Canon VS Nikon DSLR Comparison

Last Updated on March 16, 2021

If you have been looking at cameras for any amount of time then you have noticed that Nikon and Canon are two of the most popular makers on the market. And while there are more great camera brands out there, I get asked about Canon vs Nikon more than with any other camera brand there is. So in this article I will lay out how they compare in my experience.

canon and nikon dslr cameras

Where it Began

It wasn’t that long ago when most photographers were shooting with a 35mm film camera. At that time there were a ton of different camera makers on the market and the photographer community was split on who the best was. So the debate over which brand is better in the Canon compared to Nikon debate, did not really take off until DSLR cameras hit the mainstream.

Other than the recent rise of the mirrorless camera, no other camera type has been as popular as the DSLR in recent memory. And when it comes to DSLR cameras Canon and Nikon have captured the lions share of the market for both amateur and professional photography.

Most photographers I know become hyper loyal to one or the other so if you are still in the deciding phase you are probably an amateur or beginner photographer, which is great since you have an open mind on the subject!

So let’s get one thing straight right away. There are other great cameras on the market beside Canon and Nikon. Makers like Sony, Pentax, and more offer excellent options as well. But since I get asked specifically about Nikon vs Canon all the time, that is what we will focus on here.

Canon Vs Nikon: Compatibility

top view of nikon camera

The primary strength behind going with a Canon or a Nikon camera is that they have a long history of gear that even the newest models are compatible with. Because lenses are such a huge component to capturing great images, it stands to reason that having more quality lens options will be a good thing, right?

It is a very good thing and because Canon and Nikon have been producing lenses for decades that are still compatible today, there are plenty of lens options for the photographer shooting with a Canon or a Nikon.

The popular Canon EOS camera lenses have been in production since 1987 while the popular Nikon F mount lenses have been around since 1959!

If you decide to shoot with an EOS or Nikon F mount camera then you have a very large number of lenses to choose from.

When looking at these two lens styles it is important to know that the Canon EOS lens line offers autofocus while the Nikon lenses only come with autofocus in the AF-S lens line. This is because Nikon made the design decision to eliminate the autofocus feature from their entry level lenses in order to make them more lightweight.

This makes the compatibility of each of these brands quite a bit different. Canon offers a lot more autofocus lens options than Nikon. While everyone should learn to shoot in full manual mode, having the option to go with autofocus in more lenses is a huge plus for Canon.

So when we look deeper into the autofocus dilemma we find that there are a number of camera bodies that do not have an autofocus motor meaning when paired with a lens without a motor leaves you without autofocus. The current Nikon camera bodies without motors are the D40, D40X, D60, D3000, D3100, D5000, and the D5100.

Because Canon lenses all include autofocus motors, you will always have that as a shooting option when using a Canon.

When looking at the issue of compatibility I have to give the edge to Canon with one exception. I know some photographers who shoot with only vintage lenses. If you intend to be another photographer who only shoots vintage equipment then Nikon wins the day. With about 60 years of compatible lenses to choose from, Nikon is the winner in this situation.

Another note on modern lens options. Canon professional L Series of lenses are truly awesome. They offer incredible performance and feature the quiet ultrasonic autofocus motors. And remember that if you use an older lens that you should always test it before purchase because as equipment gets older the chance for malfunction goes up.

Performance Compared

Niikon D5300

I won’t burry the lead on you. Both Canon and Nikon provide exceptional overall performance.

When looking at performance, you have to know a couple things first. What photography style do you intend to shoot? How much are you able to invest in your camera?

The answers to these questions plays a HUGE role in what performance level your particular camera will offer. But since we are looking at the differences between Canon and Nikon let’s look at some big picture differences.

While you will find a wide range in performance level in various cameras from both brands, you need to compare cameras in the same class. Both Canon and Nikon offer excellent beginner cameras as well as professional models. Once you know which camera level you will invest in you will want to compare features like megapixels, autofocus system, image sensors, and even build quality.

As stated before, Canon generally wins out when it comes to autofocus. Unless you go with a professional Nikon which offers good autofocus systems as well. Canon lenses generally perform better than Nikons, but again there are individual exceptions. When looking at auto white balance, Nikon edges out Canon.

The key when discussing performance is that both brands offer great performing cameras, but when looking at what is best for you, you have to compare cameras that are specifically designed for what type of photography you want to shoot and that are within your price range. And price range really decides this question, because the more you are able to invest the easier it will be to decide which model best fits your shooting style as you will have to make fewer concessions in performance.

Usability Compared

canon camera on tripod

Usability refers to how the camera feels while shooting, the ease with which you can navigate the functions and how the overall design impacts your ability to shoot.

Many beginners do not put much thought into this issue but I think that is a mistake. It makes sense that a beginner wouldn’t think about usability as they do not have past experience to base a judgement off from. But usability will have a huge impact on both how fast you develop your photography skill and how much you enjoy shooting with your camera.

A camera that is difficult to use will make learning more challenging and shooting will just be less fun, and neither of those situations are good!

Most people find that the Canon functions are easier to manage. So this is an edge win over the Nikons. When it comes to feel, this is a personal thing that only you can answer by holding the cameras in your hands. So handle both Canon and Nikons in your price range and see what they feel like. Only by personally holding them will you know which styles you prefer.

Canon Vs Nikon: Which Camera is Right for You

photographer shooting Canon camera

So with all that said, which brand should you choose?

As you can see, both Nikon and Canon offer great cameras and either may be the right one for you. Canon wins out on the lens compatibility front, while Nikon wins when looking at shooting with vintage lenses. Most people prefer Canons menu system over Nikons but it’s not like Nikons menu sucks.

So as I stated above, the next thing you should do is know exactly how much you can invest in your camera and then head to your favorite camera shop. Hold and get to know the menu on the models that are in your price range.

Once you have narrowed down to the models that feel good, check out the specifications for those cameras. Which of these offer the specs you need for your style of photography?

At this point you should be down to just a few models to choose from. At this point my suggestion is to go with your gut on this one. Because loving your camera is a bigger deal than you may imagine. And since the last options all fit your needs, going with your gut on the last few options will probably be the camera that feels the best.

And there you have it. My little contribution to the great Canon vs Nikon debate. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, Happy shooting!

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