Canon vs Nikon (Which to Buy in 2021)
Canon and Nikon are the two titans of the photographic industry, battling a rivalry over who makes the best cameras for more than seventy years.
Both Japanese companies produce incredible, cutting-edge technology, but which is better: Canon or Nikon?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages and this in-depth guide should put you in a better position to decide which brand is for you here in 2021.
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Why Choose Canon or Nikon?
Countless photographers starting out on their photographic journey have faced the choice between Nikon or Canon. These are two of the biggest camera brands on the planet, and for good reason: they make fantastic cameras and lenses.
Canon and Nikon entry-level cameras (such as the Nikon D3500 or Canon EOS Rebel camera series) are a great way to learn photography. After that, there’s a route that leads from enthusiast models all the way through to flagship gear used by seasoned professionals.
One of the advantages of choosing either of these two brands is that being so big, there’s a vast amount of choice. Not only do Canon and Nikon produce a large range of equipment, but there’s also a wealth of third-party manufacturers making affordable alternatives, or niche gear.
Hiring equipment also becomes easier as every rental house will be fully stocked with all the equipment you could want from these two brands. If you suddenly have a job that requires a certain lens, it’s easy to get a hold of.
In addition, there’s a burgeoning second-hand market, allowing you to pick up bodies and lenses for far less than you would pay if they were brand new.
It’s rare that a photographer regrets his or her decision, but making the right choice early on is important as changing from one brand to another later on can be expensive.
Not only would you need to change camera bodies, but also all of your lenses, batteries, and other camera accessories. You might even need to change filters as equivalent lenses across the two systems might have different size filter threads.
When you choose between Nikon vs Canon, you’re buying into an entire system, so it’s definitely a good idea get it right from the outset.
8 Main Advantages of Canon (vs Nikon)
While these two behemoths of the camera world have been neck-and-neck for decades, right now Canon has the advantage, having released what is arguably the most advanced and powerful mirrorless camera ever produced.
You might not be about to drop almost five thousand dollars on a Canon EOS R5, but the technology that is in any manufacturer’s flagship models has a tendency to trickle down even to entry-level cameras.
This is a list of general features that might convince you that Canon is the better choice as an investment in the long term.
Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus (also known as DPAF) is remarkable, offering fast, smooth autofocus that rarely gets confused.
Canon has developed this technology extensively over recent years, particularly as it has started to pivot towards its mirrorless R-series cameras.
However, you will find DPAF in many of its DSLR cameras when you switch to Live View (i.e., when the mirror is locked up).
2. Eye Autofocus
Canon’s early attempts at eye autofocus (a feature that’s only available in its mirrorless cameras) were a bit limited but things have changed.
Sony was once the market leader, but Canon has now definitely caught up, releasing a series of firmware updates that now make Nikon’s eye autofocus look limited.
Canon isn’t keeping this feature just for its most expensive cameras, either. Like Sony and Nikon, Canon has included eye autofocus in its entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera, the Canon EOS RP (see pricing here.)
3. Incredible Lenses
When it comes to pioneering lens design, Canon is not just beating Nikon, but arguably every other camera manufacturer out there.
Canon’s RF lenses designed specifically for its mirrorless full frame cameras have pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible with image quality.
However, these RF full frame lenses also very expensive, and while the range of RF glass is slowly being developed, there is not a vast choice — certainly when it comes to affordable options for your new camera.
That said, the kit lenses are solid performers; the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM makes an excellent, low-cost option as your first prime.
For both crop-sensor and full-frame DSLRs, the choice of lenses is vast. So if you’re pondering a Canon EOS Rebel SL3 (aka Canon EOS 250d), you won’t be disappointed by the options this camera system offers.
4. Third-Party Lens Manufacturers
Not only has Canon produced a huge array of lenses for its Canon EOS DSLR camera range, so have other manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron.
Third-party manufacturers often produce cheaper alternatives to the more expensive Canon versions, such as the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 which is less than two thirds the price of the Canon equivalent.
For various reasons, there are far fewer third-party options for Nikon.
Although Canon’s RF mount is barely a couple of years old, the first third-party autofocus lenses have started emerging and there will definitely be more on the way, offering more affordable versions to Canon’s own expensive glass.
So far, while there are a few manual focus lenses on the market, there are no third-party lenses for the new Nikon Z mount cameras that feature autofocus.
