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Review Price £730.00

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. Nikon D5100 1

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. Nikon D5100 6

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.

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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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