Canon vs. Nikon: is one line cheaper?

Canon vs. Nikon: the age-old question. Like Mac vs. Pc or Toyota vs. Honda...you're either in one camp or the other. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Canon vs. Nikon: the age-old question. Like Mac vs. Pc or Toyota vs. Honda...you're either in one camp or the other. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

One of the themes that emerges out of all the comments I receive about Canon vs. Nikon camera articles is really about price: photographers agonize over making the ‘right’ decision when it comes to choosing their first DSLR, knowing that it’s a bunch of money to lay out. Even as a new DSLR owner, they also know  that this is a BIG decision with implications down the line: once you plunge into either the Canon or Nikon pool, it’s going to get expensive to switch. So what should they do?

I remember back in the Pleistocene era when, as a young amateur shooter, I bought my first SLR.  I struggled with the same dilemma: which way to go? My decision was made easier by the fact that at the time, Canon’s pro-grade SLRs and lenses were all a good bit cheaper than the Nikon line, which seemed to be riding on its reputation and was thus charging a premium for its admittedly-fine products. I went with Canon and never regretted the decision. (Seven years later, I switched to Nikon, because the newspaper I was working for was a Nikon shop and all of the big pool lenses were Nikon.)

So this got me thinking: is there any compelling price difference between the two lines now? I knew of a few instances where the price differential existed, but what about overall? Will one line or the other, Canon vs. Nikon, save you significant dollars over the long term?

What follows is a bunch of head-to-head price comparisons between Canon and Nikon, using comparable cameras and lenses. The comparisons will not be perfect since camera and lens features between the two lines are not identical. You may think a different camera or lens would be a better one to rate and if so, please let me know in the comments; I’ll add any suggestions that make sense.

[For this article, all prices are taken from the current B&H online price list. Prices are all in U.S. dollars, so you’ll have to make your own adjustments outside the U.S. Also, B&H sells both ‘USA’ products and ‘Imported’ versions of the same item, which is about how the repair warranties inside the U.S. will work/not work. I’ve used the ‘USA’ prices below.]

CAMERA BODIES

Canon T3i Camera Body      … ………$799.95

Nikon D5100 Camera Body ………….$799.95

[Here at the low end, they seem to be watching each other closely. They just want to get you in through that DSLR door.]

Canon 60D Camera Body……………$  999.99

Nikon D7000 Camera Body…………$1199.95

 

Canon 7d Camera Body ………………$1699.00

Nikon D300s Camera Body ………….$1599.95

 

Canon EOS Mark IV n …………………$4999.95

Nikon D3S Camera Body ……………..$5199.95

[Conclusion: The Canon cameras are a slightly better value. (Note that the Canon 7d, listed here at 100 bucks more than the Nikon D300s, has 50% more megapixels on its sensor—18 vs 12.3.]

 

Lenses, lenses and more lenses: can you feel the money sucking right out of your wallet?

Lenses, lenses and more lenses: can you feel the money sucking right out of your wallet?

LENSES

Nikon AF-S 17-55 f2.8 zoom ……………$1799.00

Canon 16-35 EF f2.8 II  zoom        …….$1699.00

 

Nikon AF-S 24-70 f2.8  zoom ………..$1769.00

Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 zoom ……..$1399.00

[This is a whopping difference in price for what amounts to the same lens. Wow.]

Canon 70-200 f2.8 zoom IS II ……….$2399.00

Nikon 70-200 f2.8 zoom G ED VRII $2399.00

Canon 70-200 f2.8 non-IS zoom …….$1419.95

[I include this lens because it’s the lens I use. I’ve never missed the lack of image stabilization and don’t think the feature is worth almost $1000 more. Unfortunately, there’s not a Nikon equivalent any more for this item.]

Canon 300mm f2.8 IS II USM lens …$6999.00

Nikon 300mm f2.8 ED VR II ………….$5899.00

[On this lens, the Nikon is the big winner. I don’t know how Canon justifies the price differential on this item.]

