Nikon D5100 vs Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D Side by Side
|May 8th, 2011 Nikon recently released the Nikon D5100 SLR, which serves an update to the Nikon D5000. The Nikon D5100 is designed to appeal to both novice and hobby photographers by offering a wide range of both automatic options and extended manual creative control.
The Nikon D5100 shares a fairly similar body design to the Nikon D5000, although receives a number of updated features, among them essentially the same 16 megapixel DX format CMOS sensor to the one incorporated in the popular higher end Nikon D7000.
Another addition is that the Nikon D5100 now features a larger 3-inch, 921K high resolution side mounted swivel LCD screen, versus the D5000 with a smaller 2.7-inch, and lower resolution (230K) bottom hinged swivel LCD screen (less versatile).
The other big news surrounding the Nikon D5100 is the upgraded video recording capabilities compared to the D5000. The Nikon D5100 now offers full HD movie recording complete with auto focus (AF) and selectable frame rates (1080P at up to 30 fps), and provides for the welcome ability of being able to plug in an optional external stereo microphone.
The Nikon D5100 headline features include:
• 16.2 MP DX format CMOS sensor similar to the Nikon D7000
As of today, the 18MP Canon Rebel T3i / 600D SLR is the closest competitor to the Nikon D5100. Both cameras feature a very similar feature set and are intended for the same target market including entry level to more advanced enthusiast photographers.We have now had the opportunity to test the Nikon D5100 versus the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D, and have put together a detailed comparison to show how these two models stack up against each other.
We begin by outlining the respective advantages of each camera complete with some sample images, and if you are looking to find out more detailed information about the specifications incorporated in these two cameras then jump directly to our Nikon D5100 versus Canon Rebel T3i side by side feature comparison further below.
The Canon Rebel T3i features a 18MP sensor compared to the Nikon D5100 with a 16.2MP sensor:The common assumption is that more is better and that the Canon Rebel T3i offers an advantage with its higher resolution sensor.
In order to fit 18 megapixels on an APS-C size sensor (22.3 x 14.9 mm) that is not as large as the DX format sensor (23.6 x 15.6 mm) found in the Nikon D5100, the pixels on the Rebel T3i sensor have to be smaller and packed closer together. As a result, the ‘pixel pitch’ (size of a pixel) on the Rebel T3i is 4.3 µm compared to the larger 4.78 µm pixel pitch on the D5100. Larger pixels offer enhanced light gathering ability.
‘Pixel density’ (or how closely together the pixels are located) is calculated by dividing the number of pixels on a sensor by the imaging area of the sensor. As such, the pixel density on the Rebel T3i / 600D is higher at 5.4MP / cm² versus 4.4MP / cm² on the Nikon D5100. There are a number of disadvantages associated with higher pixel density sensors, including; lower dynamic range, reduced high ISO performance, diffraction issues, and increased possibility of camera shake.
Independent DxOMark Lab Sensor tests results for the Nikon D5100 versus the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D support these arguments, showing that the Nikon D5100 delivers better RAW sensor output compared to the Rebel T3i, including improved colour depth, dynamic range, and high ISO capability. (See features comparison further below)
An additional consideration is that a camera with a higher resolution sensor needs to be matched with a lens that can provide the necessary resolving power required to capture the finer details in a scene. In order to make the most out of a higher resolution sensor’s capabilities, this typically means that you will have to invest in higher end (more expensive) lenses. Further below, we examine how suitable the Nikon and Canon standard 18-55mm zoom kit lenses are to their respective cameras.
The D5100 offers ISO boost up to 25,600 ISO and better high ISO performance compared to the T3i: The Nikon D5100 offers high-ISO boost settings up to 25,600 ISO in 1/3 stop increments from 6400 ISO. The Canon Rebel T3i in comparison provides a single stop ISO boost setting to 12,800 ISO (from 6400 ISO).
Both camera’s offer an ‘Auto ISO’ where the camera determines the most suitable ISO setting based on the scene at hand. With both models you can cap the maximum ISO sensitivity that the camera can select when Auto ISO is enabled.
