Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 is the successor of the D5000: Interesting detail improvements

With the D5100 Nikon announces an improved successor of the D5000 in details. It is due to be released on 20 April 2011, despite the fact that Nikon’s DSLR production has been affected by the disaster in Japan. The D5100 inherits the technology of the D7000 (sensor and processor) in many areas and has an improved swivel and folding screen, which now measures three inches diagonally and is hinged at the side. We were already able to get a first impression from a production model, a detailed test report on the D5100 will be published shortly.

Short evaluation

Pros

  • Very high image quality level
  • Many setting options and customizability
  • Good ergonomics and key distribution
  • Flexible and excellent screen

Cons

  • Quite small optical viewfinder
  • Handle only suitable for small hands or short fingers
  • Missing dipping button/function
  • High shutter delay and slow autofocus in LiveView

 

Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 Review

The monitor itself has grown to a diagonal of three inches or 7.5 centimeters and has a much finer resolution of 921,000 pixels than its predecessor, the D5000. In general the screen is quite slim and due to the newly positioned hinge you don’t have a problem anymore when using a tripod. With its high contrast, large viewing angle and fine resolution, the screen is certainly convincing in practice. The activation of the LiveView via the new lever below the program selector wheel is also very intuitive. If the monitor is not sufficiently readable in LiveView mode once in bright sunlight, you can switch to the pentascope viewfinder. However, with a magnification of 0.78x it turned out to be quite puny. Also the small exit pupil is a problem, at least for spectacle wearers. Removing the glasses is often not an alternative either, as the diopter compensation only works between -1.7 and +0.7 dpt.

 

Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon has retained the extensive menu with its good structure. Six tabs divide the menu into main areas, in which several pages and partially nested setting levels wait for the user. So not every function is quickly found the first time. Practically, the menu remembers the last position and starts there again and the lowest of the six tabs lists the last used menu items.

The operation is a bit tricky with some special settings. For example, it may happen that the image editing menu is completely locked. The error message that this option is not available with the current options or the camera status does not help. This can be caused, for example, by the activated LiveView. A video recording, on the other hand, which is ergonomically activated via a dedicated button near the shutter release, can only be started when LiveView is activated. At least that may seem logical to you. It becomes interesting with the selection of the refresh rate, because if you set PAL in the system menu, you can only choose between 24 and 25 frames per second, if you set NTSC, 24 or 30 frames per second are possible. You first have to come up with the idea without studying the manual.

 

Nikon D5100 Review

 

The Nikon D5100 sees itself as an upscale entry-level camera for all those for whom, for example, a D3100 offers too little performance. Its concept clearly positions it as a competitor or alternative to the Canon EOS 600D. Nikon has refreshed the inner values to the current sensor and processor generation. This means that you get the image quality of a Nikon D7000, even if the internal image processing is more aimed at the mass market, i.e. with trendy colors, more contrasts and sharpened more. The CMOS image sensor effectively resolves 16.2 megapixels and offers ISO sensitivity from 100 to 6,400, which can be extended to ISO 25,600. Even though both the signal processor and the image sensor come from its larger sister, the D7000, the D5100 does not manage its speed. At least in the case of the series image speed, the mechanics are another limiting component. The shutter speed is up to 1/4,000 second short, the flash sync speed is 1/200 second. In continuous-advance mode, four frames per second are still achieved without flash, and the D7000 proves to be much faster with seven frames per second.

Nikon has decisively improved the screen. A higher contrast, larger and higher resolution display is used. At three inches (7.5 centimeters) diagonal, it resolves 921,000 pixels. In addition, it is somewhat slimmer than guessed with the D5000. The swivel and turning mechanism now starts at the side, so a tripod is no longer in the way.

 

Nikon D5100 ReviewHowever, this also means that the screen is now next to the camera when viewed from above or below. Due to the new touch position of the screen, Nikon also had to rearrange the keys. The case itself is a bit wider, but much less high than on the D5000. What has remained is the high-quality plastic housing in black, which, however, has a new design. With this Nikon wants to have further optimized the design language of curves and straight edges.

