Nikon vs. Canon: Which Photography Gear is Better?

We might as well be asking, “What is the meaning of life?” The Nikon versus Canon debate has been raging for a long time, starting back when the brands were both born. Interestingly, the very first Canon camera, which was introduced in 1935, had a Nikon lens (although the brand was Nikkor at the time). 

Here in the TRG Reality studio, we shoot with Canon gear. But, like many professionals in the industry, we shot Nikon film cameras right up until digital photography became a feasible option. At that point, we swapped all of our Nikon gear for Canon stuff, and we’ve stuck with it ever since. 

Some of the things we enjoy as Canon shooters include the speed of the auto-focus, the sharpness and stabilization of the lenses, the quality and low-light sensitivity of the sensors, the ergonomics of the bodies, and the overall durability of the gear in general. All of that said, many true Nikon shooters would argue that those features are solely owned by Nikon. 

And thus, a great debate has been born.

Since we don’t shoot Nikon on a regular basis, we turned to someone we trust with many of our other gear queries for his opinion: Nathan Destro, king of the pro rental department at Dodd Camera. Unlike us, Nathan works with both Nikon and Canon on a daily basis. On top of that, he often hears both sides; the gripes and praise from not only the local photogs like us, but also national and international shooters who’ve found themselves in need of gear while shooting in the CLE

We asked Nathan, “Between Nikon and Canon, who is currently producing the best product? What makes it so?” 

Here’s what Nathan had to say: 

Nikon Makes a Superior DSLR Body

“Personally, I believe that Nikon makes a superior DSLR body. The ergonomics of their camera bodies are more intuitive; the button layouts make it very easy to operate and adjust settings on the fly, without having to take your eye away from the camera. Canon’s button placement doesn’t make sense to me. I found myself scratching my face with my fingers more than actually adjusting the settings as needed.

“Nikon’s bodies are also more durable and rugged, built to withstand small tragedies. A Canon feels like a blocky piece of plastic in my hand. Additionally, this is debatable for eternity, but I believe that Nikon has better performance in low light. When I shot the Nikon D4 against the Canon 1D X, I found the Nikon files to be much cleaner. The Canon 1D X is one heck of a camera, though!” 

Canon’s Line of Cinema Products

“Beyond DSLR, Canon has a whole line of cinema products that the company relies on for revenue. Photography equipment only makes up about 15% of Canon’s business, but provides 90% of their visibility in the marketplace. Meanwhile, Nikon does not have this internal conflict of interest, and can focus on pumping new, useful features into the cameras to increase their value and functionality.

“As another example, Nikon has included intervalometers (devices that count intervals of time) into their cameras for years. Canon charges upwards of $130 for their version of the same product.” 

Canon’s More Widely Used, Has Better Video Options

“Canon is more widely used, which means there’s a larger pool of resources and support surrounding their cameras. Whether it’s an online forum or a friend with a lens, it is undeniable that more people are using Canon (at least in Cleveland), especially for video.”

“Nikon introduced video on DSLR cameras with their D90 model, but Canon really took the proverbial video ball and ran with it. Therefore, there are far more accessories and products made for Canon gear to shoot video, while comparable products for Nikon may never be manufactured.” 

Nikon Lenses Excel

“Like mentioned above, Nikon began as Nikkor, a brand specializing in precision optics. They now make cameras and lenses, and Nikon is also responsible for the off-camera flash system. Although this is another debatable point, I think Nikon’s lenses excel beyond Canon’s. Nikon’s lenses don’t need to be painted bright white to attract attention, either. The product speaks for itself.”

Nikon Offers Lower Price Points

“Nikon and Canon are usually comparable from a cost standpoint towards the consumer end, but the higher-end Canon bodies (like the 5D MK III and 1D X) are pricier than their Nikon counterparts (D800, D4) by several hundred dollars. The Nikon D800 costs about $2,800 while the Canon 5D MK III starts at $3,400, and the Nikon D4 is priced about $6,000 while the 1D X is $6,800. And Nikon is offering more features!”

“In terms of lenses, prices between both brands are similar. Some people believe that Nikon optics are pricier than Canon, but the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II sells for about $400 more than the Nikon.”

Favorite Pieces From Both Brands

Nikon’s D800 is my absolute favorite. 36 megapixels of splendor at a reasonable price point, all while being a magnificent video machine as well. The ability to shoot in three different formats will turn my 100mm f/2 lens into a 120mm f/2 or a 150mm f/2 at the push of a button, all while maintaining 1080p resolution.”

“Canon’s new 70D camera body is my favorite piece of Canon equipment. Canon has definitely tried, and succeeded, to create a new system that pushes the boundaries of DSLR video. Although the 6D and 5D Mark III and 1D X are great cameras, the 70D is unique. This camera may be closing the gap on ENG-style video cameras, and doing it at a fraction of the price.” 

“Both brands have fantastic 70-200 f/2.8 lenses, which I am definitely in love with.”

So which brand wins? 

“Ultimately, this debate could go on forever (and it will). When it comes to these two industry-leading companies, it is not about the brand name on the equipment so much as it’s about the person holding the camera. Both systems are going to deliver stellar results, but it’s up to the shooter to make them shine.”

“Although I am a Nikon user, I always tell people to come into the store and hold the different cameras, analyze the button layout, and make an informed decision. A representative once said to me:

‘An amateur (photographer) worries all about the gear. He/she has to have the next latest greatest piece of equipment of they’ll never be able to get a good photograph. A professional worries about the bottom line. How much are they going to make from doing this job? What is their margin? Meanwhile, a master worries about one thing: light. Regardless of the imaging device a master holds, the lighting comes first.’”

We’d like to thank Nathan at Dodd Camera for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions so thoroughly! 

So what do you think? Which gear is better: Nikon or Canon? Let us know in the comments below.