Nikon D5100 Review
Usability - How easy is it to use?
Ergonomics of the D5100 are reasonable. The grip is tight but provides a secure hold over the camera. On the rear, just below the control-dial, there is a rubber-coated area with a very slight protrusion to prevent the camera from slipping outwards. The shutter-release has a comfortable position and all three buttons behind it are with easy reach.
The D5100 has a small penta-mirror viewfinder which provides a somewhat dim tunnel view of subjects. It also makes it more difficult to judge focus. Just below, a 3" rotating display with 920K pixels dominates the back. The display is really crisp and has good angle-of-view. It is hinged on the left which makes it easily usable for self-portraits and for use on a tripod. Conversely, it is less practical for framing at odd angles since it must be folded outwards to tilt vertically. The LCD sticks out from the back which forces the photographer to press against the camera more than usual to see the entire viewfinder.
While gripping the camera, the forefinger can easily reach the Video-Record, EC and Info buttons. The Video-Record button, which occupies prime real-estate, is needed because the D5100 lacks a video mode. Sadly, it is not programmable either for those who rarely shoot video. The Info button, as mentioned in the previous page of this review, is mostly redundant. Ideally, these buttons would be used for ISO and WB or Metering instead. Note that there is no direct access for these functions anywhere on this camera.
A single control-dial, located on the camera's rear, adjusts exposure parameters. In Manual mode, it controls the shutter-speed when used alone and controls the aperture when used in conjunction with the EC button. In both Scene and Effects mode, the control-dial selects the specific mode or effect, respectively. The AE-L/AF-L button is located within reach of the thumb. To its left, is the [I] button which invokes the Status and Interactive displays. Across from the viewfinder is the Menu button.
Due to the left-side hinge of the LCD, the D5100 does not have any controls along the edge of the camera. Instead, a few buttons are scattered around the 4-way controller and two more are found at the front behind the lens barrel. The 4-way controller is used to select one of 11 focus points in Single-Point AF area mode while shooting using the viewfinder. During Live-View, the 4-way controller moves the focus area in fine increments anywhere around the frame. It is also used to navigate the menu system and information setting screen.
Above the 4-way controller is the Playback button which works exactly as expected. Below are a pair of buttons to zoom in and out of images. This leaves the control-dial to navigate between images while keeping the current magnification, a useful feature to compare images for critical sharpness. To the right of those is the Delete button. Two of these buttons have no function in Capture mode, while the last one shows a short tip.
Playback mode is shooting-priority. This means that when the shutter-release is half-pressed, playback is interrupted and the camera is ready to shoot. Detailed information on images is available using the up and down directions of the 4-way controller. One push up and a luminance histogram is displayed along with basic exposure parameters and more. A down push from there goes back to the image display. A number of additional display screens can be optionally enabled in the Playback menu.
Deleting images uses the classic Nikon paradigm of pressing the Delete button once to get confirmation and twice to actually delete. To cancel deletion, the camera says to press the Playback button. It works but, given that this cameras has these button on opposite sides of the 4-way controller, is awkward. Luckily, pressing any other button, such as Magnify, works too.
The left side of the camera has a large lens-release with Function and Flash buttons above it. The Function button, labeled with a timer icon, is customizable to one of these nine functions: Self-Timer, Release-Mode, Image-Quality, ISO, WB, Active D-Lighting, HDR, Plus RAW or AEB. Given the lack of direct controls for so many important parameters, the dilemma is which one to choose.
The Flash button is the most versatile one. Pressed once, it releases the popup flash. Pressed and held while using the control-dial, it changes the flash mode. Pressed and held in together with the EC button while using the control-dial, it applies Flash-Compensation.
The mode-dial, located on top of the camera, is large with good click-points, making it difficult to accidentally move. The set exposure or scene mode is shown on the Info screen with a color icon. Pressing the Zoom-Out button brings up a short description of the current mode, as one would guess by the ? next to it. What is great is that the D5100 actually describes how the camera will behave. In Landscape mode, the Info screen says "For landscapes and cityscapes. Greens and blues are rendered vividly, with the foreground and background in focus". This implies not only use of a small aperture but also a change in color-rendition, thus overriding the set Picture Control Style.
The mode-dial shows the universal PASM modes. In P mode, the control-dial shifts between equivalent exposures using different combinations of shutter-speeds and aperture. In S mode, the control-dial sets the shutter-speed. If the camera cannot expose properly at the chosen shutter-speed, the Aperture value flashes. In A mode, the control-dial sets the aperture. If the camera cannot expose properly at the chosen aperture, the shutter-speed blinks. In Manual mode, the the control-dial alone chooses the shutter-speed or Bulb. This lets the shutter open as long as the release is pressed. Strangely, when moving to Shutter-Priority, the camera displays an error saying that Bulb is not available. While this is true, all other current cameras simply clamp to a shutter-speed which is available.
Right below the Mode-Dial, there is a spring-loaded Live-View lever. It is used to enter and exit Live-View. It provides 100% coverage, which is clearly better than the OVF's 95%. The preview is not exposure-priority and does not even change with EC, making it completely clear that the D5100 makes not attempt to provide an accurate preview. White-balance is previewed but not interactively, so can take a while to select the right one.
The Nikon D5100 uses a different metering system in Live-View which typically shows a ½ - 1 EV difference compared to the normal metering system. It also has a smaller metering range causing it to give up on exposure faster. There is a moderately noisy contrast-detect autofocus system which is activated by a half-press of the shutter-release. Manual focus is possible in Live-View and the Zoom-In and Zoom-Out buttons can be used to check focus closely.
Movie recording is part of Live-View. Sound is optional. A number of video resolutions are available, all 16:9 widescreen: 1920x1080 (1080p), 1280x720 (720p) and 640x424. Each resolution can be recorded at 30 or 24 FPS. Video recording uses the selected focus-mode. For AF-S, focus is performed by half-pressing the shutter-release. What is really nice is that it can be done at any time during filming. For AF-C, the D5100 tries to focus continuously. Since contrast-detect autofocus is slow, this means the camera spends most of its time hunting for focus rather than in focus.
The camera itself feels sturdy, even the memory and battery doors feel solid enough. Most buttons feel cheap and plasticky though. A few of them protrude just enough to be used with gloves on, but not all of them. There is metal tripod mount in-line with the center of the lens, just like on every other DSLR.
Nikon D5100 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|16 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 100-25600|
|Nikon F Mount|
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|4 FPS Drive, 100 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Hot-Shoe|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Stereo audio input|
|Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
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