Canon 50mm f2.5 Compact Macro …..$289.00

Nikon 60mm f2.8 Macro  AF …………….$559.95

[I’ve owned and used both of these lenses. Again, I don’t see what the price difference is about here. Both work fine, but $270?]

[7/3/11: Reader Joey Bamburg (see comments below) points out that the Nikon 60mm is a true macro, focusing to 1:1, while the Canon does not get as close, only getting down to 1:2 focus magnification. This may indeed account for the price difference. Another example of the slightly different feature sets between the lines, sometimes justifying a price difference. Truth is, I’ve owned and used both of these listed lenses and honestly didn’t realize there was a performance difference. Guess I haven’t been doing much super-close work!]

Canon 50mm f1.4 …………………………….$419.00

Nikon 50mm f1.4 ……………………………..$459.95

 

Nikon 24mm f2.8 Lens ……………………..$359.95

Canon 24mm f2.8 Lens ……………………..$359.00

Some of the price differences seem to be feature-driven, where Canon or Nikon thinks their new camera or lens leapfrogs over its competitor, allowing them to charge a bit more. But other places the differences are harder to justify.

Based on the equipment I actually use, I save a lot of money by being a Canon shooter…overall, it looks like the Canon line is for the most part still the better value. I have been a long-term user of both lines of gear and can tell you that there is virtually no difference in the quality of your final images with either line: they’re both excellent. But if I were a serious young shooter who’s hooked on photography and sees a lifetime of purchases ahead of me, I would be leaning towards saving some cash and going with the Canon.

Ok, let the brickbats begin! (I’m wearing my helmet.)

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

46 Comments on "Canon vs. Nikon: is one line cheaper?"

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  1. This is great if your pictures are about money!

  2. Ann says:

    Hello,

    I find this debate always so amusing. I am currently shooting weddings with a Canon T3I. My boyfriend is shooting with a Canon 60D. My sister drolls over all the features and mega pixles there little Nikon from 3-4 years ago doesn’t have. I’ve played with her Nikon and I felt like the Zoom was better suited for a lefty. Because of the weight and grip difference in the T3I and 60D my boyfriend and I can’t switch cameras cause we find the other awkward to hold, but we switch lenses mid wedding.

    I have nothing against Nikon except my sister uses it and I’ll go to Canon for that reason alone!

  3. Mr Jobs says:

    Thanx a lot for the info!!! didn’t know the difference could be this big either 😉

  4. Greg says:

    When I bought my 60D last fall, one of the factors was people I know with lenses. I don’t have the cash for a 70-200L (with or without IS), but I have friends who have them and have been able to borrow them on occasion. That alone has made my choice of Canon the right one for me.

  5. That’s an interesting point, thanks, Greg.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Gordon. I guess on some level, most of us have to always consider the pocketbook, don’t we?

  7. Enivea says:

    You’re a brave man Andrew! 🙂
    Just before receiving this, I was admiring this – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cliccath/5868345087/in/faves-enivea/ and so then checked out about the equipment used. Not a lens you covered, but then again, you couldn’t do them all!
    I like the point that Ann made – it’s about how the camera feels in the hand and ease of use. I’m a lefty and appreciate the point she raised.

  8. I’m a left-eyed shooter, and it was years before I realized that everyone didn’t shoot with the left eye! It used to make a difference when we hand-cranked our cameras between exposures.

  9. Cornell says:

    RE: “Note that the Canon 7d, listed here at 100 bucks more than the Nikon D300s, has 50% more megapixels on its sensor—18 vs 12.3”

    Are you saying that the number of megapixels should be an overriding factor. I though the Nikon it over Canon with high ISOs.

    I am and have been a Canon user for 30 years. I would trade some of my 7D’s megapixels for high ISO without noise in high ISOs.

