As a professional photographer and photography instructor for Photoh, I’m constantly asked which camera I use, and which model is the best for beginners. But the query that I’m most frequently bombarded with is “which brand is better; Canon or Nikon?” There’s no doubt that both camera giants have a strong following of passionate users, and many people will argue that one brand is superior to the other. But does it really matter? And if so, which camera system reigns supreme?
When making the leap from a compact camera to a DSLR system, the choice of bodies, lenses, and starter kits can be overwhelming. There are many different manufacturers, but the rivalry between Canon and Nikon is the one that fascinates the newbie photographer. There seems to be an innate fear of choosing between the two, as if there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ choice. It’s true that a photographer will tend to stick with one brand as their kit grows (as naturally, you need to purchase compatible lenses, flashes, and other equipment), but there’s no law that states you must stick with one system forever, and it’s not uncommon for photographers to completely jump ship from team Canon to team Nikon, or vice versa, even after years of working with one particular brand.
If you want to avoid switching, making that initial decision can be overwhelming. Rather than pitting the two heavyweights against each other as a whole, it’s important to note that the model of the camera will be more important than the brand. For example, a top level Canon body is going to perform better than an entry level Nikon, and the best Nikon on the market will outshine the cheapest Canon, so all comparisons must be relative. Both Canon and Nikon offer different bodies for entry-level, enthusiast, and professional photographers, and there are many similarities between bodies within the same category.
Any photographer worth their salt will tell you to invest in lenses rather than a camera body. The lens is where the magic lies, and where you will notice the most difference in your images. So when choosing a camera system, consider which brand makes lenses that suit your needs. Whilst Canon and Nikon both make lenses with a range of different focal lengths (a fast 50mm, or a 70-200mm, for example), if you are after a specific or specialised lens, it’s a good idea to investigate whether or not the manufacturer produces it, or if a secondary brand makes a compatible mode, should you want to add it to your collection in the future.
Although there are adaptors available, most photographers will use lenses that are directly compatible with their camera body. It’s interesting to note that you can use very old Nikon lenses on newer Nikon bodies, because the mount has remained the same as technology has developed. Canon, however, have changed their mount in recent years, so older Canon lenses will need an adaptor to use on newer bodies.
Being two of the biggest global camera brands, is would seem that the choice of camera comes down to Canon or Nikon exclusively. However, there are many other manufacturers in the marketplace, and their cameras and kits should not be disregarded without proper research. The key to finding the right camera system is to consider your needs, and test out as many different options as you can. You can do this before buying by renting, or playing with the cameras of your photographer friends.
While Nikon and Canon might be the most famous brand names, don’t be fooled into thinking they are your only options. For example, Olympus and Sony have been leading the way with mirrorless systems in recent years. If you are after a smaller camera with interchangeable lenses, and don’t want the bulk of a DSLR, then one of these might be better suited to your needs.
Deciding which camera system to invest in is a personal choice, and there is no one brand that is going to suit all users. Beginners stepping up from a point and shoot camera are likely to be happy with either system, as long as the user interface is easy to understand, and the body feels good in the hand. However if you want to use your camera for something specific, there may be one brand that is better suited to your needs than another. For example, Canon offers specific cinema lenses for those interested in video, and Olympus make a great lightweight camera for those needing something smaller to take travelling. It might even come down to something simple such as a preference for separate aperture and shutter speed adjustment dials, or the layout of the menu on the back of the LCD screen.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter which brand you go for. If one camera brand was truly better than the other, the inferior one would have gone out of business long ago. Both Canon and Nikon (as well as many other manufacturers) produce excellent cameras and lenses, the trick is finding the one that suits you best. After all, it’s the person using the camera that’s going to bring the images to life. If you have a strong composition, an interesting subject, and a good eye, you can master the shot, no matter what camera you are using. So just make a choice and get shooting!