June 5 2011
Nikon’s newest Digital SLR, the D5100, has a new 16.2 megapixel APS-C size sensor that according to DxOMark tests has excellent image quality.
Nikon’s extensive range of DSLRs makes choosing a new camera difficult. From the bottom to middle of the Nikon range there is not a large difference in quality.
There are three main models in Nikons range of Digital SLRs with APS-C (or DX) sensors. Nikon juggle the camera specifications over the range to make some real difference between the models and justify the price differences. Nikon sometimes confuse the issue even more when their superseded models are still readily available alongside their newer cameras.
Photographers with little experience with DSLRs may not know what is really important to them in a DSLR. One problem is that the relative importance of different aspects of a DSLR vary depending on the photographer’s style and favourite photographic genres. These will develop with experience gained from using their new DSLR, but it does make the initial choice problematic.
DxOMark provides an independent source of test data for sensor performance comparisons.
The DxOMark test results suggest the D5100‘s sensor is very similar, if not the same as the excellent item in the D7000, so image quality is not an issue. While the D5100 shares its sensor with the more expensive D7000, the D3100 is cheaper with a slightly lower performance digital sensor according to DxOMark.
The minor differences in the DxOMark overall sensor scores between the D5100 and the D7000 are probably due to production tolerances in the samples DxOMark used for their testing.
The price leading D3100 uses a different sensor and, as expected by the price difference, has a lower DxOMark overall score of 67. This DxOMark score is comparable with the lower priced Canon DSLRs.
The image noise performance is very close for all three and is excellent, and the D5100 only falls slightly behind the class leading Pentax K-5 when the ISO goes over 1600.
The dynamic range test results show the D5100 has a significant advantage over the D3100 in dynamic range for low ISO settings. Landscape photographers in particular prefer to use the lowest ISO possible to minimize noise. This difference justifies the extra price for the D5100 for photographers looking for a good landscape DSLR.
While the D5100 shares its sensor with D7000 many of its other features are similar to the cheaper D3100.
This is one issue as the D5100 doesn’t have an autofocus motor in the camera body. While the D5100 can use a wide range of Nikkor lenses, only AF-S lenses with a focus motor built in the lens body will focus automatically.
Here the price difference between the D5100 and the D7000 starts to show. The D5100 lacks the weather sealing of the D7000. The body of the D5100 is all composite plastic compared to the metal alloy half body of the D7000.
Underlying the minor differences in specifications between the three cameras their fundamentals are excellent. All the Nikon DLSRs use the range of lenses from Nikon and specialist lens manufacturers. There is a vast array of lenses ranging in reasonable quality lenses for the budget conscious through to excellent premium quality lenses for professionals and advanced photographers.
The D5100 is a compromise between the price of the D3100 and the ancillary features of the D7000. It offers excellent image potential at a reasonable price but without some of the bells and whistles of the D7000.
The D5100 is available from Adorama for $US 799.95
|Price approx at B&H in New York||$US680||$US800||$US1200|
|Diopter adjustment||-1.7 to +0.5||-1.7 to +0.7||-3 to 1|
|autofocus motor in camera body||no||no||yes|
|Shutter Speed||1/4000 to 30 sec in 1/3 EV steps||1/4000 to 30 sec in 1/3 EV steps||1/8000 to 30 sec in 1/3 EV steps|
|Flash sync speed||1/200 sec||1/200 sec||1/250 sec|
|Frame rate maximum||4||4||6|
|SD cards||SD, SDHC||SD, SDHC, SDXC||Two card slotsSD, SDHC, SDXC|
||TTL exposure metering using 2,016-pixel RGB sensor|
|ISO normal range||100-3200||100-6400||100-6400|
|Battery life – Shots per charge||550||660||660|