Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR should you buy?

20th Mar 2014 | 16:14

Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR should you buy?

The best from the current Nikon and Canon DSLRs

Canon vs Nikon: Introduction and entry level

Canon and Nikon remain the two biggest players in the DSLR market, having launched a veritable feast of new cameras over the past couple of years.

The age-old question of which brand to side with can be a tricky one to answer, but rest assured you'll finish reading this guide with a fuller idea of the best solution for your needs.

We've rounded up the main Canon and Nikon cameras from each manufacturer's DSLR line-ups, with an in-depth comparison of the key specs and features on offer.

Using this, we've analysed how you can get the best for your money from the current Nikon and Canon DSLRs in the three main category brackets of entry-level, mid-range and top-of-the-line. This roughly equates to cameras under £500, between £500-£1,000 and £1,000 and above.

Ultimately, we want to answer the question: which is better for you, Nikon or Canon?

Canon vs Nikon: Entry-level DSLRs

Canon 100D - £489.99 / US$650 / AU$750
Nikon D3200 - £359.99 / US$600 / AU$820

The beginners' range is ultimately one of the most important markets for any camera manufacturer, because despite the cheaper price, this is where you get hooked on a particular system that more often than not becomes the one you'll stay loyal to.

Nikon has done very well with its entry-level DSLRs, which have been the biggest sellers for some time now. The D3200 isn't the newest model available in the D3XXX range – that status belongs to the D3300. But for now the latter is pretty expensive at £599.99, so we've chosen to look at the former in our comparison.

Nikon D3200

Despite being an older model, the D3200 features a 24.2 million-pixel sensor, which is a pretty high resolution in the entry-level market. Having such a high count is useful when you want to crop images and retain a decent enough size for printing, and it's reasonably handy if you only have one lens and don't have the funds to purchase a telephoto optic.

The D3200 also features an Expeed 3 processor for low noise, a range of frame rates and full HD video recording. If you can stretch to the extra budget, the Nikon D3300 offers better detail resolution thanks to the removal of the anti-aliasing filter.

Meanwhile, the Canon EOS 100D is the world's smallest and lightest DSLR, coming in at roughly the same size as the Panasonic G5 and G6, both compact system cameras. It features the same 18 million-pixel APS-C sized sensor as the Canon 650D.

Canon 100D

The sensor is a hybrid CMOS AF II, the second generation of the type of sensor found in the Canon EOS M. It features phase detection pixels to assist with autofocus when shooting video or using Live View.

Both of the cameras offer a host of functions that will appeal to the beginner user, as well as everything needed to explore the more in-depth aspects of photography once you're ready to leave that comfort zone.

The D3200 is particularly appealing as it has a Guide Mode, which is handy for helping to get the shot you need when you're out and about, without having to delve into the instruction manual, or search online for help.

Image quality from both cameras is excellent, but colours are perhaps a little punchier from the Canon 100D. The 100D also has a range of creative filters for experimenting with different looks in camera, something that's missing from the D3200 (but can be found on the D3300).

The 100D has a 9-point autofocus system, while the Nikon D3200 features an 11-point system. Both feature an extra sensitive cross-type AF point in the middle of the frame. Both cameras also feature full HD video recording and a jack for attaching an external microphone.

Read our full Canon EOS 100D review

Read our full Nikon D3200 review

Canon vs Nikon: Mid-range DSLRs

Canon EOS 700D: £599 (with kit lens) / AU$849 / US$749
Canon EOS 70D: £858 (with kit lens) / US$1199 / AU$1,790
Canon EOS 7D - £800 (body only) / US$1,440 / AU$1,250
Nikon D5300 - £599 / US$1100 / AU$930
Nikon D7100 - £839 / US$1,197 / AU$1549
Nikon D300S - £924 / US$1,700 / AU$1,850

The intermediate DSLR market is a very interesting one right now, with prices at a point where you can get some seriously good pieces of kit for a not-so-hefty investment.

Also, the mid-range is where some key selling points of cameras in the higher range tend to trickle down.

Canon 700D

The 700D was a very quick replacement for the 650D and has a comprehensive set of features in a smaller and more lightweight body than, say, the Canon EOS 7D. The 700D has an 18 million-pixel APS-C sized sensor and a 14-point Digic 5 processor. It also has a hybrid autofocus system for use in live view or video mode, as well as a nine-point, all-cross type phase detection system for when you're using the viewfinder.

