I often lurk around photography forums, and a common question that comes up by people who aren’t regulars is ‘which camera should I buy?’.
It’s somewhat tiresome, and the answers are almost always the same. It starts off with a battle between Canon and Nikon, and then a good look at the price range.
I have my own views on how to solve this problem, so here it is…
Canon or Nikon?
All the Pentax, Sony, and Sigma lovers out there might not like my view on this, but here it is. Buy Canon or Nikon. That’s not to say that the other brands aren’t any good, because they are. It’s just that Canon and Nikon give you more options (huge range of lenses and flashes for example).
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s have a look at which one you should buy.
Disclaimer: I use Canon (not that it matters).
I have two very important questions for you to ask yourself:
- Which brand do your friends mostly use?
- Which feels best in your hands, and seems the most intuitive to use?
Follow up these questions with some more to help you narrow it down:
- Do you want to be able to record HD Video?
- What is your price range?
These questions may not be the ones you were expecting. That’s because people get caught up in technical specifications. Don’t think ‘hmm, the screen comes out in this camera’, or ‘yeah, but this camera has more megapixels’.
It’s all nonsense.
The truth of the matter is that Canon and Nikon are constantly trying to outdo each other. If one brand is currently better than the other, it doesn’t stay way for long.
The difference is negligible; the advantages are in areas that most people seem to ignore.
Which brand do your friends mostly use? This is probably the most important factor which will affect which camera you buy. If all your friends use Nikon, there’s a good chance that they will lend you their lenses and flashes. They might also help you to learn how to use your camera.
Camera manuals seem to have gotten worse, so having a friend who can show you how to switch modes, and change things like ISO, will really come in handy.
Which camera feels best? Pick up the camera. Whether it’s in the store, your friend’s cameras, or something you’ve borrowed before, one of the brands will feel better.
I personally find Canon much easier to use than Nikon, but that’s down to me. I also like how it feels in my hands. If I’m going to be using it for hours on end, this is really important.
When you take HD video recording into consideration too, then that will determine the age of your camera. I usually recommend newer cameras though because they have better processors and features.
Finally there’s the price range. Here’s how I break it down.
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The Canon T3, also known as the 1100D, has a 12.2 MP sensor. This might seem like a lot by modern day standards, but I assure you, it will do just fine.
You might be thinking about getting older, higher range cameras, which isn’t a bad idea. But the entry level range is a good place to start as you will have the latest technology at a good price.
This camera is just over a year old. I doubt it will be replaced for another year or so, but if you’re willing to spend a little bit more cash, then the next level up would be a better choice.
I’m not going to ramble on about tech specs, you can see all of that by clicking on the link above. I will note that this is a pretty basic camera.
It’s very small, and the camera only shoots at up to 3 fps. It does record HD video too though, but only at 720p.
This is still the entry level range so there’s not too many bells and whistles. I’m sure you’re wondering what justifies an extra $160. Well to start, there’s twice as many megapixels at 24.2, which is good. The more the merrier in the lower range, but chances are that most people won’t really need them.
For printing the photos, to say, 10*15 inches, there’s not going to be a massive difference.
Another advantage that Nikon has over Canon is that it records HD video in full 1080p. This would definitely account for the increase in price. There is also a couple more autofocus points (which I’ve never really had a need for), and it also shoots at 4 fps.
This is the next step up in the range for Canon, and it’s a very popular range indeed. I actually had the XTi (400D) myself, and it’s a range that I trust. About once a year they update the camera, and the next version will be the T4i, or the 650D.
They make the cameras better each time, and add new features like a fold out screen, or live-view in the past. If you’re looking to get started on a camera which is going to last then this is a good place to start. I owned my 400D for over three years before upgrading.
This Canon camera costs $50 more than its Nikon counterpart, but it does come with two extra megapixels, at 18MP. That’s probably where the advantages stop. It shoots at 3.7fps, which is slightly slower than Nikon’s 4fps. On the plus side, unlike the 1100D, this camera records full HD movies at 1080p.
The Nikon is a very good camera for the price. It has slightly less megapixels than the Canon, at just 16, but I assure you, that’s more than enough. Like the Canon, it also has a fold-out screen, which can be tilted, and shoots full HD video. It’s also cheaper.
A feature you may find useful is the built-in HDR mode, but I couldn’t say how good this is. Canon have just included similar technology in their Canon EOS 5D MkIII. It’s certainly something to look out for.
There’s also the ability to apply different effects to your photos in the camera. But that’s not something I think you should be playing with if you want to learn and improve your photography.
This is a high-end consumer camera. This is where you start to see some real improvements from some of the cheaper cameras on this list. For starters, the 7D shoots at 8 frames per second (fps), is weather sealed, has 100% viewfinder coverage, shoots at speeds of up to 1/8000 of a second, has 19 cross-type focus points, and of course, records full HD video. It’s also lighter, has considerably shorter shutter lag than the Nikon below, and two more megapixels at 18MP.
On the down side though, it is a lot more expensive, with very little justification for it. It’s a good camera, but is it better than the Nikon?
The Canon has some good specs, but I think for the price, the Nikon comes out on top. It does have two megapixels less, and only shoots at 6 frames per second (who cares?), but it wins on most specifications. The image quality is better, a better dynamic range, and less noise at higher ISOs. The battery life is also better, slightly lighter, a better boost ISO, and has room for two memory cards. Oh and it’s $300 cheaper.
The Nikon also offers 100% coverage with the viewfinder, a strong magnesium alloy body, and good weather sealing, just like the Canon 7D above.
Both excellent cameras, but the price does win it for the Nikon – other than that, there’s not much in it.
When you start to get into the higher range of cameras with Canon and Nikon, the lines between the models start to blur, and the prices start to separate. I didn’t want to leave the Canon 60D out of the mix though as it’s a very good camera for the price.
The screen flips out and has a higher resolution than the Nikon above. It also boasts more megapixels at 18MP, rather than 16MP. The 60D is a good camera, but in areas such as ISO noise, image quality, colour depth, weather sealing and dynamic range, the Nikon does come out on top. Still though, it’s $300 cheaper so should be considered.
A Personal Note.
If you’re looking to buy a camera, but can’t decide which one is for you, I recommend buying the best one you can afford. Time and time again, I’ve made the mistake of buying a lesser version of something that I’ve wanted, in an effort to save money. It almost always resulted in me buying twice, rather than getting it right the first time.
If you’re looking for higher end cameras, then the ones that are getting the most talk at the moment are the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D MkIII. They’re not out just yet, but click on that link to see a full comparison. I will be revisiting this topic in the future with other ranges of cameras, so click like below to keep informed.
For more great tips before you invest, check our article on best time to buy a camera.
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