Canon T3i (600D) vs Nikon D5100 Comparison

Canon T3i vs Nikon D5100
In this comparison article I want to compare the Nikon D5100 vs Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D. Two among the most popular among beginners and enthusiasts alike.  Those two cameras where introduce in the first quarter of 2011 and both are competing once against each other. Those who are debating between those two cameras probably need some help. I hope that after reading this article, you can come up with a final decision which camera fits your specific needs, or in other words, which cameras is better for your type of shooting habits. OK, let’s start!

Canon vs Nikon Debate

When I compare a Canon cameras versus a Nikon camera, we can’t deny the fact that this comparison can become a flamed one. If you read forum and blog comments, you can clearly see that many people will opt for Nikon just because it’s Nikon, and others will recommend you to go with Canon, even without giving a proper reason. Of course this article is not about opening the ‘Nikon vs Canon’ debate, but give you a good overview of the pros and cons of each camera, help you see the key differences and those that aren’t obvious.

Those two cameras will certainly serve the needs of millions of photographers worldwide. However, there aren’t any two cameras that are exactly the same, and as you soon see, there are some differences that you certainly want to know about before buying one of those cameras, wither the Canon T3i or Nikon D5100.

Advance Entry-Level DSLR Cameras

Both the Canon Rebel T3i and Nikon D5100 are entry-level cameras, but sits one step above the cheapest models, the Canon T3 / EOS 1100D and Nikon D3100.  Those two cameras aren’t the cheapest ones when it comes to features and price, and they belong to a category called “Advanced Entry-Level Cameras”.

That means that you pay a bit more, just to get a bit more features. That can be a 3.5mm mic jack for connecting external stereo microphone, higher LCD resolution, more megapixels, faster continuous shooting, etc. That means that the more advanced models will have some features that some people might want to have in their new camera. It doesn’t mean that they are must-have ones, at least not for beginners. Beginners on a tight budget might consider buying the Canon T3 / Nikon D3100 to save money and maybe put that money in a better glass (lens).

Let me give you an example. I have the Nikon D3100, the cheapest Nikon entry-level model. By all means it’s not a cheap camera at all. However, there is two entry-level models that are above this camera, the Nikon D3200 and the D5100. Both the D3200 and D5100 offer higher sensor resolution, have high-res monitor, 3.5mm mic jack,  faster burst and more frame-rate options when shooting video.

I personally don’t need all that stuff, so I opted for the Nikon D3100 and put my money on better lenses. Some people might be tempted to pay a bit more and get those extra features. For some it can be a big difference, for others it is not necessary at all.

Nikon D5100 and Canon Rebel T3i belong to that category.

Key Specs Comparison

Before we continue our comparison journey, let’s take a look at a side by side specs comparison table.

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Let’s summarize the differences:

  1. Canon T3i sensor resolution is a bit larger than the Nikon D5100, not significant at all
  2. Canon T3i has a higher resolution LCD, but again, the difference is not big at all
  3. Nikon D5100 has a slightly higher viewfinder magnification
  4. Burst is virtually identical (0.3 fps difference)
  5. Both offer 1080p video recording, but the T3i offers 60fps at 720p, and Nikon has 30/25/24 frame rates options
  6. Nikon D5100 has  220 shots better battery life, quite significant for those who shoot a lot (of course you can always get a second battery, but tat adds to the cost)
  7. T3i is half a centimeter wider
  8. Nikon has AF for shooting videos
  9. Startup delay is much faster on the Nikon
  10. Nikon D5100 has more AF points
As you can see from the key specs comparison, the differences aren’t big. In fact, you can see that those two cameras were meant to compete one against the other just by looking at the dry specs. The D5100 might look a bit better when looking at the specs, but of course the specs doesn’t tell the whole story.

Regarding the Continuous shooting fps differences, let’s take a look at the buffer capacities for both cameras.

