Design and features
Nikon ever-so-slowly evolves its SLRs, with a slight tweak here, a button change there, a grip adjustment elsewhere. The D5100 encapsulates this gradual refinement, with a comfortable in-hand feeling and easily accessible buttons and dials for all common shooting functions. This is the camera that replaces the D5000.
At the top of the camera is a mode dial, the main way that users interface with the controls, ranging from full automatic and scene modes for beginners right through to PASM exposures for manual tweakers. Nestled in with the mode dial is the Live View switch that activates the mode when flicked down. Things start to get more interesting moving down the body, when the 3-inch articulating LCD is revealed. It's much improved from the tilt-down model found on this camera's predecessor, with a significant resolution bump to 921,000-dots.
The addition of the flip-out screen means that the traditional Nikon button arrangement down the left-hand side has gone, replaced instead with a small scattering of the same features on the other side. It's simple enough for beginners to acquaint themselves with, and intuitive enough for seasoned SLR users to use.
In an exciting turn, the D5100 sports the same image processor and CMOS sensor as the D7000 at 16.2-megapixels, with a maximum ISO rating of 6400 (25,600 in boost settings). Full HD video recording comes at 25fps or 24fps and the D5100 comes with all the connectivity options that one would expect, including a 3.5mm microphone jack, mini-HDMI out, mini-USB out and a connector for an external GPS unit.
Like the Canon EOS 600D, the D5100 is equipped with filters, called "effects" on the mode dial. These include seven options for altering the look of images: selective colour, colour sketch, miniature effect, night vision, high key, low key and silhouette. There's no wireless flash control, unlike on the D7000. To go with the trend of HDR imaging, the D5100 has a built-in mode that captures two shots at different exposures, merging them together in-camera to extend the dynamic range.
|Nikon D5100||Canon EOS 600D||Nikon D7000|
|16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS||18-megapixel APS-C CMOS||16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3.0-inch, 921,000-dot articulating LCD screen||3.0-inch, 1,04K-dot articulating LCD screen||3.0-inch, 921,000-dot fixed LCD screen|
|Full HD video (1080p, 24/25fps)||Full HD video (1080p, 24/25/30fps)||Full HD video (1080p, 24/25fps)|
|No wireless flash control||Wireless flash control||Wireless flash control|
In a head-to-head comparison with the 600D, the above test shot shows that the Canon produces slightly brighter JPEG images with more contrast. As is the case when comparing any test shots, the issue of preferred colour rendition is an entirely subjective judgement. (Credit: CBSi)
With the kit 18-55mm lens on the Nikon and the 18-135mm on the Canon (shot at the same 18mm focal length), both cameras opt to raise the pop-up flash to get a decent exposure in automatic mode. The D5100 produces a slightly sharper image at full magnification (see 100 per cent crop inset). (Credit: CBSi)
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Nikon D51000.30.60.70.3
- Canon 600D0.20.40.70.1
- Nikon D70000.30.20.30.1
- Canon 60D0.30.40.40.1
- Canon 550D0.30.60.60.2
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
Note that shutter lag is significantly reduced to less than 0.1 second when using manual focus. Nikon rates the battery for 660 shots.
Sharing the same sensor as the D7000 is an excellent step forward for this camera. It produces very similar-looking shots, but with less of that blown-highlights behaviour that characterised some shots from the D7000.
Colours are true to life in JPEGs and are punchy without being oversaturated when all defaults are left activated. As for the effects mode, some of the filters are better than others — our picks are the miniature effect and night vision. The rest are fun to play with; however, the all-automatic nature of them (exposures and no adjustments to the intensity of the effect) limit their longevity.
Noise control on the D5100 is excellent, with ISO 6400 being the level at which colour noise starts to show through. Automatic white balance is excellent.RAW vs. JPEG
The D5100 produces excellent RAW files with lots of usable detail, particularly at higher ISO levels. As you can see from the comparison image above, at lower ISO levels, RAW and JPEG images are virtually identical. (Credit: CBSi)
Video quality is very good, though definitely not as sharp or crisp as that taken on the Canon 600D with a similar lens. The D5100 has a built-in 3.5mm microphone jack but has no visual audio levels — just three preset levels of sensitivity or an automatic option. Audio quality from the built-in microphone is decent, if a little distant. It's also worth noting that there is no 30fps option in video mode.
Click each image for a full resolution JPEG (~5MB) from the D5100.
Exposure: 1/160, f/6.3, ISO 6400
Exposure: 1/100, f/3.5, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/200, f/3.5, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/125, f/3.8, ISO 400
The Nikon D5100 will undoubtedly put a smile on every photographer's face with its excellent image quality and feature set. Its video implementation is still not as good as the Canon 600D — though only really noticeable to videographers and audio connoisseurs.