Both the Canon 1100D and the Nikon D3100 are what is known as entry level offerings from their respective manufacturers. The Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera market is broadly classified into three segments – entry, enthusiast/semi-professional, and professional. Both the entry and the semi-professional models are powered by crop sensors. These are smaller sensors when compared to the bigger 35mm sensors powering the full-frame DSLRs. Sensors for full-frame DSLRs can capture the same image size as a normal 35mm film camera would do.
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Sensor Size and Crop Factor
The 1100D has a sensor size measuring 22mm x 14.7mm whereas the D3100 has a sensor size measuring 23.1mm x 15.4mm. Both are crop sensors and thereby smaller in comparison to full frame DSLRs. Crop sensors have a serious issue and that is they capture less light when compared to full-frame sensors. Additionally, smaller sensors will have a bigger Depth of Field compared to larger sensors.
A lot of entry level DSLR buyers would love to check this spec first. “What’s the megapixel count of the camera?” they would often enquire. To break a popular myth, megapixels doesn’t really matter. Let’s say you want to print an image on an A4 photo paper. In inch parameters that’s 8.3” x 11.7”, which is fair to say is reasonably large. To make a print that large in 300 dpi (which is the industry standard), you only need a camera that has a 9 megapixel sensor.
This is how you can calculate it on your own. You multiply the sides by 300 and then calculate the product = 8.3×300 = 2490 and 11.7 x 300 = 3510. Now, multiply 2490 with 3510 and you get 87,39,900. That’s the number of pixels that you need in the sensor. Divide that by 1 megapixel (1 megapixel = 10,00,000 pixels) and you get 8.74. Aha! Now you know how to do the calculation!
So how much does these two cameras have in terms of megapixels? The D3100 has 14.2 megapixel and the 1100D has 12.2. Sounds enough doesn’t it? Well, if you are going to share your photos mainly on Facebook and make a few occasional prints, that would be more than enough.
Body and Dimension
Ergonomics is an integral part of every camera. Professionals do put a lot of weight on how their cameras feel in their hands. They have to! They use their gear for a living. But why should amateurs and enthusiast be left behind? Pick up both the cameras and get a feel for both in your hands. The Canon at 129.9 x 99.7 x 77.9mm is slightly bigger than the Nikon which measures 124.46 x 96.52 x 73.66mm. The weight is comparable. About 450 grams for both.
Both use a single SD card slot and both are capable of handling SD, SDHC and SHXC cards.
Viewfinder and Frame Coverage
Both being the cheapest entry level offerings from their respective manufacturers are equipped with cheaper pentamirror based viewfinders. The image coming through the viewfinder only covers 95% of the frame. This means when you compose using any of these cameras you have to doubly sure of the area just outside the frame, because in the final picture you are going to capture lot more than you can see using the viewfinder! Additionally, in low light conditions the image coming through the viewfinder will be very dark to focus manually.
Both the D3100 and the 1100D offers the same 230,000 dots basic image quality on the LCD monitor. Both these cameras have monitors that are non-articulating. However, what gives the Nikon a slight edge, if at all you can call this an edge, is that its monitor is 3” while that of the Canon’s is 2.7”.
ISO is an important attribute and a part of the holy trinity of exposure, be it digital or film. You can’t really ignore ISO and concentrate on shutter speed and aperture alone. It simply does not work that way. But over indulgence on ISO can also have its negative effects. Using higher ISO numbers will induce more noise. Having said that, the D3100 has a maximum ISO sensitivity of 3200. At H1 mode it can be extended to 6400 and on H2 up to 12800. However, the quality of image that you would get would be far from acceptable. The 1100D can also go up to ISO 3200. But it can be further extended up to ISO 6400 only, in the creative zone modes. For those who are looking to master the basics of digital exposure and or still confused about basic manual exposure compensation, try enrolling to this course on Udemy.com.
At 1/4000th of a second neither the D3100 nor the 1100D can boast of being super-fast. These are entry level DSLRs and are meant for just grasping the basics of manual exposure. You could take great landscapes, shoot wonderful portraitures or even shoot underwater photos (underwater case required) but cannot hope to take great snaps of the third baseman pinching a run. Neither can hope to shoot those fast and fidgety hummingbirds come to get a taste of the food in your bird feeder. No way! This is not only because the maximum shutter speed is 1/4000th but also because of the frame rate.
Frame rate, also referred to as continuous shooting speed, is the frames per second that the camera can shoot in. To be honest, a reading of the specs of both these cameras are less than inspiring. The Canon 1100D shoots at a continuous speed of 3 fps. That reduces to 2 fps if you are shooting RAW. The D3100 is not exceptionally better. In fact it also shoots at 3 fps. Compared to something like the top-end Nikon D4 which shoots at a phenomenal 10 fps (with auto exposure and auto focus on) you will only get about 1/3rd the number of shots that you would get with a top of the line pro model. Unless you are incredibly lucky, your spray and pray tactics might just be fruitless each time. That being said, for moderately mobile subjects, such as a toddler making faces, a couple posing for a headshot and smiling and or moving in-between shots, both these cameras are fine.
Most of this comparison will sound as if this has been an attempt to discount the features of these two modest entry level cameras. The fact is, standing today in 2014 both these cameras are slightly outdated. The 1100D has been replaced by the 1200D, which is again a modest attempt to woo entry level photographers. If you are looking for a better camera, opt for the 600D (Rebel T3i) which, having been replaced by the 650D (Rebel T4i) and then the 700D (Rebel T5i) is now a more value-for-money buy.
Having said that, both the D3100 and the 1100D are reasonably good cameras. It is important to remember that cameras don’t take pictures, photographers do (learn more in this entry-level photography course). This is why even the cheapest available DSLR in the market will do a great job when in the right hands. If you have an option between buying the best possible lens or the best possible DSLR that your money can buy, opt for the best possible lens and settle for any good DSLR body. For more inputs on how to pick your gear, and or where to pick your gear, this course may just be what you have been looking for.