The Nikon D5100 also offers an ‘Auto ISO Sensitivity Control’ feature which is activated in the camera’s shooting menu. When On is selected, ISO sensitivity is automatically adjusted if optimal exposure can not be achieved at the ISO sensitivity that has been set by the user. You can also select a ‘Minimum shutter speed’ value where the camera increases the ISO sensitivity if the chosen minimum shutter speed can not be attained with the current ISO setting.
Based on our tests, the Nikon D5100 offers significantly better output compared to the Canon Rebel T3i in terms of high ISO performance. The Nikon D5100 delivers more pleasing image quality with less digital noise (grain like effect) and offers better retention of colour and fine detail when shooting at higher ISO settings.
These improvements can be attributed to the Nikon D5100’s sensor design and the camera’s image processing capabilities with respect to noise reduction. Below we compare the image quality provided by the Nikon D5100 versus the Canon Rebel T3i at 6400 ISO and 3200 ISO.
Better results could be obtained by shooting in RAW and post processing the images in software, something that most users for this class of SLR cameras do not tend to do. Apart from having to take the time to process the images after the fact, shooting in RAW also results in much larger image files compared to shooting in the more common JPEG format.
The sensor in the Nikon D5100 offers a higher signal to noise ratio (see definition under the graph) compared to the Canon Rebel T3i. The DxOMark test results comparing the signal to noise ratio from the Nikon D5100 versus the Rebel T3i / 600D are shown below.
The Canon T3i and the Nikon D5100 both offer a 3-inch high resolution swivel LCD monitor: The Canon T3i features a 3.0-inch Clear View swivel LCD monitor with a wide 3:2 aspect ratio designed to match the camera’s sensor. In comparison, the Nikon D5100 incorporates a 4:3 aspect ratio swivel LCD monitor with approximately 640 x 480 pixels versus the roughly 720 x 480 LCD pixel array on the Rebel T3i.
On both the T3i and the D5100, each LCD pixel includes three individual colored dots (red, green and blue – RGB) making for a total of about 1.04 million dots on the Rebel T3i monitor compared to approximately 920,000 dots for the screen on the Nikon D5100 (640 x 480 x 3 RGB dots).
The LCD monitors on the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D feature a similar wide viewing angle (170°) with anti-scratch and anti-reflective properties and provide 100% coverage. The monitor brightness can be adjusted on both cameras depending on viewing conditions.
Both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i offer a swivel type LCD screen for capturing images or movies at different and unusual angles. The LCD monitor can be swung around on both models and stored against the camera to protect the screen when not in use.
Comparing the LCD display on the cameras side by side, we find the Canon Rebel T3i’s LCD monitor delivers a more pleasing colour, contrast and brightness rendition of the scene compared to when viewed on the Nikon D5100’s monitor.
The Canon Rebel T3i provides for up to a 10x magnified view when using manual focus in Live View mode making it easier to verify focus. The Nikon D5100 in comparison provides for up to a 7.7x magnification when manually focusing in LV mode.
Although the Nikon D5100 offers four Live View AF modes, the camera does not offer the faster type of phase-detect autofocus. The four contrast-detect AF Live View modes available on the D5100 include: 1) Face Priority with AF Face Tracking, 2) Wide Area AF, 3) Normal Area AF and 4) Subject Tracking AF (tracks moving subject)
The Rebel T3i offers added video recording features compared to the Nikon D5100: Both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i provide for the ability to record Full HD movies at 1080p (1920 x 1080) with sound at selectable frame rates. Movies can also be recorded in 720p HD or at SD quality (smaller file sizes).
On the Nikon D5100, movies can be recorded by activating live view and pressing the dedicated record button with the shooting mode dial set to any position. On the Canon Rebel T3i, you have to make sure to set the camera’s shooting mode dial to the movie recording position, before you can begin to capture video using the live view one touch movie recording button.
At 1080p resolution, the Nikon D5100 can record HD movies up to approx. 20 min in length per clip compared to approximately 11 min per clip for the Canon Rebel T3i (based on a 4GB limit per file). Both camera’s record movies in the MOV. format (MPEG-4)
The Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i both offer Auto Focus (AF) during movie capture, although with either camera the focus is fairly slow and not so well suited for capturing faster and randomly moving subjects. Manual focus is a good option.
