Nikon D5100 Review

Nikon D5100 Review



While nipping at the heels of its top level sibling, the D7000, this baby has a couple of advantages: a smaller size and arguably a less challenging user interface. It is in fact an excellent prosumer or enthusiast camera.


In the hand it’s a practical camera and, at a pinch, could be used single-handed, with the shutter button, mode dial and command wheel within mills of the forefinger and thumb. But you wouldn’t, would you …!

The review camera was supplied with the f3.5/18-55mm kit lens.


Nikon D5100 Features

The CMOS sensor has 16.2 megapixels and uses the Nikon DX format, which gives a 1.5x factor when compared to a 35 SLR.

The 7.5cm LCD screen is articulated in a horizontal sweep, can swing through an arc up to 90 degrees clockwise and up to 180 degrees counter-clockwise: I found this to be a big help when the D5100 was tripod-mounted. Its resolution is a high 921,000 pixels. Optical viewing is via a pentamirror.

Maximum image size is 4928×3264 pixels, from which you can make a 42x28cm print.

Video is at the top level of Full HD 1920×1080 at 24/25/30fps which can be captured with auto exposure and full auto focus but requiring you to press the shutter button half way to trigger the focus action.

As the lens handles the focusing chore I guess the performance is directly related the quality of the optic; the kit lens worked satisfactorily in my tests.

The onboard mic of course captures all the bumps and squeaks as AF does its tricks. And they are considerable. Plug in an external mike!

It is also advisable to use memory cards rated as class 6 or higher to avoid hiccups when recording.

Nikon D5100 detail.jpg

If you try to shoot stills while recording a movie the latter action stops but you can later retrieve individual video frames as JPEGs.

ISO ratings run from ISO 100 to 6400 but you can lift this to ISO 25,600 by lifting the sensor gain. If you want to squeeze some extra lumens out of a tricky shot there is an HDR function that uses two exposures to maximise the capture of shadow and highlight details. This is selectable from the camera menu and presents some interesting options to the educated user: you can select an exposure differential between the images of up to three f stops. The function allows some smoothing of the paired images; this I presume is to better match the images if they are shot handheld … but serious HDR practitioners would obviously use a tripod! And HDR only works with JPEG images.

Books Color Sketch.JPG

The special effects mode is a blast! Applicable to stills and movies, there is night vision, color sketch, mini effect, silhouette and more. How about night vision, captured at an ISO equivalent of up to ISO 102,400 — complete with tonnes of wild pixels! The great thing is that each has an enormous range of adjustment. Let’s wait for an answer from Olympus with its Art Filters … this one sure beats the pants off the latter!

ISO Tests

It was only when the ISO setting reached 6400 that noise became noticeable, but not objectionably so.

Nikon D5100 ISO 100.JPG

Nikon D5100 ISO 400.JPG

Nikon D5100 ISO 800.JPG

Nikon D5100 ISO 1600.JPG

Nikon D5100 ISO 3200.JPG

Nikon D5100 ISO 6400.JPG

Manly beach runner 2 5.JPG


This one is for the educated user; it would frustrate the beginner. Having said that, the D5100 is an aspirational camera: it will give legs to the ambitious photographer and give wings to ambitions to capture advanced imagery.

South Curl Curl beach 2.JPG

Quality: excellent, full bodied colour, razor sharpness. Top performer.

South Curl Curl cars 1.JPG

Why you would buy it: excellent articulated LCD screen; you want Full HD with auto focus shooting;

Why you wouldn’t: there is no dedicated ISO button.

A couple of points: I was not happy with the Live View button and the movie record buttons placed on the top surface near the mode dial. A very cluttered area with a total of nine controls in the vicinity.

