Nikon D5100

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      An update to the popular D5000 with an improved monitor plus Full HD video support and seven built-in special effects.Nikon’s D5100 DSLR arrives just a year after the release of the D5000 it replaces, offering higher resolution, improved video performance and a more adjustable LCD monitor. Slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, it’s the first Nikon DSLR with built-in special effects. Full HD (1080p) movie recording is also supported. . . [more]

      Full review


      Nikon’s D5100 DSLR arrives just a year after the release of the D5000 it replaces, offering higher resolution, improved video performance and a more adjustable LCD monitor. Slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, it’s the first Nikon DSLR with built-in special effects. Full HD (1080p) movie recording is also supported.

      Perched between the entry-level D3100 and enthusiast’s D7000, the D5100 shares features of both cameras and retains the same shutter unit as the D5000, which is rated for 100,000 cycles. The table below compares key features of the three models.


      Nikon D3100

      Nikon D5100

      Nikon D7000

      Effective resolution

      14.2 megapixels

      16.2 megapixels

      A/D processing


      12-bit or 14-bit

      Still image sizes

      4608 x 3072 pixels
      3456 x 2304 pixels
      2304 x 1536 pixels

      4928 x 3264 pixels
      3696 x 2448 pixels
      2464 x1632 pixels


      1920 x 1080 at 24 fps; 1280 x 720 at 30 or 24 fps, 640 x 480 at 30 or 24 fps

      1080p at 30, 25, 24 fps
      720p at 30, 24 fps
      VGA at 30, 24 fps

      1080p at 24 fps
      720p at 30, 25, 24 fps
      VGA at 24 fps



      Monaural but stereo via external mic. jack

      Storage media

      SD, SDHC, SDXC

      Burst speed

      3 frames/second

      4 frames/second

      6 frames/second

      Buffer capacity

      100 JPEG, 13 RAW

      100 JPEG, 10 RAW

      25 JPEG Fine Large (100 other JPEG settings), 9 RAW

      AF module

      CAM1000 (11 sensors, 1 cross-type)

      CAM4800 (39 sensors, 9 cross-type

      AF modes

      Single, Dynamic, Auto Area, 3D Tracking

      Single, Dynamic (9, 21, 39, and 3D), Auto Area, Full Time for video & Live View)



      3 frames AE, ADL, WB + 2 frames HDR

      2 or 3 frames AE, ADL, WB

      Standard ISO range



      ISO expansion

      Hi 1, Hi2 (ISO 12800)

      Hi 0.3, 0.7, 1 and 2 (ISO 25600)

      LCD monitor

      3-inch with 233,000 dots

      Vari-angle 3-inch with 921,000 dots

      Fixed 3-inch with 921,000 dots


      EN-EL14 / 550 shots/charge

      EN-EL14 / 660 shots/charge

      EN-EL15 / 1050 shots/charge

      Dimensions (body)

      124 x 96 x 74.5 mm

      128 x 97 x 79 mm

      132 x 103 x 77 mm

      Weight (body)

      455 grams

      509 grams

      690 grams







      Build and Ergonomics

      Like the D5000, the D5100 is mostly made from polycarbonate and build quality is good for the target market. Having a shutter mechanism rated for 100,000 cycles shows the camera is built to last and enhance its appeal to potential purchasers who want more features and better performance than entry-level models provide but require a relatively simple user interface.

      Like the D5000 (and D3100), the D5100’s body lacks a built-in autofocusing motor, which means autofocusing is only supported with AF-S and AF-I lenses. Older non-CPU Nikkor lenses can only be focused manually and exposure metering is disabled, while metering is available for type G and D lenses as well as AF and AI-P lenses, although AF isn’t supported.


      Front views of the D5100 (left) and its larger predecessor, the D5000 (right). (Source: Nikon.)

