Nikon D5100 hands-on review

After the unboxing video and size comparison, this will be my last Nikon D5100 post. I will continue to post quick hands-on reviews of the latest Nikon equipment.

My first impressions of the Nikon D5100: the camera is very compact  - it handles like a big point and shoot model (think Coolpix P500). The viewfinder is small, it appears even smaller than other DX bodies like the D300s for example. The AF points are actually dots, good that they are illuminated otherwise they will be hard to see. High ISO performance is very good for an entry level model.

The new direct LV and video record buttons are conveniently located next to the shutter release. The camera can be operated with one hand since most of the controls are located on the right side of the screen (only the menu button is located to the left of the display). The 921,000 dots 3.0" TFT LCD is excellent (introduced to Nikon entry level cameras for the first time). Be careful - in night vision mode the images will look much better on the LCD than on your computer. In the short time I had the camera, I hardly found any need to use the swivel display, but I am sure many of you will find it helpful.

Here are some of the new effects introduced with the Nikon D5100.

Selective Color

The Selective Color can be selected in LiveView and can create some cool effects without the need of post-processing:

Color Sketch

In this mode the camera automatically detects and emphasizes the colors outlines:

Miniature Effect

Similar to Lensbaby lenses, the Miniature Effect lets you create selective focus in a picture (software based). The width of the selected vertical or horizontal "in focus" area can also be selected in LiveView:

Night vision

I was expecting the Night Vision mode to be better. You can forget about using it in complete darkness. Focusing is difficult when using the Night Vision mode.

I think you can get better result by simply taking a regular picture at high ISO. Here is an example:

The first picture was taken at ISO 6400, the second in Night Vision mode. The AF assist illuminator is not enabled in Night Vision mode, so you will have to rely on manual focus. If I went to an even darker place, the Night Vision mode would show only grain.

All of the above modes are available in video mode as well. Note that when using some effects in video, the display rate can drop, AF may be disabled or sound may not be recorded (check the D5100 manual for more details). Here is a video example of the Color Sketch mode (reduced display rate in video mode), Miniature Effect (compresses video length aprox. 10:1) and myself terrorizing a duck in Night Vision vision mode (no ducks were harmed in the recording of this video):

The other D5100 special effects not mentioned here are High Key, Low Key and Silhouette.


In addition to the different effects, the D5100 is also the first Nikon DSLR to offer built-in HDR functionality. The HDR option can be enabled from the shooting menu and will remain on only for a single shot (if you want to take multiple HDR photos, you will have to go back to the menu and enable HDR every single time). In HDR mode the camera takes 2 exposures. The exposure differential and smoothing can be adjusted.

The first of the next three images is taken without HDR, the second is taken with Auto HDR and the third has  manual HDR at 3ev exposure differential and high smoothing settings:

ISO performance

The ISO performance of the Nikon D5100 is very clean up to 1600 (and useful even up to ISO 3200). The samples below are 100% crops extracted from jpg files at 100% quality:

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 100

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 200

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 400

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 800

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 1600

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 3200

Nikon D5100 @ ISO 6400

Nikon D5100 @ ISO Hi 0.3

Nikon D5100 @ ISO Hi 0.3

Nikon D5100 @ ISO Hi 0.7

Nikon D5100 @ ISO Hi 1

Nikon D5100 @ ISO Hi 2

Some more high ISO samples are available on flickr (fine jpg files straight out of the Nikon D5100):

Nikon D5100 is currently available for sale at selected BestBuy stores and online on Amazon. Other pre-order options are available here.


Today I played some more with the video functionality of the Nikon D5100 and you can set the aperture manually for video recording. The trick is that you have to do it before you turn on LiveView when in aperture priority, otherwise the aperture selection will be overwritten. It would be nice if Nikon had a chapter on this in their manual. Changing the ISO before turning LV doesn't have any impact during video recording.

Here is a quick video example of the Nikon D5100 at f/1.4 and f/16:

Here is another test of continuous AF during video recording (you must use the AF-F full time serve auto focus mode):

Nikon D5100 DSLR camera digitutor video:

This entry was posted in Nikon D5100, [NR] Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Seed

    nice review Peter 🙂 keep it up!

