Pros + Built-in flash is exactly
+ High definition video recording is very useful
+ High quality 16.2 MP sensor
+ Great low-light performance
+ Fully rotating rear LCD screen
+ 11 autofocus (AF) points
+ High ISO performance
+ Use the fast Expeed 2 image proc
Cons - Vary buttons and controls
- No Wireless Flash
- Don't accept a battery grip
Summary The D5100 sits mid range as far as I can see, but it has a large number of features that have been introduced to this model line. It seems to try to compete with high end compact cameras for features whilst keeping the flexibility of the Nikon lens system.
This is my 3rd Nikon digital SLR body and as such I have used it with both the kit lens and a number of my other lenses. The kit lens is very capable with a very reasonable set of focal lengths covered, a reasonably quick focusing motor and Vibration Reduction to help to compensate for the relatively slow aperture.
The body itself has aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual although the full manual can be a little fiddly to use with only one adjustment dial you have to hold a button to change between aperture and shutter adjustment. You can also use program mode with program shift if you're happy to trust the meter, which most of the time is spot on.
There are also quite a large number of special program modes, which I feel are more at home on a compact - these compare quite closely with my Panasonic TZ-20's modes. If this is going to be a family camera then I would imagine that some of the family members would quite enjoy using them. I did use a couple of them for test, and the sunset setting is quite good, adjusting the exposure for good colour saturation.
The built-in flash is exactly what I expected, useful for fill-in in bright sunshine, but not really powerful enough for much else, fortunately you do have the hotshoe for connection of a larger strobe if you want to use on for more creative purposes.
The high definition video recording is very useful for quick videos if you don't want to carry a video camcorder as well, live-view enabling you to see the recording on the rear LCD. The LCD on it's swivelling mount is also useful for taking photos over the head of a crowd or from a very low vantage point rather than just guessing what you might see through the viewfinder. Personally I also like the fact that I can hide the LCD away most of the time, just using the viewfinder and not getting the LCD dirty.
Overall a very nice camera if you want all the features that you get on a modern compact, but want to be able to use semi-professional lenses. You don't get access to the whole range of Nikon lenses though, as the body doesn't have a focusing motor built in, but you can use any lens which has a built-in focussing motor.
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-Sturdy, solid feel
-Large, bright LCD
-Good basic lens
Cons None that I can think of at present.
Summary For the last year or so I have been pushing my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 to the max. I just wasn't achieving the level of quality and professionalism I needed. I knew it was not possible as long as I skirted the world of the dSLR for fear of the price tag and all that. But when I had the chance, I took the plunge into that tantalizingly beautiful world, and I have not looked back.
Except when my 18-55mm lens doesn't zoom in as close as was used to with my Lumix. ;) But the depth of field, high quality, manual options, and wonderful speed of my d5100 more than make up for that. I'll just get a bigger lens some day.
Also, a note for those of you who may be doing what I did and going back and forth (x1,000,000...) between the 3100 and 5100: If you're coming from the digital point-and-shoot or megazoom world, any dSLR will be better than what you've got! The 3100 is an excellent camera, and you would probably not notice much of a difference between the two*. But if your budget can handle it, I would definitely recommend the 5100. The rotating LCD is wonderful, those extra couple of megapixels are nice, and it is fast. There are some other pluses, but I haven't fully explored them all yet.
Well, I think this turned out more like a blog entry than a review, but hopefully someone out there will benefit from it. And that it will encourage the step into dSLR photography.
*This wisdom was imparted to me by a very kind lady in the photography department at my local Best Buy who was not out to sell me the highest-priced camera but rather to find out what I needed and help me find it. I like to give credit where credit's due, so there you have it. ;)
Pros Low noise at high ISO
Rotating, high quality screen
Easy to use
HD video capability
Great picture quality
Cons No autofocus motor built into its body
Summary I'm a beginner DSLR user, and this camera was a great start for me. I'm in love with it! At first, the only thing I couldn't figure out was how to change aperture (which I figured out), and everything else was very simple! Great DLSR for under $1,000.
