DSLR Camera Review: Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D3100

The Nikon D3100, left, and the Canon Rebel T1i: is one of these entry-level DSLR's the right choice for you?

The Nikon D3100, left, and the Canon Rebel T1i: is one of these entry-level DSLR's the right choice for you?

Are you in the market for your first DSLR? Ready to make the big step up to a ‘real’ camera? In this article we’ll sift our way through some ‘real world’ comparisons of the current entry-level DSLR kits from Canon and Nikon: the Canon T1i with 18-55mm zoom lens vs. Nikon’s D3100, also with an 18-55mm kit lens. Both of these cameras currently list right around $700 US with the lens, both will take their brand’s entire line of lenses and both will shoot 1080p video. So these two machines make an ideal side-by-side comparison. Thanks to the fine folks at Bennett’s Camera and Video in New Orleans, I’ve been able to take these cameras out into the field for some ‘test shooting.’ My thoughts, reactions and recommendations follow below.

[NOTE: These will not be ‘scientific’ reviews. I’m not putting these cameras on a bench and performing engineering tests on them. No, I’m just a regular professional photographer, one who uses cameras every day to make a living. My findings are thus less scientific, but maybe more valid and valuable for you, the average camera user. I’m going to give you my gut reaction to each camera, and then you can decide if there’s anything here of value for you as you go about making your own purchasing decision.]

Nikon D3100 on the left, Canon T1i on the right. The D3100 looks marginally larger, but that's just the lens design. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Nikon D3100 on the left, Canon T1i on the right. The D3100 looks marginally larger, but that's just the lens design. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Look & Feel

Both of these cameras feel diminutive in my hands, but that’s because I spend most of my time shooting Canon Mark II’s and Mark IV’s. Ergonomically, the feel of both of these cameras in your hands is similar. Both have a standard pop-up flash and a nice, big LCD screen on the back for reviewing images or changing settings.

Menus & Settings Navigation

The Nikon menu screens are logical and easy to follow. Everything is laid out in a sequential manner that makes sense. It’s easy to find what you’re looking for as you set the camera up or make changes.

I found this graphics-based, dumbed-down information window irritating. ('Subject is too dark.' is one of the bits of advice the camera is ready to dispense.) BUT the settings, listed on the right, are logical, well-laid out and easy to navigate. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

I found this graphics-based, dumbed-down information window irritating. ('Subject is too dark.' is one of the bits of advice the camera is ready to dispense.) BUT the settings, listed on the right, are logical, well-laid out and easy to navigate. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

That said, I found the basic menu window was very much a ‘dumbed-down’ window that seems to be intended for the complete novice shooter. The screen will even tell you, in a complete sentence, if it thinks you’re going to underexpose a shot. I found this irritating, but that might just be me.

The Canon menus had pluses and minuses as well. The basic menus are very, very similar to the menu screens on their more expensive, high-end cameras, meaning that once you learn this menu system, you’ll have no learning curve if you ever upgrade. The menus work on a series of top tabs, and all of the menu options on each tab are visible with no scrolling, a nice feature.

The Canon Information Window is based upon the same menu setup that all of their DSLR's, including the most expensive professional ones, use. Tabs across the top can be cycled through, each with a dropdown of features and functions listed. All of the features appear in the dropdown, without the need to scroll, a very nice feature. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The Canon Information Window is based upon the same menu setup that all of their DSLR's, including the most expensive professional ones, use. Tabs across the top can be cycled through, each with a dropdown of features and functions listed. All of the features appear in the dropdown, without the need to scroll, a very nice feature. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

But the tabs and what they contain can be difficult at first. You’ll want to work your way through the settings with your manual in hand, at least once, to understand all of these options. Just like the expensive big brother cameras, this camera has ‘Custom Function’ options which contain shorthand for all sorts of tweaks you can insert. Again, you’ll need the manual to set this up.

Basic Shooting

I took both cameras and did a bit of photography with them side-by-side, shooting both interior and exterior situations. I then shot a short piece of 1080p video with each camera as well.

Setting the cameras up on all-automatic, Program mode, using Matrix metering, I took interior photos of my cat, Zoe, then walked outside and made some photos on our front porch. You can see the results below.

Setting both cameras on their automatic 'Program' modes, these interior shots of one of my cats show a slight difference in the color lookup tables used by each camera. The Nikon D3100, top, appears to render cleaner, more neutral color than the Canon Rebel T1i, bottom, which has a slight yellowish cast. I'm not sure the better sharpness in the Nikon image (top) is really significant since the kitty was moving when I made the Canon (bottom) version. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Setting both cameras on their automatic 'Program' modes, these interior shots of one of my cats show a slight difference in the color lookup tables used by each camera. The Nikon D3100, top, appears to render cleaner, more neutral color than the Canon Rebel T1i, bottom, which has a slight yellowish cast. I'm not sure the better sharpness in the Nikon image (top) is really significant since the kitty was moving when I made the Canon (bottom) version. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Both cameras did an acceptable job in both situations. The Canon version looks a bit yellowish to me on my Zoe photo compared to the Nikon, which has more neutral tones, although both are okay.

