Nikon D3100 vs D5100

Now that the Nikon D5100 is announced, many first time buyers will be wondering which one to get – the Nikon D3100 or the Nikon D5100. I decided to put together a quick comparison between the two cameras in this “Nikon D3100 vs D5100” article to hopefully make it easier for our readers to decide which DSLR to go with.

Nikon D3100 vs Nikon D5100

The new Nikon D5100 is an update to the existing Nikon D5000 line which was introduced in 2009 as an “upper-entry-level DSLR”. Sitting above the Nikon D3100 camera, the Nikon D5100 comes with more features and a better sensor technology to attract current entry-level DSLR owners that want to upgrade and potential customers that want to invest in a more advanced DSLR. Both DSLRs have the new Expeed II processor from Nikon, which allows faster image and video processing up to 1080p (the previous Expeed processor could not handle more than 720p video).

So, here are the differences between the Nikon D3100 and D5100:

  1. The first and the most important difference between the D3100 and D5100 is the sensor. Nikon D3100 has a 14.2 megapixel 23.1×15.4mm sensor, while the D5100 has a slightly larger 16.1 megapixel 23.6×15.6mm sensor – the same sensor that is featured on the superb Nikon D7000 DSLR.
  2. Nikon D5100′s sensor has a broader ISO range from ISO 100 to 6400 and can be boosted all the way to ISO 25600. Nikon D3100 is a stop lower, from ISO 100 to 3200 and boost up to 12800. The high ISO performance on the Nikon D5100 is also better.
  3. Nikon D5100 has a better dynamic range than Nikon D3100 (according to DxOMark.com).
  4. Nikon D5100 records twice more colors than D3100 in RAW (14-bit versus 12-bit).
  5. Nikon D3100 is classified as an entry-level DSLR, while Nikon D5100 is classified as an upper-entry-level DSLR.
  6. The new Expeed II processor on the Nikon D3100 is capable of full HD (1920x1080p) @ 24 fps (frames per second) with no exposure control, while the D5100 can shoot 1080p at 24, 25 and 30 FPS and allows semi-manual exposure control. Nikon D5100 also has an external microphone jack to record audio.
  7. Nikon D3100 comes with a 230k dot 3″ LCD screen, while Nikon D5100 comes with a 920k dot 3″ swivel LCD screen – the same high resolution screen found on high-end Nikon DSLRs.
  8. Nikon D5100 allows bracketing up to 3 frames, while the D3100 does not have a bracketing feature (a negative for those who shoot HDR).
  9. Nikon D5100 has more D-Lighting options, letting users choose between Auto, Extra High, High, Normal, Low and Off, while D3100 only lets to toggle between On and Off.
  10. Nikon D3100 shoots 3 FPS (frames per second), while Nikon D5100 shoots 4 FPS.
  11. Nikon D5100 has more scene modes and special effects than the D3100.
  12. Nikon D5100 can do in-camera HDR, while D3100 does not have such feature.
  13. Nikon D3100 is a slightly smaller camera than the D5100, measuring 124x96x74.5mm versus 127×96.5×78.7mm
    of D5100.
  14. Weight-wise, the Nikon D3100 is approximately 55 grams lighter than the D5100.
  15. Both cameras do not have focus motors and will not autofocus with older non AF-S lenses such as Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.
  16. Both cameras have exactly the same 11 focus point autofocus system with 1 cross-type sensor.
  17. Both cameras have the same EN-EL14 battery, but the D5100 is more efficient and will take up to 660 shots on a single charge, versus 550 on the D3100.
  18. The price difference between the two cameras is around $200 – the Nikon D5100 kit with the 18-55mm lens retails for $899, while the Nikon D3100 with the same lens is priced at $699.

