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Nikon D5100 Digital Camera Review$799.00
The Nikon D5100 inherits the same 16.2-megapixel image sensor as the D7000, improving on the superb color accuracy results that we saw in that camera’s tests. This gives the D5100 the best color results we have seen from an APS-C camera so far, especially those under $1000. More on how we test color.
In our test, we found that the D5100 produced the least amount of color error in the neutral picture style, with a color error of just 2.18 and a very accurate 103.6% saturation value.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
Even compared to the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000, which share the same sensor, the D5100 came out top in this group. It was substantially superior to the Canon T3i, and was even better than the Canon 60D. This sensor has already been lauded as perhaps the best APS-C sensor the market has seen yet, and the D5100 (with the D7000 and K-5 just behind, to be fair) lived up to that praise in this test.
The Nikon D5100 provides six color modes to choose from: neutral, standard, vivid, monochrome, landscape, and portrait. Each applies a default amount of correction to the image, with the user able to make subtle changes in the menu from there. We found the neutral mode to be the most accurate, as explained above. The D5100 was only slightly less accurate in the standard and portrait modes, favoring slightly more vibrant colors. As expected, the landscape and vivid modes were much less accurate, as both modes oversaturate by quite a bit to produce more compelling images.
The white balance settings on the D5100 are available in both the quick menu and the full menu, with the ability to set a new custom white balance only available through the full menu. There are no savable custom white balance presets, but the camera does come with many standard ones. The camera’s auto mode was generally pretty accurate, though it had trouble re-metering accurately when changing light sources.
Automatic White Balance ()
The D5100, like other consumer-level cameras, doesn’t provide the easiest method of setting a custom white balance. Many users will rely then on the automatic settings with the camera. While there are quite a few automatic preset white balance settings, we tested the plain old automatic mode and found it to be generally accurate, but struggling under incandescent light.
We found the automatic white balance setting to be fairly accurate in daylight, though it can occasionally produce a harsh blue color cast. We found the easiest way to correct this was just to turn the camera completely off and then back on, then re-meter the scene. In general, the D5100’s automatic white balance produced shots with a very low color error (under 2) and a color temperature error of just 143 kelvin.
The automatic setting did not handle incandescent light well, although this light type gives just about every camera trouble. We found the D5100 managed an average color temperature error of 1745 kelvin under incandescent light when using the automatic setting. This is far worse than the other lighting conditions we tested, but well within the norm for even cameras of this type.
While the camera provides a boatload of fluorescent presets to choose from, though we can’t imagine why when the normal automatic mode did so well. Using just auto white balance, we found an average color temperature error of just 97.67 kelvin in compact white fluorescent light. This was exceptionally accurate, and actually better than the camera managed under the same conditions with a custom white balance setting.
Custom White Balance ()
The D5100 produced more accurate results with a custom setting in every lighting condition except compact white fluorescent, where the camera produced a relatively large error of 269 kelvin. Under tungsten light the custom setting was just 152 kelvin off, and it was 111 kelvin off under daytime lighting conditions. Setting a custom white balance does involve actually going into the camera’s menu, which can be a bit of a hassle, but the automatic should suffice for most people in most lighting conditions.
At the level of cameras we are comparing the D5100 with, it’s no surprise that all our comparison group cameras performed well. The D5100 and D7000 were about average, falling just behind the Sony A55V and Canon T3i, but coming in ahead of the Pentax K-5.
White Balance Options
There are quite a few preset white balance modes on the D5100: incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, and shade. The fluorescent setting also has seven different variations to choose from, depending on what type of fluorescents are being used, from sodium-vapor lamps to high temperature mercury-vapor. Each automatic white balance setting can even be tuned to almost any degree, if you find your particular setup shades to one color or another.
In our long exposure testing, we found that the Nikon D5100 produced slightly less accurate colors in longer exposures, though it did have a tougher time getting a correct custom white balance under the much lower lighting conditions (20 lux in this test versus 3000 lux in our bright light color test). In general, we found that the longer the shutter speed, the more accurate the colors ultimately were. More on how we test long exposure.
The D5100 produced an uncorrected color error of around 3.5 in long exposure testing, regardless of whether noise reduction was on or off. The colors were slightly more accurate in 30 second exposures compared to those of just one second, but by less than 10 percent.
Just as in our bright light testing, there was very little in the way of noise present in our long exposure color testing. We found no more than 0.76% noise, even in exposures as long as 30 seconds with an ambient temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Noise was most apparent in the red channel, but was low enough that it was hardly an issue. Long exposure noise reduction did not seem to have that great of an effect in our testing, but it might have at higher ISO values.
The D5100 was beat out only by the D7000 here, with a score of 11.66 against 11.96. The score difference is negligible, though, and both cameras beat the rest of the comparison group by a solid margin. The T3i did show a fairly large improvement here over the T2i, but not by enough to match the Nikon models.