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Nikon vs. Canon: Pros, Cons and How to Choose

 16th Sep 2020

We’re jumping head first into a historical debate today and comparing the greats; Nikon and Canon. This is as big as the tea vs coffee debate - so hold onto your hats! We are going to look at as many aspects of this argument as possible and consider:

  • The history of Nikon and Canon
  • Cost differences
  • Lens capability
  • Which to choose

I use both makes and feel that it depends on what you’re looking for, your main photography interest and features of the model itself. Having said that one is more popular when we look at the numbers but I’ll keep that to myself for now!

Nikon’s history

Nikon was born in 1917. They started with optical research in 1918 and launched their first binoculars in 1921. 

In 1946 post world war II, Japan revealed huge strides in optical equipment. This technology was used in 1947 for surveying instruments and it was only in 1948 that Nikon marketed their first camera. Not long after, in 1950, the New York Times introduced the Nikon camera and Nikkor lenses to it’s global audience. Photography culture was being promoted left right and centre. In 1968 the Ginza Nikon Salon gallery was opened to boost Nikon’s corporate image.

The first DSLRs from Nikon appeared in 1995 and two years later they revealed their first compact digital camera. Nikon celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2017. Following this they launched two new DSLR cameras, a mirrorless camera, a lithography system and most recently intelligent actuator units for robotic joints. 

Cameras are Nikon’s biggest market but they also develop binoculars, microscopes, lenses, lithography systems, processing machines and more!

Canon’s history

In 1933, Precision Optical Instruments was established in Tokyo. Canon’s predecessor was conceived to research quality cameras. Their first prototype was launched in 1934. The Kwanon is Japan’s first 35mm focal-plane-shutter camera. Precision Optical Instruments trademarked ‘Canon’ in 1935 and went on to produce the Hansa Canon in 1936. 

In 1949, the Canon II B won first place at a national camera exhibition in San Francisco. This leads to the world’s first speed-light synchronised 35mm flash and shutter camera on the market by 1952. 1955 sees the New York branch open and in 1963 they start working on optical fibre development. Canon burst out with Japan's first PPC and their first mask aligner in 1970. Only 8 years later they produced the world’s first retention type copying machine and the world’s first mask aligner with laser based automatic alignment.

Canon got ahead again in 1991 when they were the first to develop displays based on ferroelectric liquid crystal displays (FLCD). Their first DSLR was marketed in 1995 and the world’s first FLCD was commercialised. In 1997 Canon entered the digital video camcorder race. The world’s slimmest digital compact camera was unveiled in 2010 as was an untethered digital X-ray machine.

In 2014 Canon joined the machine vision market with their launch of RV1100 3-D Machine Vision System, which uses high-speed, high-precision 3-D recognition. Canon is renowned for its cameras, copiers, camcorders, LCD technology, binoculars, X-ray machines and more recently 3-D recognition technology. 

Cost of camera bodies

Photography can be an expensive hobby so cost is always a factor.

Nikon cameras

The Nikon D3500 is a great starter camera and comes in at £399 and for enthusiasts Nikon would recommend the D7500 which costs £899. 

The D850 claims to be the camera for everything and is rated for the professional user. You would need to invest £2,799 for this beauty.

Finally, Nikon’s latest camera on the market is the D750 which is Nikon’s most affordable full frame DSLR at £1,129.

Canon cameras

The Canon 4000D is made for beginners and comes in at the affordable price of £289 and on the enthusiast level the Canon 90D includes 4K video for £1209.

If you’re a professional looking for a true worker bee then the Canon 5D Mark IV along with 4K video is the one for you at £2445.

Canon’s latest addition to the line up is the mirrorless R5 which at £4,199 is an investment in it’s cutting edge technology.

These are the top cameras in 2020. They’re new, they’re shiny and they’re impressive. But cameras don’t take pictures, people do. So don’t fall prey to all the new features when your photography can be amazing with the five core features.

Lens compatibility for Nikon and Canon

Lenses matter. You don’t want to invest in a camera body only to find that you are restricted to a particular brand of lenses. Ultimately you want to be able to have the choice to interchange lenses, particularly from different brands.

Lenses for Nikon

Nikon has a key point to remember when you’re out searching for lenses. DX lenses will work on a full frame Nikon FX body but it will switch to crop mode so you won’t get the full resolution. FX lenses can be used on a Nikon DX body but the angle of view will be smaller than if on an FX body.

Having said that, these are the lens makes that are compatible with Nikon cameras:

  • Nikon
  • Vivatar
  • Sigma
  • Tamron

Lenses for Canon

Populating your camera equipment with a range of lenses gives you the opportunity to really experiment with macro, fisheye or pancake lenses. You can use these brand lenses with Canon:

  • Canon
  • Sigma
  • Tamron
  • Samyang

Should you choose Canon or Nikon?

The short answer is that it comes down to you as the photographer. Canon’s sales are higher and their technology is ahead overall but Nikon’s quality is unquestionable. Let’s look at them side by side.

Nikon’s beginners cameras are slightly lighter and have a longer battery life. Whereas Canon’s beginner options offer more autofocus points and higher maximum frames per second shooting. In the enthusiast ranges, Nikon has excellent low light performance. Canon has better build quality and dual memory card slots.

Moving up to professional cameras, Nikon have a more dynamic range of camera bodies and sensor quality. Canon champions if you want video as well as stills. Nikon is the obvious choice for landscapes and Canon is the no brainer for sport photographers. 

Canon also gets an edge because there are more secondhand goods available, their lenses are more affordable and they have a more impressive range in speciality lenses.

I choose a camera based on it’s specifications and how it will work for me which is why I have both Nikon and Fuji equipment in my bag. You can read more about the cost of equipment and what I use here

My top advice would be to get out to camera shops. Pick cameras up, look through viewfinders, identify the specs and ask questions. All cameras do a fantastic job of recording great quality images so what brand you choose is un-important, just get one you like because how exciting your images are has nothing to do with what camera you use. I mostly shoot on Fuji X series mirrorless with an 18-55mm lens!

Attention budding photographers

If you’re new to photography and struggling to make the choice, please don’t waste too much time on what so and so next door is using. And don’t go spending massive amounts to get your hands on the latest expensive model because Gary at the shop says it really is the only option for you.

You just need to find what fits your photography style and plays into your budget. 

Here’s another thing, once you’ve made a purchase, don’t become that person with all the gear and no idea… 

Having a camera but not knowing how to use it is like having a restaurant with no chefs. Spend a bit of time learning the ins and outs of the core fundamentals of photography and how to use your camera. In fact, take a look at my Masterclass in Photography.

I’ve designed this course for all budding photographers, it will teach you how to:

  • Control your camera
  • Learn how to get that shot
  • Save money for great locations rather than shiny gadgets
  • Take more ‘keepers’
  • Get your exposure right
  • Create work you can be proud of

Start your journey on the right footing, invest a manageable amount of time over 5 weeks to get you on the right track to photography prowess!