    • Thanks, I wanted to cover few other points but do not have enough samples – I just had the camera for a day.

      • Global

        I know its your last D5100 post — but can you update it to include a comparison of Night Vision vs. Regular Shots vs. D700 Shot under same conditions? [NV by itself without a comparison might be a bit confusing.]

        • I just added two images comparing ISO 6400 and Night Vision mode.

  • Bill

    Iron Maiden? Excellent!!!

    • yes, on my way to the concert I stopped at BestBuy and they had two D5100 in stock

      • Phil

        No love for the kit lens? 🙂 Would’ve nice to see some shots made with the base kit.

        • Ronan

          @Phil dude…. sigh…

      • D700guy

        I forgot, they added a 3rd guitarist.

      • Metal Bird

        Up The Irons \m/

  • gt

    night vision is the worst thing I’ve ever seen

    • kp

      worth thing you’ve ever seen? then you obviously haven’t seen the Rebecca Black “Friday” video…

      thanks for the rundown on the 5100!

      • KJ

        haha! good one!

      • Common Sense

        Great humor!!! Hahaha! Firday! Friday! Friday!

  • great review but too small

  • Phil

    Is it possible to post actual video footage from the camera somewhere for download? I’d love to see what is actually coming out of the camera itself, not what’s reprocessed on YouTube. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d love to see some footage that not only shows how it records detail, but how it handles smooth areas like skies. It doesn’t have to be long, just sufficient to review. Thanks.

    • Phil

      BTW, I thought the magenta tab was surprisingly noisy at ISO 400. Things look quite noisy by ISO 800. For some reason I thought the camera’s noise would better than that, up to 800 at least.

      • Ronan

        Go buy a D3s.

        • chris

          its the same sensor as the d7000 which people claimed had high iso performance equal to the d3 so why should high noise at 400 iso be a letdown?

          • Eric Pepin

            its not equivalent to a D3, anyone saying that is retarded.

        • ja

          thats if its in stock , its going to be a hard year to obtain kit and i dont think we’ll see anything new this year ,looks like i’ll be grabbing a refurb to fill the gap.
          come on nikon come on japan the world is lost without you x

    • I can upload some videos on dropbox.

  • low

    miniature actually looks decent

  • I can not imagine how D400, D800 and D4 will be. Now I am expecting big jump from Nikon for the flagship models.

  • venancio

    i thought it had auto photo stitching or panorama view capability…

    • no, not the D5100 (the Fuji X100 has that functionality)

  • Mac Rockwell

    I have compared D5100 specs with D5000 but still I think D5000 beats D5100 in IQ.
    Also there is no mirror lock and few more imp functions in D5100.

    Not impressed, wait n see for D800. I have D5000, D90 as well as D700. Just waiting for D800.. Admin any updates on D800?

    • Phil

      […but still I think D5000 beats D5100 in IQ.]

      Do you have proof?

      • There seems little chance the D5100 and “D800” even belong in the same sentence. Your commentary makes it seem like you’re considering one vs the other. Not super realistic IMO.

        • Mac Rockwell

          Why so?

      • Sorry Phil. I meant to reply to Rockwell.

  • wojciech

    uh 🙂 preety nice… but
    have You got some info about 50 1.8G? 😀

  • Mac Rockwell

    I have no intention of upgrading my D5000 for now. Although I am very much happy with D700 and waiting for D800…

  • Ben

    If the image quality isn’t as good as the d7000, then Nikon is just toying with us. If it is, then I’ll be delighted when mine arrives (disturbing news about the viewfinder and the “one-handed EXCEPT the Menu button”, though). Or should I refuse shipment and keep my d40 while I wait for Nikon (or someone less arrogant) to bring the latest sensor to a lightweight body? Any thoughts on the comparison?

  • Libby

    While I applaud Nikon for getting a new camera out especially in the wake of their business difficulties, (and yes I realize the cam is Thai and has been in the pipeline), from a pro standpoint it’s just more crap to appeal to consumer shooters. I would be interesting in seeing the selective color technical quality on a photo that I shot, but all the Sketch crap? Who needs that? There’s enough digital glut with bad photoshop jobs out on the web already, and now the camera can create it instantly.