  10. Joey Bamburg says:

    I would like to point out something about the 2 macro lenses. The Canon isn’t technically a macro lens. According to the B&H specs the Canon has 0.5x magnification Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:2, whereas the Nikon has 1x magnification Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:1 which is true macro. That is probably where the price difference comes in.

  11. Huh. Thanks, Joey, interesting. You may indeed be right. I never noticed that in actually using both lenses. I would have used the Nikon 55mm macro for the comparison (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/36984-GREY/Nikon_1442_Macro_55mm_f_2_8_Micro.html) but it’s an old manual focus model so I went with the 60 macro. But notice that Nikon charges a LOT more for even this old relic: $419.00!!
    So either way the analogy still holds up, I think. But good point.

  12. Cornell,
    I guess I was trying to point out that this was one of the camera comparisons that’s a bit hard because the feature sets between the two don’t match up evenly. When it came out, the 7D was a bit revolutionary for something else: the high quality HD video, very similar to the much more expensive 5D, which it could produce. (I know a photographer who shoots Frontline video stories, all with a 7D.) Megapixels are not the be-all and end-all, but 50% more pixels, when the lenses are of equal quality, is a big deal.

  13. Anne Reese says:

    I’ve observed that Nikon’s generally a bit more pricey than Canon judging from online and physical camera stores I’ve looked at and visited. Probably because of some differences in features?

  14. David Joachim says:

    I bought a Nikon 50mm 1.4 a little over a year ago. I thought $300 stung a little bit then. Can it have gone up $!50 since then? Ouch!!

  15. Joey Bamburg says:

    Wow that is a ridiculous price for that old thing! Oh well I use the Tamron 90mm 2.8 anyway, and it is the same price for both mounts 😉

  16. Greg says:

    Third party lenses pretty much equalize the cost equation if you’re interested in using them. They are frequently cheaper than the camera branded for comparable models. I am using my dad’s old Soligor 70-220mm from his Pentax on my Canon with an adaptor. The macro capability is excellent. I have to take my time since it is all manual, but I’m very happy with the images I’m getting. I won’t need a Canon brand or real mount macro for a while because of this old lens.

  17. marcus says:

    As long as you’re willing to compare the 16-35 and 17-55, then the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 (no vr) is probably a good comparison lens to the Canon 70-200 without VR.

  18. Thanks, Marcus, you’re right. I didn’t think to look for the 80mm end of the focal length when I was setting up my comparisons. Here’s the link at B&H: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/124669-USA/Nikon_1986_AF_Zoom_Nikkor_80_200mm_f_2_8D.html
    I will say I used to have this lens, and it’s old-school, nasty and slow AF. The Canon that I have now is much, much better and smoother on the AF. But it’s a good comparison.

  19. No, I’m not. They’re cheaper for a reason, in almost every case: you get what you pay for with these things. I know it IS a pocketbook issue, but I like to think about lenses as true investments in my photographs: you really need and should try and buy the best you can if you’re serious about your photography.
    OK, sorry, just reread your post all the way to the end. Glad you’re getting some great use out of that old piece of glass!

  20. Well, no. That really the point of the article, no? I think you must question the value here since the glass quality between the two is virtually identical.

  21. Hey Joey, I went and pulled out my macro after your comment earlier. Right on the barrel, I can rack it out to something that is marked ‘1:1’. I looks like 1:1 when I focus in close on a penny. So I’m not sure those specs are correct…just saying….

  22. David, That’s the current B&H price. Sounds like you bought at the right time!

  23. Joey Bamburg says:

    Something else I noticed is you list an f/2.8 lens but the link goes to an f’2.5 lens. Maybe a completely different lens than the one you have. Or maybe B&H has all the specs wrong, not sure. Anyway not trying to argue or anything, just trying to figure out why there is such a huge price difference!

  24. Joey Bamburg says:

    I think you may have inadvertently linked to a different lens. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=12311&is=USA&A=details&Q=
    That is listed as an accessory to the lens linked to which converts it to 1:1 magnification. Also makes up the price difference between the 2.

