on October 12, 2011
I am a photography teacher in NYC and online. (See my Amazon profile for my website.) I teach beginner and intermediate photography students every week. I've also been a professional photographer for the last five years with images published in The New York Times, GQ, New York Magazine, Women's Wear Daily, The New York Observer, The Village Voice and Time Out New York.
(This review is for beginner photographers.)
If you're a beginner, you're most likely asking yourself: Nikon or Canon? Really, I feel confident in saying that you can't go wrong with either. I've used both brand's cameras extensively and find that they both offer amazing image quality with well-built, solid cameras that, if taken care of, will last decades. There are two differences between the cameras, though, that can be taken into consideration.
The user-interface: If cameras were computers, Nikons would be PCs and Canons would be MACs. PCs are built for people not afraid of technology whereas Macs are built for people who want things super-easy. Nikons excel at customization options which means you'll see so many more options with the Advanced features of a Nikon than you will with a Canon. Canons, on the other hand, excel at ease-of-use for beginners. Canons offer less advanced options and can be easier to learn on. This can be frustrating down the line, though, once you've learned a lot about photography. At that point you may want all of the options that Nikon offers and be frustrated with your Canon. If you're someone who really likes to delve deep into your hobbies or if you're intent on becoming a professional photographer, I'd say a Nikon would be your best bet. If you're someone who wants to learn the basics of photography and only imagine yourself being a hobbyist, Canon would be a better option for you.
Where Nikon excels: Flash photography. I often find myself in situations where I'm shooting event photography (weddings, movie premiers, benefits and galas) where I need to use a lot of flash. For this kind of photography, I'll always prefer to be shooting with a Nikon. Nikon's flash metering (how the camera magically decides how much light to fire out of the flash) is much more consistent than Canon's. You can take a Canon and shoot the same scene three times in a row with flash and all three images will be at different brightness levels. You can do the same thing with a Nikon and all three images will be wonderfully the same. If you're somebody who plans on shooting a lot with flash (indoor photography, event photography, etc.) you'll want to consider going with Nikon.
Where Canon excels: Richness of colors. I've been in numerous situations where I've been on the red carpet taking the exact same picture as the photographer next to me. I'll have a Canon and the person next to me will have a Nikon. This has provided quite a few opportunities to compare the images side-by-side. What I've found is that the colors on the Canon's images look richer and make the image pop more. If I'm doing fine art photography (anything I'd like to someday hang in a gallery), I'll always want to be shooting with a Canon for this reason.
If you're set on Nikon, there are three cameras you should be considering and it all comes down to what your budget is:
D7000 $1,400 without lens
D5100 $750 without lens
D3100 $600 only available with lens
(current prices as of 2/19/11)
Here's what you get for spending extra money (each camera compared to the one below it):
D3100 vs. D5100:
The D3100 is an EXCELLENT camera so if you only have $550 to spend total on camera and lens then go out and buy this camera. You won't regret it. If you're considering spending more money, here's what you'll get from the D5100 in comparison:
-Better performance in low light situations.
-A higher resolution screen on the back of the camera so you can see your images more clearly and make out if they actually turned out well.
-An external mic jack. (If you're planning on shooting video with an external mic, you'll want the D5100 over the D3100.)
-A flip out screen (handy if you want to put your camera anywhere but at your eye level and be able to see what your camera is about to capture before you shoot it)
-Faster continuous shooting. If you're often shooting sports or any fast moving subject, continuous shooting allows you to capture multiple images in a single second. The D3100 shoots at three frames per second whereas the D5100 shoots at four frames per second.
-Higher ISO options. The D5100 offers one more stop of ISO than the D3100 does. If you don't know what ISO means (or what a stop is) just know that this allows you to more easily shoot images in low-light situations.
-Longer battery life. The D5100's battery will last 20% longer than the D3100
The two advantages of the D3100 over the D5100 are: less expensive and less weight. Whenever a camera is less expensive, it means you'll have more in your budget for the lens. The D3100 weighs 10% lighter and is 10% smaller than the D5100.
D5100 vs. D7000:
The D5100 is Nikon's latest and greatest and is even newer than the D7000. Phenomenal camera! If you're stuck, though, between the D5100 and the D7000, here's what you'll get by spending more money on the D7000:
-More focus points. When using auto-focus, the D7000 will have an easier time focusing on what you want it to focus on.
-60% longer lasting batteries.
-Faster continuous shooting. If you're often shooting sports or any fast moving subject, continuous shooting allows you to capture multiple images in a single second. The D5100 shoots at four frames per second whereas the D7000 shoots at six frames per second.
-Weather sealed. This means you can shoot with the D7000 in the rain.
-Two memory card slots. This is really a cool feature. The D7000 has two memory card slots which means you'll be less likely to find yourself standing in front of a gorgeous scene with no more memory left.
-Faster shutter speed. The fastest shutter speed on the D5100 is 1/4000th of a second; on the D7000: 1/8000th of a second. To be honest, I can't think of any practical reason why this would benefit you unless you're planning on shooting some really bright scenes like directly into the sun.
Advantages of the D5100 over the D7000:
-A flip out screen (handy if you want to put your camera anywhere but at your eye level and be able to see what your camera is about to capture before you shoot it)
-Smaller and lighter: The D5100 is 10% smaller and 30% lighter than the D7000. This is something to consider if you plan on carrying your camera around with you a lot.
-Less expensive so you can spend more on your lens!
If I can clarify any of this, please email me!
-JP Pullos, photography teacher, NYC and online (see my Amazon profile for my website)
As a long-time owner of the Nikon D5000, and former owner of the Nikon D60, I was eager to purchase the D5100 after seeing the announcements and pre-reviews. Being one of the lucky ones to buy the D5100 with 18-55VR kit earlier this week, I've had a few days to play with this camera and can honestly say it's a solid upgrade to the D5000 I'm replacing, and should be on the short list of consideration for any "prosumer" looking to purchase a D-SLR with outstanding image quality, performance, and low-light capability in a lightweight, compact (for an SLR) body. And, unlike the D5000, this D-SLR finally has a usable Live View and HD video capabilities both with continuous autofocus.
First of all, it's important to understand where the D5100 fits in Nikon's capabilities. It is considered a "high-end enthusiast" D-SLR which means that it shares the same image sensor as the high-end D7000 without some of the higher-end features. If you're like me, very few of the D7000's features justify its extra cost and weight. The D5100 offers nearly the same image quality as its bigger brother in a less-expensive, smaller package, while adding a few tricks the D7000 doesn't have including an articulating display that helps you frame hard-to-reach spots.
Compared to its lesser-priced but still excellent brother the D3100, the D5100 offers improved image quality, speed, and resolution, along with a higher-resolution articulating display. For me, this is the sweet spot in Nikon's consumer D-SLR offerings.
