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Nikon D5100 Hands-On Review


Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £780.00

Nikon yesterday announced the successor to its entry-level D5000 DSLR model in the shape of the D5100. Following an official presentation of the new model in central London, Nikon made a number of pre-production D5100 sample models available for an informal hands-on session, enabling the throng of assembled journalists to get a feel for the new model.

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with lens and raised flash.

The D5100 sits above the entry-level D3100 but below the enthusiast-orientated D7000. At its official launch presentation yesterday, Nikon also confirmed that the two-and-a-half year-old D90 will remain in the line-up for the time being thanks to continued global demand.

As might be expected for a camera looking to bridge the gap between the D3100 and D7000, the D5100 looks to bolster its overall appeal by borrowing some of the higher specifications from the D7000, but keeps the overall cost down by retaining some of the more basic specs of the D3100. Interestingly, the new model also brings a number of all-new features to the table, such as a set of Special Effects digital filters and a new HDR function – not seen in any previous Nikon DSLRs.

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with zoom lens attached.

At its heart the D5100 employs the same DX-format 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor as the D7000, along with Nikon’s latest EXPEED 2 image processor. Nikon wouldn’t allow us to load any of their demo models with SD cards (one slot, by the way), so we were unable to take any sample shots. However, given that the D5100 carries the same sensor and image processor as the D7000 we would expect image quality to be on a par with its more expensive sibling, as Nikon claims.

Another notable improvement the D5100 enjoys over the D3100, and the now-discontinued D5000, is an expanded sensitivity range that stretches from ISO 100-6400 in standard mode, expandable to a maximum of ISO 25,600 using the Hi1 and Hi2 settings. Quite how usable that top setting will be remains to be seen, though as a last resort in near-dark situations where the use of flash isn’t an option it’s certainly a useful tool to have on board.

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera without lens, front view.

However, while Nikon has made low-light performance a trump card feature of its DSLR range in recent years, other manufacturers have since caught up. The D5100 isn’t the only entry-level DSLR to offer impressively high expanded settings the cheaper Pentax K-r also offers ISO 25,600, while Canon’s recently launched EOS 600D can hit ISO 12,800 in expanded mode.

Another clear improvement over the D5100 is the addition of a 3in, high-resolution, tilt-and-swivel LCD monitor that displays at a resolution of 920k dots a huge upgrade over the 230k-dots offered by the D3100 and D5000. This makes it much easier to review images at the time of shooting, using the zoom function to check for edge sharpness and fine detail without the need for a computer monitor.

Taking on-board previous criticism of the D5000’s awkwardly-placed hinge on the camera base, the D51000’s monitor is hinged to the side, avoiding any potential restrictions of movement when the camera is mounted on a tripod. An additional benefit of this arrangement is that the monitor can be folded into the body with the screen facing inwards, thereby protecting it from accidental scratches. In-hand it’s a pleasure to use and feels solidly constructed, even though Nikon claims it’s 17 per cent thinner than the D5000’s monitor.

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with articulated LCD screen.

Compromises have had to be made elsewhere in order to keep the overall cost down and so the D5100 doesn’t get the 39-point Nikon Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus system of the D7000, nor the same model’s 2,016-pixel metering sensor. Instead the D5100 employs the 11-point Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus sensor module and 420-pixel metering sensor found in both the D3100 and D5000. Continuous shooting is a claimed 4fps, although we weren’t able to verify this during our time with the camera.

Turning to the D5100’s new additions, the Special Effects options offer set of digital filters accessed via the Mode dial, used to add instantaneous creative effects to JPEG images and movies (but not RAW files), either during or after capture. The seven Special Effects on offer are selective colour, miniature, colour sketch, night vision, silhouette, high key and low key.

Back view of Nikon D5100 DSLR camera showing the LCD screen.

