The Canon EOS Rebel T3i Versus the Nikon D5100

The Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

Despite the availability of a variety of DSLR manufacturers, the Canon versus Nikon debate is still going strong. Since the days of 35mm film, the two manufacturers have been close competitors. Traditionally, things seem to see-saw between the two, with each manufacturer becoming stronger for a while, before fading away to the other.

If you are not yet tied into either system, the choice of cameras can seem bewildering. In this article, we will take a look at the two manufacturers' mid-range consumer DSLR cameras: the Canon T3i and the Nikon D5100.

Which is the better buy? We'll take a look at the key points on each camera to help you make a more informed decision.

Editor's Note: Both of these camera models have since been discontinued and replaced with newer models that have similar features with higher resolution and a few new features, but both cameras continue to be available used and refurbished. As of early 2016, the newest Nikon equivalent to the D5100 is the D5500 and the latest upgrade to the Canon T3i is the Rebel T6i.

Resolution, Body, and Controls

Canon's T3i has 18MP of resolution compared to Nikon's 16.2MP. It is unlikely, though, that you will notice much difference in real-world terms.

Both cameras weigh about the same, with the Canon weighing just 0.35 ounces (10g) more. They are both sturdy little cameras and they feel substantial. The Canon's hand grip is perhaps marginally easier to use, but both cameras have articulated LCD screens.

When it comes to controls and ease of use, we feel that the Canon is still yards ahead of the Nikon.

The T3i has a four-way controller (which is a little on the small side), giving access to white balance, focus, drive modes, and picture styles. There is also a dedicated button for ISO, something which the Nikon D5100 is lacking. Existing Nikon users will also be confused by the re-design of control layout on the D5100 due to the articulated LCD screen.

The only place where the Canon's controls fall short is in the inexplicable change of functions of the 4-way controller once the camera is in Live View or Movie Mode. In these modes, the controller only allows for moving the AF-point around its nine points. This is confusing, to say the least.

Autofocus and AF Points

Both cameras have solid and reliable autofocus systems. The Nikon's speed remains reliant on whatever lens you are using as it has no in-body autofocus motor.

The Nikon's AF points are part of a far more sophisticated system than the Canon's. The D5100 has 11 points compared to the T3i's 9 points. The Nikon also has four different modes for using the AF points, whereas the Canon only has two.

Image Quality

While both cameras produce great images, the D5100 is just a little bit better in most respects.

The Canon produces excellent images in both RAW and JPEG formats. It copes very well at high ISOs, offering users the option to reduce noise to their own set trade-offs against image detail and quality. However, the T3i yet again has Canon's trademark problems in coping with artificial light when using auto white balance, as images are distinctly orange under tungsten lights. The T3i is also more prone to chromatic aberration than the D5100.

The Nikon also produces excellent images in both RAW and JPEG, and it does an even better job of keeping the noise down at high ISOs. Best of all, it does not seem to share the tendencies of other DSLRs to overexpose in high contrast situations. It also has better dynamic range and color depth than the Canon.

In Conclusion

We find the layout and control system of the Nikon confusing and somewhat lacking in key areas. However, image quality is where it counts. If you are new to digital cameras, then the Nikon has the edge.

Both cameras have their plus points, though, and users are unlikely to be disappointed by either machine.