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. Note that both of these cameras have been discontinued, and the current versions of each are the Nikon D3500 and D5600. (See our reviews of the Nikon D3400 and D5600)
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Nikon D5100 has a better dynamic range than Nikon D3100 (according to DxOMark.com).
- Nikon D5100 records twice more colors than D3100 in RAW (14-bit versus 12-bit).
- Nikon D3100 is classified as an entry-level DSLR, while Nikon D5100 is classified as an upper-entry-level DSLR.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nikon D5100 allows bracketing up to 3 frames, while the D3100 does not have a bracketing feature (a negative for those who shoot HDR).
- 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.
- Nikon D3100 shoots 3 FPS (frames per second), while Nikon D5100 shoots 4 FPS.
- Nikon D5100 has more scene modes and special effects than the D3100.
- Nikon D5100 can do in-camera HDR, while D3100 does not have such feature.
- Nikon D3100 is a slightly smaller camera than the D5100, measuring 124x96x74.5mm versus 127×96.5×78.7mm
- Weight-wise, the Nikon D3100 is approximately 55 grams lighter than the D5100.
- Both cameras do not have focus motors and will not autofocus with older non AF-S lenses such as Nikon 50mm f/1.8D.
- Both cameras have exactly the same 11 focus point autofocus system with 1 cross-type sensor.
- 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.
- 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.
Note again that the D3100 and D5100 cameras are both discontinued. See our current camera review page for our reviews of the later models of these cameras.