooting needs. If you have not previously used the D7000 or D600 you may also at first be confused by the autofocus controls with the AF switch and button near the base of the lens (used in conjunction with the Command Dials), but you should soon find that it is a quick and convenient way to change to your desired AF Mode and AF-Area Mode.
In addition, the D7100 offers several Custom Settings to customize various aspect of the autofocus system - namely Custom Settings a1-a6. You can use these to tell the camera if achieving exact focus takes priority over maintaining the fastest continuous frame rate, how long the AF system continues to track a specific subject even if the subject momentarily moves away from the active AF point, and if the active AF points are illuminated in the viewfinder. You can even limit the number of selectable AF points to 11 if that helps you to more quickly or easily select your desired AF point.
2. Take Advantage of the new [i] Button
The D7100 adds the [i] Button, located on the rear of the camera, which gives you immediate access to the Information Display screen where many shooting settings and functions can be viewed and changed. You can press this [i] button to turn on the Information Display on the rear monitor and immediately access these settings with the use of the Multi Selector and OK Button. Press the [i] Button a second time or the INFO button to “de-activate” the settings and simply view the camera settings on the Information Display Screen. Or, after the INFO Button is pushed to display the camera settings of the Information Display screen on the rear monitor, this [i] Button is then pressed to “activate” the screen to enable changing the settings. In addition to the readily accessible camera buttons on the body of the D7100, this [i] Button and Information Display screen can be a quick and easy way to change many of the camera settings without having to navigate into the menus, such as Image Area, Active D-Lighting, High ISO Noise Reduction, and Long Exposure Noise Reduction. Plus you can use this screen to quickly customize the function of the Depth of Field Preview Button, AE-L/AF-L Button, and Fn Button.
The [i] Button can also be used during Live View shooting, Movie shooting, and Image Playback to readily access and change a number of applicable functions. During Live View shooting it can be pressed to access settings including Image Area, Image Quality, Image Size, Picture Control, Active D-Lighting, Remote Control Mode, and Monitor Brightness. During Movie shooting, the [i] Button will access additional movie settings such as Frame Size and Frame Rate, Movie Quality, Microphone sensitivity, Destination for which SD card slot movies will be saved to, and Headphone Volume. Plus, when reviewing your still images or movies during playback, the [i] Button is used to access the image Retouch Menu or to display movie edit options.
3. Beware of Menu Conflicts
As with most current dSLR cameras, the D7100 has a couple menu settings and function “quirks” or conflicts that may drive you crazy if you are not aware why they are occurring. Most notably, some settings will be greyed-out or inaccessible in the menus and you will not be able to select them when working in one of the auto shooting modes, if not using an optional accessory, or if a “conflicting” setting is enabled. An example includes HDR shooting, which is not accessible when the camera is set to capture files in the (NEF)RAW or (NEF)RAW+JPEG image formats. You must be working in JPEG only. Or, since White Balance Bracketing and RAW format are incompatible, if the camera is set for White Balance Bracketing and (NEF)RAW or (NEF)RAW+JPEG image formats, the BKT Button will not actually allow you to access bracketing. These are generally not arbitrary quirks, but are typically logical conflicts.
Another set of conflicts involves the customization of some buttons (Fn Button, Preview Button, and AE-L/AF-L Button) where you have the option to set a separate Press function (where you simply press the button) and a Press+Dial function (where you press the button and turn a dial in order to change a setting). While it at first seems handy that the D7100 menus separated the Press from the Press+Dial functions thus allowing you more options, you will soon find that most of them conflict with each other, and in reality you will likely only be able to set either a Press function or a Press+Dial function.
4. Extend Your Reach with the 1.3x Crop Mode
The D7100 allows you to shoot in DX mode, making full use of the camera’s APS-C sized image sensor, and also offers a new 1.3x crop mode that uses a smaller part of the sensor but provides some added benefits. This can be set in the Image Area item of the Shooting Menu, and by enabling the 1.3x crop setting you will change the aspect ratio (very slightly) and angle of view (dramatically) of your resulting images – basically cropping your photos from what you see in the full viewfinder to what you see inside the 1.3x outline that is shown in the viewfinder when this feature is enabled.
