Nikon D5100 Review – Page 2

Back to the start of the Nikon D5100 Review

Hey, it’s easter weekend. A fantastic time to do what you would like to do. Almost. I had a thorough list of things on my list. My wife had her list as well. Unfortunately, my name was quite often listed besides her bullet points. You know how this goes. I was VERY productive today. But my personal list is almost as long as it was this morning ….

With some creativity, I could sneak in some photo activties as well. I had to pick some tools from the other part of Vienna, close to the airport. It wasn’t a perfect time (10am), but anyway a good opportunity to check out the AFS 55-300mm and the 3D AF on the D5100. The AFS 55-300mm fits very nice from an overall size perspective. IMHO, the biggest drawback of this combo is its weight. More precisely, the lack of weight. It is almost impossible to keep a light body and a light lens somehow stable if there is no tripod around or no tree to lean on. Others would potentially disagree, but I prefer heavier stuff for handhold photos. Bigger inertia suppresses shutter and mirror vibration more effectively. Don’t know if this is generally true, but the percentage of my handhold keepers goes up with heavier bodies/lenses.

AFS 55-300mm VBR & dynamic  modes

On my second day with the D5100 my brainslowly start to get rewired according to the new user interface the camera exposes. One indication is that the numbers of wrongly pressed buttons – which was quite high yesterday – is now in reasonable territory. Aircraft in flight is perfect for AF-C, 3D-AF with all 11 focus fields active and multiple exposures. I didn’t check it with a stopwatch, but it took me at least 4 times longer to set the 3 settings on the D5100 vs the D3 series. Think, usability is one of the key reasons Nikon charges so much more on the bigger bodies. But the important thing for a D5100 owner – it is there. Never mind that others can switch faster between different modes.

Side note: There was a factory close by, and while I waited for the next plane, I took some shots of the factory. While I can cope with AF-C and a slighter pressing of the shutter button (to avoid multiple exposure) the unpredicatibility of 11 active AF fields with static objects is a nuisance for me – so I switched back and forth. Of course it is possible, it is just simpler and faster on the Pro-bodies.

Welcome Air Malta to Vienna. D5100, AFS 55-300mm @ 200mm  (click on the image for a larger version)

Unfortunately, the sun was already too high for decent light, but the AFC worked as expected. It is just so simple – point & shoot.

Fly Niki . D5100, AFS 55-300mm @ 300mm (click on the image for a larger version)


One observation: The AFS 55-300mm delivers good performance on the D5100 (and D7000) up to roughly 200mm, beyond that focal length the lens becomes more and more a limitation for this new generation of sensors with high spatial resolution. Check the larger versions of the 2 images above for yourself and see the difference in crispness. “Wait” you could argue – “it might be you (i.e me) whose fault it is”. This assertation is of course correct, but let me offer a counter claim: This behavior is repetitive in different settings and situations. It is a constant pattern.

Having said that, the resolution of this body is still astonishing. Check this 100% crop of a photo taken with 200mm, handhold and of course the plane was still in flight.

This wheel belongs to the plane above (I hope so …) 100% cropped


On my way the next stop (still executing the list my wife handed over in the morning), there was this building. Shot from the car, AFS 50-300mm, @300mm. Didn’t have a tripod, so I leaned on a stop sign. Click on the image to see a 100% crop. Not bad for an entry level camera (and tele zoom lens)


AF tracking:

Tracking a commercial plane is comparatively easy for an AF system. Blue homogenous background, huge  distances and somehow and hopefully predictable flight paths. But whats about closer things, like cars? So I cross checked the ability of the AF to track and focus on a car.

I appreciate the kindness of the Audi to pass by with about 30-40 mph (50-65 km/h) after switching all the settings back to “dynamic” mode. BTW, the D5100 has a bigger RAW buffer than the D7000. Thanks to the dropping RAM prices.

Sorry for the blurred images, it is just a screen shot with the filenames to “verify” that it was indeed a nice sequence without any dropouts. I kept firing on the license plate.


Below is a 100% crop of the third photo (DSC_0624). Basically, all photos are in this “sharpness” range . Your POV might vary, but for me this looks like some good evidence about the progress we had in the last 5 years. Was it complicated to shoot? No, only the settings part.


