Comparing the Nikon D90 and Canon T1i/T2i

Several months ago, I picked up a used Nikon D90 and two lenses to replace my broken Canon G7. I’ve got the 50mm f/1.8 lens and the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens.

When I finally decided to get a traditional SLR rather than micro four-thirds, I was trying to decide between the Canon T1i and T2i. Several friends have one of these two and had let me explore: Aaron Eberline and Stan Lemon both have a T1i, my brother and a friend from high school have a T2i, and one of my wife’s bridesmaids has an XSi or XTi. I ultimately picked the D90 over either of these primarily because of a deal I found on Craigslist; I got the camera, lenses, flash, tripod and backpack for $1000 (Sept 2010). I was much less familiar with the D90, but the D90 and the T2i were the two SLRs that my brother had selected from, and a guy at Mike Crivello’s told us that both were excellent cameras, even though the T2i was released much more recently than the D90. Additionally, I found a real helpful review that essentially said they’re very similar in image quality.

After using the camera for a few months, here are some highlights about what I like better about the Nikon:

  • The D90 has two dials, one for shutter speed, and one for aperture, whereas the T1i/T2i has only one. On the Canon if you want to change the aperture, you’ve got to hold down a different button while spinning the dial.
  • On the D90, the ISO can be set in 1/3 stops, while I believe the T1i/T2i only allow full stops.
  • The D90 will display the current shooting settings both on the LCD on the back AND on a small grayscale LCD on the top of the camera, next to the shutter. The extra LCD on top is a handy feature that Canon reserves for the 50D, 7D, and maybe 60D?
  • My brother seems to think many of the less expensive (non-pro/”L”) Canon lenses have a cheap feel to them. He thinks my 18-55mm kit lens is better than Canon’s competition.

But, there are still some things I prefer about the Canon:

  • On the T2i, the camera will still meter with manual focus / non-CPU lenses. On the D90, you can only get some semblance of metering if you’re in Live View. This is really a bummer for me because I was hoping to pick up some cheap used manual focus lenses to play with. You’ve got to move up to the D300 (or maybe the D7000?) if you want metering on these older lenses.
  • The T2i has a much higher resolution than the D90, but if you read the article above, you’ll find that it doesn’t necessarily give it much of an advantage.
  • It seems to me that the T1i/T2i have less grain at higher ISOs than the D90. I’ve got nothing conclusive on this, but some article suggested that they performed nearly the same in low light, up to 1600, after which both were “unusable”. I guess it all depends on your needs.
  • On both the T1i/T2i and D90, the LCD screen on the back shuts off every time I push the shutter half way down (to autofocus, meter, etc.), but on the Canon the display turns back on when you release the shutter. I’ve looked through all the menus on the D90, read through the manual, looked online, and I cannot find a way to configure this differently on the D90. There also aren’t any firmware updates that allow me to configure this.

If I were looking to buy a camera now, I’d definitely look again at the D90 and T2i, but I’d also have to take a close look at the Canon 60D and Nikon D7000. I believe those are both in the same price range as each other but are more expensive than the D90 and T2i.

A few tips for anyone who is looking at buying a DSLR:

  • DPreview.com has lots of helpful reviews and a nifty flash app to compare camera performance side-by-side at various ISOs. (E.g. Compare ISO 800 on the D90 to T2i).
  • KenRockwell.com has tons of helpful reviews, especially about Nikon gear. I’m always reading his review of lenses I find on Craigslist. He makes some interesting observations and camera recommendations.

You can view some of my photos on my Flickr page.

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