Who Wins? Nikon D90 or Canon 50D

Yes, yes, there’s been a lot of buzz recently about two new cameras from Nikon and Canon. They both decided to announce a new dSLR body at about the same time, and I can’t help but compare the two cameras. By their technical specifications, they’re not exactly in the same class, but they’re close. Both cameras are aimed at the advanced amateur photographer. Here are some details on the two cameras:

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Nikon D90 Home Page
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Canon 50D Home Page
dpreview.com Preview
12.3 Megapixel
23.6 x 15.8mm Sensor
4.5 Frames/Second
3″, 920K-dot LCD
Live View & Face Detection
1/4000s Max Shutter
ISO100 – ISO6400
15.1 Megapixel
22.3 x 14.9mm Sensor
6.3 Frames/Second
3″, 920K-dot LCD
Live View & Face Detection
1/8000s Max Shutter
ISO100 – ISO12800
24fps 720p HD Video
Optional GPS Geotagging
High ISO Performance
Lower Price Tag
More Pixels
Faster Continuous FPS
Faster Shutter Speed
Higher ISO Capability

So let’s pretend for a moment that you’re not loyal to either brand (in my case this isn’t difficult because I’m a Sony user). I mean really step back and take a look at the two cameras. If you were out to buy your first camera, which one would look more enticing to you? And do tell in the comments why you’d choose one over the other. Who got it right in this round?


And be sure to check out the results from our previous poll: “What’s Your Photo-Sharing Frequency?” 1/3 of you are totally random with your upload frequency, while another 1/3 manage to be consistent with a few per week. Only 1% post many photos per day, while only 2% post none at all.

73 thoughts on “Who Wins? Nikon D90 or Canon 50D

  1. Janne

    First, the technical specs really don’t matter. Both are good and will give you fine results; any of the differentiators are unlikely to make much difference to users of either camera in practice. Both systems have a pretty deep pool of lenses to draw from as well.

    So, on one hand the Nikon is somewhat cheaper. On the other hand, Nikon has a very worrying trend of pulling back from openness – see the fiasco of the Vista only not-really-raw format on their latest high-end point and shoot, and encryption of color balance information in their DSLRs. And since a camera does you little good unless you can make the most of its output I’d have to go for Canon.

  2. the_wolf_brigade

    I voted for the Canon, based primarily on it’s higher shutter speed and higher capable ISO. I love shooting wide open and in low light so they would be winning features for me.

    However. The Canon has more pixels, but a smaller sensor. Would this translate to higher noise issues as the light gathering area isn’t big enough compared to the pixel count? I’m a film guy so I’m a bit lost with all that.

    Another interesting point would be to see how far back the Nikon D90 is from the D3. I’ve seen some shots from the D3 at 25,600ISO from my contacts on flickr and the clarity is unbelievable for the ISO level. Perhaps Nikon has also used similar technology in the D90?

  3. Justin Korn

    I think by saying “…out to buy your first camera…” changes how I look at it. If I was out to buy my first camera, the extra bells and whistles from Nikon seem a bit enticing and attractive. However, as someone who has had a dSLR for 7+ years, and looking to upgrade soon and trying to put my bias aside, I think the Canon wins. The only feature the Nikon has that I’m dying to get in my camera is geotagging, but I’m still curious to see how well the geotagging really works. The strengths of the canon, as you listed above, are all high on my list.

  4. Charles

    I’d rather have something small. Both these are too big for me to carry around often which would mean no photos at all. Looking forward to micro 4/3s even if it has less pixels, smaller sensor, slower FPS, worse ISO performance. Having the camera and lens(es) with me makes up for all that.

  5. ramin

    For someone who shoots fast moving animals, the fps and increased image size of the Canon are real deal-brakers for me. Those would cause me to choose the Canon (even if I weren’t already strongly in the Canon camp ;).

    Nikon’s geotagging capability is interesting, but not enough to outweigh the pros of the Canon.

    And while I’m really interested in the HD video capability, the issues that have been raised in relation to event photography have me on my toes enough that it might even be a con. So far getting my camera allowed in concerts etc. has worked exactly because they don’t have any video capabilities.

