Canon 60D versus Nikon D5100
May 14, 2012 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Another newbie dSLR question: First time buyer trying to decide between a Canon 60D versus Nikon D5100. I hope you guys aren't getting annoyed with these yet.

While the Canon 60D and Nikon D5100 are not normally in the same product class they've approached similar price points for the body only (760 for the Canon mid level and 600 for the Nikon upper entry level) that its making the choice difficult for my first dSLR.

I have spent the last week cruising, cnet, AskMeFi and and have held both of them in my hand. From what I understand, here are some relative pros and cons:

Canon: Better for video, better feel and layout, older, less powerful sensor, marginally more high ISO noise, heavier.

Nikon: More powerful sensor, newer, built in intervalometer, better live view auto-focusing, lighter, other clever features like 'night vision' 128k ISO setting and built in HDR, but clunky video, poor control layout, more time in menus, advantage in sensor largely disappears in JPEG format.

My use? I am most interested in portraiture, low light photography of night life, travel photography of the outdoors and I have a bug to try out some time lapse photography. I love taking videos but I don't think I could come up with any video project I'd want to "show off," probably just clips of friends and travel and relatives etc. But then again, I've never had a nice video taking option.

So my buying decision has become an echo chamber of doubt: Is the marginal low light performance worth giving up video performance? Is it going to be trouble to hack together a cheap Canon intervalometer? Are gimmicky features like 'night vision' ever of any use to anyone? Is a slight but significant improvement in button layout worth 100-170 dollars? Should I just flip a coin and pick one?
posted by midmarch snowman to Shopping (12 answers total)
There is no significant technical difference between these cameras.

All the differences you listed I would consider hair-splitting.

Go to your local camera dealer and pick them up and handle them in-store. Decide which one feels best to you and you like the best.

If you still cant decide, flip a coin.

For nightlife / low light photography you will want to purchase the 50mm f1.8 lens for whichever system you choose. This lens will make a much larger difference in your photography than any technical features of the camera body.
posted by j03 at 12:56 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seems like you got most of it mapped out. As j03 said there is no significant difference. You should always consider what your friends have. Borrowing lenses is a cheap way to have fun with your camera.
posted by Grums at 1:02 AM on May 14, 2012

Yes this comes down to physical feel. Get both cameras in your hands. Comfort in holding the body of the camera is really much more important that review sites can take into account. There might be an arrangement of buttons that you find your fingers prefer over another, or maybe something as simple as the texture of the casing gives you a better grip.

You'll be wanting to get a separate lens like j03 says, for your low light and for the detail you can preserve in portraits. It's entirely possible that a local camera shop will cut you a deal for one or the other of these cameras if you also get an extra lens at the same time.
posted by Mizu at 1:31 AM on May 14, 2012

If you've read other AskMe questions regarding these cameras early advice is to simply go try them out. Do that. It's quite possible the things you list as benefits/problems aren't so great as you think. I chose the D5100 because I find Cannon's control layout and menus annoying, and Nikon's much more sensible to the way I work. I've found the complaints about video quality to be overblown.

Also consider the uses you're going to put it to. If you rarely shoot video or high ISO, those features don't really matter.

In the end you can't go wrong, so don't fret so much.
posted by Ookseer at 2:00 AM on May 14, 2012

I will never fully agree that a fast 50mm lens (like the 50/f1.8 mentioned above) is a magic bullet for the kind of low light photography you may or may not want to do on a DX format camera.

It equates to about a 75mm lens on a 35mm or FX format DSLR. When mounted on a DX format body like those you mention, you end up with "not quite a telephoto" but at the same time, a lens which has a relatively narrow field of view.

I know why people tend to suggest it; it's cheap, fast, and good quality whether it's a Nikon or Canon product.

Regardless of which camera you buy, before you pop for a 50/f1.8, take a hard look at the 35/f1.8 or 35/f2 offerings. They'll cost a bit more, but for most people's purposes, you'll end up with a lens with a more useful field of view.

As for the camera choice, just like everybody else says, you'll need a hands on experience with each, because they're both nice cameras.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:43 AM on May 14, 2012

You do not want an SLR for time-lapse, not for starters. You'll wear out the reflex in experimentation. Use a compact for that. I just bought a Canon G12 for that purpose. It handles the CHDK software and also has a plug for a remote (which I did not know before I bought it). The CHDK interval manages 1 shot every 2 seconds, then misses one of those every 3-5 shots. I just got it last Friday, so I'm looking at it. It does not appear to improve performance if I reduce the size of image being saved. I need a cable to test the programmable remote (in this case, a micro-stereo on both ends).
posted by Goofyy at 4:32 AM on May 14, 2012

Really tough question..... if the 60D images look good enough for you (and what DSLR doesn't have great looking images these days?) then go for it... the better body and controls will go a long way. Pixel-peeping can go way overboard on some websites but if the D5100 images REALLY looks superior over the 60D to you, that might be better. All-in-all, I'd lean toward the better body and the Canon.
posted by starman at 5:28 AM on May 14, 2012

I guess I already discounted the sensor and video differences as something I likely won't notice...