  25. Great catch, Joey! No, I have the 2.5 lens; it’s a typo I’ll go fix in the article. I’ve never seen this ‘life size’ accessory before but I guess that settles it. Maybe that does account for the price difference, I’ll make a note of that in the article. Thanks for your help!

  26. Tor Ivan says:

    You should have included the 28-300. think you can have almost 3 nikons for 1 canon 🙂

  27. It’s a lens I don’t know anything about in either line, but I’ll go take a look. Thanks!

  28. Jeremy says:

    Andrew- for the first lens, Canon has a 17-55 f2.8 lens for $1,120, but it is a crop-sensor only lens. I don’t know about the Nikon equivalent you mentioned. Same thing for Canon’s 60mm f2.8 macro (true macro at 1:1, crop sensor only) offered at $449. Canon still comes out ahead (rather significantly on the 17-55), but they may not be valid comparisons based on crop-sensor versus full-frame.

  29. These things are always tricky to set up. Since so few DSLRs shoot full frame at this point, I’m not sure it’s much of an issue. But thanks for the input–definitely something I hadn’t considered.

  30. Susie Gleeson says:

    Great article—very useful information. I tend to agree with you that you get more bang for your buck with Canon. Also, in this economy; it simply makes sense to save money anyway you can, but still retain the value.

  31. Tafelzwerk says:

    I don’t think you’re right with your comparison between Canon 60D, Nikon D7000, Canon 7D and Nikon D300s. I think the gap between Nikon’s D7000 and D300s is very small, a lot smaller than the gap between Canon’s 60D and 7D. I’ve read some articles about a direct comparison between D7000 and 7D which is, I think, okay at this point.

    Simply take a look at this page and you know that I mean: http://snapsort.com/compare/Canon_EOS_7D-vs-Nikon_D7000

    These are just the technical facts about both – the 7D’s advantage is, more or less, the speed. But when it comes down to image quality, dynamics, iso – the D7000 is heading a little bit.

    All in all I think most prices are fair and nevertheless to high. You should also consider third-party-lenses to see the gap between them and the original lenses.

    Greetings from Berlin! 😉

  32. Andy says:

    Very interresting comparison Andrew, I have allways used Nikon but recently stepped over to Canon. For me it doesnt really matter wich system I use, but got a great price for a 16-35 2.8L USM II and a 24-70 2.8 L USM. My local photostore made me an offer I couldnt refuse 😉

    Nice blog by the way, found it just now!

    Andy / Swedenj

  33. Thanks Andy. Those are two very nice lenses that you mentioned.

  34. Hey Andy,

    Since leaving WWL-TV I have been using entry level Nikon stuff and now am looking to upgrade. Was primarily thinking of the D700 and not the Canon line because I would be able to use my current lenses. NOT! Since I would almost be making a fresh start I am now looking at Canon as well. The Canon 5d verses the Canon 5d Mark II . Do you see any reason why the Mark II (appox $2500) is worth the extra bucks? (used 5d approx $1000)That price is body only. Or should I wait for the Mark III to come out and get the Mark II when the price drops? Or go Nikon? Lots of questions – sorry about that.

    Thanks for the help,
    Bob

  35. Hey Bob, good to hear from you. I haven’t studied the differences between the 5d and 5d Mark II in any detail, but the biggest difference I know of is in the CCd sensor: the new camera has almost twice the megapixels (21 vs. 12 MP). You’ll find the newer camera will be much better in low light too–that’s one of the biggest advances taking place across the board with newer camera models. My only hesitation about the old 5d (used) would be whether you’re sure it’s really in top-notch shape. You don’t want to end up needing servicing soon after plunking down your money. I would suggest you also take a look at the Canon 7d. It’s a great camera, a newer design. It doesn’t have the full-frame sensor of the 5d but it’s got a MUCH better AF setup, along with other nice features. Good luck!