The Canon version, top, did a better job of exposing for this outdoor lighting situation, yielding a more balanced histogram. The Nikon meter seems to have been more affected by the background brightness. Both cameras were on Program mode with their respective versions of Matrix metering. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The Canon version, top, did a better job of exposing for this outdoor lighting situation, yielding a more balanced histogram. The Nikon meter seems to have been more affected by the background brightness. Both cameras were on Program mode with their respective versions of Matrix metering. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Outside, the Canon metering system seemed to do a better job of deciding exposure on my slightly backlit porch, yielding a better overall exposure. So a bit of a toss-up on this test.

I then tried using both cameras in full-Manual mode, since this is something that is my preference, and something that I would hope that you, as a reader of The Discerning Photographer, would eventually aspire to, if you’re not already at least a sometimes-Manual-mode shooter. On this issue, the Canon setup was clearly superior. The readout for manual aperture and shutter speed is larger and clearer on the Canon. On the Nikon, it’s a tiny readout across the bottom of the screen, difficult to use and work with. So on this aspect the Canon wins.

Another big issue for me, and one that I’ve written about before on this site, is Back-Button Autofocus. Having the ability to set your camera up for back-button AF is a biggie, even if you’re not planning on becoming a sports photographer. I won’t go into all of the reasons here, since I’ve already covered all of this in the other article, but suffice it to say I wouldn’t buy a DSLR without back-button AF. Both cameras have the ability to set back-button autofocus, although they accomplish it in different ways. [Note: this is a correction. When writing the original article, I had trouble setting up the back-button feature on the Nikon. A few of my excellent readers have corrected me on this, thanks!–Discerning Photog] The Canon method is pictured below.

Even this entry-level DSLR from Canon allows true back-button autofocus, something not found on the Nikon D3100. A Custom Function setting, pictured here, turns this on, allowing the use of the circled button above to perform focus independent of the shutter release button. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Even this entry-level DSLR from Canon allows true back-button autofocus, something not found on the Nikon D3100. A Custom Function setting, pictured here, turns this on, allowing the use of the circled button above to perform focus independent of the shutter release button. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Switching over to video, a couple of interesting notes to consider, if you think this will be a big feature for you. The Nikon camera has a dedicated, single switch to get you over into video shooting mode. I liked this feature a lot. The Canon, on the other hand, is a two-step dance in its basic configuration, first hitting one button, then another, to turn video shooting on. Not a huge deal, but I found the single Nikon button superior for this feature.

Both cameras can shoot 1080p video. The Nikon has a convenient, dedicated switch to activate video mode. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Both cameras can shoot 1080p video. The Nikon has a convenient, dedicated switch to activate video mode. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

On a related note, both cameras can autofocus during video shooting, something that earlier versions could not do. BUT, and this is a huge BUT, the sound of the lens refocusing is CLEARLY discernable in the audio track with each camera. Is this a big deal? Not if you’re in a noisy place. But if what you’re shooting is in a quiet setting, you’ll this audio focus noise very bothersome. It seemed to be just as noticeable with each of these cameras. Watch the following video and you’ll hear the lens motor adjusting as it autofocuses. The Canon is louder, but both are unacceptable, in my opinion.

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D3100 Video Test from Andrew Boyd on Vimeo.

Part of an article posted at my photo blog, The Discerning Photographer, that compares two entry-level DSLRs: the Canon Rebel T1i vs. the Nikon D3100. This particular part of the story is about shooting video with these two cameras.

So there you have it. My quick ‘Drive Around the Block’ with these two entry-level DSLRs. Both are fine choices; both are the entry-level items into large and extensive worlds of beautiful, expensive camera equipment. The choice is yours, but I would simply suggest you go with one of these. This will get you into one of the two professional arenas that I’ve never outgrown, never really gotten tired of shooting.

Remember:  In the end, it’s really all about the glass, and Canon and Nikon both make some of the finest lens optics in the world.

That said, decide what you think will make the most difference for you and your future shooting, then buy it and don’t look back!

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

125 Comments on "DSLR Camera Review: Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D3100"

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  1. joseph says:

    But what about the cost difference and value for money?!


  2. great review. I’m more inclined towards Nikon

  3. These kits are both listing for $699.00.

  4. You can’t make a bad choice really, if you stick to these two brands. I’ve used both professionally and both will do a great job…the AF function is big for me, that’s all.

  5. Bayou Bill says:

    I don’t know anything about the Canon, so I can’t comment on how it compares to the Nikon, but here are a few (hopefully) clarifying observations about the Nikon D3100:

    It’s not exactly true that the D3100 “will take [its] brand’s entire line of lenses”. The D3100 does not have an in-body autofocus motor, so it will only autofocus with Nikon’s newer AF-S lenses and not with the older AF lenses. The disadvantage is that older AF lenses in good condition can be purchased used for much lower prices than new AF-S lenses. (I am told that Canon’s newer camera bodies are not compatible with their older lenses, either, so maybe these two cameras are similar in this respect.)

    Switching from the “Graphic” display mode shown above to the “Classic” display mode might improve the type and readability of the information displayed on the LCD. Don’t know for sure, though, ’cause I’m going by what’s in the D3100 manual rather than hands-on experience.

    As with its other current-line DSLRs, Nikon’s version of “Back-Button Autofocus” can be enabled on the D3100 by setting the function of the AE-L/AF-L button (shown in the above photo) to the “AF-ON” setting. In this mode, the shutter release button initiates metering only, and the AE-L/AF-L button initiates autofocus. I’ve tried this on my D90, and it seems to work the way Andrew describes it on the Canons.

