Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nikon D3100 The first step on a new adventure

A little background about me: I have owned this camera for 2 months. I have owned a Samsung point-and-shoot for three years and have taken thousands of photos with it, and for the past few months I had been using only the limited manual mode on my camera, and wishing for a camera whose settings I could tweak more. That's when I started drooling over DSLRs.

After months of reading about photography, I finally bought myself Nikon D3100. It was the best option for the price and for my experience level. It was easily one of the best purchases I have ever made. I bought Nikon D3100 that also came with a 55-200mm 4-5.6 lens, a case, a tripod, an SD card, and some extra goodies.

First, it takes amazing pictures.
- Nikon D3100 performs far better in low light than any point-and-shoot. With the right tools, it's usable right up to ISO 1600. Compared to my old point-and-shoot, this is a huge bonus.
- It's an SLR, so you can take those pictures with shallow depth of field (blurry background).
- Its pictures are sharp, clear, and beautiful. The high MP count makes details pop and cropping easy.
- It's incredibly easy to use - Nikon has an amazingly well thought out body design, and within weeks I felt more at home with this camera than my old one. Order Nikon D5100
Second, I have to agree with the reviews that say the following.
- The Live View mode is a gimmick. Don't use it if you can help it. It's clunky and slow and drains your battery. Only use it if you absolutely cannot hold the viewfinder up to your eye.
- Video is high quality, but requires a lot of skilled technique to use properly - continuous autofocus does not work that well.

Finally, some advice that relates to the purchase of the camera.
- The lenses that associate with this camera are the kit zooms - the 18-55mm and the 55-200mm. These are good lenses, but the maximum apertures (3.5 and 4) do leave a lot to be desired in many situations. Within a few days of using the camera, I knew that a better lens would have made all the difference. SO - if you have the money, don't use the kit zooms. Sell them and buy lenses with larger maximum apertures. I don't personally own one of these, but I know from experience that taking pictures would be a lot easier with them.

That's all I have to say about the camera. If you are a first time DSLR user, you can't go wrong with this camera. It fulfills all your expectations, and more. If you care at all for your photography and are considering buying an SLR, do it. You will not regret it.

Some notes about techniques.
- The GUIDE mode is supposed to ease transition, but I spent a long time reading about the technical aspects of photography - I rarely use anything but full Manual (M) Mode. On occasion, I'll use Program (P) if I don't have time to quickly change the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed - and of course I'll set it to Auto when placing my camera in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to change the settings - but otherwise, any of the multiple settings on the dial go quite unused. The reason being is that the light meter often over or underexposes depending on your metering mode, and unless you set an exposure bias, you sometimes won't get the picture you want.
- That means, if you know how the technical aspect of photography works, use Manual Mode. Jump right in and allow yourself to match the full flexibility of the camera. If you are still learning, by all means use the many modes Nikon offers to facilitate learning - but don't forget, Manual offers the ultimate in control. You get exactly what you want.
- USE RAW. I used JPEG for all the first few hundred pictures I took, and they're great. But when I switched to RAW, my jaw LITERALLY (yes, I really DO mean literally) DROPPED when I saw what I could do with RAW files. You have just as much control with your pictures as you do in Manual mode. You can make your pictures look EXACTLY how you want them to look, and more. Caveats: This requires some familiarity with image editing terms, and a program like Photoshop or Lightroom or Aperture (Mac), and there's a bit of a learning curve, and the files are really big (buy an external hard drive just for photos), but the payoffs are FAR greater. With RAW, photography just opens up from pictures to art.

- Amazing pictures - beautiful in all ways
- Low light performance is excellent
- Easy to use, but also very flexible
- Video and Live View are gimmicks or specialty tools
- Included lens(es) is(are) fantastic, but better lenses will blow you away
- Learn technical aspects, then use MANUAL mode
- Use RAW once you feel comfortable

Nikon D3100, Thats Cool

For people looking for new DSLR camera, stop, this is it. It has none of the D3000 drawbacks: Fast buffer, never overloaded. When intentionally overloaded by myself on continous shots, it will clear the buffer very fast(ADL on if you're wondering).

Nikon D3100 Image sensitivity at high ISO is great acording to random reviwes, but I'm still waiting a prof test. But think about it, on Auto ISO the range goes to 3200 - WOW, and I can't see any noise. You can shoot everything with it, but you need a flash - SB 400 will do.

Cool stuf:
With Nikon D3100 You can take photos from the liveview LCD screen. I shot a few movies and seem great, in focus most of the time. I don't care much about video, I have a video camera HD.
You can still set AUTO ISO from the menu and set minimum shutter speed.

Downside is you cannot override the AUTO ISO in any mode including Manual. You have to change it back to off from menu and than loose time figuring out which is the best ISO/aperture/shutter speed.

