When it comes to comparing the two biggest digital SLR camera brands, Nikon and Canon, it is almost impossible to separate them in terms of camera quality. We’re often asked to recommend one over the other, and usually give the answer that the choice is highly personal and often down to intangible things such as how the camera feels in your hands. Assuming it’s in good hands, a modern digital SLR from Canon or Nikon is going to take excellent photos. In many respects entry level SLRs are now better than pro level cameras of just a few years ago, and as photographers we are lucky to have such capable tools at our disposal.
So the differences in performance between the two big brands often boil down to specific areas, and flash is one of the areas where there is a clear leader.
Both Canon and Nikon make excellent, easy to use flashes with large power ranges, lots of features, and highly intelligent metering systems. Armed with a little knowledge these flashes allow a photographer to create good images most of the time when using flash.
Nikon however has 3 areas where it beats Canon.[table “5” not found /]
These specific but important technicalities become quite apparent if you will be using flash a lot, and here’s why.
Flash Sync Speed
A faster flash sync speed means you can work at a higher shutter speed when using flash. Very broadly speaking shutter speed has an impact on the areas of your image which are not lit by the flash, e.g. a distant background, often called the ambient exposure, and not so much of an impact on the subject which is being lit by the flash. The ability to use a faster shutter speed provides you with more control over the ambient exposure in your image. It means that with the Nikon you can make your background one quarter of a stop darker that you can with a Canon. It’s only a small difference, but sometimes it matters.
Off Camera Wireless TTL
This is the main area where the Nikon flash system is superior to Canon. Nikon have developed a very clever system where the flash meters and gives you a perfect exposure even when it is not attached to the camera. Basically the pop up flash sends a signal to the remote flash to fire its metering pre-flashes, which the camera reads, the pop up flash then relays information to the remote flash to tell it what power to fire at for the actual shot. Very clever, and you can even change the remote flashes manual power setting from the camera. Canon cameras can do this but require a separate unit.
Off Camera Rear Curtain Sync
When triggered remotely, Canon cameras can only fire their flashes in front curtain sync mode, i.e. as the shutter opens. With Nikon you can choose to fire the flash as the shutter opens or as it closes. This means you can choose to have motion blur behind your moving subject if you aren’t panning. Again it’s a small thing, but can be significant if you’re trying to achieve a certain shot.
So, should flash be your thing, Nikon has a slighly better system than Canon. But please don’t lose any sleep over it.