Published on September 5, 2011 11:00 PM

Canon EOS 1100D vs Nikon D3100 vs Pentax K-r

On the left, we have the Canon EOS 1100D entry-level SLR. In the middle, we have one of its main rivals, the Nikon D3100. On the right, we have the Pentax K-r consumer SLR.

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12-MP CMOS, 14.7 x 22.2 mm
14-MP CMOS, 15.4 x 23.1 mm 12-MP CMOS, 15.8 x 23.6 mm
Screen: 2.7", 230,000 dots
Screen: 3", 230,000 dots Screen: 3", 920,000 dots
Viewfinder: 95%, 0.8x magnification
Viewfinder: 95%, 0.8x magnification Viewfinder: 96%, 0.85x magnification
9-point AF (1 cross type), 63-zone metering
11-point AF (1 cross type), 420-zone metering
11-point AF (9 cross type), 16-zone metering
Lenses: Canon EF and EF-S
Lenses: Nikon AF-I and AF-S Lenses: Pentax KAF/KAF2


Canon EOS 1100D Canon EOS 1100D Pentax K-r
The Canon EOS 1100D replaced the EOS 1000D, which was Canon's first specific entry-level SLR (and which was on sale for a record-breaking three years!). The controls and interface are quite basic in this beginners' model, but the internal electronics are reasonably advanced, bringing features such as 720p HD video. The viewfinder and screen, however, have been taken directly from the previous model. The Nikon D3100 replaces the D3000 and has really brought Nikon's entry-level SLR up to date. The new CMOS sensor has brought a decent Live View mode and a Full HD video mode—two things that would have been unthinkable in the previous model. Build quality has been upped too although, like the Canon EOS 1100D, the screen and viewfinder have come straight from the previous model. The Pentax K-r is designed to take over from the K-x. Unlike our other two contenders, the sensor and electronics haven't changed much in this new model, and most of the updates are instead found on the camera body. For example, the active AF point is now displayed in the viewfinder (which was sorely lacking in the previous model) and the new VGA screen boasts a definition four-times higher than its competitors.

Manufacturers don't invest in research and development for their entry-level SLRs. As a result, all of these cameras use features and technology that have already been tried and tested in previous years' expert or pro-level SLRs. Canon's EOS 1100D borrows heavily from the 450D, the Nikon D3100 inherits innovations rolled out in the D90 and the Pentax K-r takes from the K-x and the K-7. Although entry-level models have a more basic build than their higher-end counterparts, they can still be perfectly decent cameras.



Creative Auto: the 'Creative Auto' mode in the EOS 1100D helps beginners quickly get the hang of playing around with settings like the depth of field. By moving a cursor around on the screen, you choose to extent to which the background is blurred or focused. It's basically an easy version of the aperture priority mode. Quick video: the D3100 is the only model in our SLR showdown that can start filming video instantly, without you having to switch to the video setting on the mode selection dial. The separate video record button is housed in the middle of the Live View switch. With Live View active, you can either take photos or shoot video at the touch of a button. Rule-of-thirds lines: the K-r has 11 autofocus points, four of which cross rule-of-thirds lines. The markings in the viewfinder divide the image into three parts, which is handy for lining up an off-centre subject in a harmonious composition, or for keeping your horizon perfectly horizontal.



Canon SLR Nikon SLR Pentax SLR
Screen: the EOS 1100D has the smallest screen of the three at 2.7" compared with 3" for the Nikon and Pentax models. However, this screen displays the greatest number of accurate colours, which is handy if you plan on sorting and deleting photos directly in the camera Live View: the K-r wins hands down for on-screen viewfinding, as the screen definition is four times higher than than its competitors! That means finer, smaller details are more visible on the screen and with a bit of practice you'll even be able to use it for manual focusing. Viewfinder: here, the K-r has a clear advantage over its two rivals. Its viewfinder isn't any clearer or sharper, but it's noticeably bigger. Even if, at first glance, it may look a bit grainy, it's still easier to see whether the photo you're about to take will be sharply in focus or not.



