Nikon vs. Canon for Portraits: Which Is Better?


The battle between Nikon and Canon has been going on for years. Some swear by Nikon, while others only rely on Canon—both have advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to portraits, though, which one is better? 

Canon is better for portrait photography if you are a beginner, intend to shoot candid shots, or want lenses with low aperture settings. However, Nikon is great for those who want to shoot low-light portraits and studio photography. Overall, both cameras shoot quality portraits. 

This article will describe the differences between Nikon and Canon and cover each camera brand’s pros and cons. By the end of this article, you will be able to make an informed decision of whether to go with Nikon or Canon for portraits. 

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Nikon: A Basic Overview

Nikon is a Japanese company that specializes in many different imaging and optic products. The company has a wide range of DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) cameras that have become popular in the photography world. However, Nikon has a vast array of other products, including riflescopes, camera lenses, binoculars, spotting scopes, and more. 

Thousands of photographers buy from Nikon, ranging from beginners to professionals. The company designs its cameras, keeping a few factors in mind: aesthetic, durability, and quality. Nikon produces different types of cameras, but it also produces hundreds of camera equipment to personalize your camera setups, such as lenses, filters, tripods, and much more. 

Check out how the Nikon 85mm compares with the 70-200mm for portraits here!

Pros of Nikon Cameras

Before we get into each camera brand’s pros and cons, it is important to remember that there are so many products available. It is impossible to say which system is better; most of it comes down to personal choice and expertise level. However, we will cover the most frequent pros and cons that photographers encounter. Let’s dive into it. 

  • Nikon has cheap options for beginner DSLRs. Nikon has many models designed for beginners, and fortunately, they are on the low side of the budget radar. Nikon will have great quality cameras for affordable prices if you are new to photography and are looking for the cheapest option.
  • The cameras shoot low-light settings well. One of the things that Nikon is known for is its quality of low-light shots. This kind of shooting is difficult, and you have to have certain equipment for it (specific aperture and ISO settings, for example). If you want to shoot more dramatic portraits, this will be something to consider.
  • Nikon is known for its flash control systems. Many people agree that Nikon has more extensive flash control systems. In a studio setting, it might be easier with a Nikon camera to control exterior flashes. 
  • Nikon offers quicker fixes to small features. While this may have changed over the years, Nikon is known to respond more quickly to updates and offer easier fixes and add-ons to their cameras than Canon. If you are someone who loves to stay on top of every new update, Nikon may be the better company for you. 

Check out why we think the Nikon D3200 is great for YouTube videos here!

Cons of Nikon Cameras

Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of Nikon brand cameras. 

  • Some models do not have an autofocus motor. Autofocus motors move the camera lens to focus on whatever is in the forefront of the frame (or wherever you are telling the camera to focus). Autofocus is key in portrait photography since it will be very accurate in picking up facial features. Furthermore, some newer models cannot autofocus with older lenses. 
  • Asian countries manufacture most Nikon products. Nikon in North America only makes the most expensive Nikon cameras, while all other products are made elsewhere, such as in China.
  • Nikon cameras do not memorize customized camera settings. Some other cameras have mode dials to preset your settings, such as ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. While some Nikon cameras have two modes you can switch between, you will have to edit your camera settings for every new shot manually. 

Check out to see how the Nikon 35mm compares with the 50mm for portraits here

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Canon: A Basic Overview

Canon is a Japanese corporation specializing in a few different areas such as imaging, optical, and other industrial items (printers, scanners, cameras, lenses, and even medical equipment). The company is most known for its printers and cameras. Canon photography products are suitable for beginner shooters to professional photographers. 

Pros of Canon Cameras

  • Canon has several lens adapters available. Lens adapters give you more freedom when trying out different lenses for your camera. This feature will help portrait photography since there are so many different portrait lenses available to give you different looks.
  • There are usually two or more positions on the camera’s mode dials. This feature means that you can save certain camera settings for each position and simply switch to them whenever you want without having to reset the settings. 
  • Canon cameras are known for their autofocus. Many photographers rave about how many autofocus points that the cameras have and how efficient the system is. 
  • Most cameras have a quick control screen. Unlike many Nikon cameras, you usually have to press just one button to access the camera’s main controls and settings. This feature lowers the stress in a quick-thinking situation where you need your camera settings perfect at all times to get the shot. 

Cons of Canon Cameras

  • Canon files hold less information than Nikon files. The lower quality files mean that if you shoot a picture with incorrect settings (such as too low of ISO, making the picture too dark), you might not be able to brighten the picture enough in post-production to save it. The files have a lower dynamic range. 
  • Cameras can’t shoot low light settings well. Many photographers have mentioned that when they go above 2500 ISO, you can see grain in the photos. 
  • The company has expensive flash systems. A big complaint of Canon is that some of the flash systems are very expensive. On top of that, even photographers who pay top dollar for flash experience lag and buffering issues. 

Check out how the Canon 80D camera is good for portraits here!

Which One Should You Choose?

Both Nikon and Canon cameras have great features that will aid you in portrait photography. When choosing a camera, it will all come down to your personal style and level of skill. 

If you are more of a beginner, we would recommend going with Canon for a few reasons. Canon cameras will allow you to switch settings more quickly and easier than Nikon because of its different positions on the mode dials and quick control screen. 

The autofocus on Canon cameras will also make shooting candid shots easier. Something else to mention is that Canon has a wider range of low aperture settings (some cameras can go to f/1.2).

On the other hand, Nikon might be the way to go if you want to shoot in low-lighting settings. This feature can be great for dramatic portrait settings such as evening shoots or low-light studio shoots. Furthermore, Nikon will be sufficient if you are not shooting candid shots but want to focus more on carefully planned photoshoots since it might take more time to change camera settings. 

Both camera companies have lots of lenses designed for portrait photography, so the availability of lenses should not affect your decision unless you are going for a unique style (such as a very low aperture, as mentioned before). 

If you are new to portrait photography, check out Understanding Portrait Photography: How to Shoot Great Pictures of People Anywhere. Photography can become very confusing very fast, so this handy little book should clear up the main points for you. 

Conclusion

The choice between Nikon or Canon for portrait photography will depend on personal preference. Both companies have high-quality products that will not disappoint. 

Canon seems to have more beginner-friendly models, while Nikon tends to have more products suited for dramatic shots, such as enhanced low-light ability and superior flash systems. Overall, both Nikon and Canon will produce great portrait shots. 

Bridge cameras can also be a candidate for portrait photography, check out to see how in this article here!

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Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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