This ends the part with the AFS 55-300mm. I had to drive home to work there.


AFS 18-200MM VR II experiences

The good thing with working at home is that it is quite easy to change stuff. I dropped the AFS 55-300mm and replaced it with a Nikkor AFS 18-200mm VR II.

To sum up some quick experiences with this lens:

Vignetting and Distortion, very often being touted as weakness for this lens is for me on the D5100 (plus the D3100, D7000 and D90) a non-issue. Set correction=on and basically forget this former limitation. As has been often explained, lens design is full of compromises. In the past, all abberations had to be taken care by the lens itself. While the digital world put some new challenges on the desk of a lens designer, he can and usually does offload some of the solution options to the colleagues in the digital software department. It is correct that you might loose some real resolution and dynamic range in the corners, but more often than not, there is more available than needed. Good choice.

Avoid the long end if sharpness matters to you. Like with the AFS 55-300mm VR, the 18-200mm VR II, being a 11-fold superzoom has do cope with even more compromises. I’d put 135-150mm at the upper end for good quality sharpness on the D5100, with gradual decline in the longer end. There is a simple solution you can leverage from the people with prime lenses – walk. It is not an exlusive option for the “prime purists”, simple “zoomists” can use this trick as well.  Instead of using the lens at 200mm, move your body a bit closer, set the focal length appropriately and enjoy the result.

My outing: I love this lens. Not because it has the best test chart performance of all Nikkor lenses, but despite the lack of some good measurements. Let me explain. People tend to overemphasize test tables and charts. What is the MTF-50 value @ 21mm? Eeh, it has distortions. It shows vignetting – uff,  and so on and on. The big missing part of all lens evaluations is a very simple one for me. What is MY usage scenario with this lens and HOW do I value this lens? No other tester has insight into MY usage profile. Do I want or do I need to travel super light. Is in my travel plan a hard and strict limit of one lens and one body? Maybe I’d like to do a trip with a focus on a different hobby and my camera is just there and used to document my other alter ego. There is nothing to shame not to have the best possible lens on a camera. Technically speaking.

If I really wanted to travel light, I used to have the D3100 and this lens in my bag, jacket, trolley or trunk. Size and convenience matter. Given the experience so far with teh D5100, the days of this “dream team” seem to be numbered. Here comes the D5100 with roughly the same size and greatly enhanced capabilities.

Ok, here is one sample: D5100 & AFS 18-200mm VR II (full image, just resized) – See how hard I worked Smile

100% crop of the image above, taken at 150mm


Another example of the AFS 18-200mm VR where I could have been. See how empty it is?

No being able to relax there, at least I could check the sharpness and resolution of the lens @ 115mm and f8 from a distance.



My beloved dog really helped me today and contributed its signifcant energy towards our mutual goal to finish soon. Nikon D5100, ISO 800, AFS 18-200mm VR II, Auto WB

There is a technical story to this image as well. While most cameras tend to have similar white balance in the sun when Auto WB is set, the difference start when there is shadow or during the night. Each camera treats these circumstances different. As you will see later as well,  the D5100 seems to be set by the Nikon software engineers to lean towards a more greenish tone when in doubt. In comparison, the D7000 is rather more reddish. Its not a huge issue, its just visible when watching images side by síde with factory settings. Looks like the D5100 guys came from the Fuji Provia team and the D7000 team had its origins with Kodak.

Ok, that’s it  for today’s experiences.


The big night and ISO shoot-out

Before I really end, I’d like to share some images I did last night. Out of curiosity, I repeated the night shots of the tree with more cameras. Besides the D5100, I ran 6 more cameras through all ISO settings:

  1. The D50, the old venerable entry camera
  2. The D3100, the current entry camera with supposedly the first “pure” Nikon sensor (designed and build)
  3. The D5000, the outgoing champ
  4. The D7000, the bigger brother with the same sensor (but seemingly different settings in WB)
  5. The D90, the base line for great all around performance
  6. The D3S, the current night vision champ in Nikon’s lineup

So what did I do?