Nikon D5100 Specifications

Image Sensor: 16.2 million effective pixels.
Metering: Matrix, centre-weighted metering and spot.
Effective Sensor Size: 23.6×15.6mm CMOS.
Format: Nikon DX.
A/D processing: 14-bit.
Lens Mount: Nikon F (with AF contacts).
35 SLR Lens Factor: 1:5x.
Exposure Modes: Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Shutter Speed: Bulb, 30 to 1/4000 second, Bulb. Flash X-sync: up to 1/200 sec.
Continuous Speed; 4fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): 4928×3264 to 2464×1632. Movies: 1920×1080 to 640×480 at 24/25/30fps.
Viewfinders: Eye level pentamirror, 7.5cm LCD (921,000 pixels).
File Formats: NEF (RAW), NEF (RAW)+JPEG, JPEG, MPEG4.
Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25,600.
Interface: USB 2.0, AV, HDMI mini, DC input, external mic, remote.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, AC adaptor.
Dimensions: 128x97x79 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 690 g (with memory card and battery).
Price: Get a price on the Nikon D5100 in the following configerations:

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Nikon D5100
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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • Sachin April 2, 2013 06:20 pm

    I have been using Nikon D5100 for past 6 months and truth to be told I am loving it. I have read the earlier comment regarding dedicated iso button.. but as this is my( beginner) first dslr so I have started without a button and for that I dont feel anything missing .as for the image quality - This is awesome. It has the same sensor that has been used in d7000....and in this price range its pretty cool.....the only thing its lagging is its auto focus motor....for which u have to buy really high priced lenses..... but believe me if u r seriously looking into photography as a future u will surely opt for a high priced slr and I will not be wrong if I say that buying better lenses will increase your collection for future ...(But that's totally my view..........)...

  • Nirmit Kapoor July 27, 2012 09:35 am

    One of the best camera to start with. Check the photos clicked with this camera.

  • imee March 23, 2012 04:37 pm

    I have a D5100 for a month and im so happy with it . its my first DSLR camera. and i recommend it to new bees out there. value for money and the features and outcome of the pics are awesome.

  • Peter - Wedding Photographer February 9, 2012 03:01 am

    This is a great entry level Nikon camera and it should be considered when shopping around. If you are a professional photographer, the D800 should be the base model to look at. Using pro lenses will improve the quality of the image, after all this is where all the detail (light) comes through.

  • Mindmeld December 30, 2011 10:52 pm

    It all depends what you do.

    If you want to use old lenses without built in autofocus ,yese then you have to use manual focus.

    But you have enough lens option for alla scenarios with builtin autofocus .

    Is it the best camera for sport no, but thats it as long you dont compare this camera with a pro camera thats another ball game.

  • Mood December 30, 2011 01:50 am

    SilverSaffire - Not being able to focus a lens is a big deal. Otherwise why buy the latest technology just to manual focus? The D5100 is a good camera, but it's not cost efficient like someone else said. I'd like to see you shoot sports or anything else besides still life with manual focus.

  • SilverSaffire December 29, 2011 05:16 pm

    I had this camera for 2months now and I have to say I love it. Its my first DSLR and it is fantastic. Yeah I'm a beginner but I just love the way the photos look. I seen in the comments that lenses that aren't AF-S don't work on this camera but they do the only thing and that you have to focus them manually. I like macro photography so I usually focus manually anyways. I do recommend this camera its user friendly and a lot of fun!

  • Anshuman Atre November 8, 2011 02:18 pm

    In what situations will the "Delayed Remote" release mode of the D5100 be used? Can't you just delay clicking the remote by 2 sec instead?

  • Gabriel C September 26, 2011 01:33 am

    I just don't get something; While the D7000 is a good camera, the is not a good camera. The same is happening here with the D5100. I was reading the reviews of the Cannon Rebel T3i and is almost, 90%, equal to the Nikon D5100, but at the end it say's: "Why you wouldn’t: no AF in movie mode; it’s not a beginner’s camera"

    Read more:

    I don't get it, then in the Nikon D5100, at the beginning of the review it say's: "It is in fact an excellent prosumer or enthusiast camera."

    Im totally confuse, what makes a camera a "prosumer or enthusiast camera" or "not a beginner’s camera" ? at least in this case. Can anybody please clear this up for me? Thanks in advanced, I mean Im really going crazy here.

  • Prophoto Photographer August 19, 2011 12:54 pm

    Always used Nikon Cameras from film to digital have 4 digital pro bodies i regularly use now never let me down, still think they have the edge, the D5100 is a great value camera for the price.

  • matassos August 4, 2011 04:02 am

    plz delete the "Why you wouldn’t: there is no dedicated ISO button."

