Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I'm currently looking to buy a new SLR camera, I've been doing some research on the internet a loved the reviews and price of the Nikon D3100. However after reading a fair few more reviews I noticed people started suggesting to spend a little bit more and get the Nikon D5100.

I know very little on cameras and what all the gadgets mean i.e shutter speed , ISO, etc. I'm now thinking of stretching that little bit further and getting the D5100 as its reviews appear to be slightly better. I will be using my new camera mainly to take pictures of my kids in the garden, in the house and holidays snaps twice a year etc,

  1. Which camera would be better for this purpose
  2. Which is better indoors for Christmas etc.
  3. If I use the auto setting on the camera would I be wasting my time and would a normal digital camera give me the same picture quality?

My real aim is to have clear nice pics of the kids an for our holidays.

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closed as off-topic by jwenting, mattdm, Paul Cezanne, MikeW, Michael Clark Aug 29 '13 at 20:43

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking product or service recommendations are off-topic because they tend to become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve." – jwenting, mattdm, Paul Cezanne, MikeW
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Why have you limited yourself to the two previous versions of the cameras? D5200 and D3200 were released last year, while the DX100 are from 2010 and 2011. –  Håkon K. Olafsen Aug 28 '13 at 14:01
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Regarding point 3, it is a misconception that DSLR are about (technical) "image quality". They're about flexibility, control and speed, if you're willing to make use of it (the flexibility of changing lenses and being able to adjust settings precisely and quickly). If you're going to use the auto-mode all the time, that flexibility is not an advantage for you. The large size and weight is a disadvantage I'd take seriously though. How often would you be willing to carry a large camera like that with you? –  Szabolcs Aug 28 '13 at 14:46
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Get a DSLR is you want to learn about photography. You can also consider compact interchangeable lens cameras, but they're not necessarily cheaper. If you're just going to point and shoot in auto mode, then a good quality point and shoot camera will give you the same images as a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera would, for a lower price and added conveniences for your style of shooting. Advanced cameras are more about control than technical image quality. –  Szabolcs Aug 28 '13 at 14:52
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@Szabolcs - sensor size has real and measurable impacts on image quality. It impacts both depth of field and diffraction limiting and the expanded sensor size also makes it easier to design a high quality sensor (less miniaturization, more space, fewer heat concerns). You can get a compact camera with similar resolution, but for the price DSLRs are generally higher quality for the price, particularly when paired with good optics. You are correct about size being an important factor to consider though. The best camera is the one you have with you. –  AJ Henderson Aug 28 '13 at 15:41
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You will NEVER get the kind of background blur you will get with a DSLR with a point and shoot (that said, that can be a plus or a minus depending). To say that a point and shoot in auto mode is the same as a DSLR in auto is simply flat out incorrect though. The images they would produce are significantly different as the optical systems are significantly different. If that is "better" or not however is a question that depends on what kind of a look the photographer wants the photos to have. –  AJ Henderson Aug 28 '13 at 15:44
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4 Answers 4

Either camera is going to take fine photos for limited, occasional home use. The 5100 is worth the price difference, but it is up to you if it is worth spending the extra, they are both fair deals. I'd decide based on your financial situation and how much you expect to use it more than any technical factors since both are fine deals and well reviewed.

For indoor stuff, the 5100 will do better do to slightly lower noise levels (for lower light shooting). It also has a significantly wider dynamic range, which will help if you have harsh lighting outdoors and learn to shoot RAW (but this requires post processing your photos on the computer.)

Either will make significantly nicer shots than a point and shoot due to the sensor size and the narrower depth of field they produces (which is what creates that nice background blur you see in many professional portraits.) You can also invest in better lenses for the camera over time which will help it take significantly better photos and the nice thing about DSLRs is that lens systems tend to stay the same for decades, so even if you end up changing cameras in 5 or even 10 years, as long as you stick to Nikon, you should be able to reuse your lenses. (There are some exceptions for high end cameras, but you wouldn't have to worry about those unless you get much more into photography.)

