When you take the plunge and decide to purchase your first digital SLR kits, the number of options can be overwhelming. Most people will tell you to either choose Nikon or Canon DSLR cameras and go from there. There are a number of other reasonable brands as well, such as Pentax and Olympus, but it’s important to understand why people emphasize the magnitude of this decision. Once you buy a kit, all your future purchases will be from that brand as well because otherwise they won’t work together. So you’re stuck with your starting brand unless you’re willing to jump ship, sell off all your old gear, and start from square one.
When you buy a body and all the other basics that come in a digital SLR kit – usually a basic 18-55mm lens, a memory card, a battery and charger, a carrying case, and maybe a UV filter to protect the lens – you’re buying into that brand, because any lenses, flashes, or other accessories you buy in the future have to be of the same brand to work together. Combined, Canon and Nikon sell roughly 80% of all DSLR cameras purchased and they have huge support communities online, speaking to the fact that either brand can be great for an entry-level photographer. But they do have a few specific strengths and weaknesses you should know about before you make this personal decision.
The biggest difference is the range of lenses available and the cost of upgrading to certain types of lenses. Canon offers a much larger range of lenses, making them more appealing to some who anticipate ending up doing highly specialized types of photography where they need the best lens possible regardless of price. However, many of them cost more than their slightly less specialized Nikon parallels.
With Nikon, you get slightly more affordably options for great, entry-level expansion lenses that you are most likely to purchase when you’re ready to upgrade your kit, such as a 50mm prime f/1.8 and a telephoto zoom. But their big advantage is a much longer range of backwards compatibility with older lenses. Nikon has used basically the same mounting system since the 1950s, so you can purchase a new, entry-level housing and have access to a huge selection of artistic effects from these older options if that interests you.
The other thing to consider is upgraded housings. You might outgrow your camera body if you do a lot of photography and start with an entry model. If that’s the case, your preferences impact which brand works better for you. The top-end DSLR cameras that aren’t full-frame do diverge a bit. Nikon’s most expensive aren’t quite as aggressive with integrating new technology, instead focusing on refining established tech to maximize the quality of the images their sensors capture, getting very close to pro-quality without breaking into that price range. Canon pushes into WiFi, new imaging technologies, and versatility in shooting movies.
Realistically, the most important thing that differentiates the two brands for most new photographers is the dial layout and how the camera feels in your hand. And this can be a good reason to try other brands with smaller market shares but respected names. Each brand’s housing has a different shape, but most models within the same brand feel very similar, and you will certainly have a preference for one or the other. So it’s important to go play with them at a shop and get a feel for which brand suits you. This will influence how much you enjoy using all the fun components in new digital SLR kits, one of the most important factors in determining which brand is the best for you.