Jim Doty - Photo Blog

Photography: Photos, News, and Tips
Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Canon 20D and Nikon D70

Every day people come to my primary website wanting to know which is the better camera, the Canon 20D or the Nikon D70. The answer for most people is that it doesn't matter. Let me explain why.

Both cameras are excellent digital cameras capable of taking excellent photographs. The differences in photos will have more to do with the eye and technique of the photographer, rather than any minor differences in the cameras. One camera does have an edge over the other, but I will get to that in a moment.

Whatever is the best camera of the moment will change in a few months to a year. The Canon 10D was the best camera in its class at the time of its introduction. The Nikon D70 gave it a run for its money when it came out, and some would say the Nikon D70 is better than the Canon 10D. Now the Canon 20D is available and many say it is better than the Nikon D70. So what!! Most folks can't afford to spend the rest of their lives buying the latest and greatest camera, much less switching lenses.

The more important question is "What lenses do you have or want to get?" Repeat after me: "LENSES ARE FOREVER AND BODIES ARE TEMPORARY." That is an obvious overstatement, but gets at something important. All of my lenses purchased over the last 20 years still work fine today. A set of well chosen lenses costs more than the camera body. For a long time, wise photographers have put their money in better glass rather than the very best film camera. This is even more true today as digital bodies are regularly replaced by a newer and usually improved versions. Choosing a good lens system is the number one priority. Then pick a camera that will use those lenses.

If you have a set of Canon EF lenses that you like and will continue to use, then your decision, if you are switching to digital, is to pick a Canon EOS digital body (or Kodak body) that you can put your Canon lenses on. Depending on cost and features, you can choose between the Canon Digital Rebel, the Canon 10D, the Canon 20D, one of the Canon 1D "pro" series bodies, or the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/c. The 20D is so feature rich and produces such high quality images that it is more than adequate for many professional uses. (A photographer for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC shot an article for the January 2005 issue using a pair of 10Ds.)

If you have a set of Nikon lenses that you like and want to continue to use, then your decision, if you are switching to digital, is to pick a camera body (Nikon, Fuji, or Kodak) that you can use with them. By all accounts, the Nikon D70 is an excellent choice.

The same applies to other brands of lenses, providing you have a digital body that you can use with your lenses.

If your lenses have been orphaned without a digital body available, then you are faced with starting over. Or maybe you don't have an SLR body and want to jump to digital, then you have some choices to make.

All of the major camera manufacturers offer good to excellent lenses, with some variations in quality within each of their own lens lines. Reviews can lead you to the better lenses in each brand. Some of the "aftermarket" lenses are quite good too.

I like Canon lenses for several reasons.

1) A good selection of IS (image stabilization) lenses. They allow me to hand hold photos at much slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible. Other manufacturers have lagged behind in this area.

2) Tilt-shift lenses in three focal lengths. Tilt-shift lenses allow me to tilt to extend depth-of-field, to shift for perspective control, to shift for creating easy to stitch panoramas, and to tilt and shift to play with perspective in creative ways.

3) A nice collection of macro lenses and accessories, including the specialized 65mm 1X-5x macro lens.

Your needs may be less specialized than mine and these feature may not be as important to you.

If you are switching to digital, your primary decison relates to lenses, your secondary decison relates to camera bodies.

When the Nikon D70 bested the competition, should Canon owners despair? No. Canon came back with the Canon 20D. Should Nikon owners despair?. No, Nikon will come out with an improved version. The important thing is that the folks with Nikon or Canon lenses have excellent camera bodies to use right now, and better ones will come out in the future.

So which camera is better? I only own one Nikon SLR body, and it is pre-autofocus, so I am not qualified to say. I can tell you that respected reviewers that have used both would give the nod to the Canon 20D as the better camera. DP Review, one of my two favorite review sites, calls it the best in its class.

You can find reviews of the 20D at DP Review, Luminous Landscape, Digital Camera Resource, Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and Rob Galbraith.

My reviews of the Canon 10D are here and here.


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