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Canon 550D versus Nikon D3100

The Canon EOS 550D (called Canon XS in some regions) and the Nikon D3100 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in February 2010 and August 2010. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with an APS-C sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 17.9 megapixel, whereas the Nikon provides 14.2 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Canon 550D vs Nikon D3100

The physical size and weight of the Canon 550D and the Nikon D3100 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are presented. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left side – the 550D – represents the basis for the calculations across all the size and weight measures).

Compare Canon 550D vs Nikon D3100
550D versus D3100 top view
550D and D3100 rear side

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D3100 is notably smaller (6 percent) than the Canon 550D. Moreover, the D3100 is markedly lighter (5 percent) than the 550D. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the 550D nor the D3100 are weather-sealed.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Yet, since both cameras are based around an APS-C sensor, their respective lenses will tend to have similar dimensions and heft. You can find an overview of optics for the two cameras in the Canon EF Lens Catalog (550D) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D3100).

Concerning battery life, the 550D gets 440 shots out of its LP-E8 battery, while the D3100 can take 550 images on a single charge of its EN-EL14 power pack.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 550D (⇒ rgt) 5.1 in 3.9 in 2.4 in 18.7 oz 440 no 2010 699discont. check
Nikon D3100 (⇒ lft) 4.9 in 3.8 in 3.0 in 17.8 oz 550 no 2010 599discont. check
Canon 750D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.2 in 4.0 in 3.1 in 19.6 oz 440 no 2015 749discont. check
Canon 760D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.2 in 4.0 in 3.1 in 19.9 oz 440 no 2015 849discont. check
Canon 1200D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.1 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 16.9 oz 500 no 2014 449discont. check
Canon 700D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.2 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 20.5 oz 440 no 2013 649discont. check
Canon 650D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.2 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 20.3 oz 440 no 2012 849discont. check
Canon 600D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.2 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 20.1 oz 440 no 2011 599discont. check
Canon 1100D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.1 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 17.5 oz 700 no 2011 449discont. check
Canon 500D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.1 in 3.9 in 2.4 in 18.3 oz 400 no 2009 799discont. check
Canon 450D (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.1 in 3.9 in 2.4 in 18.5 oz 500 no 2008 799discont. check
Nikon D3200 (⇒ lft | rgt) 4.9 in 3.8 in 3.0 in 17.8 oz 540 no 2012 599discont. check
Nikon D5100 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.0 in 3.8 in 3.1 in 19.8 oz 660 no 2011 749discont. check
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.5 in 18.9 oz 500 no 2009 599discont. check
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 5.0 in 4.1 in 3.1 in 20.8 oz 510 no 2009 749discont. check
Nikon D40 (⇒ lft | rgt) 4.9 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 18.4 oz 470 no 2006 499discont. check

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D3100 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 14 percent) than the 550D, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

Sensor comparison: Canon 550D vs Nikon D3100

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Both cameras under consideration feature an APS-C sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the D3100 is 7 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have format factors, respectively, of 1.6 (550D) and 1.5. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Canon 550D and Nikon D3100 sensor measures

Despite having a smaller sensor, the Canon 550D offers a higher resolution of 17.9 megapixel, compared with 14.2 MP of the Nikon D3100. This megapixel advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.31μm versus 5.01μm for the D3100). Moreover, it should be noted that the D3100 is a somewhat more recent model (by 6 months) than the 550D, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that further enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units.

550D versus D3100 MP

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar image quality. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Canon 550D (⇒ rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 22.1 11.5 784 66
Nikon D3100 (⇒ lft) APS-C 14.2 4608 3072 1080/24p 22.5 11.3 919 67
Canon 750D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 24.0 6000 4000 1080/60p 22.7 12.0 919 71
Canon 760D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 24.0 6000 4000 1080/30p 22.6 12.0 915 70
Canon 1200D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 21.9 11.3 724 63
Canon 700D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 21.7 11.2 681 61
Canon 650D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 21.7 11.2 722 62
Canon 600D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 22.1 11.5 793 65
Canon 1100D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4272 2848 720/30p 21.9 11.0 755 62
Canon 500D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 15.1 4752 3168 1080/20p 21.7 11.5 663 63
Canon 450D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4272 2848 no 21.9 10.8 692 61
Nikon D3200 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 24.1 6016 4000 1080/30p 24.1 13.2 1131 81
Nikon D5100 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 16.1 4928 3264 1080/30p 23.5 13.6 1183 80
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 10.0 3872 2592 no 22.3 11.1 563 62
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 720/24p 22.7 12.5 868 72
Nikon D40 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 6.0 3008 2000 no 21 11.0 561 56

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. Both cameras under consideration have a sensor with sufficiently fast read-out times for moving pictures, but the 550D provides a higher frame rate than the D3100. It can shoot video footage at 1080/30p, while the Nikon is limited to 1080/24p.

