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Which is Better: Canon vs Nikon

Canon vs NikonOh God...not another debate of Canon vs Nikon and Nikon vs Canon. Does't the internet have enough of this drivel? Yes, yes it does. But the internet forums and Flickr comments are unyielding on this topic and I still get a lot of questions from students about which one is better. It seems it's up to me, Ken Rockwell, and just a few other no-BS bloggers to fight off the hoards of Canon and Nikon fanboys.

If you're a regular reader here, you know that I don't buy in to marketing hype and I often disagree with the masses out there on the interwebs when it comes to topics like how many megapixels you really need and whether or not you should get a full-frame camera. So I'm hoping you'll trust my words here in the Canon vs Nikon debate.

So then, which is it? Nikon or Canon?

My short answer is this: it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Neither is better, neither is worse. You'd be happy with either of them. I've used almost every model on the market from both manufacturers, I've taught students on just about every model available, I am very, very familiar with the differences between each, and I'm telling you that it's 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. It's Toyota or Honda, Coke or Pepsi, Duracell or Energizer. It's whatever you prefer.

I've even heard stupid things like "If you're into landscapes, you go with Nikon, but if you're into sports and wildlife, you go with Canon." Where that nonsense came from, I have no idea. Neither system is better for one type of photography or another. Certain camera models might be better for certain types of photography than others, but even then it's not often a big deal.

What do pros use more? Probably Canon. More people use Canon - amateurs, pros, whatever. Not because Canon is better but because they have a bigger market share. They have for 10 years running. Simple as that. Maybe it's better cameras, or maybe it's marketing, the color scheme, cunning executives...I don't know.

My biggest idol in photography, Galen Rowell, was a Nikon man. But I shoot Canon, Mamiya, Shen-Hao, Nikon, even Polaroid. So it doesn't even matter what your idolized pro of choice uses. Many of the most iconic and respectable photographers out there don't even make a big deal out of the equipment they use unless they are sponsored by that manufacturer. I use Canon DSLRs, but if Nikon came knocking with a big paycheck and a box full of cameras, I'd be an instant convert.

But really, you should be very suspicious of anyone who is a huge fan of either. There's nothing wrong with loving your equipment, but no one should really have any major loyalty to either brand unless they are getting compensated for that loyalty. Wearing a wristband that resembles a coveted Canon lens or sporting a shirt that proudly states "I shoot Nikon"...might as well wear a shirt that says "I'm new to photography and I'm really just into it for the equipment."

All that being said, I tend to recommend Canon over Nikon when students are shopping for their very first camera. But if they already have their eye on a Nikon or they already have some Nikon gear, I tell them to go with Nikon. But either way, let me break down my viewpoint on this matter into more specific categories:

Image Quality:
It's quite simple, neither has a leg up in image quality. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I admit that some of Canon's cameras may have better image quality than some of Nikon's cameras and vica versa, but on the whole, neither manufacturer is consistently better in the image quality department than the other. And besides, this is hugely subjective. You may favor a camera with richer blues and greens whereas I may favor one with stronger yellows and reds. Canon and Nikon both create excellent image quality. Even the worst, bottom-of-the-line, entry-level camera from either manufacturer will kick the you-know-what out of the top of the line cameras from 5 years ago.

Megapixels:
Trust me, you don't need as many megapixels as you think. 18 megapixels is way more than enough for prints probably 6 feet long. Anything more than that, like Nikon's ridiculous 36-megapixel D800, will cause more trouble than it's worth. Both manufacturers should knock it off with the megapixel battles. They're forcing us all to get faster computers, bigger hard drives, and more memory cards all for what? So we can share our pictures on Flickr and Facebook, maybe print a 16x24 now and then? You could use an 8-megapixel camera for that. Click here to read an article I wrote about how many megapixels you really need.

Controls and User-Friendliness:
This is the one and only category where I feel Canon edges out Nikon. Canon cameras are more user-friendly in almost all respects and their control layout is more logical. Ah...You feel that? That's the feeling of Nikon fanboys trembling with dissent to that statement. But I stand by it. I don't say this is a personal preference kind of thing. I don't mean that prefer Canon's control layout, I'm saying that Canon cameras are more intuitive and I can prove it. Read this article for my proof. I've taught hundreds and hundreds of students on both Canon and Nikon through group classes, one-on-one lessons, and online photography courses. It's based off this experience that I say many of Canon's controls are easier to learn, they are more intuitive, they require less explanation, and they leave less opportunity for confusion. Of course, not all of the controls are better on a Canon - Nikon does have a leg up on some things like the white balance control and flash options, but Canon cameras are just a bit more user-friendly. But whatever the case, you can get used to whatever control system you want. Once you do, the other camera's controls will seem ridiculous and backwards.

Build Quality:
Some Nikons feel really nice and solid, built like a tank. Some Canons do, too. Those are their higher-end, more expensive weather-sealed cameras. They also each produce some cameras and lenses that feel like they'd break if you sneezed in their general direction. Bottom line is you gotta feel it in your hands to know which one you want. And remember that better build quality usually equates to more weight and cost. Also, I know it seems like you're really punishing your camera with the conditions you shoot in, but you're not. Even the cheapest DSLR can withstand very rough weather and even rougher handling. The high-end built-like-a-tank models are designed to withstand the tortures of real-life combat, 100% humidity, driving rain, mud, rocks, and whatever else a National Geographic photographer can throw at it. The rest of us don't need such protection.

Ergonomics:
Again, both manufacturers make some cameras that feel like they were built for your hands. They also each make some cameras that feel like you need a second thumb just to hold it right. Find the camera that fits your hands best, regardless of manufacturer.

Lenses:
Both companies have huge R&D departments for new lenses, both offer top-of-the-line optics, and both are on the cutting edge of lens design. Each manufacturer has equivalent lens options, too. You'd be hard-pressed to find a lens by either manufacturer that doesn't have a suitable counterpart in the other. I will point out, though, that Nikon cameras are often compatible with Nikon lenses from as far back as the 1970's, which is kind of cool. But let's be realistic...with how insane everybody is today about getting the best quality lens, how many shooters are really going to opt for an old manual-focus lens from an era of lower-quality glass?

Conclusion:
Don't get caught up in the Canon vs Nikon debate. It's all a bunch of hot air. Great photos come from great photographers, not great cameras. Some of the most iconic photos in our history came from equipment that makes a camera phone look like professional gear. What matters is technique, composition, knowing how to use your equipment, and an ability to capture the right moment under the right light. Camera gear are just tools. Nothing more.