Canon vs Nikon: the DSLR comparison you’ve been waiting for!

Canon vs Nikon: the DSLR comparison you've been waiting for

Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR system is best? A question that has frustrated many of the world’s greatest philosophers and may even have troubled the UN… Our in-depth comparison examines each system’s cameras, lenses, key features and much more.

Canon vs Nikon: the DSLR comparison you've been waiting for

Who makes the best DSLRs, Canon or Nikon? It’s the impossible question. If it wasn’t, one of these giants of the camera industry would be out of business by now.

The fact is, Canon and Nikon offer some of the best cameras, lenses, flash systems and accessories – and they have done for years.

Whichever line you choose, you’re investing in an extensive, well-supported system that caters for everyone, from beginners to experts, from wedding photographers to wildlife pros.

Has that stopped forums descending into flame wars over whether Canon or Nikon is best? Has it nuts.

In fact, it’s quite common to find photographers swapping systems, moving from Canon to Nikon or from Nikon to Canon.

This is largely dependant on which manufacturer has just leapfrogged the other in technology, whether that’s a new lens the other lacks or a camera body that set the new benchmark in autofocus or high ISO performance.

Nikon user and Photoshop guru Scott Kelby’s switch to Canon has been widely publicised, but there have been plenty of others – British landscape pro, Adam Burton (Canon to Nikon) and wildlife photographer Andy Rouse (Canon to Nikon and back to Canon) to name but two.

Back in the real world, the majority of us can’t afford to dance between systems. We generally stay locked in for years. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look over the fence slightly enviously every now and then.

With that in mind, here’s our appraisal of how Canon and Nikon DSLR systems currently compare.

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Canon vs Nikon: the DSLR comparison you've been waiting for

Canon vs Nikon: the key features you’ll only find on each system (for now)

Canon vs Nikon: high-megapixel sensor
The Nikon D800 is a full-frame (FX format) DSLR that offers a market-leading 36.3 megapixel sensor. That’s a lot of resolution for the current street price of less than £2K. In the Canon system the same money – in fact, slightly more – buys you the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. But at ‘only’ 22.3 megapixels, the files it produces are considerably smaller.

There are plenty of rumours of a Canon high resolution DSLR to rival to the Nikon D800 being tested – often referred to as the Canon EOS 3D – but as yet nothing concrete.

Advantage Nikon.

SEE MORE: DX format vs FX format – everything you need to know about Nikon’s sensor sizes

Canon vs Nikon: vari-angle touchscreen LCD
Swivelling vari-angle LCD screens make it easier to compose shots at awkward angles and improves handling when shooting movies. Adding a touchscreen increases the convenience tenfold.

The Nikon D5000 benefited from a swivelling vari-angle monitor way back in 2009, followed by the D5100, D5200, D5300 and the D5500 in January 2015, which introduced touchscreen functionality to Nikon’s D5000-series.

Meanwhile, Canon introduced the first vari-angle screen to the EOS range in 2010’s EOS 60D, followed by the Canon EOS 600D in 2011.

However, the first DSLR to combine a vari-angle LCD and touchscreen technology was the Canon EOS 650D, released in 2012. The Canon EOS 650D’s successor, the 700D also features a vari-angle touch-sensitive screen, as does the 70D and the 100D.

Nikon has yet to embrace vari-angle touchscreens in its DSLR range. However, it has explored this option in its Nikon 1 compact system camera range, in the shape of the Nikon 1 V3.

Canon wins!

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Canon vs Nikon: no anti-aliasing filter
The majority of digital cameras have an anti-aliasing or low-pass filter positioned in front of their imaging sensors. This filter is there to reduce the effect of moiré, the ‘shimmering’ lines or colour that are sometimes noticeable in surfaces with fine, repeating patterns – typically clothes and other material. The anti-aliasing filter reduces the effect by essentially softening the digital image.

The Nikon D800E – a special edition of the D800 released in 2012 – has a new type of filter that doesn’t have anti-aliasing properties. The Nikon D7100, D5300 and D3300 also have no low-pass filters.

This enables all four Nikon DSLRs to record sharper images. Any instances of moiré need to be addressed post-capture in imaging software.

The nearest Canon has come is with the release of the EOS 20Da and its successor, the EOS 60Da. These DSLRs are arguably the best for astrophotography as they include a modified low-pass filter that lets more infrared light through to the sensor, allowing the red colour of nebulae to be recorded.

Nikon wins!

SEE MORE: Getting sharp images – every technique you need to know starting out

Canon vs Nikon: hybrid autofocus
The majority of DSLRs use two types of autofocus: fast ‘phase detection’ AF for viewfinder shooting and a more accurate but very slow ‘contrast detection’ for Live View autofocus.

