Best DSLR for beginners: 6 tested

Entry-level cameras and the best DSLR on a tight budget

Best starter dslrs 6 tested

Nikon D5100 - £600

Weighing in at £200 more than the Nikon D3100, the Nikon D5100 builds on the latter's features with a feast of advanced extras. A 16.2MP CMOS sensor is backed up by Nikon's EXPEED 2 image processor, and the standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400 is expandable right up to ISO 25600.

As well as full auto, PASM and basic shooting modes such as Portrait, Landscape and Sports, the mode dial also offers Scene and Effects options. The Scene setting is like an extension of basic shooting modes, and includes Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Candlelight, Autumn colours and various other options. These tailor shooting parameters for optimum results in tricky conditions.

Switch to Effects and you can choose options such as Night Vision, Colour Sketch and Selective Colour. The effects work well in live view mode, where you can preview how the image will look before shooting. Other advanced shooting options include an HDR setting for merging dual exposures of high-contrast scenes.


Autofocus, metering and Active D-Lighting give excellent and remarkably consistent results in all sorts of shooting scenarios, both indoors and outdoors in wide-ranging lighting conditions. Image quality is punchy without being artificially vibrant. Video recording is also high-quality, and benefits from an external mic socket.

Handling is good overall, and versatility for live view and video recording gets a boost from the fully articulated LCD, similar to that fitted to the Canon EOS 600D. The 3-inch screen has a high 921k pixel resolution. Raw processing and a wealth of retouching options round off the attractions.

Outdoor image test

Best starter dslrs 6 tested

Punchy image quality is the hallmark of the Nikon D5100. This shot has plenty of contrast and saturation straight from the camera.

Resolution test

Best starter dslrs 6 tested

ISO 200

Retention of fine detail is on a par with the Nikon D3100 throughout most of the sensitivity range, but it's a little better at ISO 400-800.


Best starter dslrs 6 tested

ISO 200

Best starter dslrs 6 tested

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 is perfectly usable on the Nikon D5100, with impressive rendition of fine detail, along with very low image noise.

Colour error

Best starter dslrs 6 tested

Typical of Nikon DSLRs, raw and JPEG colour rendition on the Nikon D5100 is accurate, yet with a vibrant quality even in the Standard picture mode.

Image test verdict

With accurate metering, excellent Active D-Lighting and great performance even at high ISOs, the Nikon D5100 delivers superb image quality.

Read our full Nikon D5100 review