The D5100 and the Rebel T3i both offer audio level recording control, with the Rebel T3i providing more advanced sound control settings and the added feature of a wind noise reduction function. Both camera’s also provide a plug-in for attaching an optional stereo microphone.
Manual exposure control during movie recording (favoured by advanced videographers) is a welcome option with the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D, and is a feature that is lacking on the Nikon D5100.
The Canon Rebel T3i also offers ‘Movie Digital Zoom’, and a ‘Video Snapshot’ feature. Unlike standard digital zoom for still images, Movie Digital Zoom crops the video image directly from the CMOS sensor at Full HD resolution to preserve video quality and still provide additional telephoto power (3x-10x) beyond just the lens.
Canon’s new Video Snapshot feature borrows some innovation from Canon’s VIXIA line of camcorders for capturing, assembling and playing fun-to-watch video clips. Video Snapshot enables users to capture a series of two-, four- or eight-second video clips automatically. The scenes are assembled by the camera into continuous Video Snapshot Album files for easy playback and can even be further edited in camera or through Canon’s Video Snapshot Task software.
In our opinion, both camera’s are very capable of delivering good quality video, while the Canon Rebel T3i offers an advantage in terms of added movie recording features and the level of control provided.
The Nikon AF-S DX 18-55mm VR zoom kit lens outperforms the Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens: the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Nikkor zoom is an entry level kit lens that offers good performance and image quality when combined with the D5100.
The standard AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G Nikkor zoom lens features an AF-S motor for faster and quieter focusing versus the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens, which does not incorporate an ultrasonic motor (USM) like most higher end Canon lenses.
The Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit zoom lens does not appear as sharp from corner to corner, imperfections that are highlighted even further when used with a higher resolution camera like the Rebel T3i. The lens does not provide sufficient resolving power to do justice to the capabilities of the T3i’s sensor. The Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens is also more prone to producing chromatic aberrations which tend to show up as coloured fringes around the edges of brighter highlight areas of an image.
Like the professional Nikon D3x and higher end Nikon D300s, the D5100 has a built in feature that compensates for lateral chromatic aberration. This feature facilitates the use of the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm VR with the D5100. The Nikon D5100’s “Lateral Chromatic Aberration Correction” function serves to reduce moiré and provides optimized edge sharpness providing a practical advantage with any lens.
In the sample image crops shown above (taken from original images viewed at 200%), the Canon Rebel T3i with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens produced some chromatic aberrations (blue colour fringe visible around the edges of the church roof), which are absent in the image taken of the same scene with the Nikon D5100 and the Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm VR zoom.
While the results from the Rebel T3i with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens are not awful, the technology in the Nikon D5100 combined with the AF-S 18-55mm VR kit lens produces a better image quality file.
If you are looking for a good secondary lens for telephoto applications, we would recommend the Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6G VR zoom lens for the D5100 or the EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS for the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D as two good reasonably priced options.
The Nikon D5100 offers an ‘Auto Distortion Control’ feature: Select ‘On’ to reduce barrel distortion when shooting with wide-angle lenses and to reduce pincushion distortion when shooting with longer telephoto lenses.
In the sample images below, we tested the Nikon D5100 with the AF-S 18-55mm kit lens at full wide-angle 18mm coverage with ‘Auto Distortion Control’ set to the default Off position (as seen in the image on the left), and then with ‘Auto Distortion Control’ set to On (as shown in the image on the right).
Noticeable barrel distortion is present with the D5100’s ‘Auto Distortion Control’ disabled (image is curved outward). By activating the ‘Auto Distortion Control’ feature before taking the picture, the camera did a good job at correcting for the distortion exhibited by the kit lens.
As can be seen in the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D test image (above left), the Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens delivers noticeable barrel distortion under the same circumstances. The Canon Rebel T3i does not offer any type of in-camera lens distortion correction.
With the Nikon D5100, you can even apply ‘Distortion Control’ after an image has already been captured by using the camera’s ‘Retouch Menu’ to post-process the image and save a corrected copy of the original file.
