The Canon vs Nikon rivalry has been going on for decades. These two photography powerhouses have long produced cameras for professionals, beginners and everybody in-between, moving from the days of film SLRs to digital DSLRs, and then onto mirrorless. So the question remains, who does it better – Canon or Nikon?
The camera industry has gone through monumental change in recent years, both in terms of the technology itself and the way people use it to take pictures. The DSLR versus mirrorless camera (opens in new tab) debate has, at last, come more to a concession that the mirror's days are numbered.
Indeed, Nikon isn't even the number two camera company in the world any more, as Canon is now dueling with Sony for that honor. And the reason is that the best Sony cameras (opens in new tab) are all mirrorless – and Nikon's molasses-like move to mirrorless cost it significant market share to not only Sony, but other forward-thinking companies like Fujifilm as well.
While Canon and Nikon are both still producing DSLRs, the battleground has now firmly shifted to the mirrorless arena. Nikon has taken the initiative and replaced its flagship camera, the Nikon D6 (opens in new tab), with the Nikon Z9, while the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (opens in new tab) has been replaced in all but title by the Canon EOS R3 (opens in new tab).
After focusing on the full frame arena first and foremost, both brands have also unleashed their APS-C ground forces with cameras like the retro-inspired Nikon Z fc (opens in new tab), the vlogging-oriented Nikon Z30 (opens in new tab), the wildlife powerhouse Canon EOS R7 (opens in new tab) and the beginner-friendly Canon EOS R10 (opens in new tab).
We’ve split our guide into the following sections: APS-C DSLRs, APS-C mirrorless cameras, full-frame DSLRs and full-frame mirrorless. You can use the buttons at the top of this page to go straight to the section you’re interested in, or just scroll down to browse. We’ve also put in sub-headings for different camera types and price points to help clarify the choices and make your final decision simpler.
Canon vs Nikon: who makes the best cameras today?
Cheap as heck DSLRs(opens in new tab)
Canon (opens in new tab) has no competition here. In the Canon EOS Rebel T100 (opens in new tab) / Canon EOS 4000D (opens in new tab), it makes the world’s cheapest DSLR – a camera so cheap it only uses one paint color, has an 18MP sensor we thought we’d seen the last of, and usually comes with a poor non-stabilized Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III kit lens. This is the cheapest DSLR kit you can get, but we think the compromises aren’t worth the saving – you should just spend a bit more and get the far superior Nikon D3500 (below) with its 18-55mm AF-P VR kit lens.
Read more: PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)
Good starter DSLRs(opens in new tab)
This is what we consider the baseline for a DSLR worth buying, and it’s an interesting choice between the Canon EOS Rebel T7 (opens in new tab) / Canon EOS 2000D (opens in new tab) and Nikon D3500 (opens in new tab). The Nikon is typically cheaper and, we think, the better camera. We don’t much like the way Canon has chosen to remove the Dual Pixel CMOS AF (is that a strategic or a price decision?) and it’s often sold with the poor EF-S 18-55mm DC III kit lens, so be prepared to shop around and pay a little more to get the better EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens. Likewise with the D3500 – definitely pay a little more to make sure you get the VR version of the Nikon AF-P 18-55mm kit lens. We're not sure how long the D3500 will carry on – we hear conflicting stories about its retirement and continued availability, so it might be one of those cameras to buy while you still can!
DSLRs for advanced beginners(opens in new tab)
If you want an easy to use camera that’s a little more advanced, Canon has this area pretty much sewn up with three different models to choose from. Our favorite is the EOS Rebel SL3 (opens in new tab) / Canon EOS 250D (opens in new tab), which is small, responsive and shoots 4K. The older Canon Rebel T7i (opens in new tab) / Canon EOS 800D (opens in new tab) costs more, doesn’t shoot 4K and hardly seems worth the extra, while its replacement the Canon EOS 850D (opens in new tab) is an expensive and merely modest improvement. The Canon EOS 77D (opens in new tab) is designed with more advanced users in mind, but we think you’re better off opting for the Canon EOS 90D (opens in new tab) if you’ve reached that stage. The Nikon D5600 (opens in new tab) is cheaper than all of them, and does have a fully articulating rear screen, but it lacks 4K and only has sluggish contrast AF in Live View – but it’s definitely a good buy if neither of those things matter to you, and it matches the Canons for image quality and lens choice.
