The Entry-level DSLR War

 
Nikon D5100 vs Canon EOS 550D

Nikon D5100 vs Canon EOS 550D

If you have Rs. 40,000 to spend, which DSLR should you buy? Raj Lalwani pits the Nikon D5100 against the Canon EOS 550D to find out.

Whenever I have tested a new camera, I have always asked myself if it is better than the camera I had used last. How is it different? Does it improve upon something or does it make the same mistakes as the previous one?
It is so much fun to pit two cameras against each other. It is almost like a survival of the fittest. You take them to the same location, put them through identical rounds of testing, and the winner takes all. Most importantly, such comparisons help us solve the ultimate question—should we buy this camera or that one?
This is why we decided to conduct a head-to-head test of two extremely popular cameras, the Canon EOS 550D and the Nikon D5100. The D5100 is a newer product, and was launched along with the Canon EOS 600D. The reason we decided to test it against the older 550D (and not the 600D), is price. Abroad, these cameras cost nearly the same, but in India, the D5100 is much cheaper, and around the same price as the older 550D. Considering that both these Canon cameras have a similar sensor, the results in terms of quality should match.

Features
Both these cameras are broadly classified as upper entry-level DSLRs. So while they are not the most economical offerings from the company, they still fall in the sub-Rs. 50,000 bracket. Both cameras inherit legacies from some higher-end cameras. The D5100 has a 16.2MP sensor, similar to the one used in the highly acclaimed D7000. On the other hand, the 550D uses the same 18MP sensor that was first seen in the EOS 7D, and is now also used in the 60D and 600D. Though there is a resolution difference, 2MP does not make that much of a difference in terms of native image size, for you to be choosing one over the other.
While Canon seems to have a mild upper hand in terms of resolution, Nikon is ahead in terms of the ISO game. Both cameras have a maximum ISO of 6400, but in the Extended settings, the D5100 can be stretched up to ISO 25,600, as compared to the 550D, which can shoot up to ISO 12,800. Do you really need such crazily high ISO settings? If you are only a beginner, certainly not. That said, the Nikon also produces better image quality at higher ISOs, which gives it a significant advantage.
The other main difference in terms of features is the video capabilities of the two cameras. While both shoot stunning Full HD video at variable frame rates, the Canon 550D allows you to control exposure manually for video.

Auto White Balance, Metering and Choice of Program Settings: The fi rst comparison photograph I shot with these two cameras really surprised me. I shot using completely automated settings, simply so that I could understand how each camera reacts in different situations. The Nikon D5100 underexposed the photograph, but has retained the warmth of the early morning light, making the image more pleasing. The colour tones in the Canon image are neutral, almost cold, but the metering has chosen to make the overall image brighter. Photographs/Raj Lalwani

Auto White Balance, Metering and Choice of Program Settings: The first comparison photograph I shot with these two cameras really surprised me. I shot using completely automated settings, simply so that I could understand how each camera reacts in different situations. The Nikon D5100 underexposed the photograph, but has retained the warmth of the early morning light, making the image more pleasing. The colour tones in the Canon image are neutral, almost cold, but the metering has chosen to make the overall image brighter. Photographs/Raj Lalwani

Handling

It is all right to talk of features on paper, but the real difference comes through when you actually hold the cameras in your hand. I was shooting the same frame with the D5100 and the 550D and it was an interesting exercise. For one camera, I had to twist the lens clockwise to zoom in; for the other, it was anticlockwise. The exposure meters were opposite in nature and the placement of buttons was completely different! Some of these differences are just a matter of getting used to, but there are a few stark differences between the handling of the two cameras.
For most part, I preferred using the Canon. Dedicated ISO, WB and Metering buttons are invaluable while shooting on fi eld, and it is heartening to see that Canon has included these in an entry-level product. The Nikon can be customised to use the Fn button as one of these functions, but the ease of control is simply not there.
One may be attracted by the D5100’s tiltand- swivel LCD, as it can be very useful in certain situations. Of course, the irony lies in the fact that this articulating LCD will appeal to videographers. So while the Canon model shoots better footage, the Nikon one offers superior handling for video!

Performance
After I returned home from doing some street photography, I sat down to compare the photographs shot by the two cameras. The differences were many, some of which we have shown in the pictures printed here.
While the 550D’s AF is faster, there were times that it was unable to lock focus on a low contrast subject, even in good light. The Canon also has a nasty tendency to overexpose the image and blow out the highlights. These are problems that can be worked around, but while using the default settings, the Nikon D5100 is a more reliable performer. The D5100 also won several other battles, including high ISO performance, dynamic range, buffer speed and the retaining of warmth in photos.

Colours, Sharpness and Detail: In this case, the Canon’s tendency to overexpose has actually worked in its favour, as the red colour looks brighter and more vibrant. The detail seen in the Canon image is slightly more, but due to the inferior quality of the lens, the image shot with the Canon 550D has extremely soft corners. Photographs/ Raj Lalwani

Colours, Sharpness and Detail: In this case, the Canon’s tendency to overexpose has actually worked in its favour, as the red colour looks brighter and more vibrant. The detail seen in the Canon image is slightly more, but due to the inferior quality of the lens, the image shot with the Canon 550D has extremely soft corners. Photographs/ Raj Lalwani

Conclusion

It is very interesting to note that both the kit lenses are simply not up to the mark. With older DSLRs, kit lenses would usually perform decently, but since these are cameras of higher resolution, they demand better optics. However, just comparing between the two lenses, the Nikkor 18–55 VR is a better performer, as compared to the Canon 18–55mm IS. It is sharper and also controls fringing better.
As camera bodies, both the 550D and the D5100 have their own pros and cons. The D5100 is slightly better, mainly because of a newer sensor. The real difference is in the kit lens, which makes the D5100 package race ahead. Professional filmmakers may want to still look at the Canon EOS 550D, but for photography enthusiasts, the Nikon D5100 emerges as the clear winner.

Final Ratings
Features
The Canon EOS 550D has superior video features, but for stillphotographers, the D5100 edges past it slightly.
Canon: 26/30
Nikon:27/30

Performance
Here lies the main difference. The sensor of the 550D is good,but ageing. Also, the quality of the lens is not as good.
Canon: 24/30
Nikon:28/30

Build Quality
Both cameras are extremely well built, considering that theyare available at an entry-level price point.
Canon: 13/20
Nikon:13/20

Ergonomics
The Nikon D5100 has a tilt-and-swivel LCD, but in all otheraspects, the Canon 550D has better ergonomics.
Canon: 13/15
Nikon:11/15

Warranty & Support
While Nikon has a good service network, Canon beats it sinceit boasts of the largest customer service network in India.
Canon: 4/5
Nikon:3/5

OVERALL:
Canon: 80%
Nikon:82%

Value For Money:
Canon: 3.5/5 stars
Nikon:4/5 stars

 

Tags: Raj Lalwani, Nikon D5100, October 2011, Head to Head, Canon EOS 550D, entry level DSLRs, Gear Review