The Nikon D5100 can capture a greater number of continuous shots compared to the Canon Rebel T3i:The Canon T3i can capture images at 3.7 frames per second (fps) with a buffer that will allow up to 6 RAW or 34 JPEG images in a burst of shooting.
In comparison, the Nikon D5100 can capture images at 4 fps with a buffer that will allow up to 16 frames in RAW or 100 JPEG’s in a burst. Being able to shoot around three times as many frames in a burst can have significant advantages when trying to capture that precise ‘action’ shot.
The Canon Rebel T3i provides a greater number of dedicated feature control buttons versus the Nikon D5100: The Canon Rebel T3i / 600D provides four buttons surrounding the ‘SET’ button on the rear of the camera, which allow for direct access to changing frequently used settings when using the camera in the manual P,S,A,M exposure control shooting modes.
Pushing the top button displays the White Balance (WB) settings menu, the left button activates the Auto Focus (AF) mode settings menu, the bottom button brings up the camera’s Picture Style menu, and pushing the left button displays the Drive mode menu, including self -timer options.
In order to be able to adjust these settings on the Nikon D5100, you first push the <i> button (located to the right of the viewfinder) which brings up the camera’s ‘Quick Settings Menu’ screen on the LCD monitor, and then use the 4-way control pad surrounding the ‘OK’ button to select the feature you wish to adjust.
The Canon Rebel T3i / 600D also features a “Quick Settings Menu” which is accessed by simply pushing the ‘Q’ button located to the right of the LCD monitor.
With either camera, functions that can be adjusted in the Quick Settings menus varies on the selected shooting mode. The screen grabs above show the settings that are available when the D5100 and the Rebel T3i are set to Aperture priority exposure mode.
In this case, the Nikon D5100 provides settings for adjusting the following camera functions; Aperture, Image Quality, White Balance, ISO, Drive Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, Metering, Active D-Lighting, Bracketing, Picture Control, Exposure Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation and Focus Area.
In the same shooting mode, the Canon Rebel T3i ‘Quick Settings’ menu provides fast access to changing the following settings; Aperture, ISO, Exposure Compensation, Picture Styles, White Balance (WB), Auto Lighting Optimizer, Focus Mode, Drive Mode, Metering, and Image Quality.
The Nikon D5100 offers a programmable Function (Fn) button located on the front side of the camera. The Fn button can be customized to provide fast access to adjust the settings for a particular feature on the camera.
One of the following functions can be assigned using the camera’s custom function setting f1, after which it can be quickly activated by pushing the D5100’s “Self-Timer / Fn” button:
• Self-timer (default)
The ‘SET’ button located on the back of the Canon Rebel T3i can also be customized to provide fast access to an assigned feature. One of the following functions can be assigned using custom function C.Fn-10 and then quickly activated by pushing the camera’s “SET” button:
• Disabled (default)
The Live View feature on the Nikon D5100 is activated by using a sliding lever located on the top of the camera next to the main shooting mode dial. A separate one touch movie recording button is located on the grip portion of the camera closer to the shutter release button (off / on switch).
The Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D provides a one touch live view activation button on the back of the camera which also doubles as a one-touch movie recording button when the camera is set to movie shooting mode.
The Canon Rebel T3i / 600D offers a dedicated ISO control button on the top of the camera versus the Nikon D5100 which offers a dedicated exposure compensation button in roughly the same position. The ‘DISP.’ button on the Rebel T3i and the ‘info’ button on the D5100 serve a similar purpose, which is to activate the LCD menu display and control certain related functions.
The D5100’s main control wheel (used in adjusting camera settings such as shutter speed and aperture) is found on the back of the camera on the top right side. The main control wheel on the Canon Rebel T3i is located on the top grip portion of the camera, just below the shutter release button.
On the Nikon D5100 when holding the camera in a natural fashion you use your thumb to turn the control wheel compared to using your index finger to turn the control dial on the Rebel T3i.
The Canon Rebel T3i provides for a vertical release battery grip accessory option, which in our opinion also makes the camera more balanced and natural to hold, especially with a longer telephoto lens attached. The Canon BG-E8 can hold one or two Canon LP-E8 Li-Ion rechargeable batteries or 6 commonly available AA type batteries.