      The front panel of the D5100 carries on the neater, more refined styling that was introduced with the D3100 but most components are in the same places as they were on the previous model. However, the red flash that characterises Nikon DSLRs is slimmer and angled to point up towards the AF Assist lamp.


      Front view of the D5100 with no lens attached. (Source: Nikon.)
      The most obvious difference between the D5100 and its predecessor is its monitor screen, which is larger and hinged on the left side of the rear panel instead of along the lower edge. Whereas the D5000’s screen could only swing down through 180 degrees and swivel through 360 degrees, the D5100’s opens from 0 to 180 degrees to the side, and can be rotated up to 90 degrees clockwise and 180 degrees counter-clockwise, providing far greater flexibility.


      The illustration above shows the adjustability of the D5100’s monitor. (Source: Nikon.)

      The monitor’s resolution has also been increased to 921,000 dots, bringing it up to the standard of the screen on the D7000. This provides a better platform for evaluating shots and makes the camera’s menus easier to read.


      Rear view of the D5100 with the monitor reviersed to point outwards. (Source: Nikon.)

      The relocation of the hinge has forced Nikon to shift some of the rear panel buttons. The menu button has been shifted to above the screen, just left of the viewfinder, while the Info button is now on the opposite side of the finder housing.

      The Play button sits above the arrow pad, while the playback zoom button is below it; just above the thumbnail playback/ zoom out button. The delete button has been moved to the bottom right corner of the rear panel.

      A few changes have been made to the top panel layout, the most obvious being the addition of a third button just aft of the shutter button. Indicated by a red dot, this button starts and ends movie recording when the camera is set to Live View mode.


      The top panel of the D5100 without a lens attached. (Source: Nikon.)

      The mode dial still carries 13 settings but the Night Portrait mode has been shifted into the Scene sub-menu and replaced by the new EFFECTS mode, which accesses seven special effects (see below). The Live View lever switch is now located below the mode dial where it’s easier to access than on the rear panel, where it was on the D5000.

      What’s New?
      Aside from the new sensor and redesign of the camera body, the main excitement comes with the new Effects mode, a ‘first’ in a Nikon DSLR. This mode enables users to choose from seven settings: Night Vision, Colour Sketch, Miniature Effect, Selective Colour, Silhouette, High Key and Low Key. Effects can be applied for shooting still images and recording movies.

      The adjustments produced by each effect are displayed on the monitor in Live View mode as they are set. Since they aren’t reproduced in the viewfinder, Live View must be used if you want to preview effects in real time before shooting. (And, with some of the effects, the preview doesn’t quite look like the final result so you need to play the shot back AFTER it’s been taken.)


      Examples of shots taken with the D5100’s Effects settings: top row – no adjustment, Night Vision; second row – Colour Sketch, Miniature Effect; third row – Silhouette, High Key; bottom row – Low Key, Selective Colour (with the blue sky selected for retention).

      The Night Vision mode attempts to simulate an infrared recording by capturing shots in monochrome with high ISO settings. The results should appear grainy and slightly contrasty. Randomly-spaced bright pixels, fog and/or lines are added for verisimilitude. The flash and AF-Assist light are switched off and use of a tripod is recommended.

      The Colour Sketch mode detects and colours outlines to create an illusion of a pencil sketch. This mode delivered some interesting results in our tests, although some types of subjects work better than others. You can adjust the vividness (saturation) of the lines via the arrow pad. Movies recorded in this mode play back as a sequence of still images because of the time required to process each frame.

      The Miniature Effect mode reproduces the effect of a diorama by reducing the plane of focus to a narrow strip. The width of the strip and its orientation (horizontal or vertical) can be adjusted with the arrow pad. Three widths are available but nothing in between them and you can’t reposition the in-focus strip. Again, some subjects produce more convincing results than others.

      Selective Colour allows you to record all but the selected colours in black and white. We couldn’t get it to work on the review camera, despite exploring the range of adjustments provided. All we got was a B&W image. In theory, up to three colours can be retained in an image.

