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Nikon Coolpix P5100 Review
Date: Nov 12, 2007
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 is a digital camera
targeted to serious amateur photographers. It
has 12.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.72 in. CCD
image sensor, and a 7.5-26.3mm (35-123mm, 35 mm
equivalent) 3.5x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens, with
a maximum aperture of F2.7(W)-F5.3(T), and minimum
aperture of F7.6.
We find the overall image quality of the Nikon
P5100 to be very good at ISO 64. Images at higher ISOs suffer from noise and/or loss of image detail.
(35mm, 35mm equivalent)
(123mm, 35mm equivalent)
The Nikon P5100 has a 3.5x optical Zoom-Nikkor
lens. In the above pictures, we show the coverage
for 35mm, and then 123mm. It takes about 1.5 sec.
to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto (I counted
Besides Auto and easy-to-use scene modes, the
Nikon P5100 also has full exposure flexibility:
Programmed Auto, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority
and full Manual modes.
Programmed Auto mode is a more flexible Auto
mode and allows you to choose some of the most
important exposure settings, such as ISO, exposure
compensation and metering mode. Program Shift
(just rotate the Command dial) works in conjunction
with Programmed Auto mode and allows you to shift
the aperture/shutter speed combinations in tandem
while still keeping the correct exposure.
Aperture-Priority mode allows you to select (fix)
the desired aperture, and let the camera select
the appropriate shutter speed. At the wide-angle
end, you can select an aperture from f/2.7 to
f/7.6; at max telephoto, an aperture from f/5.3
to f/7.3. However, as you are aware, aperture
usually changes as you zoom. So Nikon has also
provided a Fixed Aperture feature so that when
you zoom, the camera will try to keep the aperture
(in Aperture Priority and Manual modes) as
close as possible to the one you've set (works
only for aperture range: f/5.1 to f/7.3). In A mode, if an
over- or under-exposure will result, the aperture
flashes when you press the shutter-release button
halfway. Unlike some digital cameras that have
only electronic apertures, the Nikon P5100 has
a real 6-blade iris diaphragm, providing 10 steps
Shutter-Priority mode allows you to select (fix)
the desired shutter speed, and let the camera
select the appropriate aperture. You can select
a shutter speed from 8 s to 1/2000 s. At shutter
speeds slower than 1/4 s, the shutter speed indicator
on screen turns red to recommend using Noise Reduction.
If an over- or under-exposure will result, the
shutter speed indicator flashes when you press
the shutter-release button halfway.
Full Manual mode allows you to be in total control
of the shutter speed and aperture. An Exposure
Display indicates over- or under-exposure. Press
multi selector to right (marked Exp. Comp.) to
toggle between setting the shutter speed and aperture.
Shutter speeds slower than 1/4 s display red on
screen. Shutter speed of 1/2000 s is available
only at max. wide-angle and aperture set to f/7.6.
Advanced photographers will welcome the following
features: histogram (in Playback only), exposure
compensation (with Auto Bracketing selectable
in the Menu), manual White Balance, manual AF
Area mode and corresponding Spot AF area metering.
7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Partial
1.4 sec., F2.7, ISO 64, Tungsten WB
Macro can be as close as 4 cm (1.6 in.). The
AF indicator dot and AF frame turn green to indicate
successful focus; a blinking red AF indicator
dot and blinking AF frame indicate focus has not
AF is fast and works very well even in low-light.
In extreme low-light, the AF Illuminator automatically
(if you've set it on in the Menu) kicks in to
help achieve focus. The AF Illuminator is situated
close enough to the lens such that it is able
to light up a subject even at close macro range.
Best Shot Selector (Menu - BSS - ON) works by
taking 10 shots in a row (as long as you keep
your finger pressed on the shutter release button)
and then discarding all except the one that comes
out the sharpest. Very cool feature to use when
the camera indicates a slow shutter speed!
The Nikon P5100 provides four AF modes: Face priority will locate a face and focus on it. Auto
selects the subject with the most contrast out
of 11 AF areas; Manual (AF area) allows you to
select from 99 AF areas; and Center-focus area.