Hybrid autofocus

The hybrid autofocusing system was first seen in the Canon EOS M, the company's compact system camera, and makes for quicker autofocusing – DSLRs generally struggle with fast speeds when shooting in live view.

Canon first introduced a touchscreen for its DSLRs on the 650D, something that remains on the 700D. It's particularly useful when shooting in Live View or Video to set the AF point, but it's also useful for making changes to settings, and also when playing back images (where swiping and using pinch-to-zoom is helpful). It's also articulating (hinged), which makes it handy for shooting from awkward angles.

As it stands, Nikon has yet to introduce an SLR with a touchscreen, so if you're a particular fan of this kind of technology, those in the Canon stable should be more appealing.

Canon 70D

If you have a bit more cash to spare, then the Canon 70D is an excellent choice for advanced enthusiasts. It features a 20.2 million-pixel CMOS sensor, coupled with the latest Digic 5 processor.

Along with having a higher pixel count than Canon's other recent APS-C format sensors, the 70D's sensor is a Dual Pixel CMOS device, which enables faster focusing during Live VIew and video mode. Unlike the 700D, the 70D has 19 AF points, all of which are cross-type.

The 700D can shoot at up to 7fps at full resolution for up to 65 JPEGs or 16 raw files, which, if you're looking to shoot sport or other fast moving subjects, is very useful, especially when using the 60D's continuous focusing capability.

Hinged touchscreen

Like the 700D, the 70D also has an articulating touchscreen. There are also plenty of physical buttons and dials to suit traditionalists. Another particularly enticing feature of the 70D is its built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, something the Nikon D5300 also has, but not the 70D's more direct competitor, the D7100.

Sitting over in the Nikon camp is the D5300. If you're after a high resolution, the 24.2 million-pixel sensor, which doesn't feature an optical low pass filter, could be more appealing than the 700D's 18-million pixel device.

Nikon D5300

A replacement for the D5200, the D5300 features many of the same specifications as its predecessor, but one of the most significant changes is the inclusion of the latest Expeed 4 processing engine.

The D5300 features an effects mode, as do the Canon 700D and 70D. However, these can be shot when using the viewfinder, unlike the slightly odd way in which the Canons operate (filters can only be shot when using Live View).

In terms of the display, the D5300's isn't touch-sensitive like the 700D, but it is slightly larger at 3.2 inches. It's also articulating, again useful for shooting from awkward angles, or when shooting video.

Moving up the range, there's the D7100. It has a 24.1-million pixel sensor, and as is starting to become increasingly common, it has had the anti-aliasing filter removed for increased detail resolution. It features the Expeed 3 processing engine – as found in the Nikon D4 and Nikon D800 – which allows it to push its sensitivity shooting options up to ISO 25,600.

D7100

If you're a sports photographer, the D7100 will appeal over the D5300 as its framerate is 6fps (compared with the D5300's 5fps). It doesn't beat the 70D though. Another feature which may appeal to sports and wildlife shooters is the 1.3x crop mode, which allows you to get closer to the subject without having to crop the image in post-capture. It also has the added benefit of boosting the frame rate up to 7fps.

In terms of autofocus, the D7100 easily trumps the 70D as it features a 51-point Multi-Cam 3500DX AF module, which has 15 cross-type AF points around the centre of the frame.

Unlike the 70D, the D7100 has a fixed screen, making it far less useful for shooting from awkward angles, or when creating videos.

Higher up

Moving away from the mid-range and towards the top end of the scale, you can now pick up some great bargains in the form of older cameras. Once upon a time both the Canon EOS 7D and Nikon D300S would have been found in the £1,000 and above category, but you can now pick up both cameras for less than that (body only).

Canon 7D

Although these cameras are older models, they're still in the current line-up offered by both manufacturers. And if you're a sports or wildlife photographer they offer an advantage over full-frame cameras, since the smaller, APS-C sized sensors mean you get extra reach from your lenses.

One of the 7D's key selling points is its 8fps continuous shooting rate, which is joined by an 18 million-pixel sensor, 19-point autofocus system and a magnesium alloy body complete with environmental weather seals.

Meanwhile, the D300S is even older, and offers just 12.3 million pixels, which by current standards seems rather low. It's also only capable of shooting at 720p, but if you're not bothered about shooting video, that may not be important to you.

Nikon D300S

What it is good for is its autofocus system, which outclasses the 7D with its 51-point system. The camera is also capable of shooting at up to 7fps, which can be boosted to 8fps if you add the MB-D10 battery grip.

