The P5100 is vaguely reminiscent of Canon's 'A-Series' cameras at first glance but this resemblance is quickly dismissed once you pick it up. The magnesium alloy body also gives a slightly misleading first impression - it's disconcertingly light - but the slightly cold feel and textured surface of the alloy soon make you appreciate that it's actually a pretty rugged and understated little thing.

In your hand

The P5100 is a small camera considering the amount of controls it offers the user. Despite this, it handles very well. The grip is excellent, with the rubberized thumb pad on the back giving a good, firm hand position on the body. The shutter, zoom switch and control wheel are all accessible without re-positioning your hand: it's all very well laid out.

Body elements

A thin, and rather flexible, cover conceals both the battery and SD card slot. The P5100 is equally happy to accommodate standard or high capacity SD cards. The EN-EL5 battery lasts for a perfectly acceptable 240 shots (in CIPA standard tests).
A single combined mini USB and AV (audio video) output port sits under a small flexible plastic cover on the left side of the body (looking from the front).
The optical viewfinder, complete with flash and AF ready lights is pretty standard stuff. It's tiny, the field of view is nowhere near the full frame (around 80% along each axis) and it's so far from the lens that you'll get parallax errors if you shoot subjects nearer than about 2M. But it's no worse than any other similar camera, and comes in useful in very low or very bright light, or when you need to preserve battery power.
The 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel screen is very sharp and pleasant to use. It only shows 97% of the shot in each direction, which is awkward for setting up our test shots but no real problem for real-world use. As before (with the P5000) the screen can be a little difficult to see in bright light.
As well as a usefully powerful flash (effective up to 8m at the wide end of the lens and 4m at the long end), the P5100 carries a full-function hot shoe over from its predecessor. You can mount Nikon's SB-800 or SB-600 external flashes, both of which are larger than the camera itself, or the more compact SB-400 that would be much more manageable.
The 3.5x Zoom Nikkor lens covers a range equivalent to approximately 35-123mm on a 35mm camera. The maximum aperture is usefully bright (f/2.7) at wideangle but is two whole stops slower at the long end (a shutter-speed-troubling f/5.3).
The main mode dial sits atop the camera right next to the shutter release and main power switch. From here you can choose between the various automatic and manual modes. There are positions on the dial for Anti Shake and high ISO modes, plus a separate 'Setup' mode (for changing basic camera settings).
Control and navigation of menus is shared between the control wheel and the four-way controller. In most instances the control wheel simply gives you a faster method of scrolling through the same options but this isn't true of all operations, which takes a little getting used to.