Nikon vs. Canon

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May 2016   

Nikon reviews  Nikon comparisons    

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Nikon and Canon are highly competitive with each other. Depending on what you're trying to do, one or the other will be better, but overall, each has many, many decades of experience cranking out quality products. They both make a huge range of products from multi-million dollar optical systems for industry to fully professional cameras to consumer cameras and point-and-shoots. Which is best depends on what's important to you, and will vary as the years roll on. Today, Canon leads in full-frame and the high end APS-C cameras. The two are pretty similar in the middle and low end of the APS-C world.

If you're starting out, go Canon today: it's not just their products, but also their attitude towards us, their customers. If you already have one or the other, there's no reason to jump ship unless you're not that invested in one side, or if some new lens or camera is just so gotta-have-it for you that it's worthwhile.

I've been shooting Nikon and Canon continuously since the 1980s. Back in the 1960s thorough the 1990s Nikon was the undisputed leader for pro news and sports shooting, but Canon's brand-new EOS autofocus system of 1987 eventually worked far better than Nikon's autofocus system. Nikon's AF system had to be designed around backwards-compatibility with all the existing lenses owned by pro shooters and was therefore clunky, but Canon threw compatibility out the window and created an all-new 100% electronic system that was far superior. Therefore Canon sped past Nikon in the 1990s as the pro 35mm camera of choice for pro news and sports shooting.

When DSLRs became practical, Nikon was again the leader with the world's first practical DSLR, the Nikon D1 of 1999. Canon played catch up for quite a few years, and even as recently as 2008 Canon's top consumer DSLR, the Canon 5D, was well behind Nikon's top new D700.

The bad news today is that Nikon hasn't introduced any significant innovations since 2007, while Canon has been working long and hard and getting better with each new model. The Canon 5D Mk II of late 2008 was a huge improvement over the original 5D, and thus Canon and Nikon were neck-and neck from 2008 until about 2012.

Canon introduced the Canon 5D Mk III in 2012 which again was a huge step ahead in usability over its predecessor. Nikon's D800 and D800E came out around the same time and offered more pixels, but to Nikon users' horror, it was the same camera underneath as every other Nikon, minus some of the autofocus controls of earlier cameras. The D810 today still has the same problems as the D700 did in 2007, but removed some of the D700's AF controls! While Nikon has been resting on its laurels since 2008 and has just been slopping more pixels over the same basic camera with each new model number, each new Canon since 2008 has fixed 85% of everything I found lacking in each previous model. Canon has been innovating while Nikon has been marketing.

In 2012, the Canon 5D Mk III was clearly better than Nikon's best, and still is today. In 2016 the newest Canon 7D Mk II and 5DS are about 7 years ahead of Nikon in terms of ergonomics and usability.

While the world knows me as a Nikon shooter, I've been grabbing my Canons first when I want something done right since 2012.

Nikon's best consumer camera today, the D810, isn't that much better than the D800E except for being quieter and faster. The D810 still has the same mediocre ergonomics and a mediocre LCD, while the Canon 5DS, 5DSR and 7D Mk II pull even further away from Nikon. Nikon has sat on its laurels since 2007, while Canon keeps introducing new features that actually help us make better pictures.

Canon's customer service has always been top-notch and Nikon's used to be, but Nikon's has gone way downhill over the past few years.

ISOs and megapixels have never been relevant; they are just sales and marketing tools. Nikon and Canon compete so heavily that there's no real difference here; these numbers are the least of the differences between Nikon and Canon.

A lot has changed since I last updated this page some years ago. Canon consistently has followed my suggestions and made each new camera better than the last, while Nikon's been flopping around on the deck simply putting more pixels in the same old camera bodies and putting on new model numbers.

Nikon has been like General Motors who for decades kept doing the same stupid thing, like having one key for a car door and expecting you to carry a different one for the ignition. GM eventually figured it out, and I hope some day Nikon will get back with it. Everyone expected Apple to go out of business in the late 1990s, and look where they are today after they changed management at the top. Time for a clean-out at the top at Nikon.

Canon has consistently addressed the things that needed improving, like power switches and Quick Control screens and battery chargers and camera-state memories so that they now are way ahead of Nikon, at least in full-frame.

The cheaper APS-C cameras all pretty similar.

No one has ever paid me to do this; these are simply the facts from a guy who's been shooting both Canon and Nikon continuously for many decades.



Nikon was formed in 1917 from several other optical companies that had been around since the 1800s. Nikon has always been an optical company first, and a camera company second (although this has changed since 2000 with digital). Nikon made only commercial and military optics through World War II, like binoculars, bombsights and huge rangefinders for battleships. Nikon, a weapons products maker, was disbanded after WWII, and had to find some sort of consumer product to make or perish completely. Nikon chose to make a copy of the Contax rangefinder camera, and thus was born Nikon's first cameras, the Nikon rangefinder cameras of the 1940s and 1950s. They didn't sell as well as Nikon had hoped, so Nikon got creative and made the world's first wildly popular SLR system in 1959. Today's Nikon DSLRs are descended from the Nikon F of 1959, and still use the same lens mount. Nikon made only superb and expensive pro gear through the 1970s, and only started making affordable cameras in the late 1970s.

Canon started out in a Japanese garage in 1937 for the express purpose of making a great copy of the incredibly expensive new LEICA camera — but that people actually could afford. As a garage shop Canon had no lens making ability, and thus the first Canon cameras used lenses bought from Nikon, who made no cameras, so no problem. Canon started out as a consumer company, and has never stopped taking great care of its customers and making quality products.


Customer Support

Technical Help and Support

Canon's (800) OK-CANON customer support line is 100% USA based, and always gets me the answers to any of my questions right away.

Nikon's (800) NIKON-UX line has gone downhill over the past few years. Rarely do I get anyone who speaks English, and even then all they do is cluelessly try to look up an answer for me online.

The first person to pick up the phone at Canon always knows my answer off the top of their head, while Nikon just wastes my time. It seems Canon actually values its customers, while Nikon views us as an annoyance they wish would go away. Big win for Canon here. If you need to phone for help with your camera, go Canon.


Repair and Warranty Service

Repairs are tough for every maker; every case is different and it's not unusual for something to go wrong — that's why you sent it in in the first place.

I never hear anything but good about Canon's service. Send it to Canon, and the problem goes away.

If you have a very old camera that's broken and it's going to cost more to fix than to replace, Canon sometimes offers a loyalty program where you may be offered a great deal on a newer-model refurbished camera instead of a repair on your old one. This way you might get a newer, working camera for less than a repair would have cost — but only if you're nice. They do this as a favor to you.

Nikon sometimes screws things up, and like any large organization, keep asking nicely and they always do the right thing. The problem with Nikon is that it I hear bad stories more than I'd like to, and it may take a few tries, but they always get it right if you keep on asking. I've never had a problem with Nikon service personally. Either they fix my camera fast and cleanly, or if they can't they've simply replaced it without me having to ask.



