Giving you a leg up onto the next platform of photography is the Coolpix P5100 and is designed for the amateur who wants to take their photography more seriously. Revel in the 12 million pixels, gawp at the magnesium body and wonder at the manual controls.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Specification
- Sensor: CCD - 12.1 Mp
- Image Size:4000 x 5000 Pixels
- Lens: 35-123mm f/2.7-5.3 (3.5x zoom)
- Focus: Auto
- Exposure: Auto/15 Scene
- Metering: Matrix metering
- Monitor: 2.5in TFT LCD
- Other Features: Advanced Face-Priority, Vibration Reduction
- Movie Mode: Yes
- Storage: 52Mb of internal storage memory, plus SD Cards
- Batteries: Li-Ion
- AC Adaptor: Optional
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 98x65x41mm - 200g
- Transfer: USB 2.0
The Canon Powershot A650 IS costs £249 and offers the same resolution, larger 4x zoom and Image stabilising. The Canon is larger than the Nikon. Alternatively, the Panasonic FX-100 offers the same resolution, is more styled to the compact market and is equipped with a 3.6x wide angle optical zoom.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Modes and features
Initial examination of the Coolpix P5100 shows me a small lens, but this is because the outer ring is a screw thread bezel which can be removed to allow for a lens adapter and filters to be fitted. The presence of an optical viewfinder and dedicated hotshoe is a welcome one.
The top of the camera houses the hotshoe, Mode dial, power button, selector switch and shutter release with the zoom wrapped around it. The Mode dial gives access to the popular functions of the camera. PASM are all present along with the usual suspects of Video mode and Auto. This is where you can also find quick access to the Vibration reduction mode, a quick Hi ISO mode and the Scenes. This is a compact after all.
The 2.5in screen on the back is sat directly below the optical viewfinder. Because of this arrangement, coupled with a small padded area to rest the thumb, most of the access buttons are lined up down the left side of the screen. This gives it a feeling akin to a DSLR, which is where the classification of this camera is aiming.
The Fn button gives access to the basic functions of the Scenes when in Scene mode on the dial. When in Programme modes, the Fn button gives access to the ISO ratings. Like all modern Nikon digital compacts, the buttons are very concise in their operation. Whilst in most cases this is a good thing, there is the occasional time where, due to time restraints maybe, you want to press a button and the operation to just work. In some other cameras, this will happen, but Nikon's have a tendency to want to finish their current operation before starting anything else at all.
The display button just below will scroll through having info on the screen, the thirds grid, no info on screen and screen off to save power if you're opting for the viewfinder.
Access to your images, the main Menu and a separate delete button completes the line-up. The opposite side of the screen has a simple thumb operated navigation pad to access the Flash, Self timer, Macro and Exposure compensation options with the confirmation button in the middle.
Interestingly, this pad isn't used for moving around in some of the menus such as adjusting the shutter speed or aperture. The wheel on the top of the camera is used for that and in Manual mode, the pad is used to flip from shutter to aperture changes. Annoyingly, when flipping from shutter to aperture values, only the right button can be used, essentially scrolling round in a loop. If left is pressed, the Self timer menu opens up.
It's great to see a metal tripod bush on a compact as they are so few and far between. Continuing along the bottom of the camera, the battery is a lithium ion which is provided alongside the camera and comes with the charger.
The EXIF data was not set up in the camera. I had to set it up manually, which I did in Corel's Paintshop Pro X2 program. Whether this is done in the factory or by a previous tester is unclear.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Build and handling
As this camera is designed for the more serious photographer who wants to play around with manual controls and extra flash units, maybe before moving onto a DSLR, it's of no surprise to discover a good build quality. The grip on the front is reminiscent of an SLR, but due to the small size of this model, my finger doesn't sit comfortably on top of the shutter release.
The manual viewfinder is a bit small to look through, which I think again comes down to size restrictions of the camera. I can't help but think that the camera could've been made a bit bigger and still be comfortable, though.
The Menus can be problematic. I'm one of those people that like to go into a menu, select something and when I press the shutter release button or something else, the camera goes straight to that instead. Nikon don't allow this, so I have to back out of each menu I'm in before it will allow me to access anything else.
