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Canon or Nikon? A beginners guide.

I was inspired to write this after reading a question in a photography group I’m a member of on Facebook.

The question posed was a simple one: "I’m looking to buy my first “decent” camera… Canon or Nikon?”

I’m sure the question was asked completely innocently and naively, which is partly what prompted my response. But it does require an answer, and an informed one at that. And if that was the type of question you yourself may have been wanting to ask on a group or forum somewhere, then this post may save you wading through the dozens of answers that would follow a question like that.


It’s as simple as that.

Being an avid Nikon-shooter, or Canon-shooter will lend most people in those groups the opinion that their chosen brand of DSLR is perhaps superior to the other, and the majority of photographers will almost always end up in one camp or the other. There is a level of friendly banter that comes with choosing a side, which can often escalate into more unfriendly (and completely unnecessary) realms, but again, IT DOES NOT MATTER. And any serious photographer who cares more about the art than the gear, the act of capturing that moment than being an elitist or fanboy, will agree that it is not what you shoot with that is important.

And why stop at Nikon and Canon? Sony, Olympus, Pentax, to name just a few, all make fine cameras with great specification and features.

But it doesn’t matter.

Focusing solely on Nikon and Canon again, their models at all levels, pro, amateur, entry level, are all more or less the same. Realistically, there just isn’t much in it to call one “better” than the other. One may do specific things slightly better than the other, but it’s swings and roundabouts; certainly at the amateur and prosumer levels.

Unless you have the means to be able to own both Nikon and Canon bodies and a range of lenses for each, you’ll nine-times-out-of-ten stick with whichever brand you choose for the rest of your photographic days. So if you’re just starting out and looking for your first DSLR the choice you make will likely (but not always) determine which brand you’ll remain loyal to, if only due to the fact that switching brands means a fair outlay of cash to replace all that glass and however many bodies you may own. And don’t forget those all-important branded camera-straps and accessories…

Personally I’d advocate Nikon; it’s what I shoot with, I know the reliability and quality of their cameras. I can vouch for them. But by the same token, there’s nothing wrong with Canon. Some of the best shots I’ve ever seen have been taken by photographers shooting Canon. And Sony. And Olympus… And… you get the idea…

Nikon? Canon? How about Pentax or Sony? Image from Techradar

The person who posed the question had already decided they wanted a “decent” camera; that is to say, they wanted to move up from using their iPhone or Fujifilm compact camera or whatever to a DLSR and so lets assume they wanted the camera to be able to do specific things, to “take better pictures”…

(Okay, admittedly maybe they were looking at bridge cameras, but for arguments sake lets's assume they weren't. Bridge cameras are, as far as I'm concerned, a waste of time.)

Firstly, you need to set a budget. How much do you want to spend on your first DSLR? There are fantastic bargains to be had on places like eBay where a feature-packed used DSLR can be picked up for a couple of hundred pounds and less. Or perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be at the other end of the scale and can afford to be spending thousands on a brand new Leica. Either way, your budget is going to be the primary factor in determining which direction you’ll go.

Secondly, get out to your nearest camera shop and try some cameras out for yourself. You can sit all day reading specs and reviews another people’s opinions online (and obviously this may help narrow things down a little) but when it comes down to it feeling the camera in your hands and having a little play around with it and hopefully being able to ask for a demonstration from a friendly sales assistant will be far more informative and worthwhile to you.

Thirdly, and finally, ask yourself “What do I want to do with this camera?” Are you willing to spend countless hours learning the controls, the settings, how to use the features of the camera? If not, then any DSLR, whatever the manufacturer, may not be for you at all. The “better pictures” we all want when we take the plunge and go for our first “proper” camera don’t just come straight out of that magic little box when we happen to point it at something pretty. It takes, time, hard work, dedication. Practice, practice, practice. If you can’t make that commitment then you might as well stick with your iPhone or point-and-shoot. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But an SLR isn't meant to be left on Auto.

And that is all there is to it. Choose a Nikon. Choose a Canon. Choose whatever camera is right FOR YOU.

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Craig Skinner Photography | Astrolandscape photography, nightscape photography and astrophotography.

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