Here comes the big question – which one would I recommend to buy? As you can see from the above comparison, except for weight and price, the Nikon D5100 beats the Nikon D3100 in every way. It has a significantly better processor, better low light performance, better LCD screen and has all kinds of other nice features not found on the D3100. While the price difference is significant, you get a lot more with the D5100 than with the D3100. In my opinion, the image sensor on the D5100 is alone worth the difference. The swivel screen on the Nikon D5100 is sweet – a world better than the one on the D5000. Not only do we get the same high resolution screen, but it is also now opening to the side rather than the bottom of the screen (which was a big annoyance on the D5000) – videographers will surely love this.

If you are the current owner of the Nikon D3100, don’t panic or get frustrated for my recommendation above. The Nikon D3100 is still a great camera and a great value for the price! Should you upgrade to Nikon D5100? I personally would not. If you feel that you have outgrown your D3100 or D3000, look into getting a semi-professional DSLR like Nikon D90 and D7000 instead.

The Nikon D5100 kit with 18-55mm lens is currently selling for approximately $899, while Nikon D3100 kit with the same lens is priced at $598 at B&H (as of 05/09/2011).


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Rahul

    hi Nasim,

    About the 12 vs 14-bit depth part : I came across a link which dissected some of technologies in DSLRs, circa 2006. It stated the 14 bit RAW to be unnecessary (it referred in terms of dynamic range, not color spectrum) as the realistic sensor capability was not limited at 12 bits, so the 14 bit RAW only served to increase file size for no real gain. I don’t know if sensors since have evolved enough to saturate at 12 bits. Nonetheless, earlier Nikons did come under fire vs Canons for not offering 14-bit RAW. I’ll see if I can find that URL. I wonder if soon we’ll be talking of 16 or 12 bits !

    • 2
      ) Rahul

      Uhh , make that 16 or 20 bits, in the last sentence.

      • 21
        ) bu11frogg

        Rahul, you bring up a good point and I’m sure as technology progresses we will see 16-bit and more.

        Apparently what you get is not necessarily a wider color gamut or broader dynamic range, but according to this article 14-bit RAW gives a smoother gradient transition than 12-bit RAW (that is my broad generalization):

        http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/14-bit-raw-12-bit-part-two.html

        So it looks like 14-bit is “better” in testing, but what does it mean in the real world? Skin tones are probably smoother for one thing. Personally I agree with this author’s conclusion: This is primarily a competition between disk space and photographic detail, and disk space is cheap.

  2. 3
    ) Pavel

    Hi Nasim!
    As for your opinion, which camera is better – Nikon D90 or D5100?

    • Pavel, sorry for a late response! The Nikon D90 has more features, but the D5100 has better image quality. It is hard to say… I would personally probably go with the D5100.

      • 7
        ) Pavel

        Thank you very much for your reply Nasim!

  3. 4
    ) Raaj Datta

    I recently bought the D90. First – direct and quick controls of the camera settings. Second – wider choice of lenses – no need to pay a premium for AF-S, you can just any AF lens. Third – The size of the camera feels just right in my hands.

    Thanks Nasim for your wonderful insights and exceptional articles.

    Rahul, thanks for your prompt response once again.

  4. 5
    ) Ralph

    Another option that the 5100 has over the 3100 is ISO 1/3 increments. On the D3100, you can only choose ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc. For example, on the D5100, you can choose ISO ISO 1000 or 1250. This is a good feature for me, who doesn’t like to shoot as high as ISO 1600, but wants something in between 800 and 1600.

  5. 8
    ) Carmelo

    Which zoom-lens is the best choice for the D5100 or the D7000? I ask this because of the very high resolution of the sensor of these cameras (16MP!!!).

    • 9
      ) Oleg

      Carmelo, try to use the new Sigma for DX-cameras: 17-50 f2.8 HSM.

  6. 10
    ) stacy

    i’m currently deciding between the d90 and the d5100 for my first dslr. for yourself, would you still go with the d5100? i take lots of landscapes, some wildlife and a good amount of family pics. i’ve used a 35mm film slr for years (minolta).
    what lens would you recommend for my first dslr(assuming i’m going to go with an AF-S lens either way)? i can only afford one lens right now. do you feel it’s worth it to go with the kit zoom lenses, or chose the lens individually? the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR comes with the d90, and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR with the d5100. i was also considering the new AF-S 50mm f/1.8G prime.
    i’ve really enjoyed your site, and am so appreciative for all the learned wisdom you share here. thanks!