For shortcomings, I have to look hard but here they are:(BTW I've been using it daily for 1 week)

1. LCD sceen has a lower resolution and one cannot see if the foto taken is slightly out of focus - bummer, but they have to save some features for the D5100.
2. No bracketing - who brackets anymore? 3 pics of each just to be 100% sure seems a waste of memory card and time (deleting the other2. We are talking about exposure bracketing, not focus bracketing BTW.)
3. ADL only on or off - lol, if you really are worried about small shadows and highlits you can always add more
ADL from the retouch menu in the camera, after you take the photo. Or on photoshop or iPhoto etc. On is plenty for the prosumer ;)
4. Easy to get image out of focus: one can change the focus point from the screen by pressing the arrows from the OK ring. You use the OK ring a lot and if the LCD screen has returned to ready to shoot position and you press the ring one more time(goof) the image now focuses to the right/left/up/down depending on what you pressed. Combined with a low resolution LCD in the hands of a beginer = out of focus images. Just pay attention.

I'm still waiting for standard high ISO tests to confirm my love for Nikon D3100. Best camera for travelers, no questions. If you want more get ready to bend your neck hauling close to 2 lbs of gear. Not me. BTW buy the 35mm 1.8 lens for low light/no flash IT BLOWS YOUR MIND.

Order Nikon D5100

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nikon D3100 Forget All the Others

First impression:
I have tried Nikon d40, d5000, d90, canon xsi, and canon 40d. I would say d90 and d40 are the only two cameras comparable to this. when I received the camera,the kit lens is too tight to auto focus. I called up and asked a replacement.

Even for this, I still give it 5 stars as it is the problem with the kit lens. before the replacement, I tried it on 55-200mm vr. I found I can easily pull out super quality pictures from Nikon D3100 without tweaking settings. Nikon D3100 gives me the d40 feeling. I did not see this from other cameras that I tried, especially the canon peers.

Nikon D3100 will make you shoot like a pro if you get some basic knowledge on how to compose your frame. Although it is an entry level camera, it produce as good if not better pictures from its expensive brothers. Unless you have a specific goal and purpose that you need its heavy brothers d90 or d7000, you should definitely go for this, as well as 50-200mm VRlens, then you are all set. I have a gut feeling this will become another legendary entry DSLR like d40.

Color tone: Besides the super image quality, the color tone is more on the cold side while d40 is more on the warm side. The color is less saturated then d40 either. This is really personal taste. For me, I prefer warmer color and a little more saturation.

So if you want warmer and more saturated pictures, please follow Ken Rockwell's tips
Shooting menu->standard>+2 Saturation>OK (used for people)
Shooting menu->Vivid>+3 Saturation>OK (use for places and things)
Shooting menu->White balance->Auto->click right to A3->OK

Focus: focus very fast

Order Nikon D5100

Nikon D3100 - An Excellent DSLR For The Entry-Level Photographer

The Nikon D3100 is an excellent entry-level DSLR. Could you pay more to get a "better" camera with "more features"? Absolutely. But why? Would you use those features? I looked long and hard at several in my research before buying - the models I considered were the Canon T2i, Canon 60D, the Nikon D90, and of course, the Nikon D3100. In the end, I decided the extra features on those other cameras were features that I likely wouldn't use. I'm interested mainly in taking lots of pictures while traveling -- pictures of clouds, landscapes, maybe some street photography. I wanted a smaller, lighter DSLR with good battery life and great image quality. The D3100 delivers on all accounts.
Order Nikon D5100
So what do the cameras in the next price-tier have that the Nikon D3100 doesn't? A lot of stuff that most people looking in this price range won't be concerned with. Here's a list of the "missing" things and/or "problems" with the D3100 as I found while researching my purchase:

1) Most online reviews and forums mention a problem with AutoISO and the built-in flash. When using the built-in flash in full auto, AutoISO jumps straight to the maximum ISO value, which I believe is defaulted to ISO-3200. Nikon says this is intended to get a better exposed background, fine with me. Personally, I think that ISO-3200 images out of this camera are very useable unless you're pixel peeping. If you just want to blow up an indoor portrait to an 8x10 (or even larger, I don't know!), you won't have a problem. Don't worry about it!

2) You can frequently hear the lens auto-focusing in your videos. Ok, you got me. If you're in a silent environment, yes, you will hear the autofocus motor, but if you're recording kids laughing and having a good time at the local indoor waterpark or at a parade or something, it's not loud enough where it would be a bother. If it is an annoyance, you can still shoot video with manual focus.

3) No external mic input. The D3100 is sufficient for getting a clip when you want it, you're not going to have movie quality sound. Who carries an external mic with them on vacation? If you're buying a DSLR specifically for video capabilities, you probably should be considering a dedicated camcorder anyway. For my purposes, there's nothing wrong with mono sound.

4) Lack of bracketing -- too much to explain in a review. Google it and see if you would ever use it. I can see why it would be useful, but I doubt it'd be useful for on-the-go photography.

