Nikon D5100 Review – Page 3

Back to the start of the Nikon D5100 Review

Welcome back to part 3 of this relaxed journey with the new Nikon D5100. Yesterday, I didn’t post anything as it was easter sunday, time with the kids and family. Weather was great and friends came for barbeque. Later, when all went to bed I started to get to downtown Vienna for some night shots with the D5100. Started around midnight and came home at 3am – I’ll share some images from that trip and some more information where the entry level class cameras have still some limitations for night photography, despite significant progress in sensors sensitivity. More on this later.

This morning, as promised to some commenters, I mounted the 2 kit lenses on the Nikon D5100, the AFS 18-55mm and the AFS 18-105mm VR  while walking the dog with my wife.

Summing up this post I’ll share some noise related information and a quick (but hopefully representative) sharpness overviews with some usual lenses in the D5100 realm. The AFS 18-55mm, AFS 55-200mm, AFS 18-200mm VR II, AFS 55-300mm enhanced with some shots with the AFS 14-24mm, AFS 50mm/1.4 and AFS 104mm/2.8 Micro.


Experiences with the Kit lenses (AFS 18-55mm and AFS 18-105mm VR)

I’ll start with the kit lens shots from this morning. To put the proper context around the way how they were produced. Image walking with your wife, engaged in a chat, stopping for a second when something interesting is in your view. Taking images without great preparation. “Tripod” you might ask? Not here. Carefully balancing the light? Nope. Asking your partner to carry some stuff? Are you kidding? Point and shoot at its best. BTW, the LowePro OffTrail 1 waist bag has the perfect size to keep the D5100 with the AFS 18-105mm AND the sun shade. This accelerates significantly the speed to be able to get an image – you don’t have to fiddle around with the sun hood. For those who don’t think about and don’t like the sun shade. There is no simpler and cheaper way to improve the image quality of your precious camera than using this el cheapo accessoir. 

Honestly, I never use the AFS 18-55mm for my personal photography. It came along with the D40 in the past, so I have it. Not that it is a bad lens, but it is so tiny, so light that 2 important things are missing for me. A bigger lens allows my left hand to fully support the lens tube and more weight and increased inertia tremendously helps with handhold photography – like VR, more weight gives you another stop or two. Weird as it sounds but that’s my personal approach to this.

It comes at no suprise that you should stay away from the edge cases with this lens (like all others as well). DOn’t expect that the lens performs at its best when at the wide or long end, or shot completely open. Staying 1 step away from these extremes helps any lens and improves your enjoyment with your gear. Before I forget, there is another limit you will to be more careful vs previous generations of D-SLR cameras with lower resolution. There are other things to consider as well, but diffraction limit with a 16,2 MP DX sensor starts at around f8 (based on the usual airy-disc size). So, for maximum sharpness, be careful when you get into f11 and f16 territory – it won’t work with your D5100. This is not a limitation of this particular lens, but a physics phenomenon. No the end of the world, but you should be aware.

With most of the overview images, clicking on the photo get you a larger version, usually 1920x1200mm.  Most images of this part of the Nikon D5100 review can be downloaded in full size for personal use from here.

All resized and cropped images used in this part are located here.


Nikon D5100 & AFS 18-55mm @f8 (DSC_0923)


Getting closer to this wooden horse. Nikon D5100 & AFS 18-55mm (@ 55mm and f5.6) – as written above it is a kind of worst case for image sharpness for this lens (DSC_0921)

There are some limitations, what a f5.6 (@55mm) stop lens is able to produce with respect to shallow depth of field (DOF). Depending on your background, bokeh is not too bad either. You might not be happy with leaves and branches in the background, they are notorious hard to come by as blurred background.

