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H2H Review: Nikon D5000 vs. Canon EOS T1i

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  January 22, 2010 08:31 AM

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Matchup Graphic

By Ted Dillard and Emily Raymond
Head2Head Reviews

The Canon EOS Rebel T1i and the Nikon D5000 are formidable foes in the entry-level DSLR market. Both retail for less than $1,000 with a lens included, and come with an interesting balance of features and performance. Both cameras are well designed, but they show differences in philosophy and priority.

Some of the differences in philosophy can be seen in where the companies put their marketing dollars. For instance, Canon played up the high resolution on the T1i's LCD screen, while Nikon put its money on a lower resolution, swiveling monitor.

Other differences can be seen when handling the cameras: Menus, controls, and autofocus are just a few of the variations between the two DSLRs.

Both the Canon T1i and Nikon D5000 are shooting for the same audience: amateur photographers who are entering the DSLR market. Yet the cameras are solid enough with their superb file quality, accurate color mapping, fast autofocus, and quick shooting that professionals could consider stashing them in the bag as a backup.

Systems Overview
The Canon EOS T1i comes with a 15.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, while the Nikon D5000 has a CMOS that is slightly larger, but has less resolution at 12.3 megapixels. Each sensor has a dust reduction system to repel and clean off any particles that may enter when switching lenses.

The T1i is compatible with more than 60 Canon EF lenses. The Nikon is compatible with Nikkor AF-S lenses, which number around 30 right now. Clearly, Canon has the more expansive lens compatibility.

Face Off: Design and Features
The Nikon D5000 and Canon T1i have the classic DSLR shape with a large and chunky hand grip, but each camera has a unique layout of controls. The Nikon has a more comfortable handgrip and allows easier access to more pertinent controls, giving the D5000 the edge in handling.

But Canon has an edge when it comes to the menu interface. Canon's menus are easier to view and navigate, but if you're a loyal Nikon user, then you may choose to stick with the D5000 because its menus are consistent within the Nikon brand. Head to head, though, it is easier to find features in the T1i's menus than the D5000's.

Canon Menu LayoutCanon Menu Layout

Nikon Menu LayoutNikon Menu Layout

Both cameras have plenty of features to offer. The Nikon D5000 has 19 picture modes, evidence that the company is trying to woo compact camera users to buy its DSLR. Canon offers just six basic scene modes.

Nikon also is trying to woo customers with a swiveling LCD monitor on the body. Unfortunately, the resolution is just 230,000 pixels, which is good for most 2.7-inch screens, but looks measly next to the T1i's 3-inch, 920,000-pixel LCD screen. The Canon T1i's LCD doesn't swivel, but the high resolution is more useful in photography than the D5000's swiveling joint.

The two DSLRs have live views of stills, videos, metering, exposure, and autofocus on their LCD screens. Nikon has an 11-point autofocus system and Canon has a nine-point system. Functionally, they operate at about the same level.

Canon Live View

Canon Live View

Nikon Live View

Nikon Live View

The Main Event: Performance and Image Quality
Although the two cameras are modestly priced, each finds a balance between performance and features that provides a great value to consumers.

One of the most noticeable differences between the two DSLRs is the resolution on the image sensor: 15.1 megapixels on the Canon T1i and 12.3 megapixels on the Nikon D5000. The difference is hard to see unless you enlarge the images 3200%, where it's evident that Canon has a slight edge in resolution.

Both cameras boast wide ISO ranges: The Canon T1i from 100-3200, and the Nikon D5000 from 200-3200 with expansion to 100 and 6400. The Canon had less noise at the lowest ISO setting, but produced more noise in the rest of the range. While the Nikon D5000 had the technical advantage of having less noise and cleaner pictures using its high ISO settings, its noise reduction system softened subjects; Canon's shots were sharper in low light and other high ISO situations.

The two cameras win in different ways in terms of color, too. Nikon produced colors that were much more realistic, while the Canon produced more vibrant colors that looked more pleasing straight out of the camera. Amateur photographers who want to snap a new Facebook profile or take pictures of the kids will appreciate the Canon T1i's colors, but professionals who do a lot of post-production work will prefer the Nikon's accuracy.

(Canon photos on the left; Nikon on the right - similar camera settings)

Canon MIT Nikon MIT

Canon Bridge Nikon Bridge

Canon Pipe Nikon Pipe


Canon EOS T1i

  • 15 MP resolution

  • 3-inch high-res LCD screen

  • Punchier color out of the camera

  • Less softening from in-camera noise reduction

  • Compatible with all Canon lenses

  • Larger viewfinder magnification

  • Better resolution on HD movies

Nikon D5000

  • 4 fps burst speed

  • Swiveling LCD

  • More accurate colors

  • Better control layout

  • Less noise at high ISO

  • More picture modes

  • Wider +/-5EV compensation range

Head to head, the best camera is the one that offers the combination of features needed most by the photographer. If you like the punchy, but less accurate, colors of the Canon T1i, it could satisfy. If you prefer a swiveling LCD because you shoot from odd angles, the Nikon D5000 could fulfill your dreams.

We lean toward the Nikon D5000 for a few reasons, the least of which is the swiveling LCD.

We like the efficient handling and control layout that makes the Nikon D5000 easy to use with one hand. It is more comfortable and allows for faster shooting. It has full manual control along with 19 picture modes and a host of in-camera editing options to attract the compact camera crowd.

The T1i has a few solid victories with the high-res LCD and expansive lens compatibility, but the D5000 outpaces the Canon where it really counts: image quality. The Nikon D5000 simply has more accurate colors and less noise; it is the camera that will deliver a more professional, controllable image file.

Because of this, we are declaring the Nikon D5000 the winner, although our eyes will miss the high resolution on the T1i's LCD screen.

For a more detailed examination of these two cameras, read the full review here.

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