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

The Canon vs Nikon battle has been raging for decades, and shows no sign of abating just yet. If you're a first-time camera buyer, these classic brands will often be top of your list. While it's true that these two photography giants face increasing competition from rivals like Sony, they're still rightly a go-to starting point for most buyers.

Canon and Nikon were once heavily DSLR-focused, with mirrorless options instead being pioneered by the likes of Olympus and Sony. But now it's safe to say that the focus has definitely flipped, with both brands offering very strong mirrorless (and sometimes class-leading) options in their line-ups. That said, both companies are still making excellent DSLRs for those who are firmly in the more traditional camp – or are already heavily invested in DSLR lenses.

Picking your first camera can be a tricky task. There's an overwhelming array of different options out there, and once you throw in the decision between DSLR and mirrorless, you've got another level of complexity to think about. When it comes to deciding between Canon versus Nikon, the decision very much comes down to the the type of camera you need – which is why we've compared the two brands' models across all categories and price points to help you decide.

Perhaps you're looking to take your first step up from a smartphone with an entry-level mirrorless camera – in which case, we've got you covered below. On the next page, we compare Canon and Nikon's higher-end mirrorless options. And for those who still prefer the DSLR shooting style, our later pages compare the best Canon and Nikon models for beginners, hobbyists and full-frame DSLR fans.  

Read for our answers to that age-old conundrum – Nikon vs Canon, which is best?

Canon vs Nikon: Beginner-friendly mirrorless

When it comes to buying your first camera, mirrorless options are a fantastic choice. Generally, they’re smaller and lighter than equivalent DSLRs, so making the jump up from your smartphone doesn’t feel like such a huge step.

Both Canon and Nikon have great options for those new to photography, but unlike DSLRs which have been around for much longer, they can be a little pricier. Shifting your thinking to consider 'best value' rather than outright cheapness is a good way to look at it – investing in a good camera usually means you won’t outgrow it quickly and have to spend again to upgrade.

The best of the current crop of Nikon and Canon entry-level mirrorless cameras, offering all-round shooting capabilities, are both APS-C models, in the shape of the Canon EOS M50 and the Nikon Z50. We think the latter is the better of the two, largely due to it being a better all-round offering and much newer. 

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Canon EOS M50

(Image credit: Canon)
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Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Future)
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Nikon Z5 vs Z6

(Image credit: Nikon)
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Canon EOS RP camera

(Image credit: Canon)

Making its debut in late 2019, the Nikon Z50 is an excellent mid-range, enthusiast camera. As well as being popular for beginners, it’s a great option for travel, with its smaller proportions making it easy to transport. It shares the same Z mount with its full-frame siblings, but there have been a number of lenses specifically designed to match the smaller chassis, such as the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 pancake lens which you’ll generally find bundled with the Z50.

The screen and viewfinder of the Z50 are both impressive, with the the former tilting downwards and forwards, making it useful for shooting selfies and possibly even vlogs – though it’s not possible to mount the camera on a tripod and flex the screen at the same time, annoyingly. 

Importantly, image quality is very good from the 20.9MP sensor, and there’s also 4K video recording and a 209-point AF system that puts in a decent performance. In essence, the Z50 is a lot like using a miniaturized version of the higher-level Z6/Z7 models.

By contrast, Canon’s EOS M50 is now three years old – and while in some ways it’s beginning to show its age, it’s still a cracking little camera for lots of different users.

The sensor offers a 24.1MP resolution, and although it shoots 4K video, unfortunately it is cropped – so vloggers may find it a little on the restrictive side. Better news is the vari-angle touchscreen display on the rear, which is joined by very decent viewfinder.

Excellent proportions make the Canon EOS M50 a pleasure to use, with streamlined controls and an intuitive user interface. Unlike the Nikon Z system, Canon uses a different mount for its APS-C mirrorless models and full-frame options - which is frustrating as lenses can’t be shared between the two should you decide to upgrade at a later point.

Other entry-level models are also available and are worth considering, with two full-frame models for those who are keen to progress to the larger format. Canon has the Canon EOS RP, while Nikon has the Nikon Z5. Both distill the vital elements of the company's full-frame mirrorless offerings into more affordable packages, but with a number of trade-offs that come from the cheaper price.

Winner: Nikon Z50

Nikon z50

(Image credit: Future)