/ Technology

Canon vs Nikon – which camera brand captures your heart?

Canon vs Nikon

The Canon vs Nikon debate shows no signs of flagging. Both brands were shortlisted for our Best Photography Brand accolade, but Canon walked away with the silverware. Do you agree with our decision?

This camera manufacturer debate usually focuses on digital SLRs, however, the Which? Awards take into account the results of our tests of digital cameras across several categories, and even camcorders and printers (products Nikon doesn’t make).

Customer satisfaction, reliability, diversity, innovation and value for money are all also factored into consideration.

However, the reason the photography world is divided into a group who prefers the ‘D’ to come before the model number and a group who likes the ‘D’ to come after, is often less scientific and a little more heartfelt.

The lenses lock you in

I own a Canon 7D and am over the moon with it, but my purchase wasn’t based entirely on its Which? review. Many of my friends have Canon digital SLRs and the ability to share lenses was a major factor in my decision. And as such, now that I have my 7D, I’m unlikely to jump ship and bat for the opposition any time soon.

This isn’t because I’ve been brainwashed into thinking my Canon camera’s superior, but because I view my growing arsenal of lenses and accessories as a long-term investment. To change allegiance now would be costly.

Canon and Nikon both have enthusiastic customers fighting their corners, and I’ve heard debates between seemingly mild-mannered photographers become searingly heated. Quality and range of lenses always comes up, along with price, speed, noise, control and more recently even video quality.

The following table shows how the two camera brands compare in our lab tests, with information based on the tests we carried out between March 2010 and February 2011.

Camera brand Products tested Best Buys Best Buy strike rate Camera reliability Customer satisfaction
Canon 41 22 54% 97% 87%
Nikon 16 11 69% 97% 82%

Don’t sit on the fence

Pacifists might argue that Canons are better for sports photography, while Nikons are better suited for wildlife – but what’s clear is that nobody’s sat on the fence.

Still, if you’re looking to buy a digital SLR, both Nikon and Canon can cater for you, whatever your level of expertise. At the entry level, it’s likely you’ll shop for a Canon 1100D or Nikon’s D3100. Want something more advanced? Then you may consider Canon’s 60D or a Nikon D7000. Feeling flush and want to take the best shots money can buy? Then it’ll be the latest 5D model or the D700.

So is deciding whether you remove your lens with a clockwise or an anticlockwise twist just as trivial as choosing between Pepsi and Coca Cola? Or is there more to the Canon vs Nikon debate? Why exactly do you favour the camera brand that you do?

Which camera brand do you prefer?

Canon (58%, 392 Votes)

Nikon (42%, 284 Votes)

Total Voters: 676

Loading ... Loading ...

Having just bought a Canon IXUS117 HS I have been nothing but disappointed since, the software conflicted with my computer and part of it refused to work – the part that refused was the software to download the pictures from the camera onto my computer. I rang Canon to find it was an 0844 number and having been on the line for one hour – asked them to ring me back – as it still had not been resolved and having hung up they never rung back. I then rang again and was told it was my problem, my fault and down to Microsoft and I should ring them.

Since I had no intention of paying any more money than I already had done, or being piggy in the middle with two giant companies, I just bypassed the software and use Windows Picture Manager but am I annoyed? Do I feel cheated? You bet I do. This will be the last purchase I ever make of the Canon brand. I especially resent paying out £150 for a camera and then when asking for help to set it up am ripped off by an 0844 number and a support service that was absolutely dire.


Personally I think that there is no real difference in the handling qualities of Canon and Nikon digital single lens reflex cameras once you are used to their layout. What you will often find is that Nikons are usually better when you are using a very high ISO rating (say above 3200), so if you want to photograph a black cat in a coal cellar using available light a Nikon DSLR is a better bet.

