D90 or d3100?
September 23, 2010 9:21 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are looking for a new camera with which to take pictures of our son. We've got a Point and Shoot that we're not particularly happy with so will be looking at a DSLR. I like the looks of the Nikon D3100 that is coming out soon, but the D90 seems like it might be a better camera for not a whole lot more money. Is it worth the difference in price?

Somewhat important to note is that I own a Nikon N70 (maybe N80?). I was told that the D90 can use any lens from any old Nikon camera (back to the 70s maybe?) with minimal issues. Can the D3100 not do this? I don't know that the one lens I have for my 35mm is worth anything, but if I could get a D90 with a nice 50mm lens and use the existing lens I have (28-105 maybe?) it might be a better bet.

However, if the D90 is going to stay $300 more than the D3100 I'm not likely to buy it. Is there a killer feature in the D90 that isn't in the D3100 that I'll wish I had?

[Note: i'd like to stick to Nikon because I know some other people with Nikons and I could probably borrow a lens in a pinch.]
posted by bDiddy to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh. forgot to mention that the feature on the 3100 that i liked, from the press material anyway, was the guide. it seemed like a good way for me to learn to use a DSLR and for my wife to take pictures she'd like without having to worry about the details. Though I don't mind reading and if the D90's auto mode is good enough, my wife won't mind using that. I think she's just looking for better low light photos as well as some shallow depth of field.
posted by bDiddy at 9:27 AM on September 23, 2010

You will get tons of opinions on this.

Be aware that the D3100 is at the beginning of its product life cycle, while the D90 is approaching the end of its own.

If your 28-105 zoom is a Nikon AF or AF-D lens, it will not autofocus on the D3100, while it will on a D90 or soon to be available D7000.

The D3100 will have better high ISO performance than the D90, but probably won't be as good as that of the D7000.

Within the next 60 days I think you will see a ton of second hand D90's and D300's become available, since many current owners will replace them with D7000 bodies.

Also, if you do think you'd prefer a D90, have you considered getting a refurb body from Nikon or a dealer? You'd save several hundred dollars that way.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:33 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just got the Sony Nex Alpha 5; I really like it. Its a mini DSLR.
posted by zia at 9:35 AM on September 23, 2010

The D90 is going to be passed up by the D7000 when it's available in less than a month, but the D7000 will be 1200 for the body alone. The N80 appears to be a full frame 35mm film camera. Depending on your lenses there will be cropping with a DX format DSLR, but the lenses will likely still be useable if they are AF-S on the D3100.

The biggest difference I think as someone who owns an existing stock of lesnes between the D3100 and the D90 is the types of lenses they can drive, but I'm sure other nikon folks will jump in and tell you. Check out Ken Rockwell site for a decently readable review of them.

If you're looking for low light performance I am still a big fan of the Canon S90IS point and shoot, which is really awesome all around.
posted by iamabot at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2010

The D90 is probably towards the end of its life cycle as a product Nikon sells. That's why it can be bought for a great price. Keep in mind, the D90 is an amazing camera. I bought mine six months ago, knowing that Nikon would soon release a replacement for it, and I have NO regrets. If I were you, I'd snatch one before Nikon stops selling them.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:47 AM on September 23, 2010

I know your question is on DSLR, but what are your reasons for going for something so large and complex? If baby pictures are your main goal, you may want to re-think your opinion on Point and Shoot cameras. But if you're looking to take more pictures in varied settings, ignore the rest of this and continue looking at DSLR (and I realize that baby pictures might be your gateway into other subjects of photography).

If you're looking to be active with your kid and still have hands to take pictures, something smaller and more nimble might be more practical. You could hold the camera with one hand, and still have a hand free to grab the little one if it makes a quick move. Also, point and shoot cameras are buckets cheaper, if your little one happens to get their dirty paws on it and muck something up beyond reasonable repair. I had something larger (not DSLR big), and being able to stick my camera in a case in my pocket is fantastic, and the pictures I've printed have turned out quite well. And the cost of something similar to my point-and-shoot is less than the difference between the two cameras you are currently considering.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:50 AM on September 23, 2010

I got a Sony Nex alpha 3 a couple months ago, ahead of a trip I took. It's not a DSLR, but is considered a bridge model between point-and-shoots and DSLRs. The vast majority of the time I used it set on intelligent auto (it could pick between modes, like macro, landscape, nighttime, and portrait, based on what was in the shot) but I could override that and control everything -- aperture, shutter, etc.

My understanding is it's not great for people who really love the hands-on SLR stuff. But for people like me, who want to take good pictures without necessarily having to know all the numbers, it's great. I could even choose "background defocus" while in auto mode, letting me control depth of field a bit while still getting better shots than I could do on my own.