Factoring in the sensor size and resulting crop factor difference between the two camera’s, the ‘real’ variance in viewfinder size is approx. 2% (Nikon D5100 crop factor is 1.5x compared to a crop factor of 1.6x for the Rebel T3i).
The Nikon D5100 provides enhanced shutter durability with a shutter mechanism that is rated up to 100,000 exposures. Canon does not provide official specifications on the durability of the shutter built into the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D.
Note: In response to our past request for a shutter durability rating with respect to the Canon Rebel T2i, Canon Canada provided us with the following reply:
When we in turn referenced another web site claiming to have received official shutter ratings for Canon Rebel cameras, our Canon contacts reconfirmed the above:
Nikon D5100 SRS Provides Enhanced Auto Focus, Metering and White Balance vs. the Canon Rebel T3i:Incorporated in Nikon’s higher end SLR models like the Nikon D7000, D300s and professional D3s, Nikon’s Scene Recognition System is also featured in the D5100.
This technology analyzes subject information from a database containing more than 30,000 images to optimize focus, exposure, i-TTL flash exposure and white balance. The Scene Recognition System reads data from the 420-pixel 3D Color Matrix Meter RGB sensor that detects and examines the scene’s brightness and color data and then optimizes the camera’s performance prior to the actual exposure.
The Nikon D5100’s 11-point AF system offers wider autofocus coverage across the frame. The D5100 also provides added AF-area modes versus the Rebel T3i. The AF area modes on the D5100 include;
1) Single-area AF: manually select one of the 11 focus points
2) Dynamic-area AF: select one of the 11 focus points. If the subject briefly leaves the selected focus point, the camera will focus based on information from the surrounding points.
3) Auto-area AF:the D5100 detects the subject using information from all 11 focus points and automatically focuses on it.
4) 3D Focus Tracking (11-area): the D5100 focuses on a subject using a selected focus point. Once focusing is achieved with the selected focus point, the focus point automatically changes to track the subject even if it moves or composition is changed (while the shutter-release button is pressed halfway).
The Nikon D5100 provides enhanced autofocus accuracy by utilizing color and brightness information from its 420-pixel RGB sensor. When shooting in Auto-area AF mode, the camera quickly focuses on the main subject by detecting foreground, background and subject position.
The Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D offers the same 9 point AF system found in the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. The camera provides two focus point selection modes, including;
1) Manual AF Point Selection: select one of 9 focus points
2) Automatic AF Point Selection: if the subject moves away from the center AF point, focus tracking continues as long as the subject is covered by another AF point
Although the Rebel T3i offers a competent AF system, the Nikon D5100’s autofocus system provides an advantage in terms of the technologies and features that are offered, which assist in delivering a greater degree of consistency in achieving and maintaining AF accuracy. Based on our comparison tests, the Nikon D5100 also performed better when focusing under low light conditions compared to the T3i .
In terms of White Balance (WB), both camera’s provide a user-friendly ‘Auto WB’ setting or the ability to select from a range of manual ‘Preset’ WB settings. With the D5100 you can create and store a Custom WB setting by measuring WB under the given lighting conditions using a white card or you can match Custom WB to an existing image. The Rebe T3i only allows you to create and store a manual Custom WB setting based on an existing image. Both camera’s provide the option of tweaking WB preset settings in the Blue / Amber and Magenta / Green range.
Nikon D5100’s Auto white balance control provides for a high degree of WB accuracy by combining with the camera’s Scene Recognition System to analyze the light sources in each scene, and prior to capture cross-referencing this information with 5,000 actual picture data examples from over 20,000 images in the cameras onboard white balance database.
Nikon’s 3D Color Matrix Metering II has developed a reputation for delivering consistently well-balanced exposures — even in lighting conditions that confuse other systems. 3D Color Matrix Meter II takes into account the scene’s contrast and brightness, the subject’s distance (via a D- or G-type NIKKOR lens), the color of the subject within the scene and RGB color values in every section of the scene.
