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Nikon D5100 vs Canon T3i – Is the T3i or D5100 a Better Choice?

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The Nikon D5100 and The Canon T3i are both cameras geared towards beginning photographers transitioning from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR camera.  As a result, both cameras are very easy to operate with a variety of automatic and scene settings, yet allow the photographer the ability to use various manual and other settings as their skills develop.  Both cameras will provide years of service to the photographer and both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon T3i are capable of capturing excellent images, as well as video.

Just the Facts, A Side-By-Side Comparison of the D5100 vs T3i

Nikon D5100 Canon T3i
Year Introduced 2011 2011
Format DX Cropped / APS-C
Crop Factor 1.5X 1.6x
Megapixels 16.2 Million 18 Million
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Image Format RAW or JPG RAW and JPG
Sensor Size 23.6 mm x 15.6 mm 22.30 mm x 14.90 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Autofocus Points 11 9
View Finder Coverage 95% 95%
Frames Per Second 4 3.7
ISO 100-6400 100-6400
Expandable ISO Up to 25,600 Up to 12,800
Built In Flash Yes Yes
Card Slots 1 1
LCD Size 3” 3”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Swivel Swivel
Video Yes Yes
Video Type HD HD
Internal Autofocus Motor No No
GPS Optional Accessory No
Wireless Optional Accessory No
Wi-Fi Optional Accessory No
                                               Battery Single EN-EL14 or 14a LP-E8 x 1
Unique Features HDR Mode Direct Printing of Images
Size Without Lens 5.0” x 3.8” x   3.1” 5.2” x 3.9” x 3.1”
Weight Without Lens 19.7 Ounces 18.2 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Japan
Body Only or with Kit Lens Sold Either Way Kit, 18-55mm IS II Lens
Accessories Manual, Charger, Cables Manual, Charger, Cables
Cost $499.99 here $599.99 here

*Information from Nikon USA and Canon USA websites, including pricing.

Similarities Between the D5100 and T3i

The Nikon D5100 and the Canon T3i are both cropped sensor cameras, which use a smaller sized CMOS sensor.  The integration of these smaller sensors into entry level cameras help to keep the cost of the camera down, as price is often a deciding factor in people moving from compact cameras to DSLR cameras.  Nikon calls the cropped sensor format DX, while Canon calls it APS-C, with both manufacturers offering a wide variety of lenses built for their cropped sensor cameras.  The crop factor in both cameras is similar with the D5100 being 1.5x, while the T3i is 1.6x.

While not an exact match, both cameras have the ability to shoot at relatively high frames per second rates, with the D5100 being capable of 4fps, while the T3i being capable of 3.7 fps.  The intended user for these cameras will find this capable of capturing children running around or the action at a football or soccer game.

canon t3i reviewAnother similarity between the two cameras is a 3” LCD screen that is capable of swiveling into various positions.  The advantage of this type of display is that the screen can be articulated in a position where it can be seen if the camera is held low or high when capturing an image.  One thing to keep in mind with these displays is that while pretty tough they can be broken, so care must be used when articulating the screen into the desired position.

Other similar features of the cameras are size and weight with the Nikon being slightly smaller than the Canon, but 1.5 ounces heavier.  However, both cameras are small and lightweight making them easy to carry all day.  In addition, they both handle well and most importantly feel great in the hand while shooting!

While not exactly the same, the number of autofocus points found in each camera is similar, with the D5100 having 11 autofocus points, while the T3i having 9 points.  In actual practice, this is a sufficient amount of autofocus points, with any more often cluttering the viewfinder and becoming a distraction.