    • 11
      ) Rahul

      I’d still pick a D90 but that’s because of my desire for some features missing on the D5000 and now the D5100, though now it’s a much closer contest between the D90 and D5100 as the D5100 sensor performance is better. I still cherish the prism viewfinder, dual control wheels and AF motor, as also the inbuilt flash’s commander mode of the D90.

      If you don’t shoot in low light, the kit lenses will do fine ; I find the drop in maximum aperture very fast, it’s already f/5 at 50mm on the 18-105, which is rather slow. You won’t regret getting the 50mm 1.8G, fast primes are always an asset, they make you think about focal lengths and composition more but sometime or the other they will limit the kind of shot you can take because 50mm on a DX is too long at times. A 35mm is more suitable choice in primes, the 50 can be added later. A compromise solution is a fast short zoom like a Tamron 17-50 or Sigma 16-50 f/2.8 , which are more expensive than the 18-105 though.

      • 12
        ) stacy

        thank you for your opinion rahul! i’m stuck right now, don’t know what to chose. i will look into the 35mm you recommended.

        mr. mansurov, would you kindly give me your opinion on the above question i posed? any info would be greatly appreciated!

  7. 13
    ) Omkar

    Hi Nasim,

    I am deciding between Canon T3i and Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lenses. This will be my first SLR. I have read through a lot of reviews and comments on the internet, but still confused as they have similar ratings, prices etc.

    Please let me know your views and comments on the two cameras.

    Thanks!

    • 14
      ) Kimberly Dwyer

      Good question Nasim! I’m struggling with exactly the same issue.
      Looking forward to hearing the recommendation!

      Kimberly

    • 39
      ) TOM I.

      I’ve got a D3100 & D7000 and have regular use of a D5100.
      The biggest gain will be skipping the 18-55 & 55-200. Get a body or sell the kit lens. Pick up a Nikon 18-105 (lots around on Craigslist) and 70-300 VR.
      The 18-55 is a decent lens but lacks range forcing frequent lens changes. The 18-105 is slightly better and offers significantly better range making it a good walk-around lens. The 70-300 is a HUGE improvement over the 55-200 VR or 55-300 VR. It’s sharper, offers richer colors and better contrast. The difference with the 70-300 is greater than the difference between any of the three cameras (3100,5100,7000).

      • 43
        ) Sheree

        Tom, your comment makes me feel better about a purchase I made last October. I opted for the D3100 because of price (budget) issues. The extra $300 for D5100 just wasn’t in my budget, given that I wanted a longer lens to take pics of birds and nature.

        Based on other research I opted for the D3100 DSLR and the 55-300 VR lens. So far, this has worked well for what I’m doing. Better is always better but better isn’t always in the budget. So my purchase seems to have been the best choice I could’ve made, given my limited budget.

  8. i av gone through the whole part . started my reading with d90 and d5000 later confused with d3100 and now again in trouble with deciding d5100 and d3100 .

    moreover i like to hear from you about the lenses i should go for.. i like to take wild life photographs [lbirds , animals etc..] , flowers , portraits and natural beaty like sunset, waterfall, mountains etc..

    ready to go for more than one lenses or combinations..

    photography is not my profession but it is my passion and it is my first slr experience. i am happy to spend 500 pounds for this [ around] please help me with an answer that what would you do if I were you
    many thanx..

  9. 16
    ) fayaz

    which ring flash can work better with nikon 3100 D

  10. 18
    ) veepee

    Dear Nasim,
    I have no experience in photography but i am very interested for sole personal taste.I don’t want to become a commercial photographer but want to quench my thirst on wildlife photographing and natural habitats photograph and filming.I finally decide to have my first DSLR of which Nikon 5100 come to me in the first place(canon being out-opted)I am also a Photoshop artist.So shall i go ahead or do you have any suggestion on my acquiring of DSLR?please do suggest.

