Which camera to buy – Nikon or Canon? These are two good camera companies and at the time of their first purchase this is one of the commonest questions asked across forums. Before answering the question, let me first get into a bit of history.
Nikon started manufacturing cameras in the first half of the twentieth century. The company was founded way back in 1917. The camera models and lenses were heavily influenced by Zeiss. It is said that the name Nikon itself originated from the Zeiss Ikon camera. Early in their life, Nikon started concentrating their efforts on SLRs. They came out with a bayonet mount for attaching the lenses in 1957. This mount is commonly called as ‘F’ mount. This mount has remained same till date except for minor changes.
First such change was with the introduction of Auto-Indexing. The AI lenses conveyed the aperture information to the camera using a ‘feeler’ tab, which was added to the periphery of the mount. The lenses which were made before this functionality are now called ‘Pre-AI’ lenses. Next change in the mount was the addition of AF screw to turn the focusing ring in the lens. The latest change has been addition of electronic contacts inside of the mounting ring for conveying lens information and also for auto-focusing of lenses with built in AF motors. Most of the Nikon lenses are compatible with most of the Nikon cameras though all the functions may not be available depending on the combination. Pre-AI lenses can break the AI tab if forcefully mounted on most of the new cameras. Do read your camera’s instruction manual for more clarification on the compatible lenses. I’ll be writing an article on Nikkor lenses and their compatibility sometimes soon.
Canon started their manufacturing few decades after Nikon and was intensely influenced by Leica cameras. They manufactured rangefinders for a long time before foraying into SLRs. Canon’s initial mount was also a bayonet mount and was called ‘FD’. With the introduction of AF cameras, Canon abandoned the FD mount and came out with ‘EF’ mount which is in use till date. All the EF lenses are compatible with their new cameras. Any lenses made with the FD mount do not work with new cameras. The Canon users in the late 1980s felt betrayed by the sudden change in the mount but Canon was clear in its objectives. They went on with their new mount and are now once again in competition with Nikon. The EF mount is about 1cm larger than Nikon’s F mount. Not that it matters, but some photographers say that this permits using larger diameter glass and so Canon now has some really fast lenses in their stable. I am not so sure about this though.
Going by what Canon did at the time of changing the mount, the Nikon users frequently boast that they can use even the oldest Nikkor lens on their camera easily but not so with Canon. To me this is absurd. Why should one try to use an old Canon lenses (FD mount) when the new ones are so good? Canon and Nikon are now both very popular companies with quite a huge product line. There are lots and lots of compatible lenses and cameras available. So forget what happened with Canon then and move on. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time when Nikon also decides to change its mount. Nikon-1 mount was an effort in that direction.
(Closed Window – clicked on Nikon Df customized with a focusing screen suitable for manual focusing. Nikon Df is a digital replica of old cameras and I find it very attractive.)
I use Nikon. When I bought my first camera it happened to be a Nikon. It was not a choice but the only camera body which was available in a local shop near my home. When I purchased my next few lenses, they were obviously meant to be used with my Nikon camera. Later I changed my camera body and bought another Nikon body which supported my existing lenses. This cycle has been continuing since then. I also have Nikon speedlights and few other accessories meant for Nikon. Come to think of it, I could have very well bought a Pentax as my first camera and now I would have been a Pentax user following the same path. When one buys a camera – Nikon or Canon or any other manufacturer, it is a whole system that gets built around it.
I started this article with Nikon and Canon but now Pentax has also crept in. There are many other good camera companies too apart from Nikon and Canon. I am talking about Nikon and Canon since these are the most common choices faced by first time buyers, but that does not in any way indicate that the other companies are not good.
Being a Nikon user, some of the things that I like from Canon –
- The white colored lens bodies. I guess that they would not get as hot as Nikon’s long lenses under the sun. Canon’s sales have also been high in the last decade, so one can expect decent number of used Canon lenses becoming available for purchase.
- From what I have heard, the AF point in Canon turns green when focused. This can be a big help with manual focus lenses. Nikon has the green indicator dot in one corner which is weird.
Things that I like in Nikon –
- Simple menu and ergonomic buttons (maybe since I am used to them).
- Inexpensive good quality lenses from distant past that still work. I love these ‘retro’ lenses.
- Nikon service center in my region. They do a good job.
As I mentioned earlier, for even the least serious of photographers or occasional camera user, buying a Nikon or Canon is more about opting for the whole system which can be build around them rather than the camera alone. Before buying these are some of my suggestions to consider –
- If you already have a Nikon or Canon camera or lenses, it makes sense to build on to it rather than changing the system.
- Buy the camera based on the availability of lenses and accessories in your region.
- Also consider the after-sales support available locally. Will you be able to get your camera serviced locally without any problems in case of a fault?
- If you have not yet understood, both the systems are good and both are slightly different in their approach. The end result (the photograph) however depends on the person behind the camera. Camera is just a tool in the hands of a photographer.
- Sometimes the choice of lens may guide the buying decision. If a Nikkor lens attracts you, go for Nikon camera. If Canon L series is what you have in mind, buy Canon.
- Check the features too and how well they suit your usage. A photographer doing birds or sports will need a high FPS. Someone doing parties may look for good high ISO performance.
- Plan your post-processing workflow too. Each camera manufacturer sadly has its own properietry raw format.
- Think beyond Nikon and Canon if there are other better options in your region.
- Remember that no two camera models are exactly same. Some models of Canon are better than Nikon and some models of Nikon are better than Canon. The differences are there! I am not denying that. However these are small differences and I am yet to find a person who can look at a photograph (not the exif information) and tell which company’s camera was used.
Some interesting facts –
- Some of the Canon’s initial cameras used lenses made by Nikon.
- Nikon’s last consumer SLR (FM10) was actually manufactured by Cosina.
- Kodak partnered with Nikon to produce the initial digital cameras.
- Nikon uses sensors made by other companies, most common of them is Sony.
- Sony uses lenses made with the help of Zeiss.
- Zeiss lenses on the other hand are now manufactured by Cosina.
I can go on and on with these facts. It is a world where all things converge. Forget the companies and decide your purchase based on the suggestions I have given above. Nikon and Canon are competitors and thanks to this competition, we keep getting new models with better and better features. There is innovation happening in both the companies. Each of them gets the lead for sometime and then the other comes out with something better. No, they are not the same. Nikon and Canon are different, with their some models better than the similar offerings from other. However, when it comes to purchasing a new camera, I recommend keeping in mind the various other factors outlined above, before making a decision.
It does not matter if it is a Nikon or a Canon. Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer has rightly said – “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”