In DSLR terms, a £779 price tag puts the D5100 in the middle-market. It’s expensive enough to have some gravitas, to stand out as a camera for someone who knows what they’re doing and can produce breathtaking results, but not quite so pricey as to become a camera for photographic purists who sneer at "gimmicks".
Nikon D5100 – HD video
The Nikon D5100 is packed to the rafters with features, including a few new treats designed to make the D5100 appeal to more than just the lifelong kit obsessive. There’s a selection of seven special picture effects including a tilt-shift mode for creating a model village effect, and a selective colour mode that lets you pick up to three colours to keep whilst turning the rest of the photo monochrome.
The D5100 also has a strong HD movie mode with a 24fps setting that gives a filmic motion to your footage, and the camera’s 3in LCD screen is mounted on a pivoting hinge that lets you re-angle or re-position it to the side of the camera for shooting at tricky angles or in confined spaces.
Before the purists walk away in disgust, the D5100 doesn’t scrimp on the serious features. The sensitivity can be adjusted through ISO 100 to 6400, it has an 11-point Auto-focus system which can be manually helped by your selection of a specific point, and it offers a pixel count of 16.2 MP, albeit on the smaller APS-C type CMOS sensor rather than a full frame 35mm chip that would have put the price well beyond the reach of the masses.
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Nikon D5100 - image quality
This satisfying mix of fun and serious features is packed into a thick body with a stocky lens, a shape that concentrates the combined weight of the lens and camera comfortably enough that even after hours of shooting you won’t find the D5100 merely hanging from its strap or worse, relegated to the kitbag - it’s comfortable enough to wield non-stop.
The placement of the controls is occasionally a little cramped even for users with slender fingers, but on the whole the camera is easy to use with a control system that shouldn’t prove too tricky for users experienced with bridge cams and will be child’s play to experienced DSLR users.
The auto-modes do an effective job when using the EVF and only slow slightly when using the ‘live’ LCD, and at no point are you subjected to the sort of agonising lag between shutter and shot that afflicts cheaper cameras. The D5100 is capable of capturing and sharply reproducing even the tiniest of details within a shot, while the colours it captures strike a healthy balance between being vivid but not artificial.
The quality of the lens and chip is telling, with a noticeable reduction in grain compared to entry-level cameras, and if you flick into macro mode the sweet point between enough pixels and too many is clear: minute details and textures are reproduced without the light-hungry nature of macro introducing any image noise.