The Nikon D5100 is a newly designed camera improving on the Full HD video of the D5000 and introducing a new horizontally swivelling 3inch screen, and a new more compact body, that is 10% smaller than the D5000. It also introduces a new "creative effects" mode with 6/7 new filters, as well as a built in "merge to HDR" function, much like the feature you may have used on a computer to merge two (or more) different exposures to create a "High Dynamic Range" photo. The D5100 does this all in camera using two shots to create a photo. The D5100 also features the 16.2 megapixel sensor as featured in the D7000. This means that you should get all the video quality from the D5000, the low noise image quality from the D7000, and as well as this 7 (or 8 if you include HDR) new shooting modes.
Of the new creative effects available, the "Night Vision" mode allows the camera to increase the ISO to a whopping ISO102400 enabling extremely low light photography, although, to acheive this, the camera has to switch to black and white mode, as the colour noise would degrade the image too much. (But once you get rid of the colour, you get an image that may be useful, whereas prior to this you may have got none).
Nikon D5100 with VR kit lens above, and swivel screen shown below.
Back of the camera
Nikon D5100 Features
16.2 mp sensor, APS-C, DX series, same sensor as the D7000
Full HD video 1920x1080/30/25/24fps - upto 20 minutes per video
7 creative effects, available in photo and video mode: Colour Sketch, Selective Colour, Miniature effect, Night Portrait, Silhouette, High Key, Low Key
Picture control system: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape
Improved live view function, dedicated auto return lever
Faster AF in live view, several AF modes, face priority, subject tracking, scene auto
ISO100-3200, 6400, Hi.1 12800, Hi. 2 25600
HDMI CEC connection allows control of the camera with a remote
Interval timer shooting
Effects in detail
The D5100 introduces seven new creative effects, as well as a new HDR mode. These are JPEG only, and it does not record a RAW file at the same time as the effects modes. Here are some of the examples provided by Nikon.
Creative Effects: Low key, High key, Miniature, Selective colour, Colour sketch, Silhouette, Night vision, and new HDR mode (combines two shots, upto +/- 3 EV). The silhouette mode removes detail from the subject. The colour sketch mode lets you change the colour and line density. Using the selective colour mode it's possible to select up to three colours, with the rest of the image appearing in black and white. Miniature - recreate tilt + shift lens effect in camera (pre-or post shooting)
How does the Nikon D5100 compare to the Nikon D3100? Here's a quick overview of both models, highlighting the main differences, with the highlighted green item being the best:
3.0 inch swivel screen, 921k pixel
3.0 inch screen, 230k pixel
4fps (RAW + JPEG)
3fps (RAW + JPEG)
11 point AF
11 point AF
1080p, 30/25/24fps, 20min max
1080p 24fps video, 10min max
ISO100-6400, extendable to 25,600 and 104,200
ISO100-3200 extendable to 6400, 12,800
Pentamirror with 95% frame coverage and 0.78x magnification
While we are at it, I thought it would be worth comparing the Nikon D5100, Nikon's £660 camera, to Canon's £660 camera, the Canon EOS 660D, both aimed at the advanced amatuer with an interest in HD video:
There is a good sized hand grip, that feels very good, with an elastic rubber coating, it is very easy to hold onto the camera, even with larger lenses attached (or alternatively, when the lens is large enough, you hold the lens instead). The body is 10% smaller than D5000, and while this may not initially sound like much, when you see the cameras side by side, the difference is quite noticeable. The camera also has a 17% thinner TFT (in comparison to the D5000) making the camera seem rather compact for an enthusiast level camera, and makes the camera a good size for travelling without too much concern for luggage space.
A full array of connections on the side provide HDMI, External Microphone, USB, GPS connections. Very easy to access the live view mode thanks to the new auto-returning lever, much more intuitive than trying to locate a specific button in a sea of identical buttons. As you would expect the DSLR has a metal tripod mount, and there are a number of dedicated buttons on the camera including: Flash, Function (default timer button, can be customised to: self-timer, release mode, image quality, ISO, white balance, active d-lighting, HDR mode, +RAW, auto-bracketing), dedicated video recording, exposure, info, AE-L/AF-L, plus playback, zoom, delete, menu, and the i button.
The body feels solidly built, although it does not have as much rubber grip as the 600D. The camera is surprisingly compact after using the 600D, feels very portable thanks to the lightweight body, and compact dimensions.
