Straight out of the box, the most obvious hardware upgrade the D5100 enjoys over the D5000 is the large articulated LCD monitor dominating the back of the camera. While the D5000 also benefited from an articulated monitor, the D5100’s screen trumps it hands-down in every way – at threeinches it’s physically bigger, and at 921k-dots it offers a far superior resolution. And finally, with the hinge now located on the side of the camera (rather than at the bottom) it’s also much more flexible in use.
We thoroughly enjoyed using the new screen. Not only is it very sharp and detailed enough for composing and reviewing images on, we also found that the flexibility of movement it offers actively encouraged us to try new and unconventional angles while we were out shooting.
While the camera is being used in live view mode it’s possible to record movies, and here too the new model has received a boost over its predecessor, with the ability to record at 1920 x 1080 pixels, at 24 or 25fps (plus 30fps for NTSC regions). The D5000 could only record at a maximum 720p. The D5100’s improved abilities put it, on paper at least, in the same league as the Canon EOS 600D and Sony A580, with the Pentax K-r trailing behind somewhat with a maximum setting of 1080 x 720p at 25fps. The D5100’s movie files are recorded in the H.264 format
Audio is recorded in mono by default, although there is a 3.5mm jack on the side of the camera into which you can plug a stereo microphone. No doubt mindful of the increasing importance of being attached to the movie-making abilities of DSLRs, Nikon recently launched the ME-1 microphone (RRP £120), which attaches directly to the D5100 and other compatible Nikon DSLRs (ie - those with a mic input) via the hot-shoe.
In live view you can choose from three autofocus options, including an option for ‘always on’ Full-time-servo AF. By selecting this option, the D5100 will automatically keep the contents of the green box in the centre of the screen in focus. Full-time-servo AF isn’t available when using the camera in viewfinder mode, although you can select the Continuous-server option and nominate a single AF point, which will then maintain continual focus on that point as long as you keep the shutter button half-pressed.
Another new feature that we touched on earlier is the addition of a Special Effects digital filters mode. The inclusion of filter effects on DSLRs is not all that new an idea; they were first seen on the Olympus E-30 back in 2008. Initially slow to catch on, the technology has recently seen a return to favour with Pentax and Canon both adding digital effects options to their own entry-level models. And now Nikon appears to be following suit. Accessed directly via the main Shooting mode dial the D5100’s eight individual filters are: Selective Colour, Miniature, Colour Sketch, Night Vision, Silhouette, High Key and Low Key.
In practice the effects work quite well, and we would imagine that many photographers, especially those who are new to the world of DSLRs, will have some fun with them. We certainly enjoyed playing with the Miniaturisation effect, although we were far less certain why anyone would purposely want to apply the kids' crayon-like Colour Sketch effect to their images. The High and Low Key effects are very much of the ‘does what it says on the tin’ variety, while the Night Vision effect that boosts ISO to 102,400 and records images in monochrome can be used to good effect – and not just at night or in darkness either.
Fun as they might be, it’s worth bearing in mind that the special effects are no real match for what can be achieved using advanced image-editing software. And unlike like-minded offerings on competitor models such as the Canon 600D and Pentax K-r, the D5100’s filters cannot be individually tweaked either.