When looking for a DSLR camera, you must’ve come across these two giants- Canon and Nikon. The two leading brands have been ruling the camera market for decades, and for good reason. They’re quite similar to each other in terms of quality, price, and performance.
Yes, there are some differences, both big and small. But not so much that’d make them the polar opposites of each other.
But obviously, you won’t be buying both. So… it sort of becomes my duty as a photographer to enlighten you about the differences between the two. I do hope that it’ll help you choose the one that seems to be the most suitable for you.
What Are the Differences Between the Two Behemoths?
From the onset, these two brands might look similar. Well, to the untrained eye at least. But believe me, you’ll find numerous differences when you look deeper into the specs of various products these two brands offer. Let’s take a look into some of them. I’ll explain the impact of such differences as well.
Sense the Difference Between the Sensors
The sensors in both Nikon and Canon cameras are somewhat similar in size. But it’s not always the size of the sensor that makes all the difference, especially when it comes to image quality.
In fact, the one thing that the light has to pass through before hitting the sensor is the filter. So, eliminating it will allow the camera to pick up more detail especially in low-light.
Nikon has started using a new sensor design which allows you to get rid of the optical low-pass filter without any additional moiré or distortion. When you’re clicking fine lines and patterns in low-light or heavily-lit conditions, you’ll be able to see the difference first hand.
Canon, on the other hand, seems to be still hung up on the number of megapixels. Most of their DSLRs still use an optical low-pass filter. Although there are a few models such as the EOS 5DS R that do without one.
However, that was just an experimental approach because they didn’t continue the series after producing it.
Although Canon’s EOS 5DS does capture images in 8688 x 5792 resolution which in comparison to the Nikon D810’s 36 megapixels and 7360 x 4912 does seem like a lot as well. But still I’d say judging a camera by the megapixels is as good as judging a book by its cover.
But I must admit, the higher resolution offered by Canon makes room for larger prints and closer cropping without messing up the image quality.
Despite focusing on different zones of sensor technology, both Canon and Nikon provide excellent image quality. Although you can’t expect to get the exact same image with the two of them even if you shoot the exact same frame. But different doesn’t always mean better or worse.
There’s also the noticeable difference between the color-grading between the images taken with the two cameras. But for most of us, color is a matter of preference. Some like it vivid, others prefer a softer, warmer, matte touch of colors in their images.
In a nutshell, they’re simply NOT alike. Neither claims the throne of superiority (As of yet).
Let’s Put Their Speed to the Test
Photography is all about capturing the right moment and preserving it forever. No matter what camera you buy, speed is always an important factor. In this aspect as well, Canon and Nikon are pretty similar. I mean, they have pretty much the same autofocus speed.
Only in “Burst” mode or continuous shooting mode do you realize that there are some subtle differences in the shutter speed that the two cameras have to offer.
Although DSLR cameras are not that much focused on speed as compact cameras are. But that’s justified considering that they have a much bigger body, and naturally more gear that comes along naturally.
Still, Canon offers excellent speed in some of their higher-end DSLRs. For instance, the EOS 7D Mark II offers an outstanding 10 fps rate in burst mode. This makes it one of the top choices for sports photographers.
Meanwhile the D7200, which happens to be Nikon’s fastest camera, is only capable of providing a 6 fps in burst mode.
The math is pretty much the same even in more advanced options. The 1D X, which is a full-frame camera by Canon, hits a tremendous 14 fps. While a similar model by Nikon, the D4S only goes as far as 11fps.
Although when it comes to entry-level cameras that are made to be budget-friendly, Nikon beats Canon in terms of speed. But that’s only by a frame or two. When the Nikon D7200 offers a solid 6-7 fps while the Canon T6S offers only 5.
Which One is Easier to Handle?
While the performance of both the brands is pretty similar, there are some noticeable differences in operating the cameras. I’ll get to that here.
You see, the first difference operation between the two rivals is in the terminology that they use. The terminology on a Canon is very different from that on a Nikon. For example, the ‘S’ on the Nikon’s mode dial indicates to shutter priority mode, while on a Canon it’s called ‘Tv’.
Also, the autofocus modes are named differently. What’s Continuous Autofocus on a Nikon is an AI Server Autofocus on a Canon. Both are basically the same things, just the names are different.
It’s pretty evident that Nikon uses a simpler terminology for their autofocus modes and controls altogether. Remembering them is comparatively simpler than that of Canon’s.