  36. DT says:

    Great website…I’m debating between the Canon 7D and Nikon D7000 as my first DSLR and am leaning more toward the canon, especially considering the eventual price of the lenses. But do you have any idea which camera is actually better as far as integration / easy-of-use with imovie on the mac? I have imovie 6.0.3 if that matters on a macbook pro bought in 2007.

    I also intend to shoot some video, so any input as to which camera is better for that might be good to know too…

  37. I would pick a 7D over a D7000. But it’s more money. You won’t find any significant difference between the two as far as intergration with Imovie, they’ll both do it. You might want to check out a free file converter, Mpeg Streamclip, for optimizing your files before bringing them into the video editing software. Cuts down on your render time significantly.

  38. Andy N says:

    I would also choose the Canon 7D over D7000, IF you plan to film alot, and especially action and slowmotion. The 7D can shoot 720p in 60 (59,94fps) wich can be nice. Also check out “the 180 degree rule” for fps/shutter and “Line skipping”. to make the most out of your movies. A good thing would also be to customize a picturestyle if you are going to edit the movies and need latitude for color correction. I think the Canon 60D would also be a cheeper and good choice. Both D7000 and 7D are good cameras. In my opinon.

    🙂

    Andy N

  39. Seb says:

    Sorry, but reading your article, I don’t see a price difference between the two… Wherever you find one is when comparing apples and oranges as far as quality is concerned. The 24-70 is the perfect example (And comparing 16-35 to 17-55, are you kidding me ?)

    Both lines are virtually identical in prices when you compare what is comparable. But the thing is : they are not always comparable. There are gaps in each line that the other line hasn’t.

    I went with Nikon because the family already had Nikons, so it was easier to exchange lenses, but otherwise, just check the line that seems to offer what you are looking for.

  40. Soe Hla Min says:

    This is a great article but made me even more confused.

    I bought Canon 600D 3 months ago together with 18-135 kit lens and Sigma 10-20.
    But soon I found out that 600D grip is quite small and feel awkward for my big hands. And also the lack of top LCD screen makes it difficult to check your settings. I do not use the back LCD often, so the only way is to look through the viewfinder.

    The reason I chose Canon in the first place was the Canon line is much cheaper for long run, it has an swivel LCD screen which is great for self portrait while travelling alone, and it can make 60p videos.

    Now I am on the verge of upgrading to 60D. Also at the same time, I found out that Nikon colors are more vibrant and dynamics significantly. I really admire the Nikon colors and now looking at D7000 also.

    Since you have used both Canon & Nikon, you will know very well about the difference of results in color rendition and dynamics. Can you please describe any difference if you can point out any in this aspect?
    If it is not for the price, which one would you prefer between 60D and D7000?

    Is there any way to adjust Canon picture style to match with the warm colors of Nikon?

  41. Soe Hla Min says:

    Oh I forgot to mention about the built in wireless flash capabilities.
    For Canon 60D and 600D it is built in, but I will have to buy another accessory for Nikon to have that option.

  42. The differences in color rendition are really more ‘style’ than substance. You can easily adjust either in Photoshop
    to match the other, depending upon which you like better.

  43. Soe Hla Min says:

    Thank you for your reply.

    I am not very much familiar with post processing in photoshop.
    That’s why, since a long time ago, I have been looking for canon Picture Style that can match Nikon color rendition.
    It will be so great if you would write an article on how to match the color for those 2 camera lines.

  44. Diana says:

    I am looking into making my first SLR purchase. I am debating between Canon’s t3i & Nikon’s d5100. I have read so many blogs & each time that I think I’ve made a decision, I read something else that makes me go back to the other. As far as image quality with these two, what is your opinion on which is better? Are they really like comparing apples to apples? Thank you.

  45. These are very similar machines from a quality standpoint. There are minor differences in features and how they handle color, as I state in the piece. You really need to try them out and see which one fits your personality better. Good luck!

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