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I am thinking of my buying my first DSLR and have narrowed down to D3200 and D5100. Given that their price is the same, I am having a tough time figuring out which one to buy:

  • D5100 is the more advanced series of the two
  • D5100 has the swivel screen (that makes it easier to take photographs in certain situations where you cannot see the fixed screen when taking a photo)
  • D3200 is the newer one, has more mega pixels (which I don't care about, as I am not going to either take large prints or crop a lot)
  • D3200 is wifi enabled (thats great, but doesnt improve photo quality)
  • D3200 has the newer image processing chip - expeed 3

Now this is where I get flummoxed - does the expeed 3 make enough of a difference? Does it improve image quality enough to overtake the quality of a more advanced series of camera.

D5200 is out my budget - or rather I spend the extra money on a lens than a costlier body, so 5200 is out question.

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1  
We have a few questions already comparing these two, see: photo.stackexchange.com/search?q=d3200+or+d5100 In particular: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/26040/… –  dpollitt Jul 21 '13 at 17:44
    
Having reviewed both the D5100 and D3200, the former proved to be better. Not only is the D5100 less noisy at the same ISO but its metering is better and more consistent. Not sure if this has to do with Expeed 3 vs 2 but it makes a huge difference outside of manual mode. –  Itai Jul 21 '13 at 21:11
    
Based on inputs for MattiaG and Unapiedra, I think the difference in processing power is probably not important enough. And the features of HDR, time lapse photography are good enough for me, hence I have decided to buy the 5100, and I am going to buy that tomorrow. Thanks a lot everybody! –  coderSam Jul 24 '13 at 15:42
    
The "Expeed" is just a fancy name for the CPU in the camera. The Expeed does the image processing and movie functions. There are other chips (that are every model) that do the auto focus and matrix metering etc. the latest Expeed are a different type of CPU. But they are run similar software. –  Simeon Pilgrim Jul 13 at 10:39

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

While I don't think that your question is important when choosing your camera, I think it cannot be answered.

Not the Answer

  1. Both cameras take great pictures with their respective processors.
  2. Other factors could be more important to you.
    • Get the D5100, if you liked to use either:
      • Bracketing (for HDR or something else)
      • Timelapse functionality (built into the D5100; you could buy an external adaptor for the D3200)
      • Swivel screen for video, use on a tripod, or near the ground. (I find that very useful!)
    • Get the D3200 if you like more megapixel or a bit of additional zoom (through cropping). Get the D3200 if you want wifi.

Answer

Except for Image Quality, I don't think it can be answered (at least by me, now) because we know too little about the two processors.

Speed

The Expeed 3 is said to be quicker (but how much?) and "better". However, the D3200 has more megapixels and needs more processing power, so the gain in speed is required! Given that both cameras can shoot 4 fps in burst mode, I would assume that there is no real speed increase that isn't also offset by the higher pixel count on the newer D3200.

Also notice, that one only notices speed improvements if they are above 30%. This is a rule of thumb that is used with computers. If your change in the system gives you only 10% improvement but has some downsides, it is not worth doing.

Image Quality

The image quality is exactly the same. Okay, not true. But unless you know exactly what you want to do (i.e. only shoot portraits), it might as well be the same.

Because of the higher density sensor of the D3200 the individual pixels are smaller and thus you loose high ISO performance and dynamic range. The better processor seems to keep up with it, though!

The following data are from DxOMark and show three categories of image quality of the two cameras. Essentially the values are almost the same. If you decide that good high ISO performance is important to you, that the improvement of the D5100 become relevant to your decision making, I suggest you pick a completely different camera (used D700 for example but see DxO mark for that).

               D3200     |  D5100
_________________________|_______________
Color Depth:   24.1 bit  | 23.5 bit
Dynamic Range: 13.2 EV   | 13.6 EV
Low light ISO: 1131      | 1183

Source: D3200, D5100

Autofocus

I have not found any information about the difference in autofocus. I would guess it is about the same.