DSLRs for enthusiasts and experts(opens in new tab)
Canon and Nikon take very different approaches in this sector of the market. The Canon EOS 90D (opens in new tab) is like the Leonardo da Vinci of cameras – there’s almost nothing it can’t do (though the Canon EOS R7 (opens in new tab) is effectively its mirrorless counterpart, if you want to go that route). It has the highest resolution APS-C sensor yet, shoots 4K video, has a continuous shooting speed of 10fps and has a fully articulating rear screen and fast Dual Pixel CMOS AF for Live View and video.
Nikon has two enthusiast / expert cameras, and while neither can match the 90D’s all-round abilities, they have strengths of their own. The Nikon D7500 (opens in new tab) is sturdy, powerful and affordable, and even when bundled with Nikon’s longer-range 18-140mm kit lens, it’s a lot cheaper. The Nikon D500 (opens in new tab) has only 20MP to the Canon’s 32.5MP, but it does shoot 4K video and also shoots at 10fps. It’s actually a very different sort of camera, though, designed with professional levels of robustness, Nikon’s best-ever 153-point AF system and a 200-shot continuous shooting buffer capacity that the EOS 90D can’t even approach.
Easy APS-C mirrorless cameras(opens in new tab)
This used to be an easy open goal for Canon, as Nikon had nothing in this area of the market at all, but now there's the choice of the Nikon Z50 or Nikon Z30 (which, crucially, has no viewfinder). The Canon EOS M200 (opens in new tab) is the cheapest option (and, again, lacks a finder), but we find it quite simplistic and tiresome to use, so we’d recommend the super-popular Canon EOS M50 Mark II (opens in new tab) instead. This combines mini-DSLR styling with 4K video and a fully articulating rear screen.
Be aware that Canon's M-series cameras employ their own mount, EF-M, which is not natively compatible with its EF DSLR or RF mirrorless lenses – though the former can be easily used via official and unofficial adapters. Nikon's APS-C Z cameras employ the same Z-mount as its full-frame mirrorless models, so the larger FX-format lenses will fit. However, a small but (hopefully) ever-increasing number of DX mirrorless lenses are available, to keep the package as small as possible.
Advanced APS-C mirrorless(opens in new tab)
The phrase "style over substance" is generally used by boring people with no sense of style. And it's pure nonsense, as the Nikon Z fc (opens in new tab) proves yet again that style is substance. Inside it's exactly the same as the 20.9MP Z50, but it's housed in a gloriously retro-inspired SLR-style body that would be right at home with Fujifilm and Olympus' classic-looking cameras.
That said, if you're looking at APS-C mirrorless then the most powerful option is the magnificent Canon EOS R7 (opens in new tab). This Swiss Army Knife camera can handle anything you throw at it, with a high-res 32.5MP sensor, 30fps burst shooting, 4K video that's downsampled from 7K, and twin memory card slots.
Full frame DSLR
Entry level full frame DSLR
Canon held the lead in the entry-level full frame DSLR market for quite some time thanks to the Canon EOS 6D Mark II (opens in new tab), an exceptionally versatile camera. Nikon, however, has finally replaced its capable but aging Nikon D750 (opens in new tab), which was launched back in 2014, with the Nikon D780 (opens in new tab).
The D780 is an exceptional machine that proves there's life in the DSLR yet. It easily outguns the 6D Mark II with uncropped 4K video and much faster continuous shooting speeds. Dual UHS-II card slots and exceptionally good live view autofocus make the D780 a camera that suits even real power users, so as long as you're prepared to spend the extra cash, we think the balance of power in the entry-level full frame DSLR category has shifted slightly Nikon's way, but prices have stayed high, and this is an expensive camera compared to the EOS 6D II.
Pro full frame DSLR
Professional users are extremely important to both Canon and Nikon, and both companies have taken a similar line with their high-speed sports cameras. However, at the top of the range one model emerges the clear winner, and that is the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (opens in new tab). This hugely impressive DSLR is packed with futuristic tech like deep-learning AF with astonishing subject detection and tracking, and a Smart Controller that eclipses the traditional joystick. It also finds room for uncropped 4K and CFexpress Type B support, feeling very much like a traditional camera built for the future. The Nikon D6 (opens in new tab), meanwhile, is a perfectly fine professional camera, and it makes sense to upgrade if you're already invested in the system, but it's disappointingly unambitious and nowhere near the same class as its rival.
Canon and Nikon also make everyday workhorse pro cameras, and these are very different. On paper the Nikon D850 (opens in new tab) just blows the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (opens in new tab) away. It has 45.7MP to the Canon’s 30.4MP, it matches its frame-rate and beats it with the optional Nikon battery grip, it shoots full-width 4K video compared to the Canon’s cropped 4K mode, and the Nikon is typically cheaper. It's basically the reverse of the situation with the 1DX III and the D6 – if you’ve already invested in the Canon system, the 5D IV will do a fine job, but if you’re comparing these two cameras directly, the D850 wins by a mile.
