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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Nikon Coolpix P5100


Nikon Coolpix P5100 Review

Review Date: Nov 12, 2007

Category: Serious Amateur

Nikon Coolpix P5100 


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.

3.5x Optical Zoom
Wide-angle 35mm Telephoto 123mm
Wide-angle 7.5mm
(35mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 26.3mm
(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 8 steps).

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 of 1/3EV.

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 successfully locked.

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 Mode Off-Center Focusing

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.

Metering Modes

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!

White Balance Indoors
AWB Preset WB
AWB Preset WB

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.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 64
ISO 64
ISO 100 ISO 200  
ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800  
ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 2000  
ISO 1600 ISO 2000
ISO 3200    
ISO 3200  

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.

Chromatic Aberrations
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.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Exposure
7.5mm, Manual, Pattern, 8 sec., F2.7, ISO 64
Tungsten WB, Macro, Self-timer 3 sec., Tripod Used

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 more noise.

Exposure Compensation and Histogram

You can view a histogram in Playback mode only.

VR Off
7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Pattern
1/4.1sec., F2.7, ISO 400, Handheld, VR OFF

7.5mm, Programmed Auto, Pattern
1/4.3sec., F2.7, ISO 400, Handheld, VR ON

VR (Vibration 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 original version).

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 bandwidth. Thanks!


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