Canon makes most of its cameras, even the less expensive models, domestically in Japan. Even the cheapest Canon cameras like the SL1 are made in Taiwan, a developed country which I'm told has a labor cost about triple China's. Most of Canon's lenses are from Japan, with only the very cheapest from Taiwan, not China.

Nikon makes only its flagship pro products domestically, and offshores everything else to party countries like Thailand if you're lucky, or mostly China for its lenses. Nikon makes no consumer cameras in Japan; even its top $3,000 D810 comes from Thailand. Most of Nikon's lenses are offshored to China, like the $2,000 300mm PF.

I'd much rather have domestically made products, not those offshored to save the manufacturer money. This is another huge reason I prefer Canon today: I'm not sending my money to Communist countries.

Nikon's lenses are getting more and more plasticy, while Canon's are staying as good or getting more metal on newer models.

10 years ago Nikon used defective plasticizers for many of their plasticy rubber parts. The focus rings of my 12-24mm DX and 24-85mm AF-S lenses and the grips of my D70 camera are now so sticky as to render them unusable. Nikon needs to recall these and replace the defective parts. I've never had this problem with anything from Canon. Do you think I want to buy another plastic Nikon lens and have it get gooey on me in 10 years, when all my Canon lenses from back then and older still work as well as ever?



Here's where there are real differences, and depending on what lens you want, this may cinch it for you.

Both make equally excellent full frame pro lenses, however for APS-C and general use each make some unique lenses not made by the other. Depending on what's more important to you, this may decide on Canon or Nikon for you.

As you'll see, neither makes all the best lenses when it comes down to what you may want. If you want one lens to cover everything from wide to 300mm, Nikon is your only choice, but if you want the new state-of-the art telephoto and macro combo, only Canon makes the 100-400mm that focuses closer than 3 feet.


Pro Full-Frame Lenses: They're all great

Both Nikon and Canon make equally superb lenses like 50mm, 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm zooms, and they are all excellent (of course Canon makes its in Japan and Nikon's come from wherever).

There isn't that much difference between the two in their top pro lenses so long as each makes what you need. Both make about the same range of crazy lenses, like tilt-shifts, 24mm f/1.4s and 135mm f/2s.

Prices can vary; Canon is sometimes less expensive when you look at pro supertelephotos. Sometimes you can buy a Canon ultratele like a 600mm f/4 and a new Canon body for the same price as just a Nikon 600/4, for instance.


APS-C Telephotos: The same

Canon's 55-250mm STM and Nikon's 55-200mm and 55-300mm lenses are all great; there's no clear leader here.


Telephoto Zooms: Go Canon 100-400mm

Canon makes the world's best new pro full-frame telephoto zoom, the 100-400mm IS L II, which focusses closer than any other pro 70-200mm, and goes all the way to 400mm with one twist of the wrist.

This one Canon 100-400mm lens just rewrote the book for pro tele zooms for the digital age.

No longer do you need to fumble with a teleconverter and a 70-200, or need a separate macro lens. The 100-400 focuses so closely it probably replaces your macro lens. One 100-400mm and you're done.

No one else has anything comparable; Nikon's 80-400mm VR can't focus anywhere near as close, is a plastic consumer lens made in Thailand — and costs more! Nikon's inexpensive new 200-500mm is interesting, but it's a plastic lens that can't focus closely, and can't zoom any wider than 200mm, and comes from China. The Canon 100-400mm comes from Japan and is almost all metal, while the Nikon 200-500mm is a long-range lens only, not a do-everything telephoto.


Wide-Ratio Zooms: Go Nikon

If you want a do-everything wide-to-long-tele zoom, only Nikon makes two 18-300mm lenses and an 18-200mm lens for its cropped-sensor cameras. All these Nikon lenses allow instant manual-focus override simply by moving the focus ring.

Canon makes only one excellent 18-135 STM lens. It's superb, but only has half the range of the Nikons.

Canon's one 18-200mm is inferior to any of the Nikon 18-200 or 18-300s because Canon's 18-200 requires you move a switch to get from auto to manual focus. With the Nikon superzooms all you do is move the focus ring for instant manual focus override, while Canon's is clunkier.

For full-frame, Nikon makes the outstanding 28-300mm VR, which in one lens does everything you'd ever need for FX. Canon makes nothing comparable; Canon's 28-300mm weighs twice as much and costs almost three times as much. The Nikon 28-300 is excellent to carry all day, while the Canon is a whopper sold for special purposes.


Ultra Wides: Go Canon for APS-C

If you shoot ultrawide on APS-C, Canon makes an extraordinarily sharp EF-s 10-18mm that sells for only $279, made in Taiwan. Nikon only has a Chinese 10-24mm — that sells for $900! For Nikon, your best bet is to get the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 instead.


Ultra-Ultra-Ultra Wides: Go Canon

For ultra-ultra wides, Canon makes the world's widest: the 126º 11-24mm. There's nothing else like it on Earth — and Canon makes the world's only combined circular and full-frame 8-15mm fisheye zoom.



Lens Corrections

Modern Nikons correct later color fringes automatically with any lens. With Canon you need to load profiles manually for many lenses, and there simply are no profiles available for older or non-Canon lenses.

Most modern Nikons allow you to correct lens distortion in-camera, while the Canon 5DS can't do this as shot.


Flash Control

Years ago, Nikon's flash system was the only really good one for film in the 1980s and 1990s, and for digital in the 2000s.

Canon has come a long way, and I now get great flash-fill automatically with both my Canons and Nikons, so no worries here. Any Canon since about 2012 is fantastic for flash-fill.

Neither works that great indoors; it still takes fiddling with any DSLR to get great flash-fill results indoors.


Flicker Shoot-Through

Ever wonder why your night or indoor sports photos have inexplicable random underexposures or weird colors? It's because the fluorescent and metal-halide lights used for arena, field, pool and gymnasium lighting flicker on and off and change color violently with the power line frequency. This happens so fast that our eyes and normal exposures don't see it, but shoot at 1/250 or faster and this is what happens.

If you're a pro shooter, you install or have access to an arena-wide strobe system, or the major television venues (the ones that don't allow non-press to bring fancy cameras) install special high-frequency ballasts for the lights. For everyone else shooting at school or municipal facilities, you're stuck.

Canon solved this in 2014 when they added the ability to shoot-though this flicker in the 7D Mk II. In this and newer Canons like the 5DS/R, T6i and T6s, a special circuit watches the lighting and delays the shutter some milliseconds if it needs to so the image isn't caught during a dark time of the power cycles.

You can shoot indoor ice hockey with Canon, but with Nikon you can't unless you rewire the stadium.



Camera Memories

This is a dealbreaker for me with Nikon.