Nikon D5100 & AFS 18-55mm (@55mm and f5.6) (DSC_0908)


Last example. Some leaves in the morning sun. Nikon D5100 & AFS 18-55mm (@ 55mm and f5.6) (DSC_0882)


Switching to the AFS 18-105mm VR

This is potentially the most common kit lens people might choose for the D5100. It has a better range then the other kit lens (the AFS 18-55mm) avoid lens changes vs. 2 lens setup. It is cheaper vs. the AFS 18-200mm VR II. There is “more” lens in your hand vs. the AFS 18-55mm. From an IQ perspective, the lens is often underestimated for its sharpness, but quite often people with higher aspirations complained about a high level of distortion. For most others, just switch auto distortion correction on and forget about this aspect in most circumstances. If you intend to move into tabletop, repro and architectural photography, then it is time to move on – lens wise.


Ok, that’s it for the kit lens section. Don’t forget to get to the download page for full size JPEGs if you are interested (link is above)). The files are taken from unaltered NEF files, just converted into JPEGs. For me, it is really impressive what the bar is today for an eadvanced entry level camera.

Sun behind the leaves, D5100 & AFS 18-105mm VR (click for enlarging)

100% crop

100% crop

Why the bare 16.2mp sensor is great for night shots, but not the filters.

I need to be careful with this section. The internet has proven to be a place, where single attributes of increasingly more complex consumer technology is often taken out of context and rage wars start if it is this or that, with endless discussions, sometimes quite heated, in between.

I love night photography. Not that I am particulary good at it, but the night is usually the only time where I can enjoy my hobby with ease. During the day, my job during the week and the family over the weekend are somehow a “barrier” to be 100% focussed on a hobby. It is what it is. A great pasttime, a way to express yourself (not on this blog – which is rather focussed on technical aspects) and an excellent way to relax. So, I relax in the night.

Before I zoom in on the issues, I’d like to share my view on the current status of sensor technology and capabilities of cameras. When “real” D-SLR photography started with the revolutionary D1 started in 1999, the most important metric for most photographers quickly became sensor resolution. The more the better. With the advent of consumer cameras, it quickly became the familiar marketing game to fish for more customers with sometimes ridiculus high MP numbers. Betting on the fact that most users didn’t differentiate between Megapixel and real captured information, which is dependent on the whole image pipeline (Lens & camera & and shooting conditions). When the D3 was introduced back in 2007, a new super metric became en-vogue (it was there before as well, biut the D3 raised it to prime time). Leading to the often heard key question with new cameras: How high can its ISO go? Life would be simple, if the world would be simple. There are so many things to be considered, things which need to be done correctly to get an excellent overall technical image quality. It starts with lenses, where besides the omnious sharpness, other aspects are tremendously important. To name a few: Sharpness (center, border, corners), reflections, flare, ghosting, field cuvcature, contrast & micro contrast, spectral transmission, precision of focus mechanism, AF speed, zoom range, price point in the market and many more. This is the reason why it continues to be a formidable challenge for lens designers – it needs to be and usually is a compromise to design a lens.

What is logical and often discussed in internet forums about lenses is less often done about the optical system in front of the sensor – mostly the Bayer filter and the anti aliasing (AA) filter. While it is obvious why they are in the optical pipeline, it’s side effects are less often discussed. Either people are not aware, or they don’t care – I don’t know. Back to our little gem, the Nikon D5100. Similar with previous consumer cameras, they often get the same sensor as their higher priced silblings. A natural consquence of the merits of mass production in silicon technology which benefits from higher production runs. But the key thing is that the other components of the image pipeline within the camera can be optimized for the target market by the manufacturer. Depending on technolog evolution, some components will be better (benefiting from a later market introductio) or worse (because the unit price of this component didn’t fit the price enevelope the manufacturer has on his mind).

How often have you seen and heard that the D90 has a better IQ than the D300? Benefiting from its later market introduction (about 1 year)

But there are use cases, where the D300 benefits from its higher quality components (AA-filter and Bayer filter). I am not talking about the better  AF Module, higher speed fps, etc. just the key components around the sensor.


Like the D7000, the Nikon D5100 has this new sensor with excellent high ISO capabilities, really excellent for a DX camera. It can not be overemphasized – it is fantastic. Less fantastic is that Nikon hasn’t found an innovative way to to improve the filters in front of the sensor accordingly. They know how to do it, as seen with the D3-series or the D300/D300s, but the problem is either one of finding a more cost effective way, how it can be used with the D5100/D7000 or it might be a feature serving a market separation function. Differentiating the higher priced bodies from the lower end. Ok, so much for the background.

