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Timing & Performance

It has been one of the aspects of Nikon's compact cameras that we've been critical of in the past - and the one area of the P5000 we really wanted to see improved - but speed and responsiveness is still a problem for the P5100. In an age where image quality improvements have almost ground to to a standstill, usability factors such as this are important differentiators between very similar competing models, so it's an area Nikon should be working hard on improving. Unfortunately, the P5100's performance is still severely lacking in several key areas, most noticeably in the two most important: focus and shutter lag.

Of these it is the former that causes most concern; it's not unusual for the P5100 to take over a second to focus even in good light, and not only does this rule out any kind of action shot (unless you pre-focus), it tries your patience even when you're shooting totally static subjects. The shutter lag, by comparison, is merely average. Other areas of concern include long shot to shot times and unimpressive continuous shooting capabilities. This is certainly not a camera for snapping active children. Or in fact anything that moves.

Timing Notes

All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 4000 x 3000 FINE JPEG image (approx. 4,186 KB per image). The media used for these tests was a 1.0GB SanDisk Extreme III SD card.

Action Details
Time, secs
Power: Off to Record   1.9
Power: Off to Play Image displayed 2.1 *1
Power: Record to Off Lens retracted and all activity ceased 2.0
Power: Play to Off When buffer is empty, lens already retracted 0.6
Power: Play to Off When buffer is empty, lens extended ~1.8
Record Review Image displayed ~1.0
Mode: Record to Play   0.4
Mode: Play to Record Lens already extended 0.5
Play: Magnify To full magnification (10x) 1.9
Play: Image to Image Time to display each saved image (low res) ~0.2
Play: Image to Image Time to display full res image (allows zooming) 1.5
Play: Thumbnail view 2 x 2 thumbnails ~0.2 *2

Action Details
Time, seconds
Zoom from Wide to Tele 34 to 123 mm (3.5 x) 1.1
Half-press Lag (0->S1) Wide angle, Multi or Center AF ~1.0
Half-press Lag (0->S1) Telephoto, Multi or Center AF ~1.2
Half to Full-press Lag (S1->S2) LCD live view ~ 0.09
Half to Full-press Lag (S1->S2) Viewfinder ~ 0.06
Full-press Lag (0->S2) LCD live view, wide angle ~1.1
Off to Shot Taken LCD live view 2.8
Shot to Shot Flash off 2.8
Shot to Shot Flash on 2.8*3
Shot to Shot Flash on (red-eye mode) 6.5
*1 The p5100 can be powered up directly into playback mode by holding the play button for around a second. This figure includes the delay before the camera turns on (designed to avoid accidental activation).
*2 You can also view 3x3 or 4x4 thumbnails by pressing the zoom button a second or third time. This adds around 0.4 / 0.9 seconds to the time taken.
*3 Shot to shot time with flash depends on subject distance, scene brightness and condition of battery. This is the best you can expect with a short subject distance.

Lag Timing Definitions

Half-press Lag (0->S1)
Many digital camera users prime the AF and AE systems on their camera by half-pressing the shutter release. This is the amount of time between a half-press of the shutter release and the camera indicating an auto focus & auto exposure lock on the LCD monitor / viewfinder (ready to shoot).
 

(Prime AF/AE)
Half to Full-press Lag (S1->S2)
The amount of time it takes from a full depression of the shutter release button (assuming you have already primed the camera with a half-press) to the image being taken.
 

(Take shot, AF/AE primed)
Full-press Lag (0->S2)
The amount of time it takes from a full depression of the shutter release button (without performing a half-press of the shutter release beforehand) to the image being taken. This is more representative of the use of the camera in a spur of the moment 'point and shoot' situation.
 

(Take shot, AF/AE not primed)

Continuous mode

The tables below show the results of our continuous shooting test, indicating the actual frame rate along with maximum number of frames and how long you would have to wait after taking the maximum number of frames before you could take another shot. Media used for these tests was a 1.0GB SanDisk Extreme III SD card. Shutter speed was kept above 1/100 sec during these tests.

There is a single continuous shooting mode that offers a rather unimpressive 0.7 frames per second at the best quality setting (rising fractionally as you reduce the image size/quality), and there is a limit to how many shots you can take before the buffer is full and the rate slows down to an even more painful crawl. 3 frames in a burst is hardly impressive but that's what happens when you try to throw 12MP's worth of data about. Combined with its slow focusing speed, this means the P5100 shouldn't be your first choice for blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments.

Continuous drive mode

In burst mode the Coolpix 5100 shows a brief review image for each frame taken. Focus and exposure are fixed with the first frame.

Image Type
Mode
Avg. frames
per sec
Frames in a burst *1
After
burst
*2
4000 x 3000 JPEG Fine Continuous 0.7 fps 3 0.3 fps
4000 x 3000 JPEG Normal Continuous 0.9 fps 6/7 0.3 fps
3264 x 2448 JPEG Fine Continuous 0.9 fps 6/7 0.3 fps
2592 x 1944 JPEG Fine Continuous 0.9 fps 8 0.3 fps
2048 x 1536 JPEG Fine Continuous 0.9 fps 18 0.4 fps

*1 In a single "burst" (finger held down on shutter release) until the buffer is full.
*2 With the shutter release held down it is possible to continue shooting after the initial burst at around one frame every 3.2 seconds, though the camera re-focuses between each frame. The buffer takes around 5 seconds to completely clear if you want to shoot another full burst.

When you consider that competitors such as the Canon G9 offer 1.5 frames per second with no practical limit to the number of shots per burst you can see that the P5100 isn't the best 'action camera' on the market.

File Write / Display and Sizes

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage card, the timer was started as soon as the shutter release was pressed and stopped when activity indicator went out. This means the timings also include the camera's processing time and as such are more representative of the actual time to "complete the task". The media used for these tests was a 1.0GB SanDisk Extreme III SD card.

Image Type
Time to store
(secs)

Time to display
(secs)
*3

File size *1
(approx.)
Images on a *2
1.0 GB Card
4000 x 3000 JPEG Fine 3.2 ~1.5 4,186 KB 167
4000 x 3000 JPEG Normal 3.2 ~1.5 2,066 KB 333
4000 x 3000 JPEG Basic 3.2 ~1.5 1,226 KB 659
3264 x 2448 JPEG Fine 3.2 ~1.5 2,204 KB 250
2592 x 1944 JPEG Fine 3.2 ~1.5 1,829 KB 394

*1 All file sizes are an average of three files. As is the case with JPEG it's difficult to predict the size of an image because it will vary a fair amount depending on the content of the image (detail and noise).
*2 Camera estimation.
*3 The P5100 initially shows low resolution preview versions of each image. Jumping from one image to the next takes around 0.2 seconds. This column shows the time take to render the high-res version of the image.

Although the buffer is large enough to store multiple images, the time between taking a shot and the card write light going out is a ponderous 3.2 seconds. At around 4MB per image, it's fair to say that the camera is not making the most of the card's write speed.
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