This is a touchy subject that nobody can mention without risking an all out war between the two camps of loyalists. Both equally tense at trying to woo new members into their ever growing membership lists. So the burning question is – who is better, Nikon or Canon?
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Alright, with that legal mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let’s explore these two brands. But, before we can answer that question of who is better, we’ll first have to study the history, market position and future direction of these two giants.
Nikon (then known as Nippon Kogaku, or Japan Optical Company) was born out of a merger of several smaller companies, out of the necessity to survive a collapsing economy of post-war Japan. These companies who used to manufacture optics for the Imperial Japanese Military suddenly found themselves emerging from the devastating effects of the post-war economy with high quality (military specs) optics, with but no customers to buy them. So the only way to survive was to redesign their military products for the newly emerging civilian market. Since the war was over, there was a booming tourism activity there. No doubt, these are mainly made up of the Allied soldiers stationed there. But military or civilian, these “tourists” need cameras, and what’s better than to produce affordable lenses for their expensive German camera bodies?
That’s right, Nikon started out as a third-party lens manufacturer for existing cameras in the market, like Leica, Contax, and (Gasp!) Canon…
Canon (then known as Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory), a relatively young company in post-war Japan, was already manufacturing cameras going by the brand “Kwanon”.
And with the marriage of convenience, Nikon (still without their own body) manufactured lenses for Canon. Well, we all know what happened to the (Modern) Industrial Revolution did to the global economy, where “Made In Japan” used to mean cheap replacement for European and American products were transformed to mean high quality and not-so-cheap alternatives already.
The mental state of both companies were more or less ingrained at that time. Nikon, who was the more experienced of the two, with the many tried-and-true products under their belt, were going the way of manufacturing more tough and reliable products. So by the time they developed their very own camera body, they already have a range of proven lenses for it.
Canon, the younger and more innovative of the two, went the way of modernisation. Many new features were added to the newer models now churning off the production line at a phenomenal rate. And when they developed their own optics, the divorce with Nikon was imminent.
These two former partners moved apart, and eventually became the other’s bitter competitor for the same slice of the market share. And for the next thirty to fourty years, both were neck-to-neck to each other, and not to mention other brands already establishing themselves worthy in the race for the same slice of the ever expanding photographic market. By then, almost every household owns one camera.
The great divide came in the mid 1980’s when automation became inevitable for the newer models being launched in the market. Auto-focus became the buzz-word for the must have feature for the new models.
While Canon embraced this feature readily, Nikon held steadfastly to their experience in optics design, believing that “real” photographers still prefer to do the focusing themselves. Thus, a better designed lens was more in favour than the newer Auto-focus technology, which believed be some to be nothing more than mere high-tech toys for the newly emerging entry-level cameras.
Nikon was so confident that this Auto-focus craze won’t last very long, especially for the professional photographers, that they reluctantly incorporated this new technology only for their entry-level models, while maintaining the conventional Manual-focus for their professional range. In fact, it wasn’t until 1988, when they finally launched their very first professional AF body, the mighty F4.
However, by then, Canon (and the other brands) were already making a headway towards refining the Auto-focus technology to be incorporated in their newer professional models, already in the pipeline. In contrast, the AF technology for the mighty F4 was considered ancient. In fact, some might even argue that the F4 was actually more of a Manual-focus camera with a built-in Auto-focus feature rather than a purpose-built Auto-focus camera, designed from ground up as Auto-focus.
Canon (with their supposedly inferior optics) were already running circles around Nikon in the emerging technology race, who is still reluctant to shed their firm belief of leading the race with superior optics.
By the dawn of the new century, with the market trends skyrocketing towards the digital age, and showed no signs of slowing down. Most of the other brands have already shied away from the race for the slice of the professional market share, leaving only Nikon and Canon to continue the age-old fight. It seems that the newly emerging market share for the “dumb” auto-everything camera was fast becoming a more lucrative market on its own… much more than the fight for the “best” professional tools.
With no choice but to embrace the change, Nikon started to include more features to their new models. Features which were long already regarded as standard in Canon’s product line-up. It took them a long time to play catch-up with Canon, but eventually, Nikon managed.
Today, neck-to-neck to each other, aside from the name distinctly branded on the top of the cameras’ pentaprisms and their unique control layouts, feature wise there is little to distinguish between the two brands. In fact, both have similar modern features (doubtlessly named differently) using the same technology. Though some may argue that they’re based on different technology, Canon’s “Image Stabilizer” and Nikon’s “Vibration Reduction” both serves the same function to counter the effects of camera shake, especially with telephoto lenses. And that’s only one example of countless others.
And so to answer the question – Nikon or Canon, which is the better of the two?…
And the answer is – NEITHER!
The best camera is the one about two inches behind the viewfinder, right in between the two ears.