Night photos

Let’s view some images. I used the D5100 with 2 different lenses. The AFS 35mm/1.8G and the AFS 35mm/1.4G. For comparison, some shots where also taken with a D7000 and the current Nikon reference camera in low light photography, the Nikon D3s. The scenes aren’t the most compelling ones. They just serve the purpose to illustrate some of the points mentioned below, they are handhold with high ISO to visualize what is possible without using a tripod – opening up a huge amount of new photo opps to those interested in it.


Schönbrunn palace (taken through the gate, it was closed)

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8

It is really great to see the sensor sensitivity with the Nikon D5100. Looking at the halo around the light poles in the palace you might attribute the light fields to imprefections to the AFS 35mm/1.8G lens. But is not lens dependent, as you will see later. (click on the image for larger version)

Nikon D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8G (ISO 1600, f2, 1/50sec)

Here is a crop of the D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8G. In 100% crop everything looks ugly. Don’t be scared, most of it can be removed in post processing and size reduction to viewable sizes. But this kind of halo is visible in resized images as well.


Here is a crop of the D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.4G, currently the best 35mm Nikkor lens. Doesn’t it look similar?

I thought that Nikon built the D5100 sensor with lower quality AA- and Bayer-filter components. Looking at the D7000 image with the AFS 35mm/1.8G displays the same behavior is evident for the D7000 camera.


Ok, lets compare this scenery with the D3s and the AFS 50mm/1.4 (not the best lens, but similar for its FOV to the 35mm DX lenses) (click to enlarge)

100% crop of the D3s image. See, what I mean by this difference? The halo is significant less pronounced.

This is another opportunity to show the benefit of heavier bodies with heavier lenses. All images above are shot at f2 and 1/50sec (with ISO 1600). With the D3s is it possible for me to shoot 1/15sec with the 50mm lens. It is significantly more error prone to try this with the lighter bodies. Gives me 2 f-stops in this scenery (click to enlarge)


Second scenery: Naschmarkt

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8G (ISO 1600, f1.8, 1/15 sec)


D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.4G (ISO 1600, f1.4, 1/25sec)

D7000 & AFS 35mm/1.8G (ISO 1600, f1.8, 1/25sec)

D3s & AFS 50mm/1.4G (ISO 1600, f1.4, 1/30sec)

purple fringing, a lens limitation, can easily be removed


Third scenery: Neuber’s Enkel

I won’t go into details here, but show straight hand hold photography in 2011.  It is amazing and enjoyable.

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.4G (ISO 800, f2.8, 1/200)  (click to enlarge)

D3s & AFS 50mm/1.4G (ISO 800, f2.8, 1/125 sec)



Fourth scenery: Burgtheater

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8G (ISO 1600, f2, 1/50 sec)

D5100& AFS 35mm/1.4G

D7000 & AFS 35mm/1.4G

D3s & AFS 50mm/1.4G (ISO 1600, f2, 1/50 sec)


Reproducing and isolating the issue

As always, street photography introduces so many irregularities, that I’d like to demonstrate this issue in a more formal way at home in my test lab (just kidding, don’t have a lab. Just a room to play around)

This is the test setup. Besides the ISO 12233 chart, which in this context doesn’t serve any particular purpose besides being there for the next test, the real important thing is the small LED flashlight in the upper right corner. This flashlight points directly to the lens to imitate street lights, like in the images seen before.

Now, a series of 100% crops around the LED flashlight follows:

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.8G

D5100 & AFS 35mm/1.4G – The lens cannot play to its strength, as the filter layer is limiting image quality


D90 & AFS 35mm/1.8G. Just to show, that the highly regarded D90 has the same quality level filter layer, in line with the D7000

D300s &´AFS 35mm/1.4G. Here comes the difference to the D90. Same sensor substrate, different filter. If this is correct, then the upcoming D400 will utilize the low light capabilities of the 16,2 MP sensor much more than the D7000 is currently able to deliver

D3s & AFS 50mm/1.4G

D3s & AFS 35mm/1.4G

In conclusion

I stay with my initial verdict. The D5100 and the D7000 are impressive low light cameras. There is room for improvement with some components which are less than optimal due to a variety of reasons. If history is an indication (D300 vs. D90) we can look forward to the D400 which, when issued with the same basic sensor, will probably top the D7000/D5100 in this regards. Looking forward to this introduction. Oh and yes. The D3s is good, very good in this regards as well.