Manual AF area helps tremendously for off-center
subjects, especially in macro photography. Once
you set this option in the menu, it stays out
of the way until you call for it. Nikon has implemented
a very intuitive way to do that: anytime you wish
to invoke manual AF area mode, simply press the
OK button and use the arrow keys to move the AF
area around the screen to one of 99 possible positions.
When you're done, press OK to set it at its new
position. Some cameras make you go thru hoops
to do what the Nikon P5100 does so elegantly.
As you can notice in the picture above right,
the 4 angle brackets denote the extent of the
selectable area and so these (11 across x 9 down
=) 99 AF areas unfortunately do not go all the
way to the edges of the screen.
There are four metering modes:
Matrix (Multi-Pattern), Center-weighted, Spot
and Spot AF area. The latter is interesting because
it will meter at the spot where you have moved
the AF frame. Makes sense!
As the above two pictures show, the auto white
balance (AWB) indoors under artificial energy-saving fluorescent
light is not quite accurate. The Nikon P5100 allows WB to
be set manually via the Menu: Preset WB allows
us to correct the colours to real white. AWB works
well in natural light.
You can set the ISO on the Nikon P5100 from 64
to 3200. The 100%
crops above (area delimited by the white square)
demonstrate that noise at ISO 64 and 100 are under
control. Noise starts to be slightly visible at
ISO 200 but is very usable. From ISO 400 and up,
the presence of noise quickly becomes apparent
and eventually takes the form of coloured splotches.
Note that ISO 3200 is available at Image Size
of 5M only.
|7.5mm, P, Multi-Pattern
1/124.5 sec., F3.8, ISO 64
CA is sometimes present in high contrast shots. In the shot above, the corner delimited by the
red square at top left, and reproduced at 100%
crop at bottom right, shows some purple fringing.
|7.5mm, Manual, Pattern, 8
sec., F2.7, ISO 64
Tungsten WB, Macro, Self-timer 3 sec.,
The Nikon P5100's slowest shutter speed goes
down to 8 sec. in P, A, S and M modes. This allows
night photography, though we would have preferred
longer shutter speeds. Generally, with CCD image
sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent
at slow shutter speeds.
I take a low-light indoors shot. Light
is from two regular household energy-saving fluorescent bulbs on
the ceiling. To obtain a long exposure, I place
Bamm-Bamm under my desk in the shadows. Some experimenting
and I manually set an exposure of 8 sec. at f/2.7.
To ensure razor sharp focus, I place the AF area
frame on Bamm-Bamm's eyes and select Spot AF area
metering to ensure the face is properly exposed.
The noise reduction works well giving dark blacks.
Another feature of the Nikon digital cameras,
D-Lighting, allows you to "rescue" images
that come out too dark. You do that right in camera
(a copy of the picture is made).
Above is an example of D-Lighting coming
to the rescue. This is not without price: depending
on your subject matter, rescued images can exhibit
You can view a histogram in Playback mode only.
|7.5mm, Programmed Auto,
1/4.1sec., F2.7, ISO 400, Handheld, VR OFF
|7.5mm, Programmed Auto,
1/4.3sec., F2.7, ISO 400, Handheld, VR ON
Reduction) is Nikon's image stabilization,
the true kind, where a lens element shifts to
counteract tiny camera movements that can cause
blurred images. When tuned on, VR allows you to
handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds than
you would normally be able to without suffering
from camera shake and resultant blurred images.
As the two above handheld images show, the VR
technology in the P5100 is quite effective. You access VR in SETUP.
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 delivers very
good image quality at low ISOs. Its many practical
features allow you to face any challenging photographic
situations with confidence.
The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix P5100 Photo
Gallery page provide a good sample of what
the camera is capable of. I have provided samples
at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100
in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 4000x3000
pixels original size (click on the image for the
You can safely assume that most macro shots
and slow shutter speed shots required the use
of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels
in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended
to the file name (though the original sized image
is, of course, not adjusted).
I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels.
For those who have their monitor resolution set
to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit
and you should not have to scroll to see the whole
image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels
resolution, start the slide show and then scroll
to the right to position the image within your
screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using
Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode,
and the image should fill your screen nicely.
Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor
display back to normal mode.
To return to this page from the Photo Gallery,
click on the animated graphics of the camera.
Please open and download the original size version
only if you need to and only once
to your hard drive -- and save me some precious