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By: Hoan K. Trinh

My uncle old Canon film SLR, never shot with it because I was too lazy to buy these weird CR6 batteries or whatever that was.  My Nikon D40 was my first DSLR.

In the entire history of the world, there is no bigger rivalry than the rivalry between Nikon and Canon. Okay, that might be a bit over the top, but photographers don’t think so.  Gearheads often get into heated debates about which system is better.  Whenever someone asked me which camera to buy, they often simply asked “Nikon or Canon?”  Anyone looking for a thorough guide as to which DSLR to buy, you can see my first blog post from a while back, here.

Before I go on, I have to say that while these Nikon and Canon debates can be fun at times and even be somewhat informative, make no mistake that anyone on either side of the argument is biased.  Also, there is no doubt that most Canon users have not touch a Nikon and that most Nikon users have not touch a Canon, in essence, no one really know what they are talking about.  Me included, I have shot on Canon DSLR before and do know my way around the camera but haven’t done much extensive shooting time on any of their models.  Even professional reviewers of cameras only have a certain amount of time to test the camera and so they don’t have extensive experience with any of the camera either.  The best that most can do in these debates is analyze the spec sheets.  Very few photographer use both camera systems in their professional or personal works, so again, no one really truly know the advantages and disadvantages of each system.  This is probably make the argument fun, since no one really know what the other one is talking about.

Okay, that was a great disclaimer.  Now, Canon or Nikon?  Some will say that gear does not matter, it all come down to who is behind the camera.  While this is true to some extent, it does not discuss the relevant differences between these two giants in the industry.  I will discuss some of the differences between the system in this article.

Canon 40 D.   1000 ISO, 1/125 , 154mm (230mm 35mm equiv.) F7.1.  Now that I think about it, I did have a small photoshoot done using a friend camera which was the Canon 40D (I didn’t have my camera with me).  For this particular photograph, I did not want to be at F7.1 or ISO 1000 , but for 20 minute I could not figure out how to change the aperture while in manual mode so this is the result.  As of today, I still blame poor Canon’s ergonomics for that debacle (it was my first time using the camera though).  The camera was also shot in JPEG because my friend did not want to mess with the RAW files.  I have to say that the 40D handle noise quite well at 1000 ISO.  Regardless of my lack of competent handling the camera, this is one of my favorite photograph that I have ever taken.

Same friend as above, with her Canon 40 D.  Image was taken by my Nikon D40 with my 35mm F1.8.  Yes, the name could get confusing.  Images are just for decorative purposes, there is no use in comparing photos taken in vastly different conditions, and more importantly,  using vastly different lenses.

Nikon and Canon, in a way, realized each other strengths and weaknesses and therefore mostly avoid stepping on each other’s foot in their camera line-up.  In other word, you will rarely find two cameras in the same price range that was built for the same purpose and to the same specification from both Nikon and Canon.  For example, the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II are both around $2700 brand new, the D700 is designed to be more of a sport and event camera with its sophisticated autofocus system as well as its performance in high ISO.  The Canon 5D Mark II has incredibly high resolution compare to its Nikon counterpart but lack the robust autofocus system and high ISO performance making it not particular suitable for sport and event photography.  In a control lighting environment such as a photography studio however, the Canon 5D Mark II is unrivaled in that price range with it ridiculously high resolution sensor (this statement is about to be false with the release of the Nikon D800 *and now the D600).  So if you shoot sport, go for the Nikon D700, if you shoot in a studio, go for the Canon 5D Mark II.  As a matter of fact, President Barack Obama official portrait was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II.  Another example, the Canon T2i series which for a long time has been Canon entry leveled DSLR is actually priced  and  have specifications split right down the middle of the Nikon entry level and advanced amateur DSLRs rather directly rival either of the two.  Again, they try not to step on each other’s foot with too similar a camera.

As a system, what are the pro and con of each system?  Again, these are more less from the spec sheet as well as some commonly accepted knowledge in the photography world.  Sincewe are only talking about two companies, I’ll just list the pros of each, the cons of each company would be the pros for the other company.

The pros for Canon:

High resolution sensors: as of February 2012, just about every sensor in the Canon lineup has more resolution than it Nikon counter-part.  Higher resolution will allow for larger print and you will probably notice the increase resolution in prints larger than 20x30in.   This might be helpful for landscape and studio photographers but it does come at a cost of poorer high ISO performance compare to it Nikon counterpart.  So if you only photograph in a control environment and often order large prints, Canon might be the better choice for you, please reference President Obama official portrait above.  If you photograph in conditions that you have no control over, high resolution is more of a hindrance than a help. You can see my detailed opinion on sensor resolution in this posting.  (As of February, 2013, this is no longer an advantage for Canon)

The pros for Nikon:

Autofocus: as a system, Nikon have the superior autofocus.  One could argue that the top of the line auto focus system from Canon is just as good if not better than Nikon, but Nikon basically took their top of line autofocus system and put it in all of their cameras that is semi –professional and up making them hard to beat.  Canon, on the hand, do not have not implement their top of the line autofocus system throughout their line the way Nikon does.

Flash: this is a big one.  Nikon’s flashes and their Creative Lighting System (CLS) is almost legendary in the photography world.  The Nikon CLS system allows you to control flashes remotely not attached to the camera.  While Canon does have a similar system, it is not as widely implemented and available as the Nikon set up.  All the pop up flashes from Nikon advanced amateur cameras such as the Nikon D70 back in 2005 to the latest professional D800 have the ability to control another flash remotely using its CLS system.   Currently, there are two Canon camera that could do this, the Canon 7D that was released back in 2009 and the new Canon T3i.  If anyone wonder why I went with Nikon, this is why, Nikon simply have superior flash system.

Weather sealing:  all of Nikon cameras that is considered to be semi-professional and up have weather sealing to protect the camera from dust and moisture.  Canon was playing catch up in this category when it released the Canon 7D which is Canon first and so far only camera outside of the their top of the line 1D and 1Ds professional grade camera with weather sealing.  (As of 2013, this is not completely true since Canon has now offered a weather sealed 5D MkIII but if you look into the used camera market, Nikon offered a lot more weather sealed models).

High ISO performance: Nikon sensors produce better image quality in high ISO compare to it Canon counterpart.  Again, Nikon tend to be the better system if you don’t have a control studio lighting environment.  DXO Mark provide thorough sensor testing and performance scores to verify this point.

Yes, I also notice that I have a lot more pros for Nikon than Canon, but keep in mind that I am biased.  Also, the reality is  none of the above considerations really matter if you’re just want a camera for family vacation photos.

Noticed I have not mentioned anything about lenses from either company? The reality is that both Nikon and Canon have a vast amount of  high quality lenses  that can produce stunning images.  It has been said that Canon have more choices when it come to prime lenses and Canon prime lenses tend to produce higher quality image than its Nikon counterpart, but Nikon have the best 14-24mm f2.8 zoom lense as well higher quality mid-price consumer lenses.  However, as I stated above, most Nikon users simply do not much experience with Canon equipment and vice versa, making just about everyone opinion quite useless especially when it come to lenses.  Further more, lenses must be compare side by side as they cannot be compare base on the specifications alone make it essentially impossible compare lenses as a system due to the amount of work and experience that is required for such a comparision.


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5 thoughts on “CANON VS NIKON

  1. Your D40 looks very pristine, Hoan. I still have my very first D50 too. It can still produce nice photos (minus a little white balance flaw of the D50).

  2. Hey sis, I sold my D40 along with the kit lens and the 35mm f1.8 lens to a friend recently. After 22,000+ frames, I certain got good use out of it and now my friend has a pretty good combo to learn photography on.

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