Don’t forget to consider the total image pipeline, not only single elements of it.

Noise Map D5100 vs. D7000

There has been rumors after the Nikon D5100 was announced, that it will have better low iso capabilities due to advances in noise reduction. A good opportunity to check the NR settings of the D5100 vs. the D7000. Nikon’s engineers have significant leeway in tuning the software pipeline to optimize the resulting photo. I did run my little D5100 through all ISO settings with the 4 different NR modes (off, low, normal, high). It is completely identical to the settings found in the D7000. Another indication that the sensors and software pipeline are very similar and Nikon kept the changes to a minimum.

Here are the NR values as seen in Capture NX2:



This part grew longer than expected. I did check also the AF low light capabilities of the D5100, D7000 and D3s with moving targets (cars) in the night. In case you are interested, this will be covered in the next part. I did also run most appropriate lenses against an ISO 12233 resolution chart  to check the resolution of the most common lenses (with some high end references).

With that, good night for now,


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: Part 4 – Battery life, low light performance of the autofocus, dynamic continous night shots

20 Responses to Nikon D5100 Review – Page 3

  1. PhotoHop says:

    I am having too much fun reading your D5100 reviews, as I patiently wait for my back ordered D5100.
    I have decided on, maybe an unusual upgrade path….Upgrading my D60 to a D5100 while keeping my D90, instead of going for the D7000…Thanks for the hard work, it’s appreciated!

    • nikonandye says:

      I am glad you enjoy reading my stories. It is fun writing them as well.
      I think you will love the upgrade from the D60 to the D5100. The D60 is not a bad camera, the D5100 is just more versatile. This kind of progress seems to in consumer electronics a fact of life.

    • Bill Mandigo says:

      I have come to a similar conclusion in deciding between the 5100 and 7000 in favor of the 5100 as the main thing for me is low light , the fact that they have the same resolution processor, the 30 frame at the highest resolution HD movie mode is a plus for the 5100 over the 7000- the semi pro features – the LCD Dial – I have that on my D200 – I don’t want to lay out 1/3 more money for the heavy body, moisture sealed etc when I will probably want to get some future Nikon with even better features – I’ll keep my D200 and use the lenses on both to use both cameras where they excel. Anyway – thanks for your comments and I would be interested in any updated thoughts. I am preparing to travel from CA to Bordeaux France and since my French is not good I will take more photographs!

      • PhotoHop says:

        Well, I cancelled my D5100 order and went with a factory refurbished D7000.. I just figured why hold myself back…the better auto-focus system, metering for my older manual lenses and lens fine-tuning among many other features…
        I rarely use live view and video on my D90 so I don’t really care about the slightly better video performance of the D5100….and to tell the truth video still sucks on the D7k as well…and now I’ve come to find some of my 3rd party lenses don’t auto-focus in live view or video….That kinda sucks!

  2. Steve says:

    Highly interesting, your review of the D5100, especially the night shot part! As I’m looking forward to buy my very first DSLR without hurry, especially for night and low-light photography, the information you provide is highly appreciated. Your blog just went into my “check regularly” folder, btw. – St

  3. Hein1908 says:

    Thanks for this interessting and informative review. I’m foundn the comparision between the high and lowend DSLRs very interessting. First time I saw what I get if I spend more money for a camera and objective.

  4. Himanshu says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog.Nikon is releasing a new version of 50mm f 1.8G AFS. I would love to see a review of this lens with D5100.