I shoot a lot of different things, and need to reconfigure my cameras as fast as possible from one kind of photo to the next. I have to do this often from shot to shot, and Canons usually have C1, C2 and maybe a C3 position on their mode dials.

It's easy to program these to save and recall the entire setting state of my camera. This means every autofocus setting, resolution, frame rate, Auto ISO tweaks, color and contrast settings, playback options and everything about the camera is saved and recalled. I use one for people, one for landscapes, and one for sports — all exactly as I want my camera set.

Nikon has a settings dial (but only with two programmable settings, U1 and U2) on some cameras like the D750 and D610, but has nothing useful on its D810. Instead, many Nikons have exactly the same two sets of four foolish settings banks that were a bad idea when they came out in 2003 in the Nikon D2H. Instead of a spot on the dial, Nikon forces us to piddle on-screen recalling two different sets of settings, and even after all this fiddling, these two banks together don't recall as much as one of the Canon "C" settings do. For instance, even the most basic AF settings aren't recalled with Nikon, while everything about the AF settings in my Canons are recalled as I turn my dial — even which AF point I want selected. I have totally different AF modes set in each position, and my Canon recalls it all as I turn that dial with my eyes closed.

It gets worse: you can't save or lock the settings banks on Nikon! That's right; after you recall them, any settings you change are now changed in that memory. There's no way you can pick up most Nikons and get them to your preferred settings unless you stop and check them all.

On my Canons, I dial-in a C setting (even with my eyes closed), and everything about my camera is exactly as I need it.

Nikon's settings banks have been a bad idea since 2003. Only the mid-line Nikons have U1 and U2 settings (good), but not their better cameras.


Power switches

Nikon removed the lock button from their power switches as a cost-saving measure about year 2000. It's now very easy to knock a Nikon power switch and turn off your camera by accident, so you miss your next shot wondering why the camera's not responding. Power switches left on don't drain batteries; the OFF setting is only to keep the camera from firing if put away in a tight case.

Canon's power switches used to be along the bottom of their cameras and turned themselves on and off at random as carried around, but Canon moved them around 2012 to the top left where they never need a lock and never get knocked.

Call me picky, but when you shoot all day, having Nikons that turn themselves off and make me miss shots is not how you earn a living. I greatly prefer Canon's power switches that don't turn themselves off.


Quick Control Screen

My Canons have a Quick Control screen from which I can set just about anything quickly.

Nikons used to have an INFO screen that was similar, but not as good. It showed fewer things and showed them less clearly, and you could only set some very basic items from it.

Worse, the newest Nikon D7200 won't even let us make settings from the INFO screen anymore. Nikon actually went backwards!

To see and set these screens on Nikon, when they have them, it takes a few clicks to get various versions of the same screen.

Much simpler on Canon, one tap of the [ Q ] button and you're there. It's easy to move around using the Canon's thumb button. Done.



The better Canons like the 5D Mk III and 5DS now have the ability to program their SET buttons to start playback and zoom into a selected AF area at a preset level of magnification.

In other words, one tap to SET and it plays and zooms in for focus-checking. One tap from my shooting hand; done.

While I can program my Nikons to do something similar, they have to be in the PLAY mode already, demanding my left hand press PLAY and then the right hand to hit the zoom.

In actual shooting, I leave IMAGE REVIEW off in my Canons, and just tap SET when I want to see what I have. This way my LCD isn't lighting up after every shot.

As I set my Canons, one more tap to SET zooms out to show the full image, and another tap zooms all the way in as you've preset. With my Nikons I'm fidgiting with the (+) and (-) buttons numerous times.

Canon wins here.



Nikons still feel like cameras with hard edges.

Canon uniquely sculpts their bodies so that the solid magnesium alloy actually feels soft in my hands.

This makes a big difference when you use a camera all day, but honestly we all have different hands.


Battery Chargers

Canon does it right: flip out the plug, pop it in the wall, and it blinks in amber letting you read the battery charge percentage from across the room. One amber blink = 0 ~ 50%, two blinks = 50 ~ 75%, three blinks = 75 ~ 99% and it turns solid green when done. Perfect!

Nikon's chargers usually require you find and carry a separate cord or foolish stubby plug. Worse, they blink in amber while charging with no indication of charge state, and when done, simply glow solid — still in amber.

Maybe I'm picky, but I shoot a lot and I really appreciate well done one-piece charger over having to find a cord every time.



Strange but true, it's 2016 and Canon has much better LCDs than Nikon.

Sadly Nikon has gone backwards; the latest Nikon DSLRs like my D810 have LCDs whose colors aren't as accurate as they used to be. They're a little too green-cyan. Even a little error is unacceptable; I'm making critical decisions on these LCDs. How is it that my iPhone has such a better screen than my Nikon? (American ingenuity and attention to quality mass-manufacturing is the answer, but that's another article.)

Canon's better LCDs have excellent auto brightness control. Nikon took out the auto-brightness control in the D810; it has NONE! While my Canon looks great in daylight or moonlight, the Nikon screen is always the same brightness, like it's the 1990s.

Canon uses a 3:2 aspect ratio for its LCDs, so you can fill the entire LCD with your image. Nikon uses 4:3 LCDs, so you either lose the sides if you want to fill the LCD vertically, of have black borders on the top and bottom if you want to see the complete image on Nikon. Therefore even if both claim the same LCD diagonal, the Canon shows the image bigger!


Older original pages from 2006 ~ 2013

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

The rest below is what I wrote in 2006 and updated in 2012. Above is my 2016 update; where these diverge, believe what I wrote above.

In other words, you may ignore most of what's below as of 2016.

Nikon and Canon are as good as each other overall. Each makes equally excellent lenses at the same price points, and each makes DSLRs with the same technical quality in each format. The differences lie in ergonomics and how well each camera handles, which is what allows you to get your photo — or miss it forever. Anyone who tries to tell you that one brand or the other is significantly better than the other in basic quality is either an idiot, or a retail salesman who's getting a bigger spiff from one or the other that week.

Each are multi-billion dollar optical companies who have been making some of the world's best optics for numerous consumer, industrial and military applications for decades and decades and decades. Unlike other large corporations like Sony and Panasonic that only make consumer and commercial products, Nikon and Canon each make multi-million-dollar optical products used in semiconductor manufacturing and space exploration.

Nikon and Canon each are unique in having the nearly limitless resources and experience needed to develop the "secret sauce" that lets each make consumer cameras that render colors, highlights and shadows subtly better than all the other mere consumer electronics makers out there. Canon and Nikon can and do invest the effort to fine-tune the "look" from each camera in the trade-secret color matrices and algorithms that let each of their cameras deliver results that just have a certain polish to them that I can't get from Sony, Panasonic, Casio and all the rest of the companies lacking Nikon and Canon's resources. With the huge corporate scope and the huge camera sales volume, only Canon and Nikon can invest the heavy resources that result in subtly better pictures from each of their cameras, regardless of how inexpensive it may be.

