Canon vs Nikon is a question many photographers have struggled with, both new and old. How do you know which camera system is best?
Of course, what matters most is not the camera but the creative eye behind it; that said, Canon and Nikon cameras each have some technological advantages they can offer photographers depending on what it is you like to shoot. Read on, as we attempt to answer the impossible question: Canon or Nikon?
We know Sony makes great cameras. And Fuji. Olympus too. Pentax. Panasonic. We’re not doubting their offerings in this post at all. In fact, most of us here at Camera Jabber shoot with those brands.
But the fact is that Canon and Nikon are giants in the camera industry, and the vast majority of photographers shoot with their DSLRs and lenses, flash systems and accessories. And they have done so for years.
What’s more, most beginner photographers looking to make the jump up to a more serious camera typically consider Canon vs Nikon before the other great brands out there. We’re not saying it’s right! It’s just how it is. It’s the result of remaining a strong brand over many, many years; but also, it’s the fact that Canon and Nikon do offer some of the best cameras and lenses on the market.
So with that in mind, we’re here to help you choose when considering the Canon or Nikon system. And rest assured that whichever brand you choose, you are investing your money in a quality brand supported by well-built products and a strong support system that caters for everyone from beginner photographers to professionals.
While some photographers may switch systems, jumping from Canon to Nikon or Nikon to Canon (and sometimes back again!), here in the real world most of us can afford to do this only once. We buy our camera body and accumulate a few lenses, and then we’re locked into that system for years, often decades.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t peer through the keyhole and see what the other side is doing every now and then as the two companies joust endlessly to leapfrog one another in technology.
Or perhaps you already know have a Canon or Nikon camera? In which case, you might want some more specific information from some of our other camera buyers’ guides:
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- Best cameras you can buy
- Best cameras for beginners
- Best travel cameras you can depend on
- Best mirrorless cameras in the world
- Best DSLRs you can buy today
- Best 360 cameras for capturing the wider world around you
Here is our view of the current state of the Nikon and Canon DSLR systems…
- Nikon closed the gap with the D850, but the 50-megapixel sensor in the Canon EOS 5DS / R still reigns supreme. Advantage Canon.
If you’re looking for the highest resolution possible, both the Canon and Nikon DSLR systems offer a number of excellent, if pricey, options. The Canon EOS 5DS (and EOS 5DS R), announced in 2015, offers a market-leading 50-megapixel sensor that captures a stunning level of detail. Meanwhile, the Nikon D850, announced in 2017, brings 47.5 million pixels to the table.
And while the D810 may seem a little long in the tooth, this full-frame (FX format) DSLR still offers a staggering 36.3 megapixel sensor.
Honestly, you’d need to blow up your images pretty big to notice a difference in image quality between the two cameras, but many people do.
And there are, of course, disadvantages of having that much resolution – camera shake, for one, become a lot more noticeable – but if megapixels is your thing, then the 5DS claims the trophy.
What’s more, the Canon system also offers – for about the same money as the D810 – EOS 5D Mark III. Its sensor offers ’only’ 22.3 megapixels, but the files it produces are considerably smaller.
Vari-angle touchscreen LCD
- Canon was the first of the two to add touchscreen functionality, and it is more pervasive through its range than Nikon. Canon wins!
Vari-Angle, flip-out LCDs, swivel screens, whatever you want to call them… these used to be scoffed at by many photographers when they were first introduced some seven years ago, but as people have grown to appreciate their ability to help compose images at improbably angles and aid with filmmaking, vari-angle LCD screens have become a must-have feature that photographers now expect when buying a new camera.
What’s more, the introduction of a touchscreen increases the convenience tenfold, allowing photographers to access direct controls from the LCD.
Canon and Nikon are sometimes chided for being slow to adopt the technology that compact system cameras have pioneered, but it’s worth remembering that Nikon introduced its first vari-angle LCD way back in 2009 with the D5000, while Canon launched its first flip-out screen with the EOS 60D in 2010.
However, it took until 2012 for one of the big two to introduce a touchscreen element to their vari-angle screens, Canon being the first with the EOS 650D (Rebel T4i) in 2012, and has continued to include the technology with its subsequent releases in the EOS 700D (Rebel T5i), 100D, 70D and 80D.
Nikon, on the other hand, took a while to embrace vari-angle touchscreens in its DSLR range, introducing it in 2015 with the D5500 and again with the D5600. However, the company explored this option in its Nikon 1 compact system camera range beginning with the Nikon 1 V3 some years ago. The full-frame Nikon D850 also incorporates the functionality for the first time in an FX format camera.
No anti-aliasing filter
- Nikon has pioneered the trend toward no low-pass filters and makes it available throughout its DSLR range. Nikon wins!
Most digital cameras have what is called a low-pass, or an anti-aliasing, filter built into their imaging sensors to help reduce the effects of moiré. What is moiré? Those bands of colour that you sometimes see in images with very fine, repeating patterns… that’s a moiré.