    • nikonandye says:

      it is already ordered, but don’t know if I will dedicate the time for a review for it. I’ll see how it goes.
      regards, Andy

  5. kkjoe says:

    Wirklich ein toller Bericht. Der Tipp das Objektiv nicht bis zum Anschlag zu zoomen hat mir sehr geholfen. Ich habe mich immer gewundert wieso ich nie so scharfe Fotos machen konnte wie die, die ich im Web gesehen habe.
    Was genau meintest du mit der Blende ? Welche Bereiche sollte man meiden um unscharfe Bilder zu bekommen ? Alles zwischen f11 und f16 ?

  6. Mik says:

    Nice work! I’m now trying to decide the purchase of a camera and I’m in doubt between D7000 and D300s. I know that D7000 has better sensor and better video but it seems that D300s is a better balanced camera. I had read a lot of complains about the AF and metering of the D7000. Have you noticed that?

    Danke schön!

    • nikonandye says:

      Thanks Mik.
      Contrary to some voices in the web, my experience with new AF module in the D7000 has been quite positive. My personal view and expectation is that this module will show up in the next generation upper line models. Together with better performance with filters and shorter blackout times, its performance might even increase (with the new bodies).
      Cheers, Andy

      • Mik says:

        Thank you for the response. I agree with you that the full potential of the D7000’s and sensor and metering system will be show with the next bodies (maybe D400?).

  7. Aubrey says:

    Vous avez de bons points il, c’est pourquoi j’aime toujours verifier votre blog, Il semble que vous etes un expert dans ce domaine. maintenir le bon travail, Mon ami recommander votre site.

    Mon francais n’est pas tres bon, je suis de l’Allemagne.


  8. The positives of the D7000 vs. D90 after two months of use:
    1. I shoot mainly indoor sports primarily high school jazz and high-kick dance routines in low and lousy light typically. This camera is considerably better than the D90 in this area. Very sharp and bright images with little or no noise up to ISO 6400. I generally use a Nikon f/2.8 70-200mm VR lens which yields excellent results.

    2. 100% image as shown in viewfinder.

    3. New extra dial that lets you store two completely different sets of camera settings. This makes switching between two modes especially fast when needed.

    The negatives (only applies if you expect to shoot many shots quickly and in raw)
    1. One of the things even the expert reviewers are missing is that this camera at 16MP creates around a 20MB raw file. This isn’t a problem for general use but when shooting rapid fire or shooting every second or so the buffer fills up before writing out to the card. You can take up to 10 shots at any speed you wish but once it is full you have to wait several seconds to open space to continue or take fewer shots which is what I do to not miss that all important moment. I never had this issue with the D90 – I could shoot as rapid as I wanted. Granted the image is much better/larger and in 14 or 12 bit raw but be aware of this limitation going in. When shooting JPEG, the buffer size increases considerably so if you normally shoot JPEG it might not be a problem.

    2. The dual card slot sounds great. There are several menu options to configure how you want the slots to behave; mirror so that as you take each photo the camera writes out to the other card at the same time. Sounds great for backup? It is great if you shoot slow or general stuff. However, shooting quick, fast shots, it slows the write process down even further to the point where it is not very useable. So I always opt for having the second card to act as overflow so when the first card fills up it automatically switches to the second card. This doesn’t seem to slow it down. There are also several different configurations for the dual card slots. I would suggest downloading the user manual from Nikon prior to purchase to see if it will meet your needs.

    3. As you push the shutter release it is harder to determine when the shutter will close and slightly delayed on occasion compared to the D90 which was crisp and felt just right. Its not too bad once you get accustomed to it being more sensitive and know how to deal with it but at first you will notice a sharp contrast.

    4. I added a battery grip which makes the camera balance and grip much better especially with the larger lens for going into portrait position. Nice features on it and well positioned. However, its a trade off in that you have to take the grip off every time you want to charge the battery that remains in the camera. Only one battery is in this battery grip vs. the design made for the D90 which was two.

    In general I highly recommend this camera despite the comments above. The limitations above are something to be aware of for my shooting conditions. If these don’t match how you plan to use the camera you will be delighted by it’s performance over the D90. You will still be delighted in any case.
    I also have used the D700 and D3 and I would say this camera produces images comparable to the D700 in in some cases superior. It’s not D3 or D3X class but the images are hard to distinguish until you get into really low light situations.