My first DSLR was a Canon 20D because that was considered the best camera on the market that suited my price but if the Nikon 200 had been on the market at that time I might have chosen that instead. Canon produce a wider variety of lenses than Nikon and many of them are judged to be superior to Nikon so if you choose your lenses with care you can collect the best of the Mark and independent lenses. I think that you should also choose the body that is best suited to the type of pictures that you are taking. For instance I use my EOS 5D Mk2 for portraiture and either my EOS 7D or EOS 50D for taking pictures of flying aircraft.

With regard to Dot’s complaint about her Canon IXUS117 HS I would only like to say that I download all my pictures to my PC using a card reader instead of using a USB link and Canon software. I think that this is quicker and I have not had any problems with it.

Tony Gray says:
25 August 2011

Totally agree with Dot, over the moon with my Canon Powershot SX20 IS, pictures are great and a good Auto function if the manual settings fail to produce the expected result, BUT the software stinks and will not work with Windows 7. Had a better response experience with Canon as they suggested a few patches but they didn’t work. we are using our old Ixus 70 software which works fine but doesn’t have all the jazzy new functions.

This is a huge customer issue which Canon are failing to address. They need to get their act together and get products working with the systems that are commercially available, not go to war with them. And it certainly isn’t the customers fault.

Dear Stepheneb

Thank you for your comment about using a card reader and I will investigate this, but I am gratified to know that, while I am just a high days and holidays camera enthusiast, you appear to be a professional and yet you still do not rate Canon’s software.

I have enlisted help from a number of gurus in the computer cyberworld and they all seem to think that Canon’s software should have included a visual basic programme/library to automatically sort out my computer to accept their software: this appears to be missing.

Vicky says:
5 August 2011

I’m very pleased with our canon 1000d. Before upgrading to slr had ixus and that was great too. The school I teach at also has low end canons bought through tesco vouchers. All have been excellent, easy to use and get results. Never had any problem downloading pics (either to school pcs or home mac) – just plugged in cable and did.

It’s true that the lenses, or ‘the system” locks you in. A pro’ photographer friend of mine bought a new camera body every year and he regarded his lenses as his kit.

Canon has many more cameras in its range than Nikon, especially the compacts, I do wonder if this has skewed the results at all.

I have found that in the past Canon has chased the headline “pixel count” more than Nikon who’s philosophy was that it’s the quality of each pixel which is more important than the total count. Take the Nikon D700 for example, a full-frame sensor of just 12 megapixels. Each one gathering more light and producing a higher quality, lower noise, signal than a more densly populated sensor. This demonstrates the Nikon way of doing things.

Canon have begun to come around to this way of thinking too, look at the G11, fewer pixels than the G10. It now seems that we have “enough” pixels and technology has produced some remarkable processing engines, so we can choose a camera at our selected price point with the features we want and concentrate on the more important job of taking photographs and enjoying our hobby.

Did you guess I have a Nikon D700?

Jeff Stevenson says:
28 June 2012

Hi Robert.
I am comparing Cannons to Nikons in the Full frame HD video capabilities.
D700 compared to the 5D. Have you shot any video and if so, what are your views?

I have used Nikon SLRs for many years now and they have always seemed more ‘professional’ and better handling but that is partly subjective. They are not the first to adopt the latest trends perhaps but concentrate on good pictures, especially at low light. Focussing is especially good and fast.

From the consumer compact viewpoint, I would probably pick Canon as they seem to have achieved very good packages with good compromises between size, speed and noise. Nikon are still trying to catch up their.

Dot’s point on the Canon software may be linked with the operating system on her computer – the two could well be incompatible and all s/w manufacturers have this problem: they will not or cannot make all versions compatible. I use Photoshop Elements and had to upgrade this to version 9 when I changed to a Windows 7 computer – version 7 which ran on Windows XP would not run on Windows 7.

simon says:
5 August 2011

I have been using Canon SLRs for more than twenty five years moving on and up from film to digital and currently with a 5d and 20d. I am always delighted with any new Canon camera I get but I am in no position to judge Nikon – I might have been just as happy with a Nikon. Once you start with Canon and Canon-fit lenses you are very unlikely to switch and it would probably have been the same if I’d started with Nikon.