Start-up, focusing: the three cameras get very similar scores, with start-up taking around half a second and the autofocus systems working at around 4/10 ths of a second in good light or under a second in low light. Live View: lining up shots on the screen can be noticeably slower in an SLR than in other types of camera. The D3100, however, isn't quite as slow as the competition, and the autofocus remains perfectly usable, even if it's still a far cry for the latest compact cameras and hybrids. Burst mode: the K-r stands head and shoulders above the rest when taking photos back to back. While the other two SLRs barely snap more than 3 frames per second, the K-r snaps 6 fps, which is ideal for taking action shots at sports events, for example.



EOS 1100D
Sensitivity: all three cameras use similar technology, and so it's hard to say that one model is better or worse than another in this field. Noise is a little more visible in the K-r at 3200 ISO (see top row of photos), but smoothing is less apparent than in the other two models, which means that finer detail isn't wiped out. Exposure: the K-r isn't quite as consistent with its exposure as the other two SLRs, but that's not too much of a problem for day-to-day use. Note, however, that the D3100 tends to take slightly darker shots (lower exposure)—and the K-r even more so—while the EOS 1100D takes lighter shots (higher exposure). Pick whichever suits you best. Video: the D3100 is the only model that films Full HD video, as the other two make do with 720p HD. The Nikon's video mode still has its limits though, with a pretty random autofocus, mono sound and image quality that could be better (see bottom row of photos). All of the videos are resized for compatibility with Full HD screens.



Pick the right kit: the Canon SLR is available with two different kit lenses, the 18-55 mm III (above) and the 18-55 mm IS II. The former lens may be cheaper but it has no stabilisation system! Plus, since the IS lens also offers better optical quality, it's clearly the better buy! 18-55 mm or 18-105 mm: the D3100 is usually bundled with a stabilised 18-55 mm VR lens. However, it can also be found with the very good 18-105 mm VR lens, which has a much more powerful zoom and can be handy for lining up tight portrait shots. Stabilisation: the K-r has a built-in mechanical stabilisation system that works with all compatible lenses, including the 18-55 mm kit lens and fixed-focal-length pancake lenses (as pictured above on the K-7). Competitors' pancake lenses aren't usually stabilised at all.

The Canon EOS 1100D is compatible with all of the Canon EF and EF-S lenses released since 1987, but not with older lenses.
The D3100 is compatible with all Nikkor AF-I and AF-S lenses, and can be used with all F-mount lenses (since 1959!) although various restrictions apply. One typical restriction, for example, is that there's no autofocus with AF-D lenses from the 80s and 90s.
The K-r is compatible with all Pentax KAF, KAF2 and KAF3 lenses and can be used with all K-mount lenses (since 1976) although, again, various restrictions apply.

All three brands have a good selection of trans-standard, wide-angle and telephoto lenses, as well as fixed-focal-length lenses. Plus, third-party manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron also offer a good range of alternatives for each of the three SLRs. Lenses therefore can't really be used as a criterion for choosing one of these cameras—unless you're a  die-hard fan of Pentax pancake lenses or you're looking for very specific lenses like the Canon 85 mm f/1.2—but then again, those kinds of users aren't likely to be shopping for an entry-level SLR!



For design & handling: the Canon EOS 1100D is the easiest camera to use for total beginners. However, its small, low-def screen, basic build and design, and confusing kit lenses (make sure it comes with the 'IS' lens before you order!) mean that it finished in last place in our entry-level SLR showdown. For video: Nikon has understood that many users now expect to be able to film video as well as take photos with an SLR. The D3100 films Full HD video and, above all, has a direct access video button so you don't have to waste time fiddling around with the mode selection dial. That said, there's no sign of stereo sound. For everything else: the Pentax K-r is the winner of our SLR showdown. Its high-def screen, practical (but not the most stylish) viewfinder, built-in stabilisation system, fast burst mode and dual power source (Li-ion battery or AA batteries) make this entry-level SLR a top-notch consumer camera.

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