      Colours are selected by moving a selection frame with the arrow pad and then using the vertical arrows to increase or decrease the range of similar hues that will be included. The flash is disabled in this mode.

      Silhouette, High Key and Low Key reproduce the expected effects and success depends on selecting an appropriate subject. The flash is disabled in all three modes. For the Silhouette mode, the exposure level is set for a correctly-exposed sky. With the High Key and Low Key modes, the exposure is set to make most image tones light or dark, respectively.

      The other significant upgrade is to the camera’s video capabilities, bringing it into line with the D3100 and D7000. All three cameras now offer Full HD (1080p) video support using the efficient H.264/AVC codec – but the D5100 offers the widest range of settings and its adjustable monitor makes shooting video easier than with a fixed screen.

      You can also connect Nikon’s GP-1 module to the D5100’s accessory terminal, allowing positional information to be recorded in image metadata when shots are taken. GPS data can be used to synchronise the camera’s in-built clock with Coordinated Universal Time.

      Unlike the D7000 (but like the D3100), the D5100 doesn’t support control of external flash units using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS). However, it can be used with Nikon’s Speedlight flash units.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The sensor in the D5100 appears to be the same Sony IMX071 CMOS chip as in the D7000 (and also in the Pentax K-5, and Sony A580 and SLT-A55). With an effective resolution of 16.2 megapixels, its photosites measure 4.8 x 4.8 square microns, which is smaller than the 5.5-micron square photosites in the D5000.

      A ‘teardown’ of the camera by Chipworks ( concludes this sensor ‘displays improvements in pixel layout and process features, as compared to previous generations of Sony DSLR sensors’. Taking advantage of these ‘improvements’ is the EXPEED 2 image processor, which provides faster image processing and reduced power consumption than the chip in the D5000 (accounting for the 150-shot difference in battery capacities that favours the D5100). It also supports 14-bit A/D processing.

      Like the D5000, the D5100 supports three image sizes for JPEGs, along with three compression ratios: 1:4 for the Fine setting, 1:8 for the Normal setting and 1:16 for the Basic setting. Raw files are recorded in NEF.RAW format and RAW+JPEG pairs can be recorded with any JPEG size. The table below shows typical file sizes for each of the resolution/quality settings provided.

      Image quality

      Image size


      File size

      Buffer capacity


      4928 x 3264


      16 shots


      NEF+JPEG Fine


      4928 x 3264


      10 shots


      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632


      11 shots


      NEF+JPEG Normal


      4928 x 3264


      10 shots


      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632


      12 shots


      NEF+JPEG Basic


      4928 x 3264


      10 shots


      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632


      12 shots


      JPEG Fine


      4928 x 3264


      100 shots


      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632



      JPEG Normal


      4928 x 3264



      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632



      JPEG Basic


      4928 x 3264



      3696 x 2448



      2464 x 1632


      The ability to record Full HD video clips puts the D5100 on par with the D7000. Like the D7000, the D5100 uses the efficient H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec and records audio monaurally, although a port is provided for the optional ME-1 stereo microphone if you require stereo soundtracks.

      Each movie file can be up to 4GB is size and 20 minutes long. (Movies recorded in miniature effect mode are up to three minutes long when played back.)
      More frame rate options are provided than the D7000 offers, with 30, 25 and 24 frames/second being supported in the HD modes and 30 and 25 fps in the SD modes. Local video standards dictate the frame rates the camera will display as shown in the table below outlining the options available.

      Movie Quality

      Aspect ratio

      Bit rate


      Frame rate

      High quality

      Normal quality

      1920 x 1080

      30 fps (NTSC only)


      18 Mbps

      10 Mbps

      25 fps (PAL only)

      24 fps

      1280 x 720

      30 fps (NTSC only)

      10 Mbps

      6 Mbps

      25 fps (PAL only)

      24 fps

      8 Mbps

      5 Mbps

      640 x 424

      30 fps (NTSC only)

      Approx. 4:3

      4 Mbps

      2 Mbps

      25 fps (PAL only)

      Movie recording is only possible in Live View and pressing the movie-record button starts and ends recording. If you’ve selected one of the HD modes, the screen view is only cropped to 16:9 format once recording starts so framing shots can be tricky. You have to pre-visualise where the edges of the crop will be on the 3:2 aspect screen.