5) Manual settings buried in menus instead of having dedicated buttons -- Most people at the entry-level probably aren't shooting full manual. The D3100 features several "scene" modes that you can use, otherwise there's always aperture or shutter priority, or even full auto. Depending on which priority you're in, the scroll wheel on the back will adjust the aperture or shutter speed. If you shoot full manual all the time, you may want dedicated buttons, meaning you should look elsewhere. If you're not in full manual, I can't see this being a problem.

6) Lack of built-in flash commander mode -- you can't trigger an off camera flash using your built-in flash. Some DSLR's have built-in flashes with this capability, the D3100 does not. For travel photography, this isn't an issue. For most at-home photography, this isn't an issue. It could be for macro photography depending how close to your subject you are, or if you have a full studio with multiple flashes setup in your basement. If you decide at a later point you want this capability, some external flashes such as the Nikon SB-700 can function as a commander. Otherwise, you can use whatever external flash you wish in conjunction with the SC-28 or SC-29 cord inthe D3100's hotshoe.

7) Perhaps the biggest potential problem with the D3100 is the lack of a built in focusing motor. This means the D3100 will not autofocus with plain AF lenses (manual still works though). Any lenses with the AF-S designation will auto-focus just fine. This can be costly though - on some of the higher-end lenses, the difference can be $600 or more between the AF and AF-S version of the same lens. Again, this comes down to "what will you use it for?" For this, I go back here: If this is a problem, you shouldn't be looking at an entry level DSLR anyway.

Nikon ships the D3100 with the 18-55mm AF-S VR lens, offers a very affordable 55-200mm AF-S VR telephoto, and my personal favorite, the 35mm f/1.8 AF-S lens. The 55-200 can be had for under $100 if you catch a sale or rebate, and the 35mm can be had for under $200. These three lenses will cover most of the needs for entry-level photographers, and all three of them auto-focus on the D3100. By the time we as amateur photographers outgrow this setup, we will know specifically what focal lengths we primarily use in order to make a more educated purchase for the expensive lenses later on. And I'm convinced, when that time comes, you'll have your eye on the latest and greatest prosumer DSLR to go with your fancy new lens anyway.

Until then, enjoy the D3100 for what it is. A great, inexpensive, entry-level DSLR, which, in my opinion, produces excellent images when in the hands of a photographer ready to learn!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nikon D3100 My portability philosophy gets upgraded with better quality pics,

Part of my job, at a newspaper, is to rely on heavy cameras we have at our disposal, but when it comes to my personal stuff, I prefer to go very light. That's why for the last years I just kept ultracompact digicams with me that worked (and still work) fine fine. Recently I got some money from a gift, and decided to buy the new Nikon D3100 for taking better portraits of people in my life... to take quality pictures of what I'm used to do with my small digicams, in situations when I can comfortably carry the DSLR without worrying about the bulk. Basically, I bought this camera to use it exclusively with one or 2 prime lens I'll be buying in the near future.

After more than 1,000 shots with Nikon D31oo in the last 2 weeks, I'm very glad with the purchase. This lightweight and fast device is a joy to use! Very lightweight, and great looking design.This Nikon feels great in my hands, the build quality seems sturdy and looks kind of pro even for it's smallness compared to bigger DSLRs. I love how I can set the func button to control ISO or other stuff like White Balance.

The lens included with the camera is very very sharp, so far I cannot complain. I'm amazed at the clean images I get with ISO 3200 indoors!! Wow, that's something that we couldn't say a few years ago with these cameras. I've already had pictures published in the newspaper set at those high Isos, and no problem... They look great!!

I also love the option of setting Picture Controls and Auto ISO. I usually set my camera to Portrait or Standard plus a little bit (1) of saturation.

I have already taken lots of photographs indoors without flash, portraits outside, candids indoors and outdoors, and even handed the camera to my brother (who knows nothing about operating DSLRs) for shooting parts of a concert and he got some beautiful pictures!! And that's one of my favorite things abut the camera: I can give it to other people to take pictures as a point and shoot, and they enjoy using it and taking nice photos without worrying about setting stuff.

I really don't care about video capabilities, nor liveview. I rarely use them but when I have done it, I've liked what I've seen. My only complaint is the battery, as I think it drains quickly compared with other cameras in the similar category I've seen.

So, for recording my life (and my family - friends - myself) in those moments I don't mind carrying something bigger than my ultracompact, the Nikon D3100 is perfect. I wouldn't bother to carry something bigger or heavier. This is the perfect balance.

My next buy will be the Nikkor 35mm 1.8 lens, and the small sb400 flash, that I will use all the time instead of the kit lens. I have nothing against the kit lens, but I love primes and the idea of getting the best quality possible for the least money. Then, in a few months, I may get a prime telephoto for complimenting the 35mm in the candid stuff. And that's all I think I will ever need for the rest of my life in personal photography.

I'm very very happy with my purchase, thanks Nikon!
Order Nikon D5100

All good things come in small packages! How true for Nikon D3100!

