The D5100 is an update to the popular D5000 SLR camera that Nikon launched two years ago. Since then, micro four-third cameras from the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus have gained significant ground forcing Nikon to do something drastic to stay at the top. Suffice it to say that the company’s efforts have handsomely paid off with this model.
Though packing in all the usual suspects of a budget SLR, the D5100 refuses to feel like one. The plastic body is sturdy, well crafted and fits comfortably in the hands. However, some omissions in the form of buttons make taking photos a bit of a chore. For instance, there’s only one rotary dial, and discrete buttons for settings like ISO or white balance are largely absent. You’ll need to make all such adjustments from within the menu, which is a waste of time. Autofocus too is lens dependent and not built into the camera.
The three-inch 921,000-pixel foldable screen is quite helpful though. Additionally, HDMI output (as opposed to mini or micro HDMI) means you can quickly connect the camera to a high definition television or projector with a standard and much more easily available HDMI cable.
Packing in the same 16.2-megapixel sensor also featured in the D7000, this camera can shoot at up to 4 fps and go all the way to ISO 25,600 for low light photography. There’s an 11-point autofocus system in place, and you can shoot 1920x1080p videos at 30 fps. Finally, battery life at 650 shots per charge is the best in class.
The menu system is designed keeping novices in mind. The default view shows all the current settings including a graphical representation of the aperture size. Pressing the ‘i’ on the right of the viewfinder will let you access and modify the settings using the five-way pad. Nikon’s also packed in a set of fancy effects that can be accessed from the mode dial on the top. For instance, there’s a selective colour effect that will take photos in black and white but accentuate up to three specific colours. You can also perform a slew of operations in playback mode like distortion control, filter effects and colour balance to RAW or JPEG images.
Shooting with the D5100 is an extremely pleasant affair. Photos have almost no noise even if you shoot at ISO 1600 or higher (in RAW mode). And focussing, though lens dependent, is always quick even if you’re shooting videos in live mode. Colour saturation is spot-on too – making it a treat to view photos on a large screen television or projector. But the best part about this camera is undoubtedly its battery life. With over 650 shots per charge, you can easily head out into the hills and shoot for 4-5 days to a week before a recharge.
Despite its scarcity of buttons, the Nikon D5100 is as professional as you can get at a price of R 39,950, which includes an 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens and 4GB SD card. Picture quality is fantastic and high ISO performance is much better than its rivals. The long lasting battery life is simply the icing on the cake. Though the stock lens does have its niggles, the D5100 is a satisfying camera available at an affordable price.