Pros Great low-light performance and image quality, great video with multiple frame rate options, rotating screen
Cons No wireless flash capability, ok build quality, ok continuous frame rate speed, limited controls on camera body, no optional battery grip
Summary The Nikon D5100 brings the high quality 16.2 megapixel sensor, great low-light performance, and full HD video capability with all the frame rate options from the popular pro-sumer D7000 to the enthusiast level model - and then includes a fully adjustable side-mounted rotating screen to boot. The D5100 should prove to be an excellent option for new dSLR users plus those experienced enthusiasts wishing to upgrade their D50, D60, or even their D3000 to gain additional megapixels, shooting and processing speed, video, and an improved rear LCD screen. The variety of features and functions offered on the various Nikon dSLR cameras might make it difficult to choose between them, but there are some important differences.
The new Nikon D5100 sits just above the D3100, a bit below the aging D90, and several steps below the fully-featured and highly customizable Nikon D7000. The D5100 boasts a 16 megapixel image sensor (just like the D7000), shoots 4 frames per second in continuous mode, has HD video capability at 24, 25, and 30 fps, and includes the fully rotating rear LCD screen improved in flexibility from the screen of the D5000.
Generally as the cameras increase in price and capability from the entry level model to the enthusiast pro-sumer model they gain more sophisticated autofocus and exposure metering systems, shoot faster (more frames per second) in continuous shooting mode, have more controls and buttons for changing settings on the camera body, and offer more menu and custom function options.
Sensor and Image Quality: The sensors of the D5100 and D7000 are greatly improved over the older D90 in a couple of ways. The D5100 and D7000 have 16.2 megapixel sensors, where the D90 has 12.3 megapixels. The relatively new D3100 has a 14.2 MP sensor. This increase in resolution allows for more intrusive editing of the files in Photoshop, the ability to crop a picture and still obtain an image with high enough resolution for printing or display, and allows for larger prints. In addition, the improved sensor results in better performance at high ISO settings and in low light, better dynamic range, tonal range, and color sensitivity. Have a look at the dxomark website to compare the sensors.
Exposure Metering: The D5100, while sharing a similar sensor to the D7000, does not have the same advanced metering system. It shares the less sophisticated 420 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D3100 and offers matrix metering, non-adjustable center-weighted, and spot metering modes. This system may be more than sufficient for many users, especially those not intending to adjust their exposure settings and dig into their menus in reaction to complex lighting situations. But if your shooting demands require more precise exposure metering and control over the size of the areas being metered, you need to consider the D7000 or D90. The 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D7000 is also improved compared to the D90, and will result in more accurate metering performance of straightforward and complex lighting scenes and situations. Both these cameras offer matrix metering, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. With center-weighted metering on the D90, you can select the size of the center-weighted area to be a 6, 8, or 10mm center circle, and the D7000 adds a 13mm circle option.
Autofocus: The autofocus systems of the D3100, D5100, and D90 all have 11 autofocus (AF) points with the center one being a more accurate cross-type. These AF systems may be more than sufficient for most users, and they can successfully track moving objects in the frame such as athletes, performers, or animals. However, if you specialize in sports, action, wildlife, or bird photography, you are going to want to consider the much more sophisticated, accurate, and customizable AF system of the D7000. The D7000 boasts a significantly improved AF system of 39 AF points with 9 of them being cross type. The AF system of the D7000 allows for you to use these points in various ways including automatic AF point selection, single point AF, and dynamic area AF using your choice of 9 points, 21 points, all points, or all points with 3D-tracking. It is important to note that the D5100 and D3100 do not have an autofocusing motor built into the body so you have to be sure to purchase lenses with built-in AF motors. For example, the Nikon "Nifty 50" 50mm f/1.8 will not autofocus with these cameras. The D7000 and D90 have the built-in motor.