Hurray! The long wait is over! Nikon had us wait for such a long time for its newer models (Nikon D3100 and Nikon D7000) and it was just when we started thinking if Nikon will ever have an answer, anytime soon, to Canon's T2i, 7D and 60D) they released these two wonderful cameras - D3100 and D7000. Let's focus on Nikon D3100, shall we?

So I finally had a chance to get hold of this D-SLR at Best Buy today. I am not a pro by any means but I have used many different D-SLRs including Canon (40D, T2i, XSi) and Nikon (D90, D5000). When I picked-up the camera for the first time, my initial reaction was, "whoa - this is so small and light weight"! It wasn't that I wasn't aware of the specs - I knew them beforehand but I was still blown away by how small and light it felt when I held it in my hands. Then, I thought, the grip would not be very comfortable but I was wrong as holding and operating the camera is just fine - thanks to Nikon's well-thought-out design and grip. For the size and feel, it's very similar to D3000 but has more goodies from the higher versions. So from an initial wow factor, I quickly moved on to focusing on features and capabilities.

I have just started using this camera so more update will follow but in the meantime my initial assessment of this camera is - I am impressed! It is one heck of a camera which can certainly compete against the best in its class (Canon T1i, T2i, Nikon D5000).

I love this camera because it:
+ has enough mega pixels for my needs (14.2).
+ captures crystal clear images (thanks to EXPEED2 processor & the CMOS sensor, the sensor is slightly smaller than the one used in D7000).
+ offers 1080p (HD) recording, AF subject tracking is awesome (10 min max is fine with me; it records outstanding videos even in low light and to me that's big).
+ offers ISO from 100-3200 (D90 starts at 200), it can go higher but I really don't think why I would need anything above that.
+ is small & light weight yet has good grip, easy to carry around in hands or neck.
+ supports SDXC cards on top of SD and SDHC - now that's nice.
+ (25-Sep-2010): has buttons that are well organized especially the video recording mode with a lever so you cannot mistakenly activate recording. That video recording lever once unlocked, gets locked in 30 seconds if you do not record and the countdown begins as soon as you unlock the lever. Also you can record video while you're in any dial (imaging) mode (Auto, P, A, S, M, and so on) where as in Canon T2i, etc. you have to move the camera dial to movie mode. So this is a great convenience - you can jump between taking pictures and recording videos with a simple unlocking of the lever. Additionally, you can be in a preferred dial (imaging) mode (Auto, P, A, S, M, and so on) and change the release mode to Single, Continuous, Self-timer or Quiet mode (this is located right underneath the main dial) - another great convenient feature.
+ (04-Oct-2010): In-body photo and movie retouch menu. This is great as we don't need any special software to apply certain touches. I love it.
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Could have been even better if:
- it had the bracketing option (not too much to expect at this price point level but oh well I don't use that much but for some people this could be a big plus).
- grid lines were available (I miss them in both in live view and in the view finder).
- Active D Lighting was not limited to just ON or OFF (either you have it or not at all, instead of low, medium, high, etc.). Don't get me wrong the ON just worked fine (better than Canon T2i) but I can't compare with all other modes.

Recommendations (optional accessories):
* In my personal order of importance - your preference may differ. *
1. Nikon UC-E4 USB Cable - not included. (~$6)
2. UV filter - a must for protecting your lens against accidental damage. (~10$)
3. Carrying case is a must to protect your investment. There are many cases to choose from and it's up to you to decide but I suggest getting something like Lowepro SlingShot 102 AW (all weather proof carrying case) so if it rains, you can pull out the weather guard and cover it up. ($90)
4. Additional rechargeable Lithium Ion EN-EL14 battery so you never run out the juice when you're traveling and do not want to miss capturing a moment for good. (~$35)
5. SB-600 Speedlight. Those who have used speed lights would know what difference it can make to an image with adjustments you can make to light for an image. (~$225)
6. 18-55 VR lens has its limitations so if you have extra $$s, buy body only (if that even is an option) and get yourself a 18-105 VR lens. But at that point, you may want to consider D90 which still is a good camera and offers many more controls. (~$325 to $350)

I give Nikon D3100 5 Stars because it takes excellent pictures in almost all conditions (bright or low-light) and that is exactly what I wanted this camera to do for me. Period.

I must commend Nikon for not getting into the mega pixel race (read marketing). They instead kept the photographer in mind and focused on delivering greater picture quality. Kudos to Nikon for having that courage.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nikon D3100, D70 Upgrade

I recently updated my DSLR collection to the Nikon D3100 from the Nikon D70. There are good reviews out there that you should check out. However, I would like to share some of my first impressions.

