If you are passionate about photography, then you probably get asked one of two questions from friends and family. The first, “What Camera Should I Buy?” Well, that is a subject in and of itself, which is why we addressed it in its own article that you can read by clicking here.
The second question we frequently get asked, “What camera brand is better? Canon or Nikon?” We have been asked this question so many times that we thought we would address this question as well.
What’s Better, Canon or Nikon?
Most friends and family are probably going to ask the question, “Canon or Nikon?” This is for the simple reason that Canon and Nikon have sunk so much money into marketing that really they are the first two brands of camera that come to the consumer’s mind.
That being said, beyond Canon and Nikon cameras, today’s marketplace is filled with amazing cameras from plenty of different companies.
Panasonic has an amazing line of Micro 4:3 cameras with the Panasonic GH3. Sony has stepped up their game with new professional level full frame cameras such as the Sony A99, and they are soon to be releasing additional full frame cameras aimed towards advanced consumers.
I could continue and name off several brands and camera models, each with their respective strengths and weaknesses. But, the main point that I am hitting at is that there are plenty of amazing camera makes and makers available in the marketplace.
As consumers, rather than asking the question “Which camera is better?” we should be asking the question,
Which camera is better for me, my needs, and my intended uses?
Each Camera has its Strengths and Weaknesses
Regardless of the brand, model or even the price, there will never be a camera that is simply the clear cut best camera in every aspect. Let me explain.
If someone were to ask me, “What camera produces the best image detail and most accurate colors?” I would probably respond by saying the Phase One IQ180 Digital Back with a 645DF Body. It has an incredible resolution of 80 megapixels and a wonderfully broad dynamic range of 12.5 stops. Does that mean it is the best overall camera? Absolutely not.
The Phase One IQ180 is large and bulky making it terribly cumbersome for the on-the-go shooter. It can only capture around 1 frame per second making it a terrible camera for shooting live action and sports. It does a poor job with low light in comparison to something like a Nikon D800 or Canon 5D Mark III. Oh yeah, and it costs about as much as a decent European luxury car.
Let’s speak for a moment on the other side of the spectrum and talk about the Canon PowerShot S100. This camera little $300 advanced point and shoot can’t really touch the resolution, detail and color that could be produced with the Phase One. Does that make it a bad camera? Of course not.
The Canon PowerShot S100 is a beautiful advanced point and shoot camera offering photographers the ability to create great quality images with camera that is so small and light you can keep it in your shirt pocket. It gives advanced users the flexibility of controlling the cameras exposure settings and shooting in RAW; Yet if the user knows nothing about photography, it provides enough automated control to still create a great and usable image.
Of course this is a bit ridiculous comparing a $40,000 camera to a $300 one. But, hopefully you understand my point. Both of these cameras are designed for completely different purposes. While their features and abilities are completely different, both are great cameras in their own right.
It’s silly to think that there is some sort of clear cut ‘best’ all-around-camera on the market. If that camera existed, every other company would be out of business.
Different Makes, Similar Models? Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III
Even when comparing similar models of cameras across two different makes, each is going to have its strengths and weaknesses.
For example, one of the most debated camera comparisons would be the Canon 5D Mark III against the Nikon D800. Both are full frame cameras, both offer great low light sensitivity, a broad dynamic range, etc. So, which one is better?
Once again, the answer isn’t very clear cut and the best camera is really going to depend on you, your needs and your photographic style.
Let’s talk about the Nikon D800 for a moment:
D800 is Better in Low Light
– The Nikon D800 still edges out the Canon 5D Mark III when it comes to low light performance. Don’t get me wrong, both cameras are amazing in low light situations, but as of this particular moment, Nikon is just a bit ahead in this area.
D800 has a Higher Dynamic Range
– The D800’s approximate 14 stops of dynamic range and 25 bit color depth also trounces the 5D3’s 12 stop dynamic range and 24 bit color depth.