      If you press (and hold down) the shutter button while recording a video clip, movie recording will stop, a frame will be captured and the camera will exit from Live View mode.

      Matrix metering is used for movie recording, regardless of the metering pattern selected. Shutter speed and ISO are set automatically and may be varied as a clip is recorded, although you can prevent this from happening by holding down the AE-L/AF-L button. Face detection is available but the number of subjects that can be picked up in a frame is less than for shooting stills. Autofocusing is also slower.

      Playback and Software
      Playback functions are much the same as in the D7000 (INSERT LINK), although the D5100 has only one card slot so the dual-card options aren’t supported. The D5100 provides the same range of in-camera editing effects as the D7000 and side-by-side comparisons of original and retouched images are available , along with movie clip trimming. The software bundle is the same as the D7000’s and miserly compared with the software bundle Canon provides with even its entry-level DSLRs.

      Still images from the review camera were characteristic of Nikon’s DSLRs. Exposure metering was consistently competent, regardless of the metering pattern selected and exposures were usually well-positioned. The Active D-Lighting function ensured highlight and shadow details were recorded adequately in most JPEG shots, although the auto setting was unable to compensate fully for strong backlighting.

      Colour rendition was slightly warm, particularly with JPEGs, although not as much as we found with the D7000 we reviewed. Saturation was slightly elevated but not to the extent that pictures looked excessively colour-rich with the default standard Picture Control setting.
      Imatest confirmed our subjective assessment and showed reds and oranges to have elevated saturation in JPEG shots. Colour accuracy was improved and saturation closer to normal levels in NEF.RAW files converted with Adobe Camera Raw.
      As with the D5000, we found autofocusing to be reasonably fast when the viewfinder was used for shot composition but fairly slow in Live View mode. However, the shutter release on the review camera was louder, slower and more clunky sounding than we’re accustomed to – even after re-setting the defaults. Fortunately, it caused no problems with actual exposures beyond delaying shot-to-shot times (see below).

      Imatest showed resolution to be up to expectations for a 16-megapixel camera – but only for NEF.RAW images (which were converted directly to TIFF format in Photoshop CS5 with Adobe Camera Raw). JPEG image files recorded resolution levels slightly below expectations in our Imatest tests.

      Resolution remained relatively high across the camera’s ISO range, with the greatest discrepancies between JPEG and NEF.RAW files occurring in the lower half of the camera’s sensitivity range. JPEGs taken at the Hi 1 and Hi 2 settings retained their resolution remarkably well, as shown in the table of our Imatest results below.


      The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G kit lens also showed itself to be a competent performer, delivering relatively high resolution and minimal edge softening right up to f/11, where diffraction began to take its toll on image quality. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.


      Lateral chromatic aberration was consistently negligible in our Imatest tests. We found little evidence of flare and ghosting in backlit shots, even when the light source was just outside of the frame. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.


      Long exposures at night showed little noise right up to ISO 6400 and, although noise could be seen at higher ISO settings, it was reasonably well controlled and shots could be printed at smaller output sizes. No stuck pixels were detected.

      Little noise was visible in available-light and flash shots at high ISO settings and image sharpness remained commendable at the two highest ISO settings. Flash exposures were well balanced across the camera’s sensitivity range, although shots taken at ISO 100 and ISO 200 were slightly under-exposed and shots taken with the Hi1 and Hi2 settings marginally over-exposed.