    None of this is to say that the Nikon is better than the Canon, but I hope it helps.

  6. I played with the AF settings some, that button in particular, but couldn’t get it to work that way…probably just me though! I’ll try to get clarification and publish what I find. Thanks Bill!

  7. Mary says:

    Thanks-a big help in my research… I am looking to buy one of these. Decisions, decisions!

  8. Chris says:

    On the video it says Canon T1i recording @30FPS…I thought it’s only at 20FPS?

  9. johnson says:

    Nice review. If the choice were between the T2i and D3100, would the T2i win, since it’s an upgraded T1i?

  10. Let me check on that…not always necessarily true. But I’ll report back on this.

  11. I’ll double-check that. It might be 24fps, but not 20. I’ll find out and add a note here.

  12. Gary says:

    Thank you for a great review of these cameras. It has saved me countless hours of research. I will be buying one for my daughter (16). She has showed an interest in photography and has done some neat stuff on just a point and shoot. Question for you though. I have an older Canon AE-1 program 35mm that I don’t use anymore and have a bunch of lenses for it. One lense for instance is a FD 28mm 1:2.8. Will these “FD” lenses fit on a newer Canon DSLR. If so, it would save her a bunch of $$ on lenses. If not, I think I’m leaning towards the Nikon 3100.
    Thanks, Gary

  13. I think…they’re not going to work. I’m not sure if they’ll even mount; if they do, you might be able to use them on manual mode, but that would be about it. And the autofocus would not work.

  14. Paddy says:

    Thanks very much for this comparison saving me frankly hours of faffing around. I actually quite like the Nikon menu display but I do see your point about dumbing down. I am trying to select for my 13 yr daughter who wants to upgrade to DSLR and I had set my sights on a Fuji HS10 bridge but actually I’m dead set on the Nikon 3100 now.

  15. Great choice. It’s a camera with a whole system for your daughter to grow into.

  16. Justin says:

    That’s true, they made a mistake it’s 20 fps, i looked almost everywhere.

  17. Deborah says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I really appreciate your time. I am signed up for a photograph class at the end of the month, which is a lifelong interest, delayed. You have helped me decide on a camera. (Nikon)

    Just curious, as a first time reader, what is the other professional arena that has kept you captivated?

  18. Tk says:

    Thanks for the excellent comparison.

    You say “it’s about the glass” but is a cheap Nikon or Canon 18-200mm zoom lens any better than a sigma 18-200mm lens that costs half as much? Is it all branding? On the technical front, I’m particularly interested in the performance of the optical stabiliser because I take a lot of photos indoors in low light.

    On a separate issue, as I’m finally upgrading from a fully manual camera, i’m perplexed as to why the aperture adjuster isn’t a ring on the lens like in the old days? It seems incredibly fiddly to use the modern DSLRs in manual exposure mode?

  19. When you get into trying to decide between a lower-end name-brand vs. an off-brand lens, you really, really need to shoot both of them. I would take your own CF or SD card, in your own camera, and go to a store that has both lenses. Shoot some with each. Try to shoot something that’s backlit (with backlit highlights) and shoot some text as well, if you can. You want to see how sharp the Sigma is, compared to the name-brand, in a variety of situations and focal lengths. If you can’t see any difference, then by all means by the cheaper off-brand glass.
    On the lack of aperture rings on new DSLR lenses, it’s just the way things are designed now. I still shoot a lot in full manual mode and have just made the adjustment. You will too!

  20. Tk says:

    Thanks! I’ll pop around to the local shop to compare the lenses.

  21. Chris says:

    Just found your website – its GREAT! Thanks for taking the time.

    I have used the T1i for 18 months with 2 canon L lenses – 25-70IS L; 70-200IS L.

    What do I gain by upgrading the camera body – and how high an upgrade model? I do want to stick with Canon.

    I shoot landscape, wildlife, nature, etc. – no studio or portrait.



  22. You’ve got two great lenses, assuming you meant the 24-70 f2.8 as the wide. Eventually you’ll find you want a second camera body anyway–in case the other one breaks, you’re shooting in an ‘action’ environment–like the wildlife shooting you mentioned–and you need mroe than one perspective immediately available. I know a few wildlife shooters that are very, very happy with their Canon 7D’s. Short of plunking down the huge money for a Mark IV, that would be my choice. The 5D is not a wildlife camera–the focus is still not good enough–but it is a great landscape machine.
    Your choice.

  23. Chris says:

    Both are 2.8 and I LOVE them!

    I also use the Canon 1.4 extender with the long lens – just have to be careful with the aditional light requirements.

    I am not the best steady hand holder and found your site originally by searching for handholding tips and really liked your article.

    Thanks so much for the camera direction – it can be overwhelming just reading about all the different models. I live in a rural area and there are no camera stores within 65 miles – and those are limited – so I rely on the internet for learning sources.

    I appreciate your time and advice!!!!!!

  24. The most important advice: keep shooting. A lot! Then shoot some more.
    Good luck!

  25. Bayou Bill says:

    A heads-up today (1/24/11) from Thom Hogan’s web site, http://www.bythom.com/:

    “Jan 24 (rumor)–It appears that the D3100 will get a US$100 instant rebate just in time for Valentine’s Day. That puts its price at US$599, a fairly common price point Nikon has had for its low end DSLR in the past few years.”