Feature comparison: Canon 550D vs Nikon D3100

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The 550D and the D3100 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Canon 550D, the Nikon D3100, and comparable cameras. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Canon 550D (⇒ rgt) optical no 3.0 1040 fixed no 4000 3.7 YES no
Nikon D3100 (⇒ lft) optical no 3.0 230 fixed no 4000 3.0 12 no
Canon 750D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 1040 swivel YES 4000 5.0 12 no
Canon 760D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 swivel YES 4000 5.0 12 no
Canon 1200D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 460 fixed no 4000 3.0 9.2 no
Canon 700D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 1040 swivel YES 4000 5.0 13 no
Canon 650D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 1040 swivel YES 4000 5.0 YES no
Canon 600D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 1040 swivel no 4000 3.7 YES no
Canon 1100D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.7 230 fixed no 4000 3.0 9.2 no
Canon 500D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 920 fixed no 4000 3.4 YES no
Canon 450D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 230 fixed no 4000 3.5 YES no
Nikon D3200 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 921 fixed no 4000 4.0 12 no
Nikon D5100 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 921 swivel no 4000 4.0 12 no
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 230 fixed no 4000 3.0 12 no
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.7 230 full-flex no 4000 4.0 17 no
Nikon D40 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.5 230 fixed no 4000 2.5 17 no

Both the 550D and the D3100 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The 550D was replaced by the Canon 600D, while the D3100 was followed by the Nikon D3200.

Review summary: Canon 550D vs Nikon D3100

So what is the bottom line? Is there a clear favorite between the Canon 550D and the Nikon D3100? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.


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Reasons to prefer the Canon EOS 550D:

  • More detail: Offers more megapixels (17.9 vs 14.2MP) with a 12% higher linear resolution.
  • Better video: Provides higher movie framerates (1080/30p versus 1080/24p).
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1040k vs 230k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3.7 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in February 2010).

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Arguments in favor of the Nikon D3100:

  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (550 versus 440) out of a single battery charge.
  • More affordable: Was released into a lower priced segment (14 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Was introduced somewhat (6 months) more recently.

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the 550D emerges as the winner of the contest (5 : 3 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision.

550D 05:03 D3100

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the handling experience and imaging performance when actually working with the 550D or the D3100. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate. This is where reviews by experts come in. The adjacent table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites. You can find the full text of the reviews, respectively, at cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 550D (⇒ rgt) 88/100 HiRec 77/100 Gold 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2010 699discont. check
Nikon D3100 (⇒ lft) 84/100 HiRec 72/100 Silver 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2010 599discont. check
Canon 750D (⇒ lft | rgt) - 75/100 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2015 749discont. check
Canon 760D (⇒ lft | rgt) Rec 77/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2015 849discont. check
Canon 1200D (⇒ lft | rgt) 4/5 - 4/5 4/5 4.5/5 2014 449discont. check
Canon 700D (⇒ lft | rgt) - 76/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2013 649discont. check
Canon 650D (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 77/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2012 849discont. check
Canon 600D (⇒ lft | rgt) reviewed 77/100 Silver 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2011 599discont. check
Canon 1100D (⇒ lft | rgt) 80/100 69/100 4/5 4/5 4.5/5 2011 449discont. check
Canon 500D (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec 74/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 799discont. check
Canon 450D (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec HiRec 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 799discont. check
Nikon D3200 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 73/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2012 599discont. check
Nikon D5100 (⇒ lft | rgt) 86/100 HiRec 76/100 Silver 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2011 749discont. check
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 80/100 Rec 72/100 HiRec 4/5 3.5/5 4.5/5 2009 599discont. check
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec 75/100 HiRec 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 749discont. check
Nikon D40 (⇒ lft | rgt) 81/100 HiRec reviewed 5/5 4.5/5 2006 499discont. check

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings are only valid when refering to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just use the search menu below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If you do not see the camera that you are looking for, kindly get in touch, and I will try to add information on that model to the database.

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