      White balance performance was similar to the D7000. The auto setting failed to remove the warm cast of incandescent lighting and left a residual greenish hue in shots taken under fluorescent lighting with our standard tests. The manual pre-sets tended to over-correct. However, for everyday shooting in mixed lighting, the camera produced usable images most of the time and plenty of in-camera adjustments are provided for correcting colour casts.

      Video quality was similar to the D7000 and generally pretty good. In bright conditions, clips were correctly exposed and moving subjects were recorded smoothly. We found no instances of the ‘rolling shutter’ effect that can occur with fast pans or subjects moving quickly across the frame.

      The exposure system handled transitions between bright conditions and deep shade quite well in panned shots, although very bright subjects were often blown-out. Exposure readjustment while zooming was usually smooth.

      Audio quality was acceptable in quiet conditions but wind noise reduced quality in clips recorded out-of-doors because the camera lacks a built-in wind filter. In quiet conditions, the microphone often picked up the focusing and zooming sounds from the lens.
      We carried out our timing tests with a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-1 card, one of the fastest on the market. Despite powering-up in less than half a second, the review camera was a little sluggish for a modern DSLR.

      When the viewfinder was used for shot composition, we measured an average capture lag of 0.6 seconds, which reduced to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. In Live View mode, capture lag was extended to 1.4 seconds.

      Shot-to-shot times averaged one minute and 40 seconds when the viewfinder was used and two minutes and 13 seconds with Live View. Shot-to-shot times with flash averaged just over five seconds.

      Image processing times were faster than we found for the D5000. It took 0.9 seconds on average to process each JPEG file, 1.7 seconds for each NEF.RAW file and 2.1 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.

      In the continuous shooting mode, the review camera recorded 10 high-resolution JPEGs in 2.7 seconds. It took 8.9 seconds to process this burst. The same capture rate and processing time were recorded for NEF.RAW files. For RAW+JPEG pairs, the camera also recorded shots at 0.26 second intervals but took 11.3 seconds to process the burst of 10 frames.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want a Nikon DSLR with the best video recording capabilities.
      – You’d appreciate the articulating monitor and Live View capabilities.
      – You want the option of shooting raw files – and RAW+JPEG.
      – You require superior high-ISO performance.
      – You want sophisticated functions, such as an interval-timer, multiple exposures and GPS compatibility
      – You want a wide range of post-capture, in-camera image adjustments.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You have legacy lenses from Nikon film cameras that you’d like to use on a new DSLR body. (Autofocusing won’t be possible with some older lenses.)
      – You require, high-speed burst capture, fast response times and fast image processing
      – You require fast autofocusing and response times in Live View mode.

      JPEG image files


      Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.




      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      30-second exposure at ISO 100, 35mm focal length, f/5.


      20-second exposure at ISO 1600, 35mm focal length, f/8.


      10-second exposure at ISO 6400, 35mm focal length, f/11.


      5-second exposure at ISO Hi2 (ISO 25600 equivalent), 35mm focal length, f/16.


      Flash exposure with 55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure with 55mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/5.6.


      Flash exposure with 55mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/60 second at f/8.


      Flash exposure with 55mm focal length, ISO Hi2, 1/60 second at f/11.


      55mm focal length, ISO 1600, 1/80 second at f/5.6.


      Crop from the above image enlarged to 100%.


      55mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/200 second at f/7.1.


      Crop from the above image enlarged to 100%.


      55mm focal length, ISO Hi2, 1/400 second at f/10.


      Crop from the above image enlarged to 100%.


      Stabilisation test; 55mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/5 second at f/5.6.


      18mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/3.5.


      55mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/15 second at f/5.6.


      Close-up showing the lens’s bokeh at f/5.6; ISO 100, 1/250 second.


      Flare with strong backlighting; 18mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/13.


      Skin tones; 55mm focal length, ISO 250, 1/1000 second at f/5.6.


      30mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/10.


      55mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/25 second at f/11.


      Still frames from video clips taken with Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) resolution.