I'm going to go on and on below about personal experience, so feel free to skip ahead to the real differences between Nikon and Canon.

Each makes lenses as parts of multi-million-dollar steppers used in making electronic chips with more precision than anything needed for photography, and each makes other optics that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars in other applications. They each make our cameras and lenses out of the same stuff from which they create these other products.

Did you know that Nikon is one of the world's leading makers of professional laboratory microscopes, often beating out Zeiss and Leitz? Nikon also makes the million-dollar lenses and mechanical steppers used in semiconductor manufacture. They have a 37% market share. These lenses and mechanics resolve at 45 nanometers, or less than one-tenth of a wavelength of visible light. That's over 10,000 lines per millimeter! See Nikon Precision.

Canon may make their own ICs and image sensors, but for all we know, Canon may use Nikon lenses and steppers to do it! Probably not: Canon also makes steppers and semiconductor photolithography equipment, with a 20% market share. (Thanks to Bates Marshall for those figures.)

Canon also makes gigantic lenses with 100x zoom ratios for HDTV and lenses for Hollywood motion picture cameras! These sell for six figures.

Making $20,000, $2,000 or $200 lenses for either Canon or Nikon is child's play. Their big stuff sells in the $200,000 to $2,000,000 range. We photographers get to benefit from all of it.

Nikon and Canon are optical companies first and camera, electronic or software companies second. It's sad to see people buy good Nikon or Canon cameras and then put off-brand lenses on them.

Nikon and Canon are different, but just as good overall, although of course we all have our personal preferences. Anyone who tries to tell you that one or the other is garbage isn't paying attention, and most likely doesn't have the other to sell you. Nikon and Canon compete so heavily against each other that if one really were better or worse they would have gone out of business long ago.

Year to year one usually has an edge on the other. They tend to leapfrog each other back and forth, slowly. LEICA was king from the 1930s through 1950s, Nikon took over from the 1960s through 1980s, Canon was the top pro SLR in the 1990s and 2000s, and with the Nikon D3 of 2007, Canon and Nikon now run neck-and-neck in the pro market. As of 2012, I prefer Canon's full-frame DSLRs over Nikon, but that will change as the years roll on.

Contrary to some beliefs, I get paid nothing by and have no allegiance to Nikon or Canon or any other camera maker, other than having used their great products for many decades depending on the brand.

Shooting all these systems for a living every day makes one very familiar with what each does well — or not, so let me share how they really compare from actual long-term experience

I spend a lot of time covering the background and details before I summarize the real differences. Feel free to skip ahead if you're in a rush to spend a few thousand dollars quickly.


System Compatibility        top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations



Most Nikon SLR camera and lenses made since 1959 are compatible with each other.

Any two items from about the same 10-20 year technology window will work well with each other.

Today's newest 2013 D610 works great with most updated Nikon lenses made since 1959. With Nikon, investing in great lenses always had paid off.

The Nikon system is so renowned for its multi-decade interoperability that I have a Nikon System Compatibility page discussing it.

The problem with Nikon's compatibility is that today its lenses still use more primitive mechanical communication with the camera for some functions that date back to the 1950s, making some functions like depth of field preview nowhere near as smooth as it is on Canon.



On the other hand, Canon flushed compatibility down the toilet in 1987 when it created a new and completely incompatible system of AF cameras and lenses called EOS. Nothing works together before or after the great autofocus divide of 1987.

To Canon's credit, the new EOS system is a much better design than the old mechanical mount still used today by Nikon, but old Canon FD manual focus lenses, once promoted as "timeless" by Canon, are useless on any modern Canon camera.

Contrast this to Nikon, where just about every lens ever made works swell, with few limitations, on every brand new camera.

While I shoot both of the Canon systems (FD and today's EOS systems), most people are only concerned with Canon's EOS cameras today, and that's where the good news starts.

Because Canon wiped the slate clean and created a completely new electronic lens mount system for autofocus in 1987, every camera and lens Canon has made from 1987 through today is completely 100% compatible with everything else made since 1987. Every Canon EF lens works perfectly with every Canon EOS 35mm or digital camera ever made. Their oldest EF lenses work perfectly on the newest EOS digital cameras, and the newest EF and Image Stabilization lenses work perfectly on the very first EOS650 camera from 1987. (Flash is a different story, and the smaller EF-s lenses won't work on full frame cameras.)

Nikon can't come close to this; many Nikon autofocus lenses still sold new today use old technology that won't autofocus on some of Nikon's newest cameras and vice versa! Nikon's old lenses from the 1950s often work on today's Nikons, but likewise Nikon's lens mount also carries a lot of mechanical baggage from the 1950s.

Canon cameras can use Nikon lenses, but Nikon cameras can't use Canon lenses.


Delivery        top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

One big difference between Nikon and Canon is delivery of new products.

A good thing about Nikon is that they announce products a couple of months before they become available. You never feel like an idiot having bought a camera that goes obsolete the next day. Canon, on the other hand, usually has cameras available when they announce them, so you can get caught off guard.

Unfortunately Nikon does this to a fault. It's good to announce something a couple of months before it comes out, but bad to take orders and not be able to deliver.

Nikon has been doing this at least since 2000. They announced the 80-400mm VR in January, 2000. It was a year and a half later before you could buy them easily!

Nikon Announced the D100 in February of 2002 and it was a year until you could get them easily. I had bought a D1H the week before, but didn't worry even though I would have preferred the D100, because I didn't have 9 months to wait for one.

Nikon announced the 12-24mm in February 2003 and took a year until they were easy to find.

Nikon announced the D70 in February of 2004. That only took a couple of months to get.

The 18-200mm VR was announced on November 1st, 2005, and Nikon had them on back-order until 2007!

Nikon's D800 and D800E, announced in February 2012, weren't in stock until September 2012.

Canon usually ships its hot new products quickly, while Nikon often strings us out for months or more.

LEICA is a different story. LEICA never makes anything; their new products are never available. You always have to order them and be patient, and you sometimes have to wait over a year!


History        top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

You have to know the history behind the Nikon versus Canon race to understand it. Here's my personal experience, which spans most of five or six decades.


Early 1900s

Canon was founded in 1934 to sell cheap knock-offs of the new LEICA camera. It was sold with a lens made by Nikon, since Nikon has been making lenses for military applications forever, and Canon had just started in a garage.

Canon started by making consumer products, and branched out into industrial equipment much later.

Nikon had been making military instruments for mass destruction long before World War II. Nikon made bomb sights used to murder innocent Americans in the Japanese terrorist attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, as well as huge rangefinders for battleship and field artillery in World War II.

Nikon made no cameras before World War II! After Nikon's warmongering activities were closed-down after World War II, Nikon had to figure out what to do for peaceful purposes for the first time. Their idea was to make rangefinder cameras for consumers in the late 1940s, and then SLRs in 1959.

