In a fiercely fought match, the Nikon D5100 is our group test grand-slam champion. The Nikon D5100 is a great camera for sports photography on a tight budget.
The Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus system is fast and highly accurate, while light metering is virtually foolproof. This combination delivers consistently sharp and well-exposed shots when you're trying to keep up with the action and don't have time to fuss about with camera settings.
The Nikon D5100 also has the joint fastest continuous drive rate in the group, at 4fps. This is matched by the Nikon D3200 but, with the newer camera's ultra-high 24.2MP image sensor, the Nikon D3200 is more prone to slowing down in long sequences.
The extra resolution also demands top-quality lenses for the sharpest results and Nikon's 18-55mm VR kit lens doesn't do the camera justice.
In addition to a host of custom settings, the Nikon D5100's pivoting LCD enables easy shooting from over other spectators' heads in a crowd, or from low angles for an unusual perspective.
How to use your new digital camera
The Canon EOS 600D also features a very handy pivoting LCD and is an excellent choice for shooting different types of sporting action. Like the Canon EOS 550D, it almost matches the Nikon D5100 and Nikon D3200 for continuous shooting, with a frame rate of 3.7fps.
However, the relatively small buffer in these two Canon cameras only enables continuous shooting for six shots in raw quality mode.
In addition to this, sports images from the Canon models often lack the punchy vibrancy of those from the Nikon cameras.