Brian says:
5 August 2011

I agree that pixel counts are two edged, more pixels equals more “noise”. I got good A4 prints from 3.4 mps because of lens quality. Does Nikon get no credit from the fact that almost every lens back to the days of the Nikon F (appr 50 years) can fit my D200. Their after sales service has been very good for me too.

Tony Dutton says:
5 August 2011

I have a Canon 550D with an 18 to 135 mm lens which has one slight drawback: with the camera
supported by its shoulder strap and the lens hanging downwards, (with the lens cap in place of
course!) the zoom control sleeve, on a hot day, (3rd August), gradually turns to fully extend the lens body. Normally I carry the camera in a Lowpro case.
What a pity that there is no click spring or whatever to prevent this happening in an otherwise
superb camera. On a cool day the viscosity of the lubricating grease is sufficient to prevent this.

For use on a microscope, without the lens this camera is ideal too.

PetrusMaximus says:
5 August 2011

Never been a Canon fan. very plastiky at the low end/ too heavy at the high end.
Had been a Minolta man with film cameras until they sold to Sony (and never liked Sony); so jumped in with Olympus. The E620 is an excellent camera. For some reason it never sold in the numbers it should have. Such is the ficklness of the market not help by campaigns of Which? to promote Canon-Nikon brands.
why do people care such much about the brand. Its the price/ performance that matters surely ?

Hi PetrusMaximus – I really agree with you actually, and I think there’s a tendency to what could either be called blind loyalty to big names, or snobbishness at worst, when some people assume that Canon or Nikon are the only brands to consider at DSLR level. Olympus have made some terrific DSLRs recently, but so have Sony (and Panasonic with their micro-four-thirds cameras)

With the latter two brands, I wonder if some people shy away from them because they’re electronics giants who produce many different types of products, rather than just focusing on cameras?

As you say, ultimately, it’s price, performance, and lest any of us forget, how well the product suits you in your hands!

Neil says:
5 August 2011

After many years with 35mm film cameras – initially M42 and latterly Pentax K fit – I bought my first digital compact in 2003. I decided to go for a Canon because of their reputation and was not disappointed. I did however miss my SLR and so in 2007 when a Which report recommended 2 superceded DSLRs, 1 Canon and 1 Nikon, I decided it was a good time to go bargain hunting. I wanted to get the Canon (I can’t even remember which model it was now) because of my experience with the compact but alas all were sold out so I bought a Nikon D50 kit with 2 zooms instead. Since then I’ve bought flash guns, more lenses and I’ve upgraded the camera twice to a D200 and then a D300s so I’m tied to Nikon now but I can’t say that they are better than Canon since I’ve never used a Canon DSLR. I can only say that I am very pleased with the results I have got from my Nikons. Ironically I now look jealously at friends with bridge cameras because they can take photos almost as good (technically) as mine without having to cart around a rucksack full of heavy gear but if I did get a bridge camera I’d probably stick with Nikon because of the flash guns, software and an intangible feeling that I like Nikons.

