I have been a happy Nikon shooter since I got my first DSLR in late 2008.

I started with a Nikon D60 and joined the full frame ranks with a D700 a few years ago. It’s a wonderful camera and has provided me with many treasured images. But I’ve always heard people raving about the famous “Canon colors” and there just seemed to be a dreaminess about Canon that I could never quite put my finger on. My curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to do a direct comparison between the two. I wanted to see if the grass was really greener on the other side or if the brown spots were just in different places (to quote my awesome, wise friend, Jenni Jones).

Gear used in these shots:

Nikon: D700, Nikon 70-200 and Sigma 35

Canon: 5d Mark III, Canon 70-200 and Sigma 35.

****Comparison shots were taken with identical shutter speed, aperture, ISO and Kelvin settings.****

First impressions:

The Canon setup is lighter. Both of the lenses are heavy with both setups, but the body is noticeably lighter in my hand with the Canon. I’m thinking with long sessions or weddings, this would be an advantage to Canon. After shooting with the Canon and Sigma 35, for a while, then picking up the Nikon version of the same setup, it felt prohibitively heavy. *Note: This is the setup I use 90% of the time on Nikon, and I never realized just how heavy it was until the direct comparison.

I prefer the location of the toggle joystick on the Canon as well as the large wheel in the back to adjust the aperture and scroll through images, but I prefer the ISO/WB and AF-C/AF-S switch on the Nikon vs the Canon where I have to take the camera away from my eye to adjust it. I also don’t like to dig into a menu each time I need to switch my Kelvin setting on the Mark III.

The ability to meter off of any focal point on Nikon is a huge plus. It is a pain to only be able to meter from the center of the Canon.

auto white balance example photo


The AWB (auto white balance) on the Canon is much nicer than the Nikon, which is notoriously finicky. I’ve never had such beautiful color SOOC without the use of an ExpoDisc. I don’t love shooting in AWB mode though, because the camera reads the color/light differently each time, and I prefer a more consistent color output during a session with clients or my family. Being a Kelvin shooter, this wasn’t going to be a big selling point for me. Images taken with identical aperture/shutter speed/ISO settings and identical Kelvin readings showed a big difference between the two brands. The Nikon images were noticeably more washed out than the Canon images, which had more natural skin tones and more saturated colors straight out of the camera. I prefer the color of the Canon much more than the Nikon.

color example comparing nikon to canon


Another thing that intrigued me about the Canon was the exposure. Coming from Nikon, where every focal point can be used to meter, it was an adjustment to start metering from the center only on the Canon (Nikon definitely wins there – no question). However, the red channel (i.e. skin tones!) doesn’t blow as easily on the Mark III, which is helpful for this girl who tends toward overexposure. I found that images taken on both cameras with identical settings to be noticeably brighter on the Nikon, while the Canon retained more pleasing skin exposure.

canon vs nikon exposure comparison


This is a big one. Color can be fixed, focus can’t. I found that in still situations, or just generally around my house, I got the same amount of keepers between both the Canon and Nikon. It was a dead heat. Where things got more (much more) noticeable was when I ventured outside to capture things like my kids running and riding their bikes. Right out of the box, my D700 had a much higher keeper rate of in-focus images than did the Mark III. The Nikon required nothing more than me switching to AF-C mode and shooting away, which wasn’t the case with the Mark III. Granted, the Mark III has a very advanced focus system, and there are plenty of photographers who shoot Canon and have wonderful action shots. But honestly, it felt a little high maintenance compared to Nikon, which allows me to just switch to AF-C and shoot without worrying about the different focus “cases.” But, after putting in the effort to distinguish between which cases work best for my shooting, I have been able to get a higher rate of keepers on recent outings. If you’re willing to put in the time to explore and understand the Mark III’s complex focusing system, you will be rewarded.

Another thing that stood out to me was the need to calibrate lenses on the Mark III body. I have never had to calibrate a single lens with my D700, but I had to micro-calibrate every lens (and I rented more than a few) I tried on Canon. It drove me crazy for a while, wondering if something was wrong with the lenses or the body. Ultimately, I was able to get all but one calibrated to my satisfaction (I returned the one that didn’t have good focus), but Nikon is much more user-friendly in this regard, with the ability to pop a new lens on my camera and have it focus accurately without the need for any micro-calibration.

action focus example


I found the ISO of the Mark III to be pretty comparable to the D700 up to ISO 6400. I didn’t notice much of an advantage to the Canon despite being a few years newer with their technology, which was slightly disappointing. What I did love, however, was the way the higher ISOs on Canon were still remarkably clear. Once past ISO 6400 on my D700, I rarely had a useable image (at least not one that was up to my picky standards). With the Mark III, I got one of my all-time favorite shots of my youngest son at ISO 25,600 which just would not have been possible with my D700. If I only had that camera, I probably wouldn’t have even grabbed my camera, knowing that it would be unusably grainy. There is definitely grain in this image, but it’s not overwhelming and doesn’t ruin the image, in my opinion.

high ISO photo

Unscientific Final Thoughts:

As frustrated as I was with the Canon focus system at first, I found myself continually reaching for my Mark III over my D700 over the course of the past few months. Despite a few drawbacks such as the external controls and a complicated focus system, I have produced some of my all-time favorite images with this camera. When push came to shove, I decided to make the switch from Nikon to Canon. I mean, it’s not rational for me to keep *both* systems, right? The Canon colors are beautiful, the exposure is a better fit for my shooting style, the high ISO capability is something I often put to use and to be honest, it just feels better in my hands. Ultimately, I just found myself reaching for it more often than my Nikon, and for all the frustrations of the learning curve, I just like that I feel inspired to pick up my camera more.

Nikon is a much more user-friendly experience in my opinion. Controls are easier to locate without digging into menus and lenses work correctly the first time you attach them. The focusing system is straightforward, yet accurate, with no complicated “cases” to choose from. However, I prefer the images that come from the Canon. Canon has made me work to achieve a level of comfort with their equipment, but ultimately, I prefer the end results and the extra work and learning curve is worth it to me.