When it comes to pro-level, full frame cameras, three brands often come to mind first — Canon, Nikon, and Sony. All three brands create excellent cameras and optics. So the tough question remains — how do you choose between Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony?
All three have cameras excellent enough for many professionals, along with some entry-level options for beginners.
But once you commit to one brand, switching becomes even more expensive. You need to swap lenses and flashes too.
Choosing the right brand from the start is all the more important. To help you make that choice, we’ve put together this article with all you need to know about Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony.
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Canon’s history dates all the way back to a “Kwanon” 35mm camera in 1934. Today, Canon produces cameras in nearly every category, including DSLRs, mirrorless, and compacts.
Canon’s DSLRs carry the EOS name, which stands for Electro Optical System. The EOS marked the first fully electronic mount system in 1987. This allowed lenses and bodies to communicate with each other and also for several technological advances.
Even digital cameras continue the EOS name. This is why Canon offers a wide selection of different EOS lens options with the EF mount as well as the EF-S mount. The latter is designed for the company’s APS-C DSLRs, which have a smaller sensor than full frame.
Canon today is known for both their high-end cameras and beginner-friendly options. Prices are often competitive with Nikon and Sony. But Canon tends to have lower prices on lenses and higher prices on bodies when compared to Nikon.
Many of the EOS bodies use a dual pixel autofocus system. This means two halves of each pixel work together when autofocusing, for a system that works well with both stills and video.
Just five years ago Canon was known for being just as adept at video as stills. But that’s not exactly the case anymore. A Canon can still shoot pretty decent video, but the company has been slow to add new features, like 4K.
Canon’s best (and most expensive) DSLR is the EOS-1D line. The current model is the EOS-1D X Mark II with a 14 fps burst and a 20.2 megapixel full frame sensor.
That powerhouse is followed by the highly detailed EOS 5D series, like the 50 megapixel EOS 5DS R. The single digit cameras are full frame, including the EOS 6D and 7D series.
Canon’s APS-C DSLRs have a two digit number, like the Canon EOS 80D. Canon Rebels are the brand’s most affordable option. These are excellent for beginners, like the Canon EOS rebel T5i or T6.
While Canon is more known for DSLRs, the company has as handful of decent mirrorless options too. The EOS M line is a series with an APS-C sensor. And the brand recently launched their first full frame mirrorless, the Canon EOS R.
The bottom line? Canon is an excellent brand, trusted by many photographers. Image quality and contrast are often good, and the dual pixel autofocus is excellent.
Canon has been a bit slower in adding 4K video (though that’s already changing). Canon cameras also often tend to use brand specific terms, like using a Tv on the mode dial to designate Shutter Priority Mode. This can sometimes be tougher to learn.
Nikon has been developing optics since 1917, launching their first camera in 1948. Today, Nikon is known for their DSLRs, spanning from beginners to professionals. They also have a few smaller cameras like the popular superzooms with a best-in-class zoom.
Like Canon, Nikon’s long history means that there are plenty of lenses to choose from. These cover the super wide to the extreme telephoto, everything in between and specialty lenses like macro and fisheye.
Photographers shooting with a Nikon also have a good selection of flashes and other accessories. Nikon lenses tend to be higher priced than Canon’s, but the Nikon body is typically lower priced.
Nikon today is most known for DSLRs, often instantly recognizable by that red swoop on the grip. Images from the latest Nikon DSLRs tend to have limited noise, sharp subjects and solid color. Even so, some say Nikon colors have a bit too much greens and yellows.
Nikons also use terms that can be easier for beginners to understand, like shutter priority mode instead of Tv mode and calling continuous autofocus AF-C instead of Canon’s Al Servo.
Nikon’s spot metering modes will also read the light at the focal point instead of only metering the light at the center of the image. This makes getting an accurate exposure faster.
Nikon’s priciest DSLR is the Nikon D5 with 20.8 megapixels and 12 fps continuous shooting. Nikon’s D850 falls close behind (and in some areas outperforms) the D5 with a high-resolution 45.7 megapixel sensor.
Lower numbers in the name means fewer features, but a still capable DSLR like the D750 and D610.
For APS-C cameras, Nikon offers a wide range. From inexpensive beginner cameras to high-end, fast cameras.
The Nikon D500 is the current flagship for the company’s DX series cameras with a 20.9 megapixel sensor and a 10 fps burst mode, followed closely by the Nikon D7500.
