Nikon and Canon Camera Lineups Updated 20th March 2012


  Canon Current Nikon Current What's it about Price
Introductory SLR ?oooD 1100D D?ooo D3100  Basic entry level model, plastic construction, cheap kit lens. Lowest resolution in lineup. Menu dependant operation. Often recycled technology from older higher lineup cameras. $ (R4000-6000 for kit)
Consumer  ?ooD 600D but 550D and 500D still available D?ooo D5100 Similar to above, but with improved features including now obligatory video mode and live view. Same basic construction, higher resolution. Baby sibling to higher up model. $$ (R5000-7000 for kit)
  60D - - A new category that has essntially been created with Canon's 60D. This sits somewhere between the entry level cameras and serious enthusiast cameras. $$ (R5000-7000 for kit)
?oD 50D D?o  D90 Borrows features from semi pro models. Better build quality than entry level models. Often higher resolution and more features (better frane rate etc.) as well as improved ergonomics.  $$$ (R10 000-15 000 for body)
professional grade Lightweight / enthusiast - -   D7000 Another odd placing and essentially new category between the Consumer and the Pro level lightweight cameras that has the build of a pro-level camera, but is designed as a consumer camera. $$$ (R10 000-15 000 for body)
  7d,  D?00 D300s, Very good build quality (usually magnesium), larger pentaprism, fast capture and transfer rate, pro-level Autofocus, often higher resolution than lower models, excellent ergonomics - often used as principle body by pros.  $$$$ (R18 000-35 000 for body)
?D mk?? 5D mkIII D?oo D800  Full Frame ‘little brother’ to the Professional flagship cameras. Canon’s is more the ‘little brother’ than Nikon’s since it has the same sensor (likely to change with the update to the IDsMkIII) $$$$ (R24 000-35 000 for body)
Professional grade sports 1D mk?? 1Dx D? D4 Extremely high capture rate, excellent image quality. Excellent build quality, metering and premiun AF. Usually built in battery grip with vertical release. Now all Full Frame. $$$$$(R35 000-48 000 for body)
Professional grade flag-ship 1Ds mk?? 1Ds mk III D?x D3x Highest resolution for brand. Full Frame. Same as sport camera build and features but lower capture rate.  $$$$$$ (R67 000-R100 000 for body)


I am constantly asked by students what camera they should buy. 7 Years ago the answers were a lot simpler as there was still some gap between film and digital in terms of resolution and quality. Now the answers and choices are a little more complicated.

I’ve tried to separate the camera ranges into three basic divisions: Introductory, Consumer and Professional Grade. I must make it clear that ‘Professional Grade’ does not mean that it is the camera range that a professional would use. Ironically a number of professionals use the consumer cameras. Consumer cameras tend to be considerably cheaper than pro grade cameras. This means they are cheaper to insure and replace should (or when) they break. The image quality available in consumer cameras often surpasses the image quality that was available in pro-grade cameras 5 years ago. Because the consumer camera is cheaper than the pro-grade camera it is therefore a lot easier to cover its expense and start making a profit. So, unless the photographer needs the build quality, autofocus speed or frame rate of the pro-grade camera they will often opt for the cheaper consumer camera.

A good example is an industrial photographer colleague who worked with Nikon D80s (possibly he’s upgraded to D90s or even the D7000 now). As he explained it, his work takes him all over Africa so he needs something light, cheap and with good image quality. Light, as he has to travel a lot and heavy gear tends to attract the wrath of airline authorities and taxes (pro-grade cameras are anything but light). Cheap, as travelling through Africa means a propensity for theft so it needs to be cheaply insured and quickly replaceable. Lastly, good image quality, which when his clients need a maximum of A3 size images means that even the introductory SLRs when handled right can produce excellent results.

The ranges therefore start at what I term introductory models, go on to consumer models and end up at professional grade models. Introductory models are meant to be a stepping point into owning an SLR camera. They are small, light and cheap and are designed to attract compact camera users into trying out the more complex SLR package.

Consumer cameras through to enthusiast cameras are really the bread and butter of camera manufacturers. They hope to sell the greatest number of units in this category. The cameras are aimed at amateur photographers primarily who want some of the traits of the top end models but without the incumbent price tag. As a result they are rich on features at the expense of things like build quality. They offer an attractive option to both beginners and professionals needing a cheaper backup body.

Professional Grade cameras are cameras that have all the bells and whistles along with build quality and access to a greater range of accessories. They come at a hefty pricetag though. Oddly, most of the top end pro-grade cameras I’ve come across have belonged amateur photographers with the lower end pro-grade/enthusiast (think D700 and 5DmkII) belonging to professionals who earn their living through photography (bear in mind that this is in South Africa – it may be different in Europe and the U.S where the currency buying power and the lower import duties makes pro-grade cameras slightly more affordable).

