This is an in-depth review of the Nikon D5100 DSLR, based on my two month experience with the camera. Marketed as an upper-entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D5100 is a major upgrade to the older Nikon D5000. It has a larger and a more enhanced swivel LCD screen and the same remarkable sensor as the semi-professional Nikon D7000. In addition to the above changes, the Nikon D5100 also lost some weight, making it lighter and more compact than the Nikon D5000. Further down in this review, I will provide a detailed analysis of the Nikon D5100 and compare it to the Nikon D3100, D5000, D90 and the Nikon D7000 DSLRs. Note that the Nikon D5100 has been discontinued, and the newest model in this lineup is the Nikon D5600 (see our review).
1) Nikon D5100 Specifications
- High Resolution 16.2 MP DX-format CMOS sensor
- 4 frames per second continuous shooting for up to 100 JPEG images
- 420-pixel RGB sensor
- Pentamirror Optical Viewfinder with approx. 95% frame coverage and approx. 0.78x magnification
- Single SD Card Slot with SD, SDHC and SDXC memory card compatibility
- Built-in Speedlight flash with i-TTL support and up to 1/200 sync speed
- Full 1080p HD Movie capability and external stereo microphone jack (up to 20 minutes of recording time)
- Dynamic ISO range from 100 to 6400 expandable to 25,600 (Hi2)
- 11-point AF System with one center cross-type sensor
- 3 Inch, 921,000-dot Super-Density articulated LCD Monitor with 170 degree viewing
- Compact EN-EL14 Battery (660+ shots)
- Built-in HDMI Connection
- Active D-Lighting for enhancing details in shadows and highlights
- 16 different scene modes
- Special effects such as Selective Color, Miniature Effect, Night Vision and Silhouette can be used both for stills and video
- In-camera HDR processing with 2 shots, up to 3 EV apart
- Up to 1/4000 sec shutter speed
- Exposure Compensation ±5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV
- Exposure Bracketing 3 frames ±2 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 steps
- Only 560 grams of weight (body only)
Detailed technical specifications for the Nikon D5100 are available on Nikonusa.com.
2) Camera Construction and Handling
Just like all entry-level DSLRs, the Nikon D5100 is mostly made of plastic. But don’t this fact fool you – the plastic is still very tough and could easily take some beating. I bumped the camera body against rough surfaces a few times by accident, which did not damage the body or leave any scratches. The only piece that worried me was the LCD, which I often left exposed when shooting. While I did not scratch the LCD, I would recommend to protect it with a screen protector just in case. You can get a good screen protector kit from Giottos for less than $10. Talking about the LCD screen, the new 3 inch LCD screen on the D5100 is simply gorgeous. In fact, it is even a little deceiving, because photographs on the LCD sometimes just look too good. The biggest advantage of a plastic camera body is weight – the D5100 is only 510 grams, making it the second lightest Nikon DSLR after the Nikon D3100. It is 50 grams lighter (and smaller) than the older Nikon D5000 and 110 grams lighter than the Nikon D90. Because of the layout changes to the articulated screen, the buttons on the rear of the camera also went through massive design changes. The left rear area where Nikon traditionally placed such buttons as playback and menu is now taken by the LCD screen base, and the buttons are now scattered in various areas. The Live View button is replaced by a new lever on the top of the camera – a welcome change, because the possibility of accidentally triggering live view via a button is now eliminated. Take a look at the layout differences between Nikon D5100 (left) and Nikon D5000 (right):
Besides the size and slight design difference, the front looks about the same on the D5100.
The back, on the other hand, looks very different now – note the larger LCD screen on the D5100 and the button layout change I mentioned above.
In terms of handling, the D5100 balances quite well with light lenses such as the kit Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and Nikon 35mm f/1.8G prime lens, and not so well with lenses that are much heavier than the camera body. Despite its small size, the camera fits nicely and feels good in hands. The location of the new buttons and controls won’t take much time to get used to, although I personally prefer the older layout with the buttons located on the left side of the LCD. It is nice that the Live View button is now eliminated and replaced with a lever on the top of the camera. The lever felt much more intuitive when I needed to focus using contrast detect or when shooting video; plus, it pretty much eliminates chances of accidentally triggering Live View via a button. The negative side to the new Live View lever, is that the video record button is now located on the top of the camera. This is probably something video enthusiasts will not like. When I was shooting videos of bears in Yellowstone, I had to look at the top of the camera to locate the record button, which was very inconvenient, since I had the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR mounted on my tripod at full length. I would rather have the live view lever together with the record button located in the same spot, just like on the Nikon D7000.
Accessing and changing autofocus modes, metering modes, white balance, ISO and other frequently used camera settings is very easy, thanks to the “Information” button that is conveniently located on the top of the camera, next to the “AE-L/AF-L” button. You will not have to dig through the camera menu to change these, which is very convenient. I used the “Information” button all the time to make quick changes. It is also great for beginners, because it shows most of the camera settings and even a graphic representation of the size of the lens aperture.
The D5100 is not weather sealed like higher-end DSLRs, so I would take extra care when photographing in dusty and rainy environments. The camera can take some light rain, but I would not recommend leaving it for longer than a few minutes or let it soak. As for hot and cold temperatures, I used the D5100 in below freezing temperatures in northern Montana and hot temperatures above 100 Fahrenheit in California and had no problems. The battery obviously drains faster in colder temperatures, so keep this in mind when travelling. Oh and the battery life of 660+ shots is plenty for travel as well, unless you are planning to shoot lots of HDR Panoramas.