The Nikon D3500 gets newbies started for only (and often on sale for under) $500. The Nikon D5600 offers a few more extras while still sticking with a low price point.
Some of the best Nikon DSLR technology (though not all) has now migrated to mirrorless with the company’s new Z series. The Nikon Z7 and Z6 offer many of the favorite features of the brand’s DSLRs. And they add extras like image stabilization — which the Canon’s EOS R doesn’t offer.
The full-frame mirrorless series is Nikon’s only mirrorless at the moment. The Nikon 1 series with a smaller 1-inch sensor was discontinued.
Photographers will likely be very happy with a Nikon camera. While exact parameters vary by camera, Nikon tends to offer solid image quality, an excellent build, fast performance and plenty of accessories.
Some photographers prefer Canon’s color science. But the terminology used by Nikon may be a bit simpler for newbies just starting out.
Sony isn’t a DSLR brand. The electronics company is most known in the photography community for its mirrorless cameras, particularly the full-frame line.
Sony didn’t start producing cameras until 1988. And they were never heavily invested into DSLR cameras.
But the fact that Sony wasn’t as heavily invested into the traditional DSLR boded well for the company’s mirrorless line. Sony took risks launching the Alpha series, but ones that have ultimately created excellent cameras with a long list of features.
The Sony full frame line consists of two different series, the A7 and the A9. The Sony A7 series started the buzz for the full frame mirrorless.
Cameras with the R in the name have the higher resolution. Those with an S are designed for low light. And Cameras without any letter add-ons is designed for affordable features.
The A7 series is now on its third generation. Compared to the EOS R and Nikon Z, the company has had more time to refine, add features and create a strong autofocus system.
The similar A9 camera also has a full frame sensor. But it mixes that with an excellent 20 fps burst speed, making it the better option for fast action. Sony also has a good but not as well known line of APS-C mirrorless cameras, like the Sony a6500.
While Sony wasn’t invested in DSLRs, the company still has a few SLTs. These are similar to DSLRs but use a translucent mirror. Sony hasn’t been dedicating as much time and resources into its SLTs. Photographers should proceed with extreme caution.
The Sony A99 II has a 42.4 megapixel sensor, 12 fps shooting and in-body stabilization. The A77 II and A68 offer fewer megapixels but a lower price point.
Along with the mirrorless and SLTs, Sony also has some excellent advanced compact cameras. The RX100 series is a popular (though expensive) line of compacts.
Sony, however, is also the world’s largest supplier of imaging sensors. Brands don’t always like to share who made the sensor. But you might buy a camera with a different brand name on it and end up with a Sony sensor.
That’s okay because Sony makes good sensors.
Sony has some of the best mirrorless cameras on the market — but they haven’t been around as long as Canon and Nikon. Sony’s lens options are a bit more limited than the lenses from Canon and Nikon.
That’s changing as Sony systems grow in popularity. The most frequently used lens are easily available in a Sony mount/ If you use more obscure lenses like specialty lenses and extreme telephotos, you’ll want to look at Sony’s current lens offerings first.
Canon Vs. Nikon Vs. Sony: Which One’s the Best Brand?
Each camera brand has some quirks, but Canon, Nikon and Sony all make great cameras. The best part about the Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony debate? The constant competition has each brand always pushing to launch the best camera.
One year, it may be a Canon, the next a Nikon and the next a Sony — it all depends on the individual camera.
Photographers will often prefer one system over the other. The important thing to remember is that, viewing the photos side by side, no one knows if you shot that image with a Canon, a Nikon or a Sony.
The camera is just the tool — the photographer using that tool matters more.
If you’re ready to buy a new camera but aren’t sure yet what brand to choose, here’s what you should do. After, of course, considering the differences above.
Go to a brick-and-mortar store that sells cameras and shoot with the ones that are on display. How do they feel in your hands? Does working with one feel easier or more natural than the other?
Dig into the menus. Does one brand’s feel more intuitive to you than the other? (An alternative is to rent a camera body from each brand).
Then, look at the lens selection — do the lenses you can see yourself buying in the future exist? How expensive are they?
Once you start investing in lenses, swapping brands becomes expensive because you also have to switch out your lenses and flashes.
Next, why not check our full review on the Canon Powershot SX740!
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