The 3D Color Matrix Metering II system in the Nikon D5100 uses the Scene Recognition System to evaluate the highlights, delivering even more light metering precision. The meter then accesses a database of over 30,000 actual images to determine the best exposure for the scene.
The Canon T3i incorporates a 63-zone iFCL dual metering sensor similar to the EOS 7D. The iFCL system uses Focus, Colour and Luminance information to determine exposure. The Rebel T3i’s 9 focus points provide distance information to the metering system to determine proximity to the subject and allow the algorithm to weight the exposure accordingly.
Typically, metering sensors are more sensitive to red subjects which can lead to overexposure. The T3i / 600D combats this with the dual layer sensor, which has one layer sensitive to red and green light and one that is sensitive to blue and green light. The metering algorithm then compares the level of the two layers and adjusts the meter reading accordingly.
Based on our tests, the 420-segment 3D matrix metering system II found in the D5100 offers a higher consistency of exposure accuracy versus the 63-zone iFCL metering system in the T3i / 600D, and provides an advantage in difficult lighting conditions. For more novice users that will lean towards utilizing automatic settings, the exposure metering system on the Nikon D5100 is more likely to deliver the desired results.
The D5100’s Active D-Lightingand HDR mode technologies provide extended dynamic range beyond the capabilities of the Canon T3i’s Auto Lighting Optimizer feature: The Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i both incorporate technologies designed to expand the camera’s dynamic range (ability to preserve detail in highlights and shadows).
Nikon’s ‘Active D-lighting’ feature controls for highlight and shadow detail and adjusts exposure according to the scene. The Rebel T3i features ‘Highlight Tone Priority’ which processes for highlights and ‘Auto Lighting Optimizer’ which adjusts for shadows and highlights using tone curves.
When the Rebel T3i’s “Highlight Tone Priority” mode is enabled via the Custom function menu, the ‘Auto Lighting Optimizer’ function is automatically disabled at the same time.
By applying different technological approaches towards achieving dynamic range expansion, the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i do not produce the same type of results, as demonstrated in our Nikon D5100 versus Canon Rebel T3i sample shots below (both camera’s outfitted with their respective 18-55mm standard kit zoom lenses).
The Nikon D5100’s Active D-Lighting feature in combination with the camera’s 3D Matrix metering system provides a clear advantage compared to the results from the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D. The Canon T3i delivered significant blown highlights in this test with considerable loss of detail in highlight areas versus the D5100.
Both the Canon ‘Auto Lighting Optimizer’ and the Nikon ‘Active D-Lighting’ feature are activated in the shooting menu. The screen grabs below show the respective dynamic range optimizing menu settings for the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D.
Nikon’s Active D-Lighting feature offers six settings, including; Auto, Low, Normal, High, Extra High, and Off, compared to Canon’s Auto Lighting Optimizer which offers four settings, including; Off, Low, Standard and Strong.
With the D5100 you can eve apply D-Lighting to an image that has already been captured. The in-camera processed image is then saved as a copy so that the original image is left intact. This feature is accessible in the Nikon D5100’s ‘Retouch Menu’ outlined further below.
The Nikon D5100 also offers a new High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode, which combines two exposures to form a single image that captures a wide range of tones from shadows to highlights, even with high-contrast subjects.
The exposure differential is selectable from Auto, 1 EV, 2 EV and 3 EV. The boundaries between the two images can also be smoothed (the degree is selectable from High, Normal and Low).
HDR mode is suitable for stationary subjects such as landscapes and still life, and the use of a tripod is recommended. HDR is most effective when used with Matrix metering. It can not be used to record NEF (RAW) images. The flash can not be used while HDR is in effect.
The Nikon D5100 offers an advantage in terms of flash exposure control compared to the Canon Rebel T3i: Both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i incorporate a built-in flash. Although the Canon Rebel T3i’s Speedlite flash offers a higher Guide Number (more power) and enhanced features, such as being able to act as a wireless external flash trigger, the Nikon D5100 provides a greater consistency in delivering well balanced flash exposures.
The side by side image samples below are the results of a built-in flash test between the D5100 and the T3i, intended to illustrate how the two camera’s are likely to perform in a fill-flash type situation.
