Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR should you buy?

The most common question people ask when buying their first DSLR is whether to side with Canon or Nikon. Indeed, even more experienced photographers tied to one system often think about what they would gain by switching sides.

The most common question people ask when buying their first DSLR is whether to side with Canon or Nikon. Indeed, even more experienced photographers tied to one system often think about what they would gain by switching sides.

The fact is that both companies make excellent DSLRs. Nevertheless, at any given point they each have slightly different offerings on the market, and so it follows that some models will be better suited to your specific needs than others.

To that end, we’ve rounded up the main DSLRs currently available from the two (bar the most senior models designed for professionals) and compared them with their rivals in the same price bracket.

Whether you’re a photographic novice looking for your first camera, an enthusiast keen on exploring a range of options or a more advanced user looking for a full-frame powerhouse, read on to get the best idea of what your money gets you.

Canon vs Nikon: Entry-level DSLRs

If you’ve got up to £450/$500 or so to spend on your first DSLR, you’re very much spoilt for choice. Not only do you have a raft of brand new models to consider, but there are also many older ones that manufacturers typically subject to discounts and cashback offers to hook you into their system.

Currently, the cheapest options are the Canon EOS 1300D (known as the EOS Rebel T6 in the US) and Canon EOS 100D (known as the EOS Rebel SL1 in the US), as well as the Nikon D3300 and the newer Nikon D3400. Current cashback offers on the first two price them very aggressively against Nikon’s offerings, although Nikon’s two models do have a slight edge with their spec sheets.

Canon EOS 1300D / Rebel T6

Canon EOS 100D / Rebel SL1

For example, both the D3300 and D3400 have 24MP sensors and can shoot at 5fps, and each is furnished with an 11-point AF system. By contrast, the EOS 1300D and EOS 100D have 18MP sensors and can only shoot at 3fps and 4fps respectively, with a 9-point AF system apiece. Not huge differences, and potentially not too important for those just wanting to get started, but something to consider nonetheless.

The EOS 100D’s main draw is that it’s painfully small, so it may make you more inclined to use it more often than the others, although the newer EOS 1300D has a more refined features set.

Nikon D3300

Nikon D3400

Nikon’s D3400 isn’t a significant upgrade over the D3300, and the fact that it doesn’t offer automatic, built-in sensor cleaning places it at a disadvantage to the others. Being quite new also means that it doesn’t offer quite the same value as its competitors either.

While our review of the D3300 noted that some may prefer a broader range of physical controls, that camera is perhaps the strongest model out of the quartet. If, however, you’re on a tighter budget the EOS 1300D might just be a better option for you.

Best entry-level DSLRs

If you’ve got a little more to spend, you may want to take a look at the Canon EOS 700D (Rebel T5i in the US), Canon EOS 750D (Rebel T6i) and Canon EOS 760D (Rebel T6s), as well as the Nikon D5300 and Nikon D5500.

The main differences between the EOS 700D and its cheaper siblings include a touchscreen LCD that you can pull away from the camera, as well as a hybrid AF system that keeps focusing during video recording.

It also shoots at a slightly faster 5fps but offers the same 18MP sensor resolution as the more junior models. When we came to review the camera, we praised its image quality and loved the flexibility of its LCD, even if the touchscreen means of operation meant that it easily attracted fingerprints.

Canon EOS 700D / Rebel T5i

Canon EOS 750D / Rebel T6i

Canon EOS 760D / Rebel T6s

The EOS 700D is quite a bit cheaper than the Nikon D5300, although the D5300 has many advantages. These include a 24.2MP sensor with no low-pass filter, a 39-point AF system, a larger 3.2in LCD screen (though there’s no touchscreen functionality) and Wi-Fi built into the body.

Collectively, this adds up to a much better proposition, although it doesn’t have a touchscreen, which may be a deal-breaker. We weren’t so crazy about the D5300’s AF speeds in live view when we reviewed the camera either, although we were otherwise left with positive impressions.

Nikon D5300

Nikon D5500

For a similar outlay (including cashback), the Canon EOS 750D is also well worth a look. Although our review found that it didn’t quite match the D5500 for detail, we loved its handling and the way the touchscreen controls had been implemented, and felt it was overall a worthy upgrade on the EOS 700D.

Its slightly dearer EOS 760D brother is essentially much the same camera at its core, but a handful of design differences, including a rear control wheel and top-plate LCD, make it a better option if you want a more enthusiast-like shooting experience. You can also find it as a body-only option too, so it’s great if you own an older Canon lens or two.

The 10 best DSLRs you can buy right now

If you’re after something more advanced than each manufacturer’s most basic offerings, you’ll be looking towards models such as the Canon EOS 80D, Nikon D7200 and the older but still available Nikon D7100.

