12.1 megapixel Nikon with optical image stabilization
30 November 2011
Summary: The Nikon Coolpix P5100 offers 12-megapixel resolution and extensive manual control in a high quality camera that is amazingly small and handy. It has a 3.4X optical zoom Nikkor lens, can shoot VGA movies with sound and at a full 30 frames per second speed, record voice and voice memos, and there are onboard goodies like face recognition and red-eye reduction. You can use optical or digital image stabilization, or both.
Pros: 12 megapixel resolution, Full manual operation in addition to 16 scene modes, Optical lens-shift image stabilization, Very small and handy for this much power, Face recognition mode, Voice recording, Full speed VGA movies with sound, Optical viewfinder
Summary: So is the P5100 an adequate fall-back - if not quite repacement - for a digital SLR? Well, it's at least half the size of an already small D40x, and has lost half the features. But that still means that it offers more than most compacts in its price range. Though the pictures don't get a completely clean bill of health, the results are more than acceptable, meaning that the P5100 comes recommended for those occasions when you don't want to lug around something bulkier.
Pros: Rugged magnesium alloy body gives the impression that this is a DSLR that has been shrunk - crisp packet style - in an oven, DSLR-like command dial, quick start up and generally responsive in operation - even when shooting at maximum 12.1 effective megapixels, crisp, richly detailed, naturally coloured images, easy to use though with layers of sophistication to delve into further if you wish to do so
Cons: Images display noise if you creep above ISO400, though 'VR' is a help to avoid camera shake it's not 100% reliable (but then what is?), 4cm macro mode is 'so so', lens noisy in operation (buzzes like a gnat)
Conclusion: Like the P5000 before it, with the P5100 Nikon has taken a different approach to creating 'photographers' compact' camera to that taken by Canon with its G9. The Nikon more closely resembles the form and cost of other compacts, so won't be too daunting to users wanting to get more involved in the photographic process without taking on the weight, size, cost or initial complexity of the G9 - or an SLR.
Pros: Very compact and pocketable, Excellent handling for a small camera, Solid build and excellent fit / finish, Good resolution and decent edge-to-edge consistency, Realistic natural color, subtle processing, excellent tonality for a compact, Extensive system support - optional add-on lenses and flashguns, iTTL flash hot shoe, Optical image stabilization works well, even at very slow shutter speeds, Very good distortion control, especially for macro, Excellent output qual...
Cons: User interface somewhere between 'quirky' and 'frustrating', Very slow focus and rather sluggish performance overall, Frustrating manual control mode, Poor performance above ISO 200, ISO 3200 pointless, Unimpressive burst mode, Default settings produce images lacking 'punch' (of course you may see this as a Pro, not a Con), Screen can be difficult to see in bright light, occasional blooming of preview image, Sound cuts out before the end of movie clips, No in-camera v...
Excerpt: If Charles Dickens were alive today and writing for PopPhoto.com, he might preface his review of the Nikon Coolpix P5100 ($310, street) thusly: "It was the best of cameras, it was the worst of cameras." To its credit, Nikon has added to this flagship of the Coolpix line, a 12.1-megapixel, 3.5x zoom compact camera, some of the slick features developed for its more sophisticated DSLRs.
Excerpt: Most photographers know that a digital SLR offers the best possible image quality, but most are heavy and can draw unwanted attention when you're shooting candid street shots or if you're in a place where photography isn't really appreciated.
Excerpt: For the second half of the twentieth century Nikon was the camera of choice for photojournalists, documentary shooters, and serious amateur photographers. When the digital imaging revolution began, Nikon’s arch-rival Canon embraced the changes in the world of photography while Nikon drug it’s corporate feet a bit. In some important ways, Nikon is still playing catch up.
Pros: User friendly, Compact and lightweight, 2.5" LCD screen, Nice ergonomics
Cons: Slow, Tendency to clip highlights, Poor low-light performance
Summary: All said and done, if you’re looking for a portable backup to your DSLR the Nikon Coolpix P5100 may well be the answer to your prayers. A RAW mode and better handling of image noise at the higher ISO settings might just have made the P5100 perfect.