Nikon started out making military products and was forced into making consumer products after Japan started and then lost World War II.

Canon and Nikon have only been competing with each other in cameras since World War II.


1960s and 1970s

Nikon's military background led to it making extremely high quality and expensive professional cameras, and only later in the late 1970s starting to make cheaper consumer cameras, while Canon started out making consumer cameras, growing later into the pro market in the late 1970s.

Nikon was exclusively an expensive camera for professionals, and Canon made cameras popular with consumers. They didn't compete much, although as the decade wore on, Nikon started making cheaper cameras and Canon made some more expensive pro cameras, although pros didn't buy Canon's "pro" cameras.



In 1980 Nikon was the undisputed king of professional 35mm cameras. For the same price as Canon lenses, in Nikon I got much better mechanical quality and better access to rental gear.



LEICA invented autofocus, and knowing that its customers know how to focus, sold the patent to Minolta, who introduced the world's first autofocus SLR in 1985. A few years later Canon and Nikon had them, too. Professionals laughed at the idea — they knew how to focus, and autofocus was still too slow for sports. Even if AF was fast, sports shooters know where the ball is going before it gets there, which cameras can't know.

Nikon AF cameras and lenses were completely compatible with older lenses and cameras. This was good because pros all had many thousands of dollars invested in their manual-focus lenses. It was a no-brainer to buy a new Nikon AF camera since it was compatible with everything. New AF lenses were compatible with manual focus cameras. They still are! Nikon solidified the reason to shoot Nikon as a pro: no one had to start out from scratch again. Going to AF in Nikon was easy.

Nikon AF cameras had motors in the body to focus the lenses mechanically through a small screw in the lens mount. They still do.

Canon designed their AF system from scratch, and used a completely new and incompatible lens mount. The lenses each had their own motors inside them. If you shot Canon you had to throw away all your manual-focus FD lenses and bodies and start from scratch. Not good! To go to Canon AF you had to rebuy your entire system with new AF gear.



Pros eventually started using autofocus cameras around 1990 and liked them. One teensy-weensy problem around was that Nikon AF cameras couldn't focus fast enough for sports. The Canon cameras worked great. Pros who shot sports dumped their Nikon gear and moved to Canon in droves. Sports shooters still predominantly use Canon for this reason. I was kidding about slow AF being a teeny problem: it's huge, and why Nikon lost it's twenty-year lock on the pro journalism market and has never won it back!

Unlike 1980, in the 1990s Canon cameras evolved to be as professional as Nikon. They have competed neck and neck for the same customers ever since.

Nikon's AF speed is as good as Canon today, but no pro is going to sell all his lenses and cameras and start from scratch without a very good reason.

As a pro you own a lot of gear, all bought at different times. It all needs to work together as a system. Amateurs buy bodies and lenses together, while pros add and delete each body and lens from their systems as it makes sense. Except in the case of a fire or theft, you never get the chance to start over from scratch.

Better AF performance was why sports pros left Nikon in the 1990s. There's never been anything compelling enough since then to get them all to switch back, so it's been a slow road back for Nikon. That's why you see so many white lenses at sports events, in addition to the fact that Canon Pro Services loans them out for free. Remember, sporting is only part of the photo picture. Landscape photographers have been using 4x5" film for over 100 years and don't show any signs of changing soon. The best ones rarely use Canon or Nikon.



Nikon invents the professional D1, the world's first practical digital SLR. It was $5,000 and had 2.7MP. Nikon became the leader in professional digital.



Canon introduced their own first DSLR, the consumer D30. It had the same image quality as Nikon's metal D1, but for only $3,000 in plastic. It also had 3MP.



Canon announces their first professional DSLR, the EOS-1D on 25 September 2001. Canon moves ahead of Nikon in the digital arena.


2002 - 2004

Nikon doesn't introduce much, while Canon is very busy. Every time Nikon announces a new DSLR, Canon outdoes them the next week. This goes on through 2012!


2005 - 2006

Nikon's D70 was my favorite over the better-built Canon 20D. I preferred the D70's faster operation, specifically, the D70's immediate access to white balance trims, needed for every shot, over having to go into menus on the 20D.

In 2006 Canon tweaked the firmware in the 20D and called it a 30D, which I found uncompetitive with the D200. What were they thinking? Nikon leapfrogged them with the D200. The D200 eclipsed everything Canon had done, including the Canon 5D which cost three times as much.

I had always admired the Canon 28 - 135 IS lens. Nikon had nothing similar until Nikon introduced the spectacular 18-200 VR for digital, which eclipses the earlier Canon 28 - 135.

In 2005, Canon introduced the Canon 5D, the world's first full-frame consumer DSLR. The 5D has technical performance better than any consumer full-frame camera from Nikon until 2012's Nikon D800.



For the first time ever, Nikon introduces the Nikon D800 which has more resolution than any Canon DSLR. Too little too late; so long as you have 10 MP, you have more than enough for anything.

Canon introduced the 5D Mark III, which has so many little improvements that it for the first time has much better ergonomics, as well as image color accuracy, that anything from Nikon. After 28 years, I switched to Canon as my main SLR brand. Nikon has sat on its laurels; the D800 has the same iffy ergonomics as the 2007 D300, while Canon has moved ahead.



Nikons now have poorer power switches than Canons.

Nikons use a rotary switch concentric with the shutter button, and no longer have a lock button as they did when introduced on the Nikon F5 in 1996. Therefore Nikon power switches are now easy to turn ON accidentally while in your bag, or knock OFF while you're shooting and miss your photos.

Canon has improved its power switches, which are now usually a lever on the top left of the camera where they never get knocked. They are detented deeply enough that they don't need a lock, and are easy to to turn ON and OFF when we want them, and they don't move by themselves.

Canon's mode dials usually have stops at either end, so we can select positions without looking at them by counting clicks. Nikon's mode dials often spin 360º, which means we have to stop and look to set them.

Canon's LCDs are more color accurate. As of 2012, Nikon started using LCDs, even on their top pro cameras, that tend to be too yellow-green. This seems to get better with time. All my Canons have bang-on accuracy from day one, while my new Nikons don't look as good as they should on their rear LCDs.


My Personal Preferences        top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

Nikon and Canon all give the same quality images within the same price class or format. See my Noise and Resolution comparison. These differences are so small I have to strain to see them with test charts. In the dynamics of the real world they are invisible. I ran those tests, and discovered that whatever differences entertain chat-room participants don't exist.

As you ought to know, I'm just a guy who loves to take pictures and today just happens to have literally millions of people reading this site, which are my personal opinions, each month. I don't get any free gear, money, sponsorships, hats or anything from any camera companies, in spite of what people may think.



I prefer Canon point-and-shoots. I love their color rendition, and I can't for the life of me figure out the menus of the Nikon Coolpix cameras.