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Both are nice cameras, but if you are able I would spend the extra money on the D5100. I made the same decision a while ago and have been very happy with it.

One recommendation I would make is that for indoor use I have been extremely happy with the Nikon 35mm 1.8 lens. This is AMAZING with low light indoors compared to the kit lens. I usually take indoor pictures at the house without a flash using this lens, which also results in much more natural pictures. Also by not using flash I don't distract my kids, which would cause them to stop what they are doing. By warned this lens doesn't have a zoom, so you have to move yourself to get your shot. But at $200 for a low light lens vs. $1000+ for a zoom low light lens I will take that tradeoff.

So I would say that a D5100 with the 35mm lens is best. If that isn't affordable then the D3100 with the 35mm would be better for your indoor shots.

Even at the auto setting I feel the pictures will be much better than a point and shoot digital camera. And I would recommend using the "P" mode instead of full auto. That makes most of the decisions for you and will result in better pictures. You just need to decide if you want flash on or off in that mode. Usually off with the 35mm lens!

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3 months ago. I have considered like you. I decided to buy D5100. There are some my experiments: - It's a good camera for family purpose. - With 35mm 1.8G, indoor picture without flash have a good quality.

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So how does it compare against the D3100? –  MikeW Aug 29 '13 at 19:30
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With modern cameras and software, the lens speed is not so important. You can just turn up the ISO setting to make the camera more sensitive. It is true that this adds a bit more "noise" to the images, but it isn't really very noticeable unless you are planning to do massive blow-ups. In that case, you can use the noise removal function of your photo editor software, or purchase special noise removal software quite inexpensively.

The main issue is the sensor quality. The sensor in the 5100 is quite a bit better than the sensor in the 3100. You can check this for yourself at

http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/

I have a D5100 and the image quality is terrific. I recently upgraded to a pro level Nikon, so I don't use the D5100 any more, but it does a great job at the serious amateur level.

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just been on that website dave an by the looks of it I will benefit from paying that little bit extra as it does seem to be a better beast, almost everybody is saying image quality is superb aswell so its really a no brainer. did you have the 18-55 lens or did you upgrade to a better lens?? thanks for your help anthony –  anthony Aug 28 '13 at 13:50
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@Dave - the lens speed matters greatly. It impacts depth of field and reduces noise. Noise is particularly a problem in low light on lower end consumer model DSLRs. I also don't see how observations about lens speed are relevant to the question at hand. –  AJ Henderson Aug 28 '13 at 14:00
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It is relevant because a very fast lens is a lot more expensive, weighs more, is is usually not a zoom lens. SO IMHO for amateur photography there is a substantial financial and convenience benefit to trading off from an expensive fast prime to a cheaper, lighter, but slower zoom lens. The high ISO noise is the down side, but is well within acceptable limits for amateur photography, especially with the availability of highly effective but inexpensive noise reduction software such as Neat Image. –  Dave Aug 28 '13 at 22:35
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@Dave - then say THAT. Don't claim that lens speed is not so important or that ISO is a magic cure all that makes it irrelevant. That kind of feed back is not only WRONG, but will also lead to people making ill-advised purchases that will produce sub-standard results. There also are relatively cheap and light fast lenses, though they are necessarily heavier than slower lenses since the optic elements must be larger and the cheapest are primes. Ultimately though, if weight and size is a concern, then DSLRs are not the best option to begin with. –  AJ Henderson Aug 29 '13 at 14:04
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See for example, the EF 40mm STM f/2.8 lens that is only $199. If you alter your answer to mention the advantages and disadvantages of noise vs faster lenses and then make a case for why you think it isn't worth the trade off for an amateur, I will remove my downvote, but as it stands now, it is a misleading answer at best and outright incorrect at worst. –  AJ Henderson Aug 29 '13 at 14:05
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