Choosing The Right DSLR Can Be A Bit Confusing
About nine months ago I decided to take the leap into digital SLR photography, and since I had used several compact Nikon cameras I decided to stick with a Nikon as I found their in camera menus quite easy to navigate, understand and customize. But just deciding on the brand did not mean that the decision process was solved, as there are a couple of Nikon DSLR cameras that would suite someone relatively new to DSLR photography.
There are two cameras that seem to be specifically geared towards the beginner to DSLRs, and these are the D3100 and D5100. Now apart from a $100 difference in price there are few things that do make the D5100 technically a better camera.
First of all there is a difference in the image sensor with the cheaper camera having a 14.2 MP sensor, while the more expensive one has a 16.2 MP one. It's a significant difference, but you also need to keep two things in mind, (a) do you really need the larger size for your uses and (b) will you need more storage space for the larger images. The first question really comes down to whether you crop pictures a lot before displaying them, or how large you print your images, i.e. do you do much poster size printing. Unless you do these two things at large scale there really isn't a huge benefit in having two extra megapixels. Secondly, the larger sensor will mean that your images are larger, which may mean that you need a larger and more expensive memory card and more storage space on your computer.
The other big difference between the two cameras is that the D5100 has a foldable swivel display with a much larger screen resolution of 920,000 pixels. One of my previous cameras was a Coolpix 8700, which also had such a swivel display, and it is a really cool and useful feature. Anytime you might be in a slightly awkward posture to take a photo this does come in handy. Examples are shooting at low level when kids are involved, or trying to take pictures over objects or people when you cannot physically reposition yourself.
Why I Bought The D3100
So, if the D5100 is a technically a better camera, why did I not buy it? Well, the reason basically came down to money. When I bought my camera there was a price difference of about $100, and to me the extra two megapixels and the swivel display were not worth $100. This allowed me to buy some additional equipment that I needed, which included a camera bag, and a lens filter to protect the lens.
Now that I have owned the camera for nine months I can honestly say that I do not regret my decision. I have had a few situations where the swivel display would have been nice to have, but I still managed to take great photos without it.
Some Things I don't Like
There really isn't much that I don't like about the D3100, but there is one thing that did annoy me, which my research didn't unveil. Many, if not most, DSLR cameras come with a feature called exposure bracketing. It is quite a simple feature and basically means that when activated the shutter release causes the camera to take three photos rather than one. The two additional images are taken with positive and negative exposure compensation.
You may wonder why you would want to do this, as it does seem like a strange feature and the answer is twofold. Firstly, certainly light conditions can fool your camera's metering system resulting in over or under exposed images. Exposure bracketing lets you take additional photos with higher and lower exposure values increasing the chances of taking a great picture.
Secondly, and more importantly, HDR photography is becoming ever more popular. What this does is take three or more images taken at different exposure values and combine them into one image which then has correctly exposed highlights and lowlights. It is something that annoys me, but you can still work around it manually changing the exposure and taking three separate photos.