Nikon's D3200 is an introductory DSLR camera intended for beginners, while the D5100 is a "prosumer" DSLR designed for users who want more functionality without the high price of a professional-level camera. The D5100 offers advanced features like High Dynamic Range (HDR) shooting, in-camera editing, a flip-out and vari-angle LCD, and a higher ISO sensitivity than the D3200. Both cameras are high quality DSLRs, but the D5100 offers advanced features that some beginners may never use. The D3200 can be found for around $330 (body only), while the D5100 body is approximately $350.
One of the most significant differences between the D3200 to the D5100 is the resolution, a.k.a., number of megapixels. The D3200 has a sizable advantage with 24.2 megapixels versus the 16.2 megapixels of the D5100. Many beginner photographers assume that more megapixels means the camera takes better pictures, but that is not always the case. For DSLR cameras, the composition, lighting, and lens make some of the biggest differences in photo quality.
Another significant difference between the D3200 and the D5100 is the ISO sensitivity. ISO sensitivity is the ability of the camera to use the available light for an image. The bigger the ISO sensitivity number, the clearer pictures the camera can take in low light without a flash. However, this higher sensitivity can also add grain or noise to an image, making ISO sensitivity a difficult balance for many new photographers.
The D5100 can reach an extended ISO sensitivity of 25600 while the D3200 has a maximum ISO sensitivity of 128000. The difference is extreme; however, if the user does not know how to balance the larger ISO sensitivity with the shutter speed, the images of the D5100 will not necessarily look better.
The larger the image sensor, the more information the camera perceives in creating an image. The D5100 has a slightly larger image sensor than the D3200. The difference is so small that most users will not find it is noticeable.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
The D5100 offers High Dynamic Range (HDR) shooting. This allows a user to take two multi-exposure images with one shutter release; these images are combined to create one picture. With this feature, the user can create higher contrast photos with more details, less noise, and more vibrant tones. The edges of the two images can be smoothed to create one fluid image.
The D5100 has seven image effect modes, including night vision and color selection modes; six types of picture control; and 19 in-camera editing capabilities. The D3200 offers the same six types of picture control, but does not have any image effects or in-camera editing functions.
A significant difference between the D3200 and D5100 is the LCD screen. Both cameras have a 3-inch LCD; however, the D5100 offers a flip-out, variable-angle display, while the D3200 display can only be viewed from directly behind the camera. With the D5100, the user can flip and rotate the LCD, which allows for greater versatility while shooting.
The D3200 and D5100 both use the same type of rechargeable li-ion battery, but the D5100 is a little more energy efficient. Whereas the D5100 can take up to 660 shots per battery charge, the D3200 can only take up to 540 shots.
The D3200 takes approximately 400 milliseconds to turn on and become fully functional. The D5100 takes 500 milliseconds. This means the D3200 has about a 20% faster startup time than the D5100.
The D3200 can be purchased in black or red. Black is the only color available for the D5100 model.
The user interfaces of the D3200 and the D5100 are very similar. The menus are intuitive and easy to navigate. Both cameras support "classic" and "graphic" displays and allow users to choose between color themes (black, blue/green/white, brown/orange).
The D3200 weighs slightly less than the D5100. The D3200 weighs 505 grams, and the D5100 weighs 560 grams. Both cameras measure approximately 5.0”W x 3.8”H x 3.1”D.
Wi-Fi and GPS
The D3200 has no wi-fi support by default, but an adapter can be purchased to transfer images wirelessly. The D5100 has no such adapter, so all images must be transferred via USB or memory card. For GPS capabilities, a different adapter can be purchase for either camera.
Images can be transferred from both cameras via USB. Storage support includes SD, SDHC, and/or SDXC memory cards.