But once you commit to one brand, switching becomes expensive. You need to swap lenses and flashes too. So choosing the right brand from the start is all the more important. To help you make that choice, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Nikon, Canon, and Sony.
Nikon vs Canon vs Sony
Keep in mind that here we’re only comparing brands that offer extensive full frame options. With that said, let’s dive right in!
Nikon has been developing optics since 1917 and launched their first camera in 1948. Nikon has been known for their reliable and high-performance DSLRs. But they have decided to discontinue developing SLR cameras.
Nikon has been most known for their DSLRs. They are instantly recognizable by the red swoop on the grips. And even though Nikon has stopped developing their DSLR lineup, they are still available on the market.
They have DSLR cameras for everyone, from beginners to professionals. And they also have a few bridge cameras (the popular superzooms) with a best-in-class zoom. But they’re now focused on expanding their mirrorless lineup.
Nikon also uses terms that can be easier for beginners to understand. Continuous autofocus is called “AF-C” instead of Canon’s “Al Servo.”
And Nikon’s long history means that there are also plenty of lenses to choose from. These cover the super-wide to the extreme telephoto. They also have great specialty lens ranges like macro and fisheye.
You can find any lens type in their F-mount series. Plus, Nikon also has a good selection of flashes and accessories. Nikon lenses tend to be priced higher than Canon. But a Nikon camera body is typically priced lower.
Nikon DSLR Cameras
Nikon’s priciest DSLR is the Nikon D6, with 20.8 MP (megapixels) and 14 fps continuous shooting. It’s a high-performance professional DSLR.
Nikon’s D850 is the most popular DSLR camera among professional photographers. It’s packed with advanced features. And the full frame sensor gives you a 45.7 MP image resolution. It’s a reliable workhorse that professionals love.
Lower numbers in the name mean fewer features. But the D610 is still a capable camera.
For APS-C cameras, Nikon offers a wide range. They have inexpensive beginner cameras to high-end, fast cameras.
The Nikon D3500 is widely considered to be the best camera for beginners. It has a 24.2 MP sensor. And it has fantastic guide modes for beginners. But it is one of the cameras Nikon has stopped making along with the D3300.
The Nikon D500 is the current flagship camera of the DX series. It has a 20.9 MP sensor and a 10 fps burst mode. It has sophisticated autofocus (AF) and excellent low-light performance. So it’s an ideal choice for sports and wildlife photographers.
The Nikon D7500 is another great option for beginners. It’s a great camera at a reasonable price. The Nikon D5600 offers a few more extras while maintaining a low price. Read our full review of the Nikon Z7500.
Nikon Mirrorless Cameras
Some of the best Nikon DSLR technology has migrated to their mirrorless cameras. Nikon was a bit late to the mirrorless party. But their Z series mirrorless range now has some excellent cameras.
The Nikon Z9 is their most complete mirrorless camera. It’s an upgrade from the Z7 II. And it’s a top-quality full frame mirrorless camera for professionals.
The Nikon Z50 and the newer, retro-looking Z fc have APS-C sensors. So they have compact and lightweight bodies. And their photo and video features make them strong hybrid cameras. They’re ideal for vloggers, influencers, and content creators.
Photographers will likely be very happy with a Nikon camera. Nikon offers solid image quality, an excellent build, fast performance, and plenty of accessories.
Some photographers prefer Canon’s color quality. So it may be a big deal if you’re inexperienced in color editing. But the terminology used by Nikon may be a bit simpler for beginners.
Canon dates back to the “Kwanon” 35mm camera in 1934. Today, Canon produces cameras in almost every category, including mirrorless and compacts. But like Nikon, they have also decided to discontinue the development of their DSLRs.
Canon’s DSLRs carry the EOS name. It stands for Electro Optical System. And their EOS film cameras in 1987 were the first fully electronic systems—lenses and bodies that communicated with each other. Read our review of their classic Canon AE-1 SLR.
Now the brand is known for both its high-end cameras and beginner options. And digital DSLR cameras continue the EOS name.
Many of the EOS bodies use a Dual Pixel autofocus system. This involves two halves of each pixel working together when autofocusing. It is a system that works well with both stills and video.
Canon also offers a wide selection of different EOS lens options with the EF mount and the EF-S mount. The latter is designed for the company’s APS-C DSLRs, which have a smaller sensor than a full frame.
Canon tends to have lower prices on lenses and higher prices on bodies when compared to Nikon and Sony.
Canon DSLR Cameras
Canon’s best and most expensive DSLR series is the EOS-1D line. The most recent model is the EOS-1D X Mark III. It has a 20 fps burst and a 20 MP full frame sensor. This series is a popular choice for professional wildlife and sports photography.
The next line of DSLRs is the EOS 5D series, like the 30.4 MP EOS 5D Mark IV. It’s a powerful full frame DSLR with excellent photo features. You can read our comparison between the 5D Mark III and Mark IV.
