Canon vs Nikon: DSLRs £1,000 and above
Canon 7D - £1,145
Canon 5D Mk II - £1,650
Nikon D300s - £1,020
Nikon D700 - £1,735
Once you pass the £1,000 barrier for a Canon or Nikon DSLR body, the main choice is whether to stick with an APS-C (Advanced Photographic System-Classic) sensor or to go for a full-frame sensor. The latter is rather larger, the same size as a frame of 35mm film.
Historically, full-frame sensors often had higher resolutions and gave better signal-to-noise performance, so images looked less grainy especially when taken at high ISOs. But these issues have been greatly minimised, so let's start with the APS-C choices.
The Canon 7D is a super-fast camera ideally suited to sports and action photography, while also being sufficiently versatile to take practically anything else in its stride.
The 8fps continuous shooting rate is backed up by dual DIGIC IV processors and there's a full complement of Canon's latest iFCL metering, 18Mp CMOS sensor, 19-point autofocus and Full HD 1080p movie recording at 24/25/30fps. It's suitably rugged too, with a magnesium alloy body complete with environmental weather seals.
The Nikon D300s is a rather older design, which is itself only a fairly minor revamp of the original D300. As such, its 12.3Mp resolution is outclassed by newer, relatively down-market DSLR cameras even in Nikon's own stable, like the D7000 and entry-level D3100.
Similarly, high-definition video capture is limited to just 720p at 24fps. Even so, there's still a lot to like about the D300s, including an unerringly accurate 51-point autofocus system and remarkably consistent 3D Colour Matrix II exposure metering.
The D300s is no slouch either, with a maximum 7fps in continuous shooting mode, which you can boost to 8fps by adding the MB-D10 battery grip.
In this Nikon vs Canon epic, the Canon 7D wins out in the sensitivity stakes, with a range of ISO 100-6400 (ISO 12800 expanded) compared with the Nikon D300s's ISO 200-3200 (ISO 100-6400 expanded).
At sensitivity settings of around ISO 1600-3200, the Canon tends to deliver slightly smoother, noise-free images. Both cameras offer a good range of direct-access controls to important shooting parameters like ISO, white balance and exposure compensation, but the Nikon D300s's controls are a little more intuitive.
Typical for Nikon DSLRs, the D300s also offers an enormous range of customisation options for setting up the camera to your most exacting requirements and preferences.
Moving up to full-frame cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II really revolutionised the genre, offering a host of features and up-market specifications usually reserved for fully-professional bodies with price tags of around £5,000.
At the time of its launch, the resolution of its sensor caused quite a stir, at 21.1Mp, although Canon's latest APS-C bodies like the EOS 550D, 600D, 60D and 7D have almost caught up with their 18Mp sensors.
By comparison, the Nikon D700 looks a poor relation, with its 12.1Mp sensor. Indeed, it's a sign of the times that while APS-C cameras are updated with new models appearing very frequently, most full-frame bodies have gone for years without being updated.
One thing that counts in the Nikon D700's favour is that the relatively modest resolution enables silky-smooth image quality even at the highest standard sensitivity in its ISO 200-6400 range (ISO 100-25600 expanded).
The Canon 5D Mark II offers ISO 100-6400 in its standard range (ISO 25600 expanded) but noise at high ISO settings is rather more noticeable.
Unlike the newer Canon 7D, the EOS 5D Mark II only features a single DIGIC IV processor, a slower continuous drive rate of 3.9fps and a 9-point AF system, as well as Canon's older generation of exposure metering system.
By comparison, the Nikon D700 has a faster 5fps continuous shooting rate (8fps with MB-10 battery grip), a 51-point autofocus system and the latest 3D Colour Matrix II exposure metering.
If you're upgrading from an APS-C camera, another bonus is that you can use Nikon DX-format lenses on the D700 in 'crop' mode, whereas Canon EF-S lenses designed for APS-C cameras are incompatible with the Canon 5D Mark II.
Like all the Canon or Nikon cameras in this price group, bodies are based on a sturdy magnesium alloy construction. Overall build quality is very good in both the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700.
A key difference, however, is that the Nikon D700 has no video recording facility, whereas the Canon 5D Mark II offers Full HD 1080p recording, albeit without the multiple frame rate options of newer Canon DSLRs.