Both cameras have viewfinder that provides 95% coverage, a single card slot capable of holding SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.  The D5100 and the T3i do not have autofocus motors built into the camera bodies, so if autofocus capabilities are desired, the photographer will be limited to using lenses where the autofocus motor is in the lens.  Also both cameras shoot images in either Raw or JPG formats, while the T3i shoots in both RAW and JPG formats simultaneously.  Both cameras also offer sensor cleaners built into the camera.

nikon d5100 vs Canon T3iThe D5100 and the T3i both offer the photographer to shoot either fully automatic or in manual modes, where shutter speed and aperture is manually set.  In addition, the cameras can be set to shoot aperture priority or shutter priority as well.  Both cameras have a variety of scene, filter and creative modes, which are available either by a knob on the top of the cameras or thru the camera’s menu, which is displayed on the LCD screen.  These features allows the photographer creative control of the image and is appreciated as the new photographer gains experience and develops new skills.

Finally, the cost of both the D5100 and the T3i are similar, with pricing for both cameras starting at under $600, with a variety of kit lens options being available.  This represents an excellent value for the consumer for cameras of this caliber and with advanced capabilities.  Despite both Nikon and Canon introducing several generations of follow up cameras to the D5100 and the T3i, both cameras have remained in production and have seen continued downward price pressure since 2011, when they were first introduced.

Key Differences

Both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon T3i both take very high-resolution images, with the T3i capturing images in 18 megapixels, compared to 16.2 megapixels in the D5100.  While both manufacturers offer other DSLR cameras with higher megapixels, it is important note that the top of the line professional grade cameras offered by Nikon and Canon, which cost 10X what the D5100 or the T3i cost, both have a similar numbers of megapixels.  The D5100 and the T3i both have more than enough megapixels for a photographer at any level.

While the normal ISO range of both cameras ranges from 100-6400 ISO, the Nikon can be expanded up to 25,600, while the Canon can only go to 12,800.  As with megapixels, it is important not to focus on ISO range too much as in many cases images shot at high ISO settings tend to be soft, because of the in camera processing of the images, where “noise” is removed, but as a by product, so is much of the sharpness of the image

Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Zoom Lens + 7pc Bundle 8GB Accessory KitThe D5100 and the T31 both offer video capabilities, with the T3i having generally having much better video capabilities, due to Canon’s extensive experience in video technology and video cameras.  While both cameras shoot HD video at various speeds, Canon’s T3i’s “Video Snapshot” feature, which allows the user to shoot a series of short video clips, which the camera assembles into a single video, will appeal to many consumers.  The T3i also has a movie digital zoom of 3x-10x, which is independent of the zoom capabilities of the lens being used.  It is important to note that Nikon only has been producing cameras with video capabilities for a few years now and is still lagging behind Canon in this area.

Another difference between the two cameras is the D5100’s ability to capture HDR images in the cameras, while the T3i does not have the ability to process HDR images inside of the camera, instead the photographer must process the images with software capable of producing HDR images.

A couple of other differences between the two cameras is the ability of the T3i to print images directly to certain printers, which is possible as a result of Canon’s long term printer business.  Also, while neither camera as Wi-Fi, Wireless or GPS capability, Nikon does offers a variety of add on accessories, which allows the D5100 to have these capabilities.

Overall Recommendation: T3i vs D5100

While both cameras are excellent, I find that I  prefer the Nikon D5100 to the Canon T3i for several reasons.  First, I find the image quality to be slightly better in the D5100 and I rarely shoot video, so the T3i’s superior video performance is not an important feature to me.  Second, I tend to shoot with prime or fixed lenses and find the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f1.8G to be the only lens I use on cropped sensor cameras and Canon does not offer a compatible lens.  Lastly, I enjoy taking HDR images and the ability of the camera to process them inside of the camera is a great benefit for me as I very rarely post process images using the various software packages. You can find the Nikon D5100 here for the best price.

Anyone looking for a great entry-level camera cannot go wrong with either camera, but if the primary purpose will be taking still images and the occasional vide, the Nikon D5100 would be the better choice.  If the primary purpose will be taking video and the occasional still image, the Canon T3i would be the best choice.  It all comes down to what you intend to use the camera for!

The Camera Guide Team

The Camera Guide Team is a group of writers, shutterbugs, and professional photographers. We know the challenge of looking through different cameras or accessories. We want you to learn everything about cameras. We provide honest reviews, detailed guides, and helpful comparisons. We have everything you need. We are here to help you find the perfect click.

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