Review Nikon D5100

The Nikon D5100 is the successor to the D5000 and the target group of the D5100 is both the starting and better amateur. We already know the sensors from the Nikon D7000, a camera belonging to the high-end APS-C cameras.

When you pick up the camera, you immediately recognize the well known details of Nikon. For example, the on / off switch is mounted as a collar to the shutter, a very convenient location. Another detail is the 4-way rocker switch on the back.


The Nikon D5100 has a pleasant feeling coating but when you have some larger hands, the body is just too small to really hold firmly. On top of the camera body, we find the big dial, but there is no more space for a display to view the settings, as you find on the Nikon D700. On the back of the camera, and somewhat scattered, are a few buttons. The camera has a built-in pop-up flash. Nikon D5100 review

Measurements for this test were performed with Imatest. The measurement results are in the Nikon D5100 test report. For test mode and explanation of terms: see FAQ.

Nikon D5100 versus D5000

  • The D5100 has 16 megapixels, instead of the 12 megapixels that the D5000 has
  • The LCD screen is enlarged from 2.7 to 3 inch and has 3 X as many pixels
  • With the D5100, the LCD screen can be flipped to the left and can be turned. With the D5000, the screen can be flipped down.
  • The D5100 has more video possibilities than the D5000
  • The D5100 is built more compact than the D5000

Nikon D5100 versus Canon 600D versus Sony DSLR A580

  • The Canon has 2MP more than the Sony and the Nikon; in practice, this difference is negligible
  • The Sony takes a maximum of 7 images per second, the other two cameras about 4
  • The Canon and the Sony have a live histogram, the Nikon does not
  • The Nikon does not have an internal AF drive; of a variety of Nikon lenses, the AF does not work. Canon en Sony do not have this problem
  • With Canon and Nikon, you can switch to a full-frame camera; Sony seems to only focus on APS-C cameras.

Viewfinder, screen and menu

The viewfinder accuracy is 95%, which is a typical value in this camera segment. The magnification is 0.85 and due to the crop factor of 1.5, the total magnification is 0.49. The viewfinder is thus slightly smaller than the Canon 60D. In the viewfinder, you can clearly see important information such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO value. The menu is narrow and deep, which means you must sometimes scroll through more than two “pages” to find something and set it. Using a context menu, activated by a separate button, you can check the most important settings and adjust if necessary. The ISO setting, which you often need, is via the context menu. To get from 100 to 200 ISO, you have to press the button as much as 5 times. It should be possible to speed that up!
D5100-sample-imageNikon D5100, AF-S Nikkor 70-200 mm 2.8G ED VRII @ 70 mm f/8 1/60 sec, 200 ISO

Sharpness: resolution

With a good lens like the Nikon 70-200 mm 2.8 VRII or the Nikon 105 mm 2.8 Macro VR, the Nikon D5100 delivers a jpg file with an average resolution of 1500 LW/PH (measured in the center). With standard editing of the RAW files in Lightroom, a greater sharpness impression is obtained, which translates into an average resolution of 2300 LW/PH (at center). These are substantially lower numbers than we know of the Canon 5D MK2, while the difference in resolution between the two cameras is much smaller. Even the Nikon D700 with its 12 megapixels is not inferior to the 18 megapixel Nikon D5100.


d700scherpte D5100scherpte

Nikon D5100 vs Nikon D700

The image quality of the 16 megapixel Nikon D5100 and the 12 megapixel D700 are not easily distinguishable in terms of resolution. On the right is a 100% crop of a part of a 200 ISO RAW shot, taken with the Nikon D700. On the left is a 100% display of a crop of a 200 ISO RAW shot, taken with the Nikon D5100.

Dynamic range: measurement results and practice

The total dynamic range of a Nikon D5100 and a Canon 60D with an average of 12 stops is equal. The usable dynamic range of the Nikon D5100 is almost 8 stops at 100 ISO. Left, you see a shot where the back-light is so strong that both clipping of the highlights as the shadows seem to appear. The large usable dynamic range of the Nikon D5100 allows with using HDR making the shadows a lot lighter without encountering problems with noise.

Click with your mouse on the image for a larger version.



The test results are in the Nikon D5100 test report. Comparison of the noise in JPG files (0.38% at ISO 100) with the measured noise in RAW files without noise reduction (0.60% at ISO 100) shows that even at the lowest ISO settings some noise reduction is applied. But at higher ISO settings, the effect of noise reduction in the jpg files is much more radical (1% vs. 2.9% without noise reduction in RAW).

The noise in an ISO 100 RAW image without any noise reduction with 0.60% is still lower than the noise of a RAW file from the Canon 60D, taken under the same conditions (0.78%). With the naked eye, such a difference will not be noticed. On the right is a detail from an ISO 100 RAW image of the D5100 without noise reduction.

In a 3200 ISO RAW file without noise reduction, the noise becomes dominant, like with the Canon 60D. By applying noise reduction, for this file, a much better result can be realized, so that this file can even be printed on A3. Experience shows that if the noise is less than 2.5%, a photo can be printed on A3 + size without the noise to be seen as disturbing. alt

Color reproduction

daglicht kunstlicht
The color reproduction and white balance of the Nikon D5100 are good, but under artificial light, you will have to correct the white balance afterwards. Above, you see a portrait in daylight (left) and with artificial light and automatic white balance (right). The artificial light image is clearly too warm. The test results are in the Nikon D5100 test report.

Autofocus in practice

The Nikon D5100 focuses quickly. The accuracy and sensitivity of the central AF point is sufficient. In low light and/or contrast, the AF system does go looking. It then does not really matter whether you use the middle or one of the other AF fields.

Autofocus tracking

Our test setup with an only 1 km/hour moving train shows that the continuous AF of the Nikon D5100 is not good enough to keep the train sharp. Not one image was sharp. The Nikon D700 scored better on this point.  DSC0072_D5100
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See our list of tested cameras to compare the performance of this camera with other cameras.


  • For an APS-C camera very good noise qualities
  • High dynamic range
  • Tilt and shivle LCD screen


  • Partly inconvenient menu; you sometimes have to scroll a long time to get to the parameters that you want to adjust
  • No internal AF drive: a number of Nikon lenses lose their AF possibilities in combination with the D5100

The Nikon D5100 is “just” a good camera with a limited number of points where the camera really shines, but also only a very short list of points where the Nikon D5100 has minor disadvantages. The benefits (signal/noise ratio and dynamic range) are in the area of image quality and the disadvantages (clumsy menu and no internal AF drive) are in terms of user convenience. User convenience is somewhat dependent on taste. A good picture quality will give everybody fun.

The measurement results are in the Nikon D5100 test report.


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