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Review Price £730.00

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.

Nikon D5100 3

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.

Nikon D5100 2

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.

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May 12, 2011, 3:38 am

I'm confused as to how this sits alongside the D90. Going by the 'best price' given, the D90 with the much more versatile 18-105mm VR lens can be had for less. The D90 also has the missing features you cite.

I can only imagine this has been added to the line-up to compete with competitors' products for those who feel things like HD video and a twisty screen are important. As long as Nikon continue the D*0 range I'll be happy.

I've got an old D70s and the one thing I don't think I could cope without is the front wheel that's missing from the D5100...


May 12, 2011, 2:24 pm

No direct access ISO button... seriously? Given that higher ISO's are so much more usable nowadays, the omission of an ISO button is unforgivable, especially at this pricepoint.


May 12, 2011, 6:44 pm

I've had my D80 for some years now, and just got myself a D5100. In France the D5100 is offered with the 18-105mm lens kit.

The front wheel and the top LCD screen are the 2 things I miss. The missing AF motor makes some old lens "unusable". The slower top shutter speed can be problematic with very fast lens too.
However, if you can live with those short-comings, the D5100 beats the heck out of my D80.

First and foremost, image quality is incredible. MUCH better than the D80; not to mention the much improved high ISO performance. Even 6400 iso is quite usable, better sharpness and noise than 1600 iso on the D80.

Secondly, full HD video. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I appreciate the ability to record video if needed. The main reason I pick the D5100 over Canon 600D is better video AF and better high iso perf.

Thirdly, the small size and light weight really help to carry the camera everywhere with you.

I wouldn't go back to the D80. Top LCD screen and front wheel be damned. I'm not sure if there are enough reasons to get the D90 today. Judging from the better image sensor alone, for me, the D5100 is a clear winner.


May 13, 2011, 2:01 pm

True, there is no dedicated ISO button, although thanks to the 'quick settings menu' (accessed via the 'i' button to the right of the viewfinder) it's only takes a button press or two more to change ISO settings. While I'd certainly agree that a dedicated ISO button is convenient, I'm less inclined to agree that the omission of one is 'unforgivable'.


May 13, 2011, 2:19 pm

Nikon have said that the D5100 sits below the D90 within their range. While the D90 is undoubtedly a fantastic camera (that does indeed offer wireless flash control and a depth-of-field preview button) it's also a couple of years old now, which in digital camera terms means it's close to receiving a free bus pass. Nikon made it clear at the D5100 launch that the D90 was being retained due to "continued demand", which I would take to mean exactly that - continued demand for a great product.


May 16, 2011, 8:18 pm

@Audley Jarvis - Thanks for the review. I'm wondering if you could help me with something..?

I'm looking for a camera with interchangeable lenses, that produces great image quality in both stills and video (full HD), but one where I NEVER have to use the viewfinder. Oh, and it has to have a fully articulated monitor as well.
So the AF needs to be quick and reliable while using Live View mode, and it needs to have Continuous AF when shooting video.

Now, I know that Panasonic's GH2 ticks all these boxes. But I'd like to know if there are any serious alternatives out there, mainly amongst the more traditional DSLRs like this Nikon D5100, or Canon's 600D? Or does their more traditional technology prevent them from being used effectively without the viewfinder??

I'd be grateful to hear a professional opinion from someone who's actually tried using these different models in this way. Cheers!


May 17, 2011, 6:47 pm

Sony Alpha A55 or NEX-5.

Both have great live view systems, great image quality, and video performance is very decent.

The Alpha A55 is a more like a traditional DSLR, but uses a translucent mirror which enables the camera to permanently use phase detect AF, even during video, so it's very fast.

The NEX-5 is a more compact system, but uses an APS-C sensor, so image quality is comparable to DSLRs using the same type of sensor. It uses contrast detect AF though, which is slower than phase detect, but focusing is completely silent.

The A55 is pretty much designed around live view, but the way it combines live view and full-time phase detect AF makes it seem like the ideal camera for you, based on the requirements you've listed.


September 18, 2014, 4:34 am

I bought a D90 shortly after it was introduced as my first serious, if not a fully professional, DSLR. Since then I have been reasonably pleased with the results, particularly for portraits using only natural lighting. However, I've recently seen some shots taken with a D5100 which are extremely good and seem sharper than my D90 even though it seems to be in the same general category as my D90. Is this because the chip in the 5100 is superior, being closer to that in pro Nikon models? Would it even be worth trading the D90 for a D5100?

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