-Better image quality and lower noise at high ISO with the Nikon D3100
-MUCH MUCH lighter, which will be nice when traveling
-Larger LCD screen
-11 focus points, including 3D focus which tracks the motion of the subject or camera.
-1080p Video
-14 megapixels
-2nd Generation DSLR
-Quiet, quiet, quiet

-No bracketing option. Not a huge deal since I only bracket once a year
-Cannot use my old 50mm 1.8 lens. I knew this before purchasing the camera.
-As of 10/1/2010, Camera RAW for the Nikon D3100 is not supported in Photoshop or Lightroom. Need to shoot .jpg + RAW or use Nikon Capture NX2 for RAW files. That should be updated soon, so not a big deal.
-Can hear the lens focusing when recording video.
-No depth of field preview.
-Can't use wireless remote

I'm an amateur photographer and this camera meets my needs. I love the fact that it's small and light, with great quality images. If I were a serious photographer and had more money to spare, I would wait and check out the D7000, which appears to have phenomenal specs. I'm happy with my purchase and I highly recommend this camera.
Order Nikon D5100

Nikon D3100 VS. D300 VS. D700

For the cost of this camera, I don't think you can get anything better. The low light performance is off the charts. As a wedding photographer I regularly shoot with Nikon's high end professional equipment and I was amazed how close this camera is to a pro camera. Now let me get specific. In order to compare I took a look at 100% files out of each camera I own.

Which camera excels Nikon D3100($Cheap) VS. D300($1600) VS. D700 ($2,700):
* Lens = The D3100 is the only camera that comes with a lens at it's normal price
* ISO Performance = Tie between Nikon D3100 and D700! (It could be Nikon's new processing but the JPEG looks fantastic I was shooting D3100 on 6400iso with very little noise at all)
* Low Light Focusing = D700
* Focus Speed = D700
* External Buttons & Controls for Pros = D700
* Menu Navigation = D3100
* Ease of Use = Nikon D3100
* Megapixel = D3100 (14.2)
* Sensor size = D700 (Much more important than megapixels but I won't get into this)
* Can use older lenses with functionality = D700 & D300
* Video = D3100 of course! 1080P video looks amazing.
* Frame Rate = D300 at 6 photos a second
* Weight = D3100 (light as a feather)
* Ergonomics = D700 (big enough for all my finger)
Order Nikon D5100
The lens is a kit lens, it will work outside but not so great in low light. The Vibration Reduction will help indoors but Vibration Reduction can't stop a child or pet in motion indoors. Consider buying a 35mm 1.8dx AFS for around $200 and you will be super happy with this camera.

I purchased the 3100 specifically to shoot video, so I put on Nikon's brand new 85mm 1.4g Nano lens and shot video with it. The lens costs more than double the camera but I wanted to see how the 1080P video looked. It has the look of a cinematic movie. After the 85mm, I put on Nikon's 50 1.2 manual focus lens and was able to take very cinematic video in manual mode. In order to make it brighter or darker you either need to use a really old lens like the 50mm 1.2 and hit the AE-L (auto exposure lock) and twist the aperture to change exposure. Or you can hit the AE-L button when you get the exposure you like. Its not a perfect system but it works well for me. Inside the menu options you can change the AE-L button to hold the setting until you reset which is helpful.

Jello Cam (What's not so great):
This camera still suffers from the "Jello Cam" look in video if it is not on a tripod and you are shaky. The video can look like jello if moved too quickly. Use a monopod or tripod when shooting to avoid this. I'm not sure if a faster video frame rate 60fps would help - but at 24 and 30 it can suffer badly.

This is an amazing deal! Unless you make most of your income from photography or have a stockpile of old lenses (this camera can only autofocus with AFS lenses) then this camera is the must have camera of the year. If you have good composition skills and an eye for light you can take photos worthy of a magazine with this. Seriously, you won't regret buying this camera. When you do, do yourself a favor and buy an additional Nikon AFS lens that has a maximum aperture of 2.8, 1.8 or 1.4. These lenses will take better portraits and deal better in low light than the kit lens.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nikon D5100 good camera with a few reservations

As with any review, a lot is dependent on the reviewer's taste, expectations and understanding of the product. So let me make it clear where I fit in there and then how this camera performed.
I have a lot of photography and video experience but I am not a professional.

What I EXPECT is a camera that is easy to use but powerful in features. I like seeing new technology even when it is sometimes inferior to older technology (I know some of you can relate to that). I expect good build quality and I expect that a camera does what it is advertised to do. This camera basically did not disappoint.

But I will say honestly that I was comparing this to the D7000 even though the latter is a good $400 more expensive. But the D5100 was newer and it had some things the D7000 does not have that I thought were important to me:

1. A swivel screen (I've never had a still camera with that). I am upgrading from a D70.
2. Capable of HDR pictures with in-camera processing.
3. Cheaper and lighter weight.