    I had a MWC (Mom With Camera) ask me about this scene mode and that scene mode on the Nikon D90 (the lowest model I own) and I had to tell her I didn’t know because I never used them.

    What I would kill for is a full frame body with no junk on it. Just a full manual cam with a meter and a Histy. I guess I’m living in the Dark Ages.

    I truly wish Nikon success with it though, because without the support of the new entries into the DSLR market it’s tough survival.

    • bert

      Every piece of electronics I own has features I don’t need or use. I just ignore them and they usually don’t get in the way. Each model needs to appeal to a large group of people to be successful. The sketch mode may be garbage, but I doubt there’s a dedicated button for it that you’ll hit by mistake.

    • Willi

      What I would kill for is a full frame body with no junk on it. Just a full manual cam with a meter and a Histy. I guess I’m living in the Dark Ages.

      I`m with you. Twenty years ago I discovered photography with my still beloved F301, a camera with just the few necessary buttons and without anything else getting in my way. If there was any way to fit it with a decent sensor, I would no longer be sitting around waiting for just this type of simplistic digital camera with good IQ.
      A few months ago I had the opportunity to get a couple of good shots with a D300s that I borrowed, and I spent about half an hour in almost complete darkness, with a flashlight between my teeth, cursing and stumbling through the ~1cm thick manual to find out why that camera wouldn`t let me access the settings I needed.
      I guess Leica is the only company that shares this philosophy. Now if they would just come out with something else than a rangefinder…

      • AHC

        Leica do produce something else (Pro) other than a rangefinder.. Its called the S2.

      • D700guy

        Getting used to any camera has its learning curve.
        I havean F6 that I still need to get aquainted with before the 3 dozen rollws of film I bought for it decays.

    • Ben

      I hear the 5D MkII is pretty much that, isn’t it?

  • Mac Rockwell

    @Ben: Viewfinder is just a junk of Piece. It would be wise to stay with D40 or you can upgrade to D7000. Sensor is also smaller compared to D5000 and also D5000 has good White balance settings. Invest in Lenses till the time you want to upgrade or wait for D800 like me

    • Mock Kenwell

      Junk of piece. Love it.

      • Mac Rockwell

        @Mock Kenwell: It was typo mistake. You have good eyes LoL….. Either way… junk is Junk…. Easy….

  • John

    Another “hands on review” that doesn’t confirm or deny whether it provides full manual control over video. 🙂

    • John, the D5100 does not have manual video control. You can change the aperture during video recording when in Aperture priority mode, but this will not impact the video. I checked also the manual and could not see any reference on manual control during video.

      • This seems to indicate otherwise, though there does seem to be a lot of ambiguity about this, as is Nikons style (and strangely so):

        Does the camera have manual exposure and manual aperture control during recording mode??”

        Yes. The settings have to be adjust before taking a picture or recording a video.
        Nikon Staff”

        That was posted 6 hours ago. I’m still looking for a definitive answer on this…

        • Yes, you can adjust the aperture before starting the video but it seems that this is not making any difference. You can even change the aperture during video recording, but again – the video stays unchanged. I could be wrong or missing something. One would think that Nikon would mention this on their website or the manual.

          • That is disappointing, if it’s true that no manual mode is possible.

            I do know that you can “manipulate” the chosen aperture on the D3100 if you set it (while in manual mode) before turning on live view. I tested with (I believe) the 70-300mm vr ii lens and was able to get a clear difference in depth of field between 4.5 (whatever the lowest aperture was) and 32. This is not manual control, but rather black box manipulation, and its a poor answer to Canon’s approach.

            I think this may be one of the only (if not THE only) complaint I can hurl at Nikon, but it’s a pretty big one for me. I think Nikon needs to give full manual control to every VSLR coming on the market. I mean, the only one that has had full manual to date was the D3s, and judging by the history of that, it seems it was due to an oversight on Nikon’s part, rather than an intentional feature. I would guess it was implemented for testing, and though it was never intended to be released as a feature, someone overlooked the fact that it was left in the firmware. That’s the only explanation I can think of for their lack of details on it during release, lack of mention in the manual, and subsequent scramble to get a revised sheet out with details on how to use it, with, if I recall correctly, a healthy dose of Engrish.

