Canon vs. Nikon, and other nonsense

Posted on January 8, 2015 by Jon Arnold

A few weeks ago, I emailed my readers and pleaded for some camera advice. My dilemma was this: I’m a longtime Canon user but my daughter chose Nikon when she bought her first DSLR last year. We want to share lenses, so the question became who should “switch teams” so that we can be on the same camera platform? Do we pick Canon or Nikon?

Here are the results in pretty chart format, but be sure to read my short analysis below it.

Which brand of camera do you prefer?

Canon? Nikon? Yeah it really doesn’t matter.

As you can see from the chart, Canon enjoys a slight lead over Nikon, but I can’t tell you why. I hoped the free-form comments from my survey participants would shed light on this, but for every comment I had saying Canon has better bodies, lenses, ergonomics, accessories, support, or more intuitive menu systems, I had one saying the same thing about Nikon.

Somewhere in a parallel universe, Nikon has a lead over Canon for equally unknowable reasons. They’re both awesome apparently.

Here’s what the data suggest to me: if you’re in the market for a first rate DSLR camera, your best option will likely be a Canon or a Nikon. But don’t just flip a coin. Go to a camera store and see which one feels or even smells better. Then pick one, and never look back.

A better question: DSLR or Mirrorless?

This was the unexpected take-away from my little survey. While the Sony and Olympus crowds were comparatively small, they were a passionate lot, regaling tales of glory all thanks to their new-fangled mirrorless cameras of tomorrow. I’m not saying I’m ready to run out and buy one — I’m not — but I am now highly interested in understanding how the mirrorless camera experience compares with that of the venerable DSLR.

Until I know more about mirrorless cameras, I’m going to postpone my decision on the original Canon-vs-Nikon dilemma.

Do you have any firsthand experience on DSLR vs mirrorless? If so, do tell…


  • Karsten Bruun Qvist

    I have both a Nikon 800, with a bunch of lenses, and Fuji X-E1 + X-T1, with 3 lenses. I love both systems, but honestly since I got the Fuji cameras, they are the ones I use the most, and the ones I pick for travel. With the two Fuji cameras, mounted with different lenses, I’m well covered, and their low light performance is pretty amazing :-)

    • Rosli Shirlin

      I tried the X-T1 and couldn’t agree more….low light performance is superb although focusing hunts in some lenses.

      • John Gilbert

        Rosli, what lenses do you use on your Fuji X-T1

    • Neil Gratton

      The Fuji’s look nice … if I didn’t already have a Pentax Q7 I’d probably have chosen one as my travel camera.

  • Muhammad Farooqi

    wow.. that’s great. i own Canon. and I am happy to see i’ve more gredes 48+% lovely.

    I own another canon point-n-shoot that’s not interchangeable lens camera, but with zoom one. I use to take normal pictures with my PS (PowerShot SX40 HS) is super and cool camera with 800mm+ zoom. and with no fear of shutter count.

    I know in mirrorless camera’s will do have same -shutter count less advantage. otherwise i haven’t used any yet.

  • Andreas Zeevaert

    longtime canon fanboy, recently bought my first mirrorless, a sony. and to be true, i love it: small, lightweighted, less conspicuous and fun to use. since i got the sony i only use my canon in studio, or when i want to look a little more professional ;-) and i can use my canon-gass with an adapter on the e-mount. because thats the thing: there´s not much good and reasonable-priced glass for the sony e-mount.

    • Jon Arnold

      Andreas, do you lose any functionality of the canon lens when you put it on your sony?

  • Gary

    Been 40 yrs. a Canon man, but your advice is sound; pick the one that’s right for YOU. With computer-designed and produced lenses, the differences, if any, are moot. It’s the body you need to get to know.

