Nikon D5100 vs T3i

Nikon D5100 vs Canon T3i : Even Match?

D5100 vs T3i: How Does the New D5100 Compare to the T3i?

The announcement of the Nikon D5100 followed the Canon Rebel T3i’s by less than two months, just as the Nikon D7000 followed closely on the heels of the Canon 60D. While it’s fair to say that the D7000 bested the 60D,  matters are not so clear in this case. Not only are the D5100 and the T3i very similar in their features, they are both targeted at the same advanced entry-level SLR market and priced identically ($799 for the T3i body, and an anticipated $799 for the D5100 body). Comparisons between the two are therefore inevitable. Determining which camera is “better”, though, is an exercise in futility; although there are significant differences, their importance depends heavily on how you intend to use the camera. In the end, you’ll need to decide which camera is right for you based on your own particular needs.

As usual, I think it’s helpful to begin by looking at a comparison of the specifications. Since the question has already come up, I’ll also include Canon 60D specs for comparison, though it is a slightly more expensive machine. To view the whole table at once, click in the drop down box at the top left of the table, currently showing “10”, and select a higher number.

 Canon Rebel T3iNikon D5100Canon 60D
Canon Rebel T3iNikon D5100Canon EOS 60D
Amazon Price (body)$799-$899$799$999
Body MaterialPolycarbonate, Fiberglass Resin and Stainless SteelPolycarbonate (and other materials)Polycarbonate, Aluminum, Fiberglass, and Stainless Steel
LCD Size / Resolution3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
921,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
LCD Articulated?YesYesYes
Sensor Size14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)15.8 x 23.6mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)
Crop Factor1.6x1.5x1.6x
Sensor Resolution18 Megapixels16.2 Megapixels18 Megapixels
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
+25600
100-6400
+12800
Total AF Focus Points9119
Cross-Type AF Sensors119
AF Light Level Range-.05 to +18 EV-1 to +19 EV-.05 to +18 EV
Metering System63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
420 pixel RGB sensor evaluative63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
6.5% Center Weighted
2.8% Spot
Exposure Compensation1/2 or 1/3 stops1/2 or 1/3 stops1/2 or 1/3 stops via thumb dial
In-Camera HDRNoYesNo
Max Frame Rate : RAW (14-bit)3.7?5.3 fps
Max Frame Rate : JPG3.745.3 fps
Shutter Speed Range1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Maximum Flash Sync Shutter Speed (standard flash)1/200th sec.1/200th sec.1/250th sec.
Available HD Video Frame RatesPAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Manual Audio GainYesYesYes
Media TypeSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXC
Weight570g (including battery)560g (with battery)675g (body only)
Viewfinder Coverage95%
0.87x magnification
95%
0.78x magnification
96% Frame,
.95x magnification
Built-In Wireless Strobe ControlYesNoYes

.

Rear View Canon T3i and Nikon D5100
Rear view of the Nikon D5100 (left) and the Canon T3i (right). Click to enlarge.

As you can see, the similarities between the T3i and the D5100 are numerous. This makes it much easier to look at the few differences and decide which are important, and to whom the differences will be significant.

Sensor

Though the T3i does have a higher resolution sensor, the difference between 16 and 18 megapixels is minimal, and the significance is diminished by the fact that lenses, not sensors, are usually the limiting factor in the image-quality chain in modern APS-C cameras. But even that is only a factor when the image quality is not limited by the photographer’s technique (eg, failure to use a tripod). In other words, both cameras have exceptionally high resolution sensors, so resolution shouldn’t really be a matter of concern.

Digital noise is perhaps a more significant issue. If the high ISO performance of the D5100 is as good as that of the D7000, then there is reason to believe that the D5100 will produce images with noticeably but not dramatically less noise than the T3i, at least above ISO1600 when shooting JPG. That said, the image quality of both cameras, in absolute terms, is significantly degraded by noise beyond 1600, so to be the better performer is merely the lesser of two evils.

Consequently, if your circumstances require you to frequently shoot in low light without the assistance of flash, and a full-frame sensor is out of your reach, the D5100 should take a slight lead on this count. Keep in mind, though, that the T3i is not far behind.

Speed

When it comes to speed, the cameras  do not appear to differ in any significant way. They have the same shutter-speed range, same flash-sync speed, and the difference in their burst rates is negligible, with the Canon at 3.7 and the Nikon reporting 4 fps. The only caveat here is that some Nikons shoot substantially slower in 14-bit RAW mode. I don’t know whether this will be the case for the D5100.

