Gear Guide 2012: Nikon D5100 DSLR Camera

A DSLR camera that can handle a multitude of light and weather conditions.

In temps ranging from 15°F to 75°F, from the Rockies to the Andes, and from sea level to the summit of an 11,879-foot volcano in Chile, we tested this camera in a multitude of light and weather conditions. Our editor-in-chief praised it as “the perfect all-purpose upgrade for point-and-shooters looking to take their photos to the next level.”

He was particularly impressed by its performance on bright snow, a notoriously tough shooting environment: “Once I got the exposure dialed,” he said, “it produced excellent whites, shadows, and sunrise colors, plus rich texture in shots I took of penitentes [sun-baked snow cones]. You could see individual crystals and complex, multi-angled reflections.” Other pros for backpackers include an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and above-average battery life. “I took about 1,200 pictures and a dozen videos in Chile on about 1.75 charges,” he said. “The average user, who will likely review pictures a lot more than I did, could expect 400 shots per battery in cool to cold weather and 500 in warmer temperatures.”

The controls are also smartly placed: The video record button is located on the top front of the housing, where you can easily—but not inadvertently—press it. The cons compared to other DSLRs in this price class: Although it shoots 1080i* HD video, the D5100’s color is slightly less vibrant. The 18-55mm lens in the standard kit also has a somewhat limited focal distance that prevents super-macro close-ups. The viewfinder is relatively dark, and the foldout screen can be tough to read in direct and dappled light. $850 (includes AF-S 18-55mm VR lens and rechargeable lithium-ion battery); SD card;