Operation and controls

The body and button layout is retained from the P5000 and promises a revised user interface. We said good things about the design of the P5000 and they are equally true of its successor: the grip at the front and a thumb-rest at the back are rubberized and the choice and arrangement of the buttons is clear and sensible.

Rear of camera

The rear of the camera is where you'll find most of the external controls. The control layout is completely unchanged with a four-way controller on one side and all the other buttons slotted down the left-hand side of the large, clear LCD screen. A function button can be set to give direct access to one of ten settings. The choices range from parameters you might want to change regularly such as ISO and white balance to specific features that you might occasionally want to turn on and off, such as distortion control.

Top of camera

The design of the P5100 is hardly radical but is nicely executed with the shutter button and zoom switch well positioned above a comfortable grip. The on/off button is within easy reach but requires enough sustained pressure to ensure it is never accidentally engaged.

Display and menus

The Nikon's compact camera user interface has been one of our bugbears for some time. The P5100 does feature some incremental improvements but still contains at least one frustrating quirk or inconsistency in every operating mode. The menus are simple and clear with most options sensibly located and, as with any camera, anyone using the P5100 regularly will find they adapt to its idiosyncrasies. This doesn't completely justify a control system that simply doesn't feel as thought-through or finished as some of its competitors, however.

The live view can either show just the scene being shot, overlays of shooting parameters or an overlay with gridlines to aid composition and keeping things level. In this instance, manual mode shows the shutter speed and aperture values. The shooting menu gives access to most of the most commonly-used settings. Except VR (image stabilization), which is rather oddly located in the 'Setup' menu, that has to be accessed via the mode dial (we guess the presumption is you're going to leave it on most of the time).
In manual mode, rotating the control wheel changes the shutter speed or aperture. Pressing 'right' on the four-way controller (AE Comp) switches from one to the other. To shift back to modifying the value displayed on the left, you again press the right-hand side of the four-way controller. Although pressing AE Comp is logical, it takes a great deal of self-control not to press 'left' and bring up the self-timer menu.
In most modes, exposure compensation brings up a scale on the left edge of the screen. The bar across the bottom lingers if you don't confirm your selection, giving you continued access to the settings but allowing you to keep shooting. All menus can be viewed as icons (in this case the shooting menu), which allows each one to appear as a single screen, once you've remembered what each icon signifies.
In scene mode the menu button brings up the special scenes, from sports to museum. You can use the four-way controller or the control wheel to make your selection and have to press 'OK' to confirm. The function button brings up the same options in a similar-looking menu. However, you can't use the four-way controller and unlike every other option on the camera, don't need to confirm your selection.
Playback mode shows the reviewed image, the image with limited shooting information overlaid or a small version of the image with shooting parameters and histogram. Pushing the zoom switch to the right zooms the image in to 3x magnification and lets you jump around the image using the four-way controller. From here the zoom switch lets you zoom in or out. Overlaid information is retained but cannot be switched on or off once zoomed.
Pushing the zoom button to the left from playback mode zooms out to a 2x2 grid of images. Doing so again zooms out to a 3x3 display. Alternatively, scrolling the control wheel from playback mode allows you to rapidly scroll through images. Once you've found the correct image, press 'OK' to display that image.
Playback menu has the usual range of options (including Nikon's unusual D-Lighting option). The setup menu has five pages of more basic options (including card formatting and, oddly VR).