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Canon vs Nikon: which camera should you buy?

Canon vs Nikon is the decades-old camera-battle that will usually be the question on many first-time camera buyers' lips. These two behemoths may not have the complete market domination that they once had, bu they're still two of the most popular go-to names in photography.

This is particularly the case if you're in the market for a more traditional camera - aka a DSLR. Most of the other brands are concentrating solely on mirrorless options. While Nikon and Canon both have good mirrorless ranges now, thanks to their long heritages, they're also keen to keep hold of those already invested in older systems. 

Choosing your first camera can be a difficult choice. Throw in the decision between DSLR and mirrorless and the choice is more complex than it perhaps once was. Whichever brand you start with, there's a good chance you'll end up sticking with them for many years to come - especially if you start investing in compatible accessories and lenses.

Once you've taken a few steps into camera buying and want to think about the next step-up, there's a whole host of mid-range options to consider, while even those who make a living from photography have some difficult decisions to make.

If you've decided to stick with tradition and decided on a DSLR, the bad news is that picking the best one for you can be tricky. Since both companies make excellent DSLRs, you've got plenty of choice. To help narrow down our options, that's where we come in.

We've taken a look at the main DSLRs available from Canon and Nikon, comparing each alongside its biggest rival. That's usually (but not always), the camera which fits into the same price bracket.

For completeness, we'll also be looking at the mirrorless offerings of both companies. If you're just about contemplating your first 'proper' camera, then this guide will help you out. Equally, however, if you've been in the market for a while, you'll also find something here to match what you need. Keep on reading to find out what is the best thing for you.

Canon vs Nikon: Beginner-friendly DSLRs

Generally we consider anything under the £600/$600 mark to be the benchmark for entry-level buyers. Luckily, if that’s your budget there’s plenty to choose from. 

Not only is there a good selection of latest models which can be picked up for that price, Canon and Nikon often keep slightly older models in their line-ups to hook you in to their system. You might also see good discounts and cashback offers on these older models, especially those that have been replaced with a more up-to-date model.

As it stands, the best new options are the Nikon D3500 and Canon EOS 250D (known as the Rebel SLR in the US), with the former edging it in our book.

The Canon EOS 250D sits towards the upper end of the company's entry-level options. The cheapest options you can pick up are the Canon EOS 4000D (known as the EOS Rebel T100 in the US) and the Canon EOS 2000D (known as the EOS Rebel T7 in the US). The Canon EOS 250D (known as the Rebel SL3 in the US) is the newest of the entry-level models, while you can still find the older Canon EOS 200D (the EOS Rebel SL2 in the US) in some stores. 

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Canon vs Nikon

Canon EOS 4000D / EOS Rebel T100 (Image credit: Future)
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Canon vs Nikon

Canon EOS 2000D / EOS Rebel T7 (Image credit: Future)
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Canon vs Nikon

Canon EOS 250D / EOS Rebel SL3 (Image credit: Future)
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Canon vs Nikon

Canon EOS 200D / EOS Rebel SL2 (Image credit: Future)

So what are the differences? The cheapest model, the Canon EOS 4000D / EOS Rebel T100 is very affordable, but you have to be prepared for some fairly big compromises. It features an 18MP sensor, a plastic lens mount and a less than mediocre 2.7-inch display – in short, it’s worth saving up for a bit longer and buying something of a better quality if you can.

Step forward the Canon EOS 2000D (EOS Rebel T7). For your extra cash you get a jump in resolution (24.1MP from 18MP), plus a better screen for a much better user experience. 

Invest even more money and you’ll end up with the Canon EOS 250D (EOS Rebel SL3), which has a newer 24.2MP sensor, along with Canon’s Dual Pixel AF system which comes in handy when using Live View (or video recording, which is available in 4K). It can also shoot at 5fps, which while not blisteringly fast, can be handy for capturing moving subjects. There’s also a handy vari-angle touchscreen, and the latest Digic 8 processing engine. The downside is a fairly basic 9-point autofocus system, but it’s a great camera to learn with. 

If you can find the EOS 200D / EOS Rebel SL2, it’s well worth considering that. You don’t get 4K video, or the latest processing engine, but if you mainly shoot static subjects, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. 

Nikon has been a little bit quieter recently when it comes to entry-level models, but in the current line-up we have the Nikon D3500, which is our currently number one in our list of the best beginner DSLRs. You might also be able to find the Nikon D3400 on sale in some places. Both have 24.2MP sensors, with an 11-point AF system and 5fps shooting. The Nikon D3500 has a better battery life, a larger handgrip (for better comfort) and a redesigned sensor. 

Overall, at the cheapest end of the market, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the two manufacturers. That said, Canon has launched beginner-level models more recently, so you’ll get newer tech if you opt for one of those. If your budget is quite fluid, we’d suggest the Canon EOS 250D, but if need to keep it tight, the Nikon D3500 is the best first-time choice.

Winner: Nikon D3500

Nikon D3500

(Image credit: Future)