The first advantage of the 1.3x crop is that it will allow you to “get closer” to the action by virtually extending the reach of your lenses. This can be particularly helpful when using a telephoto lens to capture sports, wildlife, or bird images where the subject is at a significant distance from you. It will allow, for example, your 200mm focal length lens to act as nearly a 400mm focal length. (Since the DX frame is already a 1.5x crop sensor in relation to a full-frame 35mm sized sensor, the additional 1.3x crop effectively doubles the focal length of the lens: 200mm x 1.5 x 1.3 = 390mm.)
The second advantage is that with the 1.3x crop, the area of the autofocus points as seen in the viewfinder reaches nearly to the sides of the effective frame. This will allow you to track and capture a moving subject throughout almost the entire width of the active frame (when using continuous AF-C Focus Mode), or enable you to focus on and capture a still subject most anywhere in the frame without having to lock focus and reframe (when using single-shot AF-S Focus Mode).
A third advantage of working in 1.3x crop mode is that the Continuous High shooting speed increases from 6 frames per second to 7 fps (when shooting in JPEG or in 12-bit NEF-RAW), allowing you to capture slightly more images in a quick burst.
The disadvantage of the 1.3x crop is that you will only be using 15 megapixels of your 24.1 megapixel sensor, so you will have slightly reduced image resolution. The end result will be as if you cropped the image in post-processing. However, 15 MP is still a very high resolution, and for many shooting situations and image needs this may be more than sufficient.
5. Interval Timer and Time-Lapse Shooting
The Interval Timer Shooting function can be used to take a continuous series of photographs at each specified time interval, for a set number of intervals, with the intervals to begin either immediately or at a set time. It can be used to take these multiple series of shots over several minutes or hours – for example, 3 photos in a row every 10 minutes, for 12 intervals. This will result in a total of 36 photos, as the camera will calculate and show you. This Interval Timer Shooting menu can also be used for time-lapse photography by taking a series of individual photos over an extended period of minutes or hours, with just one photo per interval, which can then be combined into a time-lapse movie (using software designed for this such as Photoshop).
Use the Interval Timer Shooting menu to choose all of your desired settings. Ideally, set up your camera on a tripod for the duration of Interval Timer Shooting, and use the included Eyepiece Cap to cover the viewfinder and prevent stray light from altering the exposure. The camera will need to focus before taking the shots, so it may be best to pre-focus the camera and then set the camera and lens to manual focus.
For time-lapse photography you will need to take images at short intervals, with just one image per interval, for numerous intervals, in order to create a long and effective movie. For example, a photo every 30 seconds, for 8 hours. Be sure to have a large memory card or cards in the camera, and set the Role Played by Card in Slot 2 for Overflow if necessary. In the optional time-lapse software you will set the movie frame rate, and that setting (24fps, 30fps, etc.) will determine to total length of the movie. There are time-lapse formulas and apps, which you can use to plug-in your variables and determine either the settings you will need to use, or the resulting length of the final movie.
6. Set up your Dual SD Memory Card Slots
The two memory card slots of the D7100 can function in a couple different ways, including using one for saving RAW files and the other for JPEG files, saving all your images to both cards simultaneously, using the second card as overflow when the first one fills up, or saving still images to one and movies to the other. You can set this up in the Shooting Menu under Role played by card in slot 2. To set how the cards function for saving videos, use the Shooting Menu > Movie Settings > Destination.
7. Use Picture Controls for your JPEG Images
If you are capturing your images as (NEF) RAW or JPEG files and will be post-processing your images in software such as Photoshop or Lightroom, then you don’t necessarily need to worry about Picture Controls. If that is the case, set the Picture Control for Standard or Neutral so that the images that you view on the camera’s rear LCD screen will be close to how they will appear in the actual RAW image file that you open on your computer. However if you are not post-processing, you will want the images to come out of the camera looking as you want them to, so you will need to set, customize, or create a Picture Control that best creates your desired look. Adjust the sharpening, contrast, brightness, and saturation to achieve the look you are after. Save the Picture Controls you have created to access them later. You can even create your own styles using the included software, or find them online and download them. There are Picture Controls to be found online that recreate the look of various traditional types of film including Kodachrome and Velvia.