With a built in orientation sensor, the camera automatically rotates the display when held vertically, although it doesn't do this for the menus:
Menus and Ease of Use
The built in menus are clearly laid out with each section notable from it's dominant colour, such as the green photo menus, blue playback, orange setup, red custom setting menu, purple retouch menus, plus recent settings. The playback editing options are particularly feature packed allowing most of the effects and more to be applied to photos taken.
The back display of the camera lets you change the majority of settings, such as ISO, WB, Flash, etc..., as the camera unfortunately does not feature shortcuts on the 4-way / direction pad, and again rather unfortunately the shortcut button to enter the menu is positioned near the optical viewfinder (the <i>) button, making it a little awkward to get into the options sometimes. It would be nice if you could simply press the middle OK button to enter the options as this is much closer to where you thumb naturally rests, and it often feels like you are stretching your thumb to reach the <i> button.
Overview of menus:
The retouch menu is worth highlighting as there is a large number of options available including: D-Lighting, Red-eye correction, Trim, Monochrome, Filter effects, Colour balance, Resize, Image overlay, RAW processing, Quick retouch, Straighten, Distortion control, Fisheye, Colour outline, Perspective control, Colour sketch, Miniature effect, Selective colour, and Movie editing.
Battery: The camera uses a Lithium Ion battery, model EN-EL14, and is the same battery as used in the Nikon D3100 and Nikon Coolpix P7000. I managed to get 484 shots on the first charge using live view quite a lot, and then over 500 shots when mostly just shooting, with less use of live view.
Speed: Here we've tested the 1100D and compared it to the 600D, to see if there is much difference in performance. We've also tested the camera in live view mode as this can dramatically affect focusing speed.
Canon EOS 600D
Shutter response (SLR / Live)
0.1 / 0.5
0.1 / 0.1
Focus - wide, shutter response
Focus - telephoto, shutter response
Focus - live view (wide)
Switch on time - taking photo
Shot to shot - without flash
Shot to shot - with flash
Continuous shooting - JPEG
4fps (28 shots^)
Continuous shooting - JPEG with Flash
0.6-0.7 between shots
Continuous shooting - RAW
4fps (13 shots^)
3fps (6 shots)
Testing on JPEG, Review off, live view off, flash off, kit lens used, unless otherwise stated. Thankfully the shutter response is still very quick in live view mode even though the focusing is much slower.
4fps in JPEG or RAW shooting, good buffer size, from the RAW tests it looks as though the buffer size is around twice the size of the Canon's. Focus speed is around 1.2 seconds in live view, which is quicker than the Canon's focusing speed, however, the shutter reponse in live view is much slower at around 0.5 seconds. Focusing is also much slower than expected.
*These were the average results assuming the camera locked focus on the first attempt, if it failed, then it could easily add another second to the focusing time. Includes shutter response which in the case of the D5100 adds 0.5 seconds to the time it takes to take the photo. ^ before slow-down.
Nikon D5100 Performance
Wide shot 18mm
Full zoom 55mm
Exposure: This is never a problem, except when using low key, as this seems to predominantly underexpose images, without the facility to use exposure compensation. The camera seems more likely to over-expose by 1/3 rather than underexpose so it can occassionally be useful to dial in exposure compensation.
Liverpool Catholic Cathedral
ISO100, 1/400, f/10, 20mm
White Suzuki Swift
ISO100, 1/250, f/8, 55mm
Resolution: Resolution is very good, with high levels of detail and sharpness straight from camera, with very good JPEG output quality. The default settings, however, are slightly softer than I would have liked to see, this can easily be altered in camera by simply increasing the sharpness setting or later on the computer.
Dynamic range: Dynamic range is very good in photos, and DXOMark results for the D7000 sensor are among the very best. HDR mode, and Active D-Lighting (with several options: Off, Auto, Low, Mid, Strong, V Strong) can be very useful to help keep detail in bright skies or dark areas of images.
Lime Street Station at Night (Kit lens)
ISO1100, 1/30, f/5, 35mm
Focusing: Using the 18-55mm kit lens gives a very high success rate particularly when using the optical viewfinder. Using live view the success rate drops slightly depending on the subject being focused on. The actual chance of taking a blurred photo is reduced dramatically by the camera not allowing you to shoot when the focus fails. Thanksfully this is rare, However, this may occassionally frustrate you.
Noise: examples are shown below, click to view full size.
The camera ranges from ISO100 to ISO6400 and (Hi1) ISO12800, (Hi2) ISO25,600 are available in normal use, with upto ISO102,400 available in the Night Vision scene mode - this should enable shots to be taken at night of wildlife or in other situations where you simply would not have otherwise been able to get a photo without using flash, a tripod, or alternative lighting methods. The camera switches to black and white mode, and fine detail suffers as a result of high noise reduction.