New is the video recording button on the top of the camera near the shutter release. Below the program selector wheel there is a LiveView lever, which is operated with the index finger. Both ensure improved ergonomics. The video function was also drilled out with the new sensor. Recording is now done in Quicktime format with effective H.264 compression. The video resolution increases to FullHD with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. At the refresh rate, Nikon is catching up to Canon’s worst competitor, allowing the user to choose between 24, 25 and 30 frames per second.

 

Nikon D5100 ReviewThe autofocus is also adjusted during the recording, but pumping – Nikon calls this AF-F. Internally, there is only a mono microphone that records these focusing noises too clearly, but an external stereo microphone connection is available. Nikon offers a matching microphone (see further links). The sensitivity of the internal microphone can also be set in the menu. Nikon is also not stingy with other connections: HDMI cable, remote shutter release and GPS can be connected, for the optional infrared remote shutter release there is now a receiver on the front of the camera as well as a receiver on the back, as already known from some Pentax cameras (by the way, we have many Pentax fans among our readers).

Nikon is also focusing on new image effects, picking up on a trend set by Olympus. The “Effects” position on the program selector wheel offers a night vision simulation according to ISO 51.200 in black and white, the popular miniature effect, a color drawing effect for stronger colors, an effect with selective color (Color-Key) in which up to three colors can be selected and the rest of the image remains black and white, and the Silhouette, High Key and Low Key modes. These effects can also be activated in video mode, but at a reduced frame rate depending on the effect.

 

Nikon D5100 Review Nikon has also not done without the already familiar picture style settings (Picture Control) such as black and white or the fine adjustments of color saturation, sharpness, contrast and tone curve. The D5100 also features 16 scene modes, more than 25 image editing options, and an HDR function that complements Active-D lighting. The HDR mode shoots two images with the exposure difference selected automatically or manually (one, two, or three exposure levels). The HDR editing effect is also adjustable in three levels: low, normal and high. In the LiveView mode, the camera even automatically selects the appropriate motif program if desired, as one is used to from compact cameras in the meantime.

The autofocus has eleven measuring fields, the middle one is designed as a high-quality cross sensor. According to Nikon, the D5100 should also focus quickly in LiveView mode, which we can’t confirm after a first test: The focusing time is closer to two seconds than to one, even the shutter release delay without focusing is just under half a second.

Nikon D5100 Review One must keep the D5100 however to good that the competitors do not perform better here. Without LiveView, on the other hand, the camera is as fast as usual. However, Nikon has dispensed with an integrated autofocus motor and has instead installed the Airflow Control System, which is designed to keep dust away from the sensor. It also has an ultrasonic cleaning function. When buying (older) autofocus lenses, you should make sure that they have a built-in focus motor, otherwise you have to focus manually.

Ergonomics and workmanship

Anyone who knows Nikon DSLRs well will notice the slight design changes of the D5100, which is very pleasing with its shape and yet classic. The case is made of plastic, but it is of a higher quality. The shell parts are worked exactly and the gaps of the joints are very small. Rubbers can be found on the rest position for the thumb and on the camera grip. This is rather worked for smaller hands or shorter fingers: Between the lens bayonet and the handle it could go a little deeper, so that the fingers get a better hold. The D5100 is operated almost completely with the right thumb and index finger, only the menu, function and flash buttons are reserved for the left hand. The reason for this is the changed swivel mechanism of the screen, which now starts at the left side instead of at the bottom, so that all keys that were left of the screen had to disappear.

The monitor itself has grown to a diagonal of three inches or 7.5 centimeters and has a much finer resolution of 921,000 pixels than its predecessor, the D5000. In general the screen is quite slim and due to the newly positioned hinge you don’t have a problem anymore when using a tripod. With its high contrast, large viewing angle and fine resolution, the screen is certainly convincing in practice. The activation of the LiveView via the new lever below the program selector wheel is also very intuitive. If the monitor is not sufficiently readable in LiveView mode once in bright sunlight, you can switch to the pentascope viewfinder. However, with a magnification of 0.78x it turned out to be quite puny. Also the small exit pupil is a problem, at least for spectacle wearers. Removing the glasses is often not an alternative either, as the diopter compensation only works between -1.7 and +0.7 dpt.

