Operation and Controls (cont.)

The D5100 uses the main LCD monitor for camera information display and the changing of most shooting parameters. The status screen is displayed as soon as you turn the camera on (turning off again if you press the info button or after a user-definable period of inactivity). If the screen has switched itself off, it can be woken up from 'sleep' by pressing any button or with a light tap of the shutter release.

Rather frustratingly though, the D5100 (like the D3100) lacks the neat automatic LCD switch-off feature of the long-since discontinued D60, which detected when your eye was being held to the viewfinder.

Status Screens

Via the Setup menu you can select the information display format you prefer - Graphic or Classic (with a choice of three color schemes for each). The information shown on these displays provides an overview of pretty much all camera settings, and direct access to any of the parameters shown here is provided via the 'i' button on the camera's rear.

The graphic view aims to inform the novice photographer, as well as simply showing the camera's status. To this end, an aperture blade graphic illustrates the change as you alter the aperture. The classic view is a more standard (and more sober) status display.

Graphic display Classic display

Quick Menus

In both Graphic and Classic screens, pressing the 'i' button makes the various shooting parameters editable (although if you're in Graphic view the display will effectively jump to Classic in the process). The D5100 has a few more direct access points than the entry-level D3100, but these info screens remain the main interface for adjusting some key shooting parameters such as focus mode and white balance. The difference between the graphic and classic quick menus is subtle.

Quick menu ('graphic' display) Quick menu ('classic' display)

Live View/Movie Displays

The D5100 offers a Live View mode which (on paper at least) matches and in some respects surpasses Nikon's higher-end models for functionality. The D5100 includes the AF-F mode first introduced in the D3100, and when shooting under certain artificial light sources, there's even the option to change the sampling rate of the live view image, to reduce screen flickering.

In live view and video modes the D5100 behaves exactly like the entry-level D3100. In the PAS shooting modes, the live view image will darken or brighten to reflect any exposure compensation you set, although sadly there's no live histogram to help judge the optimum exposure. In manual exposure mode, though, the display makes no attempt to reflect the currently-set exposure level at all, and there's no on-screen exposure level meter either - a serious omission in our opinion, especially in a camera of this type (i.e., not quite entry-level).

The standard live view screen shows plenty of information, including exposure data and the status of several key shooting parameters. For ease of composition, a 4x4 grid can be overlaid onto the live view image (note horizontal marks at left and right which preview the movie capture area)
Or if you prefer a less cluttered view, you can opt for a simpler. 'full screen' view. The D5100's live view image can be magnified in eight steps, to greater than 100% (equivalent).
In movie mode, the live view screen is automatically cropped for accurate framing, and a countdown timer shows how many more minutes of footage can be recorded until the memory card is full. Flicker reduction is designed to avoid the flickering effect that certain artificial light sources can have on a live view image. Usually, swapping to the other of these two options is enough to reduce the effect if you see it.

Record review & play displays

There are five display modes available in image playback, which collectively offer a comprehensive amount of information. By default, only the plain screen and luminance histogram - the first two screens shown in this selection - are made available, but shooting data, separate RGB histograms and a highlight clipping display screen can be activated individually in the playback menu.

Large image with file type, name and date information. Key shooting/file data plus luminance histogram
'full screen' view with no information 'Second tier' shooting data overlaid
Small image with WB information and RGB + luminance histograms Standard view with flashing highlight warning
This image shows the D5100's 8-stage magnification in image review mode.

Play thumbnail index

The D5100 offers four thumbnail display screens, the final one, shown here at bottom right, being a calendar view that groups images according to the date on which they were taken. Caution is called for here though, because pressing the delete button in this mode deletes all of the images taken on whichever day is highlighted. Movie files are distinguished from stills by a film sprocket-style border.

Help Screens

As a camera trying to be friendly for DSLR novices, the D5100 has to be as user-friendly as possible. One of the ways that Nikon has approached this goal in both the D5100 and the entry-level D3100 is through the inclusion of a comprehensive database of help screens. when a menu option or setting is highlighted on the LCD screen, the ? button to the left of the LCD screen brings up a page of text, explaining the purpose of the particular setting.