Help me decide: D90 or D5100

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May 9, 2011
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Monte Vista, Colorado, United States
Hello,

I think I'm going to sell all of my Pentax Equipment and with whatever money I'll get I'll buy a Nikon System.

I should get around $1000, so my choices are between the D5100 (+ maybe 18-55mm and 50mm) and the D90 (+ maybe 50mm).

What I'm looking for by priority:
1 - high ISO without too much noise
1 - at least 4 fps
1 - advance manual focus (zoom in live view to make sure I'm focused right on the subject I want)
1 -12 mega pixel or more

1.5 - Nice viewfinder

2 - Tilt screen
2 - 2 control wheels (nice when shooting manual)

3 - would love old lens compatibility

4 - video could be fun to try out

I know my choices are between the 2 camera I've listed. I know you cannot tell me what to do, but would love to hear why you choose one over the other. Thanks for sharing!

Yael
 
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D5100 gives you all but ...

2 - 2 control wheels (nice when shooting manual)
3 - would love old lens compatibility

It will NOT auto-focus screw-drive AF lenses. It will mount pre-AI lenses which more advanced bodies can't. But it won't meter with pre-AI or AI/AI-S lenses. Some would argue its viewfinder isn't as good.

Obviously the D90 doesn't have a tilt screen. D90's high ISO is good but not as good as the D5100. It doesn't have the tilt screen, it has the 2 control wheels. It will auto-focus all screw-drive AF lenses. It can't mount pre-AI lenses without modification and like the D5100 won't meter with pre-AI or AI/AIS lenses. Its video is not as good as the D5100's.

A used D300 would give you what the D90 has, adds AI/AI-S metering, and more features.

A D7000 is probably out of your price range but blends a lot of the D5100 and D90, though still lacks the tilt screen.
 
Joined
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Thanks bill.

So the D5100 is compatible with old lens but in manual only, right? I'm fine with manual control.
So the only thing missing in the list for the D5100 is the 2 control wheels, right?

I guess I could go to my Walmart and try the viewfinder of the D5100.

The D300 is too big for me, I'm more looking to get the D90 type size.
 
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Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia
So the only thing missing in the list for the D5100 is the 2 control wheels, right?

I guess I could go to my Walmart and try the viewfinder of the D5100.

I was about to mention the VF. The D90 offers a .96x pentaprism with 96% coverage, while the D5100 has a .78x pentamirror with 95% coverage.

Sounds like you need the D7000, :p
 
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...

So the D5100 is compatible with old lens but in manual only, right? I'm fine with manual control. ...

Want to make sure this is clear. There is a distinction for "manual" here -- manual focus and manual exposure/metering. The D5100 won't auto-focus some lenses, and won't meter older lenses.

There are at least three major types of "old lenses" you may want to use. Let's start with the fourth type, the "current modern lenses".

Newer Nikon releases with a few exceptions are all auto-focus with a focus motor in the lens (AF-S, AF-I). They are all chipped so the lens can provide information to the body for metering. Thus they will all auto-focus and auto-expose with the D5100 and D90. Even if you use manual exposure, you get the benefit of the camera's meter warning you if you are over or underexposing.

Before AF-S lenses, Nikon had auto-focus lenses that required the camera body's focus motor to auto-focus the lens via a screw ("screw drive"). The D5100 does NOT have an AF motor inside, while the D90 does. That means that a lot of the somewhat older and cheaper auto-focusing Nikon lenses cannot be auto-focused on the D5100 while they can be auto-focused on the D90. Example lenses include the cheap old Nikon 50/1.8 (they just announced an AF-S version for not much more, though), the classic Nikon 85/1.4D (its replacement costs a LOT more though there is a Sigma available), and a lot of cheap older lenses (85/1.8, Sigma 24/2.8, etc.). All of these lenses are chipped meaning they will meter on both the D5100 and D90.

AI and AI-S lenses are not auto-focus so won't auto-focus on the D5100 or D90. The D5100 and D90 will not meter them, meaning you cannot use aperture priority, shutter priority, or any other auto exposure mode. Even if you are in manual mode, the camera's meter in the viewfinder and liveview will not tell you if you are over or underexposing. Thus you meter by using your own instincts, Sunny 16, and by checking the histogram after the shot. Camera bodies like the D200, D300, and D7000 will meter with AI and AI-S lenses -- you have to turn the aperture ring on the lens rather than use the camera controls.

Pre-AI lenses supposedly cannot safely mount on the D90, though some have done it with some lenses successfully. Some people modify their lens to be AI, or send it to someone who does it. Most pre-AI lenses will safely mount on the D5100. As above, there is no metering.
 
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Thanks Bill, that's great info.

So only in the third type (second in your list) won't auto focus on the D5100 where it will on the D90. I was thinking on getting that 50mm f1.8, so it won't autofocus on the D5100.