Nikon has retained the extensive menu with its good structure. Six tabs divide the menu into main areas, in which several pages and partially nested setting levels wait for the user. So not every function is quickly found the first time. Practically, the menu remembers the last position and starts there again and the lowest of the six tabs lists the last used menu items. The operation is a bit tricky with some special settings. For example, it may happen that the image editing menu is completely locked. The error message that this option is not available with the current options or the camera status does not help. This can be caused, for example, by the activated LiveView. A video recording, on the other hand, which is ergonomically activated via a dedicated button near the shutter release, can only be started when LiveView is activated. At least that may seem logical to you. It becomes interesting with the selection of the refresh rate, because if you set PAL in the system menu, you can only choose between 24 and 25 frames per second, if you set NTSC, 24 or 30 frames per second are possible. You first have to come up with the idea without studying the manual.

Nikon skillfully combines proven and new features in the D5100. As usual, there are numerous image processing options directly in the camera, which has its own menu for this. New, however, is the “Effects” position on the program selector wheel. Here novices in image processing can unfold their creativity: For example, with the “Selective Color” effect, where up to three selectable colors remain colored and the rest becomes black and white. The miniature effect familiar from Telekom advertising is also available. The effects are even available in video mode, but the more computational ones don’t produce fluid movies, but a kind of stop motion. But this can be seen in the LiveView before, because also here the image starts to stutter with calculation-intensive effects.

A classic is the D-Lighting function, which exposes images a little more succinctly and brightens the tonal values of the shadows to make details visible. At times, however, this also results in somewhat dull-looking shots when the camera can no longer find deep blacks in the photo. The HDR function, which is intended to tame high contrasts with better technology, is at the cutting edge of technology. The D5100 takes two photos in quick succession, and the photographer can select the exposure distance manually if desired (one to three EV). Also the automatic calculation can be set manually in three strength levels for the HDR effect.

Nikon D5100 Review

A significant improvement of the D5100 compared to the predecessor model is the video function, which now also records in FullHD resolution with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. Optionally, 24, 25 or 30 full frames per second are available with a slightly tricky setting (see above). Finally, Nikon no longer saves the videos as motion JPEGs, but with H.264 compression using the Quicktime Container (MOV). This extends the maximum recording time per video clip and makes FullHD recordings possible in the first place. The sound can also be recorded in two channels, i.e. in stereo – but only with an external microphone, for which the D5100 has a jack connector. Finally, the D5100 even has autofocus tracking in video mode, which is clearly audible on the audio track depending on the volume of the lens. Whether or not you want to use the tracking function depends on how you like pumping movements in videos, because there are plenty of them with activated AF-F, as Nikon called this function. Overall, the videos are of amazing quality, but the D5100 cannot replace a true camcorder, at least in terms of video ergonomics and autofocus.

Nikon D5100 Review In general, the autofocus and the release speed in LiveView mode are not very convincing. Even without focusing, we measured a delay of just over half a second. In the same time the D5100 focused and triggered without LiveView. In addition to this half-second delay in LiveView, the approximately one second slow contrast autofocus is added. For action shots completely unsuitable, but rather a help with static motifs, landscape shots, macros, etc.. After all, the contrast autofocus is usually more accurate than the classic phase autofocus. The highest focus precision is achieved with manual focusing with the aid of the digital magnifier in LiveView mode.

Image quality

Since the Nikon D5100 has the image sensor of the D7000, we went with great expectations into the image quality test of the D5100. To anticipate: If you look away from the lens, the D5100 can convince in full line.