    Nothing, though, on Nikon’s web site as of right now.

  26. Eric says:

    I have always wanted to get into photography, but I am really indecisive when it comes to choosing things especially when there are so many options. I am very much a novice photographer but a quick learner. I plan to maily use the camera to take photos of people in movement (i.e. walking around a downtown or fair) along with taking faster paced action shots at sporting events. At the same time I hike a lot and would like to use it when I am out in the wilderness.

    Of these two camera, which one would better fulfill all my wants and desires? Thanks for the great comparison though, I just need a more difinitive answer since I can’t make decisions on my own.

  27. You’ll be fine with either system, Eric. Shop around, and if you can find a camera store that will let you shoot your own CF card, some with each camera, that may help you make up your mind.

  28. Stuart says:

    Very good article. I am looking to jump to DSLR after having a Yachica FX-3 for 13 years before the light meter died. From that I moved to the Nikon N65. I have 2 Quantary lenses (28-80mm,100-300mm) that I know will not focus on the Nikon D3100. Unfortunately the D90 is a little out of my price range, since I would have to get it with at least the kit lens since I would lose wide angle on my 20-80 on the D90.

    So I am wondering if I should start from scratch with a 2-lens Nikon D3100 or Canon T1i. Any advice?

  29. I would find a camera store that has both and go in with your own SD card. Shoot some similar exposures with both, look at how the menus work, check out the photos and see which one feels better. Both are the starting entry points to great systems. You can’t really make a bad choice; you just have to start over on our lenses, unfortunately.

  30. anoop kumar says:

    Hi, i recently bought a canon 500d, some people told me that nikon has beter quality than canon in same class camera, i was upset & start searching in internet,after deep research in many wes site i found that nikon has 10% better picture quality but less function then i plan to sell my camera , to day i also search the comparison & i found this WEB SITE, i found the comparison is practicle & great , pics & vidio both are great, I NEVER USE NIKON but i found that there is no quality (Photo & movie) difference, In above photo taken by canon 500d, the cat is moving so sharpness is not good, but in vidio the canon is good, Now i have change my mood, i like my canon 500d,

  31. Both are good cameras! Remember, the most important thing that will determine a great photograph is what you have between your ears (!)…

  32. rozif says:

    Hi there.. I’m a newbie too… i just bought my canon 500d. same situation with anoop kumar, when i bought it people say that the d3100 is better than the canon 500d. i’m quite confuse because when i went to the shop almost all of the seller telling me that the 500d is better than the d3100. so without any doubt i buy it. but now it seems like regret buying it without google ing it first through the internet. is it i make the wrong decision of buying the 500d. pls advice. tq…

  33. Rozif,
    You bought a great camera. Both of these entry-level DSLRs are good; if you’ve read my review, you’ll see there are things I like about both of them.

  34. Liton says:

    I really think there is not much of difference between two of these Brand , but still I think I would go for Canon EOS 60D because better buy in terms of $ u spending for!

  35. Madhu Sanyal says:

    I want to buy an entry-level dslr camera.I guess Nikon d3100 will be better option for me. But still I would ask, which one do you think has got better lens? To me sharpness and picture quality is important.

  36. Madhu Sanyal says:

    I have one more question. How Nikon D3100 camera performs in low light? Can you tell me that or if possible can you upload some photos taken with Nikon D3100?

  37. Unfortunately, neither of these lenses is of high quality. They’re hoping to get you hooked on their system, knowing that you’ll end up needing better, more expensive lenses soon enough.

  38. Both of these cameras do fine in low light. The lens quality will be your main concern, and if you’re just starting out, the kit lens that comes with the camera will be ok.

  39. Stuart says:

    Thanks again. I decided to go with a D3100 since I was already familiar with some of Nikons features with my N65. I actually sold my N65 to a coworker to give to her teenager for a trip to Europe. I did not think I was a newbie with my manual SLR experience but it looks like the dSLR is still going to have a learning curve.

    Since I used to enjoy processing images with my old system, I have enjoyed shooting in RAW. Even using Nikons native View NX2 has been ok. Can you recommend any software that does not break the bank?

  40. Madhu Sanyal says:

    Thanks for your reply. Your pictures and videos helped me lot to take decision. I highly recommend this website for any newbie. Thanks once again.

  41. joseph says:

    I have that same situation when i bought my Canon 500d. All the guys from the store are telling me that canon is better so i decided to go for it instead of the d3100. Despite many reviews that nikon is better, i think that there’s no really difference in terms of picture quality. Both delivers awesome pictures. The deciding factor for me are the location of buttons to the movement of my hands which i think fit perfectly with the 500d. As for me, canon is more good-looking. I love it!

  42. I like your reasoning, Joseph. These two camera companies have been competing with each other, back and forth with technological breakthroughs, for the past 30+ years. Sometimes one will be slightly ahead, sometimes the other. But the most important thing is always the quality of the lenses, the glass. And they are both excellent there. You have a good camera.

  43. John P says:

    Hi Andrew-
    I am an amatuer at best with photography, and do it as a hobby, but I do enjoy it and am developing quite a passion..addiction 🙂 to it. Right now I use a nice Canon Point & Shoot Powershot SX120IS. But as I get more into it, I now want something better and currently I am looking for my first DSLR. I enjoyed this article comparing the Canon Rebel/Nikon D3100. I have seen some of your responses saying you can’t go wrong with either. My question would be, since I mainly shoot land/seascape and wildlife type shots, would it matter if I had the back button autofocus feature? I read up on it a bit, but really don’t fully understand it yet.
    Thanks for your time.