I’ll leave the full-frame APS-C discussion to another essay for the time being. Suffice to say that Nikon differentiates between FX (Full Frame) and DX (APS-C) while Canon doesn’t label the camera but prefixes its lenses with EF (full Frame) and EF-S (APS-C).Top of the range lenses are also identified by Canon with an ‘L’ and for Nikon with an ED (usually that is). Both refer to the low-dispersion glass (far more expensive than ordinary optical glass) that is used in the lens design.

Notes on Nikon

To the layperson the differentiation between the Nikon models traditionally lay at build quality. This was because apart from their flagship model, all the cameras had a 12mp sensor. This has changed dramtically in the last year with a differentiation pixel count across range ala Canon 2 years ago (D3100 - 14mp, D5100 16mp, D7000 - 16mp, D300s - 12mp, D800 36mp, D4 - 16mp and the now venerable D3x at 24.5mp). The layperson is also unlikely to look at the niceties such as improved autofocus, metering and user interface.e There is a vast difference between the models beyond pixel count, and even when there are numerous identicale resolution sensors, they are not all the same design. As we go up the model range the sensors have improved noise characteristics (and low light ability) and faster readout times. Not to forget that there are two different formats here as well (FX and DX).

Nikons tend to be lauded by their followers for their ergonomics, focusing and build quality. Camera for camera I have had more Canons break on my workshops than Nikons, Sony’s, Olympus’s and Pentaxs combined. This is possibly an unfair comparison though as 2 out of 3 cameras on the workshops are Canons with the most popular camera to date being the 450D.

The only problems I have come across so far from the Nikons that my students have used is the propensity of the D80 and D90’s flash catch (the little hook that holds the flash down) to either bend or break. The D70 and D80 are also useless at long exposures, having massive and obvious chroma noise after 5 minutes (evident from about 1 minute onwards). The D200 doesn’t exactly break any records with low light noise, but makes up for it in other ways. The menu system on the Nikon is fairly convoluted as well. The other gripe I have about the menu system is that it is not identical from body to body which can confuse the user (they are largely similar, but not identical).

Notes on Canon

Canon used to have a more obvious differentiation between its camera models in terms of resolution. They now seem to be doing what Nikon used to do, and have stick a similar resolution chip in all levels of their cameras (18mp except for the 5DmkIII with it's 22mp sensor) and differentiate now on features such as build qulaity and autofocus. The mistake that beginners make though is in believing that resolution is the measure of the image quality itself. This is not the case at all.

Cameras that students have struggled with include the 1000D (2 out of 3 samples had internal software issues with one only writing small low quality jpegs regardless of the quality setting) and the 50D (weird errors continually cropping up on some samples), others having focusing issues and poor metering. Issues that the 50D has have been all but done away with by the 7D which is really what the 50D should have been (in the same way that the 40D was really what the 30D should have been).


Thanks to the incredible advances in digital technology over the last 5-10 years it is now possible to say that it is not the camera anymore, but rather the lens that make the difference in image quality (we're back to the gear-head discussions of film years). If you are starting out in photography don't spend a fortune on the body only to put coke-bottle lenses on the front. It's a far better idea to save on the body (buy a second hand camera for instance) and pour money into the lenses. That way when you upgrade, and you will, you'll already have the lenses in your bag.

Update - 4th October 2010


Photokina 2010 added some interesting chnages to the lineups of both Nikon and Canon. First off, Canon introduced the 60D. Nomenclature would indicate that this is a camera to follow in the heels of the 50D. Not so. The body is now polycarbonate and although it has a swicel LCD at the back the controls have actually been dumbed down slightly. In a way this makes a more logical step-up camera from the 550D than the 50D was. However, a large gap will emerge between the 60D and the 7D once the 50D is discontinued.

Nikon introduced the new D3100 which is really what the D3000 should have been. This looks to be an excellent starter camera. The D7000 on the other hand caused quite a stir at it's introduction. What is surprising is that it has the second highest megapixel count that Nikon offers (16.2mp), a magnesium alloy body, 100% viewfinder coverage AND an index tab that allows the use of old manual focus Nikkors, yet it's meant to be the replacement for the very popular D90. At the moment, on specs alone (the camera will only be available at the end of October 2010) this seems to be an extremely desireable camera.

Update - 20th March 2012


Although the entire article above has been updated there are a few points to discuss concerning some major announcements towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. i have also written about the introduction of Nikon's resolution chart topping D800 on the blog here. In a nutshell, photographers have never had it this good. However, we are also fortunate to be in the position that we've had it pretty good since the generation of cameras.

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