The D5100 also sports a new HDR feature which can be used to capture and merge two images shot at different exposures of up to 3EV. It only works for JPEG capture though and requires a quick trip into the main menu settings to activate unless you assign the Function button to it. For such a simplified function, the results can be quite impressive.
If you’d prefer to alter your images post-capture and in-camera, then the D5100 offers a fairly good selection of editing tools within the Retouch menu, including options to resize, straighten and crop images, or to apply a magic retouch wand. You can even to apply some of the special effects (for example, Miniaturisation and Colour Sketch) to regular JPEGs after capture. More useful still, is the ability to process Raw files into regular JPEGs in-camera.
One thing we were somewhat disappointed to discover missing from the D5100’s repertoire is built-in wireless flash control. We had asked Nikon about this at the D5100 launch event and were told it was going to be part of the feature set, so to find it isn’t was doubly disappointing. Given the surge of interest in creative lighting techniques using off-camera flash in recent years it’s a real let-down not to see it included, especially as rivals such as the Canon EOS 600D do offer it. Hopefully Nikon will take this on board for future releases. Similarly, the D5100 also lacks a depth-of-field preview button.
In terms of design, the D5100 is noticeably smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Curves are more accentuated too, giving it a less boxy, more refined look overall. It is very small though, and those with especially large hands may struggle to get three digits around the rubberised right-hand finger grip. That said, it remains a very light and comfortable camera to hold for prolonged periods of time. With the 18-55mm VRII kits lens attached it also feels a very well-balanced package, although swapping the kit lens for something bigger and heavier could easily unbalance it.
Thanks primarily to the placement of the articulated monitor’s hinge on the side of the camera, the D5100’s button layout has undergone a fairly dramatic reshuffle from where regular Nikon users might usually expect to find things. For example, all of the buttons located to the left-hand side of the screen on the D5000 (and pretty much every other Nikon DSLR besides) have had to shift elsewhere on the D5100, with some now found on the top plate and others located to the right-hand side of the monitor.
This isn’t the only change to controls. While the D-pad stays in its usual place, the dedicated live view button usually found on the back of the body on other Nikon DSLRs has disappeared altogether, with an all-new spring loaded lever extending from the Shooting mode dial on the top of the camera now responsible for activating and deactivating live view. Whereas previous Nikons usually placed the one-touch red-dot ‘movie record’ button on the back of the camera, it has now moved to the top, right next to the shutter release button.
While we appreciate that many of the control layout changes have been necessitated by the new side hinge, we found ourselves a bit disorientated at times, often reaching for buttons that weren’t quite where we expected them to be (pressing the ‘Review’ button when we wanted to start recording movies proved our most common mistake in this respect). Of course, for someone completely new to Nikon DSLRs this is unlikely to be a problem at all.