The Nikon D5100 is the replacement for the Nikon D5000 and Pocket-lint was on hand to spend some time with the new step-up entry-level camera that looks to take a bite out of the new Canon EOS 600D.

The Nikon D5100 sits between the Nikon D3100 and D7000 in Nikon’s range and offers a wide range of features that will appeal both to those coming to DSLR photography for the first time, as well as giving control to those with more experience.

Technically, the D5100 has the same 16.2-megapixel EXPEED 2 sensor as the Nikon D7000, so offers an ISO range from 100-6400 with higher shooting options, including a whopping 102,400 “Night Vision” effects mode, accessed via the Effects position on the shooting mode dial.

The new Effects mode offers seven key shooting options easily selected using the thumbwheel on the rear of the camera. These shooting modes include: high key, low key, miniature, silhouette, colour sketch, night vision and colour accent. From our quick play they seemed easy enough to use, producing interesting results.

Bringing enhancements to the video capture, you not only get a dedicated record button, but there is also an HDMI out for viewing your videos on your HDTV and an external mic input, supporting the new ME-1 external stereo mic (£119.99) that Nikon have designed specifically for DSLR videography. 

Video capture now steps-up to 1080p, offering frame rates of 24/25/30fps, competing with the capture offered by the Canon EOS 600D. You’ll also be able to apply the effects to video as well as stills, but capture is retricted to 20 minutes as H.264 MPEG4.

In stills shooting you’ll benefit from Nikon’s 11-point autofocus, using the Multi-CAM 1000 AF module and the frame rate of 4fps is typical for this class of camera. 

Around the back you’ll find a 3-inch vari-angle display offering a high resolution of 921k dots. There is a new return action switch to activate Live View beside the mode dial which, it has to be said, has an excellent and purposeful action.

Nikon tell us that the Live View focusing has been improved, which is something we’ll have to take a look at when we get a chance to review the camera in the not too distant future.

The design is distinctly Nikon, although Nikon pointed out to us that they’d managed to reduce the size and weight over the D5000 by about 10%. There is more space given over to the handgrip, which is designed to give better stability for those not shooting with the viewfinder - as the vari-angle display allows.

It feels great in the hand and is light enough to steadily hold aloft for those high angle shots, with, at first glance, the controls falling easily and naturally under the fingers.

As these were prototype sample cameras, Nikon wouldn't let us take the cameras out of the room, let alone take real pictures with for you to peruse. However, we did snap off a wicked gallery of the new camera for your delectation.

The Nikon D5100 will retail for £669.99 body only, or £779.99 with the 18-55VR kit lens. The new DSLR is due to be on sale from 21 April 2011.