  44. You can set the back-button feature on either of these cameras, although it’s a bit easier to do on the Canon.

  45. Steve says:

    Hi, just a quick question. When watching your videos i literally flinched at the camera re-focusing…I know that is autofocus, but is it possible to turn the autofocus off when shooting video so you’re not stuck with the loud robotic noises in the background? Thanks for a great review!

  46. Sure, you can turn it off. I just wanted people to hear it so they would know what they were getting!

  47. Zxed says:

    Never used a DSLR, but about to buy the Nikon D3100 in the next few days… my only question is… If i buy a AF-S or AF-I NIKKOR Lense… doesnt that give me a better camera than the t1i? http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/dslr/d3100/compatibility02.htm

    I am buying the camera to take close product shorts of pieces of fabric, placed in a light box with full spec lights., so true photo color capture is important to me

    i guess ill be browsing http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/lens/list.htm for the next few hours trying to find out what means what 🙂

  48. It would all depend upon what Canon glass you buy. Same as the Nikon. It’s ultimately very much about the quality of the lens.

  49. Jane Ann Lane says:

    I have an old Canon AE-1 Program that I loved, until I got the thrill of the speed of digital photography with a Point and Shoot Camera. Of course, now I want a DSLR, and have found a god deal on the Nikon D3100. Not sure about it though. I take hundreds of pictures of my grandchldren. Any pros or cons for the camera recommendations there. I am so happy that I found your Website before I buy!

  50. Jane,
    the D3100 is a great little camera. The question may be whether you’ll be happy with the ‘starter’ lens that usually gets sold with the camera…depends upon what you had with the AE-1.

  51. Chet says:

    Fantastic review, Andy. I wish I had read it before getting the D3100 today! Reading through your notes, I am forming an opinion that an AF button will add a lot of value. Will think about this a bit more and maybe get this one replaced under 15 days return policy. 🙂

  52. Yasi says:

    Hi, I am about to deside on either the Canon or the Nikon. Unfortunatly I can’t go out to the store and try them out a bit, so I have to rely on what I can find on the web. This will be my frist DSLR but what I am looking for is a good zoom. I know that it is all about the lens, so I thought I could purchase Nikon D3100 with the 18-55mm kit lens and a Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens. In this case, does the autofocus work or will I have to do it only manually? Or would it be better to buy a Canon T1i with the 18-55mm lens and a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens?

    Thanks so much!!

  53. I don’t know anything about the Tamron lens. It should certainly do the autofocus though. You should check out the customer reviews on Amazon to help you make your decision:


    Good luck!

  54. AnnP says:

    Is the difference in megapixel a big deal?

  55. In this case, not at all. The quality of the lens–the optical glass–will have much more to do with your results than any small difference in megapixels.

  56. Janice says:

    I have been trying to decide between these two cameras: as some have previously said, internet reviews seem to always put the nikon d3100 as superior to the canon 500d. You seem to believe they however or equally comparable cameras?

    I also have been told that quite often canon owners stick with canons and nikons with nikons. I have owned a canon ae1 and several point and shoot canons, so I originally thought that the canon 500d would be the obvious choice. But I have now found a good deal on the nikon and am wondering if holding onto that idea of the comfort of knowing a brand is naive.

  57. Thanks for your question, Janice. I’ve used BOTH systems professionally for many years, and they’re both excellent. If I had an investment in one system already, I would probably stick with that system unless there was a truly compelling reason to switch. You might also do some price checking on your ‘dream’ kit of lenses, Nikon vs. Canon, and see which system is going to cost your the most in the long run. Good luck!

  58. Sean says:

    First, thank you for such great information; I’m sure I speak for all when I say it is much appreciated.

    I am looking to make an investment in either the D3100 or the Canon. I noticed that someone above mentioned the T2i pitted against the D3100 (instead of the T1i). Have you been able to experiment with this slightly more expensive Canon? I know that the price is not always an indicator of quality, but I would be interested to see if the extra $50 is justifiable.

    Also, I noticed that no one really asked you about build quality. Have you noticed one to be more durable or built better? Thanks so much!

  59. I plan on doing a review of the T2i or possibly the T3i sometime soon, so stay tuned Sean. These two cameras are both very nice entry-level DSLRs. They’re both nicely-made, sturdy little machines…but not designed to be dropped or banged around much. I would say the build quality if about even between these two.

  60. I just wanted to say thank you for this post–I found it by googling in a desperate search to figure out which camera to choose, and it REALLY helped. I’m not leaning towards the Canon. Hopefully I’ll be able to make up my mind and purchase one asap!

    I have to say that I’m quite impressed with your ability to speak to what a person looking for a first ‘real camera’ needs to hear, even though you are an experienced photographer yourself. Again, thanks for this post!

  61. Please note: that should read ‘I am NOW leaning towards the Canon’. Not ‘not’! Ooops! Sorry!

  62. Pamela says:


    Im so excited to see your input on the 2 of these cameras. I understand the points made about the back button auto focus. Im really on the fence between these 2 models. I am a Real Estate Broker and want a camera for good interior and exterior shots. Being that these will be still images would I be better off with the Nikon? I would also use for personal use and do not want blurred pics of my kids (lol) Can you tell me which would be better from a Real Estate perspective?