Canon EOS 600D Buffer capcity:

  • JPEG (Large/Fine) 6.4MB – 34 frames
  • JPEG (Large/Normal) 3.2MB – 1120 frames
  • RAW 24.5MB – 6 frames
  • RAW+JPEG (RAW/Lage) 30.9MB – 3 frames

Nikon D5100 Buffer capacity:

  • JPEG (Large/Fine) 7.1MB – 100 frames
  • JPEG (Large/Normal) 3.9MB – 100 frames
  • RAW 16.4MV – 16 frames
  • RAW+JPEG (RAW/Large) 23.9MB – 10 frames
The D5100 certainly wins in this category.

Before we continue talking about image quality, let’s take a look ta a video made by DigitalRev which compares the Canon EOS 600D (T3i) vs Nikon D5100.

OK, I hope that video gave you a bit of an intimate introduction with the two cameras. Now let’s see how the two cameras compare in terms of image quality.

Image Quality

 I have to confess, I am a pixelpeeper myself. When I purchase a new camera, I always look at photos at 100% scale, trying to find any difference that might convince me to get one camera over the other. Luckily we have dpreview Comparometer application that can really help you tell the image quality differences by viewing two 100% scale photos side by side Here is my observation conclusions:

* I’ve compared the JPEG output of both cameras in different ISO sensitivity settings not in Raw.

ISO 800 – it looks like the Canon Rebel T3i / 600D produces a bit sharper images with more details out of the box. Regarding noise, you can’t see any real difference, maybe the Canon Rebel T3i has a slight edge, but nothing that significant.  Better: T3i
ISO 1600 – At ISO 1600 the Canon seems to have a slight edge over the D5100 in terms of noise and I can clearly see quite a big difference in favor of the T3i in terms of details in the image. D5100 images looks a bit soft compared to the 600D. Better: T3i

ISO 3200: At this sensitivity things start to change in favor of the D5100. The Nikon start to show its strength in this ISO sensitivity with less noise overall. Worth mentioning that both the T3i and D5100 perform much better than the Sony A55 and D3100 (my current camera). Better: D5100

ISO 6400 – I have to admit that both cameras perform incredibly well at this ISO sensitivity. The D5100 has the edge with cleaner / less noise photos, especially noticeable in the dark areas (shadows) of the image. Having said that, the 600D was able to pull out more details from the photographed scene. Better: D5100

ISO 12800 – The 600D has the edge in the darker areas of the image, but the D5100 IQ is better overall. Better: D5100

When we consider both the noise and sharpness in JPEG, the Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i has the edge up to ISO 1600, but the D5100 certainly has a noticeable advantage at higher ISO sensitivities in my opinion and according to my observation. Maybe the reason for that is that the D5100 has less pixel density due to the relatively larger sensor. Both camera are really impressive at high-ISO. The D5100 utilizes the same sensr has the Nikon D7000, which as we know, it’s an incredible camera with very high image-quality output. I can even say that the D5100 performs as good as the D700 all across the ISO sensitivity levels.
If IQ was the only aspect of choosing between those two cameras, I would have gone with the D5100 instead of the T3i.


Both the Nikon D5100 and the Canon Rebel T3i are two highly capable cameras. You can’t go wrong choosing either of them. However, we can’t just ignore the differences between them, and their are some differences.  I personally think that the D5100 outperforms the T3i in terms of image quality, buffer size in burst mode, longer battery life and even the in-camera guides are very useful for beginners. The T3i has a slightly larger viewfinder and a bit higher resolution LCD.

Having said that, both cameras will perfectly fit for beginners and enthusiast photographers alike. I was very impressed with the high ISO JPEG image quality and we can clearly see a big difference compared to older models. If I had to choose between those two and I didn’t have any lenses prior to buying a new camera, I would have bought the D5100 over the 600D / T3i. It’s worth mentioning that when you purchase the D5100, it won’t autofocus with older lenses, and you will need to spend more to get a lens with AF motor in it. That can significantly increase the overall cost, but it depends on which lenses you want to buy.

If you are just getting the D5100 with the 18-55mm kit lens, it won’t be a problem. at all. Nikon has some great DX lenses that are both affordable and provide excellent optical performance (the same I can say on Canon of course). So again, if you want my opinion, I am in favor of the D5100 from what I’ve  read and seen. Do your own math and see which one fits your specific needs.