With upgrades taking place in quick succession, many features trickle down from high-end cameras to the low-end ones. Similarly, many a times we see entry-level models hosting futuristic features as part of testing procedure.
Nikon had been exceptionally quiet in the last year or so. The D5100 was, therefore, in a sense overdue. The 16.2 MP D5100 is positioned between the entry-level D3100 and the semi-pro D7000, and it has been carefully crafted with goodies from both these models.
Design and Build Quality
The Nikon D5100’s exterior is made of engineering plastic, but it features lens mount and tripod mount made of metal. The camera is not built to be hurled at someone, but we are least concerned since we do not expect you to treat your equipment with disrespect. The D5100 incorporates some changes to the typical Nikon layout, brought about mainly by the LCD that swivels to one side. This is a deviation from the D5000, which had one that swiveled downward. The new LCD can be swiveled out 180 degrees and rotated by another 180 degrees so that you can compose a self-portrait. The flip side of this change is that the new camera does not have room for the classic Nikon style buttons on the left side of the LCD.
The 16.2- megapixel Nikon D5100 uses a Nikon DX format (23.6 x15.6 mm) CMOS sensor for imaging. The CMOS sensor offers a wider range of ISO sensitivity (up to ISO6400) than its predecessor. This sensor unit features an integrated dust reduction system that uses ultrasonic vibrations to dislodge any dust that accumulates on the low pass filter. This is in addition to Image Dust Off reference data available through Capture NX software. The camera uses the new EXPEED 2 image processing engine that is claimed to offer ‘lightning-fast’ data processing and deliver exceptional image quality. Still images are recorded in either NEF (RAW, 14 bit, compressed) or JPEG format with a maximum size of 4928 x 3264 pixels. There is an option to record both NEF and JPEG simultaneously. JPEG compression options are Fine (approx. 1:4), Normal (approx. 1:8), and Basic (approx. 1:16). Movies are recorded in MOV format with the best quality of 1920 x 1080 pixels with frame rate options of 30 p, 25 p, and 24 p. The Picture Control System provides options of Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape with the ability to modify and save as custom setting. The camera features an eye-level pentamirror viewfinder providing approximately 95 percent coverage on both axes. Diopter can be adjusted up to +/-1.7 /m.
The D5100 does not feature an integrated focus motor and hence it autofocuses only with AF-S and AF-I lenses which have internal AF motors. G-type, D-type and AI-P lenses can only focus manually with the camera because these can autofocus only with cameras that have AF motors in the body. Shutter speed of the camera ranges from 30 sec to 1/4000 sec in 1/3 or 1/2-EV steps. The camera uses Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus sensor with TTL phase detection method for focusing. It features 11 focus points including one cross-type sensor. The focus modes are single servo (AF-S), continuous servo (AF-C), Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A), and MF. AF-area modes available are single-point AF, dynamic area AF, auto-area AF, and 3D-tracking. The Nikon D5100 has a built-in flash with guide number of approximately 12 to 13m at ISO 100. It synchronizes with the shutter at 1/200 sec or lower speeds. The flash modes available are Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Auto slow sync, Auto slow sync with red-eye reduction, Fill flash, Red-eye reduction, Slow sync, Slow sync with red-eye reduction, Rear curtain with slow sync, Rear curtain sync, and Off. The camera has a standard ISO 518 accessory shoe with sync and data contacts along with safety lock. It features the regular shooting modes—Auto, Programmed auto (P), Shutter-priority auto (S), Aperture-priority auto (A), Manual (M), Scene, and Special effects (Effects). The scene mode provides options of portrait, landscape, child, sports, close-up, night portrait, night landscape, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, pet portrait, candlelight, blossom, autumn colors, and food. The new Special effects mode allows you to add some special effects to the photographs in real time. This mode provides options of night vision, color sketch, miniature effect, selective color, silhouette, high key, and low key. You can use the night vision option if you need to capture images in the dark. This will record monochrome images at high ISO sensitivities and the built-in flash and AF-assist are turned off. Color sketch will detect and color the outlines of objects to make it appear like a sketch. In miniature effect option, the camera renders the image like a scale-model. Selective color records the image in black and white, keeping only the selected color. While using this mode, images will be recorded only in JPEG format even if NEF is selected as image format. This is because NEF is a native format in which the images are not processed, and the special effects are added by the camera in post-processing.
