Nikon vs. Canon: Which Should You Choose?

For every great brand in the consumer market, there’s always at least one rival keeping users divided. Coca Cola has Pepsi, Nike has Adidas, McDonald’s has Burger King, and Apple and Microsoft have been duking it out for decades. The world of photography is no exception. Since the advent of the digital SLR, which to invest in—Canon or Nikon—has been a question plaguing the minds of many a photographer. Hoping to shed some light on the matter, photographer Tony Northrup offers this analysis:

Northrup’s basic premise is that both brands have their pros and cons, and that photographers should choose their cameras based on 1) what genre of photography they tend to shoot, 2) what lenses/other equipment they need, and 3) how much money they’re prepared to spend. That being said, these are his conclusions (based on specs and other data):

  • Nikon wins hands down in quality of camera bodies, particularly in the areas of dynamic range and sensor quality
  • Canon wins on affordability of basic lenses
  • Canon wins on specialty lenses, some of which have really important advantages
  • Canon comes out ahead in the flash department, with more third party flashes available

Comparing Sharpness

In the end, Northrup recommends either Nikon or Canon based on your area of focus:

  • Casual Photography: it doesn’t really matter
  • Landscapes: Nikon (because of the sharpness and dynamic range)
  • Sports: Canon
  • Wildlife: Canon for a budget under $10,000; Nikon for a budget greater than $10,000
  • Portraiture: you’re stuck with Canon if you shoot like Tony (lens and flash availability)
  • Video: Panosonic
Comparing Canon and Nikon Cameras

Comparing Entry-Level Cameras

Predictably, many Nikon users take issue with Northrup’s conclusions, from whether a 70-200 zoom lens really is the primary lens for a portrait photographer to the fact that Nikon’s sensors and flash system so outclass Canon’s, that every serious pro has either switched to Nikon or has added Nikon to their system. Either way, there are a number of factors left out of the video.

Other Reasons to Choose One Brand Over the Other

  • You’ve already invested money in lenses for one system and you’ll lose too much money cashing out your gear to switch over.
  • If you’re looking for used equipment, you’ll find a much better selection of Canon gear out on the market; they’ve been around longer.
  • You have friends who have one system or the other, making it potentially easier to borrow or trade lenses or other gear.
  • Your employer is invested in one of the two systems and being on the opposite system may make maintaining image consistency a big headache. (Nikon and Canon have small variances in their capture of color.)
  • The menu options of one feel far more intuitive to you than the other.

Still confused as to which brand you should invest in? Go to a local camera shop and hold each camera in your hand. See how they “feel.” No local camera shop? Try renting one of each brand in the price range you’re interested in and see how they work for you. Don’t like either of them? There are plenty of other brands out there: Pentax, Samsung, Olympus, etc.—all of which have very loyal followings. (And of course, if all else fails, go with what’s on sale.)

For those of you who’ve already chosen, do you agree with Northrup? Have you switched from Nikon to Canon or vice versa, and if so, why? Do you think one brand is clearly better than the other? Let us know.

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18 responses to “Nikon vs. Canon: Which Should You Choose?”

  1. Erv says:

    There is one thing that none of these comparisons evaluate. That is service after the sale. I am a retired independent repair tech with 45 years on the bench. A couple of years back Nikon cut off all parts sales. If you need a new battery door it has to go back to Nikon or one of their authorized service centers. The BBB has rated both of Nikon’s factory service centers as F. If you can find a local service to repair your Nikon they will be most likely getting parts from ebay, China, India etc. For repairs my choice is Canon.

  2. ernaldo says:

    This is silly. Both Nikon and Canon are great gear. Wildlife, Nikon for over 1o grand budget? Laughable, as I got plenty for much less. Landscape go Nikon for DR and sharpness? Odd, I’ve seen some TOP NOTCH, awesome photos made with Canon. Will this brand silliness ever end?

  3. Harold says:

    Canon wins hands down in customer support, Nikon does not supply parts. What if your car company did not supply parts? repair shops are not able to get parts, I call that trade restriction.
    not a good thing for small business.

  4. Kamen Zagorov says:

    What about shooting comfort? I’m a Canon user, 1 year ago I upgrade my 7D with Canon 5D Mark II. Well I thing this was my biggest mistake.. The 5D should be a professional camera but it has only 9 autofocus points and its really frustrating when you used to use much more on the 7D! I’m thinking to switch on Nikon D800 with 36 MPx and 51 autofocus points! On the same prize as Canon 5D mark II ?! Sorry but-Fuck the Canon!