Body, Construction and Size/ Weight: The D5100 is just slightly larger and a tiny bit heavier than the D3100, both weighing just over one pound. Both have plastic bodies and more limited buttons and controls that the higher end models. Many users should find its size and weight great for using and carrying around, though some prefer the ergonomics of a larger body. The D90 and D7000 appear very similar at first glance, but the plastic body of the D90 has been upgraded to the partially magnesium alloy body (top and rear) of the D7000. This adds slightly to the weight: 1.5 lbs for the D90 vs. 1.7 lbs for the D7000. The D7000 also has weather sealing at the memory card and battery doors, which the D5100 and D3100 do not. The higher end D7000 and D90 include not only the 3" rear LCD screen but also a top LCD panel for viewing and changing your settings. This is essential for photographers who are constantly changing their settings to deal with various shooting situations. For most users, including even those using the camera daily or in travel situations, the non-magnesium construction of the D5100 should be far more than good enough, strong enough, and durable enough.
ISO: As mentioned in the Sensor and Image Quality section above, the high ISO performance of the D7000 is greatly improved over the D90. The tests at dxomark.com tell this story, along with the fact that the native ISO range of the D7000 is 100-6400 expandable up to 25,600. The D5100 shares these specifications, and should offer similar results. The D3100 has a native ISO range of 100-3200 expandable to 12800, and the range of the D90 is 200-3200. This means that with the D7000 and D5100 you can use higher ISO settings when required, such as in low light situations, and not have as much difficulty with digital noise, particularly in the shadow areas of images.
Controls: As with construction, the buttons and controls vary with these cameras. The D3100 and D5100 offer more limited, basic controls on the exterior of the camera. However you can use the rear LCD screen to quickly change many settings, or else go into the menus. The D7000 offers an extensive array of controls on the camera body, allowing one to quickly change an large number of settings as they work, including focus mode and focus area settings, shooting mode, and exposure mode. The controls of the D7000 are similar to the D90 with some changes including the addition of the shooting mode ring under the mode dial (to change from single shot to high speed continuous to self timer, etc.), and the live-view switch with movie record button inside it. The D7000 also offers 2 customizable user settings (U1, U2) on the mode dial, and you can assign functions of your choice to buttons such as the Fn Button.
Menus and Custom Settings: These allow for greater control over customizing how the camera functions. The D5100 has less Menu and Custom Settings options than the D90 and the highly customizable D7000, and more than the D3100 (which offers no custom settings). These settings enable you to customize the operation, function, and controls to work how you want them to, including things like exposure increments, Live View options, tweaking how the autofocus system operates, setting more precise white balance settings, and customizing which button does what.
Wireless Flash: The D7000 includes the feature of advanced wireless lighting using the built in flash as a commander for off-camera Nikon Speedlights. However, the D5100 and D3100 do not have this capability. With the D7000, you can set up one or more Speedlights in remote mode, then trigger them wirelessly with the built in flash of the camera.
Viewfinder: The D5100 has a pentamirror viewfinder with approximately 95% coverage of the actual resulting image, the same as the D3100. The higher quality pentaprism viewfinder of the D90 gives 96% coverage of the actual resulting image, while the D7000 has an even larger, brighter pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage. While in-and-of-itself, a 95% viewfinder works just fine, when you compare it side-by-side with the large, clear view of the D7000, you can see and understand the advantages of a clearer view of your entire scene with a 100% view, pentaprism viewfinder.
Processor: The Nikon D5100 and D3100 use the fast Expeed 2 image processor just like the D7000. This allows for more video options including full 1080p HD at 24, 25, and 30 fps, overall faster processing of stills and video files, and the ability to maintain fast continuous speed shooting for numerous frames. The D90 has the older Nikon Expeed processor, which is also generally fast enough to handle its processing needs.
