Nikon D3100 or Nikon D90 - Which one to buy?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by corolla_corolla, Nov 29, 2010.

  1. Hi,

    I have a dilemma and would appreciate if anyone here can help me. Until a couple of weeks ago I was a proud owner of a Nikon D60 but unfortunately I was burgled so now I have to think about buying another camera. I was comparing the new on the market Nikon D3100 with the Nikon D90. I am starting to get a bit confused on what I should consider between the 2. I made some research and apparently, the D3100 is an entry level camera (like the one I owned before) while the D90 is more of an advanced-level camera.

    What’s a bit confusing for me however is the fact that the D3100 has better mega pixels over the D90 (12M vs 14M respectively) and also has a better ISO compared to the D90 as well, and at the same time it’s much cheaper! Both cameras have a video but it seems that the D3100 produces a better quality HD video. However the “video thing” is not an issue to me as I’m after photographic specs rather than video specs. But as said before, the D90 is 50% more expensive with 2 years older technology than the D3100!

    My problem here is whether to stay on the entry level and get the D3100 or whether to move on to “apparently” the next step and get the D90. Both cameras seem to be an upgrade when compared to my “old D60” but I’d like to know what is the best option considering the points mentioned above and also the price? Considering the D3100 has better specs than the D90 (at least as I’m seeing it), why there is so much difference in price? I mean, is the 50% more expensive camera being the D90, worth buying when compared to the “more spec’ed” D3100? As argued above, at least as regards megapixels, ISO & vidoe quality comparisons, it’s not. This is very strange for me and I’m really confused. There are certainly good reasons to justify this difference in price but would appreciate if someone can tell me what are the reasons and why I should go for the D90 rather than the D3100 considering both are within my budget.
    What more could the D90 give me over the D3100? which one should I consider to buy?

    Both camera prices are within my budget so any help will be greatly appreciated before I take a final decision.

    And another thing: I also had the Nikkor 18-55mm VR and the Nikkor 55-200mm VR on my other camera. Should I re-purchase the same two lenses or should I go to the latest 18-200mm VR lens which most of the D90's are coming out with? Does it really change anything having 2 lenses in one? What are the pros and cons of buying one single lens (apart from the price) ?

