Technology Deathmatch: Nikon vs. Canon (DSLRs)

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Good afternoon grappling fans and welcome to the inaugural Monday afternoon beat-up smackdown that is Technology Deathmatch. Coming to you live from a grimy basement deep in the bowels of Shiny Towers, sweat drips from the dank, brown-stained walls as clamours of Far-East businessmen shake fistfuls of foreign, red bills and driving the temperature to boiling point.

Headlining the event today is the much contested, much debated, much anticipated re-match grudge match that is the battle of the cameras. Yes, ladies and gentleman today it’s the big one, the shakedown, the pay off. In the blue corner with the dented spit bucket, founded in 1917, it’s the Mightiest of the Macros, the Stepper Supremo – Nikon!

And in the red corner – which used to be green but has become unrecognisable because of the coats of blood and guts – 20 years the junior, it’s the Prince of the Press Corps, the Colour King – Canon!

I’m your referee for the day and I expect a good clean fight. I don’t want to see any K-mounting, no aperture gauging and plenty of flash photography. Now, let’s get it on!

Round One – Pedigree

Both fighters are circling each other suspiciously; so aware of their respective reputations. Each has been around making lenses since the early part of the last century, both in the SLR game since around 1985 when at the time the likes of Minolta were king but it’s Nikon in with the first blow of jabs at Canon’s body in reminder of who it was that made the first DSLR in the shape of the Nikon D1 in 1999 when a 2.7-megapixel camera would set you back a cool £3,000.

Canon pushes its adversary away with its lighter, 3-megapixel, Canon D30 just one year later but it’s too late, the damage has been done. Yes, it’s been a straight arms race since then but there’s nothing says “I’m the daddy” like the claim of being the original digital camera and at the bell, the judges have this scored in Nikon’s favour.

Canon retreats incensed to the corner, it’s eyes kept fixed on its opponent, a spray of water on into the mouth and a spit into the bucket. Seconds away, round two.

Round Two – Picture Quality

With two such heavyweights in the ring, neither wants to have to go for 12 rounds. Straight away the they bring out the big guns and measure up on probably the most important category of all – picture quality.

Canon goes for the drop-kick with all the confidence of its famed colour superiority and knowledge that on some of the models it can achieve twice the saturation of the Nikons. Nikon catches its adversary by the hot shoe, mid-flight, ready for this old attack, but, no matter how much they claim that this argument is no longer valid, no matter how much they claim their days of muddied colours are gone, it’s a tough one to shake off and it’s a viscous lash to the LCD.

Noise and resolution comparisons between these two great athletes may show infinitesimal measurable discrepancies but to the human eye they are invisible. Colour saturation, however, is vital and both of them know it.

Nikon stares down, ink from its cracked screen spilling onto the canvas, struggling to stand while, merciless as ever, its old enemy delivers a swift knee to the shutter. Canon cameras have classically been far better at choosing the appropriate file sizes for the right pictures. Some JPEGs are made much bigger than others for images with a lot of information while many are made much smaller where there’s no need for maximum detail. It’s better efficiency and optimisation.

Nikon on the other hand has always gone for a less intelligent averaging approach meaning that some picture quality is lost and some files are far bigger than they need to be and all of this results in fuller SD cards with less beautiful photos and nobody likes that.

End of round two. Nikon just about crawls to its corner dragging its lens cap behind it for some serious stitching and Vaseline work.

Round Three – Equipment & Mechanics

Teeth gritted, eyes swollen, the two take the centre once more. Without a second’s pause, Canon pulls out one of its long Image Stabilised lenses, a 100-400mm, a 600/s IS and takes a giant swing right at the head of the battered Nikon, but the smaller, wide and macro specialist counters with both model lenses held high. Sparks fly across the hall as the two connect cancelling each other out.

Both were hugely popular after autofocus was picked up by photographers in the early 1990s but Canon has remained the telephoto darling and special reserve of the sports journalist press. To begin with Canon’s AF was crucially quicker with these lenses and, to this day, the majority of the press still use Canon despite the speed difference being non-existent any more.

