How well does the Nikon D5100 walk the line between beginner and mid-level enthusiasts? The What Digital Camera Nikon D5100 review finds out…

Product Overview

Overall rating:


Nikon D5100

Overall score:89%
Image Quality:90%


  • Good image quality, improved live view mode, responsive AF, impressive movie options


  • Non-customiseable Effects, no AF-point lock, no remote commander, no DoF preview


Nikon D5100 Review


Price as reviewed:



Nikon D5100 review – Performance

The D5100 is great to use for a variety of tasks. We tested it with the 18-55mm kit, 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 and 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VRII lenses and this was testament to how well the 11-point AF system coped for a variety of situations. Although not a professional body, pop a pro-spec lens on the front and the two team up very well indeed. The continuous autofocus is successful at residing on the single AF point setting for accurate subject focusing. There’s not the same degree of predictive 3D tracking that’s found higher up the range, but we were pleased as punch with the results throughout and the two most horizontally (landscape) set AF points add that extra degree of reach to the system for Wide AF usage too.

Flip into live view mode using the new Lv switch that surrounds the main mode dial and there’s an immediate change: although focusing isn’t nearly as quick as when using the viewfinder, it’s a darn sight quicker than any other Nikon DSLR live view system we’ve ever used. The focusing box can also be positioned anywhere across the entirety of the screen using the d-pad to allocate the focusing position. It’s not faster than Sony’s Quick AF Live View system and doesn’t outdo the likes of Panasonic’s ‘Light Speed’ contrast-detection system as seen in the GH2 – but the D5100 does give a strong push forward here that’s been much needed from Nikon.

The new Effects modes are a bit of a mixed bag. When previewing some of the modes in real time on the LCD screen, such as Color Sketch (that outlines subjects in a posterised, outlined, cartoon-like form – unlikely to be a common use for many serious photographers), the screen lag can become frustrating. While it’s possible to use the viewfinder, there are options such as Selective Color whereby making those pin-point selections to isolate colour will require a live view preview. Miniature mode works well for fake tilt-shift effects and Night Vision (black and white at ISO 102,400) is a unique touch. But the fact an original Raw file cannot be shot in tandem with any of the modes and the overall lack of customisation renders these point-and-shoot options as less impressive then they could be. Certainly not the biggest draw for everyone, yet other companies such as Olympus and Panasonic have shown some success in this area that it seems Nikon wants a piece of.

More advanced modes such as the 4fps continuous shooting option are able to snap away at up to 10 frames when in Raw + JPEG mode (using a Panasonic Class 10 Gold Card). It’s areas like this that the D5100 outshines the likes of the Canon EOS 600D with its smaller buffer and ever so slightly slower 3.7fps burst.

However, where the 600D excels is by offering a built-in wireless commander for controlling external flashguns – Nikon’s D5100 can only do so with the inclusion of the SU-800 commander (sold separately for around £215 or more). Also consider the lack of a Depth of Field Preview button and there are some omissions from Nikon’s offering that would have further strengthened its overall offering for the more demanding user.

  1. 1. Nikon D5100 review - Features
  2. 2. Design
  3. 3. Performance
  4. 4. Image Quality
  5. 5. Value & Verdict
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