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Nikon D5100 Review

The D5100 is designed to bridge the gap in Nikon’s product range between the entry-level D3100 and the considerably more enthusiast-oriented D7000, combining the user-friendliness of the former with the image quality of the latter. Conceptually, the D5100 is a natural fit for this void.

To sweeten the bargain, it also includes a video-friendly articulated high-res screen, gains bracketing, and provides a larger degree of customization. Consequently, despite the fact that it does not have a focus motor, that it only has one control dial, and that its body shell is made of plastic, it still offers the same super-wide ISO span of 100-25,600 (equivalent) and class-leading image quality as the D7000, particularly in terms of how well it handles noise at high ISO settings.

The unfortunate truth is that this idea does not perfectly reflect the world around us. The D5100 does not have nearly the same user-friendly operation as the D3100, and it is missing so many of the more complex functions that the D7000 has that there is a possibility that it will not be the appropriate camera for anybody.

The total novice may be drawn to the slightly simpler D3100, while the enthusiast may hanker after too many of the capabilities that are given by the D7000. Both of these groups may be interested in purchasing a digital camera (whether that be in terms of build quality, the sophistication of AF, the size of the viewfinder, or the built-in AF motor).

Overall, though, the D5100 is a gratifying camera when considered on its own merits, and as far as image quality is concerned, it is most definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing despite its seemingly innocent appearance. Detail resolution and noise performance are up there with the best of its competition in both still images and video, and the high-resolution, articulated screen makes composition easy in both modes of operation.

Given the limitations that are inherent in shooting with the Effects modes, we are not quite convinced by them; yet, they are enjoyable enough to experiment with that they may provide some users with creative inspiration.

Nikon D5100 Image Quality

The image quality of the D5100 is undeniably its strongest selling point. It provides practically the same image quality as the more advanced D7000, but at a reduced cost, and it is difficult to argue that this is not a positive thing. In light of the fact that we are contrasting the D5100 and the D7000, it is important to point out that in the thousands of frames that we have taken with the D5100, we have not encountered the same overexposure problem that plagued us with the D7000 in certain scenarios. This is something that is worth noting.

The image quality that the D5100 produces at higher ISO levels is some of the best that we have ever seen from an APS-C camera, but at lower ISO settings, it is on par with the best of the competition. The levels of noise are really low, and the preset noise reduction does an excellent job of reducing chroma noise while still retaining clarity in the image.

Due to the fact that the D5100’s 16-megapixel sensor belongs to a new generation that has a remarkably low noise floor, a significant quantity of information can be extracted from either its JPEG or RAW files. JPEG shooters will love the ability to shoot with Active D-Lighting turned on with little penalty in noise levels (or continuous shooting performance), and more advanced users will enjoy the malleability of its NEF files. JPEG shooters will love the ability to shoot with Active D-Lighting turned on with little penalty in noise levels (or continuous shooting performance).

Nikon D5100 Body & Handling

When it comes to its handling, the D5100 is a peculiar combination of things that are inspired and things that cannot be explained. The huge, high-resolution, articulating LCD screen is one of our favorite features, as is the hefty (for its class) hand grip that is coated in a thick layer of rubber.

Although the chassis of the D5100 is smaller and lighter than that of its predecessor, the D5100 nevertheless feels reassuringly robust in the palm despite being smaller and lighter than its “big brother,” the D7000. Manual selection of off-center focusing points is quite straightforward because to Nikon’s customary devotion of the four-way joystick to AF point selection. This, in turn, makes it easy to get the most out of what is one of the most complex AF systems available in this class.

And finally, we get to that which defies explanation. The D5100, just like the D3100, does not include an ISO button. This is a parameter that we believe should be easily adjusted with the camera to your eye, and it is one that is becoming increasingly crucial now that high ISOs are eminently more useful than they were only a few years ago.

On the D5100, the only option to achieve this is by using the configurable ‘Fn’ button, which is located on the left side of the camera in a position that is a little uncomfortable and is often confused with the button that activates the flash that is close to it. Continuing on with the topic of ISO, we are dissatisfied with the fact that its somewhat finicky auto ISO system has not been updated since the D3100/D7000. It’s not completely pointless, but there are probably more productive ways to utilize your time.