It’s another crippling blow to Nikon, a low one, right in the rechargeable Li-ions but it’s not enough to floor this seasoned pro.

The AF speed difference was initially a result of the autofocus system employed by both makers. Canon’s AF motor lay in the lenses whereas Nikon’s was in the body. Canon changed their lens mount to accommodate the new technology making all their older lenses incompatible with their new bodies. Thousands of pounds of equipment became redundant. The users were not happy.

Nikon, however, has kept their F-mount all the way through their history and there’s no reason why Canon wouldn’t make that change to their products again. Of course, there’s only one reason why Nikon won’t do the same – they still have a principal to break. It’s not a great reason but it’s one more reason than Canon has.

It’s a crushing thwack putting a huge crack right through the plastic Canon body. Black splinters fly from the ring showering fox furs and champagne glasses of the ring-side dolled and gaudy. Nikon follows it up.

Both AF systems are not always as accurate as they could be. Sometimes, they miss but the problem is that the Canon cameras will allow you to take the shot even when they haven’t hit the lock whereas the Nikons will not. Who wants blurry pic?

Canon lens glass shatters.

Both makers have good water-sealed models but there have been complaints in the past of EOS bodies that develop sticky shutters in hot, humid environments. These may not be included in the optimum operating parameters as laid down the the manual but that doesn’t mean that people won’t be shooting in the jungle.

The Canon hot shoe buckles.

The killer blow as the bell rings, though, lies in the quality of the LCDs. Canon may shoot better colours but their LCD tends to give a flatter more inaccurate impression of the pictures you take. Oddly, this isn’t true for the compacts but it can lead to annoyances once the real shot is viewed on a computer screen.

The Canon wobbles back to his stool. End of round three.

Round Four – Usability

There’s a list as long as my arm as to why Nikons are better and easier to use than Canon DSLRs. Most of the options you need as a photographer – ISO settings, white balance, etc – are tucked away deeper in the menus, meaning less control at you finger tips when and where you need it. Nikons have a better hot shoe dead lock mechanism to keep you flash on the camera and not in pieces on the floor. They also have the magic of reset buttons to get all the settings back to how they were before you screwed them up. They also have help buttons too. It’s just a shame that both have the bloody annoying AF assist lamps.

By the end of the round, both heavyweights stand like drunken oafs given the benefit of balance only by their large waistlines and low centres of gravity. Too dazed to move, neither can make it back to their corners, hear the screams of the baying crowd or even focus – whether AF or not. I have to stop the fight.

And the winner is…

There’s a muttering amongst the judges but the surprise winner, despite all of its annoyances, despite everything is the Canon by a single point. It may be a pain to shoot with but if the colours really are still that much better, then it leaves us with no option. You take the snap in a moment, you keep the picture for a lifetime. Canon is the DSLR champion but Nikon will be back for the compacts.

That’s it from the basement of Shiny Towers today. See you next week for another Technology Deathmatch.

Related posts: Canon EOS D5 Mark II | Nikon D90

Daniel Sung

6 comments

  • Bob, I totally agree. My honest opinion is that DSLRs are some of the most complicated gadgets out there.

  • I am totally agree with your oppinion.this blog post is very encouraging to people who want to know these topics.

  • Woow, this technology match is really nice to read and well detailed. Finally Techdigest is able to dig deeper for the high techno DSLR market (and T3 magazine alikes look like primary school photo books). Well done Daniel. Looking forward to read more death matches.

    • Very kind of you to say Salih, much appreciated. I think DSLRs are some of the most complicated gadgets out there. They’ve always got the longest spec sheets I’ve ever seen. So, I’m honoured to have done them justice.

  • >> both in the SLR game since around 1985

    Nikon started making F-series SLRs in the 50s – and Canon somewhen similar. I assume you meant auto-focus SLRs?

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