Flash

nikon d5100 with flash upAlthough both cameras have a pop-up flash and identical sync speeds, there is one significant difference when it comes to strobe use: the Canon T3i can wirelessly control off-camera, dedicated flashes, while the Nikon can not. This means that if you own a T3i and a Canon 430EX II flash unit (for example), you can easily set up the flash (or have someone else hold it) off to one side of your subject to achieve much more interesting dramatic lighting, and  control that flash as though it were sitting on top of the camera in the hot-shoe. The Nikon can control flashes wirelessly if you buy additional equipment, such as the SU-800 controller or an SB-series flash.

Video

In the video realm, the T3i and D5100 are still very evenly matched, due to the Nikon’s addition of 30fps recording at 1080p, a feature that was sorely lacking in the D7000. The D5100 still does not offer 60fps slow-motion recording (as the Canon does at 720p), so Canon has a bit of an edge in that regard.

On the other hand, the Nikon D5100 has full-time auto focus with face detection while recording video. While this may have limited usefulness for serious film makers due to its slow focusing speed and searching, the video AF is significantly faster than the Canon’s, and it is a step in the right direction towards more user friendly video shooting for casual use.

Build

Overhead View of Canon T3i and Nikon D5100When it comes to build quality, the cameras are almost identical. In fact, they only differ 10 grams in overall weight.

The one difference that is significant, though, is the optical viewfinder construction. Many APS-C cameras have viewfinders that are, frankly, disappointing: the image is usually smaller and dimmer than what we’ve come to expect with full frame SLRs. Having a slightly cropped field of view is expected, and the T3i and D5100 both show about 95% of what the sensor will actually capture. Many mid-range cameras (such as the Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D) display that image at around 95% (0.95x) of the size that we’d expect from a full frame sensor . The T3i, like many entry level SLRs, has a somewhat smaller viewfinder image, at .87x. The D5100, on the other hand, has a dramatically smaller image, at .78x, among the smallest I’ve ever seen in an SLR.

Many of us, and especially younger photographers, will find this to be only a moderate inconvenience in typical shooting situations. In low light and other difficult shooting situations, though, I would expect this small viewfinder image to be problematic, especially for older photographers whose eyes aren’t quite as sharp as they once were.

Conclusions : Who Comes Out On Top?

I don’t think that I’ve ever compared two cameras that are so evenly matched. Based on this cursory analysis, I can only make the following recommendations:

Buy the Canon T3i if…

  • you want to control your off-camera flash with your camera
  • you want to shoot slow motion (60 fps) video
  • the D5100’s smaller viewfinder image will be problematic for you

Buy the Nikon D5100 if…

  • you expect to shoot at high ISO frequently and want slightly less noise
  • you’d use the the full-time autofocus and face detection while shooting video

There are, of course, other differences between the cameras. There are differences in ergonomics and handling which may be important to some of you. There are differences in in-camera processing, which I am disinclined to use, and believe is better handled outside of the camera. In the end, though, the differences between these bodies are probably minor enough that the decision should also be based on your desire to enter into a particular camera system, including the availability of lenses to match your needs and the flash system (if you’re a flash shooter). Also consider whether higher-end bodies in the system make sense for the direction that you want to take your photography.

The most important thing is to make the decision, and start shooting!

 

Editor-in-Chief

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Alejo
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Alejo

Dear Matthew,

I´m going to by one of these cameras (5100 or t3i) for budget reasons.

Although the 5100 seems to be a bit better in low light shooting (which I like) I feel the T3i more comfomrtable in my hands. What´s approach on ergonomics? How important are they?
Thanks.
Regards.

Alejo

akki
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akki

Hi Matthew,

I see you are replying to most comments with helpful answers. I am going to be first time DSLR person. I want to get into DSLR because even for normal use they capture better images than point n shoot.

I am mainly going to use cam for shooting pics of people(day light, mornings, evenings, indoor, just nice moments with something in background, face shots), nature shots are important but not priority. I like images as close to real thing(I hate when cam changes the tone of picture like giving it a brown or greenish shade). I would not(mostly never) use tripod or fancy manual settings. Also I would prefer not to photoshop/edit images in special software. At most I would program an auto mode for general purpose shooting. I am willing to learn basics of capturing sharp and colorful images.

Also I am not planning to buy any additional lens. And as I am beginner I need a LCD screen where I can immediately see the image as close to real one and decide that I need to take another shot or not. price wise both are almost same so can you suggest one which might fit best to my needs?

thanks in advance!

Mindi
Guest
Mindi

I am really lost. I have the Nikon D5100. It was my first DSLR camera. I was loving it until my best friend bought the Rebel T3i. We’ve teamed up on shoots and her pics always seem to come out clearer and the aperture is significantly better-at least on the lenses that came with both cameras. I know I can buy lenses that are better for aperture but it really frustrates me that the T3i performs better out of the gate without having to invest more money right away. Any thoughts on this? Perhaps it’s something in my settings that I’m missing? I typically shoot on “A” priority mode. As far as I know she shoots on the same and Auto mode. Any help would be greatly appreciated, I’m seriously considering trading and jumping ship.