David Lowe says:
5 August 2011

Having progressed fox a Brownie up through various film SLRs and entry level DSLRs I recently took the plunge and purchased a Canon EOS 450D with EFS 18-55mm IS kit lens I then splashed another ransom an on a Canon Zoom lens EF 70-300mm USM with IS again (cost as much as the original kit!) This camera is regularly thrown into my man bag and dragged around. So first I have to agree that it is rugged. Being RTFM averse I tend to rely on the fixed setting and Auto a lot for speed of shooting to catch opportunities as they arise. While not great in dim situations and having a nasty built-in flash (which I usually turn off) I have had some great shots: mostly portraiture and party scenes. I am regularly asked to bring my camera and take the ‘official pictures.’ The zoom lens is a miracle: no shake/blur and pin sharp pimples at 40 paces! I am a bit nervous carrying over a £1k worth of kit on holiday (theft/damage) as well as the size and weight restrictions on planes nowadays…. I bounced my lovely inexpensive (battery munching) Fuji SLR down some steps at the Sydney Opera house (yes I was wearing the strap until I bent forward) so i re[laced it with a Nikon P100 Coolpix for it’s univers-ability in close-ups, portraits, 26X zoom, HD and stereo and useful double jointed LCD panel It works well in dim conditions, except when in movie mode! AND won’t break my heart if is LOST! I recently bought a cheap set of Macro Tube extension Rings and some cheap alternative batteries – amazing value from Amazon. Both the Canon and the Nikon seem to last for ages on a single battery which is a real boon on our long (6 week) RTW holidays, taking hundreds of pictures, when charging bats can sometimes be a problem. Uploading the files to the Internet for both is a cinch via my small laptop. Many of my shots are regularly cropped and beautifully blown up to A4 for printing and portrait painting.Yes I would do exactly the same again!

Leon Z Newman says:
5 August 2011

Aaaagh. My local camera club is just the same with a probable 40/60 split Nikon/Canon with a few Olympus & Sony thrown in. It is similar in the PC/Mac world. There isn’t an answer. However there are several using the Canon G11 which is only the cost of a decent lens and producing excellent results. I have small hands and the Canon Rebel (400 – 600) range suits me. I think this is as good a reason as any. My best friend uses a Nikon!
Basically the photographic art lays more with the photographer than the equipment.

Canon has to win hands down – at least as far as Compact cameras are concerned – since they are re-introducing viewfinders

James says:
5 August 2011

I too have a 7D. Excellent, very capable camera body, chosen instead of 5d MkII for newer more useable technology, although ultimate Image Quality is stronger on the full frame 5D.

I still have my Canon 350D and my 35mm EOS 3. And another EOS somewhere from before that. Clearly for me the Canon lenses are the reason for sticking with Canon bodies. Always invest in glass…A ten year old decent lens is still a decent lens. A 10 year old Digital camera, if you can find one, is ancient history (my 20-35 year old 35mm’s are still good though…)

That said, I have a number of 35mm Nikons with a range of Nikon lenses. Trouble is, only top line Nikon DSLRs autofocus with the older lenses, so it was simply easier to stick with Canon (Canon changed their lens ranges many years back – FD to EF/EF-S but it’s not a real life issue) and I think, for a while at least, their higher end DSLRs were stronger, while Nikon won in the lower/mid ranges.

So, ultimatley, you stick with your collection of glass.

Tell you where Canon does win hands down though, my compact Canon S95 that I got a year back is an absolute dream. Far better than you expect a compact to be in terms of IQ, features and enjoyment to use. And superior to my wife’s Nikon S8000, which is a good camera for snaps, rather than a great camera full stop like the S95.

Malcolm says:
5 August 2011

Other brands are available.

I’m puzzled by johnt’s comments on Photoshop Elements compatibility.
When I changed to Windows 7 I upgraded from v4 to v5 which is fully compatible. I now also have v6 but rarely use it, only when I need the few extra functions, as it is significantly slower.

Mr Phun-Gi says:
6 August 2011

Nikon; Quality and reliabillity as well as great performance. I too stated with a “Box Brownie” (actually a 127) progressing on through various stages to Nikon SLR then DSLR.
Strength is almost impossible to believe, One Nikon decended Snowdon quicker than me and only suffered a cracked fiilter and bent filter holder. A friend’s Canon dropped from waist was irrepairable.
Keep up the good work Nikon, Canon users will convert in time, new users will invest in the best.

Leon Z Newman says:
25 August 2011

Well the new Sony NEX 7 can evidently take either Canon or Nikon lenses with an adaptor. 24 Mpix in a rangefinder size camera – WoW.
So it doesn’t matter which you prefer any more….. 🙂