The D5100 also offers a new HDR mode that, when selected, takes two images (one under- and one over-exposed) with one shutter press before combining the two into a single HDR (high dynamic range) image. One further feature that will doubtless please strobist fans is that the D5100’s pop-up flash can be used as a commander to control an off-camera flash with.

While the addition of digital filters is a new step for Nikon, other manufacturers such as Olympus and Pentax have integrated them within their entry-level models for a few years now. Some purists may scoff at the idea of manipulating images in-camera, but for someone relatively new to the world of DSLRs there’s little doubt that they provide an accessible and straightforward way of adding extra creativity to images. Manufacturers such as Nikon hope that this will, in turn, further stimulate an interest in creative photography. Given this, it’s a trend that we expect to see more of in the next year.

DSLR video enthusiasts are well catered for with an improved movie mode that offers 1920×1080 Full-HD recording at up to 30 frames per second, in H.264 MOV format. Autofocus remains operational while recording is in process and it’s possible to attach a stereo microphone using the connection panel on the side of the camera. Mindful of the increasing popularity of DSLRs for video work, Nikon has also announced the introduction of a dedicated ME-1 stereo microphone designed specifically for use with Nikon DSLRs, priced at £120.

In addition to the stereo microphone input, external connectivity includes an HDMI port for attaching the camera to your HDTV with, a port for attaching external GPS devices such as Nikon’s GP-1 unit, and a USB 2.0 port.

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera with lens attached.

In terms of styling the D5100 signals something of a departure from recent Nikon DSLR designs, with sharper edges and pronounced curves. More importantly, it’s also 10% smaller and a hundred or so grams lighter than its predecessor. The outer shell is plastic with some mottling effect around the side and back, imitating the magnesium alloy cages of more expensive DSLRs. As might be expected for a camera of its price, there is no dust or weather sealing.

In-hand it feels quite small and delicate, especially when compared to rivals such as the Canon 600D or Pentax K-r. More detailed impressions will be included in the full review, but this is one area that could cause some concern – especially for photographers with larger hands. Thankfully the finger grip has been rubberised and is deep enough to accommodate three fingers, giving a fairly reassuring grip.

Nikon D5100 camera with articulated LCD screen open.

The styling refresh also extends to button placement, with the addition of a new easy-to-reach slider control next to the Mode dial that toggles live view on and off. When in live view mode, instant movie recording is facilitated using a red-dot button moved from the back of the camera to the top-plate, next to the shutter release button. Nikon claims this makes switching between stills and movie recording more intuitive, although anyone already used to a video recording button on the back, it may require a little readjustment of muscle memory.

At its launch RRP the D5100 is slightly more expensive than the Canon 600D and significantly more than the Pentax K-r and Sony A580, all three of which are its natural competitors within this segment of the entry-level and first-time-upgrade DSLR market. Depending on demand, we’d expect to see the street price of the D5100 fall within a month or so of launch, bringing it much closer to the current street price of the Canon 600D.

The Nikon D5100 will be go sale in the UK from 21 April, priced at £610 for the body only, or £780 when purchased with the Nikkor 18-55mm VR kit lens.

Nikon D5100 camera with articulated LCD screen.

The D5100 looks like a another solid entry into the Nikon DSLR range. Its headline specifications make it an instantly attractive proposition, while premium features such as the hi-res tilt-and-swivel LCD monitor and Special Effects are sure to bolster its appeal. Our only real reservation based upon what we have seen so far is that in a attempt to reduce the camera’s physical size, Nikon may have made it too slight for folks with large hands. As ever, keep an eye on TrustedReviews as we’ll be bringing you a full review as soon as possible

Trusted Score


Camera type Digital SLR
Megapixels (Megapixel) Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 12 Xx, 3.1 Xx
Image Sensor CMOS
Image Stabilisation Optical
LCD Monitor 3 in
Flash modes Auto Flash, Flash OFF, Flash ON, Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync, Rear-curtain Sync, Flash Exposure Compensation
Video (max res/format) 640 x 480, 1920 x 1080

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