  63. Good luck with your purchase, Tracy! Glad the review helped you through the thougtht process.

  64. They’re both going to be equally good for your usage. Have you gone to a decent camera store and actually shot pictures with them? This should be your next step.

  65. Michelle G. says:

    Thank you for the great article. We just came back from trying to choose a camera and left to come home and do more research. I am mainly purchasing to take pics. of the kids and their many sporting events. Please clarify the back button issue because now it seems that the d3100 has the feature but it’s just more difficult to use. Also, if I get more serious and want to venture into professional photo (ie. headshots etc.) are these cameras able to handle those professional portrait shots?

  66. Michelle G. says:

    In addition, are you suggesting that if I purchase a telescopic lens it might be worth looking outside nikon/cannon for better “glass”?…as you can tell I am very much a beginner

  67. These are nice, light-duty cameras. If you end up doing anything professionally, you’ll need sturdier gear.

  68. No, no, Michelle. The Canon and Nikon professional lenses are some of the very best made. I’m just talking about the cheapo lenses that come on these entry-level DSLRs. I wish they didn’t make them, but they do to keep the price down.

  69. Thanks-a significant support in my research… I’m seeking to acquire considered one of these. Selections, decisions!

  70. Great head to head comparative data! I love your honesty and practicality in putting things out there, especially for the benefit of juvenile photographers like me. I’ll be sure to come back and learn more from you, Andrew.

  71. Benoit Peeters says:

    Hi there! Fine review, I’ m planning to buy my first DSLR and this is sooooo helpfull!

    I got one more question… About Nikon, What is the main differences between D3100 and D90.
    Because D90 is about 150$ more expansive, but on the paper (specs) I can’t understand the big diferences!
    about Canon, on an other hand, I found Canon Rebel a bit mor expansive… does the difference worth it?

    Thanks a lot for your help and sorry for my english if it’s a little bit rusty, I’m from Belgium and usually speaks French!


  72. Benoit,
    The D90 is an older generation, older technology camera that ‘s being replaced. The other one to consider might be the D5100, Nikon’s new model that falls between the 3100 and 7000 cameras.

  73. Benoit Peeters says:

    Thanks a lot DPhotograf!

    I’ll consider the 5100, depending on the offer I can get!

    It is my first digital Reflex… I once took some nice pictures with a Analogic one (an ooooold Praktica) and it was so much fun! I hope I’ll get into it quick with the digital one!

    Thanks once again and have a nice weekend!


  74. David says:

    Great reviews! I’m also leaning towards getting my first dslr kit- the canon. What would you suggest as a good step up in lens from the stock one – 18-55mm?

  75. I would suggest you think about getting a Canon 50mm f1.8 as your first ‘real’ lens. If you can find the camera without the kit (crap) lens, then buy the body and a 50 and you’re all set. It’s an incredibly sharp lens, cheap, and a great place to start.

  76. Benoit Peeters says:

    Hi there!

    I just bought a Nikon D7000 – Nikkor AF 50mm f1.8 as first DSLR… I’ll receive it in about 1 week!
    I got a friend who got a AF 55-200 f3.5 to give me (because his Nikkon body has been stolen) to complete a good first kit!

    Thanks a lot guys for all your commente and advices!


  77. Max says:


    First off, thanks for a great comparison. For newbies like me, its great that reviews talk less about technical features and more about practicality.

    You mentioned in many of your replies that its the lens that counts. I have read the same thing on many websites. However, everyone fails to mention how to distinguish between crap lenses and good lenses.

    If I were to not buy the kit lens — which one would I buy for, lets say Nikon. As far as I know, Nikon only has 1 type of 18-55mm lens with VR (Vibration Reduction) — which is what they are selling along with the camera. (3100) See here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003ZYF3LO/ref=s9_simh_gw_p23_d0_i5?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1WFDGD82V7BNDKAGMMPK&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846

    Would you suggest buying prime lenses only? Wouldn’t that mean that you would have to carry a different lens for every focal length?

    As you can see I am quite confused by prime lenses. A 50mm prime lens would be capable of clicking pictures equivalent to 18-55mm ??

    Any pointers ?

  78. The problem is the good zoom for that focal length is well over a thousand dollars. The prime lenses (fixed focal lengths) are much cheaper and very,very sharp. You can buy two or thee of them for the price of one zoom. I’d start with a 50mm 1.8 lens to learn the camera then think about a 24mm or 28mm lens. I’d send you some links but I’m on my phone.

  79. Max says:

    Thanks for the reply Andrew. I’ll look into some prime lenses and couple that with a telephoto zoom like the 55-200mm(about $200) or the newer 55-300mm (about $300). Assuming that these are kit lenses, I would really really appreciate if you could provide links to comparable focal length lenses that YOU consider to be “good”.

    For eg. If I were to buy the camera body only, which lenses (good by your definition) would I buy if I wanted a “two-lens system”

    I would then research more into the differences between them and buy accordingly — also considering my budget into it.

    Thanks for all your help.

  80. Max says:

    Just as a follow up, I found the lenses that you kinda mentioned above $1000+ in both Canon and Nikon. Specifically denoted L and ED respectively. They tend to have superior optics within and better max apertures than the kit lenses. But since I am just beginning, I will defer those lenses for later.

