A. Basics | Nikon D5100 guide

Level:Special knowledge

All the basic settings of the D5100 summarised and clearly explained. They cover what is helpful or necessary before you start shooting.

Choosing your camera mode

What | The camera mode transforms the D5100 into either a straightforward, easy-to-use camera or a powerful tool for advanced and expert photographers.

It determines the overall behaviour of the D5100 – whether and how it makes adjustments automatically, and what you can or have to adjust manually.

Where | Select the camera mode with the wheel at the top left.

The individual camera modes

AUTO and Nikon-Symbol Blitz aus : Easy to use full automatic mode, with flash switched on/off automatically resp. permanently off.

SCENE & EFFECTS | They are variants of fully automatic mode, optimised for typical shooting situations or image effects. Nikon has given the D5100 23 (!) different ones:

  • 11 Scene programmes under SCENE

Use the i or info button to turn on the shooting information on the monitor and turn the command dial to see the selection.

  • 5 common scene modes behind the pictograms for portrait, landscape, children, sports, close-up.

If you change the camera mode while the shooting information is on, not only will the pictogram appear in the top left corner, but also briefly the meaning.

  • 7 Picture effects under EFFECTS

As with SCENE, you can see an indication on the monitor of what is on offer and what is currently set.

There are too many of them to describe individually here, so here is my general recommendation:

  • Ignore the scene & effect modes, rather learn a few basics, then you can get the same results and better adjust them to your taste. Only if you don't intend to go deeper into camera settings and want to achieve somewhat better results than with a standard full automatic, try them.
  • Special effects can be achieved better and more flexibly afterwards in image processing. Try them in the camera if if it's fun for you; however you don't need them to learn photography.

P, S, A, M | Here they are: programmed auto, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual control – the camera modes for advanced and expert photographers.

You need to use them if you want to take full control of manual settings. They differ in how you control aperture and shutter speed, I explain this in the chapter about exposure.

Diopter adjustment of the viewfinder

If you wear glasses but want to use the camera without them, you can set a correction of the viewfinder image for your personal visual acuity. The inconspicuous wheel at the top right of the viewfinder is responsible for this.

The best way to do this is to point the camera at a bright, preferably low contrast background and turn the wheel until the fine lines in the viewfinder appear with maximum sharpness for you. Or you can focus on any subject by pressing the shutter release button and turn the small wheel until the viewfinder image has maximum sharpness.

If the viewfinder image remains strangely out of focus, this wheel may have turned inadvertently, e.g. from rubbing against a camera bag.

Shooting information

With the D5100, you give many commands via camera settings on the monitor, in the shooting information.

The i button on the back of the camera displays the recording information when the monitor is black.

Pressing the i button again will light up one of the entries in yellow, then you can select and edit settings with the direction buttons and the OK button.

There is an info button on the top of the camera body, but it only turns the shooting information on and off; it does not allow you to change it. I would ignore it and just use the i button. To make the display information disappear, you can simply tap the shutter button.

You can change how the shooting information is displayed in the setup menu Info display format. The first picture above is the default display Graphic, the second Classic. In the rest of this guid I show pictures of the classic version, which looks like the larger Nikon models. It is a matter of taste what you use, the information displayed is identical.

Reset camera settings

Reset in camera mode P, S, A, M

In the camera modes P, S, A, M there is no panic button that immediately resets all camera settings to reasonable or even personally preferred values. Basically, changed settings remain as you set them – even when you switch the camera off and on again, even when you change the camera mode.

A reset is the only help, it resets at least common settings to Nikon's default values, you have to restore your preferred deviating values yourself afterwards:

  • Image quality JPEG, Image size L
  • White balance: 
  • ISO sensitivity
  • Shutter behaviour: Single frame
  • Autofocus settings
  • Exposure metering, compensation and lock 
  • Flash settings
  • Picture Control
  • Multiple exposure, bracketing, ADL is switched off.

To reset, hold down the two buttons on the back with a green dot for about two seconds until the camera monitor briefly turns black.

Apart from that you have to reset everything else yourself, if necessary. The shooting menu and the custom settings menu have their own menu items for this. Otherwise, all you can do is going through all the menus you have touched and check the purely mechanical switches on the lens.

If the viewfinder image suddenly appears strangely out of focus, the diopter setting at the top right of the viewfinder has probably been adjusted unintentionally.

In the custom settings menu – if you have been there – there are only two items that can really spoil later shots if you touch them and don't reset them later: d5 Exposure delay mode and d6 Print date.

Resetting in full auto, scene & effect modes

If you do change something in full auto, the common settings of the D5100 are easy to reset to a familiar state:

  • Switch on the camera or briefly press the shutter release button – the exposure metering must be active.
  • Adjust the camera mode and turn it back to the full automatic mode marked in green.

However, the D5100 does not completely reset all settings, e.g. the image resolution remains unchanged by turning the camera mode. To be on the safe side, you still need to be attentive to what you adjust on the camera and may want to undo later.

It is not enough to switch the D5100 off and on again, this will not reset any changed settings.

Adjust monitor brightness

You can adjust the monitor brightness in the setup menu Monitor brightness.

Format memory card

In the setup menu, select the very first item Format memory card, think again whether everything on the memory card can really be deleted, then select the upper red item Format and confirm.

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