Order Nikon D5100

Many of you may choose the Nikon D5100 for other reasons but these were mine. In the end, I returned it and bought the D7000 (that review is coming soon). Here is why:
I like the idea of HDR photography and the Nikon D5100 can do it right in the camera! To explain why I gravitated towards this particular feature, I need to step back and mention an in-camera feature I had once on a point-and-shoot. I used to have an HP camera and it helped you frame a panoramic picture. When you were done, it stitched it together. Voila! You had a panoramic picture ready to go. When I upgraded to the next model, it also had a panoramic feature to help you frame it, but it did not do in-camera stitching (as most all cameras do not these days). Instead, you are supposed to stitch it with the software the camera comes with. So guess what happened? Nothing....I stopped doing panoramic pictures, because I was too lazy to take the time to find the right pictures, import them into the software, stitch and then export it back to the right folder - too much hassle.
Well, the idea with in-camera HDR was a real selling point for me on the NikonD5100. As of this writing, I am not aware of any other camera that does this (I'm sure someone will correct me?). So this may be the #1 reason I ended up getting the D5100 and it is the #1 I returned it. If you look at Nikon's website they advertise this feature and show an example of a lighthouse - the result is stunning, just as you would expect from HDR. Let me just say flat-out: this will not be the result you see in the real-world. I took about 100 different high-contrast shots and most of them looked better with the HDR processing but most of them only looked *marginally* better. The shadows had more detail and the bright areas were less blown out. So it works. But I then bracketed +2,0,-2 images and plugged them into Photomatrix and BAM! Now that's HDR! No comparison whatsoever. It turns out, the Nikon D5100's version of HDR is to take just two shots (-3,+3 , or some variation on the stops) and then it combines it into one image. If the (+3) shot was a little blurry, because over-exposed shots tend to be this way, then the final HDR image is blurry too. Now when this happens on a bracketed set, that is OK, because you still have the normal (0) exposure to take back with you at the end of your vacation. But if the D5100 made a bunch of blurry shots, you are hosed. There is no way to recover from that. You would have to analyze every shot closely on that little 3" screen to verify you got the shot or you would need to take duplicates with normal exposure just to make sure. Also, the HDR feature is not even written in the instruction manual - go ahead and where to be found! I had to look it up in the longer online pdf manual to see how to use the feature, and it turns out you have to press about 6 buttons pretty deep in the menu just to get the camera to take an HDR. Once you depress the shutter, you have to go back through the whole menu again. Ridiculous! Finally, I figured out you can assign the "Fn" button to handle this, which was really a very good workaround. So all in all, I was really excited about in-camera HDR and in reality, it was a big disappointment. Now on to the other stuff:

The swivel screen: You either love it or hate it. I hated it, but that has nothing to do with the actual camera, just the concept. Basically I think it's mechanically the weakest point of the camera. That little swivel is just asking to snap off the next time I chase my son around the house and back into a corner or cabinet. I can guess it would cost a fortune to have Nikon fix that. Also, I am not into swiveling the screen closed so the screen faces the camera when I am done shooting. I am simply not that meticulous. I want to have a spontaneous camera that I can pick up and shoot whenever I want. So what's the point if I have to un-swivel the screen every time I want to use it and then swivel it closed when I am done. Also, think of all that wear-and-tear. So if you don't close it properly then it is liable to get scratched over time. The D7000 and all the other fixed LCD DSLRs have a plastic screen protector that costs a few bucks to replace - you can't really use a screen protector on the D5100. So either you swivel it closed every time or you risk scratching the screen. In the end, I felt the swivel screen took away from my spontaneity and made me think about not scratching the screen all the time.

Now a few general things: The camera is lighter and cheaper than the D7000. That can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. But for how much this camera costs, I don't want it to feel cheap - and it does. I compared both cameras and it was the little things like how the buttons felt and how the grip was shaped that made the D5100 feel a lot cheaper. Also the 18-55mm lens it comes with is really very limiting. I am not interesting in being one of those people that walks around with 3 lenses in a huge 10lb bag that I carry everywhere. The D7000 comes with the 18-105mm which is not amazing, but it is much better for general use. I personally went with the Tamron 18-270mm, but that's another story. Here are some other things to consider: The D5100 has a bunch of "Effects" like "miniature", "fisheye", etc. These can be done much more easily in the D5100 than in the D7000 where you have to apply the effect to a picture after you take it while the D5100 applies it immediately to the picture. But these are just gimmicks for me - you try the effect out once and move on.

After thoroughly playing with the D5100, the D7000 became an easy choice. For $400 (of course, it's $400 when you compare just the cost of the bodies not the kits) you get a lot of manual buttons so you don't have to dive into menus to change things. You get a dedicated screen on the top that gives you critical info. You get a weather-sealed case with the top and back being magnesium alloy. You get 2 custom user settings, faster more precise focusing and a better lens with the kit. So you say, "no duh, you pay more, you get more". That is true, but my logic was that the D5100 is not really all that cheap to begin with. If I'm shelling out serious cash for a DSLR, it better not feel like a toy in my hand - the D5100 feels like a toy. It also has very few buttons which means any time you want to make a change, you need to dive into a menu. Gosh I hate that! I have a Canon G10 which is more capable - at least it has an ISO and exposure dial right there on the top - no menus no nothing, and it is just a fancy point-and-shoot.

