Before I enter into this discussion a few points of personal disclosure should be shared. First, I am a Canon shooter and have been since 2009 (this coincided with my change from film to digital technology). Canon had recently released its new EOS 5D Mark II 20MP full-frame camera body and it set the new gold standard in the world of photography. Based on my research I decided to go with Canon although I had previously shot (for many years) with Nikon, Leica and Rolleiflex. I haven’t regretted my decision but is Canon still the best choice?
Second, and maybe most important, I receive no monetary compensation for these opinions. Regrettably, nobody pays me anything when I shoot my mouth off. I did receive money when writing for Northrup Photo but I never did product reviews. Here is a link to some of my published articles at Northrup Photo if you’re interested: Articles. Lastly, I have not shot Nikon since entering into the digital age so I have no practical experience with their systems. My knowledge is strictly academic.
Technical Specifications. On paper these two camera bodies seem to be very similar. Both share similar pixel density, both shoot at 10 fps in continuous mode, both have blazing autofocus (AF) performance and both are heavily weather sealed. Until Nikon introduced the D500 Canon’s EOS 7D Mark II was the camera to have for wildlife for under $3,000 usd. The next step up was the Canon EOS 1Dx and now EOS 1Dx Mark II (comparable to the Nikon D5). The flagships for both Canon and Nikon are in the $6,000 to $7,000 usd range.
Camera bodies change every five years or so, lenses less so. By all accounts and measurements Nikon (aka Sony) sensors have pulled ahead of Canon sensors in the last few years. Though pixel density is important it shouldn’t be your only criteria for purchasing a camera system. I think for serious photographers lens choice is a much more important factor, and here the waters become a little more muddied. I think Canon might still have the lead here, both in quality and selection. Again, this is anecdotal and academic opinion only and not based on any practical experience.
Were I to venture into photography today I might very well choose to go with a Nikon system. Although conventional wisdom says to make your purchasing decisions around lenses, there is just something really sexy about camera bodies. When I made my decision in 2009 I think Canon had the edge in both arenas, lenses and bodies. Today Nikon probably has the edge when it comes to bodies, however Canon may hold its edge relative to lenses. I will say that if you have aspirations of turning professional I would stick with either a Nikon or Canon system (maybe I would include Sony).
Professionals stick with these two brands almost exclusively for a reason(s): the range and depth of products is staggering, the build quality of their pro-level bodies and lenses is robust and unsurpassed in my opinion and customer service is usually pretty good (especially at the pro level). Are there other good cameras and lenses on the market? Of course, but when you’re investing in and building a system (especially for your livelihood) you want choices, quality and support.
I am heavily invested in Canon pro-level L-glass and can’t switch systems midstream. Even if I could I probably wouldn’t. I know and am comfortable with Canon and don’t need to go through another learning curve at this point in my career. Canon and Nikon systems are comparable and either one will bring home the bacon. When I return to the States in a few months I will be upgrading my Canon system with two new bodies: the brand new EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame body and EOS 7D Mark II crop-sensor body (the 7D Mark II will be used primarily for wildlife shooting).
If you want to be a serious wildlife photographer you might find this video interesting. If you’re already heavily invested with a system, either Canon or Nikon, my advice is to stick with that system. However, if you’re just entering into the field of wildlife photography (or don’t have huge sums of money tied up in lenses) then do your homework. I will be sticking with Canon because of my investment, but also because I love their systems (not perfect, but great). I have friends who feel the same way about Nikon. There is no right or wrong answer—it’s strictly a matter of personal preference.