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Nikon D5100 Gordon Laing, May 2011
 

Nikon D5100 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise


Nikon D5100 vs Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i Real-life resolution (default settings)

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To compare real-life performance we shot the same scene with the Nikon D5100 and Canon EOS 600D / T3i within a few moments of each other using their best-quality JPEG settings and base sensitivities. Scroll down for a comparison of JPEG and RAW.

Both cameras were fitted with their respective kit lenses: the D5100 with the Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR and the 600D / T3i with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II. Both were set to f8 and focused on the target area using magnified Live View.


The image above was taken with the Nikon D5100 set to Program, where it metered an exposure of 1/320 at f8 and 100 ISO. Interestingly after seeing many previous Nikon DSLRs over-expose this very bright scene, the D5100 metered it perfectly; although it should be noted the Winter Sun here in Queenstown New Zealand at the time I tested the D5100 was not as intense as in Summer, when models like the D7000 were tested. The Canon EOS 600D / T3i metered the same exposure moments later, so the crops below are from images taken with identical settings. Note the Canon crops show a slightly smaller area due to its slightly higher resolution.

So like my Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 60D comparison before it, what you're looking at here is a 16 Megapixel body versus one with 18 Megapixels, along with the influences of image processing and kit lens quality.

Starting with the first row of crops, the most obvious difference is the coloured fringing on the Canon crops, which appears completely absent on the Nikon. As we've seen many times before, this isn't due to a difference in optical quality, but digital image correction: Nikon's DSLRs have long-corrected for chromatic aberrations on in-camera JPEGs, whereas Canon continues to leave fringing present. It is possible to remove fringing on Canon RAW files using the supplied Digital Photo Professional, but it's annoying not to find it happening automatically on JPEGs straight from the camera. This is a key advantage of the Nikon system to date, as the fringing really has compromised the ultimate quality of the 600D / T3i crops in a number of areas.

The difference in sensor resolution is apparent in the second row of crops, simply by the area of the crop itself, but do the Canon's extra two Megapixels really give at any real-life detail advantage? Judging from this and the following crops, pixel peepers may notice a tiny amount of extra detail from the Canon, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker for the Nikon.

The bigger difference again regards image processing, with the Canon (like its predecessors), applying greater contrast and sharpening than its rival for punchier results using the default settings. In comparison the Nikon crops look a little muted and soft, but is the Canon really better for it? In some respects, the Canon crops look a little over-cooked compared to the very natural approach of the Nikon, which seems to have struck the balance between applying enhancements without suffering from unnatural-looking artefacts.

Of course, this is all subjective. Some may prefer one approach over the other, and it's also possible to tweak the settings on either camera to deliver exactly the results you want. Two things are however clearly apparent from this comparison: first, the two Megapixel difference between the two models is negligible when it comes to real-life detail, and secondly, the Canon often suffers from its lack of in-camera chromatic aberration reduction. The final row of crops in particular show a preferable result for the Nikon, but if fringing had been eliminated on the Canon (such as via a RAW file), the advantage would actually side with the Canon. As such, if you're shooting high contrast scenes with in-camera JPEGs, the D5100 would arguably enjoy an edge over the 600D / T3i.

Find out what benefit there is to shooting RAW by scrolling to the bottom of this page, or if you're ready to check out more results, head on over to my Nikon D5100 High ISO Noise page; alternatively to skip to the chase, head straight to my Nikon D5100 verdict.


Nikon D5100 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR
 
Canon EOS 600D / T3i (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO


Nikon D5100: JPEG versus RAW

We photographed the scene above using the D5100's RAW plus Large Fine JPEG mode, allowing us to directly compare images created from exactly the same data. Below are crops taken from the original JPEG file alongside the RAW version, processed in the optional Nikon Capture NX 2 software.

When converted using the default settings (sharpness of 3), the RAW file was a fraction more contrasty than the in-camera JPEG – and looked better for it – but we wanted to see if the file would benefit from a little more sharpening. So the crops you see here were made using Capture NX's default settings, but with the sharpness boosted a little from 3 to 4.

Image processing settings are always a personal choice, but we'd say the D5100 certainly benefits from a little more contrast and sharpness. The difference in the crops below can be subtle at times, but overall the converted RAW version looks crisper without suffering from any undesirable artefacts.

So if you're after punchier, more consumer-friendly output from the D5100, consider either switching the in-camera Picture Style to Vivid, or better still, shoot in RAW and experiment with the settings in programs like Capture NX.

Now it's time to check out the camera's low-light performance in our Nikon D5100 High ISO Noise results page or if you've already seen enough skip straight to our verdict.



Nikon D5100 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR
 
Nikon D5100 (RAW with Capture NX2, sharpness 4)
with Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
     
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO


Nikon D5100 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise



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