Nikon Coolpix S5100 £150
23rd Sep 2010 | 13:05
A tiny compact that's ideal for snapping on the fly
Nikon S5100: Overview and features
The compact camera market shows no sign of becoming less cutthroat. No sooner has Nikon announced the high-end P7000, designed to go head-to-head with the Canon G12, than the company unleashes an assault on the low-end of the market, with the 12.2 megapixel S5100.
With few manual features, an all-plastic body and comparatively modest specifications elsewhere, this isn't a camera for aspiring pros. But with its price likely to come in under £150, this could be perfectly suited for those who simply want a decent value point-and-shoot.
The all-plastic shell might not feel as rugged as some of Canon's more luxurious-feeling Ixus models, but the S5100 is nevertheless comfortable in the hand, and survived an accidental drop with no apparent ill-effects.
More irritating are the buttons on the back. They aren't cramped together, but they feel a little clicky, underlining the S5100's status as a comparatively low-end compact. The reasonable layout is helped by the 2.7in, 230k-pixel screen.
While not exactly lavish, it's nonetheless sharp and bright, and generally visible in good daylight. It does, however, suffer slightly from restricted vertical viewing angles: a problem if you want to shoot from a very low angle without lying on the ground.
Elsewhere, the lens is a 28-140mm f/2.7-6.6 number. That's rather slow when zoomed in, but the optical stabilisation works terrifically.
The S5100 doesn't exactly include the kitchen sink, but the features included work well. For instance, its face detection handled portraits well, and the smile detecting self-timer is nifty, although it could have been usefully expanded to work with larger groups.
Unsurprisingly, there's no Manual mode to get to grips with, leaving you with precious few options if you want to customise your exposures. Exposure compensation is left in, allowing you to under- or over-expose your shots by plus or minus two stops, while manual white balance could prove useful to those who want to get their JPEGs perfect in-camera.
There is a Manual autofocus mode, however, which allows you to use the D-pad to help the S5100 determine exactly where you want the focus point to fall. In practice this makes a relatively small difference, although careful macro photographers might appreciate it.
One thing more advanced photographers will appreciate is the semi-automatic ISO settings. Although the S5100's ISO features don't run anywhere near as long as they do on the company's DSLRs, you can nevertheless set the camera to restrict itself to ISO settings from 100-400, or to 100-800 – handy if you'd rather use the flash than have the S5100 bump up its sensitivity.
Fully automatic and fully manual modes also make appearances.
Nikon S5100: Image quality
Image quality is excellent. The lens resolved plenty of detail, which meant sharp images. The corners of our test images remained reasonably sharp, even with the lens at its longest 140mm setting.
ISO performance is satisfyingly good as well: there's little distinction to be made between 100 and 400. ISOs 800 and 1600 show a little noise and discolouration creeping in, but not enough to discourage us from using it in low-light situations where the flash isn't an option.
Indeed, stick the S5100 on ISO 1600, then use a tripod with the image stabilisation on and you should have a camera capable of surprisingly good results in low light.
The only problem is ISO 3200 – image quality takes a dive at this setting. Colour accuracy plummets and supposedly plain areas take on mottled, grey-brown hues. One best left for emergencies.
The only recurring complaint we had was chromatic aberration. Purple fringing was a factor in far too many of our test shots – most areas of high contrast proved problematic.
The S5100 isn't the worst culprit we've seen, and if you tread carefully when taking pictures that are likely to be a problem – tree branches against an overcast sky, for instance – you can avoid it… but it's worth bearing in mind.
Nikon S5100: ISO tests
We tested the Nikon Coolpix S5100 at every ISO setting. Here are the results:
Nikon S5100: Video sample
Not every cheap-as-chips compact comes with a well-specified video mode, so it's pleasing to report that the S5100 comes with a 1,280 x 720, 30fps HD mode, as well as 640 x 460 and 320 x 240 modes.
Exposure and focus are modified while you shoot, although the lens' zoom mechanism is disabled, presumably to stop the camera picking up the sound of its own mechanics while recording.
Video quality is reasonable – detail resolution isn't up there with the best, although motion is handled well. We noted the autofocus hunting a little even during relatively static shots, but for the occasional high-def clip, the S5100 just about passes muster.
Nikon S5100: Verdict
The S5100 might not be rocking any out of this world features, but it's a solid little camera – particularly when you consider the sub-£150 price. It's small, it's light, and it takes good-quality pictures as long as you can stand the odd spot of purple fringing.
There's no manual mode, and while that's disappointing for purists, for beginners it simply means there are no complicated settings to get to grips with: just the zoom toggle and shutter release button. More complex features, such as the optical image stabilisation and face-detection, work so well they barely require any thought at all to use effectively.
The unfussy design also wins our hearts: this might not be a stunning camera to look at, but everything falls easily to hand. And, while the all-plastic build might not be inspiring, it's likely the S5100 will survive its fair share of mistreatment.
We're less convinced by the rather dull video mode, which produces quite flat results, and there's no doubt that those who want a camera that will grow with their photographic skills should look for something a bit more involving, such as the Samsung WB600.
But for those who want nothing more than a camera that produces competent results without the taxing nomenclature of apertures and f-stops, the S5100 is a very solid choice.