The Canon Rebel T3i is the first Rebel to offer an Integrated Speedlite Transmitter which allows for wireless flash control of optional external speedlites using the built-in flash. You can control up to two groups of flashes directly from the camera, selecting from among four channels. An ‘Easy Wireless’ mode is also provided that makes it simpler for beginners to explore wireless flash photography.
In order to be able to do wireless flash photography with the Nikon D5100 you will need an optional compatible external Speedlight unit mounted on the camera to act as a master flash, or invest in a Nikon SU-800 Wireless flash transmitter as the master controller (a close to $300 CDN option).
The Nikon D5100 features an AF-assist illuminator beam which aids flash photography in dim light by projecting a pattern of light so that the camera can focus. The beam is also used for redeye reduction.
The Canon Rebel T3i / 600D uses a multiple strobe burst from the built-in flash to illuminate the subject under low light conditions. The strobe from the flash has a tendency to make subjects blink before you take the picture since the AF-assist pre-flashes are so bright. The strobe may also be seen as an interference by others depending on the situation.
The built-in flash on the Rebel T3i needs to be raised in order for the low light AF-assist system to work. Under similar conditions, the flash can be left down on the Nikon D5100 since the AF-assist beam operates independently.
Nikon D5100 battery EN-EL14 provides approx. 50% more shots per charge versus the Canon Rebel T3i LP-E8 battery: The Nikon D5100 can capture up to about 850 shots per charge using the supplied Nikon EN-EL14 rechargeable battery (50% with built-in flash), based on CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) test standards.
In comparison, the Rebel T3i can capture up to 470 shots per charge with its Canon LP-E8 rechargeable battery under the same test conditions.
Dedicated GPS unit GP-1 accessory available for the Nikon D5100 supports “Geotagging”: By tagging your photos with geotags you will not be left wondering down the road “Where was that picture taken?” The Nikon GP1 works by receiving signals from a number of satellites in space. Through triangulation, the camera will “know” where it is on the surface of the Earth and record the latitude and longitude and altitude in the meta data on pictures.
Once the GPs data is stored, images can be plotted on a map in Nikon View NX software or on-line at myPicturetown.com, as well as many other programs and web sites.
The Nikon D5100 offers a greater number of custom options settings compared to the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D:the Nikon D5100 features 20 custom functions compared to 11 on the Canon Rebel T3i.
For quick in-camera edits without the need of a computer, the Nikon D5100 features a built-in “Retouch Menu’. Available options include:
• D-Lighting: brightens shadows for dark or backlit photographs (retouched image saved as a new file)
The D5100 also offers a special effects mode (applies to stills and movies). Simply set the shooting mode dial to the ‘EFFECTS” position, and then rotate the command dial to select one of seven options, including;
• Night Vision: Enables night shooting up to 102400 ISO. Records black and white images
The Canon Rebel T3i does not offer a “Retouch Menu”. The Canon T3i does provide for some in-camera post-processing options found in the camera’s playback menu under the heading ‘Creative Filters’. The available options include;
• Grainy B&W: gives a dramatically gritty, hard-bitten look
The interface connections on the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i are found on the side of either camera. All of the D5100’s connections are found under a hinged rubber door, compared to on the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D where the connections are accessed behind one of two rubber doors.
The connections found on the D5100 include; USB interface, Audio Video (A/V) RCA, HDMI socket (type C), optional GP-1 GPS accessory jack, and a plug-in for using an optional external stereo microphone.
The connections found under the larger rubber door (closer to the LCD hindge) on the Canon Rebel T3i include; USB Interface, Audio Video (A/V) RCA, HDMI socket. The second smaller rubber door protects the camera’s wired remote shutter release jack (use optional Canon Remote RS60 E3 ), and a plug-in for using an optional external stereo microphone.
The Canon Rebel T3i provides a dedicated Depth of Field preview button and a Mirror Lock Up function: The depth of field preview button on the Rebel T3i allows you to confirm the depth of field (how much of the area in front and behind your main subject will be in focus) before you take the picture.
