I had made up mind on purchasing a Nikon D5100 during the holidays but only yesterday I realized that it doesn't have a AF motor with it.

This is forcing me to change to Canon 550D which is in the same price range. I was more inclined to buy a Nikon so this is quite a change for me. The other cameras in the Nikon brand D90 and D7000 which have the AF Motor are not in my budget today. Also I notice that Canon 1100D which is less expensive yet has this motor in built into it. Why is Nikon giving this feature in expensive cameras only?

Apart from the fact that Af-S lenses are more expensive, is there any other drawback of buying a camera that doesn't have a AF Motor in it? As a beginner how does not having an AF motor affect the quality of pics?

Also, do mirrorless cameras have a built-in AF Motor ?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ All EF mount lenses have the AF motor built in as part of the mount standard, the Canon camera bodies don't include a motor \$\endgroup\$
    – Dreamager
    Nov 10, 2011 at 11:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dreamager : Canon 550D has a built in Motor and so does 1100D. Can you please explain ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Geek
    Nov 10, 2011 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Canon camera bodies don't have a built in auto-focus motor. The EF mount standard that EOS cameras use stands for Electro-Focus, meaning that the lens itself has a built in motor. So all Canon cameras capable of using an EF lens have Auto-Focus, because the EF lens itself will always have the AF motor built in to it. So every single EOS film or digital camera no matter how old will have Auto-Focus if it uses an EF lens. They made sure they made it nice and simple/compatible, unlike Nikon's varying standards \$\endgroup\$
    – Dreamager
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Canon did this by making a clean break — pre-EF lenses just won't mount, whereas old Nikon lenses might. Pentax followed the same approach as Nikon and largely kept lens compatibility, although as of so far all their bodies (even entry-level) have motors, which helps enable more compact lenses. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of How do camera body motors compare to in-lens motors for focusing? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:48

4 Answers 4


You have things reversed!

Nikon traditionally always put their motors in the bodies, offering supplementary lens mounted motors for additional performance on some high end tele lenses only.

To be able to compete with the very low end Canon bodies on price (which is the only thing most purchasers for that category consider when making a purchase) they decided a few years ago to introduce a few bodies without body mounted motors, and at the same time introduce a line of low end consumer grade lenses with lens mounted motors, primarily for use on those bodies (the D3000 and D5000 I believe were the first).

Canon has always (well, since the introduction of their EF lens mount back in (I believe) the late 1980s had all their motors in the lenses only, never in the body.

This of course increases the price of lenses, especially for people buying more than one lens, as now you have to buy a lens motor for every single lens (for that reason 3rd party lenses for Canon had often been slightly more expensive than the otherwise same lens for Nikon).

Both systems have their advantages. Having the motor in the body allows for simpler lenses, puts weight nearer the photographer, and reduces the system cost and weight for people having many lenses. Having the motors in the lens allows motors which are designed specifically for each lens, potentially allowing for lower power, cheaper, motors for smaller lenses (the motor in a Nikon D200 has to be able to power both a lightweight 50mm f/1.8 D and a very heavy 600mm f/2.8 D (which existed or was planned at the time, now the 600mm is only available as AF-S, with its own complementary motor).

The main thing you'll experience when buying a D5100 is that you won't have full choice of all F mount lenses, unless you are happy with manual focus on them. But probably, by the time that becomes a limitation, you'll be looking at buying a bigger body anyway, and no longer have that problem.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps you meant 600mm f/4D? \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Nov 10, 2011 at 17:55

If you keep reading on the internet you will always just keep searching and reading and will not be able to make a decision. No, the built in autofocus is not important factor as modern AF-S lenses come with built in autofocus. I recomend you D3200 also

  • \$\begingroup\$ I already moved over to Canon 550D long back but I am interested in knowing if you recommend D3200 over D5100 ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Geek
    Feb 25, 2013 at 12:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Geek Why did you move to 550D over D5100 :O snapsort.com/compare/Canon_EOS_550D-vs-Nikon-D5100 \$\endgroup\$
    – StarDust
    Dec 5, 2013 at 21:04

Comment: I am not (yet) a Nikon owner.
My first SLR was a Minolta SRT303b with manual focus.
My first camera was a Kodax Box Brownie with no (or infinite) focus.

Any modern lens that will work on a D5100 will work on a D7000, or any other Nikon with an inbuilt focusing motor in the body.