The two aren’t compatible as in order to activate Live View the mirror has to be locked up out of the way – and that means that no light can be diverted to the dedicated phase detection AF sensor.

Canon has addressed this problem with its hybrid autofocus system for Live View still and movie shooting. Found in all its entry-level DSLRs apart from the EOS 1200D, ‘Hybrid CMOS AF’ combines both systems – with phase detection AF embedded in the sensor to quickly put the focus in the zone before fine-tuning it with contrast detection.

The Canon 70D features a more advanced ‘Dual Pixel CMOS AF’ system. This enables 80% of the sensor area to be used for phase detection AF before reverting back to image recording when you take a picture. It’s with movie recording that this system excels, offering smooth, continuous autofocus.

Nikon’s hybrid AF system is currently restricted to its Nikon 1 series of compact system cameras.

Canon is the best choice, for now.

SEE MORE: Master your camera’s autofocus – which AF points to use and when to use them

Canon vs Nikon: video
Although it wasn’t the first camera manufacturer to release a DSLR capable of shooting high definition video – Nikon scooped that honour when it announced the Nikon D90 in August 2008 – Canon was the first to market with a DSLR capable of recording 1080p Full HD video in the shape of the 5D Mark II.

The Canon 5D Mark II went on to dominate the indie filmmaking market, as well as being used to shoot footage for major Hollywood action movies such as Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers.

Nikon is making inroads into the professional broadcast market, particularly following the launch of the D800. This Nikon ‘HD-SLR’ has found a home on the set of everything from Dexter to horror short Broken Night to new 24-hour TV station London Live.

In the right hands, both Canon and Nikon DSLRs are capable of capturing high-quality high-def footage. Both systems offer models with Full HD recording at a range of frame rates, manual exposure controls, jacks for stereo sound recording and headphone audio monitoring,

Canon is the first to come up with a convincing focus tracking system for video in the shape of Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and when combined with Canon’s compatible STM (Stepping Motor) lenses that have been designed specifically for videography, that autofocus is smooth and quiet.

So, overall you have to hand this one to Canon.

SEE MORE: How to set up your DSLR for video recording

Canon vs Nikon: handling
It’s the subtle differences in handling between Canon and Nikon camera bodies that invariably have the biggest impact in helping you decide which system is right for you.

The most obvious difference comes in the mid-range ‘enthusiast’ DSLRs and the professional cameras.

Here, Canon opts for a large Quick Control Dial on the rear of the camera, combined with a command dial near the shutter release and, in the majority of cases, a multi-controller ‘nipple’ for quickly moving the active AF point.

Nikon’s DSLRs have two command dials – one on the front of the grip and one on the back, plus a multi-selector D-pad on the rear of the camera.

Nikon’s lens mounting, focusing, zooming and exposure compensation are all carried out in the opposite direction to Canon’s and it can take time to grow accustomed to this change in handling if you decide to jump ship to the ‘rival’ camera system.

Canon and Nikon are equal.

Canon vs Nikon: the key features you’ll only find on each system (for now)
Canon vs Nikon lens choices: Canon-only lenses
Canon vs Nikon lens choices: Nikon-only lenses
Canon vs Nikon: compact system cameras
Canon vs Nikon: beginner level DSLRs
Canon vs Nikon: mid-level enthusiast DSLRs
Canon vs Nikon: high-end DSLRs
Canon vs Nikon: professional DSLRs


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  • Garrett Cox

    needs an update. the nikon d5500 has a touchscreen

  • Damir Senčar

    Error in text, 8th page in line where Canon 1DX is announced, it succeeds 22 MPix Canon 1D MIII and Canon 1D MIV. 22 MPix FF camera is Canon 1Ds MIII.
    Damir Sencar

  • Afraz

    Time to update – the 5DS is out.

  • Hugo França

    “Do you prefer Canon or Nikon?” I would answer this question in 2012 like: “I don’t care, both are good systems.” Try asking me today and my answer would definitely be “Sony”.

  • Likeashotgunblast

    The question should be who makes the best glass, not bodies. Bodies are becoming semi-disposable with pixel count, sensors, etc, etc changing constantly. But if I were forced to pick, I’d say Canon/Zeiss glass and the Sony A7R for the body.

  • Sohan Dewan

    Both brand are very popular and they are provide well service but if I have to choose one of them then personally I prefer Nikon.

  • NSRajaram

    I use both and 90% of the time I cannot tell the difference, nor can my friends. I prefer Canon 70 D because it is the best value for outdoor work for me. Also I find the Nikon lens change– anti clockwise for attaching and clockwise for removal illogical. This could be my idiosincracy.

