Which is best? Canon vs Nikon? Or Sony?

On a winters eve I took out both my Nikon and my Canon cameras and took a lot of pictures with both cameras. Both I got fantastic photos from, but they were still quite different. Basically because the cameras chose different white ballances. The Canon tend to be more warm and purple-ish in this particular scenery. It was the last real photo shoot I did with both cameras and on basis of that, I started out on a camera camparison review you can read here: http://goo.gl/eEJt0N. Photo by Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.comNikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, HDR of 5 shots.

Updated 2015-07-13: Since I initially wrote this post, I have bought the Sony A7R and later I have bought the Sony A6000 as well. I have adjusted text slightly.

Which brand to choose? It’s one of the difficult questions. Is Canon better than Nikon? And how about Sony? How good are they? Before I got into photography for real, my impression was, that Canon and Nikon were about the same. Sony was somewhat behind and the rest of the brands even further away from the market leaders.

But having owned all three brands Canon, Nikon and latest Sony, I must admit that there are some quite big differences, both in performance and usage. I have written a very well-received review, based on my long time using both Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 and D600 all together intensively. Having owned both brands for a longer period, does give you a different platform, to write a review from, than if you borrowed a camera for a few days.

You can read the entire review here.

How about Sony? The Sony A7R has got the same sensor as the Nikon D800 and they perform almost equally as well.

After a long time considering it, I first bought the Sony A7R and more recently I also bought the Sony A6000. But, did I do the right thing? I still have my Nikon cameras and I still use them – a lot! The huge advantage is that despite the smaller size the Sony A7R delivers the same image quality as the Nikon D800. I can carry a standard 28-70 lens as well as a 10-18mm lens, and it weighs the same as the body of the D800.

The huge disadvantage of the Sony is, a rather small lens lineup for the Sony, but it is improving. New lenses are coming in a slow but steady stream, and some are good, and some are very good. However, it is not too much of a problem, with the weak lens lineup, because Sony has done a clever job with the Sony E-mount/FE-mount. You can buy adapters to virtually any camera brand. In other words, I can use my Nikon lenses on the Sony A7R. I lose my auto-focus and EXIF information, it’s annoying but not a big problem. The manual focus, using focus peaking, on the Sony A7R works extremely well. I have bought the Metabones adapter. There are cheaper options and one more expensive Novoflex.

In my opinion, Sony is in the lead when it comes to innovative, high-end cameras. The Nikon D800/D810 and Sony A7r sensors are the most awesome sensors made so far, for landscape photography. The Dynamic range is still unrivaled, and the amount of mega pixels is incredible. But Sony has managed to pack it into a very small body, without comprising quality. Nikon and Canon could learn a lot from this. If they don’t pull themselves together in this area, they will lose big time to Sony in the long run.

A lot of other cameras like the Fujifilm X100 or X100s are incredible too, but 12 or 16 megapixels, just doesn’t cut it for me. I would like to have the higher megapixels, to have the option to print really really big or to crop a photo.

My observations on the three brands are:

Nikon

  • Highest Dynamic Range available currently. Even entry level cameras have higher Dynamic Range than Canon 5D Mark III.
  • In entry level cameras, the low light performance is decent.
  • Very engineer like. It’s difficult to find your way in the menus.
  • The 3×00 series does not have Auto Exposure Bracketing (making it more difficult to make HDR’s)
  • Good lenses
  • Has got the best wide angle zoom lens available across all brands, the Nikon 14-24mm.

Canon

  • Has got the worst dynamic range through out the entire range of cameras.
  • Has got the worst low light performance, on entry level, but high end is up to speed.
  • More user friendly than Nikon.
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing is available on all models I have heard of.
  • Good lenses

Sony E-mount cameras

  • Mirror less and much smaller and lighter classic DSLRs
  • Exists from entry level to semi-pro
  • Entry level cameras have got the best low light performance
  • Using an adapter, virtually any lens can be used on the E-mount.
  • Has got similar performance in the Dynamic Range as the Nikons
  • Lacks the option to have Auto Exposure Bracketing on timer. It may seem like a small thing, but if you shoot HDR photos, it is pretty annoying.
  • The lens line up is not very impressive. Especially if you are looking into the full frame lenses, but this is compensated by the ability to use adapters for other brands. I use my Nikon lenses on the Sony Alpha 7R.

