When DSLRs are this small, do you really need a compact system camera? We put the diminutive Nikon D5100 through its paces in our comprehensive AP test
Build and Handling
What is immediately noticeable about the D5100 is its size, or at least the lack of it. Its 10% reduction from the D5000 is really noticeable and in both width and height it is comparable to compact system cameras such as the Samsung NX11.
It does have more depth, however, due to the mirror box, making it less pocket-friendly, but with a short prime lens there’s not a great deal in it. The body is made of a tough plastic and feels solid in the hand, weighing in at a fairly hefty 510g (without battery and memory card). The grip remains just long enough to get three fingers around it and, although it is not the deepest, it still allows a good sturdy hold.
The button layout has changed quite considerably from the D5000, partly due to the new position of the vari-angle screen mount. This means that the buttons that would normally run along the left side of the screen have had to be repositioned.
This has been achieved by placing most of the buttons to the right-hand side and moving the live view control to the top plate. The live view activation is now a switch that sits next to the shooting mode dial and is easy to access using your shutter finger.
A direct movie-record button also now sits on the top plate next to the shutter, although the camera must already be in live view before it can be used. Generally, the buttons are now smaller than on the D5000, but are still well spaced enough and easy to press.
Unlike on more advanced models, few functions have their own direct access button. In fact, only exposure compensation and exposure/focus lock retain this. Most of the shooting functions can be accessed through a quick menu (the i button), however, which gives control of all the main shooting functions displayed on the rear screen, and is much easier than scrolling through the main menu.
The rear LCD screen displays all the shooting information, including a handy aperture and speed diagram that represents the size of the aperture as the value changes. All the main settings from file type to Active D-Lighting and picture control are displayed along the right and bottom sides.
The question mark button can be pressed at any time to reveal more about the currently selected mode, to help new users learn more about their camera. The main menu is similar to that of previous models, with icon-based submenus along the left-hand side, including a recent settings option displaying the most used items, and a retouch menu for post-capture control.
The battery included in the D5100 is the same slim EN-EL14 as featured in the D3100, providing 1,030mAh of charge, which lasts for roughly 300 shots with standard use. This seems slightly low compared to previous models and the battery warning often flashed after just a day’s use, but this is probably due in part to the added abilities of this camera, such as live view, movie record and the processing required for the special effects modes.