  6. mikeg

    I guess it depends on whether you need a camera or a general purpose image capture tool. The addition of HD video is a major plus for the nikon but, as a photographer, I would just want the best possible image quality in the relevant price band.

    If video was very important, I would probably buy a good HD recorder and keep that in the pocket. Thus, the Canon wins simply on a guesstimate of quality given it’s features and the track history of xxD cameras.

    As a very first buy, I would imagine the Nikon would attract a large %age of the new purchasers. Once captured, most would stay given the investment is really in lenses and not bodies. A shame as Canon still (probably) has the better range of glass.

  7. Lisa

    Also going with the Canon 50D on this one. I could use the faster shutter speed and higher ISO for work. The Nikon’s video thing while novel and awesome, well, it’s not really a selling point for me because I don’t like shooting videos. I mean the D90 is cool and all, and if someone gave me one I’d be ridiculously happy and grateful, but I wouldn’t buy it with my own money. Seems crazy paying for the additional video feature when all I want to do is take pictures.

  8. Marty

    I think you’re better off looking at the range of lenses from the various manufacturers to determine which brand of DSLR to choose, and then pick the appropriate body from that lens manufacturer to suit your budget.
    New bodies are typically released by most manufacturers every 18 months (although the 50D is only ~12 months after the 40D), but lenses will last a lifetime (if you look after them).
    In other words, you’ll want to upgrade any body you buy now, but you’ll probably hang on to your lenses through multiple bodies.

  9. Adam

    Funny that I’m considering buying either the D90 or D700 for my first DSLR, hopefully this month – D700 has specs that seem superior but the price is still tough to swallow. Back to these two cameras, you mention the D90 ISO6400 (max) I think on the Nikon site it mentioned ISO3200, which is a worry since I mostly want to do lightpainting, hence need a high ISO.
    The canon has some positive features, but price is a big issue for me so the nikon wins it for me..

  10. Stuart

    the canon specs look killer on paper next to the d90 but if I were starting out I’d i’d go with the d90 becasue of the price diff and put what i’ve saved into accesories and glass…the lenses is where it is at. the specs of both cameras is more than ample to be very versatile shooters in most situations

  11. Martin Wolf

    For me it’s the Nikon D90. Because I’m often shooting at available light, I really like the hight ISO performance. And I’m amazed of the D-Movie function.

    At the moment I’m a Canon user with a 350D, but with the Nikon D90 I’m really thinking about switching.

  12. João Almeida

    I would probably go for the Nikon, the high ISO is quite interesting and also the price, because the extra features on the 50D probably wouldn’t make spend the extra bucks

  13. dawn

    I was going to go with the Canon because of the higher shutter speed and ISO. However, the Nikon has a larger sensor, has the optional GPS (huge plus), and can do video (not that I take much video, but it’s a cool feature).

  14. Randy

    Shouldn’t this be a no-brainer?

    The Canon beats the Nikon in every respect, where PHOTOGRAPHY is concerned. The features offered by the Nikon are cool, but have little or nothing to do with photography. (If I’m going to pay $1000 for a camera to shoot video, it’s not going to be a DSLR!)

  15. Mustanir

    In terms of photography, the Canon wins, albeit at the expense of price. I don’t care about video or spending more money to have GPS tagging. I say this as a Nikon user. The Nikon *may* have an ISO advantage (in terms of image quality) but if money were out of the equation, the Canon is clearly the more attractive choice for a photographer. The D90 simply isn’t to the market what the D80 was.

  16. D. T. North

    I chose the NIkon.

    The Canon may have a higher ISO capability, but I still think the quality of the Nikon is better – that is to say that it more closely resembles film. Aside from that, the real reason I chose the Nikon is because of the sensor’s crop factor (1.5 as opposed to Canon’s 1.6) – though I admit that crop factor can be a preference. Having a longer telephoto range is not as appealing to me as being able to shoot at shorter lengths.

    But again…this is really all moot. From the camera point of view, they are both great cameras. You can’t even really compare the systems, because both have a great lens set backing them up. What it really comes down to is feel. And to me, the Nikon has a better feel.

