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Is there much difference between Nikon and Canon's latest DSLR cameras?

By Jeremy Bayston

With Canon and Nikon both competing to dominate the entry-level market, they have both launched movie friendly digital cameras to tempt enthusiast and professional videographers. Despite the two digital cameras coming from different manufacturers, they have a lot in common. They are both useful upgrades to current digital cameras (the D5100 and the Canon T3i), and are designed to maintain their markets by extending into movie making, which both Canon and Nikon recognize as potential areas for growth. It is clear that Nikon and Canon are considering the beginner level market as a major battleground, particularly in the United States.

The Canon T4i doesn't feel quite as sturdy as the D5200, but it is solid enough for day to day use. It is a slightly larger than the D5200 though, and so much easier for anyone with average sized hands to grip. The scroll-wheel clicks reassuringly as it turns and the buttons on the back are responsive. The design at the back of the Canon T4i is well constructed and has more buttons, making delving into the menu functions a lot more speedy and easier. Some are multi-functional, which can take some thought. For example, the same button that begins recording video in movie mode also allows Live View in still shooting mode. The small downside of this is that some of the buttons are quite close together. However, the Canon T4i has a dedicated ISO function, and quick access to white balance, drive mode, and AF settings (the D5200 doesn't have any of these). There is an IR sensor on the front of the camera, but no Fn button as there isn't really any requirement for it.

Both cameras have an articulating liquid crystal display backscreen. The Canon T4i has a noticeably higher resolution than that of the D5200. The Canon's LCD view screen has 1040 thousand pixels, while the D5200 has 921 thousand. One of the the Canon T4i's best selling points is that the liquid crystal display backscreen is a touchscreen. This makes it much easier to configure settings and, more importantly, it lets you choose a focus point through Live View. You can also shoot your photograph by tapping on the point where you want the DSLR to focus. These are very progressive and useful options, taken from the Compact System Camera (CSC) categories that are available now. It is excellent to see this technology being adopted by the Canon T4i as it makes it far more useable than any other DSLR in its category.

The Canon's phase detect AF system is exceptionally fast. Whilst it has only 9-point AF system, against the 39-points of the D5200, it is both quick and accurate for every day picture taking. The Canon T4i doesn't have a dedicated AF assist light, but it can use its built-in flash in these instances. The T4i supports full-time AF in video mode, which competes with the D5200 and, with Canon's STM lenses, the focussing is silent enough for shooting video. It also has an external Mic socket. It is reasonable to say that the Canon Rebel T4i is possibly the better DSLR for shooting movies. The liquid crystal display backscreen, full-time AF, and external Mic make it perfect for your everyday video requirements.

The Nikon D5200 is a very compact camera and smaller than it's fore runner, the D5100. This might create problems for those of us with big (average!) hands. It doesn't always feel like a proper DSLR, especially when fitted to a large lens. While it fails to equal the build quality of the magnesium alloy D7000, the tough plastic body feels pretty solid and sturdy. The design at the back is easy to navigate with a good selection of buttons to make access to the multiple features straightforward. Live view is easily accessed and film recording can be initiated with a press of a single button. It has just a single control dial which is snappy and responsive. There is an IR port on the front of the body and also a dedicated AF assist light, which the Canon T4i lacks. On the right side there is a customizable Fn button which can be used to control image quality, ISO, active-D lighting, or white balance (there are no dedicated single buttons for these features). The pop-up flash automatic in green mode, meaning that the flash will pop up on its own if the camera thinks it is needed.

The LCD screen is taken from the D5100, where it was enormously popular. As with with the Canon T4i, it is very useful for photographing at different angles and is exceptionally useful when shooting films. The help menus are good and make the Nikon D5200 quite beginner friendly. The display rotates with the camera, meaning that text on the status screen won't appear sideways when you're photographing uprights. The playback function is quick and efficient you won't have to wait for pictures to load. And there is a comprehensive info screen which lets you control just about every shooting parameter that the camera has to offer. However the four way selector is not as simple to use as the one on the Canon. The Nikon D5200 doesn't have as many buttons on the back as the Canon T4i, making some of the menu options hard to locate. The new(ish) Expeed 3 processor makes the Nikon fast and decisive in phase detect AutoFocus and extremely fast in Live View. The D5200's articulating screen comes in handy for shooting video, and Nikon have improved the number of frame rate options, introducing 60i and 50i. Like the Canon T4i, it will accept an external microphone and has full-time video AutoFocus.

At low very ISO, the Canon T4i equals the Nikon, though the D5200 is slightly better at maximum (non-expanded) ISO. Overall, the Nikon offers slightly better image quality than the Canon. Remember, the Canon T4i also has a physically smaller sensor than the D5200. It may not seem like much, but 1.6x rather than 1.5x, combined with the increased resolution, puts the Nikon D5200 ahead. For more information on the sensors, take a look at the sensor scores published by DxO labs.

In summary, the Canon Rebel T4i has great AutoFocus, a great articulating touchscreen and is a really superb video camera. The Nikon D5200 has excellent, fast AutoFocus, a good articulated screen, a great buffer/processor and very useful in-camera guides.

I believe if you had no camera loyalty either way, the Canon T4i would be the better camera to buy. The difference in image quality is hardly noticeable under usual conditions and the Canon certainly competes with the D5200 on the movie front. Whilst both digital cameras are remarkable in their own ways, the Nikon D5200 is more expensive than the small improvements over the Canon T4i would warrant.

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