It's got a big sensor -- not as big as a DSLR, but waaay bigger than most point and shoots -- which was one of my top 2 criteria in shopping for a camera. The body itself can fit in your pocket, but with the zoom lens it's a bit awkward. Can still fit in a purse pretty easily, though, and is way smaller than the DSLRs my dad and sister own.

The lenses are proprietary, which is probably a big negative for you, since you say you want to stay with Nikon to be able to swap lenses. However, it is significantly less expensive than a DSLR and may be better suited to the easy taking of good pictures of the kiddo. It's worth going to a good camera shop and getting a feel for the cameras you're considering. I was surprised and ended up picking a different camera after I actually played with the menus and controls on a few I was considering. I don't know how different they'll be from one Nikon to the next, but it can't hurt to check.
posted by katemonster at 9:50 AM on September 23, 2010

Yeah, we're not going to buy the D7000. Just too expensive for us, especially as we're not photographers. I think a better bet for us will be the 3100. If it's better in low light than the D90 my wife will be happier. I'm tired of trying to stick up for the Panasonic P&S we bought a few months ago. (It really takes great pictures! Just not inside our apparently very yellow house or if it's a little dark, etc.)

I'll reread Rockwell's site. It will probably be more helpful once he has a proper review of the D3100.

Is the fact that the D90 is at the end of its product life cycle a bad thing or a good thing?
posted by bDiddy at 9:58 AM on September 23, 2010

Very much in love with my D90. Got it for Christmas last year and never get tired of using it, particularly for chasing the kids around.
posted by jquinby at 10:00 AM on September 23, 2010

Do you pictures look very yellow-y? See if you can change the White Balance on your point&shoot to Tungsten or something.

As for D90 approaching end of life...a 2005 Camry is still a nice car.
posted by jstarlee at 10:07 AM on September 23, 2010

The lower-tier Nikon cameras (D3k, D3.1k, D5k...) don't have in-body auto-focus motors; they rely on the lens to provide the auto-focus motor. That's why your lens compatibility will be much more limited. That may not be an issue for you in the short-term, since the kit lens is a perfectly adequate beginner's tool. Over time, you may want to buy more glass, and you'll find your options, again, not only limited, but likely more expensive.

I bought the D3000 about a year ago, and though the camera's suited me fine and turned out some nice-looking pictures, I've definitely felt the sting of the camera's limitations. With the D7000 coming soon, the D90 is likely to drop in price--I'd say that's your best bet for a long-term investment.
posted by litnerd at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2010

We went from a point-and-shoot to a dslr when our daughter was about one, but the much bigger improvement in pictures happened after we started using a 50mm fixed-length lens instead of the stock zoom lens. I can't help on the camera decision, but that's something to keep in mind.
posted by brozek at 10:29 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've got a D90 and it's absolutely great, but I think for your purpose the D3100 might be a better fit. It will be simpler to use but will still give you photos that are leaps and bounds better than most compacts. The D3100 will be smaller and lighter than the D90 which I would imagine you'll appreciate quite a bit if you're carrying it around all the time.

You don't mention video as an important factor to you, but the D3100 will have better video capabilities than the D90. The D3100 video will be higher resolution (1080p vs the D90's 720p) and will also autofocus during filming, which the D90 doesn't do. This is really essential if you're filming a moving target.

The D90 may give you autofocus capabilities with some of your older lenses, but I wouldn't really worry too much about that.

If you want even better low light performance and great depth of field, you might take a look at the 35mm f/1.8 lens. It will autofocus on the D3100 (which the cheap 50mm f/1.8 won't) and it's super-fast.
posted by crosbyh at 10:46 AM on September 23, 2010

If you're not set on an SLR, I can't recommend a lumix lx3 enough. It shoots RAW, has an f/2 lens, and does VERY well in low light. It's the perfect mix of point and shoot and SLR to me.

You can't change lenses, but it does have a wide angle adapter and you can get a polarizing and ND filter for it.
posted by flaterik at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2010

I appreciate everyone's help with this question. Finally, due to the price and the timing (we had a wedding coming up so no time to wait for a deal) we went with D3100. Though I may wish I'd gone for the D90 at some point down the road, if I find a feature I am lacking, for now both my wife and I are extremely pleased with this camera!

I could have tried, but I wouldn't have gotten this shot on my Panasonic P&S. Now I will be looking to pick up a fast lens to try to get some shots of a kid who won't sit still. :)
posted by bDiddy at 9:34 AM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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