If you're often shooting low light scenarios, it's the Canon that wins out here, with a range of ISO 100 – 6400 (ISO 12800 expanded) compared with the D300S' ISO 200 – 3200 (ISO 100 – 6400 expanded) capability. At those higher sensitivities, the Canon results in the best noise-free images.

That said, the D300S is a little more intuitive to use, and it also offers a range of customisation options for using the camera exactly how you want to.

Read our full Nikon D5300 Review

Read our full Nikon D7100 Review

Read our full Nikon D300S Review

Read our full Canon 700D Review

Read our full Canon 70D Review

Read our full Canon 7D Review

Canon vs Nikon: Top-of-the-line DSLRs

Canon 6D - £1,459 / US$1,900 / AU$2,300
Canon 5D Mark III - £2,122 / US$3,150 / AU$3,600
Nikon D600 - £1,189 / US$2,000 / AU$2,120
Nikon D800 - £1,951 / US$2,800 / AU$3,200

All of the cameras in this category are full-frame DSLRs, since pricing has dropped significantly over the past couple of years.

Both Nikon and Canon has an 'entry-level' full-frame camera, designed to appeal to advanced enthusiasts, or perhaps pros looking for a second body. They offer many of the same specifications of the more advanced cameras, but in smaller and more affordable bodies.

Canon 6D

The Canon 6D features a 20.2 million-pixel full-frame sensor, while the Nikon D600 sports a 24.3 million-pixel device. The Nikon also pips the Canon in terms of autofocusing, with its 39 point AF module, compared with just 11 from the 6D.

However it's the 6D that has the edge in terms of low light shooting, offering a native sensitivity run of ISO 100 – 25600, which can be expanded down to ISO 50 and up to ISO 102400. Meanwhile, the D600 offers 100 – 6400 natively, expandable to 50 – 25600. Our labs tests also show that the Canon beats the Nikon for signal-to-noise ratio performance throughout the sensitivity run, for both JPEG and raw format files.

If you're not often shooting in very low light though, it will likely be other factors that grab your attention. One small, but appealing, feature of the D600 is its 100% field of view optical viewfinder. The 6D offers a 97% field of view, so there's a chance that something may end up in the final photo that you didn't notice in composition.

Nikon D600

Neither of the cameras has an articulating touchscreen, but the D600's is slightly larger at 3.2 inches, compared with the 6D's 3-inch device.

In terms of other aspects of image quality, colours from the Canon tend to be a little warmer, and therefore may be more pleasing to the eye. By comparison, the D600's images are a bit more true-to-life.

The 6D features built-in Wi-Fi, the only full-frame DSLR currently on the market to do so (the Sony Alpha 7 and 7R also have WI-FI connectivity, but they're compact system cameras). This is a particularly useful function for quickly sending across shots to a smartphone or tablet for sharing online, and even more so for remote-controlling the camera. This may be appealing to nature photographers, for instance.

Top spots

Sitting at the top of both of Nikon and Canon's advanced enthusiast / semi-pro range is the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

D800

The D800's 36.3 million pixel sensor – still offering the highest resolution on the market – caused quite the stir at the time of launch. A variant of the D800 (the D800E) is also available without the anti-aliasing filter, which may appeal to landscape photographers since the detail resolution is greater.

Meanwhile, the 5D Mark III features a still-respectable 22.3 million-pixel sensor. Generally it's Nikon cameras that feature a more populated AF module, but it's the Canon here that pips the Nikon. The 5D Mark III features 61 AF points, 41 of which are cross-type and sensitive down to f/4, and five that are sensitive down to f/2.8. By contrast, the D800 features 51 AF points, 15 of which are cross-type.

Canon 5D Mark III

As we would expect at this price point, both the cameras offer a 100% field of view viewfinder, while both also offer a 3.2-inch LCD screen – the Canon's just slightly beats the Nikon with 1040k dots, compared to 921k dots.

Once again, it is the Canon that offers the most for low-light shooting, offering ISO 100 – 12800 in the native range, which can be expanded to 50 – 102400. The D800/E offers 100 – 6400, which is expandable to 100 – 25600. Our labs tests show that the two cameras are actually pretty closely matched in terms of signal to noise ratio performance, but it's the Canon that has the edge.

In terms of colour reproduction, the D800 has been known to have the occasional problem with producing slightly cold images. Meanwhile, the 5D Mark III is capable of producing beautifully saturated images straight from the camera.

Read our full Canon EOS 6D Review

Read our full Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review

Read our full Nikon D600 Review

Read our full Nikon D800 Review

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