The 18-55VR (3x) f3.5-f5.6 kit lens provides surprisingly good performance and image quality, although you'll likely outgrow it quickly. I have uploaded a few sample images taken with the D5100 and 18-55VR to show its performance and surprisingly good bokeh (pattern of blurred background) in large-aperture and macro shots.
For lens upgrades that include an AF-S autofocus motor, if you don't mind changing lenses, the Nikon 55-200VR is an outstanding value with excellent image quality, or consider the Nikon 18-105VR (5.8x) lens included with the D7000. If you don't mind some distortion and image softness, the 18-200 VRII (18x) lens may be your perfect "walkabout" lens. For me, I bought the pricey but outstanding Nikon 16-85mm VRII. Don't forget the Nikon AF-S 35mm f1.8 (if you can find it).
Low-light performance is outstanding with this camera, and the level of detail captured by the D5100 is excellent, even at higher ISOs. You're best capturing in RAW or RAW+JPEG mode (three different JPEG compression levels are offered) if you need to go back and fine-tune exposure or other settings after the shot. Nikon also offers "Active D-Lighting" which is a highly effective method for improving dynamic range of a photo to equalize the difference between high and low-light areas of a photo.
Interestingly, the improvement in image quality compared to my D5000 isn't dramatic. Given the incredible improvement I saw when upgrading from my Nikon D60 to the D5000 perhaps I had unrealistic expectations for this new sensor. But in most image settings, even low light, the improvement is noticeable but subtle. That speaks more for the outstanding quality and low-light sensitivity of the D5000 sensor (which is shared with the D90) than it speaks against the D5100. With the D5100 you get higher resolution for improved cropping, and the 14-bit RAW images offer greater dynamic range for more flexibility after the shot is taken.
Speaking of RAW format, as with any new camera, there is a bit of a wait until updates are available for your favorite camera software. As of May 18th, Adobe, Apple, and Nikon have added support for the D5100 RAW files, so you can use Aperture, iPhoto, Nikon View NX2 (v2.1.1 and later), Nikon Capture NX2 (v2.2.7 and later), Lightroom 3 or Photoshop CS5 (via Adobe Camera RAW 6.4 or later). If you use other photo software or another platform, you may want to verify RAW support for the D5100.
Compared to my D5000, Nikon has gone back and addressed most of my concerns on ergonomics and performance:
- camera body is roughly 10% smaller and 10% lighter
- 16.2 megapixel CMOS DX-format image sensor (shared with D7000) captures 14-bit RAW images and offers +1fs greater low-light sensitivity
- ISO 100-6400 range with expansion to 25,600 ISO (D5000 minimum is 200 and expansion to 12,300)
- high resolution (920k pixel) display for greater detail in image previews (although I had to bump up the default brightness one notch for accuracy)
- side-mounted articulating display no longer interferes with tripod (the D5000 display is inconveniently hinged at the bottom)
- dramatically improved (now usable!) LiveView mode with continuous autofocus even in HD video mode (more on that later)
- full HD 1080p movie capture without the "jelly effect" (unless you move VERY quickly from side-to-side), in more standard H.264 mode up to 22 min (D5000 is AVI format 720p up to 5min)
- slightly better control position (LiveView is now a rocker switch on the mode dial, Video Record is just behind and to the left of the shutter release)
- significantly quieter shutter release (plus, a "Quiet Mode" is available although hardly necessary)
- faster performance (4 frames per second)
- SDXC compliant supports higher capacity cards
- remote control sensor on rear now in addition to front-mounted sensor
- improved battery life, and an improved battery release
- battery charger now has built-in collapsable plug instead of requiring separate power cord
- MUCH better eyecap design no longer comes off in my small Nikon camera bag; also an improved diopter (eyeglass) control
- additional in-camera editing capabilities, including ability to trim video
- new "gimmick" special effects: in-camera HDR, selective color, night vision, etc
Let's start with the display - moving the hinge to the side not only makes the articulating display usable with a tripod, it makes the camera body shorter, so that it matches the height of most popular Nikon DX-format lenses and no longer leans forward when set down on a table as the D5000 did. It makes a surprising improvement in shooting comfort also. Nikon has improved the rubberized grip of the body and the thumb rest in the rear, although some have said that the grip is a bit shallow for larger hands. For my average-sized hands it is very comfortable.
The improved control placement is mostly welcome as well. LiveView is now a spring-release rocker on the side of the Mode Dial (VERY handy) and the video record button is also now on the top of the body, in front of the mode dial and behind the shutter release. What I didn't care for is the placement of the rear camera buttons, which now all shift above and to the right of the display to accommodate the left-mount hinge. What I don't like is that the "i" button (used to display and change shooting info) is too far away from the 4-way mode switch, so changing default shooting settings is a bit more of a stretch on my thumb. On playback, the delete button is just to the right of the Zoom buttons, instead of being far away like it should be. I didn't find myself accidentally deleting photos, but I'd rather have had a button closer by that I use more frequently (like the Menu button?) With these two buttons near each other, I always found myself accidentally hitting the "I" button instead of RECORD to capture video. So watch your screen and make sure you actually are recording when you think you are!
What has dramatically improved from the D5000 is LiveView performance and HD video capture. Neither are perfect, but compared to my D5000 both are quite usable in the D5100. In LiveView mode, the D5100 tracks faces and subjects quickly and accurately, although still nowhere near fast enough for sports events or that "quick shot" like you might be used to with a compact camera. On my D5100, LiveView autofocus typically took half a second in lower-light conditions, which is no match for the viewfinder, but a huge improvement from the D5000.
Video capture is another notable improvement in the D5100, capturing single videos up to 22 minutes of 1080p HD (if you have the SD card capacity), in H.264 format, with continuous autofocus. Nearly gone is the "jelly effect" of the D5000 when you panned horizontally and the video appeared to bend. Compared to video captured on the D5000 which almost always exhibited this "jelly effect", I have seen none of these artifacts except in the most extreme fast horizontal pans. In theory, the continuous autofocus sounds like a great improvement for video capture, but in practice I found it slow to react (especially in low-light situations). Too often I found the camera "searching" for the correct focus, even with the (optional) Nikon 35mm F1.8 AF-S lens. It was so distracting that I ended up disabling autofocus and learning how to manually adjust focus as I moved from subject to subject. Also disappointing is that like the D5000, the built-in microphone is monoral. For stereo sound, I highly recommend the Nikon ME-1 external microphone (which doesn't require batteries and mounts in the hot shoe). Overall, the video capabilities are promising, especially at 1080p, but I am more satisfied with the native 720pHD stereo video captured from my Canon S95.
