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June 5, 2006 / arthill

Canon Rebel XT vs. Nikon Coolpix 8800


I have been shooting digital for about 8 years mostly with Nikon non-DSLR cameras. I currently own an 8800, previous cameras included the 8700, 5700 and 990. I’ve been pretty happy with the Nikon products or I wouldn’t have stayed with them. I had been thinking about getting a DSLR for a while and finally pulled the trigger in early March. I bought the Canon Rebel XT with the so-called kit lens. I’ve taken about 5000 pictures with it.

Several people I know are trying to decide whether to go DSLR or continue with so called consumer cameras. I decided to write up my impressions of the Nikon 8800 and the Canon Rebel XT to help people with that analysis.

There is no right answer. Both cameras have pros and cons and a lot depends on what kind of shooting you do. The major differences are:

  • The Canon is MUCH faster. You can literally hold down the shutter button and the camera will blaze along recording the scene with no noticeable delay. The Nikon has continuous mode but it is much slower and runs out of gas pretty fast.
  • The Canon produces acceptable pictures at every ISO setting from 100 to 1600. I am totally surprised how good the pictures are at ISO 800. With the Nikon you can get by with ISO 200 max. Anything I’ve shot at ISO 400 is barely passable – just too much noise. You only use it when you HAVE to. This is the one area that is the major difference between the cameras. In addition to allowing you to shoot in much lower light conditions such as indoors, the higher ISO lets you shoot at higher shutter speeds and/or higher aperture settings. This is particularly useful for close work where maximum depth of field is required and camera shake is exaggerated.
  • The Nikon is a panoramic shooters dream camera. It has a panoramic assist feature that is amazing. I probably won’t even attempt panoramas with the Canon.
  • The Nikon shoots pretty decent movies. The Canon has no such feature.
  • I love being able to frame pictures with the live swiveling LCD on the Nikon. This is a boon to a flower photographer as you don’t have to spend all your time on your knees or belly. You can also raise the camera over your head to shoot over crowds or even swivel the LCD all the way around to take a picture of yourself. I reach way out over our pond with the Nikon to shoot water lilies. I simply cannot do that with the Canon.
  • The Nikon has an extremely good 10X zoom lens (35-350 in 35mm equivalent) so you have everything you need to go shooting in all sorts of scenarios. It’s macro capabilities are legendary; you can get within a couple of inches of your subject. It also has built-in Vibration Reduction. With the Canon you are going to be spending hundreds of dollars each for additional lenses. To get image stabilization you will pay even more. You will need to lug these around with you and change lenses depending on what you are shooting. This of course is the BIG difference between going the DSLR route and the all-in-one digital camera. DSLR costs a lot more money; don’t be fooled by the price of the body only.
  • Close focusing, especially in low light, has been the biggest weakness on all the Nikons. It was so bad on the 8700 that I upgraded to the 8800 for that reason. The 8800 is better but still not good. I’ve shot a lot of fuzzy indoor pictures with the 8800. The Canon is MUCH better. The focusing is mostly outstanding; I’ve only had a few misses.
  • On camera flash is pretty decent on the Canon, okay on the Nikon but lots of redeye.

 

There are lots of other minor differences. I’m impressed with the Canon battery life. I think I like the Nikon controls and menu system better but that may just be because I’m so familiar with it. I like zooming by turning the lens ring instead of pushing a button. Nikon has some pretty cool things like Best Shot Selector built-in; I’m going to miss that. It is very nice to have all of the information about your shots available in the viewfinder of the Nikon; I miss that on the Canon.

 

So that’s it. The pictures from both outdoors at lower ISO speeds are outstanding. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Canon takes better pictures; I would probably say that with the Canon you can take great pictures in a wider variety of situations (e.g. indoors without flash). So, it just depends on what you want to shoot and how much money you have to spend. The Nikon is a great camera and very convenient – lots of built-in goodies. You can generally do more with any DSLR such as the Canon but you will spend more money and you’ll have more stuff to lug around.

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