Nikon D5100 Review The CMOS sensor in APS-C size with its 16.2 megapixels resolution, for example, shows an amazingly low noise over a large ISO range. At ISO 100 the noise is outstandingly low, even at ISO 200 it is hardly noticeable. At ISO 400 and 800 the values are also good, only with a close look you can find some light interfering pixels. The values remain acceptable even up to ISO 3,200. Slowly, however, the noise increases, the interference pixels have a greater deviation from the actual color value, and the visible grain size increases. The values Hi1 and Hi2, which correspond to ISO 12.800 and 25.600, should only be used in an emergency. This shows clear image noise, which is probably the reason why Nikon doesn’t count these values to the standard range.

Nikon D5100 ReviewHowever, the measurement of ISO sensitivity in the laboratory has also shown that the Nikon D5100 is significantly more sensitive than set at all ISO values. For example, ISO 100 set corresponds more to ISO 146. In nominal terms, the value is a quarter to a half higher than set. The consequence of this can be seen in the pictures: The D5100 tends to overexpose, unlike earlier DSLRs from Nikon. Especially for outdoor shots, it is a good idea to use exposure correction to underexpose about a third of the aperture. Even the high dynamic range of more than eleven f-stops, which are kept high up to ISO 1,600, cannot always prevent non-eating lights. At all ISO levels above that, you lose almost exactly one aperture dynamic range with each higher level, so that at Hi2 or ISO 25.600 you only have 7 f-stops left.

The D5100 partially reproduces colours that are too saturated. The largest color deviation could be measured in the cyan range, which is significantly bluer than in reality. Of the theoretically possible 24-bit color depth in JPEG, the D5100 uses 23-bit at ISO 100 – a good value. With each ISO level, however, the actual fineness of the color gradations decreases rather linearly, at ISO 800 only 20 bits are used.

Nikon D5100 ReviewFor nature and studio shots, where finely differentiated colour gradients are important, you should therefore use the lowest possible ISO values.

The 18-105mm lens is not so bad for a set lens. It shows a slight edge darkening in the picture corners, but these can be controlled by fading. Distortion is also present. The strongest characteristic is in the wide-angle range with its barrel shape, but even at medium and long focal lengths the lens is not distortion-free, as it shows a light cushion shape. In terms of image sharpness, the corners are the most critical areas, with the 18-105mm in telescopic position having the lowest overall sharpness, but showing hardly any decrease in sharpness towards the corners. The highest resolution is shown by the lens in wide angle at aperture F8 in the center of the image, where 40.8 line pairs per millimeter are achieved. A correction factor for the 35 mm format (36 x 24 mm) is already included here. At this aperture, the 60mm macro lens, which we also measured, barely achieves a higher performance. This also shows its highest resolution at aperture F8, but is much more constant in the sharpness distribution than the 18-105mm.

Conclusion

The D5100 is Nikon quite successful. The many improvements mean a real plus in everyday photography, even if the operating logic still has some weaknesses in detail. Above all, however, the entry-level or hobby camera delivers high image quality at a comparatively moderate price. However, the D5100 can only really show off with a better lens, such as an expensive zoom or a fixed focal length. The slow live autofocus still remains a problem, neither the unattractive pumping tracking in video mode nor the enormous shutter release delay in photo mode make it quite enjoyable. For the overall performance offered, however, the small weaknesses have to be overcome, as the D5100 knows how to convince as an overall package.