Comparing Battery Lives of the Two Giants
Nikon beats Canon when it comes to battery performance. When they’re put to the test, Nikon is generally capable of taking more shots on a single charge than a Canon. For example, the Nikon D7200 has an 1,100 shots battery life, which is almost twice the battery life of the similarly priced Canon T6S.
Although that’s not the case with every model, but overall, Nikon has a better battery rating when compared to Canon.
How Good is the Video Quality?
If we look back at history, Canon initially managed to offer better video quality much sooner than Nikon or any of its counterparts did. They were the first brand to develop a hybrid autofocus system that allowed their cameras to refocus while still recording.
Generally, Canon is known for their autofocus tracking which is way better than that of Nikon’s. They also have their own range of lenses that are specifically designed for videography.
You may be thinking at this point what the catch here is. I mean… since Canon already has produced cameras with better autofocusing and lenses designed for video recording, obviously they’re the winners, right? Well, it’s not that simple.
Even if it were a couple of years back, coming to a conclusion about which brand provides a better video quality would’ve been much easier. Because back then Nikon didn’t have any autofocus while recording video. But now, their latest mirrorless models offer continuous autofocus.
If we narrowed the comparison down to individual models across the brands, then we can see that Nikon has a handful of cameras with 60 fps continuous autofocus for a much smoother motion. Similar cameras made by Canon, on the other hand, can deliver only up to 30 fps.
In a nutshell, we can say that Canon technically still has the upper hand in video quality but some of Nikon’s latest models are now giving them a run for their money.
The Compatibility Comparison
One of the primary reasons why Nikon and Canon have reached the top ranks in the camera market and stayed there for so long is compatibility. Both the brands make cameras and lenses which are not just good themselves, but they also go seamlessly with cameras and lenses made by other manufacturers.
Historically speaking, Nikon first started making F-mount lenses back in 1959, which was way before Canon did. Canon’s EF range first hit the markets in 1987. Generally, that means that with Nikon you’ll get a long range of photography equipment that’ll be compatible with even your modern digital camera.
The most notable difference between the two brands in terms of compatibility is in their approach towards autofocus technology. Canon’s EOS lenses have had autofocus technology since their emergence because they were developed in the ‘80s.
Meanwhile, Nikon AF-S lenses that were developed during the same era are the only ones that have autofocus. All the other lenses that came before this had manual focus.
Although Nikon decided to eliminate their autofocus motor in their entry-level DSLR cameras to make them appear more compact, lightweight, and cheap.
Yes, you could still use a non-AF-S with a Nikon DSLR and it’d still work, but you won’t be able to use any autofocus on it. It’s better to use the dedicated kit lens that came with the camera instead, or buy a DX lens that’s designed specifically for entry-level DSLRs.
The full benefits of an older AF-S lens produced by Nikon can only be experienced with a Nikon professional camera.
Canon, on the other hand, always put autofocus motors in their lenses instead of the bodies. This allowed the users the liberty to use any autofocus lens no matter what camera they’re using.
Be it an entry-level Canon Rebel T7i, or a professional 5D Mk IV, they’re free to enjoy the benefits of Canon autofocus lenses without having to worry about compatibility.
The Canon lenses made in the past 25 years should be enough to meet the requirements of both Canon and Nikon cameras, based on the model.
If you want lenses with the newest technology, then you better go for Canon. But if you’re into a more extensive range of lens varieties to choose from, then Nikon would be the best option for you.
In conclusion, both Canon and Nikon lenses perform equally well when it comes to compatibility. The only difference is in their range of selection, or to make it even simpler, where they put their autofocus motors.
Which One Has A Better Crop Factor?
The term ‘crop factor’ describes how magnified the image taken by any lens would be when you use it on a cropped-sensor camera. If you use a full-frame EF or AF-S lens on a crop-sensor camera, you’ll only get a fraction of the image as the rest of it will be cropped out due to the limited size of the sensor.
The crop factor of most of Nikon’s cropped-sensor cameras is 1.5x. Which means, if you attach a 50mm full-frame lens onto a Nikon cropped-sensor DSLR, you’ll get an image that’s equivalent to 75mm.
In case of Canon, their sensors are slightly smaller. So, their crop factor is 1.6. This means, if you put a 50mm lens on any of Canon’s cropped-sensor DSLR, you’ll get an image that’s equivalent to 80mm.
This 0.1 crop factor difference may seem insignificant, but since the crop sensors are already so tiny, even that 0.1 makes a great impact in resolution and image quality.
