Nikon D5100 DSLR – What’s New and Impressions

Nikon announced the D5100 and the stereo ME-1 microphone this week. So far I like what I’m seeing. In my previous comparison of the D3100 and D5000 I found it hard to recommend the D5000. The D5100 ups the ante just enough to help differentiate it from the D3100 while increasing the price point for a better fit between the D3100 and D7000.

Price as of 08/06/11:

  • Amazon – $800 free shipping

Rundown of the key changes from the D5000:

  • 16.2 MP sensor (vs 12.3 MP)
  • 1080p video at 24/25/30 fps (vs 720p24)
  • H.264/AVC codec (vs Motion JPEG, big improvement)
  • 3″ 921k pixel LCD (vs 2.7″ 230k pixel)
  • LCD hinge on left of body (vs bottom edge)
  • 14-bit processing (vs 12-bit)
  • Default to ISO 100 (vs ISO 200)
  • Autofocus during video
  • Stereo microphone input
  • Dual IR sensors (no reaching around to the front)
  • Live view switch and record button moved to top
  • Slightly smaller and lighter

The improvements to video and the higher resolution LCD are nice upgrades. The sensor is likely the same or very close to that of the D7000 which means it will produce very nice images with great high ISO performance.

If your budget for a camera is under $1000 then the main deciding factor between the D5100 and D3100 will be the video. If you aren’t going to use video then the D5100 might not be worth the extra $300.

The D5100 is competitively priced at Amazon:

Humans vs Aliens vs Zombies

Had a vivid dream this week that went something like this:

Earth is at war with an alien planet on the far side of the galaxy. Neither of us have the technology to actually transport living troops to each others planet so the war is waged by lobbing stuff across the vast emptiness of space. Besides kinetic projectiles we are both attempting to infect each other with disease.

One biological attack from the aliens is particularly effective and spreads unchecked across the globe; zombie apocalypse becomes reality. Humanity breaks down and is reduced to ragged bands of survivors. I am part of a well armed group whose sole purpose is to help those who have succumbed to the disease. We do not know what condition the infection leaves the human mind in, but we won’t allow fellow humans to persist in that irreversible state.

I am armed with a M1 Garand rifle chambered in the stout .30-06 cartridge. My team members handle nearby zombies with ease, but I am more selective with my targets. I increase the challenge of our job by dispatching zombies two at a time. I take the old sharpshooter “one shot, one kill” adage and kick it up a notch: “one shot, two kills”.

From a well supported position I silently peer through my iron sights at a group of zombies down the road. Their meandering movement is slow and random when they are unaware of living flesh, but becomes frantic once they lock onto our sweet scent. As the group shuffles about I mentally calculate their trajectories and wait for that moment where one zombie head passes behind another. I notice two infected on opposite sides of the street moving towards the center turn lane. Experience and instinct direct my aim to an empty spot between them.

A minute passes while the zombies steadily approach each other. In my peripheral vision I see the zombies disappear behind the rear aperture of my sight. I know in the next moment they will reappear inside the aperture and I will have the briefest moment to deliver my shot. The zombies emerge inside the aperture and their bodies become obscured by the front post. I slowly release my breath as one starts to pass behind the other and the next instant I squeeze the trigger. My round passes through both zombies’ skulls, releasing whatever is left of their imprisoned and tormented minds.

At about this time alien landing pods containing small combat robots start landing around us, but I woke up so that’s all you get. I blame this dream on science fiction books, Left 4 Dead, Monster Hunter International, sniper books and recently shooting my M1.

Cheaper Nikon DSLR Lenses for Low Light Action and Sports

When shooting action and sports in low light or indoors your lens becomes much more important than your camera body. Pros are using expensive glass like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or some exotic prime to gather lots of light. The Nikon 70-200 is a tad over $2000 though. Luckily there are more affordable alternatives like the Sigma and Tamron versions of the 70-200mm f/2.8. These are good matches to lower priced bodies like the D3100 and D5000 that offer comparable performance for almost a third of the price.