Full frame mirrorless
Entry level full frame mirrorless(opens in new tab)
You don’t need us to tell you that full frame mirrorless cameras are the hottest topic in photography right now, and Canon and Nikon offer two entry-level cameras that are slightly but significantly different.
The 26.2MP Canon EOS RP (opens in new tab) is designed to be simple, compact and affordable, and its fully articulated screen makes it incredibly versatile for both stills and video – even though the 4K is cropped (as it is on the Z5). The 24.3MP Nikon Z5 (opens in new tab) is slightly chunkier and heavier, which helpfully accommodates a second card slot (where the RP has one), though it only features a tilting screen. All other specs, from ISO to burst shooting, are much of a much.
TLDR, if a second card slot is more important, go for the Nikon; if a fully articulating screen is more important, Canon is your best bet.
Advanced full frame mirrorless(opens in new tab)
While Nikon adapted its first-generation cameras with twin card slots and twin processors, the Nikon Z6 II (opens in new tab) and Nikon Z7 II (opens in new tab) have largely felt like lambs to the slaughter against the Canon EOS R6 (opens in new tab) and especially the Canon EOS R5 (opens in new tab).
Although both Nikon cameras are undeniably very capable cameras, it did feel like the company was wheeling out Rocky Balboa pumped full of PEDs to step into the ring with Tyson Fury. Both Canon's feature the best autofocus we've ever used (we called the Canon EOS R5 a "cheat code" for wildlife photography (opens in new tab)) along with blisteringly fast 30fps burst shooting, while the R5 is also equipped for 8K video. You really can't go wrong with any of these cameras, but the one that gets the most things right is by far the mighty R5.
Pro full frame mirrorless
While many pros use the R5 and Z7 II as their working tools, neither is actually considered a professional camera by their manufacturers (despite being in many ways perfect pro bodies, much like the 5D and D850 before them). Rather, both brands have designated professional-tier mirrorless cameras – with professional-tier price tags – in the form of the Canon EOS R3 (opens in new tab) and Nikon Z9 (opens in new tab).
Canon resurrected the 3-series product line as a professional stopgap to tide over until the much-anticipated Canon EOS R1, which we think will arrive in 2024 (opens in new tab). As such, the R3 isn't officially its flagship camera – though it outguns the 1D X Mark III in virtually every single way, including 6K RAW video and 30fps RAW stills, while adding bleeding-edge tech like an autofocus system that enables you to move focus points with your eyeball. However, it "only" has a 24.1MP image sensor – though this is actually the ideal Goldilocks resolution for shooting pro sports in the field.
The Z9, meanwhile, opts for a high-res 45.7MP sensor, 8K 60p video, and 20fps RAW stills / 30 fps JPG stills / 120fps 11MB stills. While the sky high resolution doesn't suit pro sports or news workflows, the megapixels are invaluable for non time-sensitive work, while the 8K 60p option isn't found on any other camera in the category.
Canon vs Nikon: the conclusion
Canon largely dominates the APS-C DSLR and mirrorless market for beginners and hobbyists, if only because of its sheer number of cameras. Nikon’s DSLR range is competent, but as is the case with both brands it hasn’t seen much development recently – and isn't likely to. Still, both make among the best DSLRs (opens in new tab) you can get because (apart from Pentax) nobody else makes them.
If you want a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR, Canon has this won at the entry and enthusiast / advanced level of the market, but for professionals it's very much a needs-based scenario between their respective pro bodies. Still, because many of the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) come from Fujifilm, Sony, OM System (Olympus) and Panasonic, both manufacturers are facing stiff competition – particularly Nikon, which fell as far as fifth place in the segment.
We don’t have any bias towards one brand or another, but it feels like Nikon is playing catch-up with the rest of the industry. After dragging its heels and falling behind in the transition from DSLR to mirrorless, it leapfrogged pretty much everybody with the technical showcase that is the Z9, but other cameras like the Z5 and Z30 feel rather unambitious – and are lagging behind Canon's alternatives (along with the alternatives from all the other brands).
With both the Nikon Z system and EOS R ecosystems now nicely matured following their launch in 2018, it's all to play for in the mirrorless market. And with Nikon having already played its best hand with the flagship Z9, it's over to Canon to see what it does with the R1…
• PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)
• These are the best Canon cameras (opens in new tab) today
• We pick the best Nikon cameras (opens in new tab) to buy
• The best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) right now
• These are the best cameras for professionals (opens in new tab)