5. Compact APS-C Sensor Range: the EOS M
If the bulky crop-sensor DSLR isn’t for you (and the Panasonic micro four-thirds system doesn’t appeal), there’s also a range of compact APS-C sensor Canon cameras: the EOS M series.
The EOS M50 is recommended by vloggers everywhere as it’s small, has stabilisation and a fully-articulating screen, and shoots 4K, albeit with a 1.6x crop.
It’s also a powerful stills shooter, packing a 24-megapixel sensor for superior image quality and making it a very flexible tool for content creators.
Canon was slow to catch up with Sony when it came to full-frame mirrorless cameras, but for crop-sensor mirrorless bodies, the EOS M range offers a good choice, even if the lens are options are slightly limited and the ergonomics are no match for DSLRs.
6. Customer Service and Professional Support
By all accounts, Canon’s customer service and its support for professional photographers are the industry’s best.
Countless professionals around the world trust the brand to give them what they need to continue producing images.
Canon is bigger than Nikon and also has a larger customer base, and, given the sharp decline in the number of cameras being sold around the world, it’s perhaps for this reason that it’s the more recent of the two to have released a purpose-built astrophotography camera.
The EOS Ra is Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera that has been tweaked to accept four times as much transmission of hydrogen-alpha rays at the 656nm wavelength. This allows it to receive more of the deep infrared rays from distant nebulae.
Editor’s update – there’s also the Nikon D810A, designed exclusively for astrophotography.
8. Instant Cloud Storage
This is a brand new feature that’s undergoing some teething problems, but Canon might be a pioneer when it comes to changing the way we transfer and back up images.
image.canon is the manufacturer’s new cloud storage system that, once configured with a compatible camera, can take the photos that you’ve just shot and upload them to Canon’s servers.
In theory, you’ll soon be able to have those images synchronise across all of your devices.
In ten years, this might be the norm, and if you’ve opted for Canon, you might be among the first to take advantage.
6 Main Advantages of Nikon (vs Canon)
Nikon might be seen as the lesser of the two titans, but there are a few areas where it puts Canon in the shade.
Nikon’s lens choices might be a better fit for you given what’s currently available, and the amount of information you can drag out of the raw files might also be a factor.
1. Affordable Lenses
When transitioning to the world of mirrorless cameras, Canon and Nikon took very different approaches when it came to developing its initial line up of lenses.
Canon decided to release premium quality glass from the outset, making super sharp, incredibly fast lenses that came with the requisite price tag. They are definitely not cheap.
For those of us who don’t want to mortgage a kidney each time we want to buy a new lens, Nikon is by far the better choice. While Canon’s primes are mostly f/1.4 and f/1.2, Nikon opted for a batch of f/1.8 lenses that have garnered excellent reviews.
For this reason, Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras are much more accessible. If you don’t need crazy bokeh (and the vast majority of photographers don’t), Nikon is the better — and significantly more affordable — choice.
2. Dynamic Range
One aspect where Canon never seems to have quite matched other manufacturers is dynamic range and low-light performance. Many will argue that the difference is negligible but other professionals will insist that the raw files that come out of a Nikon camera are simply more versatile than those produced by Canon.
If you shoot regularly in low light or if you want to maximise the amount of dynamic range that you capture on camera, Nikon might be the better option.
If you’re not sure, you may want to head over to DXOMARK to see how the various sensors compare. Note that if you look at the sensor rankings, you’ll need to scroll past quite a few Nikons before you find the first Canon.
3. An APS-C system that makes sense
While Canon might have been a step ahead of Nikon with its canon EOS M range of cameras, Canon now faces a bit of a conundrum: you can’t use M glass on an RF lens mount camera.
That means that if you want to upgrade from a crop-sensor EOS M camera to something like a Canon EOS R or Canon EOS RP, you’ll have to replace all of your lenses.
By contrast, Nikon doesn’t have this problem, and while people continue to speculate as to whether Canon will produce an APS-C camera with an RF mount, Nikon has already pushed ahead.
The Nikon Z50 didn’t grab too many headlines when it was released but it’s an immensely capable compact camera and is compatible with all of the new — and affordable — Nikon Z series glass.
This means that Nikon wants to ensure that, as your photographic journey progresses, the route from APS-C to the full-frame camera is a simple one: just replace the body, and you can still use all your lenses without a problem.
4. Value for Money
This is a contentious one, but while the Nikon Z5 didn’t set the photography world on fire when it was announced, it does offer a huge amount of value when you consider that it has a full-frame sensor, dual card slots, IBIS, and weather sealing.