Price Comparisons (updated 8/8/11)

Sigma Tamron Nikon
Amazon $949 $769 $2200

Just a quick primer about apertures; aperture is described by an f-stop, f/2.8 for example. The lower the number the larger the opening in the lens to collect more light. f/1.4 is considered very fast because you get more light and can maintain a faster shutter speed. f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22 are the standard full stops. Each step up will halve the shutter speed. In general, a lower f-stop number translates to less depth of field (DOF).

The cheap (but still very good) Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens is just too slow and short to be of much use in low light. The Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 (or 55-300) would give you more reach, but it too will be too slow as it zooms in. For example, in an indoor hockey rink I’d estimate that shooting at ISO 1600 with f/2.8 gets you 1/250 second. f/4 would drop that to 1/125 and f/5.6 would drop it to 1/60. That’s a very big difference and would allow motion blur to become a problem.

I’ve shot a group of friends playing broomball at a local rink with my 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 and it was a struggle. Even with ISO between 1600-3200 my shots were underexposed if I tried forcing the shutter to 1/250. I could have lowered it, but then motion blur would have started kicking in. I don’t think I even bothered sharing those photos with anyone.

Low light action (pretty much everything not in sunlight) is just one of those things that’s flat out hard. Pros can throw thousands of dollars into their gear, but we don’t really have that luxury. A cheaper DSLR like the D3100 or D5000 is up to the job, but they really need the help of a f/1.8 or f/2.8 lens to keep the shutter as fast as possible.

Depending how much reach you need you could even use the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 to get as much light as possible for cheap. If you do need more reach then the Sigma and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses become some of your few options. The Sigma seems to have better autofocus capability and the Tamron has slightly better image quality.

Bang for your Buck

The Sigma has shot up in price making the Tamron a better value. There is also a new Sigma lens with image stabilization built in, but it is almost $1400.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG HSM II Macro Zoom Lens for Nikon

Tamron AF 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD IF Lens for Nikon

To Richard who used the Contact Me form to ask about the Nikon D90

Google is bouncing back emails to the address you left, but here is my response if you happen to visit again:


Sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what you want. If you want to quickly change shutter AND aperture in Manual mode then the D90 has a rear thumb wheel and front index finger wheel to adjust both. It also has a DOF preview button.

Truth is I’ve never had good luck with the tracking autofocus on my D90. There just are enough AF points to reliably track a moving subject. I shoot almost exclusively in continuous AF with a single AF point selected and the AE-L/AF-L button configured to lock focus while held. This allows me to always have continuous focusing, but I can still lock focus and recompose if needed.

The D7000 would be a completely different story and I’d likely trust it to track subjects for me.

For quick action you’ll be served well by the D90 or D7000. The D7000 has a more sophisticated AF system and can shoot a little faster (6 FPS vs 4.5 I think). About a $450 difference between the two so that all depends on your budget.

Another thing to think about is lens selection. Most of the cheap lenses start at f/3.5 and get to f/5.6 or even f/6.3 in a hurry. Zooms with a f/2.8 constant aperture can easily cost more than your body.

When you say you “don’t need all the gizmos” are you talking about autofocus and metering or things like HD video and other misc features?


TaxAct Premium Online for $11.90

Tax season is coming and I saw this deal for TaxAct that I’m going to try this year. Pretty much you just have to register using the link below and you’ll lock in a $11.90 price including Federal and State e-file. You don’t pay anything until you e-file.

Lock in $11.90 price for TaxAct Premium Online

I’ve used TurboTax Deluxe Online (need Schedule C) in the past because I got it for free through State Farm, but it’s only offered to their banking customers now. Problem is TurboTax is really starting to jack up prices for State e-filing. TurboTax Deluxe with State is about $55 at Amazon and H&R Block’s At Home (formerly TaxCut) is a little cheaper. The problem is they charge you $30 and $20 respectively for a State e-file on top of the purchase price. Even if they go on sale for $35-40 you’re still looking at $60-70 to do both e-files.

I’ll give TaxAct a try this year and maybe test my return in TurboTax as a direct comparison. Nice thing about the online versions is you can plug in your numbers and see the results without having to pay for anything.