I can manage manual metering as long as I'm not shooting sport... I'm not that quick!

So what would be the cheapest 50mm that could be put on a D5100 (if possible with aperture ring, though the price will always win)?

Though my current 50mm is all manual and if the D5100 helps taking the picture when you reach focus, I guess I could deal with the 50mm f1.8.
 
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It is rumored that the D90 is now discounted. That may not mean much, but you are talking about older technology verse the newest tech in the D5100. I've always like the latest and 'greatest', but to each their own.
 
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Yeah, I know the D90 is discontinued... I guess with all the disaster they had they want to focus on producing the latest camera.

I know the D90 takes great picture, so I won't feel bad about buying 'old' product. Seems like the good of the D90 compare to the D5100 is the viewfinder and the zoom motor... at least for a good sum up!
 
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Thanks Bill, that's great info.

So only in the third type (second in your list) won't auto focus on the D5100 where it will on the D90. I was thinking on getting that 50mm f1.8, so it won't autofocus on the D5100.

There are some good AF-S lenses that are affordable. Upcoming Nikon 50/1.8G, 35/1.8G, plenty of consumer-grade zooms like the 18-55, 55-200, etc. However, I can't define "affordable" for you so you'd be best off checking to see what you're gettting into. Basically any lens that has "AF-S" in its title will auto-focus on the D5100. if it says "AF" or "AF-D" it will not auto-focus on the D5100 but it will on the D90.

So what would be the cheapest 50mm that could be put on a D5100 (if possible with aperture ring, though the price will always win)?

If you want auto-focus, the Nikon 50/1.8G which should start shipping next month, for $220. Any "G" type lens does not have an aperture ring.

I can manage manual metering as long as I'm not shooting sport... I'm not that quick!

I must ask you what do you mean by "manual metering." Do you mean setting the shutter speed and aperture while looking at the camera's meter to see if you are over or underexposed? Or do you mean having NO meter in the camera, guessing the shutter speed and aperture based on your intuition and Sunny 16, and then looking at the LCD and the histogram to see if you've over/underexposed and then change the shutter/aperture from there?

The D5100/D90 can only do the latter with unmodified old AI/AI-S lenses. In other words, for those lenses there IS no working meter in the camera except for the after-the-fact histogram.

I have to ask because some people's definition of "manual metering" is the former -- they still expect to see what they saw in film days before auto exposure and when they weren't carrying a light meter -- a needle in the viewfinder showing if they were over or underexposing (especially since they couldn't look at the shot afterwards).
 
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I can figure out the Aperture and guest real good the Shutter Speed myself so I'll be fine with that, especially I mainly used my auto lens usually like a Sigma 17-70 or could be a Nikon 18-70.

I'm still not decided with the camera, both look good. It's true getting an auto focus 50 and 85 cheaper than the AF-S version would be nice... hard decision.

At the end, lens wise I would like a 18-200, a 50 (possibly a 28 and 85) and a telephoto like a 500 or something. So I guess the only difference will really but on the 50 even though the AF-S version is coming up for an extra $50-75. When I'll be there I could either wait for more money if I really need the auto focus or just go with the manual focus.

I'll have to try the viewfinder of the D5100, live view is great but I love looking through the viewfinder to take pictures.
 
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I went to Walmart and the view finder of the D5100 is the same as the Canon T3i and looks to be enough for me.

The only problem was the model they had had no battery and if felt cheap, cheaper than what the T3i and even the D3100 felt. I guess that was an issue with the model they had but it felt weird.

The D5100 can handle more than the AF-S but only the AF-S are auto focus. Which I might be OK with. Though looking at the DXO Mark, the D90 is a bit lower than the D5100... they are just numbers I know, but it makes it harder to choose.

I have a few weeks to decide this I won't start selling my equipment until the end of may, got a few photography projects to do.

Better Viewfinder and more autofocus lens vs slightly better image quality and swivel screen... what to get? I think a lot depends on the amount of lens I want vs the angle of shot I'll take.

One other issue with the D5100, it feels (the name) less professional than the D90. Choices choices...
 
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Apr 10, 2011
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The on line Nikon store has an attractive price for a refurb D90. I imagine they would be a trusted source.
 
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My vote would be for the D90, I have one and love it and you can pick them up pretty cheap.....one of the best values out there right now.
 
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Monte Vista, Colorado, United States
I though about it over night and I'll go with the D90 with all the extra controls, the onboard flash that can be a commander, the viewfinder is better and the ability to use autofocus on more less is a plus.

The plus of the D5100 are swivel screen and a more resent sensor which is better but just by a bit.

Yes Nikon store should be a good reference, didn't know they sold refurbished equipment, thanks for the info!
 

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