The drive modes available in the D5100 are Single, Continuous, Self-timer, Delayed remote, Quick-response remote, and Quiet shutter release. Self-timer can be set to fire the camera with a delay of 2s, 5s, or 10s and 20 s, and for up to 9 exposures. The camera features TTL exposure metering using a 420-pixel RGB sensor. The metering modes are Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot. Exposure can be compensated up to +/-5 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. Exposure bracketing can be set for three frames in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV. ISO sensitivity of the camera ranges from ISO 100 to 6400 in 1/3-EV steps. This can be boosted up to ISO 25600 equivalent. The Nikon D5100 features Active D-Lighting, which can be set to Auto, Extra high, High, Normal, Low, and Off. White Balance can be set to Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent (7 types), Direct sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade, and Preset manual. There is also an option to fine-tune the White Balance. The D5100 uses a 3-inch, approximately 921,000-dot vari-angle polysilicon TFT LCD with 170 degree viewing angle and approximately 100 percent frame coverage. It uses an SD memory card (including SDHC and SDXC) as storage media and is powered by an EN-EL14 rechargeable Li-ion battery (supplied). The camera weighs approximately 510g (body only), and has the dimensions of 128 x 97 x 79mm (W x H x D).
We received the Nikon D5100 with the AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5 -5.6G ED VR kit lens. The combination is light and comfortable to handle. The hand grip is rubberized and provides a firm hold. The camera features a single-hinge swivel and rotate LCD, which helps you to accurately frame low-angle and high-angle shots and self portraits. The images on the LCD are crisp and the menus are self-explanatory. Nikon has replaced the Live View button with a new Live View lever near the mode dial. The lever is very comfortable to operate with the thumb.
The Nikon D5100 was tested with the kit lens and hence the performance test was essentially an evaluation of the combination. The camera-lens combination performed very well in term of image quality. Autofocus was fast and accurate, and the camera’s AF sensor could handle most low-light situations well. Exposure metering of the camera was precise with all modes working as desired. The images were reasonably sharp and flare was controlled reasonably well for an inexpensive kit lens. We observed mild chromatic aberration and prominent darkening of corners at the wide-angle end with the lens wide open. Slight barrel distortion was observed up to 22mm (33mm equivalent). The images were free of distortion from 34mm (51mm equivalent) onwards.
The D5100’s White Balance performed reasonably well, producing only minor and acceptable deviation from the original, which could be corrected easily using Photoshop. Native print size of the images were 10.88 x 16.42 inches at 300 ppi. The camera has sensitivities ranging from ISO 100 to Hi 2 (equivalent to ISO 25600) even at full resolution. Hi 1 and Hi 2 were extremely noisy even at the 16 percent screen size. At this magnification, ISO 6400 produced slight noise. When viewed at 33.33 percent size, noise appeared at ISO 3200 onwards. Sensitivities up to ISO 800 were free from noise even at actual pixel dimension, which is rare. Images were perfectly usable up to ISO 6400. We would consider this excellent noise control for an entry level camera with APS-C size sensor.
Going by the test results, the Nikon D5100 is an excellent performer in the advanced amateur segment. Combine this camera with a superior lens and we are sure the results would impress everyone.
Value for Money
The Nikon D5100 body is available at an MRP of Rs.34,450. As a kit, the camera retails at an MRP of Rs.39,950 along with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5 -5.6G VR. This is competitive pricing for a camera that is positioned between the entry-level D3100 and the advanced D7000.
+ Tilt-and-swivel LCD screen
+ Excellent noise control
+ Superior image quality
– Build quality could have been better
Design and Build Quality 16/20
Key Features 18/20
Performance Autofocus 3/5
Noise Control 5/5
Extra Features 4/5
Value for Money 8/10
Grand Total 82/100
The Nikon D5100 bridges the gap between the beginner and semi-pro segments. Its strong points are an articulated LCD with tilt-and-swivel capability, excellent image quality, and outstanding high-ISO performance. Combined with a competitive price tag, the camera deserves a Best Buy tag among the flyweights.