Hands on Impressions of the Nikon D 5100


I had the distinct pleasure of being one of the photographers shooting for the Nikon D5100 brochure produced by Nikon, Japan. As such, I got to play extensively with prototype versions of this new camera.

Note please that the headline said “impressions” pieces and not “review.” Why? Because I’m not technically adept enough to do reviews….but I do get hired to make pictures now and then with new gear:-), so I can at least give you my impressions of working with the gear, albeit prototype gear.

It’s hard to really do an exhaustive review when the firmware of the prototypes is getting upgraded in increments every hour of every day you’re trying to shoot with them. That’s one of the distinct, um, pleasures of shooting material for a camera before it’s officially finished, er, I mean released.

If you are the type of shooter who wants a big brick of a “pro” camera that weighs a ton and can drive nails, you can stop reading.

If you crave high performance, light weight, and affordability, you are going to be a happy camper. 

Image quality looks damn similar to the D7000, which is to say great. But I what I really really love about this camera is the small size AND the articulating screen. It wasn’t until I started using it that I discovered how useful it can be, and for shooting video, that screen is a joy. It makes doing floor level shots, flying a camera on a stabilizer, and doing hail mary angles—-useful for stills but absolutely necessary for video—easy as pie.

The added option of 1080p 30fps is welcome (but 60fps, for smooth slo-mo, would be even more welcome…I’m sure it’s coming in the next pro body release). They give you a mic jack too, so you can use your auxiliary mics with this baby and get usable sound.

The special effects menu—miniature effect (tilt and shift look), selective color, in camera HDR (the camera takes two frames and blends them), and color sketch effect —are a lot of fun, but for me, it’s only the miniature effect and the HDR that are of really interest. 


You have to double check me on this (again, I was working on prototypes) but I’m 90% sure that there’a built in intervalometer on the D5100, which makes it an awesome time-lapse shooting machine. 

Nikon continues to put more and more great innovations in their new consumer cam releases that you wish, you pray, would be available for older, higher end models. Would I like 30fps option for my D7000? Oh yeah.  The miniature effect? You bet. But I don’t think they’re going to issue firmware upgrades to do this retroactively. It’s the nature of camera marketing.

The D5100 uses the same small battery (EN-EL 14) as the D3100 family, so that means carrying an extra charger and carrying a second type of battery and charger (takes up just that much more space).

There wasn’t any time during my two weeks working with this camera that I felt like throwing it against a wall or tossing it into the Pacific…that’s high praise from me! The smaller lighter body is something I got used to very quickly and it’s going to make it easy to use a smaller stabilizer or steadicam to “fly” the camera. That’s a good thing, because you’d be surprised at how tired your arm can get working with a stabilizer.

In fact, after working with them for that long, my D7000s felt big and chunky in comparison when I got back.

So I’ve got one on order to be my third body (“two and a spare” is the way I’ve been traveling with cameras since…well since a long time ago). But I have to tell you, the D7000 better watch out, because the new kid in town is pretty damn cool!

You check the camera and brochure out here.  It was more kids and animals than I’ve shot in a long time….and you know what they say about working with kids and animals! They say it ‘cuz it’s true:-).


This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Hi Bob,

    Nice “impression piece”! I’m also intrigued by the swiveling screen on the D5100. I wish my D7000 had that.

    I have a question: why are you traveling with three camera bodies? Wouldn’t two bodies be sufficient (if one breaks, you still have another)?

    1. I like to work with two bodies, one with a wide zoom, one with a tele zoom. If one breaks down or is stolen or broken, that leaves me with only one body that I’d have to constantly switch lenses on.

      The “matched pair” of SLRs has been the way I’ve shot for years. So for me, two bodies is a minimum.

      You can get away with one body if you’ve got something like an 18-200mm. But for my lens kit, I prefer the two body approach.

  2. Thanks for your impressions Bob; so tell all, will this lighter Nikon with the ‘joy’ screen be replacing your D7000 in its video role? And next time you come to my town, San Diego, please give us notice!!

    1. Jacques: I don’t know…it may become the case because the screen is convenient for video. That would be ironic, but that’s progress, I guess. I will give you a shout next time I’m coming out that way. cheers, Bob

  3. Really looking forward to your great images from your last travels.

  4. Hey Bob,

    I have a question for you – I know you’re a big D7000 shooter and I recently picked one up myself.

    I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated with the location of the ISO button — particularly if I have a longer or heavier lens on the camera.

    I always have to take my eye away from the viewfinder, adjust my grip, change the ISO, then reframe — and this can get very awkward with a heavier zoom.

    I was wondering how you deal with adjusting ISO when in manual mode.

    Thanks for any help!

  5. sorry repost

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  7. Bob:
    I note with joy that you use DX bodies. As a serious amateur who is going semi-pro, I find the FX bodies and their lenses hideously expensive for my modest $$. Why do you prefer to work with the smaller frame?

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