Back in the golden age of film photography, there were plenty of brands from which you could choose some awesome cameras; this debate was a lot less prominent.
Since entering the age of digital photography, the two biggest players have been Canon and Nikon but the question is, as a beginner photographer about to buy one of them, which should you go for?
Before I go any further, I’m not saying that the other brands such as Sony, Samsung, Pentax etc. are no good – you can get just as good photos with them – it’s just that there is a lot more choice with Canon or Nikon.
Also, as a disclaimer, I should tell you that I shoot with a Canon, not that it really matters.
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Compatibility Canon Vs. Nikon
One of the biggest reasons why Canon and Nikon are more popular than the other brands is their compatibility with much older equipment.
Canon’s EOS range goes back to 1987 and Nikon’s F mount range of lenses to 1959. This means that you can take any EOS or F lens and stick it on your camera – it’ll work just fine.
The main difference between the two is the autofocus; using Canon, all of the EOS lenses will autofocus whereas, using Nikon, only the AF-S lenses do. If you want your Nikon lens to autofocus (and you probably do), you need to choose an AF-S lens, narrowing your options slightly.
Nikon decided to remove the autofocus motor from their entry level cameras in an effort to keep them lightweight, compact and cheaper.
Currently, the Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 and D5100 don’t include motors. Canon, on the other hand, have always had the autofocus motors in the lenses, not the bodies; this isn’t a problem for Canon users.
The lenses over the past 25 years are enough to keep most photographers satisfied but, if you know of any much older lenses that you simply must have on your camera, Nikon is the way to go.
I’ve recently upgraded some of my lenses to Canon’s L-Series and the jump in quality is extremely noticeable, not least in the autofocus.
They both use ultrasonic motors which are exceptionally fast and accurate, providing me with excellent results each time. Older lenses use older motors which are less reliable and don’t perform so well; if you’re looking to buy an old lens, make sure you test it out first.
If you’re aware of the crop factor, you may be interested to know that Canon’s sensors are actually a little bit smaller in their entry level bodies, giving more of a crop.
The crop factor is 1.6 rather than 1.5 so if you put a 50mm lens on a crop body, you’re going to be seeing the equivalent of 80mm, rather than 75mm. It’s not a huge difference but it may be something you want to consider if you buy a lot of full frame lenses.
You may think that this is the most influential factor for comparison but the overall performance of Canon and Nikon is so good that it would be ridiculous to generalise each manufacturer to try and decide which is best.
The best thing to do if you’re main interests lie in the performance of a camera is to compare key factors such as autofocus, noise, megapixels, photos per second and perhaps even weight.
There are areas where Canon stands out where Nikon doesn’t and visa versa.
For example, I really don’t like Canon’s auto white balance but I think their lenses are some of the best around. I think that the Nikon menu system is poorly set out but their cameras seem to handle noise very well.
It all comes down to which cameras are in your price range; Canon and Nikon are constantly in an effort to outdo one other.
In my opinion, one of the most important factors to consider when buying a new camera is the usability.
How does it feel in your hand? What’s it like to shoot with? How easily can you navigate the menu?
All of these questions are answered when you pick up a camera for the first time and, for me, they tend to outweigh all of the other reasons for buying a camera.
When I picked up my first Canon, it just felt right. You shouldn’t be swayed by the style of the little red detail on a Nikon, or the big grey lenses from Canon. You should see what works for you and stick with it.
It’s not often that people switch between brands but, when they do, it’s usually down to the usability because any good photographer knows that they can produce excellent results with basic gear.
Which Brand is Right for You
I encourage you to go into a camera shop with a budget and have look at the cameras in that price range.
Don’t look at the specs to begin with, just pick up a few cameras. See how easy they are to use and what sort of results they give.
My Canon has a really good screen so it’s much easier to review my images; some of my friends who shoot with Nikons have horrible screens in comparison. These small details add up to make a significant difference – let them influence your decision.
Your first camera purchase is really something that should be done in the shop, not online.
A lot of people who get into photography tend to do so because their friends have DSLR’s and they want to produce the same sorts of results.
Your friends will no doubt have at leasts some influence on your decision and try to convince you to buy the brand that they use, and it’s not actually a bad idea.
Buying the same brand camera as a friend means that you can share lenses and flashes; when you go out taking photos together, you end up having twice as much equipment at your disposal and you can lend things to each other all the time.
They will also be able to help you learn how to use your camera.
One of my close friends bought a Nikon and was asking me how to take some of the photos that I’d taken. Although I could tell him how I did it, I couldn’t walk him through it on his camera as I didn’t know how to use it.
Finally, think about what you eventually want to do with your camera and where you want it to take you.
A friend of mine owned a really good Nikon D300 but ended up selling all of his gear and buying Canon instead, all because he wanted to upgrade to full frame.
The price for a Nikon full frame DSLR (D700) was only a few hundred dollars more than the Canon (5D) but it was only 12 megapixels compared with Canon’s 21. The number of megapixels was important to the type of photos he planned to take; if he were to have stuck with Nikon, this would have cost him a lot more money.
When you’ve taken all the factors I’ve listed in this post into account, it’s clear that there’s no real winner, all it really comes down to is personal taste.
I’m sure I’ve missed something and this sort of topic is usually a great source of arguments so, if you have something you’d like to contribute, either leave a comment at the bottom or come over to our Facebook page.
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