Nikon P5100 Review

 
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Nikon Coolpix P5100 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Accurate color overall, with good saturation and hue accuracy, though slight undersaturation in certain tones.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Nikon Coolpix P5100 pushes strong reds just a little, but actually undersaturates strong yellows and greens a small amount. Bright blues are about where they ought to be. The overall result is bright overall color, without dominant blues or yellows. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. With the correct color balance for the lighting, the Nikon Coolpix P5100's skin tones are pretty good. There's a slight reddish tint, but results are still good. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon P5100 showed small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, such as a push in the reds toward orange, cyan toward blue, and darker blues toward cyan. However, overall color looked good and natural in most instances. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm with Auto and Incandescent white balance, though good color with the Manual option. Slightly higher-than-average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was quite warm in the Auto and Incandescent white balance modes, while the Manual setting produced more accurate color. The Nikon P5100 required a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, a little higher than average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is quite good, though the blue flowers are dark and purplish and skin tones a little reddish. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the P5100 struggled a bit here.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Pretty good overall exposure and color, though very high contrast with hot highlights.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Nikon Coolpix P5100 performed about average, with high contrast in the harsh sunlight, though the camera actually required a little less than the average amount of positive exposure compensation. Highlights are very bright, and the shadows quite deep, with limited detail on the white shirt in the portrait. Shadow detail is fair, though limited. The P5100 does offer adjustable contrast and saturation, which will help in situations like those above.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,650 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,650 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,650 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed slightly soft, but smooth line patterns down to about 1,650 lines per picture height in both directions, with no extinction. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, though some edge-enhancement in high contrast areas and noise suppression in the shadows.

Slightly soft images overall
with minor visible
edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here. Chroma noise is
also evident toward the bottom center
of the cropped image above.

Sharpness. The Nikon Coolpix P5100 captures a lot of fine detail, with pretty good definition; however, image detail is often soft, either due to noise suppression or due to flare coming off of bright objects. In high contrast areas like the house shot above, edge enhancement artifacts are visible, especially around the branches in the background. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows moderate noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail. Individual strands are distinguishable in the lighter shadows, though details become smudgy as shadows deepen. You can also see some chroma noise in the shadows, appearing as larger, almost rainbow blotches. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a jump in noise with strong blurring and desaturation at the higher settings.

ISO 64 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600
 
ISO 2,000 ISO 3,200

The Nikon Coolpix P5100's lower ISO settings keep noise under control fairly well, with good results even at ISO 400. At ISO 800, noise is higher, but still a little better than average. At ISOs 1,600 and 2,000, noise levels make a big jump, with a very strong pattern that muddles fine detail and lowers color saturation. The highest sensitivity setting, 3,200, is limited to a lower resolution. Though noise pixels aren't as bright, the camera's attempts to suppress noise resulting in a very soft image. Still, judging a 12-megapixel image at 100 percent onscreen doesn't tell you much. See our Output Quality section for our analysis of the printed results.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but very high contrast and hot highlights. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

Default Exposure +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight:
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 had some difficulty dealing with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with blown-out highlights and deep shadows. Detail is lost in the white shirt, as well as in some of the lighter flowers, and shadow detail is limited as well. The camera required less than average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +0.3 EV, though some may prefer the dimmer default exposure. Consider reducing the contrast setting with the Nikon P5100, and be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
64
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3.2 sec
f2.7
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6.2 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
ISO
100
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2 sec
f2.7
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3.9 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
ISO
200
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1 sec
f2.7
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2 sec
f2.7
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4.1 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
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8 sec
f2.7
ISO
400
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0.5 sec
f2.7
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1 sec
f2.7
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2 sec
f2.7
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4.1 sec
f2.7
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7.7 sec
f2.7
ISO
800
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0.3 sec
f2.7
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0.5 sec
f2.7
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1 sec
f2.7
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2 sec
f2.7
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3.8 sec
f2.7
ISO
1600
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1/8 sec
f2.7
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0.3 sec
f2.7
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0.5 sec
f2.7
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1 sec
f2.7
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1.9 sec
f2.7
ISO
2000
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1/10 sec
f2.7
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1/5 sec
f2.7
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0.4 sec
f2.7
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0.8 sec
f2.7
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1.5 sec
f2.7
ISO
3200
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1/17 sec
f2.7
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1/9 sec
f2.7
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1/4 sec
f2.7
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0.5 sec
f2.7
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0.9 sec
f2.7

Low light:
The Nikon Coolpix P5100 performed well on the low-light test, though its lowest ISO setting (64) only produced bright images down to the 1/2 foot-candle light level. At ISO 200, images were reasonably bright at the darkest light level. Noise increases with higher ISOs, but this is expected. Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted, and in total darkness with the AF assist enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter times here demand the use of a tripod to prevent blurry images. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Uneven coverage at wide angle, better at telephoto. Our standard shots required above average compensation at the Normal setting, less in Slow-sync mode. Good flash range for the camera's size.

35mm equivalent 123mm equivalent
Normal Flash
+1.3 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+0.7 EV

Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, with strong falloff in the corners and edges of the frame. At full telephoto, coverage was more even. In the Indoor test, the Nikon P5100's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +1.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results (a little higher than average). The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced more even results, with a brighter exposure, though with a stronger orange cast from the room lighting.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CP5100FL06W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
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1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL08W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL09W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL10W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL11W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CP5100FL12W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL13W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL14W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL15W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL16W.jpg
1/60 sec
f2.7
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CP5100FL06T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
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1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
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1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
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1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL10T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL11T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CP5100FL12T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL13T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL14T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL15T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100
Click to see CP5100FL16T.jpg
1/120 sec
f5.3
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright all the way out to a distance of about 10 feet, and didn't get too much dimmer until 16 feet. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target was never sufficiently illuminated, even at 6 feet.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see CP5100FL_MFR263WA0075.jpg
26.3 feet
Auto ISO 75
Click to see CP5100FL_MFR132TA0277.jpg
13.2 feet
Auto ISO 277

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the Coolpix P5100 performs almost as Nikon says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 75). However, the target at the end of the room is dark, as the camera is likely thrown off by the white doors. At telephoto, the image is bright, though the camera boosted the ISO to 277. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, good color, sharp 13x19-inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 11x14, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10, better at 5x7. ISO 3,200 shots are unusable.

The Nikon Coolpix P5100 had enough resolution to make good looking 13x19 inch prints. 16x20-inch prints were reasonable, but chroma noise shows up in some places, and detail is soft. ISO 200 shots are good at 11x14, with good color, though detail is starting to blur thanks to noise suppression. ISO 400 shots are grainier at 11x14, but the color is still good. ISO 800 images are grainy but usable at 8x10, and color starts to fade a little. At 5x7, though, ISO 800 images are pretty good. ISO 1,600 images are best kept to 4x6 because of their graininess and low color saturation; and ISO 2,000 images are less saturated still, but just as grainy. ISO 3,200 images are not usable at 4x6, appearing blurry and stippled.

Overall, a pretty good performance, especially for a 12-megapixel digital camera.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix P5100 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix P5100 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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