            Nikon, listen up: You don’t need to play the MP race. You don’t need to be worried about low light competitors at the moment. You don’t need to change your lens mount. You don’t even NEED 60i, at least for the short term.

            But listen to me now: you DO need to give full manual controls to more than just one, pro camera, and more willingly than what appears to have been by accident. I know a number of general, not-even-novice consumers who are lamenting that their DSLR doesn’t have manual controls during video recording. In the base model, this MAY be acceptable. In a $900 T3i competitor…no way. Step it up, for your own sake.

            • rnie

              Very disappointed… had pinned all my hopes on the video. Also in India the price difference between D5100 and T3i is about $200… that’s the price of 18-105 mm Nikkor Lens… was happy about it and thought i’d go for d5100. Confused now!!

              I think Nikon is just playing us with ”effects” junk and a d5100 is just a better d3100 and nothing more!! Similarly, T3i is just a better T2i for $200 more… WTF?? God is T2i still the best option for the entry level video??
              We need more competition in the entry level HD video cameras (with bokeh). Dear RED can you just take it as a challenge and give us an EPIC mini?? for $1000??

              Also, i’m just wondering how much manipulation went into play to create :

              Night vision is such a bad f*** so as HDR and Selective color!!

        • LOL! I love this. “Does the camera have [control input] during recording?” “Yes, you cannot do anything during recording.”


      • John

        Yeah, but not being able to manually control the ISO and shutter speed essentially makes it useless compared to even the now-obsolete Canon 550D (which is a lot cheaper).

        The more Nikon are screwing up getting things right, the more I’ve been thinking about making the switch. I’ve been shooting Nikon for over 10 years now, but I’m starting to lose faith.

  • Seems to be a great cam for backup. What about video quality compare to the D7000? I need a FX camera but also a video function to record interviews so I was thinking in get a D700 and a less sophisticated camera for video and backup like the D5100. the D800 seems to be kinf of far to be released so D700 seems to be a good option at the time.

    Any news about new releases of FX cameras?

  • henrik

    Why those art filters at tremendous length? Who cares? Would have liked to know if live view in combo with vari-angle LCD is usable or to slow, the most interesting aspect of that cam. But no word about this, just another bunch of art filters towards the end. Thanks.

    • I tried to cover the new functionalities added to the D5100. I will need more time for a detailed review (I had the camera for only one day when I wrote this). The idea was just to give first impressions and not to be a in-depth review. I may update this post in the next few days as I use the camera more.

    • For Pete’s sake, henrik, relax. Look at all the discussion these features have prompted even before you posted. Lots of folks care, even if we will never, ever use those features. Seeing which features Nikon has spent the most time on gives us an idea of what their priorities are with this and future bodies. And the night-vision test was at least mildly interesting as an ISO exercise.

  • Edit Reject

    I mentioned this on the unboxing video post as well. I picked up the D5100 at Best Buy. I really like the feel of it. It is slightly larger and heavier than the D3100 but it still is nice to handle. It will be perfect for travel and quick trips to a zoo, park, etc. The only downside is there is a very visible green pixel in Live View, similar to what was happening with the D7000. I am going to contact Nikon directly. Maybe a firmware update will correct it. I would exchange it but they are now all sold out at the local Best Buy. Once it is fixed I will put the camera through its paces (pics, video).

  • Nick

    Not surprised the viewfinder is smaller than the d300s. One is a pentaprism, the other is a pentamirror!

    • David C

      My thought exactly. How does the viewfinder compare with the D5000 would be a more important comparison, or with the models on either side of it in the lineup (e.g. D3100 and D7000).

    • Ben

      Uh, sorry, but prism vs. mirror has nothing to do with size.

  • Tom

    Nice review. D5100 looks good …

  • this camera is made for liveview and video so the view finder is not important.
    great camera very easy to use and the liveview switch is very well place.