What is the real difference between high-end cameras, mid-range and low-end DSLR cameras?

What you pay the big bucks for is low light performance, low-end cameras simply have got worse low light performance. I have had entry level DSLRs, experience with mid-range DLSR cameras and owned several high-end DSLR cameras. They all take great photos if used right. Even the cheapest entry-level DSLR with a decent lens, can do awesome photos. This is a shot with my old Canon 400D using the kit lens:

The Beauty of Noravank

The ability to take (hand held) shot’s indoor in poor lighting conditions, that is what you pay for, when you buy a more expensive camera. Then you also pay for a number of features, which are nice to have, but not strictly necessary for everybody.

This photo is shot at ISO 12800 using the Nikon D800:

High Iso image

My old Canon 400D could go to ISO 1600, and the quality was much too poor to use for anything. I could never have taken the shot above, using that camera. And the same goes for any entry-level or mid-range DSLR or mirror less camera. This IS what you pay for, when you buy the high-end professional or semi professional cameras.

The technology is working for us and the sensors are getting better and better at low light photography. But in a situation like this, I couldn’t have gone higher than ISO 12800 to get this image. I used the Nikon 24-70 at f/2.8 (as open/fast as it goes) at 1/100 sec shutter speed.

A faster lens, of course could have helped a bit. But the essence is, that you pay to get a camera that can do this. The really expensive pro cameras like the Nikon D3s, or the Nikon DF and probably also the new D4s are extreme in this discipline. That’s because the sports and press photographers, they need to be able to take a photo in any condition.

As you climb the ladder and buy more expensive cameras, you get more features. Auto Exposure bracketing is not available on the Nikon D3x00 series, but available in the Nikon D5x00 series. Canon 7D offers an 8 shots pr second.

Features also gets easier access; instead of rumbling around in menus you get buttons. You also get faster cameras (more shots pr second). And in some cases more megapixels. Some are better at videos than others and some better at low light photography than others.

The real jump comes, when you move from cropped sensors to full frame sensors (I have an article on full frame and cropped sensors here, if you don’t know what the difference is).

A larger sensor is much better at capturing light. It is quite obvious that the larger each little sensor cell is, the better it is. And a larger sensor (given same pixel count), obvious has larger cells to capture the light.

So unless you jump to the full frame cameras, my opinion is, that you don’t get a low light camera, not yet at least. A lot of research happens in this area, and the technology is improving, with each generation of the cameras.

The D800 is just … JUST good enough. The 5D Mark III is better and apparently the new Nikon DF is even better again. But they are all within the same ballpark. And the cropped sensors are playing in a different ballpark.

So if your budget isn’t cut for a full frame camera, get a cropped sensor DSLR and invest what you can in a decent lens. The lens is more important.

 

50 thoughts on “Which is best? Canon vs Nikon? Or Sony?

  1. Hi Jacob,

    Just read your review and it was great. However with so many options in market i’m still lost as to which one to buy. I would like to buy a mid range camera which is great for short film making. This mean surely we would have to keep in mind the ISO, the lens and the bigger frame that the video captures. Please suggest me which model i can go for out of Canon, Sony and Nikon.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    Bevan

    1. Hi Bevan,
      Thanks a lot. I must admit, that I do not use the movie function a lot on the cameras. But I do believe, that you get a lot of value, if you get a Sony A5100 or Sony A6000, both in terms of a great camera, and a reasonable ISO performance.
      –Jacob