  • Carrie

    I own Canon EOS T3i and PowerShot SX30! I’m looking forward a new camera PowerShot SX60 HS and I’m gonna sell my old Canon PowerShot SX30. By the way that’s great most popular Canon! Thumb up

  • Robsshots

    I own the Olympus OMD-1 and love it. Lightweight, has most of the features of a regular sized monster, lenses are compact and outstanding. Much easier to hike with, all their lenses are interchangeable, and I’ve done prints as large as 30 X 40 with outstanding results. And I’ve always gotten great customer service from Olympus. To get two cameras and share the lenses, you might want to consider the OMD-1 and the OMD-5 as your combo cameras. Cherry pick the lenses – the reviews make it pretty clear which ones are outstanding. I am now saving my bucks for their 9-18MM; an awesome wide angle for superb landscape work. The 5 is way less costly than the 1 and carries much of the same water…

  • Pierre de Milly

    I recently hesitated a lot between a Nikon D7200 and a Fuji X-T1 as my first real camera (I’ve been borrowing my girlfriend’s D90 for a few years) and I had the chance to try both of them extensively during a full day of going out and taking pictures.
    I finally decided to go for the D7200. While the mirrorless Fuji X-T1 is gorgeous, very light and practical and a pleasure to use thanks to physical dials, I noticed it has very poor battery life (a few hours) and for some reason, a short lag before actually taking a picture. It’s perfect for portraits of composed scenes but I just can’t shoot moments or unexpected scenes fast enough.

    • Jon Arnold

      Yeah lag and poor battery life would be deal breakers for me.

  • Jensen Chua

    Canon for me… none.

  • Jackson Ng

    I vote for Olympus & Panasonic mirrorless camaras. I used to have Canon but those things with the lens was killing my shoulders. Same image quality a 1/3 the weight!

  • kadajawi

    I think those numbers come from people who only know their own brand/are used to it.

    I own a Pentax, and love it to death. Tried Canon… while I like their point and shoot offerings I hate their DSLRs. On the low end they just feel cheap and nasty and like they would break any time, on the higher end they are so big and heavy that I can’t see myself using one for more than a few minutes. The interface, button placement etc. confuses me no end. Might I eventually get used to it? Yes, probably. The way one can get used to daily dialysis. It’s just bad. Nikon is better, but Pentax easily beats them. I find Pentax simply the most intuitive… It’s the fastest system to learn. The build quality is also vastly superior… You can get something that feels like a 7D or 5D and is just as solid and weather sealed (if not better) but has the size of a 700D. Sony’s DSLTs are IMHO second. They are pretty decent.

    As for mirrorless… I think the market is just too diverse. I really like Fuji, like the XPro1. Really nice to use, maybe a bit confusing at times, but it feels like what I imagine a Leica feels like. It’s just pure fun. It makes you want to take photos, even if there is no motive. DSLRs feel more like a tool.

    I really have high hopes for the Samsung NX1. It has been described as a mini 1D X in terms of build quality. Image quality is good, performance is very good (there is no delay in the menus at all). It is much more advanced than anything Canon, Nikon, Pentax etc. produce. 4K video with the most advanced codec in the world. An EVF that is probably the best there is… No lag. Sadly I couldn’t try it yet.

  • Laserheart

    Mirrorless is the way to go. The Sony’s essentially allow you to attach both the Nikon and Canon lenses, and they are supposed to be incredible (not first-hand experience, but several people have told me that).

    Wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds?

    • Karsten Bruun Qvist

      I think you can attach just about any lens to any mirrorless, with a suitable adapter. I have used 40 year old Super Takumar lenses with my Fujis (and also various newer nikon lenses :-)

    • Jon Arnold

      Do you lose any functionality of the lens when you do this? (It almost seems too good to be true.)

      • Neil Gratton

        Yes, depending on the adapter you either have no- or slow- autofocus when you put Canikon glass on the A7.

  • Thomas Gaida

    I think you should compare ACTUAL camera models over a brand. Nikon builds incredible cameras but with their 24 MP APC sensors you are facing a bunch of new “issues” (dynamic range, sharpness). The same is obviously true for current mirrorless cameras with identical sensors.
    As for the choice between mirrorless and DSLR I think it’s a question of how you use the camera. The automatic programs on mirrorless cameras seem better than on DSLR. But the handling is much better on DSLR cameras if you prefer non-automatic shooting.
    Current technolgy has maxed out and “improvements” are focusing on minor handling and automatic issues and also video (which opens another discussion).
    I’m working for a big camera brand in retail stores and get to see and test all new models, also from other brands, and get a lot of feedback from my customers.

    • Jon Arnold

      GREAT point re: looking at models over brands!

  • Neil Gratton

    The results tell you more about what’s popular, than what’s good. It’s hard to judge between systems unless you’ve spent a *significant* amount of time with more than one. (If you try another brand for a short time – it will almost inevitably feel ‘wrong’ because you’re not used to it – menus, button placement, etc.)