Fact sheet

Fact sheet
Manufacturer Nikon
Model D5100
Price approx. 900 EUR at its release, more than ten years ago.
Sensor Resolution 16.2 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.928 x 3.264
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens AF-S 18-105 mm 3.5-5.6 DX G ED VR
Filter threads 67 mm
Viewfinder Pentas mirrors
Field of vision 95%
Enlargement 0,78-fold
Diopter compensation -1.7 to +0.7 dpt.
LCD monitor 3″
Disbandment 921.000
rotatable yes
swivelling yes
as seeker yes
Video output PAL/NTSC
,HDMI
Program automation yes
Aperture priority yes
Aperture priority yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long-term exposure yes
Motive programmes
Portrait yes
Children/Babies yes
Countryside yes
Macro yes
Sports/Action yes
more 11
Exposure metering Multi-field, Centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Flash connection System flash shoe
Remote release yes
Interval shooting
Storage medium SD/SDHC/SDXC
Video mode yes
Size MOV
Codec H.264 AVC
Resolution (max.) 1.920 x 1.080
at frame rate 30 images/s
Sensitivity
automatic 100-25.600
(upper limit adjustable)
extended 51.200
manually ISO 100-25.600
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Light bulb yes
Other Shadow, Flash
Manual yes
Autofocus
Number of measuring fields 11
AF auxiliary light whitely
Speed approx. 0.51-0.75 s
Languages Yes
more 21
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
Weight
(Ready)
420 g (housing only
)980 g (with lens**)
Zoom
Zoom adjustment manual on lens
Triggering during
.Save as possible.
yes
Battery life approx. 660 pictures (acc. to CIPA)
– = “not applicable” or “not available
“* with lens AF-S 18-105 mm 3.5-5.6 DX G ED VR

Short evaluation

Pros

  • Very high image quality level
  • Many setting options and customizability
  • Good ergonomics and key distribution
  • Flexible and excellent screen

Cons

  • Quite small optical viewfinder
  • Handle only suitable for small hands or short fingers
  • Missing dipping button/function
  • High shutter delay and slow autofocus in LiveView

Nikon D5100 Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
) 16.9 megapixels (physical) and 16.2 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 4.8 µm
Photo resolution
4.928 x 3.264 pixels (3:2)
3.696 x 2.448 pixels (3:2)
2.464 x 1.632 pixels (3:2)
Picture formats JPG, RAW
Colour depth 24 bits (8 bits per color channel), 42 bits (14 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.3), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 30 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
640 x 424 (3:2) 30 p
Video format
MOV (Codec H.264)
Audio format (video) WAV

Lens

Lens mount
Nikon F

Focusing

Autofocus mode Phase comparison autofocus with 11 sensors, 11 cross sensors
Autofocus Functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Focus control Live view

Viewfinder and Monitor

Reflex viewfinder Reflex viewfinder (95 % image coverage), 17 mm interpupillary distance, diopter compensation (-1.7 to +0.7 dpt), replaceable focusing screens, grille can be faded in
Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 921,000 pixels

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 420 fields, spot measurement (measurement over 3% of the image field)
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 30 s (automatic
) bulb function
Exposure control Program automatic, Aperture automatic, Time automatic, Manual
Bracketing function Bracket function with maximum 3 shots, step size from 1/3 to 1/2 EV
Exposure compensation -5.0 to +5.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Sensitivity to light ISO 100 to ISO 6.400 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 25.600 (manual)
Remote access Remote release, cable release
Motives Flowers, twilight, various motif programs, candlelight, children, landscape, night landscape, night portrait, close-up, party, portrait, sunset, food, sports/action, beach/snow, animals, fully automatic, 1 more motif programs
Picture effects Blue tint, skylight, warm tone
White balance Auto, White balance bracketing, Fine tuning, Manual
Continuous shooting 4.0 frames/s at highest resolution
Self-timer Self-timer with intervals of 2 or 20 s, special features: (manually adjustable)
Shooting functions Live histogram

Flashgun

Flash built-in flash (hinged
)flash shoe: Nikon, standard center contact
Flash number Guide number 13 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, Fill Flash, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Flash On Second Shutter Curtain, Red-Eye Reduction