Hi 1, ISO12800
Noise - Night Vision Mode: Click to view full size images.
Normal mode Hi 2, ISO25600
Night Vision Hi 1.5
1/60, f/5.6, 52mm
Night Vision Hi 3.7
1/60, f/5.6, 52mm
Night Vision Hi 4
1/60, f/5.6, 52mm
Night vision switches to black and white, and alters the ISO setting automatically depending on lighting conditions, this allows you to take photos at quicker shutter speeds without having to revert to long exposures, a tripod, or other steadying methods. The AF illuminator is disabled (to avoid scaring the subject), and this can cause focusing problem, for example Hi 4 (ISO102400) was so dark that live view focus failed, and manual focus was required.
White Balance results - tested under incandescent lighting and fluorescent lighting, using the auto white balance, and white balance presets, click to view full size:
Auto White Balance - Tungsten
Tungsten Preset - Tungsten Light
Auto White Balance - Fluorescent
Cool White Fluorescent Preset - Fluoresent
The camera does a good job using Auto White Balance, and 95% of the time you shouldn't need to switch from auto to a preset white balanace mode. Under tungsten lighting, the tungsten preset produced more natural looking colours, and the fluorescent preset mode has a variety of different options (sodium-vapour, warm-white, white, cool-white, day white, daylight, and high temperature mercury vapour), with the "Cool White Fluorescent" preset producing the best results under our lighting.
Creative effects In Detail: click to view full size images.
ISO100, 1/200, f/13, 55mm
Selective Colour Bluebells (Purple)
Miniature effect: the size, and horizontal or vertical position can be altered, and gives a live preview of the effect in action. the live view frame rate drops and can become quite slow occassionally making framing more difficult.
Selective Colour: like the feature see on compact Canon cameras, this lets you choose a colour to keep, while the rest of the scene is in black and white. The D5100 system is a little more intelligent as it allows you to choose three colours, and adjust the sensitivity of the colour selection from 1 to 7. This lets you choose a specific red colour, and extend it to cover a wider range of red tones.
Low-key: This has been a feature on Olympus SLRs / Pen cameras for a LONG time and it's nice to see it introduced to Nikon cameras, however it can cause under-exposure especially as it's not possible to alter the exposure compensation in this mode. Low key can be used for some very nice effects (without over-exposure).
Low-key Lamborghini Wheel
High-key: As above, this can be used to create pleasingly bright images, although without being able to change the exposure compensation, the subject often has to be right to avoid over-exposure.
Colour sketch: colour sketch is available in photo mode, while colour sketch and colour outline are available in playback editing. The colour sketch is an interesting feature, that gives the image an almost cartoon sketched style, however it can be quite difficult to find situations or subjects that benefit from this effect.
Silhouette: this is designed to darken and remove detail from subjects - although it can be difficult to find suitable subjects to shoot in normal shooting conditions. Under the right circumstances such as on a beach or in bright lighting this can be a useful feature to have.
Night Vision: One could image this feature being used by police in surveillance, for example to get registration plates from cars at night or to take photos of peoples faces. The best feature of this, is the ability to take photos at higher shutter speeds, and still get results in very low light. The mode can also be used in videos, so it could create some interesting night life videos.
It would be nice to have the option to keep the original photos, in case these features and options don't perform as you were expecting, as occassionally it is difficult to see on screen whether you have got the shot as you intended, particularly when shooting outdoors in bright sunlight.
Macro (with studio flash)
Thoresby Hall - In camera HDR
In camera HDR creation is a new feature introduced with the Nikon D5100, although it is not available on a specific mode dial or effect mode, instead it is an option in the menu. This combines two shots, you can select AUTO, or manually select the amount of exposure compensation from +/-1, through +/- 2, upto +/- 3 EV. This again is not available when shooting in RAW mode, and you instead need to make sure you are shooting in JPEG mode in order for this to be available.
Macro: click to view full size images.
Lamborghini Brake Calipers
Ferrari 360 Modena Engine
The 18-55mm kit lens is surprisingly capable at macro photographs, when used at full optical zoom, with the camera focusing with subject close to the lens.
The camera features a dedicated video record button, accessible regardless of the mode dial position, meaning you can apply creative effects to videos for example. Offering Full HD at 30/25/24fps covers all potential uses including use in the US (NTSC), UK (PAL), and film industry (24fps). Videos are recorded in the H.264 MOV file format (instead of M-JPEG on D5000), and lower resolutions, such as 720p are also available. The effects should be available without any noticeable effect on fps, however the miniature and colour sketch modes appeared to slow video frame rate.
