Which camera should I buy?
February 20, 2011 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Movin' on up filter: Nikon D3100 or Panasonic DMC-G2?

For several years I have been using a Panasonic DMC-TZ1 point and shoot as my only camera. The TZ1 has been good for daytime shooting and for general snapshots but I'm looking to move up to either a DSLR or Four Thirds format.

I travel a lot and I'd like to be able to take better pictures of buildings, statues, landscapes, people, and night/low light shots. I don't do much action photography and I don't anticipate doing so in the future. I have a camcorder so I don't really care about the ability to take video.

I have narrowed my search down to the Nikon D3100 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2. Right now I can get the D3100 for $579 or the G2 for $499.

Money is less of an issue than quality. I don't mind paying more if I get more value from it.

On the other hand, I need a fairly portable camera that is suitable for carrying around all day.

Photographers, if you were in my shoes, which camera would you buy and why?

P.S. Please for the sake of my sanity don't recommend any other camera.
posted by Gringos Without Borders to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
Depends on what you want to shoot. I have an Olympus E-P2 which is similar to the Panasonic (by virtue of it's micro 4/3 system) that you're looking at. I can tell you what it's good and bad at, and which lenses are good on it and which aren't.

It's not a great camera for action or low light, really, the autofocus is slower than DSLRs and the sensor is just not that great for shooting in dim conditions unless you have a really bright lens, which effectively means the panasonic 20mm pancake lens.

It's an awesome travel camera, especially paired with the 20mm pancake and one of the two wide angle zooms (olympus and panasonic each make one).

So, what are you taking pictures of? Landscapes and architecture? Wildlife? How often will you want to carry it around? How many lenses are you willing to carry with it?

I can also link you to pictures I've taken with my micro 4/3 camera if you want examples of what it can do.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:04 PM on February 20, 2011

For what it's worth, I have the Panasonic DMC-G2 and I love it. It has a weight/size advantage, but I'm not sure exactly how significant it is because I've never seen a D3100 in person. Beyond comparing bodies, though, keep in mind µ4/3 lenses will be smaller as well. In addition, because of the short flange back distance of a µ4/3 camera, you can get no-glass adapters for nearly any lens-mount type (though you will probably lose autofocus ability). This can be a good way to get some cheap but very nice old manual lenses.

The Nikon has a bigger sensor and will have arguably better performance in low light, but you can take great night shots of stationary objects (especially if you have a tripod or somewhere to rest the camera) with a 4/3 camera.
posted by aganders3 at 12:11 PM on February 20, 2011

One pro for G2: You'll be much more accustomed to the menus with the G2.

However, if you are serious about photography and think you may advance further in the future I would go Nikon. If you start buying Nikon DX lenses for the D3100 they will still be compatible when if you step up to better Nikons in the future. Panasonic does not really have such a road map unless you think you may stick with their micro 4/3rd format for the long haul.

It's really not right to compare a 4/3rds camera to a APS-C. APS-C will win in low light for sure and have less noise.

So . . if size, weight, comfortability is your priority, G2.

If you think you may get more serious about photography in the future and want some of your current investment to be valid in the future, Nikon.
posted by patrad at 12:35 PM on February 20, 2011

If you really want to do good (as opposed to okay/passable) quality low light shots, your main priority will be the maximum aperture of available lenses (that is, the lowest 'f' number). As these are system cameras, you need to figure out what length of lens you are comfortable with if you want to spend a lot of money on a good quality lens. Generally, you will have better options with fixed (prime) rather than zoom lenses.

I would look at a list of lenses for both systems and figure out which ones have the lowest f stops (are the 'brightest'). Then figure out which ones at which focal lengths you can afford to buy.

So you're not really looking for recs for either camera; you need recs for the best wide aperture lenses.
posted by carter at 12:42 PM on February 20, 2011

Actually, Nikon will have a better range and probably quality of lenses. I have a good Panny point-and-shoot (LX2). I have fantastic (pre-digital) Nikon lenses.
posted by carter at 12:54 PM on February 20, 2011

Somehow I seem to have missed a whole paragraph on what you want to shoot because my reading comprehension is poor.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:21 PM on February 20, 2011

I always contend that you get more photographic bang for your buck with a quality low end DSLR than with any roughly comparable alternative.

So, I vote for the D3100. You can download the complete users manual in .PDF form here to get an idea of its capabilities.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:46 PM on February 20, 2011

If your choices are between the G2 and the D3100, go with the Nikon. The size difference is not enough to justify the loss in quality.

However, if you let me mess with your sanity, I'd recommend looking into the smaller micro-four-third cameras, the new GF2 in particular.

As others have said in this thread, the larger sensor in the Nikon cameras will beat the m43 in any lab test and in any real world scenario you throw at it, and in particular, it will be much better in low light.

However, the Nikon camera is larger and heavier and bulkier. Which means you'll think twice about carrying it with you.

I have both a D300 and a GF1 and use the GF1 most of the time. I carry it with me almost always, where as the D300 only comes out when I know I'll be shooting in low light and that it'll be important to get the shots just right.

Going back to my initial paragraph, the difference in size between the G2 and the D3100 is not enough to make it worth it, but if you go smaller with the GF2, I believe the tradeoff in quality vs convenience is worth it.

I'd say my GF1 is about 80% as good as my D300, but I never think twice about bringing it with me. As they say, "the best camera is the one you have with you."
posted by sd at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The G2 is not a SLR so it has no mirror box or optical view finder. More importantly the G2 may not autofocus as well in low light. You can compare the specs side by side at dpreview. The D3100 will have better dynamic range due to the larger sensor.

The G2 has a higher resolution LCD screen and the difference will be noticeable. However it's probably only important if you are going carefully evaluated and delete tons of pics before you even get them off the camera. The G2 tends to appeal more to people who want good autofocus in video mode. The G2 is more of compromise for people who shoot video as much as stills.
posted by Procloeon at 5:18 PM on February 20, 2011

I have a Nikon comparable to that one, and a Panasonic GF1.

The Nikon has sat on my shelf since I got the GF1, and I have loaned out my nice Nikon lenses to friends.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:41 PM on February 20, 2011

I love my D3100. HD video is pretty good. Photo quality with the 18-55mm kit lens is outstanding. I'm particularly happy with its ability to shoot in low light too.

I've never used a G2, but I've heard some good things about it. One suggestion is check out some of the user groups for the two cameras on Flickr. Always some good discussions going on by the users.
posted by rmmcclay at 1:19 AM on February 21, 2011

and night/low light shots

I have a D3100 and with a powerful external flash (I have the Metz 48 AF-1, which is equivalent to the Nikon SB-600) it produces amazing indoor / low light shots, which is why I got a DSLR - I was sick of the crappy, noisy indoor shots my point and shoot was producing.

I see there's a hot shoe on the Panasonic so if you want nice indoor and low-light shots you could always invest in an external flash.
posted by exhilaration at 7:25 AM on February 21, 2011

re: carter comments . .nothing the G2 offers would compare aperture wise to say the D3100 and Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens. The Nikon will win the low light battle for sure.
posted by patrad at 7:56 AM on February 21, 2011

Thanks for all the advice. I ended up buying the D3100.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 1:15 PM on March 23, 2011

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