Canon vs Nikon: which DSLR or mirrorless camera should you buy?

Canon vs Nikon: High-end mirrorless

These days, the capabilities of modern mirrorless cameras mean they easily match, and often outdo, their DSLR counterparts. As such, they’re the perfect tools for advanced hobbyists and professionals who want the very latest camera technology. 

Both Canon and Nikon offer excellent high-end mirrorless cameras, all with full-frame sensors. In the Canon camp you have the fairly recently announced Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6, a duo of exceptional models that suit an extremely diverse range of shooting setups. 

Meanwhile, its big rival has the Nikon Z7 II and Nikon Z6 II, also new to the market, boasting improvements on Nikon’s original full-frame models which debuted a couple of years back. 

The Canon EOS R5 is almost certainly Canon’s best-ever stills camera, being an incredibly powerful tool which delivers exceptional results for almost every kind of photography. Its superb autofocusing system, matched with 12fps shooting, makes it adept at keeping up with fast-moving subjects, while in other areas – such as low light – it also performs well. 

On top of that, handling is great, with an optical viewfinder that is virtually indistinguishable in use from the optical devices used in DSLRs. Video-makers will be drawn in by the 8K video spec headline, the excitement for which is tempered by some overheating issues. For the ordinary user who is supplementing stills work with video, it’s less of a problem, though. 

For a professional-level system, naturally, there’s a professional-level price to pay. As such, for those who are more budget conscious, there’s the Canon EOS R6. Targeted more squarely at the high-end enthusiast than the professional, it also features superb autofocusing, 12fps burst shooting, an ergonomic design and the ability to record 4K video. 

Squaring up to Canon’s efforts are the Nikon Z7 II and Nikon Z6 II, which although impressive in their own right, don’t quite match up to the Canon’s superlative performance. 

Both are an evolution of the original Z7 / Z6 models, and as a result, the latest incarnations offer more of a tweak of the originals than an outright revolution. Both share the same body design, so it will be the internal specifications – or perhaps the price – which will help you choose between the two. 

Big news for the Z7 II / Z6 II is the addition of a second memory card slot, a huge criticism of the original models which help to give peace of mind for those looking to make backups they shoot. Otherwise, you get the same superb handling as we already saw, with a chunky grip and sensible button layout. The viewfinder is excellent – if not quite as high-spec as the Canon equivalent – while the tilting screen is also useful. 

Internally, the Z7 II is the higher resolution of the two, but the trade off is a slower max frame-rate. Autofocusing is decent, but action shooters are likely to be disappointed – especially in comparison to what Canon is capable of with the R5 / R6. Both the Z7 II and Z6 II offer 4K video recording at 60p, making them both good all-rounder type cameras for those who like to record both stills and video. 

Comparing Canon and Nikon’s efforts side by side shows us that Canon is the clear winner – however, it’s worth considering the price point. While it’s true that the Canons have more to offer, they also cost more, too. It’s also worth pointing out that for photographers who are mainly concerned with still - or slow - subjects, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed by the Z series.

The best is arguably yet to come here from both Nikon and Canon. We've had development announcements of both the Nikon Z9 and the Canon EOS R3. These high-end professional-level mirrorless systems will square off against each other, showing off exactly the tech prowess that each brand has to offer.  

Winner: Canon EOS R6

Canon EOS R6

(Image credit: Future)
Amy Davies

Amy has been writing about cameras, photography and associated tech since 2009. Amy was once part of the photography testing team for Future Publishing working across TechRadar, Digital Camera, PhotoPlus, N Photo and Photography Week. For her photography, she has won awards and has been exhibited. She often partakes in unusual projects - including one intense year where she used a different camera every single day. Amy is currently the Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine, and in her increasingly little spare time works across a number of high-profile publications including Wired, Stuff, Digital Camera World, Expert Reviews, and just a little off-tangent, PetsRadar.