Nikon has unveiled a new entry-level digital SLR, the D5100. It's aimed at the keen amateur photographer, but it packs tonnes of features, like 1080p video capability, into a lightweight body with a fold-out screen and simplified controls.
The D5100 will be available on 21 April. The body will cost £670 on its own. The kit with an 18-55mm lens will cost £780.
The D5100 is the successor to the now ageing D5000. It slots into the entry-level end of Nikon's dSLR range, between the D3100 and the D7000. The new model boasts the same CMOS sensor as the D7000. It's a 16-megapixel sensor with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 6,400 for low-light shooting.
Buttons and screens
Unlike the cameras on either side of the D5100 in the Nikon range, the new camera sports a fold-out screen, which hinges out to the left like that of a camcorder. The screen can be angled in various directions when you're shooting at low or high angles. The 3-inch display also folds flat against the back of the body when you want normal live view, or folds away so the screen is hidden. To switch between live view and the viewfinder, there's a lever next to the shutter button on the top left shoulder of the camera.
Handily, several important controls have been moved to the top of the camera, near the shutter button. The movie button, for example, joins the live-view lever on the top, so you don't have to look down at the camera and search for buttons, making for a smoother user experience.
Light and sound
The D5100 shoots 1080p high-definition video at up to 30 frames per second. Video clips can be up to 20 minutes long and are stored in the H.264 format. There's an HDMI output so you can watch videos and photo slide shows on your hi-def TV.
Nikon has introduced a separate stereo microphone alongside the D5100 to make sure the sound quality matches up to the video quality. The ME-1 mic slots into the hot shoe at the top, with a cable that connects to the mic input on the left side. We quickly noticed that the mic lead gets in the way of the screen when the display is folded out to the left. Still, if you're serious about video, a decent stereo mic is important. The ME-1 will cost £120.
Scene and heard
The D5100 adds a range of scene modes, which you can select by turning the mode wheel to 'scene'. They're similar to the automatic special filters often found on compact cameras, letting the D5100 create unusual effects for your pictures, including black and white 'night vision' and tilt-shift miniature effects. There's a neat silhouette effect that creates dramatic high-contrast backlit pictures, high- and low-key effects, and a filter that turns a picture black and white but keeps a specific colour of your choice in the photo.
All these effects can be applied in real-time, and to both videos and pictures. Simply select the effect you want, and you'll see how it looks straight away on the screen. You can also apply special effects after you've taken a picture, such as smoothing out distortion, creating a fish-eye effect or removing red eyes. Video can be edited in the camera too.
The only problem with all of these automatic modes is that they can be confusing, especially when the different types of scene mode come under different headings.
The Nikon D5100 will have its work cut out to compete against rival entry-level cameras, such as the Canon EOS 550D, which offers an 18-megapixel resolution and 1080p video capability for a similar price. But, if you want a hinged screen, the D5100 will be a good option -- Canon's entry-level models don't offer folding displays. The D5100 looks set to be a lightweight, accessible entry-level dSLR. Stay tuned for a full review nearer to the release date.
Edited by Charles Kloet