    1. Hi Rahul,
      It is not a bad camera. It is as you also are aware of, an entry camera, but it is a DSLR, which are better than almost any point and shoot camera. You can take great photos with this camera. The limitations come, when you go to low light photography. You will find, that the more expensive the camera is, the better it handles low light photography. However, if you put your camera on a tripod, and increase the shutter timer (slower shutter speed), rather than increasing the ISO, you will still get good photos.
      –Jacob

    1. Sorry, the mail went into the Spam folder. No the camera itself, will not increase, but a fast lens like a f/1.4 or f/1.8 will allow you to use lower ISO values and thus increase the image quality. You can get a 50mm f/1.8 lens pretty cheap, and that is THE cheapest upgrade you can do, and it will make a lot of difference.

      –Jacob

  2. hi Jacob,

    Loved your review, very informative. I am looking to buy an entry level DSLR but i need excellent quality pictures.

    Could you recomend a good one please. I current have a point and shoot SonyH20.

    With so many brands around, and millions of features, it is very confusing. I was pretty impressed with the Nikon D5300, but it is on the pricier side, so if you recommend something on similiar lines but a bit lighter on the pocket, it will be great.

    1. Hi Diana,
      Thanks a lot.
      If you are looking for great image quality, but not too pricy, I would definitely consider looking into the Sony Mirrorless systems. They deliver outstanding image quality, in a small camera, and they are cheaper. A camera like the Sony A5100 has a 24 megapixel sensor, 6 shots pr second, and delivers just about the same image quality, as the Nikon D5300 (you can compare the cameras here at http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Compare/Side-by-side/Sony-A5100-versus-Nikon-D5300___967_919 (dxomark.com)). At B&H you get the Sony A5100 for $498 including a kit lens 16-50mm, while the D5300 with a similar 16-55 kit lens is $796.
      –Jacob

  3. Hai jacob … I read your review it is so informative, i am a wedding and studio photographer i never go landscape and any type of other shooting but i want low light shots in available lighting conditions and cnadid photos and video shots also, no blurring in lowlight conditions speed moment shots very sharp image quality i need, ambient light i use, what camera brand will fills my need, and what is the main advantage of mirror less camera technology what is difference pentaprisam techanalogy. please suggest the low or medium budget brands…..

    1. Hi Maddala645
      The situations you want to shoot photos in are the hardest conditions there is. I personally love to shoot in that light too, with no flash and other means of additional light. First thing I can say, is that to really accomplish this does require a Full Frame camera. Depending on the brand of your choice, it will have different performance in low light conditions. The ones described in this Article D800, Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D600 are among the best at low light photography. Personally I tend to use my D600 for a combination of speed (5.5 shots per second) and low light performance. At ISO 3200 photos are indeed very usable, but even at ISO 6400 and en extreme cases ISO 12800 can be used. The Nikon D600 has been replaced with Nikon D610, and that has a similar performance.
      The king of low light performance however, is the Sony A7S. The only drawbacks from that camera are only 12 megapixels, and it is not cheap.
      If we look into the APS-C range of cameras, you do not get the same low light performance, but you get a much nicer price tag. If your budget only allows you to buy an APS-C camera, I would steer away from Canon, and look at Sony and Nikon. The Sony A6000 can give very usable images at ISO 1600, and somewhat usable at ISO 3200, but not really above ISO 3200. Another good choice could be the Nikon 5500. I haven’t tried that one, but it should be a tiny bit better at low light photography, but maybe not something that you can tell.
      Another good tip for going low light photography is to get a fast lens, like a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 – or in Sony 55mm f1/8. This really can help you as well.
      You could also look into buying a second hand full frame camera. Maybe you can find a cheap one? It could be worth considering.
      –Jacob

  4. Hey Jacob

    Thanks for posting so much useful information and helping people. I am looking for a camera as I am not happy with my cybershot and now was checking new nikon 5500 or sony a6000. I need to have it for my daughter’s funny acts and some shots at home functions etc. I am also wondering about the light issue as I home there is only light bulbs in which I need to take pics… what do u suggest.