The D5100, when used in Live View mode, is often a very nice companion; nonetheless, the situation is not entirely problem free. Even though the D5100 has inherited the (relatively) fast contrast-detection AF of the D7000, which goes a long way toward making the mode more generally useful for everyday shooting, it is still nowhere near as quick and seamless as competitors like the Sony A55 and Panasonic G2, which are designed specifically for compact-camera style live view usage. The D5100 also has inherited the D7000’s (relatively) fast autofocus tracking system.

In live view and movie mode, there are also a few weird behavioral anomalies, like aperture control that can only be characterized as problematic. When you hit the “record” button on the camera, for instance, the aperture that is displayed on the screen won’t necessarily be used to capture the video, although it will be used when shooting still images.

When utilizing manual mode and live view, there is also no indication of the exposure level, which is a peculiar omission. Because of this, two of the D5100’s most important newly added features do not function as well as they should, and more importantly, they do not function as well as they do on rival models. Our critiques of the D3100 are identical to those held by others, and it is disheartening to see that these issues have not been resolved.

Even more disheartening is the fact that the D5100 lacks the integrated live view and movie control, which was one of the greatest features of the D3100, as well as the physical drive mode switch, which was another one of the best features of the D3100.

The live view switch has been moved to the top plate of the camera, where it is no longer connected to the movie button, which is now located above the shutter release (and is completely redundant except when the camera is put into live view mode). Not only is the placement of this switch on the D5100 more inconvenient than it was on the D3100, but it also takes the position of the drive mode switch, which is something that we really enjoy about the D3100.

