How well does the Nikon D5100 walk the line between beginner and mid-level enthusiasts? The What Digital Camera Nikon D5100 review finds out…
Nikon D5100 review – Image Quality
Nikon D5100: Tone & Exposure
Although the D5100 shares the same 16.2MP CMOS sensor as the D7000, it adopts the 420-pixel RGB metering sensor as found in the D3100. We found the combination of these two to be a more successful pairing than the D7000’s 2,016-pixel metering sensor – the latter overexposed in a number of scenarios. The D5100, on the other hand, produces more accurate exposures that are therefore tonally richer. However it wasn’t perfect as some scenes with bright skylines would cause overexposure.
Nikon D5100: Colour & White Balance
Nikon DSLRs can tend to lean towards the warmer red/yellow cast, but not to an overstated degree. With the D5100 the Auto White Balance system was consistent between shots and different ISO settings, though fluorescent studio lights produced an ever so slight yellow cast (easily adjustable using the manual white balance or white balance bracketing settings).
Nikon D5100: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
The D5100’s 16.2MP sensor is the very same as that in the D7000 and, as such, we found our studio lab shots to carry the same degree of image noise. In short: image quality is very impressive for this mid-level market.
Image noise lacks throughout much of the ISO range and there’s a clarity to images from ISO 100-800 that causes very little quality issues. Shooting at ISO 800 in daylight in order to up the shutter to 1/2000thsec for crisp action shots posed no worry in the knowledge that results would be top drawer.
ISO 800 does begin to show some grain, but it’s not particularly diminishing to overall quality. Even ISO 1600-3200 are of considerable use, though this is where colour noise and softness due to processing start to come into play. ISO 6400 is still more than useable, although at a push as colour noise reveals itself more in the shadow areas. The top-sensitivity ‘Hi1′ and ‘Hi2′ options (ISO 12,800 and 25,600 respectively) should be strictly used for emergencies only as softness through noise reduction can be problematic – but their presence is something that would have been unheard of in DSLR cameras a few years ago. The ‘Hi2′ setting in particular loses the quality to blacks where colour noise is significant.
The Night Vision mode also utilises a black and white only ISO 102,400 shot that’s rather impressive, with a granular quality adding a certain aesthetic.
Nikon D5100: Sharpness & Detail
The 16.2MP sensor avoids being overly populated and images remain detailed. The 18-55mm lens isn’t going to set the world alight in terms of sharpness, but its good enough as a starting point, plus there are so many other Nikon F-mount options out there that can deliver exceptional results.
Resolved detail on our resolution charts was very impressive indeed, even utilising the basic kit lens. Only above ISO 800 is there some breakdown in detail due to image noise.