Nikon D3200 vs Nikon D5100 – Which One to Buy?

When we first heard that there was going to be a Nikon D3200, the first thing that we were contemplating was whether it will also be another megapixels packed sensor camera like the D800. With the Canon EOS 600D at 18 megapixels, we knew it would be at least comparable given the sudden change in game plan from Nikon as they make a splash with the megapixels war. So the 24.2 megapixels sensor of the Nikon D3200 was really something to be expected even if it seemed a bit high. I had money between 18-20 but at least I didn’t bet on it being the same as the Nikon D800. Mind you, this IS an APS-C sized DX format sensor so it’s really plenty. However, as we have always said, a camera is always more than just a pixel count so how does it compare with its older brother, the Nikon D5100.

Nikon D3200Nikon D5100
Sensor TypeDX Format (APS-C) CMOS SensorDX Format (APS-C) CMOS Sensor
Sensor Size23.2×15.4mm23.6×15.6mm
Sensor Resolution24.2 megapixels16.2 megapixels
LCD3.0-inch (921k dots) TFT LCD3.0-inch (921k dots) TFT LCD
Live View
Viewfinder TypePentamirror typePentamirror type
Viewfinder CoverageApprox. 95%Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Magnification0.8x (with 50mm at infinity)0.78x (with 50mm at infinity)
HD Movie1920×1080 (30, 24, 25fps), 1280×720 (60, 50fps)1920 × 1080 @29.97, 25, 23.976fps
Movie Mode AF
Max. Continuous Burst Speed4fps4fps
AF System11-point AF System11-point AF System
Built-in Image StabilisationXX
Image SensitivityISO 100 to 6400 (Extendable to 12800)ISO 100 to 6400 (Extendable to 25600)
Shutter Speed Range1/4000 to 30s & Bulb1/4000 to 30s & Bulb
Built-in Flash
Memory Card Slot(s)1x SD/SDHC/SDXC Card1x SD/SDHC/SDXC Card
Weight (Body only, incl. battery & memory card)Approx. 505gApprox. 560g
Dimensions (W x H x D)Approx. 560gApprox. 125 x 96 x 76.5mmApprox. 128 x 97 x 79mm

Looking at the specs almost gives me an instant headache with the similarities. It’s almost as if they were just trying to give you the Nikon D5100 in the D3200 but without the swivel LCD. Sure the sensor is different, the ISO sensitivity is slightly better on the Nikon D5100 in the extended range by being a stop higher and the viewfinder slightly different. Are there really sufficient differences for them to coexist? Why not just release a better D5100 and leave the D3200 with a smaller sensor? Well… It may well be a marketing ploy on Nikon’s part to capture the more naïve beginners who are still judging cameras by the megapixels count. After all, if you are suddenly given to try out the very affordable and increasingly user-friendly DSLRs for general shooting… going from a compact digital camera to a DSLR doesn’t mean you suddenly know how to tell which is better… especially with the “lesser” brands going into bigger price cuts or consumer-oriented color options [Yes… I know Nikon has got a red D3200 available as well…]. Regardless, Nikon has seemed to be eager to play the megapixels card both at the top as well as at the bottom to capture the buyers’ attention.

To Swivel or Not to Swivel – Nikon D5100 vs Nikon D3200

The biggest difference without looking into the details has to be the swivel LCD of the Nikon D5100 against the fixed screen of the Nikon D3200. Now both are at 3.0-inch and deliver the same display resolution at approximately 921,000 dots so you won’t have to worry about losing out on quality or size. Most beginners shooting with DSLRs are advised to get familiar with using the viewfinder to get used to shooting with the DSLR and enjoy the benefits of an optical viewfinder that they could not get with compact digitals. However, given that many are using its video functions or taking family photos from all locations and angles, the swivel LCD has been much more popular. That is not to say that the viewfinder is not appreciated but only that many consumers would find cameras with the swivel-screen more impressive than a one without.

“If you are thinking of shooting lots of movie with your DSLR, the swivel screen will push you more towards the Nikon D5100”

Well if you are serious about learning to shoot… you won’t bother with the swivel screen in most cases. What’s more, if you expect to get a bit rough with the camera during shooting, a non-swivel version is more robust. This makes it a good choice for beginners and the fact that it matches the D5100 in specs, makes the Nikon D3200 a very good choice indeed.

Nikon D3200 vs Nikon D5100 – Which Shoots Better?

Well… how exactly do they compare when shooting? This of course is the real issue. In this I would say Nikon D3200. Why? Well, it’s a simple case of better results. With the Nikon D3200 giving about 8 megapixels more resolution when shooting, you can get more quality simply by cropping into the “sweet” central part of the lens to get better quality. In many ways, DX cameras shooting with FX lenses already have that benefit so with the D3200, shooting with a DX lens will still allow you to crop out the “poorer” bits out on the side when the occasion warrants. What’s more, in the hands of a beginner, framing and compositions are likely to be the skills that take the longest to hone. With a larger-sized image, you can crop creatively to get different feels and still maintain a decent size image for most uses.

Wait… aren’t high pixel density suppose to mean you get more noise and hence poorer image quality??? While that is of course true, Nikon has done well to keep the noise pretty well under the hood. The Nikon D5100 has an edge on this of course but in most cases, you are not really going to have much issues over it.

Which to Choose? Nikon D3200 0r Nikon D5100?

For a beginner or even an experienced amateur looking for a “light” DSLR (or even a second everyday DSLR for the pros), the Nikon D3200 is a very good camera to have. Of course if you are thinking of shooting lots of movie with your DSLR, the swivel screen will push you more towards the Nikon D5100 (or its upcoming successor, I suspect). For the price on these two cameras, I think going for the Nikon D3200 would be the smart choice.