    No difference:
    The magnesium body vs plastic body. I didn’t really notice the difference between the two cameras. They feel and look about the same and weigh very close.

    • Omar says:

      Grilling, I agree fully with your third negative point. I’ve had some trouble getting used to the shutter release on the D7000 compared to the D90.That and the file sizes are probably the only negatives to the D7000. The many positives greatly outweigh these.I find the release mode dial has really helped me understand the camera settings better.

      Speaking of file size, if you set the D7000 to the same quality level that the D90 was capable of, the RAW file sizes aren’t that much larger (16mb vs 12 would be typical). Put a decent card in it (Sandisk Extreme III 30mb/sec or faster) and use the same settings that the D90 is capable of (12bit compressed(?) and a reduced frame rate), and you’ll find it will have much better buffer performance than the D90. In other words, if you compare apples to apples, the D7000 does very well. You just have to choose whether you want absolute best buffer performance, or absolute best image quality. This is a choice you have with the D7000; the D90 makes the choice for you.Since you have experience with both cameras, I’m sure you know all this. I just wanted to emphasize these points for others thinking about which camera to get.

      I want to emphasize the choice of SD card. The D7000 does much better with the Sandisk Extreme III 30mb/s than the other cards I tested. It could completely clear the buffer in under 10 seconds. Even with a full buffer, it could take 2 shots per second, albeit with a strange staccato effect if shooting 14 bit. With my worst cards, it could take 40 or more seconds to clear the buffer. Class 10 means nothing in this situation. That’s a video rating. What matters is the data transfer rate being at least 30mb/second.

  9. all3n7 says:

    Thanks for your time and devotions. I liked the way you present and compares the d5100 vs. d7000. I m planning on getting the d5100 since it will be my very first dslr. Im aiming on getting the body only and get the 105mm 2.8 lens. I like prime lens,nice crisp, clear good quality.
    I know the fact that its the lens and the photographer makes the better quality images and not the camera itself. ( correct if I’m wrong!? ) but for almost the same price if I do get the d5100 w/105mm 2.8 I could get the d7000 w/kit lens 18-105mm. This is the part where I just hit a dead end. What could you suggest for me? Should I get what Im aiming for ( d5100w/105mm 2.8) or should I get the d7000 and grow myself with it even longer. ?

    I like taking pictures, its becoming my hobby. My Dad gave me he’s old Minolta Maxxum af7000, and he only had 2 lens with it. ( 50mm & 70mm ) play with it but waiting for a film to be develop is just too long to wait.. I have a p&s camera, and I would take 200 pics in a day. However due to its limitations, I could not get the quality I seek on an image, could not get a vivid clear more life like photos, etc.

    So, what do you think, please help.. Thank you..and more power to your website..

  10. Gabor says:

    Hello Andy,

    These night shots are very interesting. It’s amazing that one these photos one can see so clearly the difference of the D3s and the D5100/D7000. I’m continuously thinking about the physics behind this halo-like effect. I think the anti-aliasing filter couldn’t affect pixels 20 pixels far from the edge of the light. So I’m not sure that AA filter is the part in the signal processing line which is responsible for the cloud around the lights. Haven’t you experiment with different ISO settings? Is this halo-like effect always there? Thank you in advance.


  11. James says:

    Hey Andy,

    Excellent review! Thank You! Similar question to Gabor above. I have been photographing outdoor lighting fixtures for my company with my D80 & 18-200 VR that I bought for landscape photography. Definitely seeing limitations to the quality of photos because of equipment in this type of application. Would you expect I will be able to yield much higher quality images when using a D5100 w/35mm F1.8 and HDR function?

    Cheers, James

  12. Ishtiaq says:

    Appreciate the time, effort and interest shown to the readers of this page.
    Bunch of thanks !!

  13. Shayan says:

    Wow, this is a very good review. I bought my first DSLR last year( a used Sony A230) and it was a big improvement from point and shoot. I just sold it and ordered a D5100 with the 18-105mm kit. I am really excited to receive it after reading this review

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