Rounding out the list of improvements and new features of the D5100 are the new "special effects", including the first in-camera HDR mode for any Nikon D-SLR. In practice, while there may be edge cases for these effects, I am not particularly impressed with any of them, including HDR. First of all, you cannot capture RAW with any of the effects. For HDR, there are further limitations (can only be used in P-S-A-M modes, not auto, no flash, etc). When you can get HDR mode to work, it can only be enabled one shot at a time, and then you have to go back to the menus to turn it on. Luckily, you can assign HDR mode to the Fn menu button. HDR mode takes two quick shots for each shutter press and then combines them in-camera to create a single JPEG. You can specify the exposure difference (Auto, 1EV, 2EV, 3EV) and level of "smoothing" (Low, Normal, High) between the captured images. I took a number of high-contrast shots with HDR enabled and honestly couldn't see a difference, although I'm still going to try. If there is any good news, it's that Nikon has chosen a fairly conservative / realistic HDR algorithm as opposed to an "eye-popping" but over-processed result.
In summary, I'm quite happy with the D5100. It provides the optimal balance of top image quality (even in low light), lightweight and compact (for a D-SLR) body, articulating display (the only D-SLR from Nikon to have this), and HD video (not perfect) that can leverage the outstanding collection of Nikon lenses (understanding that only AF-S lenses will autofocus).
Notable comparison with the higher-end D7000:
- same 16.2megapixel image sensor with 14-bit RAW image capture for outstanding dynamic range, low-light performance, and detail
- ruggedized plastic body lacks weather seal (it's also smaller and lighter weight)
- no builtin focus motor for older lenses (you'll need to buy an AF-S lens if you want autofocus)
- fewer autofocus zones (11 vs 39) and lower-resolution matrix meter
- pentamirror viewfinder (smaller, not as bright, 95% coverage) vs pentaprism viewfinder (100% coverage)
- no flash commander mode (unless you buy an external flash with TTL triggering)
- slower continuous performance (4 vs 6fps)
- 1 SD card slot instead of 2
- no top-mounted LCD display
- fewer dedicated controls for advanced settings (you must use the menu system more frequently)
Notable comparison with the lower-end D3100:
- higher resolution 16.2megapixel sensor with 14-bit depth
- high resolution (920k pixel vs 230k) display, articulating for hard- to-view shots
- higher low-light sensitivity
- faster performance (4fps vs 3fps)
- better battery performance (660 vs 550 images on the same EN-EL14 battery
- slightly larger and heavier body
on May 23, 2011
This is a fantastic new offering from Nikon. You get most of the best parts of the D7000 for 1/3 cheaper. If you are looking for a starter camera or a back up body to the D7000 this is it.
Here are the major differences between the D5100 and D7000.
Exact same sensor and processing abilities as the D7000. Some of the best Image Quality available in any DSLR. ISO 3200 is very usable with low noise.
- Swivel screen while the D7000 is fixed -- Since the contrast autofocus (ie Live View) is not very good on either of these cameras this is not really a player unless you are using a tripod. Then the swivel screen is very useful.
- 4 fps vs 6 fps for D7000 - No big deal 4 fps is plenty fast to fill your card with similar looking pictures. Also, in RAW D7000 buffers out pretty fast and then slows down anyway.
- 11 focus points vs 39 for D7000 - Most of the time not really a big deal. Sometimes all those extra points get in the way and slow you down.
No internal auto focus motor while the D7000 has one -- If you don't have any D series or older lenses this is not an issue. If you do, they will not autofocus on this camera.
- Only one SD slot vs 2 for the D7000 -- A big difference when getting paid to shoot. Otherwise, always format your cards in your camera and not on the computer. Doing that I have never had a failure. (Jinxed myself now)
Not weather sealed vs D7000 partially weather sealed - Don't drop either one in the water and keep both out of dust.
- Has less external switches than the D7000 - This means you need to go to the menus more often which slows things down. This can be severely annoying or not depending on your shooting style. The D7000 handles better but this is not a deal breaker on the D5100.
Built in flash is not a commander for Nikon Creative Light System while D7000 is -- If you don't use off camera flash or you use radio triggers this is not a big deal.
1.2 lbs vs 1.7 lbs for D7000.
Overall the D5100 is a great camera. The D7000 have some extra features that make it worth the extra money but if you don't need them you get all the fantastic D7000 IQ for 2/3rd the price.
on April 18, 2011
The Nikon D5100 brings the high quality 16.2 megapixel sensor, great low-light performance, and full HD video capability with all the frame rate options from the popular pro-sumer D7000 to the enthusiast level model - and then includes a fully adjustable side-mounted rotating screen to boot. The D5100 should prove to be an excellent option for new dSLR users plus those experienced enthusiasts wishing to upgrade their D50, D60, or even their D3000 to gain additional megapixels, shooting and processing speed, video, and an improved rear LCD screen. The variety of features and functions offered on the various Nikon dSLR cameras might make it difficult to choose between them, but there are some important differences.
The new Nikon D5100 sits just above the D3100, a bit below the aging D90, and several steps below the fully-featured and highly customizable Nikon D7000. The D5100 boasts a 16 megapixel image sensor (just like the D7000), shoots 4 frames per second in continuous mode, has HD video capability at 24, 25, and 30 fps, and includes the fully rotating rear LCD screen improved in flexibility from the screen of the D5000.
Generally as the cameras increase in price and capability from the entry level model to the enthusiast pro-sumer model they gain more sophisticated autofocus and exposure metering systems, shoot faster (more frames per second) in continuous shooting mode, have more controls and buttons for changing settings on the camera body, and offer more menu and custom function options.
Sensor and Image Quality: The sensors of the D5100 and D7000 are greatly improved over the older D90 in a couple of ways. The D5100 and D7000 have 16.2 megapixel sensors, where the D90 has 12.3 megapixels. The relatively new D3100 has a 14.2 MP sensor. This increase in resolution allows for more intrusive editing of the files in Photoshop, the ability to crop a picture and still obtain an image with high enough resolution for printing or display, and allows for larger prints. In addition, the improved sensor results in better performance at high ISO settings and in low light, better dynamic range, tonal range, and color sensitivity. Have a look at the dxomark website to compare the sensors.
Exposure Metering: The D5100, while sharing a similar sensor to the D7000, does not have the same advanced metering system. It shares the less sophisticated 420 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D3100 and offers matrix metering, non-adjustable center-weighted, and spot metering modes. This system may be more than sufficient for many users, especially those not intending to adjust their exposure settings and dig into their menus in reaction to complex lighting situations. But if your shooting demands require more precise exposure metering and control over the size of the areas being metered, you need to consider the D7000 or D90. The 2016 pixel RGB metering sensor of the D7000 is also improved compared to the D90, and will result in more accurate metering performance of straightforward and complex lighting scenes and situations. Both these cameras offer matrix metering, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. With center-weighted metering on the D90, you can select the size of the center-weighted area to be a 6, 8, or 10mm center circle, and the D7000 adds a 13mm circle option.