    While there are some absolute measures (DXOmark for sensors, for example), what is ‘best’ also varies according to individual needs.

    • Jon Arnold

      Wow Canon to Pentax…there has to be a good story there! :) Seriously, what prompted that?

      • Neil Gratton

        In brief … Canon’s sensor haven’t improved enough to keep up with the opposition (except in fast autofocus, which isn’t important to what I like to shoot) so I looked at switching brands as my body and most of my lenses wanted to be upgraded anyway. Sony sensors – used in Nikon, Pentax and of course Sony are great. Pentax is better value and easier/more fun to use than Nikon. Sony is way overpriced. No one outside Canon/Nikon/Sony/Pentax have an adequate range of glass for professional use (IMHO).

        Pentax matches or beats equivalent Canon or Nikon bodies in ease of use, build quality, image quality, value for money. The lens selection is more than adequate and better value. The only area it really falls short is in autofocus – but as I don’t shoot sports the K-3′s autofocus is up to my needs.

  • daghene

    I’ve always wondered Canon was THE system because here it’s the most used one.
    When I started taking photography more seriously I realized Nikon is way better in terms of technology, expecially cause they use Sony sensors, and Canon still puts some super old stuff and concepts even in their higher-end models it’s just sad.

    That being said: the Sony A7S beats both the MK3 and the Nikon D810.

    It’s just better, and lighter, and you can adapt the glass from Nikon/Canon. Also, the performance and video recording capabilities beats the MK3 hands down even though that seems to be THE choice for freelance or small studios if you’re not getting Reds or more specialized stuff.

    Also, staying with the DSLR’s, the Pansonic GH4 beats both again.

    I’m pretty sure that if you asks that question the ones replying are probably the fans but if you dig deeper into comparisons from professionals they all seem to agree, or are switching to, the new models I mentioned(either the A7S or even A7R regarding Sony, the A7 MK2 is out now too).

    I still haven’t decided which one to pick myself, since I’m in the market to upgrade my old Canon EOS 20D, but it really seems hard times are coming for Canon and Nikon to hold their market shares with just their names.

    • Jon Arnold

      Thanks for the input. I think eventually Canon and Nikon will go mirrorless. I just find it hard to imagine that they’ll still have mirrors flapping around inside their cameras 10 years from now.

      • daghene

        Yep and that’s probably because mirrorless were worse for something until the recent days(but I’m not sure why: I know my models but I miss something about the whole thing) but seriously, if you check the reviews of the A7S, A7R and even the GH4(still a mirror camera but better) you’ll be blown away!

        Even Serge Ramelli, which is an AWESOME photographer, admitted he’s using his Sony A7S/R 100% of the time now. There’s also Jason Lanier who’s actually a Sony advertiser and I don’t like that so much but there’s a reason for that – his work is amazing and the Sony helps him a lot!

        Check his video “Why a pro photographer abandoned Nikon for Sony” or something like that, he explains some of the very basic features of that camera that really makes you wonder why we’re still using DSLR’s.

  • Tom Ramsey

    Totally marketing

  • George Lenz

    I saw a video from Gary Fong comparing the Canon 7D Mark II to the Sony A6000. They were comparing the focusing systems. In my mind the A6000 was better.

  • TehObLiVioUs

    I do like my new t5i

    but before that I used a Nikon P510 point&shoot (w/ manual mode & 42x optical zoom: so almost as great as a DSLR) and got really comfortable with that

    but now same thing with my canon t5i, even tho I only got it on Christmas I’m still comfortable with it but still learning

    So yeah really both are good

  • Nick Robinson

    I’ve had my Sony Nex-c3 for 3 years now, and though its not a “high end” mirrorless, it sure performs like it. Good low light performance, 16mp APS-C sensor, fast shutter speed (5.5 fps) (comparable to a lot of high end DSLR) (better than the Canon 6D) and probably the best things about the mirrorless camera’s is the short flange distance. It allows you to use many adapters to use basically any lens you want. You can even get adapters with auto focus. I’ve been using an adapter and a Canon 100-300 f/5.6 L for sports and nature and if you aren’t ready to switch from your dslr, using a mirrorless as a light weight backup to your dslr would be a great idea

  • Max BGI

    I prefer an option to have Sony, Canon and Nikon