If you buy a Nikon-mount AF lens without a focusing motor in the lens it will not give AF on a D5100 but will provide AF on a D7000, and you can swap it to & fro between them as required.

In your position I would probably* buy a camera system that gave the best image quality possible and which also provided autofocus NOW.

For most beginners I would not recommend starting with a system that does not provide AF. This is because the AF system adds much to the ability to take good photos easily. You will get more "keepers", more shots will work when you have to scramble to achieve them and overall your photo taking life will be easier.

A person who is not 100% sure that they want to get fully immersed in photography is more liable to 'stay the distance' if their camera has AF. This does not apply to the super keen who know from day-one what they intend to do long term in photography and who will not be swayed by "a little hardship" along the way. Happy (or obsessed) the man or woman who is so endowed :-).

*- The exception to that recommendation, and it is an important one, is:

If you consider yourself keen student of photography who is happy to do things the hard was as an early learning experience with the expectation of progressing to more capable equipment in due course and happy to have undergone a "Paris left bank student living in unheated garret" type experience in your formative photographic years.

ie If you want to take nice photos, want to be able to achieve maximum use of opportunities, want to initially enjoy the experiencing of having taken nice photos rather than the taking of the photos, then a system with AF is preferable.
If you have AF you can choose to use it or not as desired for whatever reason.
If you do not have AF at all you will miss opportunities, miss good shots, have a harder time generally - and learn much that is valuable along the way.

While "instant gratification" is much derided by the oldies (I'm an oldie) it also has its place in burning in the joys of the art into your brain. If you are going to survive the privations of no AF and be a better person for it long term, then by all means, do it the hard way - you'll be a better photographer for the experience, if you survive it :-).

Important - looking ahead: The decision you are making here probably influences FAR more than what you have covered. While people do change systems, most people who start with Canon or Nikon remain with that camera system for life. The main reason (apart from human natural pig headedness :-) ) is that the lenses are essentially not interchangeable and your camera system ends up largely centering on the lenses that you acquire.

All else being equal, I would aim to buy the best camera that I could afford - but when starting "best" may include what you end up with a few years from now and not just what you start with. "Best" means somewhat different things to different people - for me it is biased towards the ability to take high ISO / high speed / low light photos of good quality. For others it may be the ability to take super high resolution studio of portrait photos. Others may value having maximum 'bells and whistles' etc. All these are valid ideas of "best" - but you want to ensure that you are aiming for your version of best and not somebody else's idea.

If you are liable to afford a somewhat better system a year or two from now you may wish to think about how the current buying decision will influence what you do in future. If you are likely to be able to sell the beginning system and start over 2 years from now then progression may not matter. If you are liable to be progressing incrementally on a lowish budget for a long while then a path that leads most economically towards what you most want to achieve may be worth looking for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I also have decided not to purchase nikon d5100. Will goto Cannon \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2013 at 11:23

Is the lack of AF Motor on the Nikon D5100 an important factor?

It depends. On what lenses you want to use, and what you like to shoot. If you are mostly shooting stationary subjects (landscapes, portraits, still lifes, etc.) that give you time to manually focus, autofocus may not be something you necessarily need. Photographers got by without autofocus for a century or so, after all. OTOH, if you plan to shoot a lot of sports, running children, or birds in flight, maybe AF is more important to you.

And lenses with AF-S will autofocus, and Nikon has replaced quite a few of the older non-AF-S lenses since the introduction of their entry-level dSLRs, so the picture isn't quite as restrictive as it was even five years ago. Unless you desperately want a lens that doesn't have AF-S to autofocus, a D5x00 body could be just fine for your needs.

Why is Nikon giving this feature in expensive cameras only?

Because adding the focus motor increases the cost and complexity of manufacturing the cameras. If they did include them, the D3x00 and D5x00 lines probably couldn't compete, pricewise, with Canon's dRebels.

As a beginner how does not having an AF motor affect the quality of pics?

Same processor/sensors combinations as in higher end bodies, but wrapped up in cheaper bodies, so chances of the camera causing problems with image quality are lower than your causing problems with image quality through bad technique. :)

Also, do mirrorless cameras have a built-in AF Motor?

Nope. Neither do Canons or anybody else other than Nikon, really. Everybody else puts their motors in the lens.


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