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The Never-Ending Canon vs Nikon Debate

February 24, 2016


In the old days of film photography, many brands produced fine cameras that competed vigorously for market share; since the dawn of the age of digital photography the two biggest brands by far have been Canon and Nikon.

One reason for their dominance is that, although Pentax, Samsung, Sony, and other brands can produce photos just as good, there is a lot more choice with either Canon or Nikon.

Which should a novice photographer buy?

Canon vs Nikon


Another reason why Canon and Nikon are the most popular brands is their compatibility with older equipment. The Canon Electro-Optical System (EOS) product range goes back to 1987, Nikon’s F-mount lenses to 1959. Any EOS or F lens works perfectly well on the latest cameras.

The main difference between them is autofocus. All Canon EOS lenses but only Nikon AF-S lenses have the autofocus feature. Nikon chose to remove autofocus motors from their entry-level cameras to keep them smaller, lighter, and cheaper.

Current Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000, and D5100 cameras have no motors. Canon cameras have autofocus motors in their lenses, not their bodies.

Lenses of the past 25 years keep most photographers happy, but for even older lenses Nikon is the better choice. Both brands use fast, accurate ultrasonic motors providing excellent results. Older motors are less reliable and perform not so well. If buying an old lens, be sure to test it first.

As to crop factor, Canon sensors are a bit smaller in their entry level bodies and crop more from the image.

Their crop factor is 1.6 rather than 1.5 so with a 50-millimeter (mm) lens the result looks like the equivalent of 80 rather than 75 mm, not a huge difference but perhaps something to consider if buying lots of full-frame lenses.



Overall performance of both Canon and Nikon is so good that it would be futile to try to distinguish them solely by this measure.

The better way is to compare key factors like autofocus, megapixels, noise, speed, and even weight. Canon stands out in some, Nikon in others.

As examples, Canon lenses are some of the best, and Nikon cameras handle noise very well. The choice may be a matter of which cameras are in the buyer’s price range; Canon and Nikon constantly try to outdo each other on selling price.



Usability is an important, perhaps the most important, factor when buying a new camera.

  • How does it handle?
  • How easy is it to shoot with?
  • How intuitive is the menu navigation?

Answers to these questions tend to outweigh all other reasons for buying a camera.

If the camera feels right, the buyer should not be swayed by style or color but stick with the one which physically feels best.

Not often do photographers change brands but, when they do, it’s usually for better usability because good photographers can get excellent results with any adequate equipment.


Shopping for a Camera

Go to a camera shop with a budget, and look at cameras in the corresponding price range. Without looking at the specifications, pick up a few cameras and see how they would feel in use.

Cameras with good screens make reviewing images easy; others with screens not so good make good results harder to get. Because such details are important to the buying decision, the first camera purchase should be in a shop, not online.

Many first-time camera purchasers get into photography because friends have digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) and they want to produce the same impressive results. Buying the same brand a friend already uses can bring advantages.

Friends can help beginners learn how to use their new cameras and share equipment with them.

The eternal Canon vs Nikon debate has picked up with renewed frenzy since Nikon’s release of the D3 and D300 digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras.

It’s not difficult for debaters to become emotional and lose perspective, but usability, functionality, and flexibility may be important than image quality for many photographers shooting every day under changing conditions

In photography, this debate has gone on for decades but these two are not the only DSLR brands. Why don’t photographers hear as much about Olympus v Sony or Panasonic v Pentax?

Konica Minolta was a very popular brand at one time. Back in the ’70s many photographers chose Minolta and Pentax.

Canon and Nikon simply have devoured the SLR market shares of other brands with their entry-level DSLRs, which enabled many more amateurs people to enjoy photography previously a realm limited to a small number of professionals.


Canon or Nikon?

So which is better, Canon or Nikon?

Both make excellent, nearly identical DSLRs capable of capturing vivid images; however, choosing a camera brand is an important decision in photography. After a photographer accumulates equipment specific to a brand, it’s difficult to switch.

The advantages of choosing either Canon or Nikon are extensive available support, excellent lens lineups, and third-party gear availability. A disadvantage is a famous brand name that costs more than would a less famous brand with nearly identical features.

Calculate a budget and find several cameras from both brands that might be satisfactory. Then go to a camera shop and examine them, probably the best way to see which brand would work better.

There are a few other considerations:

Which brand do friends and relatives use, Canon or Nikon?

Using the same brand would allow equipment exchanges and loans. Photography is expensive, and it’s economical and convenient to be able to borrow rather than buy gear needed to take a particular picture.

  • Will the DSLR be for videos? Canon is a big name in videos with dedicated cinema cameras for all Electro-Focus lenses.
  • Both brands offer excellent lenses. Canon offers the slightly faster 50-mm f/1.2L and the 85-mm f/1.2L whereas Nikon has a 50-mm and an 85-mm f/1.4. Nikon has a 50-mm f/1.2 in manual focus only.


Interesting points about both brands:

  • Canon introduced its first full-frame DSLR in September 2002; Nikon’s followed in August 2007.
  • Canon lenses are Canons, Nikon lenses Nikkors.
  • Canon flashers are Speedlites, Nikon flashers Speedlights.
  • Canon’s sensors are slightly smaller than are Nikon’s.
  • Older Nikon DSLRs had megapixel counts lower than had their Canon counterparts. Newer Nikon DSLRs have higher megapixel counts than have Canons.
  • Nikkor lenses fit Canon bodies with adapters, but Canon lenses do not mount onto Nikons. This fact is why photographers who do videos on their DSLRs prefer Canon.



Both Canon and Nikon have been in business for a long time. Both produce excellent optical equipment. The choice is mostly a matter of personal opinion or taste about which there can be no reasonable dispute.

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