Despite the availability of a variety of DSLR manufacturers, the Canon versus Nikon debate is still going strong. Since the days of 35mm film, the two manufacturers have been close competitors. Traditionally, things seem to see-saw between the two, with each manufacturer becoming stronger for a while, before fading away to the other.
Once you, as a photographer, become tied into one system, you'll probably become fairly fanatical about it! I've been a Canon user since I was about 15, so when I went digital, it made sense to stick with the system. But if you're not tied into a system, the choice of cameras can seem bewildering. In this review, I'll be comparing Canon's EOS 7D and Nikon's D300s. Both of these cameras are the manufacturers' top of the range APS-C format DSLRs.
So which one is the better buy? Here are the key points on each camera to help you make a better informed decision.
Resolution, Body, and Controls
In terms of numbers only, the Canon wins hands down with its 18MP of resolution, versus Nikon's 12.3MP. Compared with most modern DSLRs, the Nikon seems low in pixel count. However, the tradeoff is that the camera has a fast frames per second (fps) rate, and it is exceptionally good at high ISOs. The Canon follows the tradition of newer cameras by adding more pixels for your buck, resulting in images that you can blow up to enormous prints!
Both cameras are made from magnesium alloy, and both feel substantially heavier than other APS-C cameras in both manufacturers' ranges. These are "working" DSLRs, designed to be used by pros and dragged around inhospitable places. If you can afford one of these two, their rugged exteriors will see you through many, many years of trouble-free shooting.
When it comes to controls, the Canon 7D edges past the Nikon D300s. For once, Nikon has actually included ISO and white balance buttons, but they're on the left-hand, top side of the camera, and users will need to take the camera away from their eyes to find the controls. Canon's ISO and white balance controls are on the other side of the camera, and they can be changed far more easily.
As far as the other controls are concerned, existing Canon users could find the controls on the 7D a little different than those they are used to, unless they've been using the 5D range. The Nikon's controls look much the same on the back of the camera as all its other DSLR models.
Auto-Focus and AF Points
Both cameras have fast and accurate auto-focus, and both are ideally suited to shooting sports events with fast frames per second rates (8 fps for the Canon, and 7 fps for the Nikon). But, as is becoming woefully commonplace with DSLRs, neither camera can focus at any great speed while in "Live View" or "Movie Mode." You're far better off focusing manually. The systems are perhaps slightly better than in cheaper models, but it's a marginal difference.
Both cameras comes with sophisticated focusing systems and a lot of AF points. The Nikon has 51 AF points (15 of which are cross-type), and the Canon has 19 AF points.
The Nikon D300s is undoubtedly easier to use straight out of the box. In full automatic mode, you can easily switch between AF points using the back joystick.
With the Canon 7D, however, you need to spend some time setting up the system to match your requirements. Once you do, the rewards are obvious. Not only can you automatically or manually select AF points, but you can also use different modes to help you make the most of the system. For instance, there is a Zone AF system, which groups the points into five zones to help you concentrate the camera's attention on the portion of the image on which you wish to focus. There's "spot AF" and "AF expansion," and you can program the camera to jump to a certain mode, depending on its orientation.
You'd have to try quite hard to get the image out of focus with either camera, but the Canon is a better system once you've learned how to use it!
HD Movie Mode
Both DSLRs shoot HD movies, but the Canon can shoot at 1080p, while the Nikon only manages 720p. The Canon 7D offers full manual control as well.
The advantage in movie mode is a no-brainer: The Canon wins hands down when it comes to making movies. Having said that, don't think that the Nikon D300s isn't capable of producing good movies because it is -- it just isn't as good as the Canon!
Each cameras has its strengths and weaknesses in this area. Neither camera copes well with white balance under artificial lighting, and you'll need to set the white balance manually to achieve the best results.
If you want to shoot straight out of the box in JPEG mode, the Nikon copes far better with noise. While its ISO settings only go up to ISO 3200 (compared to ISO 6400 on the Canon), detail is maintained far better at higher ISO settings with the Nikon D300s.
In RAW mode, you'd be hard pressed to tell any difference between the cameras in terms of image quality ... unless you're planning on making billboard sized prints, that is!
I personally feel that the Nikon D300s produces slightly more lifelike colors, but the Canon 7D is extremely easy to tweak with either the camera settings or in an imaging program.
Essentially though, both cameras produce extremely high quality images, and any photographer would be delighted with the results.
This is a very close contest, and it probably comes down in the end to personal preferences and which camera feels right for you. I honestly couldn't make a clear-cut choice between the two cameras, as they are both excellent machines! I will say this: If shooting at high ISOs is vitally important to you, then the Nikon D300sis probably the more suitable DSLR. Whereas, if focusing systems are important, go for the Canon 7D. Either way, you won't be disappointed.