  17. D. T. North

    One thing I forgot to mention…the GPS may seem like a silly feature. But the more and more I get into Digital Photography, the more I wish I was able to document every location more easily. I am seriously considering a GPS add-on for my camera as it’s a feature I would love to have. But Landscape Photography is one of my passions. This is probably a useless feature to a studio photographer.

    I agree with most of the comments about the video though…worthless feature on a DSLR.

  18. Topslakr

    I think you are comparing apples to oranges here. The Canon 50D is the counterpart to the D300 and the D90 is the counterpart to the XXXD series like the 450D camera, or whatever the top of hte line amatuer Canon is. Perhaps the 1000D?. The 50D is a semi-pro camera with a feature set much closer to the D300 and I think you’ll find the prices match up more as well. I don’t think the similar release time has anything to do with their specs.

    That being said, both will take great pictures. I think video is a good feature but perhaps not for everyone. I think of the hostility toward it is really mis-guided envy maybe or a fear of the unknown? No one has used that feature yet so how can we say if it’s good or bad?


  19. Rick Lobrecht

    What about the ergonomics? I found the D80 body to be built for smaller hands. I didn’t vote, because I found the step back and be objective thing to just be too hard.

  20. Dick Wood


    I am wondering about the comparison. Nikon considersa the D300 not the D90 as the direct competor to the 50D. Nikon also considers the D700 a a competor ti the 5D.

    Dick Wood

  21. D. T. North

    Rick Lobrecht: Ergonomics was a major factor in my camera search. One of the main reasons I didn’t like the 40D. It seems to me that the grip was much too narrow (more closed fingered grip) as compared to the D80. Looking at the dimensions of the 50D, it doesn’t look like it has changed in that regard.

  22. Delfino

    What means “optional geotagging” does it means it doesn’t come with it?… also, video…mmm I’m not sure I would like video on my SLR, that means I need more memory space and if I wanted to take video I would use my cam…on the end I have a Canon and I like it so I choose Canon.

  23. JeffP

    I will be purchasing the Canon 50D. The ergonomics are very nice. The shutter button is in the perfect postion. The Big Dial and joy stick make it easy to set the controls. The build quality is far superior to the D90. I’m sure after testing the 50D will come closer to the D300 in terms of noise levels at high ISO. The software is also better on the Canon. I think the competition between these 2 companies only gives the consumer the advantage. Imagine how much these DSLR’s would have cost just afew years ago.

  24. Luis Cruz

    If I were out to buy my first camera, the D90 would probably be more enticing. It’s cheaper – allowing me to invest more in glass, and it has video – a feature available on most P&S cams.

    However, since I’m not looking for my first camera and I already own (or have access to) Canon glass, the 50D trumps the D90.

  25. Antoine Khater

    who wins ? the answer is easy Brian, WE do .

    There is nothing that pleases me more than competition it pushes manufacturers to put in more features and lower the prices and, in the end, we are the biggest winner.

    Both seems like good cams but, let’s face it, most of us doesn’t even need 1/2 of the features here.


  26. Cody Redmon

    I chose the Canon for its more complete package of ‘basics’. To me, features like geotagging and video are just bells and whistles from the ‘general use’ market and are designed to grab attention while not really benefiting a professional photographer all that much.

  27. Tobias Varland

    Topslakr is right… It’s hard to compare Canon’s and Nikon’s product lines because they just don’t quite match up. Here’s a summary, starting at the lowest end:

    Canon Digital Rebel Series
    Nikon D60 – D90
    Canon 30D – 50D
    Nikon D200 – D300
    Canon 5D
    Nikon D700
    Canon 1D
    Nikon D3
    Canon 1Ds

    There are certain similarities, but the D90 is aimed at consumers, while the 50D is aimed at prosumers.

    Personally, the 50D is more attractive. The video feature of the D90 looks cool at first, but there’s no auto focus and the ergonomics of a DSLR simply aren’t made or well suited for shooting video.

