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How to Choose Between Canon and Nikon DSLRs

Jose Fermoso/ArtBistro

Small, Real Differences

In our research, we found consensus on a few feature differences.

Canon’s famed image processing system maintains a fast frame rate and helps smooth over images during processing. It’s one reason “point-and-shoot-and-nothing-else” DSLR users tend to like Canon; they minimize post-processing and help avoid “fringing.” However, many users are turned off by Canon’s in-camera adjustments.

Nikons’ image processing, on the other hand, is not as fast, and tends to have more fringing and less “smoothing over.” (See: D40 at a wide angle with a DX 18-55mm II lens.) But photographers work around this by shooting on raw mode and relying on stored correction-data to take care of fringing in post. Plus, IDC analyst Chris Chute says Nikon has more efficient auto-focus. The image stabilization technology is equally good in both product lines.

Another Canon advantage over Nikon, is the pre-dial settings that reduce the time it takes to set-up shots. However, everyone singled out Canon’s lack of picture playback as a nuisance. Rockwell spiritedly concurs: “It holds pictures hostage! The Canon 7D LCD went blank when you … turned the rear dial. Nikon gives you full access to your pictures immediately after they’re shot.”

As for light-performance, full-frame sensors of current Nikon rigs offer the best minimal-light performance, according to San Francisco Chronicle photographer Noah Berger, though Canon’s full-frame EOS 5D is also well regarded.

And what about the lenses? Chute notes that the lower-end consumer market favors Canon’s good zoom range and constant aperture, while pro photographers often prefer Nikon’s wider and brighter glass. ArtBistro user Dylan Harper also appreciated Nikon’s reverse engineering: “All the lenses they’ve made work on any of their cameras. [And] the ergonomics make them feel better.” In fact, Nikons were universally thought to be the most comfortable to use. But this is certainly a subjective feature. You can always learn how to use – and love – a new configuration.

Brands Align With Shooting Goals

Clear understanding of shooting intent goes a long way towards making the right choice.

Feature consensus crystallized in the context of shooting goals, especially along varied expertise levels. A photography student from the Ringling College of Art and Design said that though Canon and Nikon were equally popular at the beginning of school, Canon was the preferred choice of all by graduation day. Most were happier with the first version of photos and felt the lenses were more reliable than Nikons, whose shutters tended to stick.

Despite such idiosyncrasies, older photographers tended to back Nikon, focusing on the premium lens quality.

The students’ choice reflects their need to produce a wide range of images in a shorter period of time. The veterans’ preference reflects their need for craft and expert technique. Consequently, most agreed that people dealing with widely varying shooting situations and fast-moving object should go with a Canon. For carefully set-up shots and better low-light sensitivity, go with Nikon, which gives you the most control on a shot-to-shot basis, says Lee.

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