The Nikon D5100 comes in a compact body, which is significantly smaller compared to that of its predecessor, the Nikon D5000, and even slightly smaller than that of its closest current competitor, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i. Despite being smaller in size, the D5100 still looks strikingly similar to the previous D5000. At first glance, the only noticeable difference between the D5100 and the D5000 might be the D5100’s fully-articulated LCD screen which is now side-hinged, while the D5000’s LCD screen was bottom-hinged. At 3 inches diagonal, the D5100’s LCD screen is also larger compared to the D5000’s 2.7-inch display.
The incorporation of a larger LCD screen and a side hinge on the left side of the Nikon D5100 has forced some changes in the camera’s control layout. Some buttons have been moved to the right side to give space for the vertical hinge, some buttons have also swapped places; however, there is no major change, so anyone who has been using a digital SLR camera will surely get used to the D5100 in no time. The D5100’s body is made of plastic, just like any other digital SLR cameras in its price range. Although it is not made of magnesium alloy like higher-end digital SLR cameras, the D5100’s build quality is still so good that you will find no creaks or rattles on it.
In terms of operational speed, the Nikon D5100 is almost on par with the previous Nikon D5000. The D5100’s continuous shooting speed has been increased from 3.7 to 4 frames per second, but the time from power on to the first shot is now slightly slower at 0.3 second. RAW-to-RAW shot time is slower at 0.8 second, while the JPEG-to-JPEG shot time is also slightly slower at 0.6 second. Fortunately, the D5100 is generally faster than the D5000 when it comes to shutter lag. Compared to its closest competitor, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, the D5100 is also almost on par. Only the D5100’s time between shots is generally slower than that of the T3i. The T3i is approximately 0.3 second faster in RAW-to-RAW shot time and 0.2 second faster in JPEG-to-JPEG shot time. Overall, the D5100 might not be a first class digital SLR camera in terms of operational speed; however, it is certainly still fast enough to handle most shooting situations.
Image quality is definitely the strength of the Nikon D5100. The combination of the 16.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor, the Expeed 2 processor, and the 14-bit RAW shooting delivers such an excellent image quality which is way better than those of its competitors. We were especially amazed with the D5100’s image quality at high sensitivity settings, where we have seen a very low noise level, something that we usually couldn’t expect from an entry-level digital SLR camera.