Canon EOS 80D

Nikon D7100

Nikon D7200

All three occupy a similar kind of price bracket but there are differences. Over the D7100, Nikon’s D7200 has many advantages, including a newer processor, built-in Wi-Fi, a broader sensitivity range, better battery life, a more generous buffer and a second-generation 51-point AF system that promises better low-light shooting.

The D7200’s sensor is a 24.2MP DX-format unit, instead of the 24.1MP one inside the D7100, but both lack an anti-aliasing filter for better detail retention. We were perfectly pleased with images from the D7100 in our review, so if you’re not too fussed about having a stronger spec sheet the D7100 is a great buy. Then again, you do get a lot more with the D7200 for not a great deal more money.

Does the much newer Canon EOS 80D give either something to worry about? Well, with an articulating LCD that’s sensitive to touch, a Dual Pixel CMOS AF system that provides continuous focus in stills and movies and an all-cross-type 45-point AF system, the answer is a definite yes.

We found the EOS 80D’s focusing system worked brilliantly when we tested it, although it’s a comprehensive system whose control may overwhelm some. Nevertheless, with 7fps burst shooting also on board – which the D7200 can only manage at a crop setting – it’s very much recommended if you reckon you’ll be shooting both action and videos.

Pro-spec APS-C DSLRs

Two further models are nestled between these and the full-frame offerings from each manufacturer.

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II and more recently launched Nikon D500 each provide action photographers with a compelling proposition. While their sensors are more or less evenly matched at 20.2MP and 20.9MP respectively, the D500’s sensor lacks an anti-aliasing filter, which should help it to capture slightly better detail.

EOS 7D Mark II

Nikon D500

Up until the D500 was released, the EOS 7D Mark II’s 65-point all-cross-type AF system sounded impressive, but Nikon’s D500 has trounced this with a 153-point AF module with 99 cross-type points (although only 55 of these can be manually addressed by the user).

Both cameras can shoot at 10fps, but the D500 promises up to 200 Raw frames versus the 31 Raw frames from the Canon, although both can capture JPEGs indefinitely at this rate. Together with 4K video recording, a broader ISO range and a larger, higher-resolution, touch-sensitive screen that can be tilted relative to the camera, the D500 outguns its rival in many areas.

The fact that it only offers 20MP may put some off, and all of its advantages very much come at a steep price. If price is no issue than the D500 is very much on top, with its strong spec sheet and excellent performance meaning that it should remain relatively future-proof, but there’s no question that the EOS 7D Mark II is currently the better value deal.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II vs Nikon D500

Most people looking at a DSLR at this level are after a one that’s furnished with a full-frame sensor, and both manufacturers provide a range of solutions.

These are roughly spread across two price levels. At the lower end there’s the Canon EOS 6D, Nikon D610 and Nikon D750, with the first two priced within about £50/$75 of each other.

Canon EOS 6D

Nikon D610

Nikon D750

The 24.3MP Nikon D610 has the advantage of a higher-resolution sensor than the 20.2MP Canon EOS 6D, together with a slightly larger LCD and two card slots. It also has a 39-point AF system with 11 cross-type points, which is great for all-round use.

The Canon EOS 6D, meanwhile has built-in Wi-Fi and GPS to recommend it over the D610, and although its focusing system only has 11 points – with just one cross-type point – this can focus better in lower light levels than the D610’s.

Together with its slightly broader ISO range, it’s therefore more likely to appeal to those who imagine they will be using it in low light with some frequency. Then again, the D610 offers a built-in flash, which is nowhere to be found on the EOS 6D.

So what about the D750? Well, for just over £200/$250 more than those two, you get a tilting LCD screen with a higher resolution, a more refined 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type points and better video specs (including a headphone port).

Image quality is also measurably better than the D610’s. In fact, we didn’t have too many gripes with it when we came to review it. Particularly if low-light shooting or video is key, the D750 is our pick of the bunch.

High-end options

Canon and Nikon each have a number of options at the £2000/$2500+ end of the full-frame scale, but the main four are the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EOS 5DS (and its EOS 5DS R sibling) and the Nikon D810.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon EOS 5DS

Nikon D810

Prices vary considerably here, so it’s worth thinking about what’s your primary concern. If it’s resolution, then the 50MP EOS 5DS wins hands down, as the sensors inside the others range from 22.3MP on the EOS 5D Mark III through to 30.4MP on the EOS 5D Mark IV and 36.3MP on the Nikon D810.

If video is more of a concern, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV makes the most sense, partly because it’s the only camera to offer 4K, which makes it the most future-proof. Of course, the Nikon D810 and EOS 5D Mark III are also capable of excellent HD video, and they are much cheaper too.

Indeed, while we showered the EOS 5D Mark IV with praise and awarded it with a full five stars in our review, right now it’s the D810 and EOS 5D Mark III that are perhaps the best options for many. Once again, they may not be the newest models, but each has a well-rounded feature set that should please those working across a range of genres and their age allows them to offer excellent value for money.

Best full-frame DSLRs

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