I preface every review with the same disclosure. I am not a professional. I do not shoot test charts. I do not try every lens with every camera. All opinions are my own, and are only based upon my own experiences with the gear. I haven’t had a ton of gear, or all of the expensive gear. I won’t list every specification or test for every specification. My review is not meant for professionals – if you are a professional, you shouldn’t need a review from an amateur. The information below is simply my own observations while doing normal photography, and is for other car enthusiasts and amateurs like myself.
I bought a new D5100 about 18 months ago, and just sold it. Over that period of time, I shot about 25,000 shots on it, and had the opportunity to try just about everything on it.
It’s strengths are its image quality, its exposure metering, and it’s flip-out screen.
It’s weaknesses are its lack of a built-in AF motor, lack of CLS flash commander mode, and its lack of buttons for simple tasks (instead, you have to go through a navigation menu).
For me, I learned the menu driven system quickly, and it wasn’t too much of a hastle, but it is something to know about first.
Lack of an internal AF motor only affects you if you have old lenses – the new AF-S ones don’t use the camera motor to focus.
The D5100 is small, so when it was teamed up with the 18-55mm AF-S VR and the 55-200mm VR, it made a very shar, lightweight kit. I used a 35mm f/1.8 with that for a light travel kit.
I used it with the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX AF-S and 80-200mm AF-S lens also, but the lens was so much larger that I always kept my battery grip on the camera to balance out the weight and give more room on the camera to grip.
When using the battery grip, the camera became the size of a pro-DSLR, but it supplied it with enough juice to shoot off 1400+ photos without issue, or take over an hour of video without worry. The D5100’s video mode only lets you shoot 20 minutes without interruption though, so you will want to find a spot to quickly stop and restart the video when filming. It’s internal microphone is not very good either, so plan on getting a separate recording device (I use the Tascam DR-40).
The image quality is very good on the D5100, and the only lens that I ever had not match up with it was a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC. Since the D5100 does not have AF fine-tune as a feature, I ended up selling the Tamron lens, and getting the Nikon 17-55mm instead.
My recommendation is that with the prices falling quickly on the D5100, only get one if you know that is all that you can afford in the near future. With the D5200 and D7100 available now, the D5100’s and D7000’s will become cheaper, and the D7000 is the route to go, if possible.