  11. 19
    ) Imran Ahmed

    Dear Nasim,

    I have been looking to buy an entry level DSLR and have looked up various websites. First I must admit that Snapsort is the best camera comparison and review site-specially for people like me who are not technical or professional in photography. I really love the side by side comparison which is very easy to understand and objective.

    I am confused between the D3100 and D5100. Though D3100 is right in my price range and I think i can buy a case, memory card, filters etc within a reasonable price for now and maybe a continuation lense a few months down. The other side of me wants me to look at the D5100 which looks better but is a little outside my range looking at the overall cost incl case etc.
    Is the D5100 really that better that I go out of my range and still buy it or is it just some extra features that will just be redundant in a few months due to changes in technology? Please do suggest.

    Thank you

    • Imran, if budget is a stretch, just go for the D3100 and don’t look back…

      • 30
        ) Imran Ahmed

        well thanks dr Nasim. I already bought D3100 two months ago. Its a great DSLR. I enjoy every moment with this. So any one have tight budget, than go for D3100 i can assure u that u will love D3100. And obviously go for Nikon. Nikon is the best.

        • 45
          ) Raj Kumar

          Hi Ahmed,

          I also interested to buy Nikon D3100, but after the comparison between D3100 VS D5100, I’m confused which one to opt for. Just like in your case, my problem is also with budget only. I just read all the reviews and question that was asked to Nasim. Finally this advise was really meant for me. so, now i’m gonna pursue D3100 in a month.
          can you tell where should i purchase? Online purchase (Ebay or buy the price) or i need to purchase it in some outlets?

          also can you share your experience on D3100?

          Nasim sir,

          I personally need your advise on this as well. If you see this pls reply. :-)

          • 46
            ) Imran Ahmed

            You will love D3100. i would say buy it from the Nikon store. Im now upgrading my camera. Now im going for D7000. But for you which was my case, D3100 is the best solution. Thanks

            • 47
              ) Raj Kumar

              Hi Imran,

              Thanks for your advice :-) but i bought Nikon D5100 a week ago. it was really cool and worth for the money. If you would like me to advice please do.

              Also i’m interested in birds and wild life photography. However with this kit lens i’m not able to shoot an good image with bokeh.
              Why lens should i need to buy further?

              Friends need your advice?

          • 48
            ) Imran Ahmed

            Congratulation.. you made an excellent choice. For birds and wild life photography you may choice AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, im using it and its pretty good for its price and also creates satisfactory bokeh… Kit lens is more like general lens. It is mainly useful for the landscape.. Remember 1 thing>> You have to buy DX lens always. So dont buy any FX lenses… you can research my gear:

            1. Portrait/Lowlight—> AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
            2. Landscape————> AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II VR
            3. Micro——————-> AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
            4. Zoom/ Animals—–> AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

            Thank you

            • 49
              ) Raj Kumar

              Hi Ahmed,

              Thanks for your the suggestion on which lenses to buy for what kind of photography. i think for some time i need to do landscape photography bcoz AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens is little costlier! so i need to wait at-least for an year or eight months or else i need to get some second handed lens :-(

              If your are a part of FB member kindly share you email address or profile name to add you as my friend (if don’t mind) and also i would like to see your pictures as well.

              Regards,
              Raj Kumar

          • 50
            ) Imran Ahmed

            I have flickr but dont have FB account r8 now… for some reason i had to deactivate my account. I’ll be back soon. You may plan for buying Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens. I make my decision to buy it very soon and going to sell my AF-S 85mm. i borrowed Tamron 90mm from my friend and im really satisfied. Nikkor 85mm is good but no match for Tamron 90mm and it has auto-focus motor. so no prob with D3100 and ur D5100 as well. As we discussed earlier D3100 is the best for budget, for this i can bought my gears. If i chosen D5100 might facing ur problem… so think before buy my friend.