    Looking forward for your comments.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. First... if you don't need the ability to drive old-style AF lenses (screwdrive), and can live with the limitations of the very small D3100 (too small for my hands, but ymmv), the lack of a top display (I use this a lot, but would I miss it? not so sure) and without CLS flash control (I use this sometimes and love it, but could probably live without it truth be told), then maybe skip the D90.
    Also, the D3100 lacks DoF preview. I myself thought I would really love having it but almost never use it. Again, the big thing that would kill that camera for me (or something like the D5000 or the eventual D5100 or whatever) is the small size. It's just too small.
    If you can stand lens changes, there are better options than the 18-200 (which I had and LOVED). For instance, a combo of a used 18-70 and refurb or used 70-300 VR would be about the same price as a new (or maybe even a used) 18-200. That combo will be, in my experience, about the same from 18-70 but much better from 70 on up.
    If you are a snapshop/vacation photographer who never prints above 8 x 10 or never views photos except on the computer (a "growing" class of photographer... I myself print about 2% of my photos... even my good ones... above 5 x 7), and you must have a "one-lens solution"...
    then skip the 18-200 and get a 16-85, cropping at the long end when necessary. The 16-18 range is more useful than the 85-200 range imho.
  3. The D90 offers far better controls than the 3100. It has two control dials, so you don't have to hold down a button while changing either shutter speed or aperture, a better viewfinder, the capability to control off the camera flash, can be fired from Nikon's IR remote, etc. Perhaps most important, the D90 can autofocus with all Nikon autofocus lenses, while the D3100 can only autofocus with AF-S lenses, which can force you into more expensive alternatives. Two more MP on the D3100 give you very little additional resolution.
    If you do not need the D3100's light weight and compactness, and can stand the difference in cost, the D90 is a far better camera, particularly now that its price has come down.
    You asked about lenses. It depends what you want to do. I believe that you can buy an 18-55mm VR and a 70-300mm VR for about the cost of the 18-200mm VR. The 70-300mm VR is a tremendous value, so that if you would like an excellent telephoto zoom, it's a good choice. If you prefer to keep the same lens on the camera all the time, the 18-200mm is not a bad lens, although a little fragile for a lens which will be used frequently.
  4. Thanks a lot for your useful replies Hector & Peter....
    More opinions/views/advice on the dilemma I have, will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.
  5. Corolla,
    I bought the D90 earlier this year and given the price it was something of a stretch for me then. But, the reason why I decided to go with the D90 over an "entry-level" DSLR was because I wanted to take my photography further. The entry levels are fine if you're a vacation shooter with an eye for a good quality shot. I must say after experiencing the D90 I know now that I would definitely have had regrets if I had bought the entry level. In my opinion it doesnt make sense buying entry-levels just to get used to them then spend more to upgrade afterwards. And if you really love photography you WILL want to upgrade. Truth is, it doesnt take much time to learn the handlings of a decent DSLR. If you can afford it go for the D90 or equivalent, I believe the D7000 is now replacing the D90 but its quite a bit pricier.
    On the lens, I currently have the 55-200mm lens and its great. However after getting to the 200mm end of the range (actually about 250mm on the D90 given the crop), I find myself wishing there was more. Nikon recently released a 55-300mm and I think its priced at around USD400 with VR technology. I would recommend going for that. In fact Im considering selling my 55-200mm and saving up to get the 55-300mm. But definitely stick with the 18-55mm as well. I think this lens is indispensable.
  6. Have you gone to a local camera store to check out the differences in person? Either should give better ISO performance if that is a need. Unless you print large I don't think you will see much difference if any from the mega pixel size difference. The D90 is larger and heavier, I perfer larger bodies as I have big hands. IMHO the control set of the D90 is better. I don't know about the viewfinder differences but I suspect the D90 is much nicer. For me the control set and viewfinder are priority items of the body if IQ is close. I am happy with 12x18 prints from 12 mega pixels.
  7. Does it matter? I'm not sure. I have the same dilemma, since the D80 that I use as backup for the D300 is dying. The D90 is a better camera than the D3100 in most ways, but it's also larger and slightly less portable. Sometimes, that can mean the difference between taking the camera with you (and get the photo) and leaving it at home.
    In any case, I think I would choose the 16-85. It's much better than the 18-55 or the 18-200, and the range is rather useful. Another alternative is the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, which sits on my D80 most of the time. That's really a bargain of a lens. Both of those lenses are excellent combination with the Nikkor 70-300 VR (or the Tamron equivalent, which is very good too), and/or the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 for very wide shots.
    Whatever you choose, the quality of the lenses is more important than the camera in most cases. It's your choice: portability vs. features and ergonomics.
  8. Corolla,
    One always hears about putting their money in better lenses and that I find that to be true also. With your camera choices I would consider going with the D7000 over the D90 or 3100. It is the latest technology and will give you many years of great photo taking. It will drive most lenses that are out there.
    I have a D90 and would only think of upgrading when it finally gives up taking photos. But that said if I didn't have a camera now I would elect to get the D7000 over the D90 mainly for the specs and newer technology. If because of budget controls then I would opt for the D3100 IF it felt good in my hands as it is a smaller camera.
    Have fun making your choice and let us know what you finally choose and why. All of them will take some fine photos if you learn to drive it correctly.
    phil b
    benton, ky
  9. D90 for the possibility of using AF and AFD lenses and you have something in your hands. Maybe the D3100 is alittle bit better, but so small.
  10. sorry about your loss. as for choices: a lot depends on how many "features" you need/use in a camera. it's true the D90 has a lot more stuff than the D3100 (most of which have been noted above). from an images perspective, however, the D3100 seems to produce nicer photos than the old 12mp sony sensor in the D90. i have a D300, not a D90, but they use the same sensor. when i compare images from my D300 to those from my D3100, the noise-handling characteristics of the D3100 are clearly superior, IMO. i like the D3100 precisely for its small size and light weight. on the other hand, it is not as responsive as higher-end cameras. in some situations, more controls, and more direct access to controls, are more valuable than small size and less weight. you need to consider carefully what kind of photography you're interested in, and which kind of camera will better serve your interests. regardless of how you choose, your photos can look great using either body. the really important element is you.