    THERE IS a button named "fn" which you can very easily configure from the cameras options to adjust the ISO and its a very usefull one (better than my old sony's way of adjusting iso)...

    i have the camera for over a month and i adjust each photo's iso using it. So be specific and don't "lie" to people who are trying to decide what to buy.

    and for those wondering the fn button was originaly for whitebalance adjustments . i think everyone prefers to adjust faster iso than whitebalance...

  • Ballistics July 6, 2011 03:03 am

    The D5100 is a good camera, but I traded mine in for the D7000. After you purchase 2 non AF-S lenses like the 50mm 1.8D, the D7000 becomes the cheaper camera to own. I bought a D7000 body for $160 more than the D5100.

  • Phillydog1958 July 3, 2011 03:03 pm

    The D5100 is a great camera. You can't go wrong with it.

  • Nirmit Kapoor July 1, 2011 10:40 am

    Hi Everyone,

    This is my first camera and I bought it almost 2 months ago. As I am still in a learning phase of photography, I can not say which camera is good or bad. However, I would like to share my experience with this camera.

    This camera is really amazing and the first dSLR camera with the effects mode. Image quality and colors are simply very good and considerable. I love to use this camera and I don't regret buying this camera. For those who are still in a learning phase and new with dSLR, it is highly recommended to them.

    Thanks & Regards
    Nirmit Kapoor

  • Samantha June 29, 2011 11:25 pm

    I own a D5100, it's my first foray into the Nikon family of cameras as a prosumer/hobbyist and I love it. It's easy to use! Theresolution on the photos is amazing and I find that whatever restrictions there are, are very limited, especially when it's a case of the photographer not knowing any better lol. I'm sure for some one shooting with a D700 that down grading to the 5100 wouldbe a shot to the heart but for the rest o us, it's fantastic camera that can help you improve your skills and create some reallygreat memories

  • manuel June 24, 2011 03:39 am

    At best buy , I saw the D5100 being displayed . When I picked it up to have the feel of the camera I was pleasantly suprised as it being small and light but all my fingers were around it's grip . Not like the D3100 where my pinky was left hanging . When I took a photo with it I was astounded by it's quality . I must say it's photo quality must be told with hyperboles as it is fantastic . Sharp , contrasty , wide dynamic range with beautiful colors. In photo quality realm it does not give in one inch to nobody . It's metering is very accurate and it's autofocusing is fast and precise . Pesonally I believe Nikon hit a home run with this one. The camera is intended for the beginner consumer so the lack of funtionality is not really a problem . If you want more funtionality get the D7000 that uses the same sensor . Just for the photo quality it's worth every penny .

  • Tilen Hrovatic June 24, 2011 03:35 am

    I am currently buying my first DSLR camera and I think I will buy this one. A lot of people recommend it and I think it's worth its price :) nice review, thanks for the guide :)

  • Tim June 21, 2011 08:08 am

    Thanks for a review. I appreciate the time taken and favourable noises made, largely because I'm not thinking so fondly of the D5100 myself and am looking for counter-arguments.

    I'm currently weighing-up the D5100 versus the Panasonic Lumix GH2 and spent an hour or more in store comparing them in hand over the weekend. The Nikon has an utterly stellar sensor - you could use emphasizing this more! By comparison, the GH2's sensor is about par for the course, around the same as a Canon 500D or 60D especially at <ISO800, according to DxOMark. But I find the user-experience on the Nikon a *major* detraction; the lack of dedicated buttons for just about anything is infuriating[0] and the bizarre killer is that awful graphic view of the aperture setting as a circle... why do I need that dumbed-down doodle wasting space on screen?

    [0] orange movie-record button on the top that requires you to be already in live-view mode? WTH? And those who say you can reprogram the Fn button to do the job of ISO surely miss the point: I want a Fn button to be what *I* want it to be, not making up for a deficit from the manufacturers; it costs me customisability!

    I think I'm leaning toward the Panasonic instead, truth be told. The D5100 probably isn't for me; the Lumix's UX is totally excellent, complete with faster fps, draggy-finger focussing on the LCD, etc. Given there was a time - having owned a D70 and D200 - that I'd say I had Nikon hands, it's a bit much that I found the GH2 felt nicer to hold...