The Canon S95, S100 and S110 have been the world's best for years. The Canon G1 X is a big point-and-shoot with DSLR quality.



As of 2012, the Canon 5D Mark III is the world's best DSLR. As you can read at D800 vs. 5D Mark III, Canon addressed and improved a zillion little things, while Nikon with the D800 is just spewing out the same camera as 2007, just with more pixels we don't need.

I prefer Canon for full-frame DSLRs, but for DX, I prefer Nikon.


Specific Feature Comparisons      top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

Here are the feature-by-feature breakdowns. Depending on what's important to you, this will help you pick one brand over the other.



Canon never used to have consistent flash performance. Specifically, flash exposure would vary from frame to frame, meaning pros pulled their hair out trying to shoot flash with Canon. Nikon has always had a flash exposure system that gave perfect flash exposure every time, and apparently patented whatever was the secret first, so Canon never caught up — until 2012.

As of 2012, my Canon 5D Mark III finally gives perfect flash exposure all the time, just as Nikon has done for decades. Older models of Canon aren't that great and all of Nikon's older models are great for flash exposure, but since Canon finally got flash exposure correct, as of 2012 I wouldn't worry about it.

My Nikons give me far more flash sync options. They are well labeled and easy to set without menus. Canon hides them inside other modes deep inside menus, for instance, your Canon's exposure mode changes the flash sync mode, and it's not marked.

For instance, the important Rear Curtain option is hidden in the 30D's Custom Function 15, while even a cheap Nikon D50 has its own flash sync button. Likewise in 2012, Canon still hides most of its flash controls inside the camera's menu system. At least Canon cameras with C1 C2 C3 modes save and recall the flash sync modes you've programmed.

Slow sync isn't selectable separately on most Canons. Program mode always uses a faster speed of about 1/60 as its lower limit. Tv, Av or M modes use slow sync by default. See p.92 of Canon's 20D manual for details, for example.

This is too bad: I always shoot my Nikons in Program, and set the slowest flash shutter speed to whatever I want, usually 1/30 or 1/15 to let in enough ambient light. This is easy to change on Nikon, and almost fixed in stone on most Canons.

I have no idea how to set manual flash mode on the Canons, while on the Nikons it's easy to set up wireless remote flash control.

My Nikon DSLRs let me know if the flash may have underexposed (the bolt in the finder blinks rapidly). I've never seen that on the Canons. The Nikon flash units often even tell me, in stops, by how much they have underexposed.


C1 C2 C3 Modes

Most Canons have "C" modes on their control dials. Each of these is a complete memory for everything about the camera. Every time you select that position, everything about the camera is recalled from when you saved it!

Nikons, except for the D7000 and D600, have no easily recalled total-camera-state recall functions. Every time you want to shoot anything different on a Nikon, you have to reset many different things in many different menus. Nikons often have idiotic "settings banks," but there are many of them, and they still don't save and recall everything, so they don't help much. Even if they did, there is no way to lock them; as you change settings, there is no way to recall what had been set before, so they are useless. Nikon's settings banks cannot be locked, they change as you set the camera!

With most Canons, its fast and easy to get back to all the settings you want, and if you have more than one C on your dial, I set C1 for my landscape, and C2 for my people shots, and if a C3, for sports.


Every time I wake up my Canon in a C mode, it resets to all my personal favorite settings, which is far better than Nikon's one factory-default green-button reset that neither resets everything, and certainly doesn't reset to my settings.

If I don't use Canon's "C" modes, I'll often have left the camera at a deep tungsten white balance and ISO 1,600, which of course ruins all shots made that way the next morning until I notice and reset them all by hand:

Blue Brendan

White Balance left set at last night's custom setting.


Nikon's Green Reset

I used to use Nikon's Green Reset (two-green-button reset) of my earlier Nikon DSLRs. They reset all the shot-to-shot stuff, like WB and ISO and selected AF sensor and exposure compensations and image and file sizes, and leave alone the rarely set items like file numbering, custom functions and beeps.

Sadly as of 2012 as cameras have gotten far more complex, Nikon's Green Reset modes don't work for me, since there is too much to remember to have to reset from Nikon's default reset settings.

As of 2012, most Nikon DSLRs are a pain to set from one subject to the next because there are so many settings to have to jockey, and no way to manage them well except on the D600 and D7000.


Playback Held Hostage

My biggest complaint about my Canons, DSLR and compact, used to be that they held all my playback controls, like zooming, hostage until after I've pressed the PLAY button. With my Nikons, as soon as my photo shows on the back after I shot it, I have full access to zooming and selecting other images. (I usually have to enable this in Nikon's menu.)

Nikons play fast. Canon DSLRs take time when you try to display pages of 9 playback images and flip though them.

Canon for over ten years of DSLRs still can't flip through images and keep them all sharp instantly on playback. Every Canon DSLR, even the Canon 1D X, still takes a fraction of a second to redraw the playback image sharply after its been selected.

As of 2012, Canon has seen the light, and as I program my Canon 5D Mark III, I now have full one-handed playback control, while my Nikons still demand two hands to have full playback control.

As of 2012, Canon has pulled way ahead of Nikon for playback. Nikon still usually demands two hands to control playback, while on my 2012 Canons, it's easy to control playback zoom, scroll and file selection all with one hand.


Playback Data

Each shows different data differently in many screens during playback.

Nikon shows a lot of things with a lot of screens. There is never anything missing, but I often have to sort through a lot of screens (usually three) to find what I want.

Canon tends to show just what I need and show it more clearly, but oddly, never will tell me the millimeter setting of the lens I used. To read that, I have to use a computer later.

Nikon allows me to zoom into a small area and see a color YRGB histogram just for that small section of image, while hitting the ZOOM button while in the histogram section of Canon simply zooms the image to full screen, eliminating the histogram.

Thus I can read histograms precisely for small image segments on Nikon, ideal for investigating highlights, shadows or color in small areas, while on Canon, I can't — but at least on Canon the image zooms to full screen from the histogram page.


Seven versus eight-bladed diaphragms

Nikon always uses superior 7- or 9-bladed lens diaphragms, while another core incompetency of Canon was often using 6-or 8-bladed diaphragms.

Odd-numbers of diaphragm blades lead to superior sunstars (14- or 18-points from Nikon vs. 6- or 8- points from Canon) and less disruptive shapes of out-of-focus highlight blobs (bokeh), heptagons or nonagons from Nikon versus obnoxious hexagons or octagons from Canon. When we see hexagons or octagons, we thing snowflakes or stop signs, while heptagons or nonagons are so low-key that you probably don't even recognize the names of the shapes!

As of 2012, Canon again is seeing the light. Canon's newest 24-70mm f/2.8 II uses a 9-bladed diaphragm, which makes better sunstars than the rounded thing in the Nikon 24-70/2.8G. Canon's wide lenses now usually use 7 blades (yay), but Canon's teles still only use 8-bladed diaphragms.


