Introduced a few months back, the D5100 pretty quickly found its way into the big bag of gear I carry with me (almost) everywhere. While the camera’s built-in special effects were the initial interest for me—and two of those effects have become the focus of my attention lately—the more I shoot with the D5100, the more its all-around versatility and performance keep the camera in heavy rotation.

The D5100 offers several options for personalizing your still images and movie clips. There’s HDR Effect, which automatically creates an in-camera high dynamic range image; Miniature Effect for a scalemodel view of the world; High Key and Low Key to provide mood-altering light control; Night Vision for nightscope black and-white views; Silhouette to boost color in backlit subjects; and the two special effects features I’ve latched onto and love to play with: Selective Color and Color Sketch, both of which are illustrated here.

Frankly, I’m not a photographer who gets all that excited about special effects. They don’t save pictures, turn problems into pluses, rescue poorly executed images or make up for a lack of effort or imagination. For me they have to contribute to an idea or spark one; they don’t merely decorate. And I definitely put them in the “less is more” category. I use them sparingly, when there’s a point and a picture to be made.

When I got the D5100, I was curious about how I might use the effects in my photography, and I shot a lot of effects images to see how they looked, how I liked them and what the balance was between photos I’d normally take anyway and those I’d take for their effects impact. The effects, especially Selective Color and Color Sketch, became selective choices for the right time, place and subject. What I liked right away was that whatever effect I decided to use was right there, in the camera, ready to go. It wasn’t a case of trying something out later, back at the office or at home. I’d see a subject or situation that I thought would work with one of the camera’s effects, or something that simply looked like fun to try, and I’d be able to do it right then. Working with the special effects became a process of creating on the spot, not adding later. Which is basically the way I like to work—that is, choosing to do something before I take the picture.

Soon I began to see images that lent themselves to Selective Color.

I’d activate Live View, move the selector to the color I wanted and that was it. I also had the option of selecting a range of tones within that color so I’d get variations of the color as well. The program then removed all other colors in the scene.

Color Sketch had a great appeal, too, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you that it’s about anything more than having fun and seeing what will happen. I really enjoy the graphic impact this effect adds to familiar subjects.

But the majority of the photos I take with the D5100 have nothing to with special effects and everything to do with the camera’s versatility; for instance, the three inch Vari-Angle LCD monitor swings out and rotates to make pictures from a variety of angles possible, not to mention self-portraits. I found it’s a pretty powerful and appealing package, the D5100—advanced Nikon technology and some extra added attractions for creative fun.

Speaking of fun...how about if I swing the monitor out and take a self-portrait using Color Sketch? Okay, got it. Now all I have to do is talk the editor into a little column headshot photo swap.
— Mike Corrado