Back in the golden age of film photography, there were plenty of brands from which you could choose some awesome cameras, so this debate was a lot less prominent. Now we’re in the age of digital photography, the two biggest players in the game are Canon and Nikon, but the question is, if you’re a beginner photographer and you’re going to buy one of them, which one do you go for?
Before I go any further, it’s important to note that I’m not saying that the other brands such as Sony, Samsung, Pentax etc. are no good, because you can get just as good photos with them, it’s just that there is a lot more choice when you choose Canon or Nikon. Also, as a disclaimer, I should tell you that I shoot with a Canon, not that it really matters though.
Compatibility Canon Vs. Nikon
One of the biggest reasons that Canon and Nikon are more popular than the other brands is because of their compatibility with much older equipment. Canon’s EOS range goes back to 1987 and Nikon’s F mount range of lenses go all the way back until 1959. That means that you can take any EOS or F lens and stick them on your camera and they’re going to work just fine. The main difference between the two though is the autofocus; all of the EOS lenses will autofocus, but only the Nikon AF-S lenses will autofocus with Nikon. This means that if you want your Nikon lens to autofocus (and you probably do), then you need to choose an AF-S lens, which narrows your choices slightly.
Nikon decided to remove the autofocus motor from their entry level cameras, in an effort to keep them more lightweight, compact and cheaper. Currently, the Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000, and D5100 don’t include motors. Canon on the other hand have always had the autofocus motors in the lenses and not the bodies, so this isn’t a problem for Canon users. The lenses over the past 25 years are enough to keep most photographers satisfied, but if you know of any much older lenses that you simply must have on your camera, then Nikon is the way to go.
I’ve recently upgraded a couple of my lenses to Canon’s L-Series of lenses, and the jump in quality if hugely noticeable, not least in the autofocus. They both use ultrasonic motors which are exceptionally fast and accurate, and provide me with excellent results each time. Older lenses use older motors, which are less reliable and perform worse, so if you are looking to buy them, make sure you can test them out first.
If you’re aware of the crop factor, then you may be interested to know that Canon’s sensors are actually a little bit smaller in their entry level bodies, which means that there is more of a crop. The crop factor is 1.6 rather then 1.5, which means that if you put a 50mm lens on a crop body, you’re going to be seeing the equivalent of 80mm, rather then 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.
You may think that this is biggest factor for comparison of all, but the overall performance of Canon and Nikon is so good that it would be a ridiculous idea to generalise each manufacturer to try and decide which is best. The best thing to do if you’re most interested in the performance of a camera, is to compare key factors such as autofocus, noise, megapixels, photos per second, and perhaps even weight. There are areas that Canon stands out where Nikon doesn’t and vise versa. For example, I really don’t like Canon’s auto white balance, but I think their lenses are some of the best around. I think that the Nikon menu system is really poorly set out, but their cameras seem to handle noise very well. It all comes down to the camera in your price range, as Canon and Nikon are constantly in an effort to outdo each other.
In my opinion, one of the most important factors to consider when buying a new camera, is the usability. How does it feel in your hand? What’s it like to shoot with? How easy can you navigate the menu? All these questions are answered when you pick up the camera, and they usually outweigh all the other reasons for buying a camera for me. When I picked up my first Canon, it just 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 people switch between brands, but when they do, it’s usually down to the usability, because any good photographer knows that they can produce excellent results with basic gear.
Which Brand is Right for You
I encourage you to go to the camera shop with a budget of how much you want to spend and look at the cameras in that price range. Don’t look at the specs to begin with, just pick up the camera and see how easy they are to use and what the results are like. My Canon has a really good screen so it’s much easier to review the images, but some of my friends who shoot with Nikons have horrible screens in comparison. All these small details will add up to make a big difference in your decision. Your first camera purchase is really something that should be done in a shop and not online.
A lot of people who get into photography tend to do so because their friends have DSLR’s and they want to produce the same sorts of results. Your friends will no doubt have some influence on your decision and try to convince you to buy their brand, and that’s not actually a bad idea. Buying the same brand camera as a friend means that you can share lenses and flashes, so that when you want to go out and take photos together, you end up having twice as much equipment at your disposal, and you can lend each other stuff all the time. They will also be able to help you learn how to use your camera. One of my close friends bought a Nikon and was asking me how to take some of the photos that I’d taken, and although I could tell him how I did it, I couldn’t walk him through it on his camera as I didn’t know how to use it.
Finally think about what you eventually want to do with your camera and where you want it to take you. 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 it was only 12 megapixels, compared to 21 with Canon. He needed a lot more megapixels than that because it was important to the type of photos he was going to take, and if he were to stick with Nikon, it would have cost him a lot more money.
When you’ve taken in all the factors that I’ve listed in this post, it’s clear that there’s no real winner, it all comes down to a matter of 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.