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The Nikon D5100 was my first DSLR camera. At the time of purchasing it, I was definitely new to photography. I had an interest in it for sure, but had never had a fully manual camera to experiment with. This being the case, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a new camera, just in case it turned out that photography wasn’t for me after all. On the other hand, I had been frustrated with my point and shoot cameras capabilities for a while, and wanted to get a somewhat serious camera, rather than the very most basic, entry-level model.
After doing some research, I settled on the D5100 a DX (crop-sensor) model. It was positioned in Nikons lineup as the middle ground between the entry level D3100, and the higher end, pro-sumer D7100. What really sold me on the D5100 was the fact that, while being quite a bit cheaper than its big brother, the two cameras shared the exact same sensor, resulting in the same level of image quality.
Nikon D5100 Review
Included accessories: Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Lens
EN-EL 14 Rechargable Li-Ion Battery and charger
Nikon Neck Strap
DK-5 Eyepiece Cap
A/V & USB Cables
For anyone making the jump into the world of DSLRs from point and shoots, or even from your smart phone camera, the controls and layout of the camera can be challenging to figure out. The D5100 is an excellent entry point to the world of serious cameras in this regard as well. While there is definitely still a learning curve associated with picking up this camera, it is a lot less daunting than even one model up, the D7100.
In place of the multitude of one touch buttons featured on more expensive cameras, users are required to navigate through menus on the display screen using the directional pad, buttons, and the single control dial. Personally, I found that while learning the basics of photography with a DSLR, the menu was useful. It helped me visualize, think through and process what I was doing and why. Somehow, it helped create some intentionality for me, which has helped me as I’ve progressed as a photographer. Included on the main info/shooting screen is even a visualization of the
One of my favourite features of the D5100 gets written off by many as superfluous, and that is the inclusion of a side-mounted swivel LCD screen. It is a feature that I often miss on my D7100 when I am out shooting. Personally, I really love getting low to the ground to shoot, especially over water, and often, it’s just not possible (without getting soaked or dirty) to get down as low as you would like to the ground and still be able to compose your shot, either through the viewfinder, or on your LCD screen. The beauty of the swivel screen is that it rotates to almost any position you could want, so you can be looking 90 degrees down to your camera, and still be able to compose and adjust your position. The screen is also great for composing
lens aperture, which changes as you adjust the aperture. This is a big help to those still struggling with the confusion that the aperture f-numbers often present to new photographers.
Outside of the menus, the one, thumb operated control dial allows you to adjust either your aperture or shutter speed, depending on which shooting mode you are in, or both in manual mode, with the addition of depressing a modifier button.
self portraits where you can adjust your positioning in the frame, all while being away from and in front of the camera.
The other most used feature of mine that the 5100 has that the 3100 does not, is the availability of exposure-bracketing. This is an option you can enable to take 3 photos in a row, one at your base exposure setting, one underexposed (up to -2 stops), and one overexposed (up to +2 stops). These shots are then combined in post-production, either through manual blending in Photoshop, or automatically with an HDR program like Macphun’s Aurora, Photomatix Pro, or the built in HDR converters in both Lightroom and Photoshop. The resulting image has a greater dynamic range, recovering detail from both shadow, and highlight areas.
For full feature set and specifications, click HERE
Image quality wise, i was very impressed with the camera, and I’ll let you judge for yourself as well. Probably ~75% of the photos in my GALLERY were taken using my 5100 and one of the above two lenses. There were rarely times when I felt the image quality was lacking in the photos I took with this camera.
That said, while most of the images look great scaled to the size of a standard computer monitor, I have noticed that since I upgraded to my D7100, the image
quality is definitely better when zoomed in or have applied serious cropping, thanks to the 24MP on the 7100 vs the 16MP on the 5100.
Another area where i felt a bit inhibited on the 5100 was the autofocus system, especially the continuous tracking system when trying to photography wildlife or sports. Without getting to far into the mechanics of autofocusing systems, the D5100 has 11 auto-focus points, with only one cross-type AF point - the centre one. The D7100 has 51 AF points with 15 cross-type, and I find it tracks moving objects much more quickly and accurately, something that was near-impossible with the 5100.
I have to say though that the only time I actually found the AF system on the D5100 slow and inhibiting was when attempting to shoot small wildlife such as birds, or fast moving sporting events, both of which I shot rather seldom. For those who are mainly focusing on landscape, portrait, or other forms of photography with either slow, or non-moving subjects, the AF limitations should not be a problem whatsoever.
The D5100 is a crop sensor camera (DX) meaning that it is designed for DX lenses. It is possible (and even recommended) that you can use FX lenses with a DX camera, especially if you are working towards a full frame camera at some point in the future. FX lenses generally have a higher build quality, better optics, and are often much more expensive. However there are a number of great DX lenses out there as well, and I will always argue that it’s more about the photographers skill and knowledge than their gear anyways. So if you can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on lenses, buy DX and get out and take some amazing photos!
The other thing to note with the D5100, is that it does not have a built in focusing motor like some more expensive models do. For the most part this will not be an issue for you, as most modern lenses include focusing motors built into the lenses themselves. Where this does become an issue is if you pick up an older lens, which in many cases do not have internal focusing motors. The lens will still be perfectly usable, but the AF system will not work, and you will have to focus manually.
Like I said though, this is rarely an issue, especially if you are sticking to modern lenses, but it is good to know nonetheless.
Personally I found the Nikon D5100 to be the perfect entry level camera for someone who thinks there is a chance that they might take photography more seriously in the future. It is a great compromise in price and features between the cheaper D3000 series, and the more expensive D7000 series.
The physical design of the camera is great to travel with, as it’s lighter and less bulky than some higher end models, and it allows you to take some truly exceptional photos. Even after owning the higher end D7100 for a year, I feel like most of my best images were taken with the D5100 and the kit lens it came with!
I would recommend the D5100 or another of the D5000 series models to anyone looking to get into the world of DSLR photography, as it’s a camera that’s easy enough to figure out, but gives to many of the features of higher end models, including outstanding image quality.
The D5100 was already a year old when I got it, and is now five years old. This means that you should be able to get this great camera for a lot cheaper than when it first came out. On the other hand, there are now 3 new models in the D5000 line - The D5200, D5300, and D5500. All of these models offer an upgrade in resolution, up to 24MP, expanded video capability, a big upgrade to the AF system, an extra frame per second in continuous shooting mode (5fps), and built in wifi connectivity among other upgrades.
From Canon, the Rebel T3i is the closest comparable model to the D5100, and occupies the same niche in the Canon line as the 5100 does in Nikon’s. The T3i has also been replaced with newer models, which feature many of the same improvements as Nikon’s newer models. The newer models include the Canon Rebel T5i, Rebel T6i, and Rebel T6s.