Its biggest shortcomings are the measly burst speed of just 4.5 frames per second, and the crop on the 4K video is quite severe. However, at this price point, the Nikon Z5 still offers a lot for comparatively little money.
5. 4K Video
The initial attempts of Nikon and Canon at full-frame mirrorless cameras were relatively well-matched given the price, but there was one area where, to many people’s surprise, Nikon pushed ahead: 4K video.
While the Canon EOS R and RP both have severe crops on the 4K video, the Nikon Z6 and Z7 both use the full width of the sensor.
This means that shooting video in 4K doesn’t require you to lose a large chunk of what your lens is capturing.
6. Insanely Portable Zoom
Canon might have its range of EOS M cameras, but if incredible reach is what you’re after, Nikon has got you covered with its excellent bridge cameras.
The Nikon Coolpix 950 boasts 83x zoom while the Coolpix 1000 has a ridiculous 125x zoom — that’s the full-frame equivalent of a 3000mm lens.
With that amount of reach, you’ll be able to pick out the rings of Saturn, all in a compact camera body that also features 4K video. This is one seriously impressive point and shoot.
If you’re pondering your first camera and you’re asking yourself if Canon or Nikon DSLRs are better for beginners, you can probably relax: whatever you choose, you’ll end up with an excellent camera.
Canon and Nikon have been selling the best entry level DSLRs for decades, and all of the phenomenal advances being made in their flagship models then slowly trickle down, even to the cheapest APS-C DSLR offerings.
Most basic DSLR cameras come bundled with a kit lens which is fine to get you started, but you’ll be able to find something which offers much better image quality when you outgrow it.
Don’t worry too much about Nikon Canon differences here – one brand isn’t better than the other when choosing starter DSLR cameras. In this case, the brands are on level par – consider the Canon EF-S and Nikon F-mount lenses on offer, before selecting which DSLR is right for you.
If you’re looking for something that gives you a few more features, there’s still a wide variety of choice across the two brands, and again, it’s a case of them being evenly matched.
However, this is where it starts to get a little more complicated: Canon and Nikon are moving away from DSLRs which have occupied this broad segment for more than a decade.
Canon’s 90D is the most recent contender, but it’s very possible that neither manufacturer will be producing anything in this category ever again.
That said, the selection here among these slightly older DSLRs is excellent, and the offerings from Canon and Nikon are well matched.
Things differ among the two brands when mirrorless comes into play, however. The Canon EOS RP is surpriginly affordable and the backwards compatibility with EF glass through an adapter make it a very flexible option.
Nikon can also adapt its older DSLR glass, but it doesn’t have a full-frame mirrorless camera in this price bracket.
However, this is where the Z50 gives Nikon the edge. This crop-sensor camera makes the upgrade path much more palatable, and the Z-mount glass is more affordable when you come to invest beyond the wonderfully compact kit lens.
Once again, the arrival of mirrorless has complicated the landscape when it comes to choosing between Canon vs Nikon.
Canon stopped making high-end crop-sensor cameras, the last one being the 7D Mark II which came out in 2014, while Nikon’s last effort was the D500 which was released in early 2016. While they are excellent cameras, they’re now a little dated.
Full-frame DSLRs are a little easier to comprehend: Nikon’s D780 might be the last DSLR camera of this type that we’ll see from the two manufacturers given they’re both pivoting towards mirrorless.
The D780 is a couple of years newer than any Canon equivalent, giving it a distinct advantage across multiple specifications: tilting screen, better LCD, faster burst rate, and with a buffer that clears faster.
When it comes to mirrorless, things were more evenly matched with the Nikon Z6 and Z7 squaring up fairly evenly against the Canon EOS R.
The Z6 has IBIS while the EOS R has the fully articulating screen. Though both offer superb image quality, the Canon has more megapixels but the Nikon shoots more frames per second.
The Z6 has better dynamic range, but the EOS R’s autofocus is far superior.
It seems that they’re evenly matched until the R6 is taken into consideration as it blows everything else away, with the exception of resolution (a slightly questionable 20 megapixels).
It has the two card slots missing from the R and RP, shoots 20 frames per second, has fantastic autofocus, and finally, Canon has followed other manufacturers with the introduction of IBIS. And this is before you consider that it shoots insanely high-resolution video.