And your camera’s anti-aliasing filter limits this effect by effectively softening the image in-camera.
Beginning with the D800E in 2012, Nikon began introducing a new type of filter that doesn’t employ this softening effect. The company rolled the filter out across its enthusiast range beginning with the D7100, D5300 and D3300, and this trend has continued.
By lacking a low-pass filter, these Nikon DSLRs can record sharper images, leaving photographers to deal with any cases of moiré at the post-processing stage.
For the longest time Canon didn’t release its own version of this functionality, save for its astrophotography cameras the EOS 20Da and its successor, the EOS 60Da, which included a modified low-pass filter to allow more infrared light through to the sensor, allowing photographers to capture the red colour of nebulae.
In recent years, Canon has come up with its own answer to this technology in the form of dual anti-aliasing filters, one of which cancels out noise and allows the cameras to capture finer details. But Nikon’s head start has allowed it to refine its technology and expand it across a wider range of cameras in its line-up.
- Despite the Nikon D850’s fantastic AF, it still doesn’t match any recent Canon SLR for AF in Live View mode (or a decent CSC, for that matter). Canon is the best choice, for now.
If you shoot with a DSLR the chances are your camera uses two types of autofocus systems: phase detection and contrast detection AF. Phase detection AF enables you to focus through your viewfinder, while contrast detection allows for more accurate – but slower – focusing on your Live View screen.
It’s worth noting that these two systems aren’t compatible, as to activate Live View the mirror has to be locked up out of the way – which means that no light can be diverted to the dedicated phase detection AF sensor.
This incompatibility can be a problem for some photographers, and Canon has addressed it by introducing its hybrid autofocus system for Live View still and movie shooting. Canon’s Hybrid CMOS AF effectively combines both systems by embedding phase detection AF in the camera’s imaging sensor to put the focus in the zone, allowing contrast detection to fine-tune it.
You can find this technology in all of Canon’s entry-level DSLRs.
What’s more, beginning with the Canon 70D, some EOS DSLRs offer a more advanced ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ system. This allows some 80% of the sensor area to be used for phase detection AF before reverting back to image recording when you take a picture.
For still images this might not seem like a real advantage, but for those shooting video this feature really comes into its own, offering you smooth, continuous autofocus.
Nikon’s hybrid AF system is currently restricted to its Nikon 1 series of compact system cameras.
- Both manufacturers now offer 4K video recording in their high-end DSLRs, but Canon probably has the edge in AF and also offers a range of dedicated cinema lenses.Advantage Canon. But Nikon isn’t far behind.
This was a tough category. While Nikon gets props for releasing the first DSLR able to record high definition video with the very capable – and still current! – D90, it was Canon that really took DSLR video to the next level, unveiling 1080p Full HD video with the EOS 5D Mark II.
The 5D Mark II was a groundbreaking camera that was adopted by countless independent filmmakers who were besotted by its capabilities. In fact, the 5D Mark II has been used to shoot everything from Oscar-winning documentaries to big-budget Marvel action movies.
All that said, Nikon is no slouch in this area, and with the D800 placed its full HD-capable cameras in the hands of filmmakers and television news crews worldwide.
Both Canon and Nikon DSLRs – across the range – capture high-quality, full HD video at a wide range of frame rates, and many new models offer 4K recording. Both brands also offer photographers a number of manual exposure controls, jacks for stereo sound recording and headphone audio monitoring,
As we mentioned above, though, Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF is the first of the big two manufacturers to offer a viable focus tracking system for videographers. What’s more, its range of lenses featuring STM (Stepping Motor) provide quiet, smooth autofocus whilst filming.
Body Design & Handling
- The big difference in design falls in the mid-range and high-end DSLRs. Canon and Nikon DSLR designs are equal in quality and ease of use.
It’s easy to think that there isn’t much difference between cameras anymore, but the truth is there are a number of subtle differences between Canon and Nikon camera bodies and the way that they handle.
And, really, how comfortable a camera feels in your hand and how easy it is to access the controls that are important for you is perhaps the most important element of any camera you buy.
The most obvious difference between Canon vs Nikon DSLRs comes in the mid-range ‘enthusiast’ bodies and the professional cameras.
Nikon stands out, offering photographers two distinct command dials: one on the back of the camera and one on the front of the grip. What’s more, there is a multi-selector tool on the rear of the camera.
Canon, on the other hand, employs a large Quick Control Dial on the back of its cameras, and also offers a command dial near the shutter button and, on many of its cameras, a multi-controller for shifting the AF point.
Another key difference is that Nikon’s lens mounting, focusing, zooming and exposure compensation are all carried out in the opposite direction to Canon’s. This won’t matter to you if you choose one system and stick with it, but should you ever decide to switch from Canon to Nikon or vice versa this can take some getting used to and slow you down.