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I am very new to this and wondering if I would even notice a difference between a Nikon D3100 and Canon EOS 550D using the standard 18-55mm lens? The differences I can see are:

  • The Cannon is roughly $200 more expensive
  • The Cannon offers 18mp whereas the Nikon only offers 14mp

My first instinct is to get the Nikon and sacrifice the extra 4mp, in favour of the price, but I wish to hear an informed opinion on the subject.

share|improve this question
Without getting into brand wars, I'd suggest that this extends beyond those two brands as well — see What do Pentax, Sony, and Olympus DSLRs offer that differs from Canon and Nikon? – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:04
For a surprisingly civil and impartial comparison extending this to Canon vs. Nikon in general (not just those two current models) see Is there any significant difference between Nikon and Canon? – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:06
And in all cases, this is important background reading: How much do lens lineups vary across platforms? – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:08
mattdm is right, pentax for one has a vary nice range if you intend to remain in APS-C realm. Canon and Nikon will try to attract you towards their top-of-the-line products. – Berzemus Jun 14 '12 at 11:24
up vote 4 down vote accepted

For a beginner I'd say 4 megapixels is neither here nor there. The image quality of both cameras will be remarkably similar, and in fact the biggest differences will be ergonomics and price.

You're probably right to trust your instincts and go for the Nikon, maybe spend the $200 you've saved on a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a tripod. Before you do this it's worth going into a camera shop and holding both cameras, testing out the controls and seeing how easily you can navigate the menus.

For a beginner having a camera that is comfortable in your hand and easy to use is far more important than 4 megapixels.

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I agree, but want to argue against the idea that a few minutes in the store is significant. One really needs to spend a few weeks with a camera to get an idea on whether it's a good ergonomic fit. Sometimes, things which don't seem important initially turn out to be, things which seem awful turn out to be easy to adjust to, and things which don't even occur to you initially end up being most important. – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:12
@mattdm you can certainly tell if it fits in your hand or not! Spending a couple of weeks with each camera would be idea but I've never been to a shop that will let you walk out with two bodies without paying. If you know someone who is generous enough to lend you theirs then that's fantastic, but for a beginner holding it, even briefly, is better than comparing specs on a website. – Matt Grum Jun 14 '12 at 11:15
Yeah, it doesn't hurt, especially if one keeps the limitations of such a test in mind. And I wouldn't completely discount a certain model just because I can't find it in a store. Also of note but unrelated: if a store lets you try a camera, it's very rude to then go buy it online. – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:22
This may also be a good spot to plug the Gear Grant Program at this site. Even new users (with a few good questions and answers under their belt) can apply to be reimbursed for camera rentals, in exchange for asking more questions about it. – mattdm Jun 14 '12 at 11:24

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