    • NiknWontRepairMyGray

      If the D5100 is made for video, why doesn’t it allow manual exposure control in video mode?

  • AndrewM

    not interested at this cam ..

    but please NIKONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN launch the Semi pro & Pro DSLR’s now…………….

    • Mock Kenwell

      Yes, just ignore those pesky tsunamis and earthquakes.

  • disiderio

    Really? Is that all the d5100 offers? :O At the very least it could have less noise at iso400!

    • bjrichus


      Yes, I agree about the ISO400 remark… at least from these shots. My D7000 is nowhere near that bad (yes I actually said it: BAD). I hope that is just this test shot.


    • Konstantin

      that’s what I thought too. ISO400 looks noisy!

  • azerty

    Nothing about the video function ?!!!!
    We want to know the average and max bitrate at 24p, 25p and 30p (in FullHD).

  • Phil S.

    I picked up the D5100 on Sunday from Best Buy in Greensboro, NC.
    As a companion to my D300, I think that I’m going to like it,
    but in my very very brief look-over it last night, I did find one glitch–
    If you press the button to review a photo, you are supposed to be able to click down on the Multi-Selector and see the information regarding the photo
    (as it does on the D300 and says that it does on the D5100 on page 26 of the User’s Manual), but it does not do anything.
    This may be a firmware glitch, and I would be interested if others have the same issue.

  • Obviously definitions of ‘usable’ differ greatly from one person to the next. My D200 can coax ‘usable’ ISO 800 shots that look a lot dirtier at 100% magnification than the 3200 ISO shown above. The same can be said for 6400 and even push HI modes.

    Just shoot ETTR and/or use post processing to remove some of the noise. What a wonderful, killer little camera.

  • Mock Kenwell

    Great little review admin. Thanks.

  • slightly fuzzy

    Awesome stuff; I can’t wait to see what gets shot with it once you and other talented photogs get a handle on its features. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jackie

    Hi admin, would you recommend this camera or not? I’m a newbie to SLR but I pick up on things quick. I photograph kids and pets as well as alot of nature. I am consider the D7000 but was not sure if it was too much camera for me…so I waited for the 5100?? Not sure if I should spend the money and start with the 5100 or just take the plunge for the 7000? Pls advise. Thanks

    • rs

      buy the d7000

      • baked bananas

        If youre new to the game get a used d90. I have a d7000 and find it is trickier to get sharp pictures at higher isos. If you decide on the d7000 prepare to put a lot of time and effort into it. Sites like thom hogan helps… and……gasp….ken rockwell ….yeah…I said it. Thom is more sensible and less arrogant.

    • I have to agree, if you can afford it, get the D7000. The D5100 will be a good start, but if you get serious about taking pictures, you will upgrade in few months and then you will spend even more money.

      • mark

        Well, the overexposure issue is still turning me away from d7000. Hoping to find some reviews about d5100 metering

    • Konstantin

      get a Canon 60D 🙂 It is like D7000 and D51000 in one body.

  • rs

    I’m so happy with my D700 I think it will be a long time before I buy another body. Like a few posts above I’m glad I own the last body without movie mode and all the other crap that will be added soon. It does more than enough all ready. My next body if ever will have to beat DXO’s sensor rating of 80. I think I may buy a used D3x in a few years when they cost $2000.

    • rs

      that is beat the D700’s DXO sensor rating of 80…….

  • Erik

    Could you post a HDR sample? with and without.

    • I just added 3 more HDR comparison images.

  • James

    Does the D5100 have manual controls for audio?

    • yes, you can set the sensitivity of the mic

  • Hi guys!
    sorry if I… but I hate with all myself the 18-55 lens… really awful one! Bad aperture, bad shape, it doesn’t enrich any nikon camera… on the contrary, it makes them seem like toys…

    • Konstantin

      I disagree. I think Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR is a great kit lens. For a $100 (in the kit) it is a perfect starter lens for beginners.

  • Nice quick review! 😀

  • Ugh the ISO doesn’t seem to have much improvement. Or has it? 😮

  • The only option that il’d like in my D7000 is the selective color, should be a nice feature (avoiding photoshopping);

    I’m still missing the ability to change aperture during live view recordings…

  • You scared The Duck~!!!!

