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Canon 550D versus Nikon D5100

The Canon EOS 550D (called Canon XS in some regions) and the Nikon D5100 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in February 2010 and April 2011. 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 16.1 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 D5100

The physical size and weight of the Canon 550D and the Nikon D5100 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also toggle the display 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 – the 550D – represents the basis or 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Compare Canon 550D vs Nikon D5100
Compare 550D versus D5200 top
Compare 550D and D5200 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D5100 is somewhat smaller (2 percent) than the Canon 550D. However, the D5200 is markedly heavier (6 percent) than the 550D. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the 550D nor the D5200 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 (D5200).

Concerning battery life, the 550D gets 440 shots out of its LP-E8 battery, while the D5200 can take 660 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 would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, just use the right or left arrows in the table to switch to the respective camera. Alternatively, you can also navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from the full list of cameras there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Canon 550D» 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 530 g 440 n Feb 2010 699- i Canon 550D
Nikon D5100« 128 mm 97 mm 79 mm 560 g 660 n Apr 2011 749- i Nikon D5100
Canon 750D« » 132 mm 101 mm 78 mm 555 g 440 n Feb 2015 749- i Canon 750D
Canon 760D« » 132 mm 101 mm 78 mm 565 g 440 n Feb 2015 849- i Canon 760D
Canon 1200D« » 130 mm 100 mm 78 mm 480 g 500 n Feb 2014 449- i Canon 1200D
Canon 700D« » 133 mm 100 mm 79 mm 580 g 440 n Mar 2013 649- i Canon 700D
Canon 650D« » 133 mm 100 mm 79 mm 575 g 440 n Jun 2012 849- i Canon 650D
Canon 600D« » 133 mm 100 mm 80 mm 570 g 440 n Feb 2011 599- i Canon 600D
Canon 1100D« » 130 mm 100 mm 78 mm 495 g 700 n Feb 2011 449- i Canon 1100D
Canon 500D« » 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 520 g 400 n Mar 2009 799- i Canon 500D
Canon 450D« » 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 524 g 500 n Jan 2008 799- i Canon 450D
Nikon D5600« » 124 mm 97 mm 70 mm 465 g 970 n Nov 2016 699 i i Nikon D5600
Nikon D5300« » 125 mm 98 mm 76 mm 480 g 600 n Oct 2013 799- i Nikon D5300
Nikon D5200« » 129 mm 98 mm 78 mm 555 g 500 n Nov 2012 749- i Nikon D5200
Nikon D3100« » 124 mm 96 mm 75 mm 505 g 550 n Aug 2010 599- i Nikon D3100
Nikon D5000« » 127 mm 104 mm 80 mm 590 g 510 n Apr 2009 749- i Nikon D5000

The camera’s price is obviously a critical decision-making factor. The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The 550D was somewhat cheaper (by 7 percent) than the D5200 at launch, but both cameras fall into the same price category. 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 D5100

The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants 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. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Both cameras under consideration feature an APS-C sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the D5200 is 12 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 D5100 sensor measures

Despite having a smaller sensor, the Canon 550D offers a higher resolution of 17.9 megapixel, compared with 16.1 MP of the Nikon D5100. 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 4.80μm for the D5200). Moreover, it should be noted that the D5200 is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 1 month) 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 D5200 MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. 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. Of the two cameras under consideration, the D5200 offers substantially better image quality than the 550D (overall score 14 points higher). The advantage is based on 1.4 bits higher color depth, 2.1 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.6 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Camera
Model
Canon 550D» APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.111.578466Canon 550D
Nikon D5100« APS-C 16.1 4928 32641080/30p23.513.6118380Nikon D5100
Canon 750D« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p22.712.091971Canon 750D
Canon 760D« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/30p22.612.091570Canon 760D
Canon 1200D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p21.911.372463Canon 1200D
Canon 700D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p21.711.268161Canon 700D
Canon 650D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p21.711.272262Canon 650D
Canon 600D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.111.579365Canon 600D
Canon 1100D« » APS-C 12.2 4272 2848720/30p21.911.075562Canon 1100D
Canon 500D« » APS-C 15.1 4752 31681080/20p21.711.566363Canon 500D
Canon 450D« » APS-C 12.2 4272 2848-21.910.869261Canon 450D
Nikon D5600« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.114.0130684Nikon D5600
Nikon D5300« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.013.9133883Nikon D5300
Nikon D5200« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60i24.213.9128484Nikon D5200
Nikon D3100« » APS-C 14.2 4608 30721080/24p22.511.391967Nikon D3100
Nikon D5000« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.586872Nikon D5000

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The two cameras under consideration both have sensors whose read-out speed is fast enough to capture moving pictures, and both provide the same movie specifications (1080/30p).

