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Thursday, September 2, 2010

What to buy... Nikon D90, Canon T2i, or Nikon D3100???

Had a good question from a reader today that I'm sure a lot of folks may be asking at this point so I thought I'd share it.

Steve writes in...

I am sure you get these all the time, and after reading you posts, I know what the stock reply has been (D90). Here is my situation. After 4.5 years of waiting, my wife and I are leaving for China on October 5th to adopt our daughter. Our little Sony Cybershot camera isn't going to cut the mustard. The adoption is decimating our savings, and to pay for a camera purchase I have recently sold my beloved SCUBA gear. Ok, so now you have some background.

I've been going back and forth, back and forth again, and again. Over the D90 vs. the Canon T2i. As you might expect, the 1080p video on the T2i vs. 780p on the D90 is causing my heartburn. Throw in the soon to be released D3100 and its auto-focus video, and well, you can imagine the agony I am feeling right now.

I consider video importantly, but its never been as a big a focus for us as the pictures. I think the fact that this is a huge life event, the video more of a big deal.

-Have you ever felt disappointed by only have 720p video on the D90? Enough so that if say there wasn't ever going to be a new D90, would you sell your D90 t buy the D3100?

-What's your opinion on the Nikon Normal AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Autofocus Lens? If I bought the D90 and only this lens, would I find it acceptable for everything buy wide shots?

You wouldn't believe how hard this decision is. I was hoping you might offer an opinion if you have the time. Thanks in advance.


and here's my reply...

Hi Steve,

Congrats on your new daughter!

Here's my thoughts on your situation. I have both the D90 and the T2i. Both are capable of excellent photos, but the T2i is better for video.

When it comes to photography, I prefer the D90. Mind you, I prefer Nikon in general. I've shot both Canon and Nikon over the years, and Nikon is built better, has less problems, and backs that up with a MUCH stronger warranty (i.e. Nikon DSLR bodies have 2 years warranties, Canon DSLR bodies have 1 year warranties. Nikon lenses have 5 year warranties, Canon lenses have 1 year warranties.)

The warranty issue is HUGE for me as I feel a company backs up their product accordingly to how well it's built.

Nikon DSLR's tend to have a lot more features than Canon DSLR's too.

The D90 video is fine. Yes, it's 720p, but do you really need 1080p? I'd suggest if you're not doing anything professional, then the answer is no. I bought my T2i because I have some professional video projects on the go where I needed the 1080p HD of the T2i, as well as the ability to use an external microphone.

All this said, the D3100 should be out mid-September. It'll have the 1080p HD video, the better warranty, and the new AF-F continous video focus which is a HUGE advantage over both the D90 and the T2i in my opinion.

Bear in mind, the D3100 won't let you auto focus with the non AF-S lenses. You won't be able to use a Nikon 50mm f1.8 AF-D on it unless you're focusing manually. Not a big deal considering there is the Nikon 35mm f1.8G and Nikon 50mm f1.4G available, both of which are excellent.

Regarding the Nikon 50mm f1.8 AF-D, it's a stellar performer. Probably the BEST value in the entire Nikon lens line-up. Yes, if you have a wide lens to go with it, you'd be fine using it for everything else. Consider the very good 18-55 kit lens (VR or non-VR) to go with it, and you're good. Add the new 55-300mm VR, and you've got a great set-up. Wide, long, and fast!

So here's my suggestion... get on the list for one of the first Nikon D3100 bodies to arrive at your local store. If it doesn't come in before you leave, negotiate the best price you can get on a Nikon D90. It'll be fine for your trip, and if you decide once you get back that you really want the D3100, then you can sell the D90 for close to what you paid (or trade it in if your camera store gives you good value) and get the D3100. Win-win situation. Add the Nikon 18-55mm, the 55-300mm VR, and the 50mm f1.8, and you're good to go to China!

Hope this helps!


P.S. If you don't mind, I'm going to post your inquiry so others who might be having similar considerations can consider my reply too.

and Steve's follow-up email...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the quick reply! Please feel free to post the question/answer. I found your site really helpful, so of course I don't mind if your advice is shared with others with similar questions. I think your recommendation is a sound one, and if the D3100 is released mid-September, a pretty good thing.

