A few compromises have had to be made elsewhere in the Nikon in order to keep costs down, and to ensure there’s clear daylight between the specifications and feature-set of the D5100 and D7000. The D5100 therefore retains the 11-point autofocus module and 420-pixel metering sensor of the D3100 and D5000. Of these 11 AF points only the central one is a cross-type with the other 10 points being of the linear variety. There’s no internal AF motor either, which means only Nikon AF-S and AF-I lenses will autofocus. Other lenses will have to be focused manually.
Likewise, the D5100 is wrapped in the same polycarbonate casing of cheaper Nikon models, rather than the magnesium alloy cage of the D7000 and above. This plastic outer shell is finished with a slight mottled effect to give it a metallic look.
Elsewhere, things are very much as one might expect of an advanced entry-level DSLR from Nikon -¬ the full suite of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual shooting controls are present, as is a fully automatic mode, a forced flash-off mode and a selection of scene modes. One thing new addition to the shooting mode dial is the Special Effects option. This is basically a range of digital filters ¬– such as the aforementioned ‘Night Vision’ extended-ISO option – that can be selected to give your images a unique look. We’ll have more to say about these later in the review.
As with all recent Nikon DSLRs the D5100 offers the full range of Picture Controls that allow you to choose how JPEGs will be processed by fine-tuning individual elements such as saturation, sharpness, brightness and contrast. While the default settings are limited to a choice of: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome and Portrait, all of these can be individually edited, with a further option to add your own custom profiles if you like.
Like the D5000 and D3100, the D5100’s viewfinder covers 95% of the frame with a 0.78x magnification. Image stabilisation remains purely lens-based too, so you’ll have to invest in Nikon Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses if you want to take advantage of this. Thankfully, the supplied 18-55mm kit lens comes with this technology. Finally, dust-reduction takes the same two-stage Airflow dust channelling and sensor shake process of other Nikon DSLRs.
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