8. Customize the Exposure Compensation Controls
Exposure Compensation (EC) can be used to adjust the camera’s exposure settings in order to achieve the final exposure that you desire. Explore the various options of Custom Setting b3: Easy Exposure Compensation to customize exactly how the exposure compensation controls works. You can set the camera so that you press the Exposure Compensation Button first before turning a dial to change EC, or have it set so that you can simply turn a dial to quickly and directly change EC. You can even select which dial you use with Custom Setting f5. And you can set it so that the EC amount that you dialed-in stays set for the subsequent shots, or that it is automatically reset to zero, depending on which controls you choose to use to set EC.
This last option is the most sophisticated and most flexible, and may be the best one to learn and take advantage of. Using this option, On (Auto reset), you can choose to turn a dial to directly adjust EC, but your EC setting will be reset when the camera or exposure meter turns off. This is because you can still continue to use the Exposure Compensation Button with a Command Dial to set EC, but by setting it this way, EC will not be reset when the camera or meter turns off. Exposure Compensation will only be automatically reset if you set it directly using the dial without the button. So if you wish to use EC for just one shot, you can adjust EC with just the dial. But if you wish to take a series of shots with the same adjusted EC, you can use the button/ dial combination to set it more “permanently.” Pretty powerful stuff! This is why you got the D7100, right? So that you can take advantage of these sophisticated controls!
9. Fine-Tune the Exposure Metering Modes
While the Matrix Metering Mode will do an excellent job of determining the proper exposure for your images the majority of the time, there are some situations where you may wish to use the other exposure modes - Center-Weighted Metering and Spot Metering. This includes dramatically backlit situations, subjects with a dramatically dark background, scenes that contain a wide range of highlights and shadow areas, or other dramatic lighting situations.
If you find that you are consistently not quite happy with how the camera’s meter is determining the exposure settings when making use of any of these modes, you can make fine-tune adjustments to the metering system using Custom Setting b5: Fine-tune optimal exposure. This is not an exposure compensation adjustment, but rather a “behind the scenes” fine-tuning of how the camera’s meter will determine the exposure settings, independently for each of the different Exposure Metering Modes (Matrix, Center-Weighted Average, Spot). If you find that your images are always typically being slightly underexposed or overexposed when using a specific metering mode, adjust this accordingly so that you don’t have to use exposure compensation every time you use that metering mode. For example, you may find that Center-Weighted Metering delivers great exposures, but you would prefer that the images taken with Spot Metering were 1/3 EV (1/3 step) underexposed all the time. If that is the case, you would adjust Spot metering to -2/6 using this menu. If you make use of this fine-tune adjustment, you can still use exposure compensation in any situation in addition to this fine-tune adjustment.
10. Put Your Most Used Settings in My Menu
Instead of navigating into the Menus and Custom Settings all the time to find your most used settings, you can create your own custom menu called My Menu, which is then quickly and easily accessed with the Menu Button. You can even decide what order to list the items in. Set up My Menu by selecting Choose Tab in the Recent Settings menu, and select My Menu. Then Add Items and Rank Items in the order you desire. You can add items from most all of the Menus and Custom Settings Menus, such as maybe Movie Settings, some of the Flash Control settings, or White Balance for easier access to additional white balance options and fine-tuning. If you frequently make use of a feature such as changing the Image Area from DX to 1.3x, use Interval Timer Shooting, or Multiple Exposures add these to your My Menu.
There are numerous other settings you can customize, as well as many other important features to learn and take advantage of with the Nikon D7100, such as making use of the Auto ISO settings, the built-in HDR and Multiple Exposure features, verifying your exposures with the histogram display, temporarily Spot Metering with the touch of a button, and tweaking the white balance settings. You have a powerful camera in your hands, so why not learn to take advantage of its advanced features?! Have a look at my guide Nikon D7100 Experience (PDF and ePub) (Kindle edition at Amazon.com) to learn more about the settings, features, and controls mentioned here, and much more. This book not only explains the features, functions, and controls of the camera, but more importantly explains when and why you will want to use them in your photography. Take control of your D7100 and the images you create!