As for the video, I appreciated the fact that the D5100 takes 1080p at 30FPS unlike the D7000 which maxes out at 24FPS. I do video with a far more capable dedicated video camera, so I didn't really bother with this. But from the little I saw, the built-in microphone was weak and the auto-focus was sluggish, inaccurate and loud ( you can hear the focusing in your video). I would only use the camera's video if I was desperate. The D7000 performed no better.

As far as picture quality goes, I am not a pro, but I did compare identical pictures to the D7000 at the pixel level and I am convinced they are the same chips. The pictures are simply awesome. Beautiful color, sharp, clean and excellent light sensitivity. You really will have a hard time complaining.

IN CONCLUSION: Although it "feels" like a toy after you hold the D7000, it is a well-built camera that takes excellent pictures and can do most of the same things the D90 and D7000 are capable of - you just have to hunt for the stuff you need. I do not like hunting for things when a photo-opportunity arises. The HDR feature is mostly useless and could potentially ruin some pictures. The swivel LCD may be useful for some but I did not like it. If the camera is used mainly for a family get-together, a European vacation or even to take short videos of your kids and pets, then this is an excellent choice. If you are like me and enjoy HDR photography, astrophotography, macro-shots and have a deeper understanding of how all the features of how cameras work (like why you would change the metering from "Matrix" to "spot" or why it's useful to change ISO settings all the time, etc) then you will be really frustrated by the D5100 - you are better off spending the money and getting the D7000. I give this camera 4 stars because the HDR feature was a big selling point and it is useless by my standard. I would knock off another half-star for not having at least a dedicated button to change ISO and for having weak video capabilities, but I'm feeling generous tonight ;)

Nikon D5100 Compact little beastie

The Nikon D5100 was the 4th camera in line of cameras I wanted to get. Initially, I was looking at a D3100 and then realized that I could get a T2i for the same price. After seeing that, I was about to purchase a T2i until the catastrophe in Japan occurred and I was SOL and had to buy a T3i. Okay, fine. I then was about to buy the T3i when I saw the rumored release date/specs of the Nikon D5100. After that, i had to wait it out until the D5100 came out. And let me tell you, the D5100 out classes all of them in every single way. The Nikon D5100 has so many added features on top of the expected ones that it really makes shooting with this camera fun and exciting.

The body feels very comfortable in the hand and if it were any smaller, it would be hard to hold but at the same time if it were any bigger it would likely result in a cumbersome body. The controls have been moved all over the place because of the articulating display, which is actually pretty awesome. I didn't really think i needed an articulating display until I realized how many more shots are easier now that I don't have to have my face directly to the viewfinder all the time. I also really enjoyed all of the special effects in the camera as well as the 11 auto-focus points which is more than its Canon competitors.

The camera's overall button layout is pretty nice and since I've never used a Nikon before and haven't really gotten used to say the D3100 or D7000 layout, it makes me happy and I've gotten pretty good at pressing whats needed within a reasonable amount of time. Some people have griped about this, but coming from someone that hasn't owned a DSLR in years its quite decently laid out.

When shooting video, there's nothing too fancy it basically lets you do whatever you can do when shooting stills. You get a wide range of resolutions and frame rates between 720P and 1080P from 24FPS to 30FPS. Its smooth and easy to do, and the capture limit is 20 minutes, and there's a tilt-shift effect which is really cool and I recommend everyone try it out.
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So far, the pop-up flash hasn't been used much by me but in the situations where its needed I've been pretty satisfied with the amount of light and lighting options. Futhermore, the battery life of the actual camera is halfway decent. I wouldn't say its fantastic, but I also wouldn't say it horrid. Its somewhere in the middle and if you do a lot of shooting you're going to need atleast one backup battery.

The Kit lens definitely leaves more to be wanted, but it is a kit lens there really isn't much you can expect from it. My recommendation is to buy a 35mm or 50mm prime as well as a telephoto lens as well, those two lenses in combination with the kit lens are the perfect combination and will likely set you back about $500.

The nice thing about this camera that I didn't realize is that it actually comes with the USB cable that you need to connect it to the computer which apparently the D3100 is missing(WTH?). Needless to say, I'm quite happy with this camera so far and hope to keep enjoying this all day every day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nikon D5100 Phenomenal Camera

For starters, I have had several point-and-shoot cameras with a varying degree of satisfaction. I took photography in the 90s, so my last SLR was a fully manual Pentax P3N. That said, I understood aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, light readings, etc., but the last time I used those words was 14 years ago, and required multiple devices and a lot of time in the darkroom.

I was about to get the Canon T3, but decided to wait for Nikon D5100 to come out - it was well worth the wait.

Overall, it is the perfect balance of tech-nerd features and amateur ease-of-use. Every day I learn a new trick, technique, and feature. I will note that the paper manual is pretty slim, but the disk is better. Nikon's website is the best.

For example, nowhere in the manual does it explain how to use HDR mode - it was grayed out for me and I could not turn it on - it turned out the camera was smarter than me. Because I was in the wrong mode, and inside a dark house, there was no way HDR would work, so it wasn't going to let me bother trying! One you learn to navigate the menus, it becomes second nature.