    I really appreciate your time.

    Thanks again

    Raj

    1. Dear Raj.
      Thanks for your question. I haven’t used the Nikon D5500, but I use the slightly older Nikon D5200 on a regular basis, and I own and use Sony A6000. Both cameras are very close to each other performance wise.

      Regarding the image quality and low light performance these two cameras are very close, and both are 24 megapixels, and my guess is that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. However, on paper, the Nikon is just a tiny bit better in low light photography, but as I say, I don’t think you will be able to see the difference in a real life situation.

      The Sony A6000 is smaller because it doesn’t have a mirror, and on top of that it is also incredibly fast. It shoots 11 frames per second, and to capture that special moment, that is great. I must say I am very happy with my own Sony A6000. On my last vacation, I only shot using my Sony A6000, even though I have several Full Frame cameras. I am more than pleased with the results the Sony A6000 produced.

      I use the Nikon D5200 on a regular basis for portraits as well, and I am very happy with that too. Either of these two cameras will give you great photos. Regarding low light photography, these two cameras are both among the very best, as long as we are talking APS-C sensors. To get a real improvement, you will have to buy a much more expensive Full Frame camera (essentially that’s what you are paying for on a full frame). Whether you buy either the Sony A6000 or the Nikon D5500, and you combine it with a fast lens (eg 50mm f/1.8) then you have a great setup for low light photography on a reasonable budget.

      In Denmark, Sony A6000 is cheaper than the Nikon D5500.

      –Jacob

  5. Hi jacob…,this is rayone …., i am very new to cam related world…up to now i didn’t use digital cam.., i want to purchase new camera around 300$ ……my requirement mainly quality image in low light conditions also….could u please suggest me….the best one

  6. I am considering the Nikon D5500 and Sony A6000. Have read that the kit lens on the Sony is not a good lens. Is this true? Should I buy body only and spend the money on a better lens? Which camera is better?

    1. Hi Martin,
      It’s true that the kit lens with the Sony A6000 is a real stinker. You have to spend quite a lot of money to get a better lens (Sony 28-70, Sony 24-70 and Sony 16-35 f/4 are all good options). The alternative is to buy an adapter, and use other brands lenses on the Sony A6000. What you have decide, is what brand you are going to buy into. Personally I am on both Sony and Nikon. I believe Sony is the future, but the lenses for APS-C (like the A6000) aren’t quite there yet. Frustrating. The full frame lenses are about there.

  7. I own the nikkon d610 and the sony a7. For me the size matters a lot, so i prefer the sony a7
    But the color that i get from the nikkon is richer, do you feel the same way about color?

    1. Hi Karen,
      I have the D600 and A7R, and can’t tell for sure about the A7, but no I haven’t noticed any difference between the Sony A7R and Nikon D600. Do you shoot RAW or JPGs? I only shoot RAW. Jpegs are processed in the camera, and will most likely be different on the two cameras.

      –Jacob

  8. Sir
    In beginning I decided to purchase sony a6000 against high zoom hx 400 (50x).
    I m beginner in photography but I love most. Whether I decided ok or not ?
    Pl. Guide me before I purchased it
    Thanking you.
    Ketan parmar.

    1. Dear Ketan,
      I would personally go for the A6000. The camera is fantastisc. A camera with a high Zoom will not be able to deliver the same image quality. While 50x zoom seems cool, you don’t really ‘need’ it in real life. And if you really needed it, it wouldn’t be good enough. The A6000 you can buy many different lenses to, and if you really need a big zoom, you can get one too. Of course, it will be more expensive, but it will be much better too.
      –Jacob

  9. Hi Jacob

    Kindly help me decide between Nikon D5300,Cannon 700d and Sony A58. I am a beginner and had a lot of conversation with quite a few people but the opinion seems to be divided.