This is crucial because the larger the sensor, the better the resolution, the clearer the image quality. Of course, smaller sensors can also create a better ‘magnification’.
You see, it’s all about compatibility. If you have a cropped body, get a lens with a good sensor. If you have a full-frame body, you can make do with even a mediocre lens.
Whether you use a Canon or Nikon, and whether they put the sensor motor in the lens or in the body, it’s always a good idea to look for the bigger sensor.
Varieties These Two Brands Offer
Be it DSLR, or mirrorless, or compact cameras, both the brands offer a handful of options for you to choose from. For every Nikon, there’s a similarly feature-packed Canon, and vice-versa. That’s the reality in case of DSLRs at least.
But there are exceptions. For example, there’s the speedy 10 fps EOS 7D Mark II by Canon that Nikon has yet not been able to come up with an answer for.
Similarly, there’s the D810A by Nikon which is typically designed for astrophotography and which Canon has still not been able to make an equivalent for.
But when it comes to entry-level cameras, Canon falls a little behind from matching Nikon’s models. And this is even more prominent when we’re comparing the prices of the two.
There’s also the factor about the optical low-pass filter that I mentioned before. When comparing two similarly-priced models by Nikon and Canon side by side, the T6S made by Canon and the Nikon D7200 both seem to be offering the same number of features and benefits.
However, only the Nikon model doesn’t have an optical low-pass filter.
Even for amateurs and enthusiasts, both the brands have come up with cameras that would fit into their requirements, skills, and of course, budget. Although if we’re talking about budget, Nikon seems to be a bit more forgiving than Canon.
But that totally depends on the technologies that the brands consider as ‘entry-level’, and use in their cameras designed for enthusiasts.
Build Quality and Durability
This may sound like a not-so important factor if you’re a professional who buys a new camera every few months. But for an amateur or enthusiast on a budget, how long a camera lasts and what types of conditions is it capable of surviving might just be one of the driving factors behind choosing one.
I’ve asked this around to professional journalists and photographers who do a lot of outdoor shooting under extreme weather conditions, and most of them agreed that despite being more expensive, Canon cameras fall behind on the durability test in comparison with Nikon.
I mean, it doesn’t take much to wreck a camera. You don’t need to be a combat photographer with bullets flying all around you and occasionally hitting your camera for it to get completely destroyed. Just a little tripod accident is enough to put your budding photography career to a stop.
And in this context, Nikon performs somewhat better than Canon. Especially when it comes to lenses. Canon lenses are built to perform. But not necessarily built to last.
When you observe a Canon 24-70 L lens up close, you’ll notice that there are only three micro sized screws that go into the plastic lens body and holds up that huge hunk of glass to the mount. You might think that it’s a break point which is part of the design to protect the more expensive optics. Well, no.
I became sure of my assumption when I compared the lens with Nikon 17-55mm with an equivalent glass. I noticed that the Nikon lens had a sturdier mount, with 4 screws going into metal instead of plastic. The rest of the body of the lens, at least the majority parts of it, was also made of metal.
It doesn’t take a PhD in Physics to tell which material is stronger between plastic and metal.
As for the body of the camera, Nikon has been making cameras since way before Canon has, so obviously they went through more technological changes and experiments.
Canon, on the other hand, as an advantage of starting off late, only adopted the designs, ergonomics, and materials for their cameras that have already been tried and tested by their predecessors.
It’s still a matter of debate which of these two provides the better build quality. But both of them outstand most other brands in terms of durability.
So, Which Brand Is Better?
So, which brand is better? Who wins this game? Well, no one.
Both Canon and Nikon offer excellent cameras that fit into every type of requirements and budget with absolutely stunning image quality. If either of the two brands made better cameras than the other one, the other would’ve gone out of business by now.
Having said that, one brand can and often does suit a person’s style and preferences better than the other. It’s all very subjective really. And to a beginner, both might seem to be pretty much the same.
But if you’re looking into particular genres of photography, you’ll see that these two brands took turns in excelling at producing cameras suited for different fields of expertise each.
In one hand, Nikon produces more affordable options with easier terminology like entry-level DSLRs with kit lenses that might be perfect for beginners. On the other, Canon specializes in skill-centric photography tools such as cameras and lenses for sports and wildlife photography.
It’s better to compare between individual camera models based on specialties rather than two brands. Having a closer look is always a better idea, and in photography it’s taken quite literally.