Continuous Shooting Speed: As you work your way up the Nikon dSLR line-up the cameras' continuous shooting speed and maximum shots at that rate increases. The D3100 shoots 3 frames per second (fps) in continuous shooting mode, the D5100 shoots 4 fps, and the D7000 shoots 6 fps for up to 100 shots. The D90 can shoot 4.5 fps up to 100 images. If you often capture action and really need the higher frame rate, such as for sports, action, or wildlife shooting, you are going to have to seriously consider the D7000 over the other cameras. Paired with its advanced autofocus system, this fast frame rate can sharply capture moving objects is all types of situations. A nice feature of the D7000 is that you can adjust the low speed continuous mode to shoot anywhere from 1 to 5 fps, using the custom settings.
Memory Card: The D5100, D3100, and D90 all use a single SD memory card. The D7000 accepts 2 SD cards, where the second card can be used in a variety of ways: overflow when the first card fills up, JPEG on one / RAW on the other, or mirrored backup of the first card. The second card can come in handy as well if one is shooting video files, and one card can be designated for stills and the other video.
Battery and Battery Grip: The D5100 and D3100 both use the EN-EL14 battery, and the D7000 uses the new, higher capacity EN-EL15 battery. The D7000 accepts the optional MB-D11 battery pack/ vertical grip which is constructed of magnesium alloy. The D90 uses the EN-EL3e battery and its optional battery pack/ vertical grip is the MB-D80. The D5100 and D3100 don't accept a battery grip. The battery grip is handy for providing the ability to use a second battery and thus prolonging shooting time, and also creates a larger camera body which some users find more comfortable, especially when shooting in portrait orientation.
Full HD video: The D5100 shoots 1080p and 720p video at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D3100 shoots 1080p at 24 fps and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D7000 also shoots 1080p at 24 fps only and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps, up to 20 minutes with full-time continuous autofocus. The D90 offers 720p video at 24 fps, with a 5 minute shooting time.
Ease of Operation: While beginners may find all the buttons, controls, and menus of any dSLR difficult and confusing at first, the menus and controls of the D5100 and D3100 are pretty basic and simple to learn for a dedicated user. The additional controls and menus of the D7000 and D90 are all quite intelligently designed and will become intuitive and straightforward for the more advanced user once they are learned and understood.
Hands on Experience: The camera body of the D5100 fits nicely in the hand, and is a little bit taller than the D3100, so the pinky doesn't fall off the grip quite as easily. The rubber gripping surface and rubber thumb spot work nicely, and help retain the grip on the body, even when holding it at your side or carrying it around without a strap, and the light weight of the camera also adds to this ease of portability. Those who prefer the ergonomics of a larger, more solid feeling camera body will have to look at the D90 or D7000. The Live View switch, placed on the top of the camera at the mode dial, feels and sounds a little plasticy, but works find, and the record button for movies is conveniently placed on the top of the camera, near the shutter button. The FN button, on the front near the lens mount, can be customized to adjust one of a number of settings quickly, like image quality, white balance, HDR, or +RAW (to take a RAW file in addition to a JPEG if set on just JPEG). I prefer to make it an ISO button. The side mounted rear LCD screen is a definite improvement over the bottom mounted, limited screen of the D5000, and rugged and durable. The view through the viewfinder is a bit tiny and cramped, as is typically the case in this level of dSLR. Changing settings is quick and easy with the "i" button and rear LCD screen. Overall, the body, feel, controls, and LCD screen of the D5100 make for a great image taking experience.
Pros DSLR picture quality, easy to use, 1080 HD video, great pictures in low light, ISO performance, low price,LCD screen rotates,battery life
Cons no battery grip available at this time
Summary This is my first DSLR camera and all I will say is that I will never go back to "point and shot" ever again, hahaha. The best part is when I show my pictures to my family and friends. I bought the AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR and SB-700 Speed Flash and I cannot be more happier, especially when I use the SB-700 is a day and night difference because I am able to get rid of unwanted shadows behind people and objects , also the skin of the people look so natural. I'm still learning how to use the camera, do not be afraid of buying this camera if you have never touched a SLR camera because its settings are so easy to use and you will get used to play with it real quick. I would recommend you to buy a 16 GB SD card because you will find yourself shooting 600+ pictures in no time :)