Autofocus: The autofocus systems of the D3100, D5100, and D90 all have 11 autofocus (AF) points with the center one being a more accurate cross-type. These AF systems may be more than sufficient for most users, and they can successfully track moving objects in the frame such as athletes, performers, or animals. However, if you specialize in sports, action, wildlife, or bird photography, you are going to want to consider the much more sophisticated, accurate, and customizable AF system of the D7000. The D7000 boasts a significantly improved AF system of 39 AF points with 9 of them being cross type. The AF system of the D7000 allows for you to use these points in various ways including automatic AF point selection, single point AF, and dynamic area AF using your choice of 9 points, 21 points, all points, or all points with 3D-tracking. It is important to note that the D5100 and D3100 do not have an autofocusing motor built into the body so you have to be sure to purchase lenses with built-in AF motors. For example, the Nikon "Nifty 50" 50mm f/1.8 will not autofocus with these cameras. The D7000 and D90 have the built-in motor.
Body, Construction and Size/ Weight: The D5100 is just slightly larger and a tiny bit heavier than the D3100, both weighing just over one pound. Both have plastic bodies and more limited buttons and controls that the higher end models. Many users should find its size and weight great for using and carrying around, though some prefer the ergonomics of a larger body. The D90 and D7000 appear very similar at first glance, but the plastic body of the D90 has been upgraded to the partially magnesium alloy body (top and rear) of the D7000. This adds slightly to the weight: 1.5 lbs for the D90 vs. 1.7 lbs for the D7000. The D7000 also has weather sealing at the memory card and battery doors, which the D5100 and D3100 do not. The higher end D7000 and D90 include not only the 3" rear LCD screen but also a top LCD panel for viewing and changing your settings. This is essential for photographers who are constantly changing their settings to deal with various shooting situations. For most users, including even those using the camera daily or in travel situations, the non-magnesium construction of the D5100 should be far more than good enough, strong enough, and durable enough.
ISO: As mentioned in the Sensor and Image Quality section above, the high ISO performance of the D7000 is greatly improved over the D90. The tests at dxomark.com tell this story, along with the fact that the native ISO range of the D7000 is 100-6400 expandable up to 25,600. The D5100 shares these specifications, and should offer similar results. The D3100 has a native ISO range of 100-3200 expandable to 12800, and the range of the D90 is 200-3200. This means that with the D7000 and D5100 you can use higher ISO settings when required, such as in low light situations, and not have as much difficulty with digital noise, particularly in the shadow areas of images.
Controls: As with construction, the buttons and controls vary with these cameras. The D3100 and D5100 offer more limited, basic controls on the exterior of the camera. However you can use the rear LCD screen to quickly change many settings, or else go into the menus. The D7000 offers an extensive array of controls on the camera body, allowing one to quickly change an large number of settings as they work, including focus mode and focus area settings, shooting mode, and exposure mode. The controls of the D7000 are similar to the D90 with some changes including the addition of the shooting mode ring under the mode dial (to change from single shot to high speed continuous to self timer, etc.), and the live-view switch with movie record button inside it. The D7000 also offers 2 customizable user settings (U1, U2) on the mode dial, and you can assign functions of your choice to buttons such as the Fn Button.
Menus and Custom Settings: These allow for greater control over customizing how the camera functions. The D5100 has less Menu and Custom Settings options than the D90 and the highly customizable D7000, and more than the D3100 (which offers no custom settings). These settings enable you to customize the operation, function, and controls to work how you want them to, including things like exposure increments, Live View options, tweaking how the autofocus system operates, setting more precise white balance settings, and customizing which button does what. There are ebooks such as my Nikon D7000 Experience - The Photographer's Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Nikon D7000 and Nikon D5100 Experience - The Still Photographer's Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Nikon D5100 which walk you through all of the Menu settings and Custom Settings so that you can set up your camera to work best for how you photograph, and also begin to learn to master all the advanced features, settings, and controls of these powerful dSLR camera.
Wireless Flash: The D7000 includes the feature of advanced wireless lighting and remote flash control using the built in flash as a commander for off-camera Nikon Speedlights. However, the D5100 and D3100 do not have this capability. You can trigger certain flashes with the built-in flash of these cameras, but not control the remote flashes and their settings. With the D7000, you can set up one or more Speedlights in remote mode, then control and trigger them wirelessly with the built in flash of the camera.
Viewfinder: The D5100 has a pentamirror viewfinder with approximately 95% coverage of the actual resulting image, the same as the D3100. The higher quality pentaprism viewfinder of the D90 gives 96% coverage of the actual resulting image, while the D7000 has an even larger, brighter pentaprism viewfinder with 100% coverage. Author's note: this review was written and posted on Amazon by dojoklo - please do not steal it, post it elsewhere, and claim it as your own writing. Thank you. While in-and-of-itself, a 95% viewfinder works just fine, when you compare it side-by-side with the large, clear view of the D7000, you can see and understand the advantages of a clearer view of your entire scene with a 100% view, pentaprism viewfinder.
Processor: The Nikon D5100 and D3100 use the fast Expeed 2 image processor just like the D7000. This allows for more video options including full 1080p HD at 24, 25, and 30 fps, overall faster processing of stills and video files, and the ability to maintain fast continuous speed shooting for numerous frames. The D90 has the older Nikon Expeed processor, which is also generally fast enough to handle its processing needs.
Continuous Shooting Speed: As you work your way up the Nikon dSLR line-up the cameras' continuous shooting speed and maximum shots at that rate increases. The D3100 shoots 3 frames per second (fps) in continuous shooting mode, the D5100 shoots 4 fps, and the D7000 shoots 6 fps for up to 100 shots. The D90 can shoot 4.5 fps up to 100 images. If you often capture action and really need the higher frame rate, such as for sports, action, or wildlife shooting, you are going to have to seriously consider the D7000 over the other cameras. Paired with its advanced autofocus system, this fast frame rate can sharply capture moving objects is all types of situations. A nice feature of the D7000 is that you can adjust the low speed continuous mode to shoot anywhere from 1 to 5 fps, using the custom settings.
Memory Card: The D5100, D3100, and D90 all use a single SD memory card. The D7000 accepts 2 SD cards, where the second card can be used in a variety of ways: overflow when the first card fills up, JPEG on one / RAW on the other, or mirrored backup of the first card. The second card can come in handy as well if one is shooting video files, and one card can be designated for stills and the other video.
Battery and Battery Grip: The D5100 and D3100 both use the EN-EL14 battery, and the D7000 uses the new, higher capacity EN-EL15 battery. The D7000 accepts the optional MB-D11 battery pack/ vertical grip which is constructed of magnesium alloy. The D90 uses the EN-EL3e battery and its optional battery pack/ vertical grip is the MB-D80. The D5100 and D3100 don't accept a battery grip. The battery grip is handy for providing the ability to use a second battery and thus prolonging shooting time, and also creates a larger camera body which some users find more comfortable, especially when shooting in portrait orientation.