D800 has a Higher Resolution
– Megapixels aren’t everything, but they definitely play a part in overall sensor quality. The higher the resolution, the more detail a sensor can generally resolve as we discuss in The Truth Behind the Megapixel Myth. Boasting over 36 megapixels, the D800 once again trounces the 5D3’s paltry 23 megapixels. Sorry, 23 megapixels isn’t really “paltry”, you know what I mean :D
These are three major factors that would point to the Nikon D800 being clearly better, at least on paper, than the Canon 5D Mark III. Not to mention the fact that the Nikon D800 is currently a bit cheaper as well.
So, why would anyone want the Canon 5D Mark III?
Canon has a Broader Line Up of Lenses
– While Nikon has some great glass in its line up, Canon simply offers more. There are more lenses in the Canon lens lineup, more consumer zooms, more professional primes and even cinema primes.
5D3 is the Leader in DSLR Video
– It’s arguable whether the D800 produces better video with its higher dynamic range and color depth. What isn’t arguable is that Canon has the market when it comes to DSLR video support. There are simply far more 3rd party companies producing products and support for Canon DSLR cinematographers than Nikon. If video is important, this is a major factor.
Canon’s More Flattering Skin Tones SOOC
– While the Nikon D800 produces more dynamic range and better color depth, images coming straight of the camera tend to be a bit more green and require a bit of manipulation to achieve more natural, warm and flattering skin tone. Photographers are generally more satisfied with the skin tones straight from the Canon 5D Mark III.
Crap, OK… So 5D3 or D800?
The arguments above are of course just a few of the features of each of these cameras. While you could say the D800 is technically a better “camera” there is still an overwhelmingly strong reason to use the Canon 5D Mark III. So much so that it is currently by far a more popular camera than the Nikon D800, despite its technical drawbacks.
In addition, each camera maker tends to one up each other year after year. While Nikon may be leading in certain areas, Canon might be leading next year in those same areas and vice versa.
Again, there is no clear cut winner and it still is going to come back to which camera is right for you and your specific needs? So to help you out, we are going to help you make a decision based on some factors you may not have thought of.
3 Not So Obvious Things to Consider
Obviously your budget, and the camera’s features are going to be the primary considerations. You want to choose a camera that fits your overall ongoing budget, and you want to choose a camera that has the features that best fit your needs. So, let’s skip over these two obvious considerations.
1. What do your friends/family shoot with?
You might think that this question is irrelevant, but in our opinion it is actually one of the biggest factors in making the decision. Why? Because if you choose the same camera brand as your friend/family, that means you can share lenses, flashes, equipment, knowledge, everything!
This can be a huge factor in a photographer’s growth because not only can you share and access more gear, you can also learn from each other’s experience.
2. Think Towards the Future
You may not currently be interested in shooting video, or capturing landscape images, or becoming a wedding photographer. But, take a moment and just look towards the future for a moment. If you feel that at some point in the future, you would like to explore a certain type of photography or cinematography, then that should play into your decision now!
For example, perhaps at the moment you don’t have time to travel, but your passion is traveling and travel photography. Well, don’t go investing in a heavy DSLR and lenses that would be cumbersome to carry around when you do start traveling! Instead, I would go with an advanced point and shoot such as the Canon PowerShot G12, or even step up to a Micro 4:3 system such as the Panasonic GH3.
In the future, if you think you may end up getting into cinematography, then choosing a Canon camera will help you down the road. Not only can you continue using your existing lenses as you upgrade your camera body, but you will also be familiar with using Canon cameras, working with camera footage and so forth.
So think forward when you are making your decision.
3. Marrying the brand.
If you choose an interchangeable lens camera system, then you need to keep in mind that you will essentially be “marrying” the brand you select.
While your camera body may only cost $1,000, a nice set of lenses and equipment can easily run you an additional $10,000. At that point, it becomes quite difficult to switch brands down the road (unless you are willing to eat the financial loss of selling and switching). So, spend a bit of time and choose wisely.
Hopefully this has been of some help to those of you trying to make this decision. Please also add your comments and ideas below!