  • superboynikon

    Is there really no control over Shutter Speed and ISO at least before you enter recording a video? That’s really a shame. I’m going to cancel my preorder.

  • Nicon

    No manual video controls? I was hoping this was not going to be the case. The user in this sample says it does have manual control in his/her notes:

    Also, in this sample: How did the user find out the shutter speed and ISO without having manual settings? D3100 video will not display these two settings when you’re in video mode.

    • I will play some more with the D5100 video today and see if I can get manual control to work.

      • I have come to realize that in order to shoot in full manual on the d5100 you need to take the following steps.

        1) Go to Custom settings menu and select controls
        2) Select F2
        3) Engage option for for AE lock (HOLD)
        4) Next after you set your camera to the manual settings you want and before you enter live view, you have to press the ae-l button to lock in your settings.
        5) Enter Live view and shoot away!

        If you don’t do this the camera will mess with your manual settings. From what I have read it adjusts the sensor gain (which is similar to the ISO and will have the same effects but is technically separate from the ISO). I am not sure if it messes with shutter speed or iso.

        note: you have to hit ae-lock before every new shot…also if you hit it again it will disengage you manual settings and allow this strange autoness to creep back into you shot.

        • Daniel

          To add to this…I have now shot video with the 7d, the d300s and the 5100. When using the methodology above on the d5100 it almost puts the rolling shutter effect when zooming to zero! I am not sure if this is true for the other slr video camera I have used…but I would suppose it helps. Cannon 7d has by far the worst rolling shutter effect.

          Now its time for nikon to simply make this semi complicated method to go into manual the normal for their manual settings. Firmware update Please!

  • Nicon
  • Jeremy

    How is the auto focus during video recording? I would love to see a moving sample. All I have seen on youtube are static shots.

    • For cont. AF during video, you must use the AF-F full time serve AF mode. I will upload a sample later today.

      • I just added a sample video for AF during video recording.

  • David

    I waited to see what the 5100 was going to be and decided the D7000 was a better investment in the long run. The 5100 with the kit lense vs the D7000 with the better lense was not a difficult decision.
    5100 is a great camera but just not as great as the D7000 for slightly more money. We are completely satisfied with the D7000!

  • General Athur

    Hey I got an idea!! how about posting a Non retarded HDR image! Like really… Something that utilizes an extreme lighting situation rather than a flower, which was probably lit decently and didn’t even require an HDR treatment in the first place.

    And while your at it, show a before and after example. Combine them with Active D-Lighting to see if that exaggerates the effect.

    • If you look carefully, you will see that part of the flower was exposed to the sun and the background was in the shade. Anyway, I uploaded 3 more HDR images for comparison.

  • Satya

    Very nice review and details my friend. I finally found an article that show the capabilities of this camera. I am considering buying this camera strongly but a lot of reviews are talking about Canon T3I. Can you please help me knowing what’s your opinion? I am looking for better and sharper picture quality.

  • Steve

    Well I just received my D5100 and tried the video + manual exposure, and it doesn’t work. Something is overiding the manual exposure settings. WHY!!! I’m very unhappy with this as video was the main thing I’d been waiting for in this camera.
    I think I’m returning mine and I’m off to Canon!

  • Nahum F

    Hey I wana get a couple of the D5100 for streaming purposes. Can I connect it to the computer through hdmi and film through the computer?….would the menu pop up and be in the way? and what resolutions can I do that with?…

  • Markus

    I wish they would totally rid all slr’s of video its an absolute waste IMO…i simply want a camera that will take very accurate and detailed shots screw the rest of the junk features and things on them these days…having said that what are the thoughts of image quailty in this camera over say a canon eos 600D?

  • Larry Anderson

    I currently have a D60 and it takes great pictures. I am going on a trip this fall to Norway and Amsterdam and thought that having the higher pixels would be nice for the pictures. I am not concerned with the video capability but wants to be able to take some great pictures. Would you suggest the D5100 or something else.

  • Back to top