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I am choosing this as the answer as I agree that more processing power is needed for a higher MP camera and also on the 30% rule. Also you have tilted my opinion to 5100 because of HDR and timelapse highlights. –  coderSam Jul 24 '13 at 15:33
    
The image processing is done in dedicated part of hardware. So CPU is irrelevant. The write performance of your SD card blocks the buffering. For everything else they are over spec thus running partially idle. The FPS is limited in software. –  Simeon Pilgrim Jul 13 at 10:44

When people talk about entry level Nikon DSLRs many tend to assume the "5000" series are more advanced cameras if compared to the "3000". In my opinion this is a misconception, as it's more about different than better or worse, and I would surely pick a D3100 (which I own and love) or D3200 instead of a D5000, D5100 or D5200.

What makes a camera actually better in the DSLR world? Access to most functions w/o entering the menu, how it handles, some advanced feature, better compatibility, sturdier build. Image quality in itself is more than acceptable across 99% of brands and models, even for professionals, if one knows how to get what he/she wants. Extreme speed, AF performance and real difference in image quality with regard to resolution and noise are only found in top-level cameras which are too expensive, complex, heavy and big for most people. People who need to rely heavily on their camera to earn a living often buy the best they can afford, yet that's another story.

See any "real world" features actually implemented in the 5000 series while lacking in the 3000? Two button card formatting? Both don't have this. Real difference in resolution and AF system? No. AF mode, ISO, metering mode, WB selection at the touch of a button? None. Depth of field preview? No. Internal AF motor? No. Two different control wheels for shutter and aperture, also useful for other settings? No. A real, big, fully customizable Fn button? No. A tiny partially customizable Fn button? Yes, the same on both. Water/dust resitance? Same. Difference in viewfinder size, grip size, overall build quality? Not much, really.

My answer to your question: the 5100 and 5200 are quite the same as the 3100 and 3200, only a bit larger, uglier and more expensive, with a swiveling screen added. You do the math.

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You are quite right. However, three functions for me make a difference and I am very happy to have a D5100. 1) Swivel screen: Amazing for video and on a smaller tripod. 2) Bracketing (for HDR), 3) Time lapse functionality built in. –  Unapiedra Jul 23 '13 at 12:43
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There are certainly features in the 5x00 series that make it a marked improvement over the 3x00 series, though I agree that they are largely not worth it. Well, except that the 5200 introduced the 39-point AF system of the D7000; that's a substantial improvement. –  Dan Wolfgang Jul 23 '13 at 14:21
    
Thanks for your valuable insights. Should I update my answer? –  MattiaG Jul 24 '13 at 13:21
1  
Thanks MattiaG, great inputs, and you are right there are not many differences between them, and thats what made the decision confusing. But agree with Unapiedra on the three differences he highlighted, two of which I had not paid attention to earlier. I think they are good enough differences for me to tilt to 5100. –  coderSam Jul 24 '13 at 15:38
    
The 5100 has a stellar sensor, and great features you will not find in 3100. I make better pictures with it many times than with a D700 (yeah, not 7000)... The answerer obviously has not seen a 5100 yet, he still blurbs out this "answer"... –  TFuto May 24 at 6:35

As far as I know, D5100 has Expeed 2 and it has a quite fast image-processing system. I have used the D5100 and it has rarely become unresponsive .

I recommend you to go for the D5100 since it has a lot of advance features and excellent value-for-money. As for the image-processing speed, it is fast enough, but the D3200 is obviously faster ... :-)

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This is not really an answer as such and might not be relivant to your case as you might already have a decent lens kit - but can I just make the comment that as someone who has spent a great deal of time comparing camera bodies I have gradually come to learn that its generally the lens that makes the difference. Either of these bodies is fine - but in my experience you will get better photos with a $90 D70 from Ebay with $1000 of decent glass attatched than either of those bodies with stock lens. In addition in 3 years time the good glass will still be worth around $1000 - but in 3 years you wont be able to sell the bodies.

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Agree, thanks for the inputs –  coderSam Jul 24 '13 at 15:34

I really don't think you will see a difference. I don't think the D5100 vs D3200 is a more advance camera. But I do feel you can advance more with the D5100. I love the D5100. I actually did a comparison on these 2 cameras.

I do agree with you about buying extra lens for the D5100 compared to buying a D5200. There are some great bundle packages right now for the D5100.

Also the D3200 does have more mega pixels, but again I am not convinced that you will see the difference.

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