Effects - the effects modes were what initially caught my eye - I had seen the "preview" and was intrigued by the "miniature" and "selective color" effects. They work great, with practice (especially selective color - it took me a few tries to figure it out) but now they are second nature. The results are spectacular. The other effects are cool, too - they function as advertised and are pleasing and easy.

Scenes - I had "scene" modes on other point-and-shoots, and was never pleased. The opposite is true here. Nikon D5100 has a TON of scene modes, and all have been phenomenal. I try to avoid using the flash as much as possible, but certain photos require it - Nikon D5100 scene modes consistently help to create balanced and sharp photos regardless of the circumstances.

Video - all I can say is "wow"... at first I didn't "get" the quality of video...then I watched some raw video on my 50" 1080p good. The focus works well, it is fast and accurate. I have not used all the shooting modes, but I was impressed by the cinematographic quality of the images when using a large aperture and manual focus. I did not expect to have the urge to make movies, but I find myself playing with it more and more, then editing on iMovie.

Overall, I would recommend this to any amateur photographer looking for a tool that offers amazing flexibility and limitless creative options.

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Nikon D5100 Great Image Quality & Usability at an a Affordable Price,

The image Quality from the Nikon D5100 is outstanding for the price. The features of the Nikon D5100 are easy to deploy in general photography, without the usual complexity of figuring how to deploy them. This is why I bought the camera. It's just easy to use the relatively advanced features.

The Hi1 and Hi2 ISO modes are useful when you need to capture images at lower quality in lower light, and the high grain effect of the ISO 102,000 is a lot of fun. The in-camera editing capability is fun, but doesn't replace in-computer editing functionality. It's handy nonetheless if you need to do edit images quickly after shooting, before uploading them online, for example.

For a first time Nikon Digital SLR user, the position of the buttons, Live View etc are very intuitive and the redeployed buttons don't pose the challenge that users of older Nikon DSLR models claim.

Nikon D5100 LCD Viewfinder is as good as other reviewers have commented and while the Depth of Field preview is missing, the LCD screen preview works (for me anyway). Being able to assign the ISO Level to the button beside the flash button makes it even easier to use the camera without having to navigate the menus to get the right shot settings.

The kit lens is OK as a starter lens, and I agree with other reviewers that you'll want to add better lenses to take advantage of the amazing images this camera is capable of producing. I've added the Stereo Microphone for some HD Videos I've produced and it's worth the money only if you need to do tripod based videso with very clear sound. Otherwise the built in Mic is fine.

All in all, a great buy. Absolutely delighted with it.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nikon D5100 Great Simple DSLR

I've only had the Nikon D5100 for a few days, and I love it. I loved it out of the box. Before buying it, I'd been considering the more expensive Nikon D7000 and the Canon EOS 60D. But being the type of guy who is in general very technology/gadget challenged, I knew I'd never use 90% of the available features on either camera, so I couldn't really justify the extra expense.

What I love immediately about the Nikon D5100 is how easy it is to use right out of the box. Pictures are of course phenomenal, and in particular I've enjoyed using the "Night Vision" effect setting to capture some excellent black & white images of my pets in poor lighting without having to irritate them with a flash. Video is terrific and very easy to use. I expect I'll have a ton of fun with this camera.

Cons? It's a bit plasticky feeling, but do I really care? No. I won't be lugging this camera to the top of Mt. Everest, nor shooting action pics in the rain. One issue is that it is virtually impossible to find a compatible fast fixed focal length 85mm+ portrait lens unless you want to spend significantly more than you paid for the camera itself - which I do not.

For this camera's motor to drive the lens in AF, you will need to use AF-S/AF-I lenses only, and there are not a lot of great [fast] affordable portrait lens options in that class, IMHO. But being at most a very casual photo kind of guy, I can live with that shortcoming. The kit lens takes wonderful shots.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased and I expect that anyone wanting a good camera for casual photo/video use will be as well.

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Nikon D5100 First-Time DSLR Owner

I got my Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm lens kit last night. I had previously tried the D3100 and returned it after having a little trouble focusing through live view (saw this also on a D5000) as well as not liking the quality and non-rotation of the display panel. I read much of the pre-release hype and hoped that this would be the one. The early pro reviews seem to indicate that you will be happier with a jump to Nikon D5100 if you can afford it and I agree.

I've had less than a day so far with it and I'm loving this one. I instantly felt comforable with it in my hand. It comes with a printed manual and pdf which is nice. I had a blast this morning shooting birds w/ the Nikkor 70-300 lens. I was surprised that I could even get some crisp, clear in-flight pictures. The whole rig just feels comfortable and the quality and rapid action of the sports mode are great for animal pics.

All of the pieces and software have worked right out of the box.

Very happy so far. I'm not a pro photographer but want to learn and this seems like a great match. Has many auto and manual modes.

I put some of my images from the first day up in the View and Share images section of this product page.

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