    After more research into individual cameras and features, I have decided to go with Canon EOS T2i also known as EOS 550D. Amazon has a good deal where if you buy the camera with the 55-250mm lens, they give you a $150 instant discount. I am also adding in a 812 warming filter, circular polarizing filter and a UV filter in the package for $45. I don’t think I’ll need the warming filter, but its in the bundle.

  81. Great place to start. Good luck, and keep me posted about how it goes.

  82. Benjamin says:

    Hi, i have just bought a nikon d3100 and have came onto your website. I was wondering if the lens that comes with the d3100 by default is good for new people in photography? If not, what lens would you recommend?

    Thank you and good work !!

  83. It’ll be fine as you learn the basics, Ben. Later you can look at something better.

  84. Anna says:

    i really really need help with picking one of these cameras!!!
    may you please tell me honestly which one is better!!
    i will get my first dslr camera and i need to pick.. and i love them both but i have to pick one so please help me honestly!!

  85. Anna: Take a coin and pick heads or tails….then flip it! What comes up will be the best choice…because these are both excellent cameras. Sorry, there’s no correct answer here.

  86. Anna says:

    thanks, i tried the coin flipping and i got the nikon d3100.
    but i would just like to ask which camera is better for nature photos…….

  87. Anna,
    They will be equally good for that purpose. The deciding factor will be, as it always is, the creative vision of the photographer.

  88. Norma says:

    Lots of good information but so hard to decide… And now there is a Canon T2 and T3… Is either of these worth the extra cost? Do either of these eliminate the audio focus noise? I am really lost when it comes to manual settings and want the camera that will give the best pictures if I leave most settings on auto… We are retired and travel some and love good pics of a grandson… I will be replacing a Kodak Easy ShareDx7440, so you can see i am taking a big step UP… I need all the help I can get… Tell me what to do!!! I’m thinking I probably need the dumb-down Nikon…

  89. Both the T1i and the D3100 are great cameras that will do what you want…you won’t make a mistake with either.

  90. Peter says:

    I am looking into getting into potography and i am having trouble picking one. first off, if i will be doing alot of close-up pictures of insects, flowers, anything with macro photography. i don’t know which camera to pick that would be the best choice for what i am going to do.

  91. Either of these two camera bodies will work fine for macro work, but you’re going to need to buy a macro lens to get the shots you’re talking about here. This will allow you to shoot 1:2 down to 1:1, depending upon the model.

  92. Benoit Peeters says:

    Hi there!….

    As I told earlier, I bought a Nikon D7000 last month… so far so good!

    I think really that the price difference between the D7000 and others Nikons such D3100 and D5100 is really a good deal.

    Strong magnesium body, really acurate AF, hight ISO, 1/8000 shutter speed… hum…. I have to say I’m completely happy.

    This sunday, I shooted a bicycle trip (with 350 bikers) in my city streets, I was there with my D7K and my simple Kit 18-105 lense, the “oficial” photografer was there too, with a Canon 7D, 3 lenses (50mm f1.4, a wide angle – something like 10-22 if I remember right and a white zoom lense about 50-200.

    Well… I’m not wanting to play the “Wannabe” here because I’m only a beginner. But my pictures ended to be much better, and well accepted by the organization of the event! (and I only earn a dinner!!).

    What is my point??? As our great friend Diserning P. already guessed… the best picture is not (always) a matter of best camera! 🙂

    So…. I think the beter thing to do, and I tell you that as a beginner, just like you. Buy the body you can afford, buying Nikon or Canon, you can’t make a big mistake! I choose Nikon because I liked the strong body and the “tropical abilities” (I don’t know how to explain) of the D7000, becaus I live in Brazil, and it is really humid here!

    I bought my camera with a kit lense, because I like to shoot a wide kind of things… I’m not shooting a long time enough to know what I really prefer to shoot… I could buy a good 50mm prime instead (such as 50mm f.1.8) but, I often need some zoom… so. I’ll decide to buy the prime as next lense, and then a wide angle, and then, some zoom such as 70-300, and then maybe a macro, and then,… and then…. and then… possibilities only are depending on your wallet! hehehe

    I hope my coment is helping a bit.



  93. Norma says:

    But, does the T2 or T3 eliminate the auto focus noise… That would be worth any extra cost… Which would you have to buy that would eliminate the auto focus noise…

  94. Can you find a store and go try these bodies out? Some of this noise is a function of which lens is on the camera.

  95. Norma says:

    But, would the T2 or T3 eliminate the auto focus noise… That would be worth the extra cost…How much newer are these than the T1…

  96. Norma,
    I haven’t reviewed the T2, but the T3 is noticeably quieter than the T1.

  97. Cary says:

    I am interested in the Nikon d3100. My daughter is very active in sports. How well will this camera do taking pictures of action shots on the field hockey and lacrosse fields? She is also on the swim team. She swims in an aquatic center where no flash is allowed during races. Will this camera be able to give me clear action shots of her in the water? Lighting around the pool will not be good.

  98. You won’t find the motor drive burst speed very satisfactory for sports action, but it’ll be much better than nothing. The ISO speeds will allow you to get images around that pool (you’ll set the ISO to 1600 as a beginning point) and you can tell the camera ‘no flash’. So it will do most of what you’re interested in. For the sports though, you’ll need a telephoto lens, at least something that goes to 200mm or so.