The T3i’s ‘Mirror Lock Up’ feature found in the Custom Settings menu (C.Fn 8), allows users to lock up the camera’s mirror prior to taking the picture, minimizing chances of image blur occurring when the mirror flips up.
The Nikon D5100 does not offer a dedicated depth of field preview button. As a work around, depth of field can be verified in ‘Live View’ mode using either Program, Aperture or Shutter Priority exposure mode and judging the results on the camera’s LCD monitor prior to taking the shot.
The D5100 does offer an Exposure Delay Mode (Custom Function d4), which is designed to mimic a mirror lock up feature. When On is selected, the shutter release is delayed until about 1s after the shutter-release button is pressed and the mirror is raised. Using the camera’s Live View mode is another viable option since in this case the mirror is already raised.
The Nikon D5100 offers ‘Multiple Exposure’ and ‘Image Overlay’ options (not available on the T3i): The Nikon D5100 offers a multiple exposure mode which allows the user to set the camera to capture 2 or 3 images (RAW) and combine them into one image for a creative effect. An auto gain feature is available.
It is also possible to combine images that have already been captured by using the ‘Image Overlay’ setting in the camera’s Retouch Menu. Image overlay combines two existing NEF (RAW) photographs to create a single picture that is saved separately from the originals.
After spending the last four weeks comparing the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D digital SLR’s and shooting countless of images, there is no doubt that both cameras are capable of delivering good results in terms of both still and movie quality. If you already have an investment in Nikon or Canon AF lenses, the choice should be easy.
For those however considering to purchase a camera with the standard kit lens, we would recommend the Nikon D5100 kit with the AF-S DX 18-55mm VR zoom as offering the best solution, since the results delivered by the Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II zoom lens when matched with a high resolution camera like the Rebel T3i display a fair amount of weakness in comparison.
In general, the Nikon D5100 with the standard Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR zoom offered better performance compared to the Canon Rebel T3i with the EF-S 18-55mm F/3.5-.5.6 IS II zoom kit lens. This is not only as a result of better optical lens design in the Nikon AF-S 18-55mm VR, but also because the lens is a more suitable match for the D5100’s sensor. Another factor is that the D5100 incorporates technologies such as automatic ‘Chromatic Aberration Correction’ which are specifically designed to enhance lens performance.
Irrespective of the lens used, the Nikon D5100 offers better sensor output compared to the Canon Rebel T3i, especially in terms of minimizing digital noise when shooting at high ISO settings. The Nikon D5100 sensor offers improved colour depth, dynamic range and high ISO capability versus the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D, as supported by our own and DxOMark Labs sensor comparison tests.
If being able to shoot digital SLR type HD movies is an important requirement, then the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D offers advantages over the Nikon D5100 by providing manual exposure and added sound control features desired by more advanced users.
With respect to handling and ergonomics, the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D offers a number of nice features versus the D5100, including; a brighter and more accurate colour LCD screen, additional dedicated one touch control buttons, a slightly larger viewfinder and provides for the ability to add an optional vertical release battery grip for added stability and comfort.
In terms of the menu displays, we personally prefer the menu system on the Nikon D5100, written in plain language and easy to navigate. That is not to say that we could not get used to the menu system on the T3i, which still serves the purpose well.
In general, we found the Nikon D5100 offered a greater consistency in delivering good image quality versus the Canon Rebel T3i. We attribute this to the more advanced technologies built-in to the Nikon D5100, including; the sensor design (borrowed from the higher end Nikon D7000), the 420-segment 3D Matrix metering system, 11-point Auto focus, and the incorporation of Nikon’s Scene Recognition System and EXPEED 2 image processing.
While the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D offers a number of impressive advanced features, the camera’s core technologies do not match the capabilities provided by the Nikon D5100 with respect to sensor performance, metering, autofocus, and image processing ability. Since these factors are key determinants of image quality, the Nikon D5100 provides an edge, and delivers a greater consistency of enhanced image quality versus the Canon Rebel T3i as seen in our side by side comparison tests.
|• Nikon D5100 SLR Kit with AF-S 18-55mm VR||
|• Canon Rebel T3i Kit with EF-S 18-55mm IS II||