The only other line with a single-digit marking is the 7D series. The 7D series consists of Canon’s semi-professional crop-sensor cameras. This line also has two models—the original EOS 7D and the EOS 7D Mark II. Read our full review of the 7D Mark II.
Canon’s other APS-C DSLRs have a two-digit number, like the Canon EOS 80D. They also have the Canon EOS 90D. It has a powerful 32.5 MP sensor. And the video features are some of the best in any DSLR camera.
Canon Rebels are the brand’s most affordable options. These are excellent for beginners. The Canon EOS Rebel T8i is their best entry-level DSLR. The 24.1 MP image resolution gives you beautiful images. And you also get 4K video recording.
Canon Mirrorless Cameras
While Canon is more known for DSLRs, the company has excellent mirrorless options too. Their mirrorless cameras are some of the most popular and advanced on the market.
The M50’s mirrorless body is compact and lightweight. And it has excellent features for photography and video. So it’s a great choice for vloggers and content creators.
Canon has been quite slow with stepping into the full frame mirrorless world. And their lineup is still very limited.
The Canon EOS R5 C is one of their best mirrorless cameras. Its powerful full frame sensor gives you incredible 45 MP images. And perhaps even more impressive is the 8K video capabilities.
It’s a pure hybrid camera. And it’s a brilliant investment for professional multimedia makers.
The bottom line? Canon is an excellent brand that many photographers trust. Image quality and contrast are consistently excellent. And their latest model also features outstanding video functions.
And their Dual Pixel autofocus is always fast and reliable. You can’t go wrong with a Canon DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Sony is a mirrorless camera specialist. They don’t make DSLR camera models. But their range of mirrorless cameras at all levels is second to none.
But in 2006, it acquired Minolta, a camera company with a long history of making SLRs. After this, Sony turned their focus to mirrorless cameras.
At the beginning of the decade, Sony took risks by launching the Alpha series. This was a full frame mirrorless series. The a7 series evolved with a long list of features and stirred up the professional market.
Sony cameras with the R in the name have a higher-resolution sensor. Those with an S are designed for low light and video shooting. And cameras without any letter add-ons are designed with relatively affordable features.
Sony is also the world’s largest supplier of image sensors. But camera brands don’t always like to share who made the sensor.
You might buy a camera with a different brand name and end up with a Sony sensor. (Like on the newer Nikon models.) But that’s okay because Sony makes great sensors.
Sony Mirrorless Cameras
Sony hasn’t been around as long as Canon and Nikon. But they have some of the best mirrorless camera systems on the market.
The a7 series is now in its fifth generation. And there is a Sony a9 II out. The former is aimed at enthusiasts. The latter is more for sem-professionals.
Compared to the EOS R and Nikon Z lineups, Sony has had more time to refine, add features, and create a strong autofocus system.
The Sony a1 is their flagship mirrorless camera. It’s an advanced full frame mirrorless with a 50.1 MP image sensor and 8K video recording. It’s packed with other high-tech features. And it’s aimed at professional photographers and videographers.
Then there’s the Sony a7R V. This is another trailblazer in the mirrorless camera division. The 61 MP image sensor is out of this world. That’s unparalleled image production for a full frame camera. And the results are breathtaking.
Sony’s APS-C line is also fantastic. Of course, you don’t get the headline-stealing resolutions. But the Sony a6600 is a brilliant mirrorless camera. It produces fantastic photos and videos.
Sony also has some compact cameras you should know about. The Sony ZV-E10 is compact and portable. And Sony designed it for vloggers and content creators. It has excellent video features for such a small camera.
And the Sony RX100 VII is one of the most advanced compact cameras you can find.
Sony’s native lens options are a bit limited compared to Canon’s and Nikon’s. That’s changing as Sony camera systems grow in popularity. Third-party manufacturers offer all their lenses for Sony E-mount.
You can only use certain lenses with Sony mirrorless cameras like Fujifilm cameras. Their short flange distance allows for greater flexibility in lens design.
Which Is Better: Nikon, Canon, or Sony?
Each camera brand has some quirks. But Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make great camera systems. The best part about the Nikon vs Canon vs Sony debate? The constant competition has each camera manufacturer pushing to launch the best new 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 often prefer one camera system over the other.
But when viewing the photos side by side, no one can tell if you shot that image with a Canon, Nikon, or Sony. A camera is just a tool. The photographer using that tool matters more.
Conclusion: Nikon vs Canon vs Sony
If you’re ready to buy a new camera but aren’t sure yet what brand to choose, here’s what you should do. Go to a store that sells camera systems and ask to shoot with the ones on display. (Or rent a camera body from each brand.)
Then ask yourself how they feel in your hands. Does working with one feel easier or more natural than the other? Dig into the menu systems. Does one brand feel more intuitive to you than the other?
Then look at their lens selection. Can you see yourself using them? How expensive are they? Give yourself time to make the best decision. And after you find your perfect camera and lens, hone your skills with our Photography for Beginners course!