  99. Steve says:

    I am interested in the Nikon d3100. I actually quite like the Nikon menu display but I do see your point about dumping down. Thank you for the information that you share.

  100. Caitlin says:

    Is there any huge difference in the quality of the two because of the megapixels ? Because I have been researching DSLR cameras cause I want to get into photography, and I might do photoshoots and things like that & i found the nikon d3100 suitable. but right as I thought the nikon was perfect I discovered the T1i. Is it worth 30 more(for the t1i) for more megapixels ?

  101. These are very similar cameras, both excellent. If you like the Nikon, that’s fine, take the plunge!

  102. Amanda says:

    Thank you, this was very helpful! I think I’m more likely to get a Nikon because my father has one and we can share lenses. I’ve been researching trying to find out whether Nikon or Canon cameras are better, and what the difference between the two is, but it seems like neither one is necessarily ‘better’ than the other. Thank you again!

  103. Lizzi Miller says:

    As of now I own a simple point and shoot Kodak camera, but I am looking to upgrade to one of these cameras. I am 17 and involved in 4H photography and I would also like to to take some classes in college about photography. As of now, I mostly do outdoor shots and take some other school activity shots every now and then. Your camera comparison is a great help and will most likely save me a lot of research time. However, I was just wondering if you had any advice on which camera I should purchase. I am a beginner by far, and I don’t know very much about cameras outside of my little Kodak.

  104. These are both great cameras for a beginner, Lizzi. I would buy whichever one I could find the best deal on. Good luck!

  105. Lizzi Miller says:

    Thanks so much! 🙂

  106. Mmx says:

    Hi, I have a Nikon D3100 here. And I can confirm you that it has backbutton autofocus – just go to buttons in the menu and assign “AF ON” to the AE-L/AF-L button.

  107. Mmx, thanks! This was actually pointed out to me by another reader some time back, and I meant to check it out and make the correction. I got sidetracked and never got back to it, till now. Appreciate the information.–DiscerningPhotog

  108. I own the Canon 5d and the Nikon D7000 and the NIkon D5100…. Honestly for the Price you can’t beat the D5100… But I do love how the Canon 5D shoots video….

  109. Meg Raz says:

    Hi! Good info. Just bought the Nikon, played with it for an afternoon and thought the shutter lag was just too slow. Is the cannon much faster? I have toddlers and a new baby on the way, so shooting moving objects is important. Even on a manual shutter speed setting it doesn’t work, says subject too dark. Suggestions? I have the Nikon packed up and ready to be shipped back. 🙁

  110. Meg,
    When you say ‘shutter lag,’ do you really mean blurry photos due to shutter speed? I’m not sure I follow what’s happening here. If the camera tells you it’s ‘too dark,’ you can increase your ISO, or change your shutter/aperture settings to compensate…please explain what’s happening.

  111. MP says:


    I’m looking for a older camera to pickup because of budget and choosing between these two. As I get it, its all about the glass, and since I want to do sports photography, ill have to spend more on the lens. If so, which system has the better autofocus speed on the low end. Any articles about this always talk about 5D/D300 with 70-200mm F2.8. I am planning to buy a 70-300mm (IS USM/AF-S VR) as well as one of the above cameras. Which combo you think works better?


  112. You need to go try these out in a store somewhere. See which combo seems to autofocus better. Best would be to take your own SD card and shoot some with each then check them out on a computer. The motors are in the lenses, a lot of the processor power in the camera body, so the combination speed can vary from kit to kit.

  113. Carol F says:

    Thank you! I have been contemplating buying a DSLR for a couple years. Now that my kids are into sports and other activities, I have the fever again 🙂 This comparison is just what I needed.

  114. SaraR says:

    This was a great article. As someone who has dealt with both of these exact cameras, here is what I have come up with. Nikon takes better “still” shots and Canon takes better “action” shots. Nikon is more user friendly when it comes to the menu but Canon is great once you read the manual. Personally I rather the Canon but that is because I rather take the sports photos.
    Thanks for the information that you posted on here. It was helpful and I have sent this article to a relative that is looking for her first DSLR.

  115. Stuart Landes says:

    My D3100 is great on action shots. I take photos of roller coasters all of the time and I am able to freeze the trains no problem. Shutter priority works wonders.

  116. Lorraine says:

    That’s what I did. I narrowed my choices down to either Nikon or Canon, and at the time of purchase I got a much better deal on Nikon so went with that. I’m well pleased with my purchase, it was my first DSLR, I used it mainly in P mode for a while, then ventured into A or S, but now I’m mostly in Manual Mode, I’m enjoying having so much control.

  117. jasmine says:

    Hello I have a question regarding that Canon seems to be nice esp. on image quality which one is better

    1. Canon EOS Rebel T3i

    which one is cheaper but has more features and better image quality ? Or most used by people prefer choice ?
    reply back a.s.a.p thanks 😀

  118. These are successive iterations of the same basic camera, each one improving slightly over the former version. See what you can afford and take the plunge! I would suggest staying away from the T1i at this point since it’s the oldest design.

  119. Natalie says:

    I’m looking to get my first “nice” camera (been using my iPhone 6) which do you suggest would be better for moving objects (horses), low light shots, and nature shots? really want a good clear, crisp picture

  120. Natalie says:

    So I suppose I should ask which has a faster shutter speed? That’s really what I’m getting at

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