Full HD video: The D5100 shoots 1080p and 720p video at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D3100 shoots 1080p at 24 fps and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps. The D7000 also shoots 1080p at 24 fps only and 720p at 24, 25, and 30 fps, up to 20 minutes with full-time continuous autofocus. The D90 offers 720p video at 24 fps, with a 5 minute shooting time.
Ease of Operation: While beginners may find all the buttons, controls, and menus of any dSLR difficult and confusing at first, the menus and controls of the D5100 and D3100 are pretty basic and simple to learn for a dedicated user. The additional controls and menus of the D7000 and D90 are all quite intelligently designed and will become intuitive and straightforward for the more advanced user once they are learned and understood. Again, have a look at helpful guides such as my Nikon D7000 Experience - The Photographer's Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Nikon D7000 and Nikon D5100 Experience - The Still Photographer's Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Nikon D5100 to begin to learn to master all the advanced features, settings, and controls of these powerful dSLR cameras.
Hands on Experience: The camera body of the D5100 fits nicely in the hand, and is a little bit taller than the D3100, so the pinky doesn't fall off the grip quite as easily. The rubber gripping surface and rubber thumb spot work nicely, and help retain the grip on the body, even when holding it at your side or carrying it around without a strap, and the light weight of the camera also adds to this ease of portability. Those who prefer the ergonomics of a larger, more solid feeling camera body will have to look at the D90 or D7000. The Live View switch, placed on the top of the camera at the mode dial, feels and sounds a little plasticy, but works find, and the record button for movies is conveniently placed on the top of the camera, near the shutter button. The FN button, on the front near the lens mount, can be customized to adjust one of a number of settings quickly, like image quality, white balance, HDR, or +RAW (to take a RAW file in addition to a JPEG if set on just JPEG). I prefer to make it an ISO button. The side mounted rear LCD screen is a definite improvement over the bottom mounted, limited screen of the D5000, and rugged and durable. The view through the viewfinder is a bit tiny and cramped, as is typically the case in this level of dSLR. Changing settings is quick and easy with the "i" button and rear LCD screen. Overall, the body, feel, controls, and LCD screen of the D5100 make for a great image taking experience.
on April 25, 2011
I have been a retired SLR photographer for several years so the D5100 is my re-entry into DSLR. Previously, I had an N90s and one of the first digital Nikons; the D20. I have been shooting a Canon G10 for several years even doing some HDR with it. I've had the D5100 about a week and have shot a 100 photos on a variety of subjects - family, landscape, sunset, and macro - all with the 18-55 kit lens.
It shoots great! Detail is way better than I expected for a "consumer" model. Actually, I chose the D5100 because the quality of the pics was my foremost goal. It comes with the same 16mp chip as the D7000 for $400 less. I wanted to spend that money on glass. I've had almost no trouble figuring out how to set the manual controls and have had good luck with the SCENES modes for most shooting. (I haven't tried the EFFECTS and I'm not sure that I will - more of a Photoshop processing kind of guy). My biggest challenge has been getting correct focus as the camera tries to do way more than I'm used to and, if I have it in the wrong SCENE mode, there's no telling what might happen. The dancing yellow squares on the face recognition function is a little disconcerting. I have also had to learn patience as the VR function is nice but a little slow when handheld. I have learned to leave it off until I really need it.
I think that most of the professional reviewers overstate the weaknesses of many of the products out there and the D5100 is no exception, maybe because it's hard to difference a crowded competitive product line. At any rate, here is my take on some of the deficiencies. First, the location of the LiveView button work great for me. Because it is a lever rather than a button it is easy to locate and use without moving my hand on the grip. Another complaint has been the lack of an ISO button. I do prefer buttons over menus but there are too many functions which I would like to have on a button that there wouldn't be room for all of them. I programmed the fn button (which is done easily in the menus) to allow me to control the ISO. It works well both when I'm working through the viewer or the display screen. I will agree with complaints that the fn button is too close to the flash button. I've inadvertently mixed them up and it cost me a pic or two. However, I only need to make that kind of mistake a couple of times before learn to avoid the problem.
The rear screen is great...very high resolution. The zooming function works well and I have been able to check image focus easily. The side tilt is very elegant and I like that if flips to protect the screen when not in use.
I'm not much of a videographer but I did shoot some video and the image quality if fantastic. I put it on my TV and the quality was great. The focus works pretty well although you can see it occasionally get behind for a few seconds for quick moving subjects - like cars and kids. The microphone isn't worth much so it may be worth investing in the add-on microphone for more serious video projects.
All in all, the quality and fit of the camera is very good in spite of being made from plastic. i wouldn't want to drop it or the lens for that matter - they are not made like my old N90s or my 70-200 f2.8 but, on the other hand, I won't won't miss the extra 5 lbs. of weight because this camera is LIGHT! It is small but fits the hand well and is joy to carry around.
To summarize: As you would expect from a Nikon, great photos; as good as the D7000 (according to dpreview) and $400 less. Easy to use, light, good manual control, and good assisted control through scenes. The D5100 is a good choice if you are looking for high quality images without all the bells and whistles of the D7000.
No "cons" except don't drop it...probably won't survive! Battery life isn't great either (I tend to use the display and LiveView a lot) so I've already invested in a backup battery.
For once I really researched a camera purchase. I will begin with the end: the D5100 is a superb offering that will do as much as almost all non-professional users will ever need it to do, and has more useful features than most users will ever use. There are many competing cameras at or near this price point. I cannot claim to have researched them all, but the D5100 really does seem to be the leader. This camera is basically a feature-laden prosumer camera -- a camera for the enthusiastic amateur who wants a camera that will do most (but not all) things that a professional camera will do, with as little fuss as possible, and in a smaller package.
The most important attribute of this camera is its ability to produce superb images right out of the camera. And great images start with great exposure. This camera can produce outstanding images that really do not require post-processing. I have been using Nikon digital SLR cameras since the D100 was announced, through the D80 and D200. All have been superb cameras for their days and still are. However, most Nikon DSLRs really benefited (needed, really) a bit of post-processing in order for the images to reach their full potential. In particular, many users have noticed that the auto-contrast settings in Nikon or third-party software programs really brightened up images, giving them better contrast and zip. This camera pretty much does away with that. The D-lighting feature of this camera, combined with an all-around better sensor, exposure algorithm, and exposure system, really do make it possible to produce images right out of the camera that look like they have already been post-processed on the computer. And to make matters even better, the camera allows in-camera editing and post-processing! So if you are on a trip and want to email a few pictures you will not need your computer; the camera will do the post-editing job for you in most cases. And in most cases this is not needed at all. Put simply, the D5100 has about achieved the ideal for digital cameras, whereby it produces a final image right out of the camera that is about perfectly exposed, with contrast and lighting the way you want it.