Value for Money: The Nikon D5100 offers very good value for money, with the nearest competitors being the Canon EOS 600D, at £739 with IS kit lens. Compared to the Canon 600D, the 600D offers better value for money, and a higher resolution sensor, although lacks some of the more creative effects, and built in HDR modes. The cheapest Digital SLR with full HD video is the Nikon D3100. Other cameras that feature full HD include the Pentax K-5, although it is considerably more expensive, but comes with weather sealing. The Sony Alpha a33 and a55 both offer full HD video, and high speed shooting, although lack an optical viewfinder. Panasonic offers the GH2 with full HD video, and is priced at around £833 with 14-42mm kit lens and is one of the smaller SLRs available thanks to the lack of optical viewfinder.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
The Nikon D5100 builds on the success of the D3100, with Full HD, swivel screen, and creative effect modes. The camera also appears to out-perform the Canon EOS 600D in a number of areas such as more focus points, HDR mode, quicker continuous shooting, and deeper buffer allowing more shots before slow down. However in a number of areas, the Canon 600D outperforms the D5100, with a higher resolution sensor, and screen, as well as increased area of rubber grip.
The D5100 features the well known and well respected 16 megapixel CMOS sensor from the Nikon D7000, and offers excellent low light, low noise photography and excellent dynamic range, further enhanced with Active D-lighting, and built in HDR mode.
Handling is very good, however it would be great if there was an option to customise the d-pad to allow quicker access to the options, such as ISO, WB, so that you don't have to always look at the screen to see what options you are changing.
The Nikon D5100 scores very highly in features, image quality, and offers good value for money in the market, particularly with a 2 year warranty. The D5100 is feature packed with some previously unseen features and modes, such as night vision, and built in HDR merge. This camera should be number one on your shopping list, as it makes an excellent Digital SLR. Buy it, buy it now!
The Nikon D5100 is a great digital SLR that provides excellent image quality, design and features, including full HD video.
Nikon D5100 Pros
Excellent video quality
16.2 megapixel sensor, excellent detail
Excellent ISO performance
Night vision mode - very useful
Great swivel screen
Quite good value for money
Great image quality
Compact, stylish design
2 year warranty
Nikon D5100 Cons
Quicker access to options could be provided
Live view frame rate drops when using some of the effects
RAW not available when using effects or HDR mode
Slower than expected focusing speed
Slow shutter response in live view
VALUE FOR MONEY
If you have any questions or want any features tested, please leave a comment in the forums.
Nikon D5100 Specifications
£669 body only, 18-55VR Kit - £779.99, available 21/APR/2011
Single-point AF, dynamic-area AF, auto-area AF, 3D-tracking (11 points), Autofocus (AF): Single-servo AF (AF-S); Continuous-servo AF (AF-C); Manual focus (MF)
–5 to +5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV
NEF (RAW): 14 bit, compressed; JPEG: fine, normal or basic; NEF + JPEG, MOV; H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
ISO 100 - 6400, Hi1, Hi2 (25.600 equivalent) in steps of 1/3 EV
TTL exposure metering using 420-pixel RGB sensor
Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot
4.0 frames per second
Auto, Auto Flash off, Scene Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close up, Night portrait, Night landscape, Party/indoor, Beach/snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Pet portrait, Candlelight, Blossom, Autumn colours, Food; Programmed auto (P), Shutter-priority auto (S), Aperture priority auto (A), Manual (M)
1,920 × 1,080, 30p/25p/24p, H high/normal; 1,280 × 720, 30p/25p/24p, H high/normal; 640 × 424, 30p/25p, H high/normal, Mono microphone built in.
SD / SDHC / SDXC
Hi-Speed USB; Video output: NTSC, PAL; HDMI output: Type C mini-pin HDMI connector; Accessory terminal: Remote Cord MC-DC2 (available separately), GPS Unit GP-1 (available separately); Audio input: Stereo mini-pin jack (3.5-mm diameter)
One Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL14, AC Adapter EH-5a/5b; requires Power Connector EP-5A (available separately)
Camera, Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL14, Battery Charger MH-24, Eyepiece Cap DK-5, Rubber Eyecup DK-20, USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP14, Camera Strap, AN-DC3, Body Cap BF-1B, Accessory Shoe Cover BS-1, ViewNX 2 CD-ROM