Control Sensibilities

On my Nikons, one dial always sets aperture and the other always sets the shutter.

On my Canons, what dial does what depends on your mode. That drives me crazy — I need to have the same dial change the same thing every time I spin it, regardless of the shooting mode.

Nikon turns off the exposure compensation indication if you haven't set it. Canon leaves it on, even in the finder, even if it's set at zero.

I prefer Nikon's easy-to-find-in-the-dark LCD illuminator button. It's concentric with the shutter; just twist. On the Canons you need to feel around for a dedicated button.

When you hit the LCD illuminator on a Nikon, either on camera or on flash, everything lights up. On a Canon Rebel XT and EX-550, each button only lights one of them!


Auto ISO

Nikon has more flexibility in programming Auto ISO. Canon is still a step behind; as of 2012, while both brands let me set Auto ISO to select the slowest shutter speed before it starts to increase the ISO automatically based on lens focal length, only Nikon lets me shift that value by a fixed amount. For instance, I use this feature, and shift the shutter speed one stop faster for sports, and one stop slower if my lens has Image Stabilization. With Canon as of 2012, we can't set an offset to the automatically selected slowest shutter speed.


Color and Tone

Nikon and Canon each use different "secret sauce" that defines the colors and tones captured by their cameras, especially when you start adjusting the color, contrast, saturation and the zillion other controls on cameras today.

Images will look different from either brand of camera. Most Nikons or most Canons will match other models of camera from the same maker set to the same color settings (contrast, saturation etc.) but images shot on one brand will never match the colors, highlights, shadows and grays of images shot on the other brand.

In this case, there is no right and wrong. Photography is an art, and in art, it's about what looks best to you, the artist.

Look carefully at the color rendition you get from either camera, and shoot which you prefer.

Auto White Balance (AWB) works very differently in different cameras. If you shoot in AWB as I do, one brand or the other may work better under the unique conditions under which you shoot. Pay attention and you'll probably prefer one over the other.

Nikon and Canon each do a much better job of giving me great colors direct from the camera, something I can't get from other brands. For instance, LEICA is awful!


Color Shifts

Both Nikon and Canon cameras give awesome colors if you know what you're doing and how to set them.

As of 2012, Nikon's four new full-frame DSLRs (D600, D800, D800E and D4) share the same new color problems:

1.) Nikon's LCDs tend to be a bit too yellow when new, and more seriously,

2.) Nikon's Auto White Balance errs on the side of being too green, so the photos look poor by critical standards. To correct Nikon's color problems as of 2012, I have to set a white balance trim of one unit magenta (M1) in a menu. Sadly, 1 unit is a little too much, and there's no way to set 2/3 of one unit of magenta, so my Nikon images tend to be a little too magenta. That's better than too green, but still not acceptable. That's one of the big reasons I prefer my Canons as of 2012 — as well as Canon's superior LCDs.


Lens Corrections

As of 2012, most Canon and Nikon DSLRs offer electronic lens corrections for darkened corners, lateral color fringes and distortion.


Lenses Covered

Each works with almost all lenses since about 1993.

With Nikon, all lenses are already loaded in your camera automatically.

With Canon, you often have to screw around with software and pick and choose the lenses for which you want to load correction data into your camera.

Nikon wins here, it's already in your camera.



Nikon wins again: Nikon cameras usually can correct images as you shoot them. Done.

Canon can't correct distortion in-camera as shot. The only way to do it in Canon is to shoot in NEF, then process each file one-by-one in the camera later, while Nikons will just record images already corrected.


Light Falloff (corner darkening)

Each does as good a job as the other here, presuming you have the right data in your camera, which often for Canon, you won't unless you go connect your camera to a computer and screw around.


Lateral Color Fringes

If you have lens data in your Canon, each works as well as the other.

Here's where Nikon wins: Nikon needs no lens data loaded into the camera! Nikon uses secret algorithms, and corrects lateral color automatically for anything you can attach to your camera, regardless of brand or lens type!

This gives Nikon a huge advantage here.


LCD Quality

As of 2012, Nikon's four new full-frame DSLRs (D600, D800, D800E and D4) share a problem new to DSLRs: they tend to be a bit too yellow when new! We have to depend on the accuracy of our LCDs, and Nikon has taken a step back in 2012.

Another subtle but important advantage of Canon is that their LCDs have the same 3:2 aspect ratio as their images, so the images fill the entire LCD. Nikons use a different aspect ratio for their LCDs, so while two cameras may have the same diagonal size rating for the LCD, the actual image size is bigger on the Canon DSLRs! Another reason as of 2012 I've switched to Canon.

Canon's LCDs are usually behind anti-reflection coated glass or plastic, so we can see bright, contrasty images with great blacks while outdoors, while Nikons usually use uncoated screens on which we see reflections of the world around us. On Nikons therefore, it's much more difficult to see our images in daylight.

Canon's screens are often coated with magic stuff that resists grease and smudges. Nikons are not.


Auto LCD Brightness Control

While several models from each maker offer this (Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III for instance), only the newest Canons actually work well.

As of 2012, Nikon's auto LCD brightness control doesn't work well, and lets the LCD get too dim indoors, so I don't use Auto LCD Brightness Control on my Nikons.



As of 2012, it's a toss-up. Both offer fast and accurate AF.

Nikons often have more clairvoyant ability to recognize faces and magically select exactly the correct AF sensor right over the subject's nearest eye. As of 2012, only the Canon 1D X does this well, while even Nikon's D600 does this well for less than one-third the price.

I used to get more consistent results on my Nikons, but as of 2012, I get great results with each. Older models of Canon often could think that the were in perfect focus, but give complexly defocused images every 30 shots or so.

My Canons tend to be a little faster with cheap lenses, and about the same with the expensive ones. In other words, Nikon lets the AF of their cheap lenses ($80 - 500) get slower, both both brands of pro lenses (c. $1,500 range) are equally fast.

If you have a lens that has a focus offset, both brands today allow you to adjust this offset, called "AF Fine Tune." As of 2012, only Canon lets you adjust this differently for each end of a zoom range and have the camera compute the correct value as you shoot. With Nikon, you only get one value that is applied equally at every focal length, which is too bad because the required adjustment varies as zoomed.


AF Assist Illuminators

If you have a flash with an AF illuminator, you're fine with either brand.

Most Nikon SLRs have a small white incandescent light to help the camera focus in the dark. They work fine.

Something extremely annoying about most Canon SLRs is that they instead use multiple bursts of the flash to help focus in the dark. Have you any idea how annoying it is to try to photograph and have your flash fire off ten bursts in the dark at someone as the camera attempts to focus? Not acceptable.


