Effects Modes

With the D5100, Nikon has introduced what it's calling 'Effects' mode - a series of special effect filters that can be applied to both stills and video. In this respect they are much like the 'Art Filters' that Olympus introduced back in November 2008.

There are seven options that, as is often the case with such things, vary in terms of how useful/attractive they are. The Effects are best accessed when shooting in live view mode (so you can preview the effect), but the large amount of processing required means the preview refresh rate drops dramatically, which makes composition difficult. As a result, like the similar systems from other makers, the video record rate also drops, giving a high-speed feel to the subsequent playback.

In still imaging, the D5100's effects modes are nominally JPEG only, but if you're shooting RAW+JPEG in another mode, and then switch to the 'EFFECTS' position on the exposure mode dial, the High Key, Low Key and Silhouette modes will record an accompanying RAW file.

You'll either love the effect or hate it, but Selective Color is surprisingly versatile. In this mode, you define the colors that you want to show, and the camera desaturates all the other tones. Here, we targetted red, blue and yellow. Color Sketch is another effect that might not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly adds impact.
Miniature Mode aims to replicate the effect of using a tilt/shift lens, to give the illusion of small scale. You don't get much control over the effect, beyond the ability to slightly widen the bounds of the blur, and swap between vertical and horizontal orientations. The 'Low Key' effect simply gives a darker exposure than normal. This can add a 'moody' atmosphere to certain images, and although it isn't as dramatic as some of the other effects modes, we can envisage novices finding it easier to get to grips with than exposure compensation.
The High Key effects filter gives a brighter image. Used well, this can give a dreamlike effect (especially in portraits) but again, we suspect that a lot of beginners will simply treat it as generous 'one shot' positive exposure compensation. The Silhouette mode gives slightly lighter images than 'low key' but saturation is boosted to increase the overall color vibrancy.
The D5100's Night Vision effect uses the camera's 'native' high ISO settings (ISO 6400-25,600) but can also shoot right up to ISO 102,400 (equivalent). Images are captured in black and white, and AF is by contrast-detection only (so if you're not in live view mode, you're stuck with manual focus).

Frustratingly, the Effects mode is pretty limited in terms of user control. The camera instantly switches to JPEG-only mode (although as already noted, unadvertised RAW+JPEG capture is available in high/low key and silhouette modes) and takes control of all the exposure settings, including white balance and ISO - you can't even apply exposure compensation to correct the image brightness. Two of the effects (selective color and miniature mode) are available as post-processing options from the 'Retouch' menu.

You can also apply the D5100's Effects filters in video shooting. Because of the demands placed upon the camera's processor though, the framerate is somewhat slow, and motion is jerky as a result.

Sample video 1 (color sketch)

This video was shot in the D5100's color sketch effects mode, and you can see the effect that it has on framerate. This mode can produce interesting effects in still images, but it is less useful for video files, where (we think) the effect tends towards being distracting.

1920 x 1080, MPEG-4 .MOV file, 20 sec. 54.7 MB Click here to download original .MOV file

Sample video 2 (selective color)

Selective color lends itself to video shooting more than color sketch, and it's a shame that the framerate of video captured in this mode drops so much, because we think it has real creative possibilities. If you can live with the slightly jerky footage, you can get really interesting results.

1920 x 1080, MPEG-4 .MOV file, 5 sec.13.8 MB Click here to download original .MOV file

In summary, we're not completely won-over by the choice of effects offered by the D5100, but we're not about to complain about an additional feature being added. We're slightly confused as to why they have appeared in the D5100 first, as opposed to the entry-level D3100, though.

In-camera HDR mode

The D5100 also gains an in-camera HDR mode. This takes two shots up to 3EV apart and combines them to compress more dynamic range into the final image than could be captured using a single exposure. This can be combined with the camera's Active D-Lighting to allow control over how dramatic or realistic the final image ends up being.

HDR off 100% Crop
HRD on (3EV) 100% Crop
HDR on (3EV) + Active D-Lighting 'Extra High' 100% Crop

HDR mode works well, and as you can see from this example, it can have a dramatic effect on the amount of detail you can draw out of shadow areas, especially when combined with Active D-Lighting. We'd like to see an option for more images to be combined though, and it is a shame that HDR mode is locked off in RAW and RAW+JPEG modes. Although, of course, HDR would not work with RAW files, we're surprised that the camera isn't intelligent enough to switch to JPEG capture by itself when the function is selected.