The Nikon D5100 adds a full vari-angle LCD screen and new Effects modes to Nikon's DSLR fold. How well does the D5100 walk the line between beginner and mid-level enthusiasts? The What Digital Camera Nikon D5100 video review finds outu2026

See the Nikon D5100 review

Nikon D5100 DSLR video review – transcript

This new DSLR sits between the D3100 and the D7000 and updates the previous D5000 that came out before it.

It’s one of only a handful of Nikon DSLRs to have a vari-angle screen. This one has a left mounted vari-angle screen in order to get the screen through any possible angle.

In addition there’s a new Effects mode on the top dial, which is a unique feature for this camera.

The new Effects mode opens up seven specific colour options for immediate in-camera results. This includes, Night Vision, Colour Sketch, Miniature, Selective Colour, Silhouette and High and Low Key. The results show in real time on the rear screen and it’s even possible to use these modes in movie mode.

The Nikon D5100 is rather like a collision between the D7000 and D3100 models. The same 16.2 MP APS-C CMOS sensor that’s found in the D7000 also makes its way into the body alongside the same EXPEED 2 image processing engine as the D7000.

The metering, on the other hand, is taken care of by the same 420 pixel RGB sensor that’s found in a D3100 with the very same 11-point auto focus system and Lithium R battery.

One of the fundamental differences between the Nikon D5100 and any other Nikon DSLR is that the left-aligned bracket makes it impossible for the normal 4 or 5 button array down the left hand side. Generally speaking these buttons have been relayed across the right hand side of the screen, although the layout of controls is slightly different to that of other Nikon cameras.

In this display mode the main controls show on the rear and to access them you simply press the ‘i’ button and then it’s possible to scroll through and adjust various options.

Outside of the ‘i’ button mode, there’s the single AF point adjustment, which is controlled using the d-Pad. The only slight issue with this is, even when the screen automatically turns off or isn’t displaying, it’s easy to knock the AF point without realizing.

The 3” screen on the rear is a 920000-dot version. Although it’s not the highest resolution on the market, it’s still a very decent quality and high resolution. The angular bracket is particularly useful for movie shooting. Plus, the Nikon D5100 has a 1080p, (full HD) mode, that’s possible to adjust between 30, 25 and 24 frames per second depending on what you want to achieve for your movie recording.

One of the D5100 significant improvements is in the Live View mode, which has been significantly sped up. It’s far quicker than any other Live View system in any other Nikon DSLR camera. Also, the single AF point that can be moved around the screen can go anywhere including right to the very edge where it can attain focus with the very same speed. It’s not quite as fast as Sony’s Quick AF Live View system, nor that in the Panasonic GH2. However, it’s a significant improvement that’s also very useful in the movie-shooting mode.

Nikon D5100 Effects modes

The new Effects modes are a bit of a mixed bag. When previewing some of these modes in real time on the LCD screen, such as Colour Sketch, which outlines subjects in a posterised and outlined cartoon like form, the screen lag can become a little frustrating. Some other modes, such as miniature, work well for fake tilt and shift effect and night vision, which is a black and white mode at up to ISO 100 and 2400, 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 customization renders these point and shoot options as less impressive than they could be.

The Nikon D5100’s 16.2 MP sensor is the very same as that found in the D7000 and as such we found our studio shots carry the same degree of quality and, therefore, image noise.

In short, image quality is very impressive indeed for this mid level market. Image noise lacks throughout much of the ISO range and there’s a clarity to images from ISO 100 through to 800 that causes very little quality issues indeed. ISO 800 does begin to show some grain but it’s not particularly diminishing to overall quality. Even shots at ISO 1600 to 3200 are of considerable use but this is where colour noise and softness due to processing begin to come into play. ISO 16100 is still more than visible although this is at a push as colour noise reveals itself more in the shadow areas.

The top sensitivity High 1 and High 2 options, which are ISO 12,800 and 25,600 respectively, should be strictly used for emergencies only as softness due to noise reduction can be problematic.

Although the Nikon D5100 shares the same 16.2 MP CMOS sensor as the D7000, it adopts the 420 pixel RGB metering sensor as found in the D3100. We found the combination of these to be a more successful pairing than the D7000’s 2016 pixel metering sensor as the latter overexposed in a number of scenarios. The D5100, on the other hand, produces more accurate exposures and is therefore tonally richer as well.

Overall, the Nikon D5100 offers top image quality like that of the D5000 but for less cash.

The new Effects modes certainly have their place but they’re not entirely unique and the lack of customization will limit their effectiveness overall. Improvements such as the faster Live View certainly outdo previous Nikon models, including the D5000 that came before it, and the update in the movie mode also makes a significant difference.

Overall we scored it 89% and gave it a Recommended Award.

See full Nikon D5100 review and specification