    Thanks
    Neeraj

    1. Hi Neeraj,
      What you have to realize, is that you buy into a brand as well, when you buy one of these cameras. You will end up buying lenses and will be ‘stuck’ on a brand, or at least a change is expensive. A 4th candidate could be the Sony A6000, which will be the newer Sony e-mount mirrorless system you buy into.
      Of the three you mention, I would go for the Nikon 5300. I don’t really know the Sony Alpha 58, but the sensor is inferior to the Nikon sensor, just as the Canon is. Nikon has the best sensor of the three cameras. It will perform better in a lowlight situation. But all three cameras will produce great images. The Canon is probably easier to use, than the Nikon, but it’s not much. You will get used to whatever you choose.
      However, I think you should consider the Sony A6000. It’s a very small camera, and yet the sensor is better than either of the three.
      But essentially, you are splitting hairs. All three are similar cameras, with an edge to Nikon image quality wise.
      –Jacob

  10. Hey Jacob,

    I have read your post and its great, but I didn’t understand some things. Actually I’m new to photography and have never used a DSLR, I’ve clicked for phones and simple cameras. Could you please help me out?
    I live in Goa so i want to capture the beauty of the nature, seasonal changes, the flora and fona and the culture of my home state.

    Thanks for your precious time. Will be waiting for your reply.

    Miss M. Fernandes

  11. Hello
    I red ur review really imformative
    Got to know many new things
    I want to buy a camera for family usage nd i dont know pretty well to use DSLR please recommend
    Everyone said me to buy cannon 700 D
    What do u suggest for?

  12. Hello
    Your review was really amazing i am a student and i want to buy a dslr camera i am totally confuse to buy nikon or canon.My freinds are suggesting me to buy nikon coolpix P900 which has really a good optical zoom(83x).If you can suggest me a good dslr because i am a beginner.

    1. Hi Shuvam,
      Sorry for the long reply, but I have been busy with an exhibition. As a beginner, both Canon and Nikon are great cameras. Canons maybe a bit easier, but Nikons with a bit better image quality. A Coolpix P900 is NOT a DSLR, you can not switch lenses. That said, the P900 does a fairly good overall job of shooting photos. However, if you are serious about photography, it is no great choice. The P900 does not shoot in RAW files, which is a must for any serious photographer.
      Kind regards
      Jacob

  13. Jackob kindly suggest me for buying my first dslr… After lots of research on Internet i have shortlisted nikon 5200 and Sony alpha 58 both with there basic 18-55 kit lens. I am buying camera for first time so nothing specific in mind to shoot. Kindly help me to choose one among it.

    1. Hi Ketan,
      Thanks for asking. I think it is a hard one and I like both brands. I think you will be very happy with both. The Nikon has a 24 megapixel, while the Sony “only” has 20 megapixel. It’s not a big difference.
      Kind regards
      Jacob

  14. Hello Jacob!
    Thank you very much for your reviews on photography and enlightening me on photography tips and technicalities of a camera.As on now I do not have any idea about good photography/camera’s,however my husband wants to purchase a decent camera which takes decent pictures of our family outings.Can i please request you to let me know what all I have to look into to purchase a family camera and which brand should i be going for.Thank you in anticipation of a helpful gesture.Bye

    1. Hi Sameena,
      If you buy either Nikon, Sony or Canon you will be safe. All of these camera brands produce great images. To get the ‘decent pictures’ I will suggest to go for a ‘DSLR’ or one of Sony ‘Mirrorless’. Either one will produce better images than a smaller snapshot camera.
      –Jacob

  15. Hello Jacob!
    Let me start by saying that when it comes to photography I’m completely clueless. However I want to buy a camera that is good for my needs, like taking pictures on holidays and trips, not something too special. I got a lot of options and opinions for different stores and I think that I narrowed my options down to 4 cameras ( Sony Digital Camera Cybershot DSC-W830, Sony Digital Camera Cybershot DSC-WX220, Sony Digital Camera Cybershot DSC-HX60B and Sony Digital Camera Cybershot DSC-H300). What is your opinion about those cameras? I wouldn’t mind you recommending something else!
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Maria,
      I am afraid that I am not familiar with any of those cameras and any advice would not be serious on those.

