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The Great Debate: Canon Vs. Nikon

Related course: Photography for Beginners

When it comes to buying a new or even used DSLR camera, we are stumped between which brand to choose from. There are a few, but it’s Canon vs Nikon for most of us.
And that’s what today’s article will discuss. What are the differences and what should you look out for when it comes to Canon vs Nikon?
A photographer playfully throwing his Nikon DSLR camera into the air
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Introduction

Back in the golden age of film photography, there were plenty of brands around. You could choose some awesome cameras. The Canon vs Nikon debate was a lot less prominent.
But we’ve entered the age of digital photography. Outside mirrorless cameras, The two biggest players are Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The question many ask is: as a beginner photographer about to buy one of them, which one do I get?
Which is the best camera body for beginners – digital Canon or Nikon?
Before I go any further, I’m not saying that other brands such as Sony, Samsung, Pentax, etc. are no good. You can get amazing photos with them. But 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 matters. This article will provide an objective look at the two brands, both high-end and entry level DSLRs.
A photographer changing settings on a Canon DSLR camera - canon vs. nikon cameras

Compatibility Canon Vs. Nikon

This is one of the biggest reasons why Canon and Nikon are more popular than the other brands. They’re compatible 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.
The main difference between the two is the autofocus. With Canon, all the EOS lenses will autofocus whereas, with Nikon, only the AF-S lenses do.
If you want your Nikon lens to autofocus, you need to choose an AF-S lens. This narrows your options. (By the way, you want your lens to autofocus.)
Nikon decided to remove the autofocus motor from their entry-level cameras. This is to keep them lightweight, compact and cheaper. This goes a long way in deciding between Nikon or Canon.
Currently, the Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000 and D5100 don’t include motors. Canon have always had the autofocus motors in the lenses, not the bodies.
This isn’t a problem for Canon users. They feel that Canon professional cameras are the best choice in the battle of Nikon vs Canon.
A Nikon and Canon camera resting on a wooden table
The past 25 years’ lenses are enough to keep most photographers satisfied. But if you know of any much older lenses that you must have on your camera, Nikon is the way to go.
I’ve recently upgraded some of my lenses to Canon’s L-Series. The jump in quality is noticeable, not least in the autofocus. For this, Canon professional cameras win.
They both use ultrasonic motors. These are fast and accurate. And provide 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.
Speaking of the crop factor. You may be interested to know that Canon’s professional cameras have sensors that are a little bit smaller in their entry-level bodies. This gives more of a crop.
The crop factor is 1.6 rather than 1.5. 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.
A Nikon DSLR on white background. best nikon dslr

Performance

You may think that this is the most influential factor for comparison. But the performance between Canon or Nikon is so good. It would be ridiculous to generalise each manufacturer to try and decide which is best.
The best thing to do if your main interests lie in the performance of a digital camera is to compare key factors. These are the autofocus system, noise, megapixels, photos per second and even weight.
There are areas where Canon stands out where Nikon doesn’t and vice versa. Here, you would need to check things like Nikon camera reviews, Canon software and the Nikon vs Canon DSLR debate.
For example, I don’t like Canon’s auto white balance but Canon lenses are some of the best around. The Nikon menu system is poorly set out but their cameras handle noise very well.
It all comes down to which great cameras are in your price range. Canon and Nikon are trying to outdo one other. Hence, when we talk about both companies, it’s Nikon vs Canon all the way.

Usability

One of the most important factors to consider when buying a new camera is usability. This goes a long way in the Canon vs Nikon battle.

How does it feel in your hand? What’s it like to shoot with? How easy is it to navigate the menu?

You can answer these questions when you pick up a camera for the first time. For me, they tend to outweigh all the other reasons for buying a camera.

When I picked up my first Canon, it 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. When they do, it’s usually down to usability. Any good photographer knows that they can produce excellent results with basic gear.An overhead shot of 6 Canon or Niokon lenses

Canon Vs. Nikon – Which Brand is Right for You?

I encourage you to go into a camera shop with a budget and a have look at the cameras in that price range. The prices between Nikon or Canon are going to be similar.
Don’t look at specs to begin with, only pick up a few cameras. See how easy they are to use and what sort of results they give.
My Canon has a good screen so it’s much easier to review my image quality. I do this using the live view mode. Some of my friends who shoot with Nikon’s have horrible screens in comparison.
These small details add up to make a significant difference. Let them influence your decision. Your first camera is something you should do in the shop, not online.
A lot of people who get into photography tend to do so because their friends have DSLRs. They want to produce the same sort of results. If you like Nikon or Canon, first try a Nikon vs Canon DSLR comparison.
Your friends will no doubt have at least some influence on your decision. They’ll 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.
A canon dslr camera on white background- canon vs nikon
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. I didn’t know how to use it.
Finally, think about what you want to do with your camera and where you want it to take you. Both cameras photograph comparatively well in low light, so there need to be other factors.
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 the Nikon was only 12 megapixels compared to Canon’s 21.
The number of megapixels was important for the type of photos he planned to take. If he had 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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61 comments
  1. I’ve never read an article about the Canon vs. Nikon war with a totally objective view, great job!
    For me, I love Canon because they have a much cleaner body. A major plus for Canon is also the fact that they can fix your lenses in record times, something Nikon doesn’t.