All of that said, for a semi-pro photographer on a budget, the Nikon Z5 makes a lot more sense. Weather sealing, 24 megapixels, dual card slots, and a choice of purpose-built lenses that won’t break the bank — it’s no wonder that the Z5 is the preferred choice of many wedding photographers.
Do professional photographers use Nikon or Canon?
Well, professional photographers have been using Nikon and Canon SLR cameras for decades and it’s possible that the Nikon D780 is the last DSLR that will be seen from either manufacturer.
For pros, the industry is in an awkward position at the moment as Canon 5D Mark III, 5D Mark IV, 5DS, and 5DS R owners wait for truly viable “pro” bodies from Canon. Likewise for Nikon D850 owners.
No doubt some will cling to their mirrors for another few years, but the future is definitely mirrorless.
The answer for those Canon owners has become clearer: the R5 and the R6 are the mirrorless cameras that many have been waiting for. Dual card slots, blistering speed, stunning video specifications (albeit with some overheating limitations at the very high end), fantastic autofocus and improvements to dynamic range have made Canon fans very excited.
The story for Nikon, unfortunately, is far less exciting. While the Z6 and Z7 have solid specifications for the most part, the lack of dual card slots continues to deter many from upgrading.
The world is waiting to see what Nikon produces next, but it will have to create something truly spectacular if it wants to be in the same league as Canon.
When it comes to lenses, Canon’s RF glass is phenomenal, taking full advantage of the larger throat of the new mount, and making big, heavy, expensive lenses that are continuing to push the boundaries of optics.
As it stands, both manufacturers are in the process of transitioning from DSLR to mirrorless, so it’s hard to know exactly which model counts as the flagship for either brand.
The vast majority of sports shooters around the world will be using either the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III or the Nikon D6, and while their choice will often have been determined by the agency that they work for, most will have a preference.
In short, Canon has the clear edge here: the 1D X Mark III shoots significantly more frames per second (20 fps versus 16) and underwent noticeable improvements to its already impressive autofocus system.
Nikon users were left a little frustrated when the D6 was announced, with many feeling that Nikon should have called it the D5S — i.e., an upgrade of the D5 rather than a whole new camera that replaces it.
When it comes to shooting video, there’s little contest between the two: Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus puts it far ahead, not to mention the fact that the Canon shoots oversampled 5.5K at up to 60 fps, while the Nikon plods along with 4K/30 and a 1.7x crop.
In the land of mirrorless, Canon’s margin is even starker. The Canon EOS R5, for all of the fuss over its overheating issues, currently has no competition from Nikon.
Historically, each of the manufacturers has had a tendency to leapfrog the other every year or two, but Nikon might struggle to match Canon’s progress any time in the near future, especially as the decline of the camera market continues to bite.
Canon vs Nikon FAQs
Is Nikon better than Canon?
As two of the giant names in cameras, both of these brands have numerous advantages. Nikon stands out over Canon in a few areas: it offers more affordable lens choices, lenses are compatible across APS-C and full-frame mounts, and dynamic range is arguably better, allowing you to pull a little more detail out of raw files. Other differences largely come down to personal preference.
Is Nikon sharper than Canon?
If you’re looking at two comparable camera bodies, the answer is likely to be no. Both brands are more or less on par when it comes to image quality and sharpness. Differences may depend on the lens you use though, again, you couldn’t say that one brand is generally sharper than the other – each lens has its specific quirks and qualities.
Can I use Canon lens on Nikon?
No. The lenses are proprietary to each brand and cannot be interchanged without the use of a special adapter.
Canon and Nikon | Final Words
The camera industry has undergone some dramatic changes in recent years, with sales having dropped almost catastrophically, and Canon and Nikon finally transitioning away from DSLRs and towards mirrorless.
Canon has the deeper pockets and has ploughed resources into research and development, putting it ahead of Nikon at the top end of the market.
That said, the Canon vs Nikon battle is far from over, and while Canon grabs many of the headlines, Nikon is continuing to put out excellent cameras.
The Z5 is a fine full-frame option for those who need professional-level features with smart compromises, and Nikon’s decision to introduce a Z-mount crop-sensor series of cameras might in time prove to be a smart choice, giving a better path for upgrades and making it the more appealing system for hobbyists and semi-professionals.
Let us know your thoughts on whether Canon is in the lead, and don’t be afraid to ask questions in the comments below if you’re struggling to figure out which camera brand is the best fit for you.