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Nikon launches 16.08 million image pixel D5100  
Monday, April 4, 2011 | by Rob Galbraith
Nikon has launched its latest amateur-oriented camera, the D5100. The new digital SLR, an upgrade of the D5000, incorporates a 16.08 million image pixel DX-size sensor, 4fps burst rate, ISO range of 100-6400 (plus 12,800 and 25,600), 11-area autofocus, in-camera HDR, 1080p/30fps video with continuous AF and the option of connecting an external stereo mic. The D5100 retains the tilt/swivel screen of its predecessor, but it's now hinged on the side rather than the bottom of the camera.

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Sidewinder: Views of the Nikon D5100. Click photos to enlarge (Photos courtesy Nikon)

Nikon D5100 feature summary

The D5100's core features include:
  • A 5.0W x 3.8H x 3.1D in, 1.2lb body with vari-angle rear LCD that swings out to the side of the camera.

  • A 16.08 million image pixel DX-size (23.6 x 15.6mm) CMOS sensor that is the same as that of the D7000, which should translate into really fine picture quality. It has a pixel pitch of 4.78m. The D5100 utilizes Nikon's EXPEED 2 image processing technology, including 14 bits per colour analog-to-digital conversions and 16 bits per colour digital image processing.

  • JPEG, RAW and RAW+JPEG file format options. The official burst depth specs, derived from Nikon's testing with a Toshiba 8GB UHS-1 SDHC card (one that's rated by Toshiba to have a maximum write speed of 80MB/s) and the camera set to ISO 100, are:

    • JPEG (all resolution and compression settings): 100
    • RAW: 16
    • RAW+ JPEG (Large size, Fine compression): 10

  • A standard ISO range of 100-6400, and an extended ISO range of ISO 100-25,600, plus Auto ISO.

  • A maximum frame rate of 4fps.

  • An all-new shutter with a duty cycle rating of 100,000 frames.
  • An 11-area Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus system.
  • A shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/4000, settable in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps, plus Bulb.

  •  A top flash sync of 1/200 with either the built-in flash or an external Speedlight. The D5100 does not support Auto FP High Speed Sync, which means 1/200 is the highest sync speed officially supported.

  • A 420-pixel RGB sensor, which handles both ambient and flash metering.

  • An Ambient option in Auto WB, for warmer rendering of pictures captured in warm light.

  • A built-in flash with 18mm lens coverage, i-TTL exposure control but no TTL Commander mode.

  • Viewfinder coverage of 95%.

  • A 3.0 inch (diagonal), 921,000-dot rear LCD with vari-angle mechanism.

  • Video capture: 1080p at 24/25/30fps, or 720p at 24/25/30fps, or 640 x 424 pixels at 25/30fps. Maximum recording time is approximately 20 minutes.

    The D5100 is able to focus continuously during video recording, using phase detect AF; presumably, like other Nikon digital SLRs with this ability, the autofocusing during video will be suitable mainly for the occasional shifting of focus distance rather than constant tracking. Video files are H.264/MPEG-4 in a .mov container and audio recording is through a built-in mono mic or an external mic connected to the camera's 3.5mm stereo mic jack.

    Audio levels can be controlled automatically or set manually in three increments.

  • In-camera HDR enables two pictures to be shot in rapid succession and then blended together. The exposure difference between the two pictures can be set to 1, 2 or 3EV, and a smoothing option provides a measure of control over the tone mapping of the resulting photo. It's possible to combine Active D-Lighting with the HDR feature for potentially even wider dynamic range.

  • A new Special Effects mode, choosable on the camera's top dial, enables a range of effects to be applied as you shoot either pictures or movies. Some of the effects options are Selective Color, Color Sketch, Miniature and Night Vision, the latter allowing for an ISO setting of 102,400.
  • The D5100 will accept SD, SDHC and SDXC variants of this memory card type and includes specific support for Eye-Fi's wireless SD memory card: power remains active while the card is transmitting, a transfer icon appears on the rear LCD and the card's wireless radio can be enabled and disabled in a menu.

    The D5100 incorporates support for UHS-I, a quicker data transfer protocol defined in the SD 3.x specification that is the basis for speedy SDHC and SDXC cards emerging from Kingston, Panasonic, SanDisk, Toshiba and others.

  • Power is from the 7.4V/1030mAh EN-EL14, the same as the D3100 and P7000. The battery is replenished with Battery Charger MH-24. No battery grip is planned for the D5100.
  • Connection options include USB 2.0, GPS (the camera is compatible with the GP-1) and CEC-compatible HDMI. There is no 10-pin remote port or PC sync socket. The D5100 can be triggered by the ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control and has infrared receptacles on the front and back for this purpose.
Nikon D5100 - an ideal backup camera?

Digital SLR manufacturers continue to stuff more advanced capabilities and better image sensors into even their lower-priced models, and the D5100 is no exception. The new camera is Nikon's first digital SLR to capture video at 30fps at 1080p (previous models are limited to 24fps at this resolution), the first to provide in-camera HDR and the first to allow for certain intensive image effects to be applied in real time while shooting either stills or video.

Equally as significant, it's the second camera from Nikon to utilize a 16.08 million image pixel image sensor, the same as that of the D7000, with image quality that's expected to equal that camera too. We love the photos that roll out of the D7000, so to be able to obtain comparable quality from an entry-level camera like the D5100 means it's a body to potentially consider as a backup for pro use, not to mention the only way in the realm of Nikon digital SLRs to achieve 1080p/30fps video.

That said, the D5100 is still a camera geared towards the budget-minded amateur, and as a result is missing features that some will consider indispensable, even in a backup body. For example, its top flash sync speed is 1/200, with no option to use Auto FP High Speed Sync to push past x-sync, as is possible with Nikons from the D90 upwards. Plus, the D7000, for a few hundred dollars more, is filled to the brim with additional functionality: 39-point AF, twin SD card slots, Auto FP High Speed Sync, wireless TTL commander mode, Virtual Horizon overlay, a higher maximum frame rate, longer life battery, better weather sealing, compatibility with the WT-4/WT-4a transmitter and more.

As a backup option for the working shooter using Nikons, the D5100 is likely to provide exceptional image quality but is not nearly as appealing for this role as the D7000, except perhaps if you're interested in one of these bodies primarily for video rather than stills.

Price and ship date

The Nikon D5100 is slated to ship in the second half of this month at an expected street price of US$799.95 in the U.S., or US$899.95 for a bundle comprised of the D5100 and AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens.
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