    1. How could you honestly call this a objective view review of Canon/Nikon? He shoots with Canon, all of his antidotes are negative towards Nikon, or stories are of people switching from Nikon. It’s pretty easy to see which way his swing lays…

      1. I’m sorry you think that, but at no point did I say that I recommend Canon over Nikon, in fact, I think I made a pretty strong point that neither one of them was better than the other. I did in fact recommend Nikon though if you want a longer line of lenses to choose from; I simply gave pros and cons for each brand based on the facts. It doesn’t bother me if someone wants to give their money to Nikon rather then Canon; it doesn’t effect the way I shoot or teach. Choose the camera that works for you, whether that’s Canon, Nikon, Sony, Samsung, Pentax, Simma, Lumix, or Leica.

  2. I agree with Lauren thought your comments simply provided info about both nikon/canon systems. I’ve used both canon & nikon over the eons and think they’re both fine.
    Reminds me back in the day my uncle favored chevrolet & dad liked ford. To me they both got you where you were going.

  3. For me it was my first one, I didn’t have any friends that Took pictures I baught on affordability and usability. But since I have It I’ll probly stick with it… Nikon.. btw

  4. As a US Nikon user, I have been dismayed that they are no longer allowing ANY discounts over their recommended price because “they don’t want their customers to have to work so hard to find the best price.” So instead they want you to have the worst price. This may lead me to sell my gear and switch. I don’t want to invest more money in a system that is going to cost far more than Canon in the future.
    http://nikonrumors.com/2011/10/14/the-new-nikon-us-pricing-policy-explained.aspx/

    1. Haha, wow, that’s the first I’ve heard of that. It’s almost amusing the way you put it, I can see the advantages, but it does sort of screw the consumer a little bit. I wouldn’t worry too much about gear costing you more in the future, so long as they have the like of Canon around to keep them company, they’re going to have to keep it at least somewhat competitive.

  5. Great article. I recently sold ALL my Canon equipment (5DMK1, 50D, L lenses) to switch to Sony. Sony may be jumping into competition. The reason I switched is: in body stabilization, off camera flash ability, and Zeiss AF lenses (85mm f1.8 Zeiss w/ AF!).
    You may want to write an article about DSLRs that are not so popular, but very worthy.

  6. I am so tired of reading all these “articles” about Canon vs Nikon, only to conclude that both are “great”. It is obvious that both Canon and Nikon are comparable and fantastic brands. However, it would be extremely helpful if you someone were take the time to outline the advantages and disadvantages of the two, instead of giving a general opinion about the “feel” of the camera.
    There are differences between the two brands, and there are situations where one camera/lens is better suited than the other. For example, one is better for studio shoots, while the other is better for action shots.
    All great brands compete! Competition is great for businesses and forces them to innovate.
    Do us a favor and take the time to actually outline these differences!

    1. I’m sorry if my opinion is not up to your standard, what would you say for each brand? Maybe there’s a reason there are some many of these ‘articles’?

  7. OK Leica and Hasenblad we are talking over $8 to 12K just for a body. Ricoh is prety good on the Pro series that compare with the 7DMK-II or the D810, about We are talking about 3K body. Then is the D4 and 1DX compatables for about 4-7K, Fuji and Olimpus also enter in this run. Then you go quth the comsumer series with the Rebel xSI and the D5100 for about 450-699. Finaly Nikon has the semi-pro series starting with the D90 and D7100 to the D610/750 for 850-2K. There is not a matter of which is better. Lots of super-pros use Canon, lots of them also use Nikon and some use Pentax, Olympus and Ricoh. Well them all are sponsored by the maker of the camera they use. The equipment is not the must important part, is how well you know it and how well you know the principles of photography. It is about what is more comfortable and affordable for you. I am looking to get me a new D750 if I get my photography work to pay for it. I do love Olympus but as with Sony and Leica you then are cut-up on the propitiatory issues.
    Kristian Bogner, world-class pro photographer is a Nikon Ambassador, So are Cliff Mautner, Dixie Dixon, Ron Magill among others. Tamara Lackey is a world-class pro canon user that switched to Nikon in 2012, read what she has to say, http://tamaralackeyblog.com/switch-from-canon-to-nikon/. The you have others like Scott Kelby who made the switch the other way around. Other well known Canon users are Darren Rowse, and Adam Duckworth, and for what I have reed, their reason for using Canon is the AF function being slightly faster than in nikon. In that case is indifferent to me since I prefer to use manual focusing. I choose Nikon for the ergonomics, I get a better feeling for the equipment and I have shoot with Canon, Leica, Olimpus and Sony as well. However my sons do not share my choise. One uses Canon and the other is a Leica die-hard user. But when we go shooting together they both take aout their mount adapter and use my Nikor lenses, go figure.

  8. Originally, I bought into the Nikon system because they were the first to come out with an affordable and solid fast “50” for APS-C (35mm f1.8 DX G) DSLRs. That’s what I was waiting for — not a fan of zooms as your everyday lens. Now that I’m into full-frame, I’m glad because I believe they have edge in sensor tech over Canon — at least according to DXO Mark rankings. And frankly, I also thought Nikon had somewhat better glass overall. Canon purportedly has better video (but I don’t care about that…) Both are great camera makers. Had Canon back a number of years ago come out with a fast nifty 50 prime (35mm) for a crop sensor like Nikon did, I’d likely be in the Canon camp truth be told.

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