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Home  >  Police Products  >  Cameras

May 24, 2011
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

One DSLR camera that can do it all

...and another camera technology that was so very, very close

Like most other advances in consumer electronics, cameras continue to get smaller, cheaper, and pack more into each package and model. It’s easy to put off buying a camera because the same thing will be available next year at half the price. I don’t doubt that this will continue to happen, but newest digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) model from Nikon seems to be able to do it all.

The Nikon D5100 has the same form factor as other SLRs. Outwardly, it looks like any other SLR camera body. Single-lens reflex cameras don’t use a separate viewfinder to compose the shot. When you look at the display on the back of the camera or through the eyepiece, you are seeing through the same lens that will be used to take the picture, via an arrangement of mirrors in the camera housing.

This provides for much better control of framing and focus than with a point-and-shoot viewfinder camera.

High Quality Images
This is where the similarity to other SLRs ends. The Nikon D5100 uses a 16.2 megapixel (MP) CMOS sensor for detail that is about 2/3 the level of resolution one can get with a film camera. A 35mm film image has a resolution of 18-26 MP, depending on what kind of film you’re talking about and who you ask. It’s very rare that all of that resolution is needed or used, and if you still want that level of clarity, you’re going to have to spend a lot more money to get it with digital.

You could, of course, just use a traditional film camera. But then you wouldn’t be able to change film sensitivity from one shot to the next, as you can with a digital, and you can’t snap pictures all day without running out of film or costing yourself big money in processing expenses.

Besides the high resolution and the advantages of digital generally, the D5100 incorporates a light amplification technology that works similarly to a low-end night vision scope. Standard sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-6400, but you can go to the equivalent of ISO 25,600 with no added illumination by using the camera’s expanded sensitivity setting. In effect, you can take a legible photo under conditions where you couldn’t make out detail with your bare eyes.

When you want to make very sure you’re getting all the detail possible in a shot, there is a high dynamic range (HDR) setting that takes two frames, exposed up to 3 exposure values (EV) apart. The camera then combines the two images internally to produce a single photo with more detail than would normally be available. Varying the EV allows details that would be hidden in shadow or blotted out by glare to be realized. The camera comes with an 18-55mm zoom auto-focus vibration reduction (VR) lens. Other F-mount lenses will work, if you have those in your inventory.

Making Movies
The D5100 is a great still camera, but it also takes movies in full 1080p high-definition. Many digital cameras designed primarily for still photos are movie-capable, but it’s rare to find one that can handle the amount of information that a full high-def contains. The recordings can be as long as 20 minutes, and go onto the camera’s internal SD card. If you’re planning on using this feature a lot, invest in one of the newest SDXC cards with as much capacity as you can get, because you’re going to need it. SDXC and SDHC memory cards will read and write data much more quickly than standard SD cards, and that extra throughput is necessary to record a movie with no dropped frames.

You may have doubts about the quality of a movie shot with a still camera. Just how good could it be? Last season’s finale of the Fox series House (the setting was a collapsed building where our heroes had to rescue the injured) was shot entirely with a Canon 5D movie-capable still camera that had about 2/3 the resolution capacity of the Nikon 5100.

There is a lot more to say about this camera, but, in short: it does it all. Retail is around $900, which isn’t a casual purchase for most of us, but we’ll likely be shooting 3-D holographic movies with smell, taste and touch before you’ll need a new camera.

If Only It Was True...
When I found the announcement of the RE-35 digital cartridge for analog 35mm cameras, I thought for a moment that my old film camera gear could be resurrected. The RE-35 is touted as a drop-in digital camera sensor and memory card that has the form factor of a 35mm film canister. Instead of film coming out of the cartridge, a thin CMOS sensor stretches across the frame of the camera, allowing old 35mm film cameras and lenses to be used to take digital photos. I immediately asked the manufacturer to send me more information on pricing and availability.

So did a lot of other people, who, like me, didn’t notice that this announcement was made on April 1. Now, when you bring up the RE-35 web page, you’ll see an announcement that includes this:

Re-35 does not really exist. We (the design company Rogge & Pott) created Re-35 as an exercise in identity-design. We invented the "product" because it was something, that we had wished for for a long time (as many others).

So, if anyone reading this has the technical know-how, go ahead and invent the RE-35. Rogge & Pott have your ad copy and packaging all ready for you.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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