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

Canon vs Nikon: Beginner-friendly DSLRs

Generally we consider anything under the £500/$500 mark to be the benchmark for entry-level buyers. Luckily, if that’s your budget there’s plenty to choose from. 

Although both Canon and Nikon have been concentrating on mirrorless recently, there's still an excellent range of DSLRs that can be picked up at affordable prices. As the technology is generally older, you'll normally find them at cheaper prices than equivalent mirrorless cameras. You might also see good discounts and cashback offers on these older models, too.

As it stands, the best current options are the Nikon D3500 and Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D, 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. 

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. 

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 stores. 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)
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.