The other aspect to this is of course the wife. I've been billing the purchase of a more expensive camera as getting both great photos and video, somehow I don't see her appreciating having to manually focus video. Maybe it's not a big deal, but
EVERYONE seems to be going ga-ga over the D3100 getting this feature.

The D3100 seems to only come with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens (
Amazon)), which is fine really. Since I anticipate the focus of the trip being more on my daughter than stuff far away, would you agree that having the Nikon 35mm F1.8 G AF-S DX is a better choice because the F1.8 will give me better performance for inside shots than the 18-55 @ F3.5?

Thanks again Matt, probably the best advice I have received to date!


and my reply back...

Yes, the AF-F video auto focus is HUGE.

Tough call on the lens. Personally, I'd probably get both if I was in your shoes. That way you'll have a wide that doubles as a back-up. At the kit price, you can't really go wrong.

That said, I would have no problem using just the Nikon 35mm f1.8G. That's actually all I ever used when I had a D5000 for a few months. It's a fantastic lens!

So, in a nutshell folks... if you're up in the air between these cameras, go with the D3100. If you need something TODAY, get a D90.

If video takes priority over photography for professional or other reasons, the T2i is probably your best option TODAY. Keep in mind though, the Nikon D7000 should be announced in a week or two, and that WILL then become the best option, hands down.

Related posts...


Anonymous said...

Where did you get your warranty info?

On B&H, the Nikon D3100 body and Canon T2i both have 1 year warranties.

Are you sure about this?

Jana said...

I am a beginner and I would really like to buy a good camera. What is recommended for a new user?
Nikon D3100 or Canon T2i?

I need auto focus lens, user friendly device and a good camera.


Hassan Kassem said...

My situation is a little bit different than Steve. I have a very small budget so I cannot afford the D60 or T2i, so it is obvious that my last option is D3100 which I find very good. I am just a new user and I have not any Nikon old lenses and I never mind about the AF video problems because may main concern is the still photo.
what about Nikon system vs Canon system in the long term? which one is better? I am looking to invest in more lenses step by step.
If Canon is better I have only 1000D or a used T2i.
What do you think?

Beth Schweriner said...

HI, I am looking for an entry level SLR that won't break my bank. I am looking to take family shots and vaca. My daughter and I would like to be able to share the camera and will need one that can stand up to some shipping and handling. I currently have a Nikon L110 point and shoot and love it but was looking to make the next step. Budget my biggest problem Thanks

Matt Ballard said...

@Beth Schweriner - Either the Nikon D3100 or the Nikon D90 will work for you just fine. The Nikon D90 is a little more advanced and will give you more camera to grow into.

The Nikon D3100 is also an excellent value for the money. Try them both out in the store, and go with your gut.

P.S. If video is a major factor for you, then try the Canon T2i out too. It's not as good a photographer's camera as the Nikon D90, but it's the top of the 3 for video.

Matt Ballard said...

@Anonymous - Yes, in Canada the warranty on the Nikon D3100 is 2 years. I believe there is an option for that in the USA too, but it is not readily published.

Matt Ballard said...

@Jana - The Nikon D3100 and Canon T2i are not really in the same market level. The T2i is a higher level DSLR, and is better at video, although not as good at photography. Consider the Nikon D90 if you want a great deal on a great photographer's camera. If video is really important, then go with the Canon T2i or the Nikon D7000.

Matt Ballard said...

@Hassan - I think Nikon is the better camera system at the moment. If you're looking to save money, consider a used Nikon D90. Great camera!

Karen F. said...

Love your blog. I'm a beginner, and I have been learning a lot with you. I decided to go with a first entry level D3100. I'm looking for prices in eBay, and the good deals come with AF-S 18-55mm lens. If I understood correctly I must avoid these lens in order to use the auto focus property of the camera, is that right? So, what exactly is the name of the lens I must look for? I understood the wide one, but not the others. Thanks a lot!

Ps.: Can I give an advice? I found a bit difficult to read the white letters on black background, and I don't have any vision problem. :-)

Ps.: Love your daughters! They are SO CUTE! Congratulations!