      What I would recommend would be a Sony A5100 or a Sony A6000, but that might be a step up budget wise.

      –Jacob

  16. hello Jacob,Do you think which one is better?sony a5100 or sony A6000?
    I want to learn photography and i don’t know what should i buy
    thanks

    1. Hi Evelyn,
      This is a bit late answer, but I have been traveling. The two cameras use the same sensor inside and produce almost identical image qualities. The A6000 has a few more advanced features, but the A5100 is has a touch screen.

      A mix of the two cameras would be a perfect camera. The most important feature missing on the A5100 is the electronic viewfinder. In very bright sunshine the screen on the back can be hard to see.

      No matter which you buy, you will get a great camera!

      –Jacob

  17. Hi Jacob,

    Thanks for your review, I love clicking pic until now I was using Sony cybershot but I want to go for DSLR now, one of the showroom person suggested Sony A58 but all friends are suggesting to go for Nikon or Cannon. though I am beginner for DSLR but I want to purchase camera which is decent for family photography, portraits, candid photography, landscapes etc..

    My observation from above comment is that you suggested Sony A6000 but I do not want to go for Mirrorless camera, I want DSLR and I feel it is the toughest decision ever and very confused now.

    Please suggest best camera

    1. Hi Harendra,
      When all comes to all a DSLR, no matter the brand, is a fantastic camera compared to any snapshot camera. The individual models and brands are of course different and perform different, but all are great cameras.
      Find one that matches your budget, and try it out. You will find, that the camera will be a great, no matter brand or model.
      I have some preferences and some suggestions, but they are all within a very narrow area, compared to how much better they are than the snap shot cameras.
      Do notice, though, a mirrorless camera like the Sony A6000 is a DSLR, just without the mirror. The controls and performance are equal (with respect to the variation between brands and models).
      –Jacob

  18. Hello Jacob,
    Just wondering, I am looking for an entry-level DSLR, purely for hobby. I have never had one before, but my cousin just got a Nikon D5300, and, being impressed with the quality and really enjoying taking pictures in the past (albeit with a not-good-quality point-and-shoot), I decided I wanted to get a DSLR myself. So I did some research, but everywhere I turned I got different answers and opinions. I would really like to save some money (600$ dollars is probably my max price) and things like wifi, bluetooth, bigger camera screen and all those decorations don’t especially matter. I am planning on taking still nature shots and portraits. Predictably, when I heard the D3300 and the D5300 were basically the same (minusing out certain decorations) and the former was personally considerably cheaper (from what I saw 100-200$ cheaper) I decide for the D3300. Then I realized I had looked at other brands or even other Nikon cameras. In short, I am just wondering what you would recommend for me. Is there a specific camera (s)? Do other brands sell better entry-level DSRLs? Does it even matter?
    Thanks, Luke

    1. Dear Luke,
      All DSLRs will take be able to shoot great photos, it is more about the photographer really, than the camera. Of course, there are differences, but if you are a casual shooter, you will probably never notice the differences. If you have read the comments on this blogpost you will see that, I am a great fan of the Sony A6000. It is a notch better than some of the others and very small and fast. I have one myself that I use for some things. At work, I use a Nikon D5300, which is really nice too.
      A lot of the difference between many models often comes down to features available, rather than image quality. Sony A5100 and Sony A6000 have the same image quality, but not the same features. To some extent, this is also true of D3300 and D5300. There is a difference, but as a beginner, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I would.
      Be confident, that as long as you pick a DSLR or a mirrorless like Sony A6000 you will get a camera, that can shoot great photos!
      –Jacob

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