      Still frames from video clips taken with HD (1280 x 720 pixels) resolution.


      Still frames from video clips taken with VGA resolution.




      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor with 16.9 million photosites (16.2 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: Expeed 2
      A/D processing: 12 or 14-bit
      Lens mount: Nikon F mount with AF contacts
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: Stills – NEF.RAW, JPEG (baseline-compliant), RAW+JPEG; Movies – MOV movie (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression format with monaural Linear PCM sound
      Image Sizes: Stills – 4928 x 3264 (L), 3696 x 2448 (M), 2464 x 1632 (S); Movies: 1920 x 1080 at 30fps, 25fps, 24fps, 1280 x 720 at 30fps, 25fps, 24fps, 640 x 424 at 30fps, 25fps
      Image Stabilisation: Lens-based
      Dust removal: Vibration of low-pass filter, airflow control system and Image Dust Off reference data (requires optional Capture NX 2 software)
      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 second plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/200 second
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 5EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Exposure bracketing: 3 frames in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV
      Self-timer: 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds delay; 1-9 exposures
      Focus system: Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 TTL phase detection system, 11 focus points (1 cross-sensor)
      Focus modes: Single-servo AF (AF-S); Continuous servo AF (AF-C); Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A); Manual focus
      Exposure metering: 3D colour matrix metering with type G and D lenses, colour matrix metering II with other lenses; Centre-weighted (weight of 75% given to 8-mm circle in centre of frame), Spot metering (meters 3.5-mm circle centred on selected focus point)
      Shooting modes: Digital Vari-Program (Auto, Auto [Flash Off], Scene ( portrait, landscape, close up, sports, night portrait, child, night landscape, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/drawn, pet portrait, candlelight, blossom, autumn colours, food, silhouette, high key, low key), Programmed Auto [P], Shutter-Priority Auto [S], Aperture Priority Auto [A], Manual [M], Special effects modes: night vision, colour sketch, miniature effect, selective colour, silhouette, high key, low key.
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      Custom functions: 20
      ISO range: ISO 100 to 6400 in steps of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV, plus HI-0.3, HI-0.5, HI-0.7, HI-1, HI-2 (ISO 25600)
      White balance: Auto (TTL white-balance with main image sensor and 420-pixel RGB sensor), Incandescent, Fluorescent ( 7 types ), Direct Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade, preset manual
      Flash: Built-in pop-up flash with i-TTL flash control by 420-segment RGB sensor; i-TTL balanced fill-flash for digital SLR, standard i-TTL flash for digital SLR; Flash modes: Fill-flash, slow sync, auto slow sync, red-eye reduction, auto with red-eye reduction, slow sync with red-eye reduction, auto slow sync with red-eye reduction, rear-curtain sync, rear-curtain with slow sync
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 3 EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Max. 4 frames/second
      Storage Media: SD, SDHC or SDXC cards
      Viewfinder: Eye-level pentamirror; built-in dioptre adjustment (-1.7 to +0.7m-1), Type B Brite View clear matte screen Mark VII screen, Approx. 95% FOV coverage; Approx. 0.78x magnification; 17.9 mm eyepoint
      LCD monitor: 3-inch horizontal opening type vari-angle low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD with 921,000 dots
      Data LCD: No
      Playback functions: Full-frame, Movie Playback, Thumbnail (4/9/72, calendar) playback, playback zoom, Faces detected during zoom, Slide show, Histogram display, Highlights alert, Auto image rotation, Image comment
      Interface terminals: USO 2.0, video output, HDMI (Type C Mini), Mic. terminal, 10-pin remote
      Power supply: EN-EL14 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 660 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx.128 x 97 x 79 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 509 grams (body only)





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      RRP: $1,849 (body only); $1,999 with 18-55mm lens; $2,499 with 18-135mm lens

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.5
      • Still image quality: JPEG 8.0; NEF.RAW 8.5
      • Video quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.5