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Choosing Between a Nikon D3100 vs Canon t2i (Canon EOS Rebel 550D)

Note: This article is somewhat outdated. You may want to check out this hub comparing the Nikon D5200 and the Canon t4i / 650D. You may also want to visit my new digital photography blog, Rockin’ Photogs.

If you’ve read even a little bit of this blog, you should know I’m a Canon person. I picked them, somewhat randomly, and never really thought about Nikon. Now that I’m invested in Canon, I’m pretty much stuck. Unless I plan on selling everything and buying a whole kit of Nikon gear, there’s not much point in me shopping around.

But that’s the key point – the initial choice can effect you for years to come. So, if you haven’t gone down either the Nikon or Canon road yet, you may want to consider your options. The Nikon D3100 and Canon t2i EOS Rebel 550D were both released in 2010 and are both still great entry level cameras. But, if you have to make a choice, how do they compare against each other?

Without getting into a huge Nikon vs. Canon argument, let’s just look at the direct comparison between these two cameras.

Price Point

The first thing we should address is the price difference. This will help you decide if the differences between the cameras actually merit investing in the more expensive camera. If not? Go with the cheaper one.

The Canon t2i costs $649.99 with a kit lens from Amazon, and $499.99 for the body alone. The Nikon D3100, on the other hand, is $549.99 with a kit lens, and about $425 for the body. Depending on how you purchase it, you’ll save up to $100 by going with the Nikon D3100 instead of the Canon EOS t2i 550D.

Resolution and Image Sensor

Basketball player with her hands up, after having just made a shot.Good, hard numbers are always a good place to compare. Here, the Canon t2i has a clear advantage. It’s an upgrade over the older Canon t1i, and the image sensor sports about 18 megapixels. The Nikon D3100, on the other hand, “only” has 14.2 megapixels. Yes, on paper, this clearly makes the Canon t2i “better.” However, if you’ve read my rant on how many megapixels you really need, you know this doesn’t matter a whole lot. 14.2 megapixels is probably more than enough for whatever you’re doing.

The ISO rating of the sensor, on the other hand, is potentially a huge difference. The Canon t2i offers standard ISO of up to 6400, whereas the Nikon D3100 only goes up to ISO 3,200 by default. On paper, this would seem to be a huge difference between the two cameras, as having a whole extra stop of light intensity is crucial if you’re going to be taking any pictures at indoor sporting events. But, both cameras have an option to expand their ISOs up to 12,800.

I’d like to see a side by side comparison of image quality of the two, but here’s an example of what the ISO 6,400 expansion looks like on an old Canon t1i. This is after some noise reduction in Lightroom. It is fairly grainy at 1:1, but once you noise reduce and shrink it, it’s a perfectly use-able photo.

Random Tidbits

Let’s wrap up with a few random tidbits. The Canon t2i has a much higher resolution LCD screen, making images and videos look much better when you preview them on camera. This doesn’t necessarily impact your photos, but it does impact the user experience. You get a much better idea of how sharp and nice the image is when you can see it in a higher resolution. Points for the Canon t2i on this one.

The Canon t2i offers an external microphone jack for those video people out there, while the Nikon D3100 has no external microphone. Useless for me, as I almost exclusively do still photography, but I’m sure that matters to some people. While we’re on the topic of video, the Canon t2i also offers a hi-def, 1080P video mode at 30 frames per second. The Nikon D3100, on the other hand, only films at 24 frames per second, and the Nikon D3100 doesn’t have the option to take 60 fps video like the Canon t2i does. To add insult to injury, the Canon t2i offers (mostly) manual video controls, while the Nikon D3100 is strictly auto.

Bottom Line – Which Is Right For You?

Now that we’ve established there is a price difference of about $100, are the differences in the camera enough to make you choose the Canon t2i over the Nikon D3100? On paper, it is clearly a “better” camera (unless you have a natural hatred of all things Canon), but that doesn’t mean it’s best for everyone.

If you’re going to be shooting video, I’d say definitely get the Canon t2i (or, read this comparison of the Canon t2i vs t3i and think about getting the newer Canon). Despite being released six months later than the Canon t2i, the Nikon D3100 has all of the video limitations of the earlier Canon EOS Rebel t1i. It doesn’t seem like they cared much about video when they put this one out.

If you’re not worried about that, and you’re just looking for a first digital SLR camera to play around with? The Nikon D3100 is a great camera, and it’s cheaper. $100 is a cost savings of about 15 to 20% at this low price point – not shabby. You still have a high resolution dSLR camera with full manual controls and similar low light capabilities. I wouldn’t pay $100 to go from 14 megapixels to 18.

Now, the other thing you may want to think about is … do you want to invest in Nikon or Canon? The body of lenses and speedlites available may alter your decision. That, however, is a much tougher nut to crack, and it’s a topic to cover a different day. Click on the links below to see the cameras on Amazon, and decide which one is best for you.

Filed Under: How to Choose a Good Camera



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About Digital Photography How To

Digital Photography How To is intended to be a guide to people learning how to use their digital SLR cameras. Three years ago, I had never picked up a camera; now, I produce a yearbook every year and I moonlight as a professional photographer.

I write this website to share what I've learned in that time. The topics will range from truly beginners topics, to tutorials for post processing, to resources for yearbook and graphic design, to thoughts on transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional. Keep up to date by subscribing to the RSS feed.

About the Author

Digital Photography How To is written by Brian Rock. In addition to being a photographer, he's an educator. He teaches high school history, he's the advisor of the school yearbook, and he trains his kids to do all of the photography for the yearbook.

You can connect with him directly on Google Plus.