I get asked all the time what brand of digital camera should one buy. Which brand is the best, Canon or Nikon?
This is a fair question, since you'll likely be spending thousands of dollars on the camera, lenses and accessories. Canon and Nikon have been fighting for top-dog of the SLR market pretty much since the invention of the SLR. And they go back and forth--sometimes Canon is on top, sometimes Nikon is on top.
Before I dive a little deeper into this, here are two quick thoughts.
First, there are plenty of other brands that make high quality digital cameras. There is no reason to limit the choice between Canon and Nikon only. Leica, Fuji, Sony, Pentax, Samsung and Panasonic all come to my mind quickly, and there are also several other brands. There are many good brands to choose from, not just two. It is prudent to consider all of the options available.
Second, your equipment isn't all that important. Either you can create great photographs no matter the equipment or you can't create great photographs no matter the equipment. Camera manufacturers, camera stores and photography magazines want you to believe that you need so-called "professional" equipment to create "professional" images, but that is simply not true. Don't get caught up into this. Vision is what is important, not equipment. No camera or lens will ever make you a better photographer.
As I said, Canon and Nikon have been battling for many, many years. If you had asked me last year which brand is best, I would have said Canon. However, this year, Canon played it safe while Nikon has been aggressive.
So let's take a look.
Canon Rebel T4i or Nikon D3200?
These two cameras are the new "entry level" DSLR options for both manufacturers. They both have APS-C sized sensors. The T4i has 18 megapixels and the D3200 has 24 megapixels. The T4i is a slightly improved T3i while the D3200 is a significant improved D3100.
DxOMark does scientific tests of digital cameras. They have not tested the T4i yet, but it is not expected to score much higher than the T3i, which they have tested. The T3i is ranked as the 69th best digital camera. The D3200 is ranked at 11th best, and is the second highest rated digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor.
The T4i (with a lens) will run you $950 while the D3200 (with a lens) sells for $700. So for $250 less you get a better camera.
To be completely fair, Canon did include some major advancements in video capabilities on the T4i. If you plan to use the camera more for video than photography, the T4i is the better choice.
Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800?
Here we have the new "semi-pro" DSLR options for both companies. These cameras have full-frame sensors. The 5D Mark III has 23 megapixels and the D800 has 36 megapixels.
DxOMark ranks the 5D Mark III as the 12th best digital camera (below the D3200!). The D800 is ranked both best and second best, depending on if you get it with an anti-aliasing filter or not (it's available with or without). The D800 surpasses cameras that cost over $10,000!
The 5D Mark III (body only) costs $3,500 while the D800 (body only) has an MSRP of $3,000. So for $500 less you get a better camera.
Canon EOS 1D X or Nikon D4?
These are Canon and Nikon's new full-frame "professional" DSLRs. The 1D-X has 18 megapixels and the D4 has 16 megapixels.
These cameras are all about speed and brains. They don't quite match the resolution of their "semi-pro" siblings, but make up for that in agility and ability and accuracy.
DxOMark hasn't tested the 1D X yet. The D4 ranks as the fourth best digital camera. I'm guessing that the 1D X will be rated pretty high once it is tested.
It's tough to say one is the winner over the other. The ID X (body only) sells for $6,800 while the D4 (body only) retails for $6,000. That is a savings of $800 for the Nikon camera.
In 2012, Nikon is the big winner. If the choice is between Canon and Nikon, go with Nikon. Wait a year and the story could easily change. Technology changes quickly.
Both Canon and Nikon have other cameras, as well, not just those mentioned above. Canon seems to have better point-and-shoot pocket cameras, while Nikon seems to have better mirrorless compact interchangeable-lens cameras.
No matter what, don't worry too much about the decision. Every camera is capable of creating great photographs in the hands of a skilled photographer. Worry more about what makes a great photograph great. Worry less about equipment.