Nikon D5100 Specs

Body colorBlack
Sensor • 23.6 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor
 • Nikon DX format (1.5x FOV crop)
 • 16.2 million effective pixels
 • RGB Color Filter Array
 • 14-bit A/D converter
Anti-dust measures • Image sensor cleaning system
 • Airflow control system
 • Image dust off from reference frame (using optional Capture NX software)
Image sizes • 4928 x 3264 (L)
 • 3696 x 2448 (M)
 • 2464 x 1632 (S)
Image quality • NEF (14-bit compressed RAW)
 • JPEG fine (1:4)
 • JPEG normal (1:8)
 • JPEG basic (1:16)
 • NEF (RAW) + Fine JPEG
Movie sizes • 1920 x 1080 30, 25, 24 fps
 • 1280 x 720 30, 25, 24 fps
 • 640 x 424 30, 25 fps
Movie format • MOV (H.264/MPEG-4), mono sound recording (PCM) with internal mic, stereo mic option.
Color space • sRGB
 • Adobe RGB
Lens mountNikon F mount (with AF contacts)
Lens compatibility• AF-S, AF-I
• Other Type G or D AF Nikkor
• Other AF Nikkor/AI-P Nikkor• Type D PC Nikkor• Non-CPU• IX Nikkor/AF Nikkor for F3AF
• AI-P NIKKOR- All functions supported
– All functions supported except autofocus
– All functions supported except autofocus and 3D Color Matrix Metering II
– All functions supported except some shooting modes
– Can be used in mode M, but exposure meter does not function; electronic range finder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster
– Cannot be used
– All functions supported except 3D color matrix metering II
Autofocus • 11 focus points (1 cross-type sensors)
 • Multi-CAM 1000
 • AF working range: -1 to +19 EV (ISO 100, normal temperature)
 • Contrast Detect in Live View mode
 • Manual focus [M], Electronic range finding supported
Lens servo • Single-servo AF (AF-S)
 • Continuous-servo AF (AF-C)
 • Automatic AF-S/AF-C (AF-A)
 • Manual focus (MF)
AF Area mode • Single Point AF
 • Dynamic Area AF
 • Auto Area AF
 • 3D Tracking (11 points)
Focus trackingPredictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status in continuous-servo AF
Focus areaCan be selected from 11 focus points
Focus lockFocus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single-servo AF) or by pressing AE-L/AF-L button
AF AssistWhite light lamp
Exposure mode • Auto
    – Auto
    – Flash off
 • Scene Modes
onereview menu 1Portrait
onereview menu 1Landscape
onereview menu 1Child
onereview menu 1Sports
onereview menu 1Close up
onereview menu 1Night portrait
onereview menu 1Night landscape
onereview menu 1Beach/snow
onereview menu 1Sunset
onereview menu 1Dusk/dawn
onereview menu 1Pet portrait
onereview menu 1Candlelight
onereview menu 1Blossom
onereview menu 1Autumn colors
onereview menu 1Food
onereview menu 1Silhouette
onereview menu 2Food
 • Special effects
onereview menu 1Night Vision
onereview menu 1Color Sketch
onereview menu 1Miniature effect
onereview menu 1Selective color
onereview menu 1High key
onereview menu 1Low key
onereview menu 2Silhouette
 • Programmed auto (P) with flexible program
 • Shutter-priority auto (S)
 • Aperture priority auto (A)
 • Manual (M)
Metering • TTL exposure metering using 420-pixel RGB sensor
 • Matrix :3D color matrix metering II (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering II  (other CPU lenses)
 • Center-weighted: Weight of 75% given to 8-mm circle in center of frame
 • Spot: Meters 3.5 mm circle (about 2.5% of frame) centered on active focus area
Metering range • EV 0 to 20 (3D color matrix or center-weighted metering)
 • EV 2 to 20 (spot metering)
Meter couplingCPU coupling
Exposure comp. • +/- 5.0 EV
 • 1/3 EV steps
AE LockExposure locked at detected value with AE-L/AF-L button
AE Bracketing3 frames up to +/–2EV
Sensitivity • Auto
 • ISO 100
 • ISO 200
 • ISO 400
 • ISO 800
 • ISO 1600
 • ISO 3200
 • ISO 6400
 • ISO 12800 (Hi1)
 • ISO 25600 (Hi2)
Shutter • Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter
 • 30 to 1/4000 sec (1/3/ or 1/2 EV steps)
 • Flash X-Sync: up to 1/200 sec
 • Bulb
Cont. shooting • Up to 4fps
White balance • Auto
 • Incandescent
 • Fluorescent
onereview menu 1Sodium-vapor lamps
onereview menu 1Warm-white fluorescent
onereview menu 1White fluorescent
onereview menu 1Cool-white fluorescent
onereview menu 1Day white fluorescent
onereview menu 1Daylight fluorescent
onereview menu 1Daylight fluorescent
onereview menu 2Mercury-vapor lamps
 • Direct sunlight
 • Flash
 • Cloudy
 • Shade
 • Preset white balance (immediate or from photo)
WB fine tuningYes, (except preset manual)
Viewfinder • Eye-level pentamirror single-lens reflex viewfinder
 • Frame coverage Approx. 95% horizontal and 95% vertical
 • Magnification Approx. 0.78x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity, –1.0 m-1)
 • Eyepoint 17.9 mm (–1.0 m-1) • Diopter adjustment –1.7 to+1 m-1
LCD monitor • 3.0″ Vari-Angle TFT LCD
 • 921,000 dots
 • 100% frame coverage
 • 170° viewing angle
 • Brightness adjustment
Built-in flash • Auto, Portrait, Child, Close-up, Night portrait, Party/indoor,
 • Auto flash with auto pop-up,
 • Manual pop-up in P, S, A or M modes
 • Guide number approx. 12/39 at ISO 100 (am/ft)
 • Guide number approx. 13/43 at ISO 100 (m/ft) in manual mode 
Sync contactX-contact only; flash synchronization at shutter speeds of up to 1/200 sec
Flash control • TTL flash control by 420-segment RGB sensor.
 • i-TTL balanced fill-flash for digital SLR and standard i-TTL fill-flash for digital SLR available when CPU lens is used with built-in flash, SB-400, SB-800, SB-900 and SB-600
 • Auto aperture with SB-800/SB-900 and CPU lenses
 • Non-TTL auto with SB-900, SB-800, 80DX, 28DX, 28, 27 and 22s
 • Range-priority manual with SB-900, SB-800 and SB-700
Flash modeAuto, Fill flash, rear-curtain with slow sync, slow sync, slow sync with red-eye reduction, red-eye reduction
Flash compensation • -3 to +1 EV
 • 1/3 steps
Nikon Creative Lighting systemAdvanced Wireless Lighting when using SB-900, SB-800, SB-700 or SU-800 as commander and SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, SB-600 or SB-R200 as remotes; Flash Color Information Communication and FV lock supported with all CLS-compatible flash units
Shooting modes • Single frame shooting (S) mode
 • Continuous shooting : 4.0 frames per second
 • Self-timer
 • Quick-Response Remote
 • Delayed Remote
 • Quiet shutter release
Self-timer • 2, 5, 10 or 20 sec
Playback functions • Full frame
 • Thumbnail (4, 9, or 72 images or calendar)
 • Playback with Playback zoom
 • Movie Playback
 • Slide Show
 • Histogram Display
 • Highlights
 • Auto Image Rotation
 • Image Comment (up to 36 characters)
Orientation sensorYes
Storage • SD / SD HC / SDXC
Video outputNTSC or PAL selectable
Connectivity • USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed)
 • A/V out
 • HDMI out
 • DC-IN (optional AC adapter and adapter connector)
LanguagesArabic, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
PowerRechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL14
Working environment • 0 to 40°C (32 to 104°F)
 • Less than 85% humidity
Dimensions128 x 97 x 79 mm (5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 in.)
Weight (no batt)510g (1 lb 2 oz)
Weight (inc. batt)560g (1 lb 4 oz)

