Canon vs Nikon: DSLRs £500-£1000
Canon 550D - £520
Canon 600D - £660
Canon 60D - £780
Nikon D90 - £530
Nikon D7000 - £890
Canon redefined the 'intermediate' DSLR market with the EOS 550D. This Canon DSLR inherited many of the major attractions of the much more expensive Canon 7D, including a class-leading 18Mp-resolution CMOS sensor, new iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) exposure metering, high-res 1040k 3.0-inch LCD and Full HD 1080p video capture complete with an external microphone socket for high-quality sound recording.
Everything's wrapped up in a very compact and lightweight polycarbonate resin shell, but this ultimately makes the Canon camera feel a bit plasticky and occasional corners have been cut in build quality.
For example, the viewfinder is of the cheaper pentamirror variety, rather than being a proper pentaprism viewfinder.
The closest priced Nikon DSLR equivalent is the D90, which is something of a classic. Sturdy build quality includes an excellent pentaprism viewfinder, highly accurate 3D Colour Matrix II exposure metering system and 11-point autofocus.
The Nikon D90 can certainly match the Canon 550D for outright image quality when making a D90 vs 550D comparison but, in other respects, the Nikon D90 looks rather outdated.
Sensor resolution is comparatively low at 12.3Mp and video recording is limited to 720p at 24fps, with only mono sound. The sensitivity range of ISO 200-3200 (ISO 6400 expanded) also loses out against the Canon 550D's ISO 100-6400 (ISO 12800 expanded). We've found the D90's images tend to look a little grainier than the 550D's at high ISO settings.
The Canon 60D shares the same 18Mp sensor resolution as the EOS 550D, 600D and 7D Canon cameras, while upgrading the EOS 550D/600D's pentamirror viewfinder to a more advanced pentaprism unit.
As the direct successor to the venerable EOS 50D Canon DSLR, the Canon 60D adds video capture with a complete range of 24/25/30fps options for Full HD 1080p shooting.
There's also a neat range of in-camera image processing options, with new creative filters, plus a facility for rating your images while reviewing them on the excellent 3.0-inch 1040k resolution LCD.
The Canon 60D's LCD has a fully articulating or pivoting function, which is great for shooting from awkwardly high or low angles, and even for taking self-portraits.
Nikon actually featured this arrangement in its older D5000 camera but has dropped it on subsequent Nikon DSLRs, such as the D7000, which features a fixed 3-inch 920k LCD.
In some respects, the Nikon D7000 outclasses the Canon 60D in a Nikon vs Canon comparison. The D7000 has a 39-point rather than 9-point autofocus system, a faster 6fps vs 5.3fps continuous shooting rate, dual media card slots instead of a single slot, and a tougher magnesium alloy vs plastic body.
The standard ISO range is ISO 100-6400 in both cases, although the Nikon D7000 is expandable to ISO 25600 whereas the Canon 60D's maximum is ISO 12800.
Like the Nikon D3100, there's Nikon's new-generation EXPEED 2 image processing engine. In-camera image editing and RAW conversion is also particularly good.
The Canon 60D fights back vs the Nikon D7000 with a better range of HD video shooting, offering Full HD 1080p at 24/25/50fps and 720p at 50/60fps, whereas the Nikon D7000 can only shoot 1080p at 24fps, and 720p at 24/25fps.
The Canon 60D also has a higher-resolution 18Mp sensor but, then again, the Nikon D7000's new 16.2Mp sensor comes very close.
As with other Nikon vs Canon models throughout the range, the D7000 tends to produce punchier images straight off the camera, whereas the Canon 60D is a little more restrained and true-to-life in most of its various colour modes and picture styles.
Images from the EOS 60D can therefore more often benefit from a little post-processing, but at least Canon DSLRs are supplied with the excellent Digital Photo Professional program for RAW editing and conversion, whereas Nikon Capture costs an additional £130.
Bridging the price gap between the Canon 550D vs Nikon D90 and Canon 60D vs Nikon D7000 battles is the new Canon 600D. We've come to this new Canon DSLR last, as it sits between the two camps.
In essence, there are very few changes from the Canon 550D in this new Canon camera, as it has the same resolution sensor and image processing engine.
The only major differences are that this latest Canon DSLR inherits the Canon 60D's articulating LCD, the new Basic+ adjustment of shooting parameters in Basic Zone shooting modes, and an on-screen feature guide, somewhat similar to that featured on the Nikon D3100.