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Nikon D5100 Hands-On

Nikon yesterday announced the successor to its entry-level D5000 DSLR model in the shape of the D5100. Following an official presentation of the new model in central London, Nikon made a number of pre-production D5100 sample models available for an informal hands-on session, enabling the throng of assembled journalists to get a feel for the new model.

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The D5100 sits above the entry-level D3100 but below the enthusiast-orientated D7000. At its official launch presentation yesterday, Nikon also confirmed that the two-and-a-half year-old D90 will remain in the line-up for the time being thanks to continued global demand.

As might be expected for a camera looking to bridge the gap between the D3100 and D7000, the D5100 looks to bolster its overall appeal by borrowing some of the higher specifications from the D7000, but keeps the overall cost down by retaining some of the more basic specs of the D3100. Interestingly, the new model also brings a number of all-new features to the table, such as a set of Special Effects digital filters and a new HDR function - not seen in any previous Nikon DSLRs.

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At its heart the D5100 employs the same DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor as the D7000, along with Nikon's latest EXPEED 2 image processor. Nikon wouldn't allow us to load any of their demo models with SD cards (one slot, by the way), so we were unable to take any sample shots. However, given that the D5100 carries the same sensor and image processor as the D7000 we would expect image quality to be on a par with its more expensive sibling, as Nikon claims.

Another notable improvement the D5100 enjoys over the D3100, and the now-discontinued D5000, is an expanded sensitivity range that stretches from ISO 100-6400 in standard mode, expandable to a maximum of ISO 25,600 using the Hi1 and Hi2 settings. Quite how usable that top setting will be remains to be seen, though as a last resort in near-dark situations where the use of flash isn't an option it's certainly a useful tool to have on board.

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However, while Nikon has made low-light performance a trump card feature of its DSLR range in recent years, other manufacturers have since caught up. The D5100 isn't the only entry-level DSLR to offer impressively high expanded settings the cheaper Pentax K-r also offers ISO 25,600, while Canon's recently launched EOS 600D can hit ISO 12,800 in expanded mode.

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