Retailing for approximately £670 body only or £750 with an 18-55mm VR kit lens, the Nikon D5100 replaces the D5000 as Nikon’s advanced entry-level DSLR. Sitting below the enthusiast-level D7000 but above the bare-bones D3100, the D5100 takes some advanced specifications from the former and mixes them with some of the more basic elements of the D7000, before adding some all-new features of its own to produce a neatly-specified model that bridges the gap between the two.
Turning straight to the headline specs, the D5100 employs the same 16.2-megapixel, DX-format CMOS sensor found in the D7000. While it’s not quite class-leading in terms of resolution (that honour goes to the 18-megapixel Canon EOS 600D), it does represent a considerable upgrade over the 12-megapixel sensor used in the D5000, and is also a step up from the 14.2-megapixel chip found inside the D3100.
Furthermore, the D5100 also benefits from Nikon’s latest EXPEED 2 image processor, first seen in the D3100 last year and then in the D7000, but which was not present when the D5000 was launched in 2009.
Along with faster processing times, better battery performance and the ability to record 14-bit (as opposed to 12-bit) Raw files, the new processing engine is able to deliver a maximum continuous shooting speed of 4fps – a slight improvement over the D3100’s 3fps, but not quite up there with the 6fps of the D7000. Compared to its competitors, this puts the D5100 somewhere in the middle; the Canon EOS 600D is a tad slower at 3.7fps, the Pentax K-r faster at 6fps, and the Sony A580 faster still at 7fps.
Since the arrival of the D3 and D300 in 2008, Nikon has deservedly gained a reputation for producing DSLRs able to shoot in low-light at high sensitivities while delivering images largely free of intrusive, image-degrading noise. The professional-grade D3s currently leads the way here with a top (expanded) ISO setting of 102,400, but models further down the line are increasingly benefitting from Nikon’s expertise in this field.
The D5100 offers a sensitivity range that stretches from ISO 100-6400 in standard mode, stretching to a maximum extended setting of ISO 25,600. If that’s still not quite enough, you can also call upon a ‘Night Vision’ option that pushes the sensitivity up to ISO 102,400, although these images can only be recorded in monochrome and are, as you might expect, super grainy in appearance.