  28. Christian

    The Canon really is the best available package you can get today for photography. The Nikon tends to be a “all in one weapon” with its HD video capabiliities. Canon made its homework with this camera and starts to win back territory from the last Nikon announcements that really were superior to the Canon inventions.

    Let´s wait for more surprises at photokina…

  29. Irene and Jim

    Thank you very much for this thorough and interesting review. We currently have a Nikon D70 and are very pleased with it. But the D90 has some beneficial features that may intice us to upgrade. For example, we often are at a project with our D70, and may see a good opportunity to shoot a short video or two. But the D70 does not have video capability. The D90 video feature alone may be enough to make us consider upgrading. Thanks again.

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  31. Alkeizer

    Nikon D90 is in between D60 (matched with canon 450D) and Nikon D300 (matched with Canon 50D). So, Nikon D90 really has no direct rival from Canon. For this circumstance, I say Canon 50D is pretty much more powerful than D90 in terms of build quality and performance proven by its price which is far more expensive than D90. But, the fact that D90 is being compared to 50D proves that D90 is one heck of a camera since it’s been compared to the rival of its bigger brother(D300).

    To conclude, it really brings down to your personal preference. If you’re in to sports, built quality, and perfectionists in terms of image quality, the more powerful 50D is the one to choose. But, if you don’t care with all that, or you just like to have great pictures wherever you go, I say D90 is perfect. Plus, the video capability is really a cool new feature. It’s not like you will use it all the time but It can be handy in some situations. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone. For me, I choose D90. Im not really going into pro. Im just a serious enthusiast that has passion for photography thats it. And, the D90 is perfect for me :))

  32. Video Dad

    Im leaning towards the Nikon, since this will my wife’s first camera since the canon AE-1 film. Ya 25 years ago. We like the video feature because we use it on the small pocket cams right now both Canon and Nikon The cameras primary purpose will be recreational photo for our kids college and high school lacrosse and Basketball games and vacations. Both companies produce great product I currently have a Canon XL2 Video cam and it makes me look like a pro, while I still shoot film with my Nikonis V cam both underwater and land pic’s are great. So the price has our attention and we will put the extra savings in lenses. But if I was a daily user I might lean toward the 50 D.

  33. Jaemi

    If I’m an amateur, the Canon probably has more specs than I need. The Nikon also has video, and video is becoming important. I own a Canon SD700IS, which I do most of my video with, for all that I own an HD DigiCamcorder. I wish my Nikon D80 did video. It can take SDHC. The Nikon just seems friendlier and more feature rich.

  34. Gary

    I think they are both a poor choice for a first DSLR in that they both are 3-4 models up in the each companies line. The 50D really out classes the D90. I think the D90 really falls between the XSi and the 50D. I think the 50D is more comparable to the D300, as an imager.

  35. Paul

    if price no issue, then 50D… since i am a beginner and look at the price point choose D90. Its already a very good camera for me… i am not too bother about the specs because as i says both camera are excellent.. one good thing about 50D is its whether proof body

  36. Jim

    I shouldn’t have a favorite, but I do. I like the Nikon. It’s light…it’s plastic – so it will bounce when I actually drop it (or should – fingers crossed)

  37. JeffP

    I just purchased the Nikon D90 and am very satisfied with the camera. It has so many in camera settings it’s crazy. You can even edit raw shots in camera. The IQ is brilliant as well as the high ISO low noise. The camera is very solid and shutter operation is smooth. AF system is great and accurate. Live view is slow and video is a nice bonus feature. Over all it is a very advanced DSLR and has all the latest technology and good handling. Highly recommended.

  38. Alain

    I recently purchased the Canon 50D and I LOVE it!

    I considered the Nikon for a brief moment and I know that there are many nice features that it offers and at a lower price point, but I wanted something very “pro-sumer” as I am considering working as a photographer on the side.

    The D90′s HD Recording capabilities are nice, however, you lose the autofocus when recording video. I wanted a camera that was stellar at taking pictures, not a DSLR that could tke video. I have a few point and shoots that take pretty small and some may argue bad video, but it’s good enough for my needs. If I wanted a video camera I’d get a Canon XL HD Camcorder or something similar.