Freedom Lenses

Nikon makes a 28-300mm VR for full frame, and an 18-200mm VR and 18-300mm VR for DX cameras. Any of these lenses offers every focal length any reasonable person needs, offers image stabilization, and instant manual-focus override. Any of these three lenses can be the only lens you'll ever need, and each is reasonably priced and sized.

Canon, and no one else, makes anything that can do what these life-changing Nikon lenses do. There are loads of off-brand and Canon ultra-broad range zooms, but they usually have no VR or IS (critical at 200~300mm) and only have primitive focus control with no instant manual override.

Canon's 18-200 IS is inferior: it demands you move a switch to get between auto and manual focus, while on the Nikon 18-200 VR, all you do is grab the focus ring.

Canon made a crappy, mostly plastic 28-200mm for full frame from 2000-2010, but again, you have to move a switch to get from auto to manual focus. Nikon's crappy plastic 28-200G (2003-2006) on the other hand was a very sharp, close-focusing and sharp lens.

Canon has made and makes some lenses like the EF 28-300mm IS that look good on paper, except that in reality they cost $2,600 and weigh four pounds! That doesn't count; no one is going to carry that around all day, which is the whole point of a freedom lens.

If you want a do-everything lens for full-frame or for DX, only Nikon offers these.


Weather Sealing

Each is about as good as each other for the same price class of camera.


Made in China?

Canon wins here: most everything you can buy from Canon from professional cameras and lenses all the way down to point-and-shoots are made at home in Japan. Only Canon's very cheapest stuff is offshored, and then to Taiwan, which has a very high standard. The only Chinese items from Canon seem to be the occasional printed manual.

Nikon on the other hand offshores everything it can. It makes only a few flagship products in Japan, and offshores most of its gear to Thailand, and the other half is all made in China. For instance all of Nikon's professional 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses are made in China!


Viewfinder Grids

Most digital Nikons have magic, selectable viewfinder grids, free!

The Canon DSLRs don't. You can buy an optional screen for the 5D, and manually jam it in the camera's viewfinder.

Most point and shoots from Canon and Casio have these, too, just not the Canon DSLRs.

I use these grids to help me get level photos. It's one of the first things I turn on when I get a new camera.


Data Embedding

My Nikons let me embed my ©, name and phone number into the EXIF data of every one of the 75,000 shots I've made, no computer required.

As of 2012, Canons now also allow us to do this right in the camera, too. Older Canons required screwing in an computer and connecting the computer to the camera to do this, but no longer.


Automatic Zone System

Nikon DSLRs have always had an AUTO CONTRAST mode (previously called Tone Compensation under Optimize Image) which uses the Zone System to optimize the camera's contrast to the subject. It was awful in the D1H, and in the D70, D80 and D200 it works great to match conditions.

In 2012, Nikon's Adaptive Dynamic Range options work wonders automatically on every image from every Nikon DSLR.

Canons had no such modes: you had to set them manually. As of 2012, Canons now have a simpler system that can optimize highlights (Highlight Tone Priority) or optimize shadows (Auto Lighting Optimizer), but can't do both at once.

in spite of this analytical silliness on my part, both Canons and Nikons make splendid images automatically under lighting so horrible that with 35mm film the images would have been worthless.

Each system works about as well as the other today. Both brand can make spectacular images.



They are about the same size, clarity and brightness, depending on which you compare.

I find the in-finder data a little bit sparser in Canon than in my Nikons. I also find the Canon's digital in-finder displays thinner and harder to see than in my Nikon DSLRs.

All of them do a great job of automatically varying the brightness of the display to match ambient conditions.

They all are usually optimized for lenses of f/2.5, no differences here.


Sensor Sizes

Canon used to curse us with three incompatible sensor sizes, but today in 2012, both Canon and Nikon make both full-frame and half-frame cameras.

Yes, Canon's half-frame cameras use a slightly smaller 1.6x crop factor versus Nikon's 1.5x, but that's nothing worth worrying about.


Data Transfer

My Nikons show up as external hard drives on my computers as soon as I plug them in. I drag and drop files either way, no software required. I create folders in-camera, and download sorted photos directly from my Nikons!

Data from the Canon cameras can only be read via installing special software first.



Nikons have a "?" button for explaining most of the menu functions. Canons don't.

Nikon USA's free live tech help line, (800) NIKON-UX, is open all the time, 24/7/365.

Canon USA's free help line, (800) OK-CANON, lets its very good people go home late and on Sundays.

Both help lines are very good. I've always gotten someone who knows the answer on the first try.


Shots Remaining

This is about even, although my Canons are stupid and stop at 999, while Nikons are smart enough to show "2.7k" if they need to. They each only have three digits with which to display this.


Trick Custom Image Settings and Tweaks

Nikon makes you buy their buggy $100 Nikon Capture software to create and load crazy curves and settings into your camera. You need to buy this to tweak curves, colors and contrasts other than what you can do in the menus.

Canon makes this available for free here, and includes all sorts of fun presets, too.

I've never used any of this.


JPG File Size and Quality Optimization

Busy, detailed, contrasty subjects need more JPG bits to look good than do images with flat backgrounds, low contrasts and blank spaces.

Canon does a better job here. Canon's JPG file sizes vary to maintain constant quality. It's not unusual to see a fat file three times the size of a small one, with the only difference being the complexity and contrast of the subject. Nikons are stupider and tend to keep JPG files sizes very similar, wasting bits when not needed and lowering quality when they are.

I prefer Canon. Even though newer Nikons since the Nikon D2Xs and D200 allow a new choice to let the JPGs files vary size, they still don't work as well as Canons have for years by default.


Depth-of-Field Preview Button

Canon's buttons work instantly and silently. I wish everything worked this well.

Nikon's buttons are bogus: they clatter all around as if the camera took a picture. This is annoying, but was handy back in film days when I could hit it to satisfy people pestering me to take their pictures. Today, at least Nikon always has these buttons on the correct side of the camera.

Canon used to put their depth-of-field preview buttons on the wrong side of the camera so you needed a second hand to hit them, and thankfully as of 2012 Canon has been putting this button on the correct side of the camera.


Front Lens Caps

Canon's front caps are crappy little flat things. They only have tabs for release from the side, not the front.

Nikon has much, much better and beefier caps. You can grab them from the front or from the sides.

For my Canon lenses, I actually buy and use Nikon front lens caps!


Recommendations        top

Intro   System Compatibility   Delivery   History   

My Preferences   Specifics    Recommendations

As you've seen, both Canon and Nikon make superior products.

As of 2012 I prefer Canon DSLRs mostly because of their C1 C2 C3 modes, better color rendition, better LCDs and better access to playback functions with one hand, but if you find you prefer a Nikon for different reasons more important to you, by all means, go Nikon.

Either is an excellent choice, and only you can determine which is best for you. I hope I've clarified the differences so you can make a great choice.


© Ken Rockwell. All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


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