So I have picked up both cameras in brick and mortar stores, and like I mention above, for me I feel like the Canon has an edge, it seems more natural, the buttons feel to be in a more logical arrangement.

But, I say this not really having much experience with dSLR beyond playing with my brothers for a day. Is a marginally better, unexpert assessment of the feel that worth 170 dollars? I mean, I'll be getting used to a new way of taking photos so whatever camera I learn on, that's eventually going to feel natural right? Is having the ISO button near the shutter release really going to mean I am going to take more photos 4 years down the road? I don't mess with the ISO much in my powershot but that's largely because it looks like poo above ISO 400...

I already have my eye on a 35mm 1.8 for just around $200 for either system. Also I'm moving in about three weeks, so the friend of a work friend who has Nikon probably isn't going to let me borrow his lenses past June, rendering the whole "what do your friends have" moot for me.
posted by midmarch snowman at 5:30 AM on May 14, 2012

I'll second imjustsaying on the 35 f/1.8 - it's wonderful in low light. I shoot on the Nikon D80, so I'm a little biased. That said, the ultimate in low light is the full-format sensor, and both brands have their own excellent cameras in that regard.

But yeah, get your hands on them both and ask the salesperson to get a cup of coffee while you play around.
posted by chrisinseoul at 5:30 AM on May 14, 2012

If you're at all interested in full frame but ruled it out due to cost, you might want to wait a few months. There are rumors that Nikon may be rolling out a (relatively) cheap ($1500-1700) full frame camera, the D600, soon.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:35 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is a marginally better, unexpert assessment of the feel that worth 170 dollars?

It can be, definitely, yes. Having those controls at your fingertips can make a big difference if you see yourself tweaking the controls. If you're more of a 'let the camera figure it out' person and like the smaller, lighter body, then, no, it's not worth it.
posted by starman at 5:59 AM on May 14, 2012

OK, I haven't used the Nikon, but I have the 60D, and have some experience with some other cameras, so here's my view on it:

Video shouldn't be a consideration if you are not a film maker. Both will look fantastic, and you'll never be pushing the limits of what they can do. I can pretty much guarantee you won't ever get to a point where the differences have any effect on your videos.

Depending on how much you are into hacking things, the 60D has a hacked firmware available called magic lantern, which adds a LOT of features to the camera. I wouldn't suggest it at all until you feel very comfortable with the camera, but I believe it adds the intervalometer, as well as a lot of other stuff. It's definitely geared towards people who are a little tech savvy and like having a bazillion options available, so if you want to keep it simple it's not the thing for you.

If night time shots are your priority, than you will want to get whatever camera has the best performance at high ISO's. I find anything over 1600 on the 60D to be pretty much unusable, and even at 1600 you will need a good noise reduction. I don't have lightroom, but from what I've heard, the noise reduction on the newest version is really good, and should allow you to use higher a higher ISO setting.

Your lens is also going to be extremely important for low light. The 50mm 1.8 is a great choice because the image quality is very good, and if you don't end up liking it, you can sell it and only take a very small loss. My suggestion would be to buy the 50mm 1.8 and a kit zoom lens, and after a while if you find that you prefer to shoot at a different zoom than 50 mm (maybe your zoom is usually on 35mm, or 28), than you will know what other lens to invest in.

One key thing I took away from your first post is that you mentioned the sensor difference in the Nikon disappears in jpeg format. If you are going to be shooting in jpeg, than a lot of the differences in the sensor won't matter much. If you are really looking to get as much quality as you can, you are going to want to shoot in RAW and do your processing afterwards. This will allow you to correct for some slight exposure mistakes, and will let you decide what detail is important in your shot. Changing the contrast and saturation in a jpeg leads to poor results, but doing that with the RAW format is no problem. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you plan to shoot in jpeg and not in RAW, than you probably aren't going to notice any difference in quality between cameras, so I would focus my search on what feels better in the hands and has an easier control layout.
posted by markblasco at 7:27 AM on May 14, 2012

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