            Thank you

          • 53
            ) SHAMBHU NATH SAHOO

            I WANT TO BUY D3100 AAS PER MY BUDGET. I HAVE MADE IN DEPTH STUDY ON PRICE VARIATIONS. EBAY, FLIPKART, NAAPTOL, TRADEUS ALL ARE QUOTING HIGH. I TRIED WITH THE LOCAL NIKON DEALERS AND FOUND AT 24180 WHERE AS FLIPKART ETC ARE QUOTING 28450.

  12. 20
    ) Manojkumar sahu

    Say me finally which one is really better,…???

    • Doesn’t it say above already? I pointed out clearly that the D5100 is better.

  13. 22
    ) Marcus

    I think you can’t go wrong with either D3100 or D5100. The thing is video mode is slightly better in D5100, sensor is newer and bigger (16 vs 14 megapixels from D3100) and you get some extra options you don’t see in D3100, like some scene modes and the tilt-swivel screen which is a BIG plus for me.

    • I agree, both cameras are good to get into photography.

  14. 23
    ) Marcus

    I personally was confused about it either, D3100 vs D5100, but squeezed a few more bucks and was able to finally get my D5100 beginning of October and I am absolutely happy with it. D3100 is simpler, and I think you will outgrow it faster, plus like I mentioned D5100 is newer. For those who already have a D3100, not completely sure if the update is worth right now (I’d prefer to wait for a possible D7100 or so), plus the money you spend in this kind of camera is something to consider (I plan to be with it for some 3-4 years, then probably technology in it will be kinda outdated and I will start considering an update myself).

    • As I have already pointed out, I would not upgrade from D3100 to D5100. If buying new, I would try to get the D5100, since it is better.

  15. 24
    ) Marcus

    Same thing is happening to those who have Canon T2i and T3i right now. For those who have already a T2i, not worth the exchange (biggest difference is the tilt-swivel screen in T3i, but unless you shoot videos all the time having a fixed screen is not big of a hassle). However, I think T2i and T3i are more similar and closely related (sensor and image/video modes are pretty much the same) than the D3100 and D5100.

  16. 29
    ) Manojkumar sahu

    Nasim Mansurovji,
    Did you take pain to say me about A Nikon cool pix L120.
    Is it a good camera in entire cool pix range from Nikon ???
    And say me if i go for purchase to this One is it give me more satisfaction in features point of view?? The reason behind go for this product is Budget Only.
    from
    manojkumar

    • Sorry, but I do not know anything about point and shoot cameras.

      • 33
        ) angeline lai

        can anyone tell me which one is good for taking vidoes and still pictures . My doughter is a swimmer and i would like to take some vidoes while she is swimming. So i wounder which one is good in that way. Is it D3100 or D5100 and what kind on lens i should get. thanks

  17. 32
    ) naga

    Which one is better between canon t3i and nikon d5100?

  18. 35
    ) hasan

    hi dear Nasim…
    I intend to start photography now and i am really confused between d3100 and d5100. I completely know that d5100 is far better than d3100 but is my following viewpoint true…?
    I think as i am a new user and don’t know so much about photography it’s better to buy a d3100 and try to handle it nicely, reaching a good vision in photography and after 2 or 3 years upgrade to d7100 (if one comes…) to use it perfectly…

    what’s your idea…? Am I right or It’s better to start by d5100?

  19. 36
    ) hasan

    hi dear Nasim…
    I intend to start photography now and i am really confused between d3100 and d5100. I completely know that d5100 is far better than d3100 but is my following viewpoint true…?
    I think as i am a new user and don’t know so much about photography it’s better to buy a d3100 and try to handle it nicely, reaching a good vision in photography and after 2 or 3 years upgrade to d7100 (if one comes…) to use it perfectly…

    what’s your idea…? Am I right or It’s better to start by d5100? what should i do?