  • George Lowry June 21, 2011 05:48 am

    This is a bit off the mark of this discussion, but I have a d5000, and have a manual 1.4 lense which I use quite often. My problem is that my eyelight is no longer as sharp as it once was, and I have difficulty with the manual focus of this lense. Does anyone know of an aftermarket product that will display a split ring in the VF of my camera. I would appreciate any help, Thanks, George

  • Dewan Demmer June 21, 2011 02:22 am

    I have the D5100 on my short list since I am thinking that perhaps I should move from my current Sony, currently it is a toss up whether or not I should go A590 or D5100 ... its one of those personal choices, and I am using general insights to help me understand the pluses and minuses. Ah well, no rush.

  • Yeelen June 20, 2011 09:26 pm

    Karthik: The image quality of the 550D is around the same of that of the D5100. The major differences are the articulated screen on the D5100 and the Effects, but you can get these on the 600D. I have a 550D myself, and I'm very pleased with it, although this D5100 seems to have slightly better ISO performance and some other things. I suggest you compare the specs and see what suits you best, and if you haven't decided by then, go to your photography or electronics store and compare them in your hands.

  • Nick June 18, 2011 11:38 pm

    I would much rather keep my D7000 than buy the D5100.. haha.

  • Karthik June 18, 2011 02:42 pm

    I'm planning to buy my first DSLR which one should i buy canon 550D or Nikon D5100??(pls note that i have to use it for more than 4 years.Its a long term investment).
    How is the image quality of 550D??

  • kerrberr June 18, 2011 02:17 am

    What is your opinion on the battery life? I use a D40 & don't even bother carrying a spare battery with me. I have been looking for an upgrade & this fits my pricerange. Is the battery similar?

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer June 18, 2011 01:55 am

    I have taught photography lessons to several people who already have the Nikon D5100. Upon first getting hands on with it I liked it, but now with having seen it several more times it is not just the lack of an ISO button, it is the lack of buttons to change anything. A student on Wednesday was disappointed to have to jump into the menu to change between AF-S and AF-C.

    The build quality and finish to the camera body seem very good, and the flip out screen is nice for overhead or below the knee shooting. However, this level of camera, if you are really ambitious about your photography, seems like it will be outgrown quickly because of the aforementioned lack of buttons, single finger dial, no top of the body LCD screen and lack of an internal focusing motor so cannot use cheap, but good lenses like the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D.

    For all the reasons above when I made my first DSLR purchase in August of 2008 I sprung for the Nikon D80.

  • THE aSTIG @ June 17, 2011 10:54 pm

    Wow thanks for sharing this review. Very very helpful. I am actually choosing a camera body to get when I upgrade.

    Believe it or not, though I do car photography for my website, I still use a Nikon D40.

    To get by without having to go high ISO, I always shoot with a tripod. I've also been wanting to start doing HD videos as of course a car photography website should also have action videos. So this review is very helpful. Many thanks!

  • Mindmeld June 17, 2011 04:06 pm

    Been using this camera for a few weeks and loving it, yes there are shortcomings but imo you can live with them like dedicated iso button, myself using exp+fn button for that.

    Some people say that if you got the money go for 7000 , reasons are better body,iso button,batterygrip possiblities and better for sport photos.

    Anyhow i dont regret going for d5100 :)

  • Dan Russell June 17, 2011 10:47 am

    I got the D5100 when it first came out and I love it! As for the con you mention, "no dedicated ISO button", there is a custom function button on the front left of the camera that can be easily programmed to one of several options including ISO selection.

  • Leonardo R June 17, 2011 10:41 am

    Yo can re-configure the function button to use it to change the ISO so yo have a dedicated button =)

  • GradyPhilpott June 17, 2011 09:36 am

    I challenge the notion that the D5100 or any other Nikon camera below the D7000 has a more user-friendly interface than the D7000.

    As a relative novice, I believe that the D7000 has a much more user-friendly interface than my D3000 or any other Nikon dSLR that has been introduce of late.

    Certainly, there are more choices to learn in the menus, but when it comes to basic functions like WB, ISO, etc., the D7000 wins hands down.