The camera allows for matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering, just like the pro cameras. All are useful at times. I can remember when only professional cameras had all three. We have come a long way.
The D5100 continues the Nikon trend of better and better ISO performance, as light amplification technology keeps getting better. ISO roughly corresponds to the exposure ratings of film in days of yore, and basically better ISO performance means that the camera will perform better in low light conditions, making it possible to take clear non-noisy images in dimmer light. My D200, which was one of the very best Nikons in its day, degrades quickly after about ISO 640. This camera will do many multiples of this satisfactorily. For early morning photography, or taking pictures indoors, this is a decisive, tremendous advantage.
Great images also require fast and accurate focusing. The auto-focusing system on this camera is very well thought out for its market niche. While professional photographers will probably not use this camera to photograph NFL games and the like, this camera features an excellent focusing system that will exceed the expectations of most users. It is an 11 point system that intelligently focuses on a subject in the foreground or tracks a moving subject or, if you wish to exercise complete control, it will allow a single point (selectable) focus which can be useful for portraits of individuals and other types of still photography. It also has continuous focusing as an option which can be great for sports or wildlife. While pros and certain amateur photographers may need (or at least want) the more elaborate focusing systems available on Nikon's higher end cameras, for all but the most demanding users the D5100 is more than up to the job. Its focusing system is better than the pro systems of a few camera generations ago. If you want to photograph your kids playing sports, this camera will do the job, and likely do it brilliantly. This excellent focusing system, combined with its available 4 frames-per-second capability, make this camera quite capable of producing quality images of difficult fast-moving subjects.
Ergonomics. I bought this camera for two main reasons: less size and less weight. The higher-end Nikon cameras sport metal bodies, while this unit is made out of high-impact plastic. Given the fact that even rifles and pistols are mostly made of plastic nowadays, I consider plastic to be a virtue, not a vice. The D5100 features excellent build quality and has every bit of that quality "Nikon feel" that we have all come to expect. While some pros and a few amateurs really may need a weather-sealed metal bodied camera, most of us do not. And every single user will appreciate the very low weight of the D5100. I carried mine all day on a family outing and for once I did not get tired of toting a camera. I found the various buttons and controls to be easy to use and intuitive. Some reviewers have complained about various aspects of the button placements, but honestly, I don't see it. It is true that the camera requires a dedicated ISO button, because its wider ISO capability probably means that users will be varying this setting a lot. Fortunately, the D5100 has a user-assignable Function button. I simply assigned ISO as the function, so my D5100 has a dedicated ISO button. I do find myself using it often, as I vary it to high ISO for indoor shots, to low ISO for bright sunny summer days.
The color LCD screen on the D5100 opens to the side, and can be rotated 180 degrees. Some reviewers have complained that: a) this means that one cannot put a plastic cover on the LCD to protect it; and b) the swivel arm on the LCD screen may be a mechanical weak link. There may be a little truth to this, but consider. Since the LCD screen folds against the back of the camera, if folded in screen first it is protected during field use, and yet easily accessible by swinging it out if you need to access it for some reason. During field use (hiking, etc.) I rarely need to use the screen, and since it is folded against the camera, it is very well protected. As far as the strength of the swivel arm, well, time will tell. I trust that Nikon knew what it was doing when it designed this component. Hope so.
The LCD screen does multiple duty. It performs the function that the mono LCD screens used to do on other Nikons, i.e. showing exposure mode, picture count, etc. (Many of these things are also displayed in the viewfinder.) It also displays the menu system. And of course you may view and edit the photographs with the LCD. And the LCD also presents live-view, meaning that you get an instant through-the-lens electronic display of the viewfinder; a feature that until a few years ago only point-and-shoot cameras afforded. I was initially skeptical of this feature, but I do find myself using it at times. The viewfinder is bright and crisp, with a pleasing display.
The menus are mostly intuitive. I say mostly, because at first I had trouble locating some of the key functions that I wanted. Specifically, the "sharpening" control, which is a critical setting, is buried three layers deep in the menus. Other Nikons place this setting more obviously. This quirk is the exception, and once I understood the logic of the menu setup, I have had no further problems. Most users will adapt quickly to the menu system in this camera.
The optical viewfinder features a 95% view of the actual lens picture. Very few users will miss that 5%.
The camera allows full shutter, aperture, and programmed mode just like the pro cameras. The camera has other features including "effects," and HDR (high dynamic range) shooting, which combines two shots of an image using different exposures. While many users will never use these features, some will. The HDR feature has real potential for those willing to experiment and put in the time to master it.
To keep cost and weight down, the D5100 does not contain an inboard focusing motor. This means that some of the older Nikon lenses do not have autofocus if used with the D5100 since some of these lenses do not have internal focusing motors. This will mainly affect long-time photographers who have some of the older Nikon lenses in the bag. Most newer users will never miss it. Me, I do regret that a couple of my old stand-bys will not autofocus with this camera. But most of them will, so there you are. I bought the D5100 bundled with the AFS 18-55 3.5-5.6 VRII kit lens. This is a very nice "walking around" lens that will do nicely for many applications. For sports and wildlife most users will want a lens with longer reach. But for many applications, i.e. vacations, portraits, etc., the kit lens will do very nicely. It is equipped with Nikon's superb VRII stabilization system, which really makes this lens shine for still subjects in low light. Given the D5100's excellent ISO performance, enhancing its low-light capability, this lens can really shine.
I rarely shoot movies, but for those who do, this camera is a very serviceable HD videocamera. Other reviews have no doubt covered this feature adequately.
Overall Conclusion. As the reader can tell, I am very enamored with the D5100. At the end of the day it is the images that matter, and the D5100 produces professional-grade images. On trips and other occasions I am often found carrying around a camera, and the light weight and small size of the d5100 make it a joy to use. More and more I find myself reaching for the D5100 instead of my bigger, near pro-grade cameras. In fact, the more I use the D5100 the more convinced I am that it is pretty close to being pro-grade itself. Its size, weight, and capabilities, combined with its price, make the D5100 an excellent choice for many users. Highly recommended. RJB.
on April 24, 2011
As with any review, a lot is dependent on the reviewer's taste, expectations and understanding of the product. So let me make it clear where I fit in there and then how this camera performed.