  20. 37
    ) Saminathan

    Nice comments and very good. Keep it up. :-)

  21. 38
    ) Eve

    Hi there!
    Im still contemplating as to which DSLR camera I should get. I’m a beginner & would like to have a camera for photo-taking durin outings, holidays as well as capturing some nature scenes. Which should I get? And is the difference worthwhile for user like me?

  22. 40
    ) Feruza

    Hi! Thank you for the interesting post & comments. I am little confused. I am interested in the durability of these cameras. I heard some ppl (not everyone) are getting dark images after using d5100 for 2-3 months. We are planning to leave the USA soon, so we won’t be able to repair it (warranty is limited). I would be thankful if any d3100 or d5100 users could share their experience as we are going to buy one but still can’t decide. Thank you very much!

  23. 41
    ) Margaux

    hi! i would like to get your advise on which is a “better” lens to buy for photography starters/hobbyist like me. i just currently own a Nikon D3100 with 18-55 kit lens. I plan to upgrade on latter part of the year to Nikon D7000. I just shoot mostly during travels and events. Which is a better buy among these options – TAMRON 18-270MM, NIKON 70-300MM VR, or SIGMA 18-250MM? OR do you have better lens to recommend? i highly appreciate your advises. thank you very much! :)

  24. 42
    ) Margaux

    hi! i would like to get your advise on which is a “better” lens to buy for photography starters/hobbyist like me. i just currently own a Nikon D3100 with 18-55 kit lens. I plan to upgrade on latter part of the year to Nikon D7000. I just shoot mostly during travels and events. Which is a better buy among these options – TAMRON 18-270MM, NIKON 70-300MM VR, or SIGMA 18-250MM? OR do you have better lens to recommend? i highly appreciate your inputs. thank you very much! :)

  25. 44
    ) royce

    Im new to photography , never had a dslr…i prefer the red colour on the front of the d3100, as its slightly larger than the d5100, so ill be bying the d3100

  26. 51
    ) Cecilia

    Soooooo helpful! Thank you so much for posting this! I tried to compare myself and it was information overload. Thank you for doing it for me!

  27. 52
    ) Atanu Dey

    Hi,
    I have a D5100 and plan to buy a second camera body for my wife (who is new in photography). We’ll share the lenses. What do you recommend – D3100 or a D5100?

  28. 54
    ) Dr Birinder Sachdeva

    Hi Nasim,
    Am a Dentist by profession. Planning to go for my first DSLR. Give me the best choice out of D5200 18-55, or D3200 18 -105, which may be helpful in my professional documentation and amateur hobby of photography.

  29. 55
    ) Confused

    So, I have a Nikon Coolpix, but I am selling it and buying a DSLR, because I have a knack for photography. Would you rather recommend D3100 or D5100? Since I’m a student, I’m also on a slightly tight budget. With a few tweaks, I WILL be able to get a D5100 but the D3100 will be easier to get. What would you recommend? Also, what about P510? My father has his eyes on it’s incredible zoom, but surely the D3100 would have a better image quality than the P510?

    • 56
      ) Tom I

      If money is tight go for the D3100. I’ve had them both and the image quality is indistinguishable. Both capture terrific images. The P510 has a nice feature set and a tiny point & shoot sensor that can not match the image quality of the D3100. An APS-C or crop sensor in any consumer DSLR is more than twelve times larger than the one in the P510. Your dad might consider a D3100 and one of Nikon’s zooms. They offer an 18-105VR, 18-200VR and an 18-300VR.

  30. I LIKE D3100 AND d5100 I LIKE BOTH CAMERA

  31. 58
    ) Erin

    Hi Nasim,
    I have a D3100 and love it, I have the stock lens,18 – 55, and a 55 – 200 lens. I do not like changing the lenses, but do for the better shot. I was looking into a Nikon – AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Standard Zoom Lens. I thought this would get me closer to my shots which I am not always able to do and leave me without having to change lenses. I have heard about a shadow with using the larger lens. I take ALOT of pictures all the time, soccer games, gymnastics, girl scouts and vacations. What are your thoughts?

    Thank you.

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