HandlingLike its pair of entry-level counterparts, there are two very different sides to the S5100. From the front, it has a stylish, painted plastic cover with chrome detail and a careful finish. On the back, however, it looks like a melted down Playmobil toy. The battery compartment is particularly worrying, as it doesn't seem very well made or very sturdy—a quick push on the compartment door is enough to see that.
The screen is quite poor too (see sidebar). The controls hold no real surprises and are typically plain and simple. The S5100 doesn't offer a huge range of settings, but the ones it does have can be accessed quickly. There's no Auto Intelligent mode but there is a separate video record button.
One thing worth noting is that the zoom is very fast, and since its speed can't be adjusted, stopping at an exact focal length is rather hard work.
ResponsivenessThe S5100 has internal software that's closely related to that seen in the S8000. This means it can take a shot very quickly on start-up, taking under a second to pop out its lens and shoot! Like the S8000, though, it does take the camera around five seconds to be fully ready to use, as the zoom, menus and settings aren't available until the camera has started up completely. The autofocus works fine, and although it's not as speedy as the best models, it's consistent and quick enough in practice. Saving a shot takes two and a half seconds, which is comparable to other models.
Picture QualityNoise is handled in a disappointingly obvious manner for this sensor. With picture size at 100% noise is visible from 200 ISO. However, it's only at 800 ISO that it will really be in problem for day-to-day use. The S5100 does handle things a little better than the S3000 and S4000, but it's not a patch on certain compacts with backlit sensors, or even those with a CCD and decent image processing software.
The lens is more of a problem. In wide angle, only the middle of the picture is clear and sharp, and shots soon become blurred around the edges. You'll notice this lack of sharpness on an A4 print.
With a lens that only opens to f/6.6 at 140 mm, it's no real surprise to see that the telephoto mode is actually quite bad. With 12 Megapixels on a 1/2.3" sensor, we know from experience that diffraction limits the optical resolution from f/4 and is distinctly visible from f/5.6. As a result, pictures are even blurred in the middle of the frame. In fact, the blurring is strong enough to be noticeable on an 8" x 10" print!
VideoThe S5100 films 720p HD video but with mono sound and no optical zoom (just a poor-quality digital zoom). It's therefore nothing to get excited about, especially since the picture is speckled with noise in low light.
- Stylish front face
- Simple controls and menus
- Fast, responsive
- Separate video record button
- Low-definition screen with poor viewing angles
- Image quality not consistent accross the frame in wide-angle mode
- Blurring in telephoto mode
- Video mode with no optical zoom and mono sound
The Nikon Coolpix S5100 lives up to expectations: it's a basic camera with inconsistent build quality that's counting on its cute, colourful looks and its low price to help you forget about its only just acceptable picture quality (that's really quite bad in telephoto mode!).