I have a lot of photography and video experience but I am not a professional. What I EXPECT is a camera that is easy to use but powerful in features. I like seeing new technology even when it is sometimes inferior to older technology (I know some of you can relate to that). I expect good build quality and I expect that a camera does what it is advertised to do. This camera basically did not disappoint. But I will say honestly that I was comparing this to the D7000 even though the latter is a good $400 more expensive. But the D5100 was newer and it had some things the D7000 does not have that I thought were important to me:
1. A swivel screen (I've never had a still camera with that). I am upgrading from a D70.
2. Capable of HDR pictures with in-camera processing.
3. Cheaper and lighter weight.
Many of you may choose the D5100 for other reasons but these were mine. In the end, I returned it and bought the D7000 (that review is coming soon). Here is why:
I like the idea of HDR photography and the D5100 can do it right in the camera! To explain why I gravitated towards this particular feature, I need to step back and mention an in-camera feature I had once on a point-and-shoot. I used to have an HP camera and it helped you frame a panoramic picture. When you were done, it stitched it together. Voila! You had a panoramic picture ready to go. When I upgraded to the next model, it also had a panoramic feature to help you frame it, but it did not do in-camera stitching (as most all cameras do not these days). Instead, you are supposed to stitch it with the software the camera comes with. So guess what happened? Nothing....I stopped doing panoramic pictures, because I was too lazy to take the time to find the right pictures, import them into the software, stitch and then export it back to the right folder - too much hassle.
Well, the idea with in-camera HDR was a real selling point for me on the D5100. As of this writing, I am not aware of any other camera that does this (I'm sure someone will correct me?). So this may be the #1 reason I ended up getting the D5100 and it is the #1 I returned it. If you look at Nikon's website they advertise this feature and show an example of a lighthouse - the result is stunning, just as you would expect from HDR. Let me just say flat-out: this will not be the result you see in the real-world. I took about 100 different high-contrast shots and most of them looked better with the HDR processing but most of them only looked *marginally* better. The shadows had more detail and the bright areas were less blown out. So it works. But I then bracketed +2,0,-2 images and plugged them into Photomatrix and BAM! Now that's HDR! No comparison whatsoever. It turns out, the Nikon D5100's version of HDR is to take just two shots (-3,+3 , or some variation on the stops) and then it combines it into one image. If the (+3) shot was a little blurry, because over-exposed shots tend to be this way, then the final HDR image is blurry too. Now when this happens on a bracketed set, that is OK, because you still have the normal (0) exposure to take back with you at the end of your vacation. But if the D5100 made a bunch of blurry shots, you are hosed. There is no way to recover from that. You would have to analyze every shot closely on that little 3" screen to verify you got the shot or you would need to take duplicates with normal exposure just to make sure. Also, the HDR feature is not even written in the instruction manual - go ahead and look...no where to be found! I had to look it up in the longer online pdf manual to see how to use the feature, and it turns out you have to press about 6 buttons pretty deep in the menu just to get the camera to take an HDR. Once you depress the shutter, you have to go back through the whole menu again. Ridiculous! Finally, I figured out you can assign the "Fn" button to handle this, which was really a very good workaround. So all in all, I was really excited about in-camera HDR and in reality, it was a big disappointment. Now on to the other stuff:
The swivel screen: You either love it or hate it. I hated it, but that has nothing to do with the actual camera, just the concept. Basically I think it's mechanically the weakest point of the camera. That little swivel is just asking to snap off the next time I chase my son around the house and back into a corner or cabinet. I can guess it would cost a fortune to have Nikon fix that. Also, I am not into swiveling the screen closed so the screen faces the camera when I am done shooting. I am simply not that meticulous. I want to have a spontaneous camera that I can pick up and shoot whenever I want. So what's the point if I have to un-swivel the screen every time I want to use it and then swivel it closed when I am done. Also, think of all that wear-and-tear. So if you don't close it properly then it is liable to get scratched over time. The D7000 and all the other fixed LCD DSLRs have a plastic screen protector that costs a few bucks to replace - you can't really use a screen protector on the D5100. So either you swivel it closed every time or you risk scratching the screen. In the end, I felt the swivel screen took away from my spontaneity and made me think about not scratching the screen all the time.
Now a few general things: The camera is lighter and cheaper than the D7000. That can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. But for how much this camera costs, I don't want it to feel cheap - and it does. I compared both cameras and it was the little things like how the buttons felt and how the grip was shaped that made the D5100 feel a lot cheaper. Also the 18-55mm lens it comes with is really very limiting. I am not interesting in being one of those people that walks around with 3 lenses in a huge 10lb bag that I carry everywhere. The D7000 comes with the 18-105mm which is not amazing, but it is much better for general use. I personally went with the Tamron 18-270mm, but that's another story. Here are some other things to consider: The D5100 has a bunch of "Effects" like "miniature", "fisheye", etc. These can be done much more easily in the D5100 than in the D7000 where you have to apply the effect to a picture after you take it while the D5100 applies it immediately to the picture. But these are just gimmicks for me - you try the effect out once and move on.
After thoroughly playing with the D5100, the D7000 became an easy choice. For $400 (of course, it's $400 when you compare just the cost of the bodies not the kits) you get a lot of manual buttons so you don't have to dive into menus to change things. You get a dedicated screen on the top that gives you critical info. You get a weather-sealed case with the top and back being magnesium alloy. You get 2 custom user settings, faster more precise focusing and a better lens with the kit. So you say, "no duh, you pay more, you get more". That is true, but my logic was that the D5100 is not really all that cheap to begin with. If I'm shelling out serious cash for a DSLR, it better not feel like a toy in my hand - the D5100 feels like a toy. It also has very few buttons which means any time you want to make a change, you need to dive into a menu. Gosh I hate that! I have a Canon G10 which is more capable - at least it has an ISO and exposure dial right there on the top - no menus no nothing, and it is just a fancy point-and-shoot.
As for the video, I appreciated the fact that the D5100 takes 1080p at 30FPS unlike the D7000 which maxes out at 24FPS. I do video with a far more capable dedicated video camera, so I didn't really bother with this. But from the little I saw, the built-in microphone was weak and the auto-focus was sluggish, inaccurate and loud ( you can hear the focusing in your video). I would only use the camera's video if I was desperate. The D7000 performed no better.
As far as picture quality goes, I am not a pro, but I did compare identical pictures to the D7000 at the pixel level and I am convinced they are the same chips. The pictures are simply awesome. Beautiful color, sharp, clean and excellent light sensitivity. You really will have a hard time complaining.
