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 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 £500/$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), Canon EOS 4000D (though it’s not available in the US just yet), Canon EOS 2000D (known as the EOS Rebel T7 in the US) and Canon EOS 200D (known as the EOS Rebel SL2 in the US), as well as the Nikon D3300 and the newer Nikon D3400.

What’s the difference then? At the bottom end of the scale is the EOS 1300D / EOS Rebel T6, which features a 18MP sensor and can shoot at only 3fps, while there’s a 9-point AF system featured. Then there’s the EOS 4000D – similar in spec to the EOS 1300D / EOS Rebel T6, but the newer camera isn’t worth the extra cash as it features a plastic lens mount and pretty horrible 2.7-inch display.

The new EOS 2000D / EOS Rebel T7 is the next step up and is worth the extra money thanks to the jump in resolution, from 18MP to 24.1MP. The EOS 200D / EOS Rebel SL2 is the most advanced Canon of the bunch. It has the latest 24.2MP sensor and features Canon’s brilliant Dual Pixel CMOS AF system for quick Live View focusing and shoots at a slightly faster 5fps. There’s also a really useful vari-angle touchscreen. That said, it sticks with a similar 9-point AF system as the other two cameras.

Over at Nikon and both the D3300 and D3400 have 24.2MP sensors and can shoot at 5fps, and each is furnished with an 11-point AF system.

With very similar headline specs, 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 over its predecessor. That said, the D3400 does offer Bluetooth connectivity (known as SnapBridge), allowing you to transfer images to your smartphone. If you want to do that on the D3300, you have to buy an optional accessory in order to do this.

Overall then, there’s not a huge difference between the offerings from Canon and Nikon, but our pick would have to be the D3400. It’s not perfect, but what it does do, it does very well and is incredibly easy to use for the first time user.

If you’ve got a little more to spend you’ve got perhaps even more choice. From Canon you’ve got the Canon EOS Rebel T5i (known as the EOS 700D outside the US), Canon EOS Rebel T7i (EOS 800D) and the EOS 77D.

From Nikon, there’s not quite the same amount of models to pick from, but the Nikon D5300 and Nikon D5600 are still very strong contenders.

Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR should you buy?

Starting with the EOS Rebel T5i / EOS 700D, and it’s starting to show its age now, with the 18MP sensor not a match for the latest 24MP sensors. It’s pretty cheap, but we reckon it’s worth trying to save up a little more and go for a newer camera if you can.

The Nikon D5300 is starting to be harder to come by, but it has many advantages over the EOS Rebel T5i / EOS 700D. 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 over the Canon, although we weren’t so crazy about the D5300’s AF speeds in live view when we reviewed the camera either. Otherwise, we were left with positive impressions and the price means it should be a very tempting proposition for many.

For a little more cash the Canon EOS Rebel T6i / 750D is also well worth a look. Handling is great, and we love the way the touchscreen controls have been implemented and overall, it’s a very solid option.

All three of these DSLRs now though have been superseded by newer models, with the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D, EOS 77D and D5600 the latest offerings from Canon and Nikon.

The direct successor to the T6i / 750D, the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D comes with a newer sensor (though the resolution remains the same at 24.2MP) that delivers better noise performance at higher ISOs and a greatly improved AF system. The EOS 77D is pretty much identical to the T7i / 800D as far as spec goes, but offers more body mounted controls – useful if you’re a slightly more experienced user.

Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR should you buy?

That leaves the Nikon D5600, which features a 24.2MP sensor that produces very detailed images, along with an articulating touchscreen, decent 39-point AF system and polished handling. These all combine to make the D5600 one of the most well-rounded entry-level DSLRs available, but it’s probably just edged out by the EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D for overall performance.

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 new Nikon D7500.

All three occupy a similar kind of price bracket but there are differences. The Canon EOS 80D is a brilliant enthusiast DSLR with an articulating LCD touchscreen, a Dual Pixel CMOS AF system that provides continuous focus in stills and movies and an all-cross-type 45-point AF system. It’s a system that works brilliantly, although the comprehensive AF settings may overwhelm some. Nevertheless, with 7fps burst shooting also on board it’s very much recommended if you reckon you’ll be shooting both action and videos. It also has a high quality 24.2MP sensor that is able to capture a good level of detail while keeping noise under control. A great enthusiast DSLR that packs a decent performance.

The D7500 might have replaced the D7200, but don’t discount it. Packed with features, a decent performance and a excellent 51-point AF system, the D7200 is topped off with a cracking 24.2MP sensor to make it an ideal camera for enthusiasts – especially if you already own some Nikon lenses. It might be getting on a bit, but this makes it an ever better buy.

That leaves the new D7500. This latest addition to Nikon’s DSLR line-up represents the biggest revamp we’ve seen in the D7xxx series since the D7000 replaced the D90. The combination of Nikon’s 20.9MP sensor and EXPEED 5 image processing engine from the D500 (see below) in an even more compact and affordable body make it a very tempting proposition, especially if you shoot action.

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.

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.

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 Mark II, Nikon D610 and Nikon D750.

The EOS 6D Mark II is the newest out of the three options and pips its two Nikon rivals in the resolution stacks, with a 26.2MP full-frame sensor, compared to 24.3MP resolutions found in both the D610 and D750. That’s not the whole story though as we found that the dynamic range performance of the Nikon’s was that bit better.

The EOS 6D Mark II’s 45-point AF system is a little too weighted to the centre of the frame for our liking, but the vari-angle touchscreen with Canon’s brilliant Dual Pixel CMOS AF system makes up for it.

The D610 by contrast is getting on a bit, but that does make it the cheapest full-frame camera here. It’s still well-spec’d too, with a solid 39-point AF system with 11 cross-type points, which is great for all-round use.

So what about the D750? Like the D610, it might be showing it’s age a little, but this is still a very well-rounded enthusiast full-frame DSLR. You get a tilting LCD screen with a decent resolution (no touchscreen control though), a refined 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type points, while 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 IV, Canon EOS 5DS (and its EOS 5DS R sibling), Nikon D810 and Nikon D850.

Let’s start with the 50MP EOS 5DS – this has held the crown for the high resolution DSLR for a while now, but all those pixels means it’s not incredibly versatile – it’s great for landscape photographers and those that work in a studio, but a little restrictive elsewhere.

The 30.4MP EOS 5D Mark IV still packs in a decent amount of pixels, and is a much more versatile proposition, with a great 61-point AF system, excellent handling and a decent 7fps burst shooting.

The EOS 5D Mark IV was until recently, our pick of the best DSLRs out there, but the arrival of Nikon’s 45.4MP D850 has eclipsed it. In a nutshell, this is high resolution camera that packs in a high performance. The sensor delivers excellent results, while the 153-point AF system and 7fps burst shooting mean it’s at home shooting pretty much any subject. The best DSLR you can buy right now.

That just leaves the 36.3MP D810 – it might have been replaced by the D850, but it’s still a great DSLR and you should be able to hunt it down at a great price now as well.