  5. Rob den Braasem says:

    Why only Canon and Nikon. Why forget about the other great brands like Sony.

  6. Mark says:

    You seem to forget the 3rd major maker of cameras. It’s always compare Canon to Nikon. Better start including Sony with that comparison next time. You make it sound like they are the only camera makers. I will take my A77m2 against them any day!

  7. ernaldo says:

    Silly and ridiculous. Either would be fine in all genres mentioned. These idiotic one vs the other write ups should have seen their day long ago, and what about Sony, Olympus , Panasonic etc?

  8. If someone spends much time on this subject, he needs to find something else to do. That said, I did drop my Canon 7D with an older 400/2.8 on it–couldn’t separate them afterwards. Had Fedex package well and sent to Canon repair center. 10 days later had repaired camera back; earlier had gotten lens back with note saying they could no longer work on them as it was no longer supported–but they got it off, packed it well and sent back to me postpaid! The camera repair was not expensive, either. BTW, lens still works fine.

  9. Munish says:

    I am a canon user for more than 5years now, recently explored and extensively used Nikon gears to decide on a switch-over. Inspite of awesome local support from local nikon office, I couldn’t convince myself on the switch-over comfortably.

    PS: I use 5D iii and 7Dii bodies with few L lenses including 100-400II . I tried nikon D810 and D750 with few nikon lenses including 200-500.

  10. ernaldo says:

    Sorry Harold, being a Canon user how do YOU know Nikon doesn’t repair gear. I’ve had a few issues and NEVER had a problem getting them fixed, and parts were always available. Nice try though….

  11. Andrew says:

    Of course, if you can count beyond two, you let the children quarrel and go out shooting with your Pentax.

    • steve says:

      Too true. and if you go out when it’s raining you’ll have any location pretty much to yourself bar of course, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax users with weather sealed gear.

  12. Avery says:

    Hello…I happen to be pretty experienced with the Olympus cameras but I’m planning on switching over to a more advanced beginning camera. I am looking for one that is good outdoors and low light, also with loving shots. I hear too much about the both I don’t know what to chose! I’m looking within the price range of 300-450. Please email if you have any follow up answers!

  13. Kishore Jothady says:

    I am a 75 years old photo-enthusiast. I started photography as a school student more than 60 years ago during analog days and when color films were Kodachrome with 25 ASA (ISO). Right from beginning I am a Nikon user. I went digital in 2003 and now I have Nikon D3300 which is supposed to be an entry level camera although I fail to understand why it is termed so. It gives me all the settings I need and wonders of wonders, I am able to sell my images like hot cakes. Moral of the story? It is the person behind the camera who counts and not what tag your camera carries.

  14. Michael Nistler says:

    Very nice recap of Tony’s excellent analysis, Usnea. I’m with many others stressing the importance of post-sales support and while I can only vouch for the handful of Canon support/repairs I’ve with as many cameras and assorted lens, I’ll leave it up to others to google for service/support for various cameras and lens. Other telltale signs include the company’s financial performance, whether they are laying off employees, etc. So while on one hand I’m a big Canon fanboy (despite their reticence to keep up with leading technology at market prices in recent years), I’m excited to see both Sony and Panasonic’s excellent specs on their recent line of cameras that are incenting Canon and Nixon to offer newer toys at competitive prices.. or maybe I’m just dreaming! For instance, compare the latest/greatest kick-a$$ number of Amazon or B&H camera reviews versus the lessor specs on the Canon equivalent cameras – what’s up with that? Is Canon’s brand THAT STRONG?

  15. CAS says:

    These articles are pointless and only serve to try and further the myth that you can only take good photos on a Canon / Nikon. The simple fact of the matter is that, in this day and age, it is impossible to buy a bad camera, be it P&S up to the latest CSC. It is the person behind the viewfinder, pushing the shutter release that makes a great photo. The logo on the front of the camera is totally irrelevant.

  16. steve says:

    Probably the most boring topic in photography – why should anyone’s choice be limited to either of these, don’t want to upset you fanboys but there are other manufacturers – Sony, Pentax just to name a couple. It’s articles like this which propagate the idiocy that such a choice be made – the purpose for which you need a camera / lens combination, image quality and shooting environment (weather) should be key attributes in anyone’s decision making.

  17. Marg says:

    Hi! Loved the video & great down to earth explanation..Sometimes the ones who “think” they know everything about everything should be the ones who shouldn’t say anything..Your specific comparison was extremely worth value & you didn’t slight other manufacturers!

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