  11. The D90 is on the way out while D3100 is a brand new camera with new technology, which is why on paper the D3100 matches if not exceed the D90 in many areas. I have and love the D90. However if I were buying today, I would consider the D3100 and D7000 as these two have the newest technology so they will remain "fresh" over a longer period of time. The biggest advantage of the D3100 over the D90 is size as the D3100 is lighter and smaller, which makes it more fun/easy to carry around. A kit lenses are more or less the same in terms of IQ and features, and the super zoom is versatile because you do not have to worry about changing lenses. It is not an "upgrade" but a good choice for versatility. An upgrade is to get a "fast" lens in terms of aperture so you can shoot in low light with high shutter speed and have better control over DOF.
  12. Well, megapixels are not a good representation of a camera's imaging capabilities. (That's my diplomatic way of saying it - my nondiplomatic way is that megapixels are bogus and such a small difference should never be a criteria in choosing between two cameras.) That said, the D3100 has a newer sensor that outperforms the D90's in a few ways. If you liked the D60, the D3100 is a D60 plus a newer sensor, video mode, and a better AF system. If you're looking for something larger and with more controls than a D60, or you see yourself wanting to use lenses that aren't AF-S, the D90's the way to go.
  13. I have a D60, D90, and now a D3100. I find that the D3100 has as good or better image quality as the D90, and the size and weight of the D60. The D90 has dedicated buttons to change most settings. The D3100 has an i button that allows you to quickly and easily change most settings without going into the menus as you need to do with the D60. Don't let the term entry level scare you. I've been using SLR's since 1967 and I love my D3100. I would go to a store and handle the D90 and D3100 and then decide based on how they feel in your hands and how you like the controls.
  14. The question of a superzoom, like the 18-200 VR, vs two shorter ratio zooms, like what you had, comes up regularly. I have a Tamron 18-270 VC and I also have a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, Sigma 50-150 f/2.8, and Nikon 70-300 VR. The 18-270 VC allows me to go from wideangle to long telephoto quickly without changing lenses. That is a convenience, but it is more than that. I shoot a lot on the street and in the park and that ability has saved me from missing a lot of shots.
    The shorter ratio zooms are sharper, especially at the long end. However if you don't print larger than 8x10, you will not see much difference. The Nikon 18-200 VR is a very good superzoom, but in my opinion, it's very overpriced. I would also consider the Sigma 18-250 HSM OS and Tamron 18-270 VC. Both are at least as sharp as the Nikon, are a little longer, stabilized, and less expensive.
  15. corolla, i own the d90 and it is a great camera. however, in your shoes i would get the d3100 for the newer tech and better ISO range, especially high-ISO. also the d3100 has 1080p video. if you dont have non-AF-S lenses, which i do, than the d90's plusses will be far fewer. i dont think the d3100 is available body-only; most likely, it comes with 18-55 VR. you might be able to get a deal on a 55-200 VR too if you buy it at the same time. with the money saved over the d90 body, i would pick up a 35/1.8 for great low-light pics.
    my feeling on superzooms is, if you wanted to turn a DSLR into a point and shoot, why not just get a P&S? 11x or 15x zooms cannot be made without optical compromises.
  16. Saying that a superzoom turns a DSLR into a P&S is an extreme overstatement. The Nikon 18-200 VR (and similar others) gives up some image quality (IQ) at the long end, but if you check the tests you will see that it gives very good to excellent IQ up to 8x10. That is also my experience and judging by their popularity their IQ satisfies millions of photographers. If however you do a lot of cropping or print larger than 8x10 you may or may not be satisfied with a superzoom. If you want a fast lens, you will not be satisfied.
    If you think you want the 18-200 VR or similar lens check the stores return policy. B&H and Adorama have very good return policies. You can shoot with it for a couple of days and if you're not happy with it, you can return it. It's the only way you'll know for sure if you'll like one.
  17. Corolla, I'm asking some of the same questions to myself. I'm on my 2nd D3100 kit & still not happy - not focusing as it should and now wondering if I should have bought a D90 (or geez, a Canon, I just want a simple kit to shoot). May be going back to review & look at a D90. Whatever you do, let us know & play with as many D3100 models as you can if you go that route.
  18. "i would get the d3100 for the newer tech and better ISO range, especially high-ISO."
    The D3100 at ISO 800 is OK, but at 3200 .. it is nothing like a Nikon D700 in the noise department. And the top ISO setting, it is really, really *with* noise, even with the D3100's noise reduction mode = on.
  19. I had the same decision in September when I had to pick my first DSLR.
    Initially I thought the same as you - the D3100 is better on paper and more "future proof". However the fact remains that the D90 could take great photos when it came out, takes great photos today, and will continue to do so until something breaks.
    Eventually my choice came down to money. I pre-ordered my D3100 with £100 free in vouchers, that I put towards a 50mm f1.8 AF-S DX. It came out cheaper than a D90 with 50mm f1.8 AF-D.
    The other factors mentioned are differences in ergonomics (viewfinder, controls, top LCD etc) and features (AF system, screen resolution, HD video, CLS Flash etc.) I would prioritize what features you need (I shoot a fair bit of video so +1 for the D3100) and consider then whether a D90 is worth it - and think of the extra ergonomics as more of a bonus. The D3100 can be a bit 'ungainly' to use at times, but its not a really a deal-breaker. And after using an F5 extensively, the added lightness is much appreciated! The bottom line is one can live without the better usability, but not features critical for the actual purpose(s) of use.
    A final point would be that whatever camera you buy, I doubt it will be your last. If you compare the situation to be more like looking for a roommate than a partner, then perhaps the gravity of the decision will subside and you'll have no regrets about your chosen DSLR (Though Im still swooning after Miss 5D MKII...)
  20. Hi. On the lens front, I had the 18-200mm for a few years, but switched to the 16-85mm this year. The latter is better in all respects and I don't really miss the 85-200 range. As to the body, if you were happy with the D60, then the D3100 should be fine. Weight and size is an issue for me - the best camera is the one you have with you and for me, smaller / lighter is better.
  21. Hi everyone,

    Thanks a lot for your advice and help. Although I'm in a way still a little bit confused about what to get, your tips/comments have been really helpful and I have surely a clearer idea of what I shall expect when going shopping.

    The best to do as some of you suggested, is to get the feel of both cameras before actually deciding. However I'm kind of more biased to get the D90 for the time being.
    We'll see! Thanks a lot guys...much appreciated - all of you have been really great!

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