IN CONCLUSION: Although it "feels" like a toy after you hold the D7000, it is a well-built camera that takes excellent pictures and can do most of the same things the D90 and D7000 are capable of - you just have to hunt for the stuff you need. I do not like hunting for things when a photo-opportunity arises. The HDR feature is mostly useless and could potentially ruin some pictures. The swivel LCD may be useful for some but I did not like it. If the camera is used mainly for a family get-together, a European vacation or even to take short videos of your kids and pets, then this is an excellent choice. If you are like me and enjoy HDR photography, astrophotography, macro-shots and have a deeper understanding of how all the features of how cameras work (like why you would change the metering from "Matrix" to "spot" or why it's useful to change ISO settings all the time, etc) then you will be really frustrated by the D5100 - you are better off spending the money and getting the D7000. I give this camera 4 stars because the HDR feature was a big selling point and it is useless by my standard. I would knock off another half-star for not having at least a dedicated button to change ISO and for having weak video capabilities, but I'm feeling generous tonight ;)
I hope you found this review helpful. I will try to do a more complete review of the D7000 soon.
on April 23, 2011
I own a Nikon D300 and I love that camera. It's a work horse, but it's heavy. I was looking for a camera that I could use as more of an every day type of camera. You know, something to grab to take a few shots without a lot of fuss, weight and fooling with settings. In other words, a fun, easy to use camera.
I had purchased one of the Micro Four Thirds cameras because it was light and small, but I found the quality lacking when compared to APS-C cameras. Also, most of the available Micro Four Thirds lenses are way too expensive for the quality you get with them; they're not that great. (The exception is the Panasonic 20mm lens - that's a good lens. Perhaps still a bit expensive.)
Enter the D5100. When I saw this camera, I knew it would be exactly what I was looking for. It's small, lightweight, easy to use but still maintains superb image quality. It's really outstanding in low light. I don't know what kind of algorithms Nikon is using, but shooting at ISO 1600 is no problem. Even the shots at ISO 3200 look good and clean up nicely.
The great thing about this camera is that it's versatile and flexible. You can shoot in auto, or you can use Aperture or Shutter priority for more control. If you're an advanced user, you'll be happy for the manual mode that allows you total control.
This camera really is the best of both worlds. A camera that an advanced amateur can use and at the same time feel confident that he/she can hand over to an inexperienced spouse or friend and know that the camera won't be too much for them to handle.
It's really a nice fit between the D3100 (more features, same sensor as the D7000) and less expense and bulk of the D7000. Plus, I love the flip out LCD.
on February 25, 2012
I won't go into details about the merits of the Nikon D5100. Others have described the camera's capabilities in depth and with thought and passion. Simply put, it is an outstanding camera capable of serving the needs of every amateur photographer. Yes, it is that good. The biggest practical difference between the D5100 and the less expensive D3100 is video capability. If you are not interested in HDvideo, the D3100 is a better value. For normal use, it is impossible to tell the difference between an image made with either camera. The D5100 does offer a bit better low light performance. However it will not benefit most amateur users that much, if at all. That said, either Nikon is superior to any Canon DSLR for flash photography. Nikon's iTTL flash system is better at metering and producing properly exposed images than anything Canon offers, regardless of price. In fact, Nikon's TTL system from 20 years ago is better than anything Canon offers today. If you NEVER use flash, Canon is a wonderful choice. Canon cameras offer rich, saturated colors. All my compact digital cameras are made by Canon, including the wonderful S95. I am not a anti-Canon Nikon fan. I do use Nikon SLR film and digital SLR cameras. Many choose to minimize the benefits of the Nikon flash system. Don't choose a camera system without considering it. Nikon makes the best flash system. Period.
For those that want to compare the D5100 to the D7000. Don't. The D7000 exceeds the needs of nearly every amateur. Its biggest practical difference for most users is compatibility with Nikon Ais and AF lenses made since 1977. Unless you already own older Nikkor lenses or plan on buying them now, the AFS lenses made today will more than meet your needs. Too many people buy DSLRs for ego. Don't be one of them. Buy a Nikon DSLR that works with your budget and immediately buy a separate flash, such as the capable and inexpensive Nikon SB-400, and learn and enjoy photography. Only you can make good photographs. The camera has very little to do with it. Don't believe anyone that tells you otherwise. Professionals have far different needs than you and me. I have a Nikon D200, a Nikon 8008, and a Nikkormat FTn. I have been using an slr for 37 years, ever since I was twelve. You will not go wrong with the D3100 or the D5100. And remember, only buy a Nikon flash.
on March 29, 2012
This is a simple review and the D5100 is simply amazing! I visited many stores to try different brands and models, including its closest competitor Canon Rebel T3i. I also borrowed from friends to try as well. In the end, D5100 was the winner based on my hands-on experience. You probably have read numerous reviews and got more confused. I was one of you. My advice: visit a store and try cameras yourself.
I like the way D5100 fits in my hands (good ergonomics); it is lighter and smaller to carry around (in comparison with other DSLRs); though it is made of plastic (most entry- and mid- level DSLRs are) yet very solid and well- built; its shutter sound is music to my ear; its menu is instinctive and thus easy to get used to; the swivel 3" LCD screen is very convenient; its battery life is relatively long, especially if you use viewfinder instead of live-view most of the time (you should try to do so, as most pros do); its auto-focus is swift and accurate, no "hunting" most of the time; it takes sharp and beautiful pictures, thanks to its newly updated software and hardware; lastly, I like the silver shutter button (I am vain)!
However, if you have a smaller budget, the D3100 is the next best thing, and it produce wonderful pictures, too. If you can afford, of course get the D7000 with more buttons to play with and a heavier body to carry around, though the picture quality is about the same as D5100 (same sensor and pixel count) in most shooting conditions.
In addition, the kit lens (18mm - 55mm) it comes with is surprisingly good and sharp (tested by "professionals"), which means that you don't need to upgrade your lens gears right away until you are ready to (or your finance allows you to). Believe me, the camera body may become the cheapest asset once you get into serious photography. The lenses are expensive, but they do keep their values. On the other hand, camera body, like cars, depreciates.
I am not bias towards Nikon and against others. In fact, I have Sony and Canon, and still own 35mm film Nikon and Pentax. From my experience, D5100 is the best in its class that fits all my needs and most requirements. At the beginning of my search, I charted pros and cons of all possible candidates and ended without conclusions. Then, I realized that, just like buying a car, I needed to "test drive" the cameras also! After all, buying a DSLR is not an easy decision, because it is not a cheap toy (for me anyway) and may accompany for years to come.
Furthermore, D5100 can dress-up or dress-down. For a professional, it offers most functions (and some more) that you can fine tune and adjust. However, if you just want an upgrade from a point-n-shoot, it has AUTO and SCENES that you don't need to fiddle anything yet take amazing pictures. Just practice and familiarize with the camera's buttons and functions, you will be very happy with it.
Remember, a camera is only a tool. YOU, the photographer, are the one that takes good (or bad) pictures, not the camera. In this modern era, most DSLRs are capable of producing sharp and colorful pictures. The pixel counts, sensors, noises, abrasions, or distortions, etc. can be meaningless, if you don't know how to take good pictures. My conclusion: D5100 is an excellent tool to practice and explore your artistic skills.