  • Will Fortin

    Nikon uses glass lenses while Canon uses cheap plastic lenses.. nuff said.

  • Ben Wilde

    Yes Will – I am sure Canon uses a plastic lens…. Maybe Nikon use diamonds instead of glass for their lenses. Go back to your mobile phone camera

  • Will Fortin

    Nah, my D200 takes better photos. Thanks for the suggestion though.

  • iRestMyCase

    Six of one – half dozen of the other. I’ve always believed the artisan – not the tool – makes the difference.

  • Dirkbag Yarborough

    The housing may be plastic but the lenses are made out of glass even in Canon’s cheapest lenses.

  • Dirkbag Yarborough

    Of course. No question. There are amazing photos being shot with iPhones and Android phones now. It’s in the eye, not the tech.

  • Brunostako

    Can anyone help me choose my next camera. My last camera was a Canon Eos Rebel XT 8.0 Mpx (which i loved). I’m looking for just causal photography, nothing pro. My budget is around the Nikon D3200, which my dad has and it’s quite impressive for its price. My budget also includes a pair of lenses (probably 18-55 & 70-300).

    For me resolution is not that important, focus points and shot speed are. Any opinions are welcomed.

  • Tanvir Islam

    which is best? i want the ans in 1 word

  • WillyPs


    In the long run, Canon and Nikon are close competitors, and if one brings out a feature first, it usually not worth switching over, selling off your collection of lenses, bodies, and other brand specifics, just to find out the brand you sold off has now come out with another amazing breakthrough you can’t do without. Pick one, stick with it.

  • NSRajaram

    Try Canon 100d aka SL/1. Better than Nikon 3200 and better value than the 5xxx series.

  • Andrei Comsa

    I agree , i only use mobile and you can take amazing pictures. But only at close range. I am pissed i missed some amazing moments with beautiful landscapes, so i want to buy i camera with bigger lens :)

  • VelikaBuna

    I hate when people talk nonsense. At least try to make a reasoned point.

  • tom rose

    Including a brain-dead “questionnaire” in the article only reduces your credibility.

    “Which is your dream Canon camera?” indeed.

    If you are going to ask such a question, then give a little more consideration to the possible answers. My “dream camera” is from Canon … but it is NOT on your list. And suppose my dream camera were not by Canon? The only alternative you offer is “I prefer NIkon”. But there are many other camera makers in the world. what about them?

    One expects to see nonsense like this in the pages of Cosmopolitan or The Sun. I did not expect to find it here.

  • Beart Presets Team

    Great Post!

  • Pete

    Switching brand names amongst professionals is always incentivized by product providers. Do you really want us to believe Scott Kelby, Adam Burton or Andy Rouse actually bought their new equipment? They make a living out of photography, and I do not blame them for having their names associated to the highest bidder. Please just don’t expect us to be impressed by it.

  • wri7913

    Someone is jealous?

  • tedtedsen

    the inexpencive Nikon 70-300 in my country 110 usd has plastic elements in the barrel i had the lens on my old d50 now i onley shoot zaiss and d810 i have four zais 85mm 135mm 55mm 100mm and some sigma art lenses

  • juan anthonio kambuno

    i have nikon D7000, still confused combine the iso aperture shutter speed (english bad) can you give the suggested

  • Phillip Burdine

    I can appreciate the usefulness of this article for some. However, as a hobbygrapher (my term for amateur) I will dance with who brung me regardless of which one is better. Considering the number of lens and accessories I have purchased over the years, changing dance partners would be cost prohibitive. Great article!

  • Phillip Burdine

    Lesson #1, have an idea of what you are talking about before exposing your ignorance to the world. No sarcasm intended.

  • Phillip Burdine

    I disagree Tom, like many questionnaires, the choices are limited. The question could have been stated differently such as, “of the cameras listed, which one would be your dream camera?”

  • Phillip Burdine

    No one can choose your next camera better than you can. Would you ask the same question if you were buying a car? You’ve narrowed it down with budget constraints, now based on your requirements, google is your friend.

  • tom rose

    Well, most questionnaires are meaningless anyway, as they aren’t validated by getting hundreds of people to complete them so as to learn to interpret them accurately. But my comment was mean spirited and I apologise.

  • Sooraj Babu

    I think comparing canon entry level to nikon entry level is not fair.please compare same priced cameras from canon and nikon. upto high end nikon are way cheaper than canon counterparts having similar qualities. like nikon D5200 body is as cheap as canon eos 1200d.