I didn’t need this camera. My three year old D40 was working just fine and was all the camera I really needed. But, while facts and logic may have slowed me down, they didn’t stop me. Although I can’t entirely deny the attraction of more pixels, that was not the the primary or even secondary reason I wanted this camera. The main attraction was the supposed superiority of the D5100’s CMOS sensor over the D40’s CCD. Secondly, I desired vibration reduction (VR) lenses. Yes, I could have simply bought VR lenses without the camera but I had convinced myself that putting money into lenses then attaching them to the lowly D40 was not wise. As I said, facts and logic only slow me down.
So, when finances allowed, in September of 2011, I spent right at a grand on the D5100 and a pair of lenses. One lens was simply the VR equivalent of the 18-55 mm D40 kit lens. The other was a 55-300 mm zoom that gave me some more range (300 mm vs. 200 mm) over the lens it replaced in addition to VR.
In many respects, the D5100 is just a slightly better and slightly bigger D40. It is still near the bottom of Nikon’s DLSR offerings. The higher resolution is nice and I believe that the VR lenses have helped from time to time but I’ve no hard evidence to support that. The CMOS sensor does deal with low light better than the CCD but I can’t shake the feeling that the D40 produced some brighter images in the “middle light” of an overcast day. That could certainly be an illusion and I’m really quite pleased with the D5100’s overall performance.
Not everything about the camera is just a step up in specifications over the D40. There are three obvious additions and all are related. First, the D5100 does 1080p video. Then, since you really can’t have the viewfinder mirror flapping around while recording video, a “live view” has been added which locks the mirror in the up position and puts a through-the-lens view on the rear mounted 3″ LCD screen. Both video and stills can be recorded in this mode. I’ve experimented a little with video and do use live mode occasionally for one handed shots. It’s also handy when I ask someone to take my picture who is baffled by an eye level viewfinder. Lastly, to make live view even better, the screen is fully articulated so you can record in assorted odd positions.
One subtle difference from the D40 that I’m starting to appreciate is the ability to record JPEG and RAW files simultaneously. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just use the JPEGs as I always have but once in awhile I’ll salvage a picture with a little HDR processing using the RAW file.