LIST PRICE: $899
|HD VIDEO: The D5000 topped out at 1280x720/24p HD video. The new D5100 can do that (and also at 30 fps), plus 1920x1080p HD video at 30 and 24 fps—with continuous autofocusing—and the frame rates are the "real" video 29.97 and 23.976 fps rates. The D5100 also can do 640x424 VGA video at 24 fps (23.976). A built-in microphone records mono sound, or you can add an external mic for stereo sound (Nikon introduced the ME-1 stereo mic with the D5100). The camera can record up to 20 minutes of video in a single clip using AVCHD H.264 compression.
VARI-ANGLE LCD: The D5000 had a Vari-Angle 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD monitor that was hinged at the bottom. The new D5100 improves that, with a 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot unit that's hinged at the side for better ergonomics.
CREATIVE IN-CAMERA EFFECTS: Special effects are hot in the entry-level DSLR category, and the D5100 has them. Rotate the Mode dial atop the camera to the Effects position, and you can apply a host of special effects to both still images and video clips. Selective Color isolates one to three colors in a scene, leaving the rest of the image black-and-white. Night Vision pumps the ISO as high as 102,400 to show detail your eyes can't see. Miniature Effects makes the scene look like a miniature-scale model. There also are High Key, Low Key and Color Sketch effects, plus distortion control, fisheye, image overlay, perspective control and more.
IN-CAMERA HDR: You can set the D5100 to make two bracketed exposures in rapid succession, then combine the best of each into a single HDR image with expanded detail from shadow through highlight. You also can use Nikon's proven Active D-Lighting, which effectively tames overly contrasty scenes, in conjunction with HDR.
A 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor—very similar to the ones that earned the three top scores for DxOMark.com's APS-C-format RAW sensor ratings—along with 14-bit Nikon EXPEED 2 image processing, assures excellent image quality. Normal ISO range is 100-6400, expandable to 25,800 (and to 102,400 in Night Vision mode).
Like the D5000, the D5100 offers Nikon's Picture Controls and Scene Recognition System, which makes it easy to photograph a wide variety of subjects well. Other good features retained from the D5000 include 11-point AF, 420-pixel 3-D Color Matrix Metering II exposure control, 4 fps shooting (despite the D5100's larger images), an integrated sensor-dust reduction system and compatibility with Nikon's GP-1 GPS geotagger.
As is the case with all entry-level Nikon DSLRs, the D5100 doesn't have an AF motor, so it provides autofocusing only with lenses that do: the AF-S and AF-I Nikkors. There currently are nearly 40 AF-S lenses, however, from a 10-24mm superwide zoom to a 600mm supertelephoto, so this isn't really a big problem. (Lenses without AF motors can be used, but must be focused manually.) Of course, the full range of lenses can be used for video as well as still photography.
STANDOUT FEATURE: The D5100's highly rated, 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor with 14-bit processing brings excellent image quality at a very good price.
VERDICT: A worthy successor to the popular D5000, the D5100 includes full HD video, plus in-camera HDR.
Nikon's top "consumer" DSLR, the 16.3-megapixel D7000 offers a larger, more rugged body, a new 2016-pixel 3D Color Matrix II metering system, a new 39-point AF system, 6 fps shooting and more for another $400 or so—but the LCD monitor doesn't tilt. List Price: $1,199.
Nikon's lowest-priced video DSLR, the very compact D3100 nonetheless offers 14.2 megapixels, a 3.0-inch (albeit 230,000-pixel, non-swivel) LCD, 3 fps shooting, 1080p HD video, ISOs from 100-3200 (expandable to 12,800) and more. List Price: $699 (with 18-55mm VR zoom lens).