  1. Put all the cameras on a sturdy tripod.
  2. Used a good lens (AFS 60mm/2.8G Micro for DX and AFS 105mm/2.8G Micro for FX).
  3. As it was dim, exposure time for ISO 100 was set to 30 sec, for ISO 200 to 15 sec and so forth.
  4. Where available I used a remote and mirror-up.
  5. WB was set to Auto. Noise reduction = OFF.
  6. Best possible RAW settings

Postprocessing in CNX2 was simple

  1. Set noise reduction = High quality (with default NR settings)
  2. Crop a 16:10 part of the original image, the width being the maximum width of the respective sensor
  3. Resize the cropped image to 1920×1200
  4. Save in JPEG highest quality

Caveat: I should have worked more carefully and catched it, but I didn’t. It was late and I have 2 images with errors. First, the ISO 100 image of the D5100 has a different exposure and tonality. A second light source distorted the color balance during the 30 sec exposure. The second error is the ISO 1600 shot of the D50. I forgot to reduce exposure time by half and got a photo brighter by 1 stop. To avoid redoing the whole series, I just reduced exposure in CNX2 by –1EV. Sorry for that.

I put all 52 photos with 88 MB in 2 zip files to download for anybody who is interested. Do to size limitations of single files (50 MB), one zip-file contains all photos of the D5000-D5100-D7000 and the second zip-file  all the others (D50-D3100-D5000-D90-D3S)

Please download the images from this location


Some observations:

  1. The D3s reproduction of color was by far the best (as seen on location)
  2. The difference between the D50 and the latest generation of cameras is very visible. D50 users (and similar type cameras like the D70, D70s, D40, …) might benefit more from an upgrade than others
  3. The Auto WB of the D3100 produced under this single setting a very greenish tone (Please do NOT generalize this)
  4. The Auto WB of the D5100 had a light greenish cast, and the auto WB (CAM 4800) of the D7000 a more reddish/pink one. Sensor sensitivite between the 2 is basically identical.
  5. There is progress between the D5000 and D5100. Not sure it warrants an upgarde by this community.
  6. The D90 is an asthonishing performer.
  7. The D3s is in a class by itself (unfortunately also from a pricing perspective.


So this is really the end for today.


Good night and see you next time around,



Next page: Part 3 – AFS 18-55mm, AFS 18-105mm VR, The joys and limitations of night photography

4 Responses to Nikon D5100 Review – Page 2

  1. Blagoja D. says:

    Little off topic but if possible can you give an oversight in a new article of how the D3100 (480e with 18-55 non vr) compares with d5100 (900e I think with 18-55 vr, not available yet in Macedonia) and D7000 (1100e body only, 1350e with 18-105mm)

    Do you think the D5100 is worth it to someone that wants to travel light or use it for general street photography over the D3100.

    (My current kit atm btw, D3100, D7000, 35mm 1.8 / 50mm 1.4g / 55-200 and 18-105 from the nikon front and Canon 5D mk1 85mm L 1.2, 135L 2.0, 200L 2.8, 24-105L IS, 50mm 1.8 … I recently switched to nikon because Canon charges a huge premium over here and I can’t tolerate them, still keeping my canon collection for the future when and if they come up with a FF body the size of D3100. Also Canon failed big time with the 60D – 1200e over here body only… 🙂

    So the dilemma is, sell the D3100 and buy D5100 when it arrives or just be happy with what I’ve got. I’m not a professional so this is basically a hobby and a passion, which balances perhaps 50% photographer/50% toy collector and gadget freak.

  2. Lee in NC says:

    I’m curious for your views of the D7000 vs the D90 in the low light test.

    You’re a great resource!

  3. Robbie L. Henderson says:

    Thank you for the work you have done so far. I really like my d5000. However, at times, it is slow to take a picture, especially in lower light situations but sometimes in normal light (for both my 18-55 and 35 f1.8 and others). I have read other reports on the web where others remark that the d5000 can be sluggish (especially low light, with fill flash, active d lighting…). Does the d5100 improve with general speed? Thanks in advance for your reply.

  4. Liu says:

    Though I always prefer heavy body and heavy lens…But now I am 51 year old , My preferences changed.. Now I wish to have a lighter body with accommodating lens which balance perfectly.. For a long period I was guessing D 5100 and 18 – 200 VR lens or 18 -105 may be a right combination for my style of photography.. And as your write up suggest I am right on it.

    Thanks for review .. It is more honest personal or user view …

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