Jep
Guest
Jep

Hi! I am a fashion blogger and i am taking photos rather than shooting videos. Which one to get? D5100 or 600d? I an torned! Help!!!

christine
Guest
christine

Hi,

I am looking to purchase a new dslr, upgrading from a rebel xt. i really don’t have any brand loyalty except to pentax because i loved my old k1000. haven’t loved the xt so i never invested in lenses; in fact i bought an adapter so i could just use my old 50mm pentax lenses in manual mode with my canon. thus not having bought into a system i am open. my needs are that i take product photos of home goods – so no need for macro and i never use flash. i do a lot of indoor photography but also want to take more landscape shots. i think my greatest needs are to have lowlight capabilities with sharp clear images. and i also need a wide angle lens because the space in which i have to shoot isn’t large and i take home interior photos as well.

i am torn between the canon 60d; t3i; nikon 5100;d700. i am wondering if one of these may be better. i don’t want to spend an arm and leg either. would you suggest getting a semi-pro like the 60d or d7000 and later adding a wide angle? or would you recommend i get an entry body and a wide angle lens now? i am not shooting video or anything like that. as i said i just want amazing stills with the ability to take shoots inside my not so large house. i would prefer an articulated lcd screen as well but that wouldn’t be a deal breaker. any input would be greatly appreciated! thanks!

Samir
Guest
Samir

Hi Christine actually I know everything about these 4 model very well because me and my friends own these cameras.if you need cheap equipment and video quality just buy Canon 600D because there no big difference between 60D vs 600D except 60D has long battery life and 9 cross type autofocus.if you think about Nikon I recommend you D7000 over the D5100.Nikon D7000 has perfect handling and long battery life and the main thing is I think metering system.I own D5100 and I get serius problems with metering comparedd D7000.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Hello,

I recently purchased a nikon D5100 but noticed that it’s photos tend to be duller/more muted than that of the Canon t3i. I was wondering if there is a simple way to adjust the image rendering of the Nikon to more vibrant out of the camera. I’m considering returning my camera for a Canon in order to obtain more vibrant photos out of the camera.

Lisa

candi
Guest
candi

I have only owned point and shoot digital cameras in the past. I am never pleased with them for more than 6months-1 year. I recently visited my local Best Buy store and they suggested a digital slr camera. I am stuck between the canon t3i and the nikon 5100. My main focus for my pictures are my kids, especially my sons sporting events (baseball, football, etc). I want something that can take great action shots. Any advice on if either of these cameras would do what I want? I just hate to spend that much money on a camera and lenses if I am going to hate it, or if its going to be too hard to use. Please help!! Thanks

CRISSS
Guest
CRISSS

HOLA

Estoy en el dilema de cual camara comprar, lei todo el articulo y los comentarios pero la verdad usan palabras muy tecnicas que yo que solo soy una principiante no entiendo.

me gustaría que me recomendaran cual de las dos comprar, me quiero enfocar en la fotografía, el vídeo no es tan importante, solo quiero saber en cuestion de imagen cual es la mejor…

GRACIAS

Michael
Guest
Michael

I just recently purchased the Nikon d5100. (great camera). I’m looking at a zoom lens,, the tamron 18-200 AF.
What is your opinion on this choice? It’s available for $249

Michael

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

any word on the T4i ?
I’m ready to step up from a Sony advanced zoom camera that’s 5 years old to a DSLR for an upcoming vacation to Alaska. Really struggling between the T3i and D5100. I’m guessing the T4i won’t be out before May?

I’ve also read that the T3i is better suited for people with large hands, that the grip is better. Thoughts?

Boyd McCullough
Guest
Boyd McCullough

Good Morning,
I am presently searching for a camera upgrade. I take a lot of still pictures and am presently using Olympus SP590UZ.
I want to upgrade to a SLR body and just be able to add lenses as need be. After reading many articles about both the Canon T3i and the Nikon d5100 I am convinced this is not going to be an easy decision. I do not take many movies mostly still shots.
I would appreciated some guidance and/or recommendations.
I might just flip a coin.
Thank you
Sincerely,
Boyd McCullough

Sayed
Guest
Sayed

Hi Matthew..

You left one point that Canon T3i have built in focus motor and D5100 lacks it, although this would’nt be an issue for the new users, as they have AF-S lenses.

catzcradle
Member

Something I’ve not understood in a few comparison reviews re: the T3i and 60D. The 60D supposedly has a stronger body, but yet the way the T3i is written, it seems it would be better (eg. Polycarbonate, fiberglass resin and Stainless steel) Or is it because of the 60D aluminum frame that makes it a bit more rugged?

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