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Nikon Coolpix P5100

12.1 megapixel Nikon with optical image stabilization
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

In Nikon's nomenclature, the "P-Series" stands for performance, and the new Coolpix P5100 fits right into that category with a balanced combination of versatility, advanced functions, upgraded features compared to its predecessors, great picture quality, and ease of use. Nikon designed this amazingly small and handy camera to offer passionate photographers something to take along when they go shooting with their big Nikon digital SLRs.

Introduced in the Fall of 2007, the Nikon Coolpix P5100 seeks to offer a maximum of manual operation and creative control in a camera with very high 12.1 megapixel resolution. All those pixels do not only mean the ability to create very large prints, but also let users edit and crop without ever coming up short in pixels. Rare these days, the P5100 offers an optical viewfinder to go alongside its high-resolution 2.5-inch LCD screen. the camera also offers very high sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) and there are optional telephoto and wide angle converters.

Performance and almost complete manual control

With the Nikon Coolpix P5100, you get a very compact camera with resolution and features w could only dream of a few short years ago. True, even very inexpensive digicams over 7 and 8 megapixel resolution these days, but a full 12 megapixel is still at least 50% more, and that can make a big difference. What's amazing is how small and light this camera is. The picture on this page is actually misleading; it is much smaller than it looks. The P5100 measures just 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 inches and weighs a minuscule 7 ounces without battery.

The lens is always a selling point for any Nikon camera, and the P5100 is no different. It comes with a 3.5X optical Zoom-Nikkor lens, the assembly consisting of seven elements in six groups. The 3.5X optical zoom can be digitally magnified for a total magnification of 14X. The lens housing accepts an adapter ring, a wide-angle convert lens, and a tele converter lens.

Unlike many compacts, and especially ones this small, the Coolpix P5100 offers plenty of manual control. A round dial on top of the camera provides access to no fewer than ten different modes.

Optical and digital anti-shake

Anti-Shake mode combines the optical lens-shift capability of the camera with faster shutter speed and increased sensitivity. It enables the Vibration Reduction mode (turned on or off in Settings) that corrects blur cause by hand movement, particularly when zooming in or shooting in low light. The P5100 uses lens-shift optical technology that detects horizontal and vertical shift and tries to compensate for movements perpendicular to the direction of the panning. What this means is that you can have Vibration Reduction on all the time, or you can go for maximum Anti-Shake by engaging digital anti-shake in addition by selecting Anti-Shake on the Mode Dial.

The High-Sensitivity mode on the dial is similar, but uses digital anti-shake only, i.e. it increases sensitivity and uses faster shutter speeds. Digital anti-shake can lead to lower quality pictures with more noise, and so Nikon applies its EXPEED image processing system that performs noise reduction and improves the signal-to-noise ratio in an effort to preserve image quality even when shooting at higher ISO settings.

Full manual operation and scene modes

The manual modes offer Programmed auto, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, and full Manual. In Programmed Auto you can select different combinations of shutter speed ad aperture for different effects. This way you can be assured of proper exposure.

If you're not in the mood to use manual settings there are 16 "scene modes," those being portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, museum, fireworks, copy (to take clear pictures of text and print), backlight and panorama, and voice recording. These modes are pretty much standardized throughout much of the Coolpix lineup, but not all models have the P5100 voice recording mode. If you're so inclined, you can use the P5100 as a dictaphone until space runs out.

Movies

In movie mode you can record at full 640 x 480 resolution and at a lifelike 30 frames per second, with sound. Recording time is only limited by storage capacity. Unfortunately, the P5100 won't let you use the optical zoom while shooting movies; digital zoom is available but only up to 2X. That was an unwelcome surprise. On the plus side, you can do time-lapse movies with intervals between shots from 30 seconds o 60 minutes.

Face recognition and other goodies

Like virtually every consumer camera introduced in 2007 the P5100 offers a "Face Priority" mode that makes sure the camera exposes faces properly. What that means is that the camera has the ability too find a face in a picture and then make sure that it is in focus and properly exposed. With the P5100, you know face priority works when a double border around the face glows green. In fact, the P5100 has an enhanced face recognition function that can recognize up to a dozen separate faces quickly and efficiently. The P5100 also has Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector that snaps multiple frames and automatically selects the best one.

Nikon has incorporated a number of user-friendly "In-Camera Innovations" into the P5100. They include In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, D-Lighting, and the above described Face Priority AF. In-Camera Red-Eye Fix automatically detects and corrects red eye, the vexing condition that often happens when you use the flash. In playback mode, D-Lighting compensates for excessive back-light or insufficient flash in images.

The camera comes with a (for cameras) generous 52MB of internal memory, and uses SD cards for storage.

Operation

The Coolpix P5100 is fairly easy to use, but you have to spend a bit of time examining and learning all of its buttons, controls and functions. On the back there is the ubiquitous four-way navigation ring with an OK button in the center. The ring doubles as a "multi-selector" so you can toggle through flash, focus, time delay, and exposure compensation settings. Along the right side of the LCD is a vertical arrangement of five more buttons to access functions, monitor settings, playback, the menu, and deletion of pictures.

On top of the camera is the 10-function mode dial, the shutter with the zoom ring around it, the power switch, and a command dial that you rotate to select various options both in shooting and playback modes.

The onscreen monitor provides a great wealth of information. In shooting mode its 31 items, in playback mode 17. So there is a good number of icons to learn and memorize.

Overall

The Nikon Coolpix P5100 offers 12-megapixel resolution and extensive manual control in a high quality camera that is amazingly small and handy. It has a 3.4X optical zoom Nikkor lens, can shoot VGA movies with sound and at a full 30 frames per second speed, record voice and voice memos, and there are onboard goodies like face recognition and red-eye reduction. You can use optical or digital image stabilization, or both. A high resolution 2.5-inch screen makes for pleasant playback and the ability to spot blurry pictures. And there is a much appreciated optical viewfinder also.

This is an excellent camera for enthusiast photographers who want full manual control without a lot of weight and bulk.

We like:

  • 12 megapixel resolution
  • Full manual operation in addition to 16 scene modes
  • Optical lens-shift image stabilization
  • Very small and handy for this much power
  • Face recognition mode
  • Voice recording
  • Full speed VGA movies with sound
  • Optical viewfinder
Not so much:
  • No optical zoom during movies
Specifications Nikon Coolpix L15
Status Added 09/2007
Camera Type Compact
Size 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2
Weight (oz.) 4.4 without batteries
Effective Pixels 8.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats JPEG, WAV, Quicktime
Compression fine, normal, basic
Movie recording (best) til full, with audio
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with sound at 30fps til full (digital zoom only)
Voice recording none
Lens 5 elements, 5 groups
Focal length 5.7-17.1mm (35-105mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Image stabilization Optical lens-shift
Aperture f/2.8 - f/4.7
Focus modes Auto center or face-priority and AF-assist illuminator
Focus minimum/macro 1.8 feet, 6 inches
Shutter speed 1/1000 to 2 sec (4 sec in Fireworks scene mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto (ISO 64-1000)
Autofocus system Contrast-detect AF
Metering 256-segment matrix center-weighted or spot
Autofocus system contrast type: spot/multi
White-balance modes auto/6 presets (manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash)
Shooting modes auto, 16 scenes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.8" LCD (230k) 5-level brightness
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 13 feet
Flash modes 5
Camera internal memory 23MB
Storage Medium SD Card
I/O AV out, digital IO (USB)
Battery type Two alkaline/lithium AA or rechargeables
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 580 images with Lithium, 160 with alkaline
List Price US$179.99
Contact www.nikon.com

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