Flash

Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
Memory
SD
GPS function GPS external
Microphone Stereo
Power supply Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Nikon EN-EL14 (lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.4 V, 1,030 mAh
)660 images according to CIPA standard
Playback Functions Red eye retouching, image index, slideshow function with music, zoom out
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Picture parameters Contrast, Saturation, Noise Reduction
Special functions Live view
Ports Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV connectors AV output: HDMI output Mini (Type C
)Audio input: yes (3.5 mm jack (stereo, 3-pin)
)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod socket 1/4″
Features and Miscellaneous AF measuring range: LW -1 to LW 19AF Metering MemoryExposure Metering Memory11 point autofocus

with central cross sensorPlayback

ZoomHighlighting Auto
OrientationReal Time Noise ReductionSharpeningImaging ContrastImaging BrightnessColor SaturationColor Balance Simultaneous

recording of JPEG and RAW/NEF image files PossibleColor Space Setting
(sRGB-Ia, AdobeRGB-IIa, sRGB-IIIa)
D-Lighting technology for intra-camera compensation between bright and dark image areasImage Mount FunctionImage Parameter PresetsHD

and FullHD video frame rates of 30, 25, or 24 images/s Infrared Remote Trigger Receivers
at the camera front and rear effect modes
with the following effects:

Night VisionColor DrawingMiniature EffectSelective

ColorSilhouetteHigh

KeyLow
Key

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 128 x 97 x 79 mm
Weight 560 g (ready for operation)

Other

included accessories Nikon AN-DC3 Storage AccessoriesNikon
BF-1B (Case Cover)
Nikon BS-1 (Shoe Cover)
Nikon Capture NX SoftwareNikon
DK-20 (Eyecup)
Nikon DK-5 (Eyepiece Cover)
Nikon EG-CP14 Audio / Video CableNikon
EG-CP16 Audio / video cableNikon
EG-CP16 (old) USB cableNikon
EN-EL14 Special batteryNikon
MH-24 Charger for special batteriesNikon
UC-E17 USB cableUSB cable
UC-E6 Viewfinder shell
DK-20 Eyecup cover
DK-5Camera software
ViewNX 2
optional accessory Nikon CF-DC2 BagNikon
EN-EL14 Special BatteryNikon
EP-5 Power SupplyNikon
MC-DC2 Cable Remote TriggerNikon
ME-1 (Microphone)
Memory CardSB-900/800/700/600/400
System FlashesML-L3
Infrared Remote ControlGPS Receiver
GP-1Nikon System Accessories
(Flashes, Lenses, etc.)

Firmware update 1.01 for Nikon D5100: Massive improvements

Nikon provides new firmware for both DSLRs D5100 and D7000. Version 1.01 for the D5100 and version A 1.02 and B 1.03 for the D7000 fix a number of specific and general problems. This could lead to reading and writing problems with memory cards with both cameras. On the D5100, the Selective Color function from the Image Edit menu caused problems with an image with NEF (RAW)+JPEG image quality and an image size of M or S, so the color may not change at the edges of the image.

When the exposure metering was set to “Matrix metering”, the exposure control was set to “M” (manual), and the exposure difference for HDR images was set to “Auto”. The exposure difference was set to the value 2 LW. This has been changed to enable automatic correction of the exposure difference to match the subject.

The firmware of the Nikon D7000 consists of two parts, an A-firmware and a B-firmware. Both have been updated to version A 1.02 and B1.03. The following problems occurred when the function dial of “U1” or “U2” was set to a different shooting mode or was set to “U1” or “U2” from a different shooting mode when the camera or exposure meter was turned off (automatic shutdown of the metering system): Occasionally a new folder was created even if the current folder does not yet contain 9999 files and none of the image files has the number “9999”. The number of remaining shots may not have been displayed as described in the settings. The setting for the memory card function in Tray 2 may have changed between Reserve or Backup and RAW in Tray 1, JPEG in Tray 2.

Also fixed a problem where the battery diagnostics in the system menu sometimes indicated that the batteries were still sufficiently full, even if the AA size batteries in the MB-D11 battery holder were insufficiently charged. The problem that when displaying a movie in playback mode, a still image may not have been displayed correctly while it was saved has also been fixed. Zoom in or zoom out was not performed correctly in Live View when pressing the zoom in or zoom out button. Changed the message that appears when the internal memory of the Wireless LAN Adapter WT-4 is formatted from “Done” to “Integrated Memory Formatted” via the camera’s System menu under the “Device Settings” of the Wireless LAN Adapter.