The battery door is bendy plastic, which I'd be scared of in case I broke it, but apart from that, the Coolpix P5100 is a well built camera.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Flash options
The in built flash will give six separate options of Auto, Red eye, Flash off, Flash on, Flash with Night portrait, which will fire flash and use a long exposure to light dark backgrounds, and Rear curtain sync which fires the flash just before the curtain closes creating a stream of light behind the subject.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Performance
The shutter lag test gave a result of 0.008 second which is pretty standard comparing to other digital compacts. It would've been nice to see a better result due to it being higher spec, but it's adequate.
Seven images in 10 seconds was all that the P5100 could muster. It certainly sounded like it was struggling, too.
The portrait shot taken with flash gave a greenish cast making Becky look a little sick. The flash reflects off the lips and hair giving it a glittery effect which will only make girlie girls happier.
The same shot with no flash gives a warmer result making me think that maybe the Auto white balance got confused.
A third shot in program mode shows a cooler result which is to be expected. Interestingly, the Nikon Coolpix P5100 has only warmed up the skin tones as the background is the same colour as the Program mode image.
The landscape shot was taken early morning and shows nice definition in the sky and clouds with a nice colour. I think more colour could have been given to the grass, though. The winch is a little under exposed due to it being nearly back lit. The good news is the lack of fringing on the white bars of the ladders.
The blacks are over saturated and the primaries seem to be coming out just fine. Boosted, but not too in-your-face.
The Program mode gives the usual result of a cooler tone, but the skin is still well balanced.
Using flash gives the image a slight green cast.
The portrait mode without flash warms up the skin tones nicely.
The wide shot shows the field of view attained from the P5100. The field of view is illustrated in this image, so I have boosted the colours in Photoshop.
The zoom is only 3x optical, but it has framed this particular shot nicely. Despite the image being sharpened in Photoshop, it's still soft which could be attributed to a shallow depth of field. No EXIF data was recorded with this image.
The metering has coped quite well with strong, low sunlight and the winch is practically back-lit.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Noise test
The front of the Nikon Coolpix P5100 has a sticker showing us that it has ISO3200 and Vibration reduction and these days it means that the two are intertwined using the high ISO to enable the anti-shake. It does this by upping the light sensitivity allowing for faster shutter speeds and, therefore, reducing the need for flash or a tripod.
It isn't until ISO400 that noise starts to appear at full size anyway. Detail in the petal is starting to degrade and small pocket of purple are beginning to appear in the grey card and ISO800 simply sharpens the noise and decays the deatil even more on the petals.
Colourful artefacts start to appear at ISO1600 whilst ISO3200 goes a completely different route and softens the image losing all detail in the petals but also losing the sharpened artefacts in the low key areas. Interestingly, the resolution of the ISO3200 image is knocked down to 5Mp which reinforces the theory that its interlinked with the VR feature.
It goes to show that the VR feature on the Nikon Coolpix P5100 is not what it seems in similar terms to the DSLR VR system, which is disappointing. It gives the impression of a cheap way out.
The ISO64 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Verdict
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 is the next step up for those of you who are considering moving into DSLR territory or for those of you who have a DSLR and still want the features, but don't want the size or gear to carry around.
Some of the quirks of Nikon that hardcore users find characteristic simply annoy me. I don't like having to back out of every single menu I go into to take a shot. I don't like having to hold down the Fn button whilst I adjust the ISO rating or the fact that in Manual mode, the right button will only work to flick between Shutter and Aperture.
The image quality is what you would expect from Nikon although the images could be a little sharper.
Gadget Granny says:
This is the nicest camera I got to use at the weekend. I like the grip so I can use the camera one handed without being worried of dropping it. Once I'd read the instructions, I would use the manual functions.
This one has the grid, like the Casio Exilim EX-Z77 and Ricoh Caplio R7 I tried at the same time. It's great for framing the kids as they gallop by. I used the flash to take a picture of one of my grandchildren and it coped brilliantly. I would use an extra flash on the hotshoe if I owned this camera.
Nikon Coolpix P5100 Plus points
Hotshoe for extra flash
Nikon Coopix P5100 Minus points
Long winded menu ritual
Hi ISO capability is only on low resolution
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 costs around £235 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.