As with most DSLRs fitted with a built-in microphone, lens noise can be a bit of an issue while recording movies with the camera picking up the internal whirring of the autofocus system – especially when filming in a quiet location. If you really want to cut this out then your best bet is to use a directional microphone, such as the recently announced Nikon ME-1. Alternatively, you can set the camera to manual focus and adjust it yourself, though this option does take some practice to master.
As mentioned earlier, we found the LCD monitor really good to work with when composing images. Indoors or in the shade outdoors the screen remains immensely sharp, bright and colourful, with generous viewing angles. And while it’s hard to see past your own reflection when shooting directly into sunlight, shooting with the sun on your back isn’t nearly so much of a problem.
While general handling, ease-of-use and AF performance all score valuable points for the D5100, image quality remains the camera’s trump card. With the editable Picture Control settings it’s possible to dial in as much (or as little) saturation, contrast and sharpness as you want to get your images looking exactly how you want them to, with the D5100 proving consistently accurate in its calculations.
Despite using the cheaper metering module of the D3100, the D5100 remains reliable in all lighting conditions, with no tendency to either over- or under-expose. When faced with high-contrast scenes beyond the spectrum of its dynamic range, Nikon’s proprietary Active D-Lighting technology can be engaged to preserve more highlight detail. There are four steps in total from ‘low’ to ‘extra high’, along with ‘automatic’ and ‘off’ options. The technology works well and often proves useful, although some caution is advised with the ‘extra high’ setting as it can produce unrealistic-looking images.
While the 18-55mm VR kit lens isn’t the sturdiest or
sharpest optic ever produced by Nikon, it does provide very good value for money and should prove more than adequate for general use and certainly as a starting point for first-time DSLR users.
Likewise, the 16-megaopixel sensor is able to resolve plenty of detail, even at higher ISO settings. While this might reasonably be expected at low to mid-sensitivity settings of between ISO 100 and 800, we were especially impressed with the mid to high settings of ISO 1600 to 3200, where the D5100 was able to retain plenty of detail without displaying excessive noise. ISO 6400 marks the point at which noise does become more visibly intrusive, especially in shadow areas, although images still look very good. At the higher and extended settings of ISO 12,800 and 25,600 noise proves far more intrusive, with a corresponding loss of fine detail. In fairness, this is to be expected.
Put simply, the D5100 is a hugely adaptable camera that takes excellent pictures, with overall image quality consistently matching that of the more expensive D7000.
The D5100 provides several notable upgrades over the D5000 making it, in our opinion, a far more attractive package than its predecessor was at launch. Significantly smaller and lighter, it’s also easy to use, offers good performance and is capable of delivering consistently good results, both in stills and movie mode.
Our only quibbles, such as they are, are fairly minor and limited to the exclusion of useful advanced entry-level tools such as the ability to the pop-up flash as a wireless commander and the omission of a depth-of-field preview button. Both of these would ultimately prove more useful and give the camera more longevity than any of the Special Effects shooting modes.
Overall though, the D5100 remains a great camera to use that’s capable of delivering stunning images. If you’re in the market for an advanced entry-level DSLR be sure to add it to your shortlist.