Nikon D5100 Final Verdict

The D5100 is without a doubt one of the most engaging goods in its class, and it delivers a fantastic combination of intuitive handling, a well-targeted feature set, and excellent video and still pictures quality. This makes it one of the most intriguing items in its class. The D5100 is both quick and dependable in its operation, and it generates high-quality photographs with a minimum of bother, just as we would anticipate from a camera with such a distinguished pedigree.

We greatly prefer the more traditional side-hinged design to the more uncomfortable bottom-hinged attempt that the D5000 made. This is just the second Nikon DSLR to offer an articulating LCD screen, and it is only the second Nikon DSLR overall. The screen that folds out from the side of the camera is not only significantly more flexible but also substantially simpler to operate when the camera is placed on a tripod.

However, we do have a few issues, most of them related to the configuration of the D5100’s second-tier controls. With the exception of the articulated LCD screen, we are not convinced that the operational and ergonomic changes that Nikon has made compared to the D3100 add any value to the camera. Some of the control points appear to have been positioned almost at random, and we are not convinced that the changes that Nikon has made add any value to the camera.

In point of fact, it’s quite possible that the opposite is true, particularly in relation to the revamped live view switch. However, when evaluated only on the basis of its capabilities, the D5100 proves to be an outstanding performer. A feature set that is accessible to beginners and an asking price that is (relatively) easy on the budget belies a highly competent sensor and autofocus technology.

However, we cannot shake the nagging feeling that the D5100’s entry-level ergonomics might not prove to be nearly as flexible to the ever-changing requirements of a first-time purchase of a DSLR camera as the ergonomics of a camera like the Canon EOS 600D or the Rebel T3.

Nikon D5100 Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Articulated, high-res LCD screen
  • Excellent image quality
  • Unintimidating interface, but with plenty of manual control
  • Sophisticated AF system for the price
Need Improvemnets
  • The movie shooting button ‘orphaned’ from the live view switch
  • Sub-optimal placement of some second-tier controls (like live view switch)
  • Buggy Live View / Movie Mode (movies aren’t necessarily recorded at set aperture)
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
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Paul is a seasoned photographer and blogger. With 10 years of experience, he creates stunning visuals and engaging writing. His work captures powerful stories and showcases his expertise in both photography and blogging. Paul brings passion and excellence to every project, delivering beautiful and impactful results.

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The D5100 is designed to bridge the gap in Nikon's product range between the entry-level D3100 and the considerably more enthusiast-oriented D7000, combining the user-friendliness of the former with the image quality of the latter. Conceptually, the D5100 is a natural fit for this...Nikon D5100 Review