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I am a novice photographer. I currently have a Nikon D5100, one kit lens, and a 50mm AF-s lens. I am thinking about switching to a canon t4i or maybe a t3i. I have had trouble shooting in manual mode and having it be in focus on the Nikon. I wait for the green light in the view finder to appear when turning the focus ring, but when I upload I find I have not caught the image in focus. (Yes, I have selected my focus point). Also, I am a little frustrated with the lens offerings for this model with the built in auto focus motor being included in so few lenses and having to pay more for them as well.

I am trying out a canon t4i right now. It is definitely louder, feels cheaper, but I like the dedicated buttons for WB and ISO and the touch screen and it seems a little easier to focus in manual mode. The question is will I be happier in the long run if I jump from Nikon to Canon? I don't really care about video in either model. Any thoughts on this?

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Have you enabled to Range Finder function on your D5100? It tells you when things are in focus and which direction to turn the ring when it is not. This is unique to Nikon and actually of great help when focusing manually. –  Itai Dec 3 '12 at 16:29
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Yes, I just discovered that feature and still playing with it. Do you own a D5100? Have you been happy with it? –  Kristy Dec 3 '12 at 19:11
    
@kristy - No, but I review cameras and have had nearly every DSLR in the last 7 years. The D5100 is entry-level, like all Rebels, which means a simpler interface and hence less efficient controls. If you are serious about taking control of your photography, I strongly suggest the next level up which is a D7000 for Nikon. If you do not mind changing brands, the best value is the Pentax K-30 which has a large 100% coverage viewfinder, dual control-dials and a weather-sealed body. –  Itai Dec 3 '12 at 22:04

3 Answers 3

Modern consumer grade DSLRs are hard to focus manually. The problem is (IMHO) that they all are designed for auto-focus. The focusing screen on every modern consumer DSLR that I've tried is just ground glass.

In olden times, focus screens had micro-prisms and split-prisms that made it easy to do manual focus. These screens don't work well with slow lenses (F4 or slower) which means they work poorly with all kit lenses. In addition, many low end DSLRs have penta-mirror prisms, which are darker that more expensive pentaprisms, so they pass less light and make manual focus harder.

Some consumer DSLR's allow you to change the focus screen, if you can find one. I've been looking for a proper micro-prism screen for my Canon 50D for two years, and while lots of stores list them, none have ever been in stock.

By all means, follow @dpolitt's advice, see Is there any significant difference between Nikon and Canon? for general brand conversations. Its old, and the details have changed, as each brand is very good at copying good ideas from the other.

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You have the D5100 and you are trying the T3i - so just choose the one that feels better to you and not whatever we recommend here.

As for manual focus, generally modern DSLRs are very hard to focus manually, they don't have a split-prisms focusing screen and the high resolution makes tiny focus misses visible in the final picture (entry level models are especially bad).

If you have time you can use "live-view focusing" it's extremely accurate and easy to do (turn on live-view, zoom all the way in and focus using the zoomed view), if you don't have the time than just maybe you should use auto-focus (at least until you get an high end camera with a better focusing screen)

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For me camera noise was a deal breaker when deciding between the mid-level Canon and Nikon.

Initially I was worried I'd miss the hard buttons for ISO and WB, but as it turned out, setting ISO manually is mostly pointless, at least so with the current sensor technology.

It is much more efficient to let the camera adjust the exposure with auto ISO and concentrate on composition and manually setting shutter speed & aperture instead.

Same goes with WB. Modern Auto WB is often very good, and if I don't like it I can always tweak it in PP (Note: I always shoot RAW).

As for manual focus - I agree, it is terrible with these tiny viewfinders. They are just not designed for manual focus by vision: besides their small size, they also do not display defocus properly. That's why one has to rely upon the green dot to focus reliably.

However, I've been told by a friend photographer that there exist 3rd party replacement focusing screens for many popular camera models, bringing the classic film camera focusing experience to these budget digital cameras.

These focusing screens cost in the vicinity of $100+. That might seem expensive (and I think it is), but it just might be a better investment for you compared to switching camera brand.

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