After much of my camera equipment was ripped off while in Scottsdale, I find myself in the market for a new digital camera. I need something budget friendly (because I was dumb and didn't have insurance), but something I'll be happy with and something I will want to use for several years.
After a lot of thought I've narrowed my search to one of two cameras: the Nikon D3200 and the Nikon D5100. Both of these cameras offer exceptional image quality for a reasonable price.
First, let's look at DxOMark, which scientifically tests digital cameras and gives them a score based on the results of those tests. That's always a good place to start.
DxOMark ranks the D3200 as the 11th best digital camera, right up there with full-frame and even medium format. It is the 2nd highest rated camera with an APS-C sized sensor, right behind the Pentax K-5. It sits one spot ahead of the Canon 5D Mark III.
DxOMark ranks the D5100 as the 19th best digital camera (which is still a high ranking), not far from full-frame and medium format (and even ahead of some full-frame and medium format). It is the 6th highest rated camera with an APS-C sized sensor, right behind the Sony Alpha 580. It sits one spot ahead of the Canon 5D Mark II.
The D3200 is marketed towards "beginners" and the D5100 towards "intermediate" photographers. That doesn't mean much except that a few insignificant features were left off of the D3200. The D3200 does have the Expeed 3 software built in while the D5100 has Expeed 2, but that doesn't really mean much real world.
Both cameras are perfectly capable tools for creating great photographs. The D3200 has 24 megapixels while the D5100 has 16 megapixels. Most photographers don't need 16 megapixels, but the advantage of 24 megapixels is that you can significantly crop or make huge enlargements (or sometimes both). The advantage of 16 megapixels is that the D5100 has slightly less noise at high ISO.
The D3200 (with a kit lens) has an MSRP of $700, which is an exceptional value. The D5100 (with a kit lens) has an MSRP of $850, but can be found on sale for $650, which is also an exceptional value.
I'm leaning towards the D3200, and if someone will discount it within the next week or so, I'll definitely go with it. But the D5100 would also be a good choice and it is slightly less. For now, I'm still undecided.