    Ok, so positives about the Canon. Canon has a very solid line of lenses that makes things a lot easier when trying to decide which lenses I should buy and what I could trust. I didn’t want to deal with mediocre 3rd party lenses or 3rd party lenses that I’d have to do a ton of research in to get the most suitable lens. I stick with the L series glass from Canon and I couldn’t be happier. Plus the Canon 50D has lens profiles built into it so I don’t have to worry about correcting distortion when using Canon lenses.

    The Canon 50D fit my budget as I was willing to spend $5000 for a good body and lenses. The Nikon though cheaper didn’t entice me as much because it seemed more consumer than pro-sumer. And admittedly, I was looking at Megapixels when I bought the 50D not knowing at the time that cramming more megapixels on the same sized sensor could potentially cause more noise in shots. But with that said there hasn’t been any noticeable noise with any of the shots I’ve taken. The DIGiX4 processor and new sensor technology seems pretty rock solid. I do wish that Canon had more auto-focus points like the Nikons though. I could go on but I highly recommend the Canon 50D.

  39. Tony

    I bought the Canon. for me (amateur videographer) I don’t need that particular feature on my DSLR. I do however really enjoy the extraordinary ISO found in the Canon 50d.

  40. Adrian

    I was between these 2 and decided to get a d90.

    A big factor for me was that the 50D haves some stupid controls, i dont really like the wheel and that small arrow pad.
    I wanted the capability of recording video, even if i dont need it.

    This was my first DSLR

  41. Ro

    i’d gp with the Nikon D90 – the 50Dhas lots of noise issue with its ISO even at 800-1600 range. 40D even has better peformance with noise than the 50D. D90 has minimal noise even at 3200.

  42. Adam Scott Paul

    I took over 3,200 photos with my Nikon D90 in the first 90 Days.
    Check out the short film I made comprising all my photos.

    I came up with the idea for 90D90 and would love to have more submissions from the Nikon D90 Community, but I extend the idea of 90DAYS to all camera users to enjoy. So please send in your submissions!

  43. Mark Holland

    Hi I am in the market for a digital DLSR and need help disiding between the Nikon D90 and Canon 50D. I am a novice photog, and mainly shoot photos of nature, wildlife, family and kid sports. Can you help???.

  44. alex

    I handled both in a camera store and I ended up selling my Canon lenses + Canon 300D and buying the D90. As pluses over Canon, that matters for me:

    1. Better ergonomics
    2. Better Auto White Balance
    3. AF-assist lamp instead of flash strobes – makes a big difference when shooting at the parties
    4. 12 Mpx is more than enough for enthuziast level
    5. Nikon 18-200 is better built than Canon 18-200.

    I don’t think that for more applications you need more that 4.5 frames/sec (D90)
    15 Mp not that usefull, you very good (expensive) glass to fully make use of it.

  45. simon

    I would pick the canon 50d, it is built stronger than the nikon, magnesium body covered with rubber and plastic. Also the seals around the doors are better.
    Image quality is about the same imo, unless you are a pixel picker….

  46. Nick

    I bought the D90, although I’m still torn.
    Pluses for Canon:
    - higher FPS. Even if you don’t burst more than 4 – 5 shots (e.g. flying bird or yawning cat), higher FPS increases the likelihood to get the right moment captured
    - usable and FREE raw processing software (DPP). This to me is essential – since most images need some retouching. The $150 Nikon Capture NX is a slow, buggy piece of junk and Lightroom or any other 3rd party raw converter I tried won’t get all the information from the camera (e.g. saved modified image profiles)

    Pluses for Nikon:
    - larger sensor – 1.5x crop factor. This, imo, trumps the 15 mp from 50D. Cramming that in a smaller sensor doesn’t make sense – reminds me of the mindless gigahertz battle in the PC market
    - dedicated metering sensor – it’s like an extra camera brain.

    I’m still tempted to rent the 50D for a week, just for a quick comparison. D90 is a great camera, but taking the picture is just the beginning of the workflow, and having good usable processing software from Canon is a big plus…

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