 

Feature comparison: Canon 550D vs Nikon D5100

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The 550D and the D5200 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 D5100, and comparable cameras. If needed, the dpreview camera hub, for example, contains further detail on the cameras' specs.

Core Features
  Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Camera
Model
Canon 550D»optical n 3.0 1040 fixed n 4000 3.7 Y n Canon 550D
Nikon D5100«optical n 3.0 921 swivel n 4000 4.0 Y n Nikon D5100
Canon 750D« »optical n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 4000 5.0 Y n Canon 750D
Canon 760D« »optical Y 3.0 1040 swivel Y 4000 5.0 Y n Canon 760D
Canon 1200D« »optical n 3.0 460 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Canon 1200D
Canon 700D« »optical n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 4000 5.0 Y n Canon 700D
Canon 650D« »optical n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 4000 5.0 Y n Canon 650D
Canon 600D« »optical n 3.0 1040 swivel n 4000 3.7 Y n Canon 600D
Canon 1100D« »optical n 2.7 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Canon 1100D
Canon 500D« »optical n 3.0 920 fixed n 4000 3.4 Y n Canon 500D
Canon 450D« »optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 4000 3.5 Y n Canon 450D
Nikon D5600« »optical n 3.2 1037 swivel Y 4000 5.0 Y n Nikon D5600
Nikon D5300« »optical n 3.2 1037 swivel n 4000 5.0 Y n Nikon D5300
Nikon D5200« »optical n 3.0 921 swivel n 4000 5.0 Y n Nikon D5200
Nikon D3100« »optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Nikon D3100
Nikon D5000« »optical n 2.7 230 full-flex n 4000 4.0 Y n Nikon D5000

Both the 550D and the D5200 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The 550D was replaced by the Canon 600D, while the D5200 was followed by the Nikon D5200.

Review summary: Canon 550D vs Nikon D5100

So what conclusions can be drawn? Which of the two cameras – the Canon 550D or the Nikon D5100 – has the upper hand? 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 16.1MP) with a 5% higher linear resolution.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1040k vs 921k dots).
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in February 2010).

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Arguments in favor of the Nikon D5100:

  • Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (14 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.4 bits more color depth).
  • More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (2.1 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (0.6 stops ISO advantage).
  • More flexible LCD: Has swivel screen for odd-angle shots in portrait or landscape orientation.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (660 versus 440) out of a single battery charge.
  • More modern: Was introduced somewhat (1 year and 1 month) more recently.

If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D5200 is the clear winner of the contest (7 : 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 03:07 D5200

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it says nothing about, for example, the handling, responsiveness, and overall imaging quality of the 550D and the D5200 in practical situations. 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 why expert reviews are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). The full reviews are available by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review Scores
  Camera
Model
cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Canon 550D»HiRec77/1004/55/54.5/5 Feb 2010 699- i Canon 550D
Nikon D5100«HiRec76/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Apr 2011 749- i Nikon D5100
Canon 750D« »-75/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Feb 2015 749- i Canon 750D
Canon 760D« »Rec77/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Feb 2015 849- i Canon 760D
Canon 1200D« »Rec-4/54/54.5/5 Feb 2014 449- i Canon 1200D
Canon 700D« »-76/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Mar 2013 649- i Canon 700D
Canon 650D« »HiRec77/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Jun 2012 849- i Canon 650D
Canon 600D« »rev77/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2011 599- i Canon 600D
Canon 1100D« »80/10069/1004/54/54.5/5 Feb 2011 449- i Canon 1100D
Canon 500D« »HiRec74/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Mar 2009 799- i Canon 500D
Canon 450D« »HiRecHiRec4/55/54.5/5 Jan 2008 799- i Canon 450D
Nikon D5600« »-79/1004.5/54.5/54/5 Nov 2016 699 i i Nikon D5600
Nikon D5300« »HiRec79/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Oct 2013 799- i Nikon D5300
Nikon D5200« »HiRec79/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Nov 2012 749- i Nikon D5200
Nikon D3100« »HiRec72/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Aug 2010 599- i Nikon D3100
Nikon D5000« »HiRec75/1004/55/54.5/5 Apr 2009 749- i Nikon D5000

The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting. If you do not see the camera that you are looking for, kindly get in touch, and I will try to locate and add the respective data to the application.

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