I have a Canon 400D with the EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 II kit lens and a Nikon D800 with an AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm 1:4 G ED.

Today I took the same picture with both cameras and I like the Nikon's much better (second image).

Canon Nikon

However, I love the Canon camera because it's much lighter, I find the controls much more intuitive and I have several flashes for it.

Is there an upgrade I can make to get similar photos from the/a similar Canon camera?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Are both pictures JPEGs straight out of the camera? If so, which picture profile did you use in the Canon? \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Mar 28, 2019 at 13:40
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you describe what specifically you like better about the image from the Nikon? Otherwise it's hard to know if we can even answer this. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ And by "upgrade", do you mean "addition" or "replacement" \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @flolilo I left the EXIF data intact, but I had to scale down the Nikon image to the size of the Canon image to get it below the 2 MB limit. I'm using the "Standard" style, because I postprocess all important pictures anyway and I think the "Picture Style" doesn't do anything that can't be done in post. \$\endgroup\$
    – AndreKR
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Good question. For one it's sharper (because of the VR/higher ISO/faster lens?). But it's also that the contrast and the transition from foreground to background looks "nicer". \$\endgroup\$
    – AndreKR
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:39

4 Answers 4


The equivalent Canon camera to the Nikon D800 would be the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or 5D Mark IV. The equivalent Canon lens to the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR would be the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

The equivalent Nikon camera to the Canon EOS Rebel XTi/400D was the D40 or D40X. The equivalent Nikon lens to the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II was the AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II.

Your test is comparing an $800 entry level crop sensor camera from 2006¹ using a $100 "kit" lens to a newer, $3,000 full frame "pro" camera using an $1,100 lens. Which do you think will perform better?

It is possible to get a lot closer to the Nikon result with even the older, lower end Canon camera by using a more comparable lens that allows you to shoot from a bit further back.

  • It appears that you were closer to the subject at 55mm (?) with the Canon 18-55mm lens and a little further away at 120mm (?) with the Nikon 24-120mm lens. The different subject distances (how far it is between the camera and the subject) will affect the perspective of the photo.
  • The Nikon lens also allowed you to use an aperture as wide as f/4, while the "slower" Canon lens at 55mm restricted you to f/5.6. Assuming you were using the same ISO setting on both cameras, this means you had to use a slower shutter speed (longer exposure time) to get the same exposure value. When shooting with the camera handheld, longer exposure times can increase the amount of blur from camera movement during the exposure.
  • The VR (Vibration Reduction) feature of the Nikon lens may have reduced the influence of camera movement while the kit lens that came with the Canon Rebel XTi/400D does not offer IS (Image Stabilization - Canon's VR equivalent).
  • You might also need to adjust the in-camera contrast and color settings for the Canon to more closely match what you got from the Nikon, but I think one of the greatest differences may be due to a bit of off-axis light striking the front of the Canon lens and reducing contrast. I'm guessing the Nikon 24-120mm lens had the lens hood supplied with it attached, while the Canon 18-55mm lens that was not supplied with a lens hood did not. One of the primary purposes of a lens hood is to reduce the influence of light sources from just outside of the frame.
  • The $1,100 lens on the Nikon is sharper than the $100 lens on the Canon. Canon's EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is also much sharper than the kit lens supplied with the EOS Rebel XTi/400D.

I think I had pretty much the same distance in both pictures. I tried to get the same frame, so the focal length is different because of the different sensor size. EXIF says 53mm for the Canon and 105mm for the Nikon, not sure how accurate that is.

53mm on the 1.6X Canon camera is the same angle of view as 85mm on the FF D800. A more proper comparison would have been to use the 24-120mm lens on the Nikon at 85mm instead of 105mm. Then you also need to consider that from the same distance at 53mm with the crop body you need to use an aperture of f/2.5 (something your Canon lens doesn't come close to offering) to get the same DoF you would get at f/4 using the FF camera at 85mm. Since your 18-55mm Canon lens is limited to f/5.6 at 55mm, using f/9 at 85mm with the FF Nikon would give approximately the same DoF as you got with the Canon camera and lens.

In the end, the gear does affect the result here (particularly the sharper, faster lens with stabilization versus the softer, slower lens without stabilization), but a more experienced and skillful photographer can get more out of the older, lower end camera than what we see above. For more along this line of thought, please see: the best way to improve image sharpness on Canon 700D

¹ The equivalent model in Canon's lineup today (which is a much better camera due to improvements in technology between 2006 and 2019) would be the $700 EOS Rebel T7i/800D.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't both camera bodies be able to deliver the quality in the second picture, from that scene, effortlessly at the scaling shown? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28, 2019 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not necessarily. If the lens is softer the lens is softer. 55mm @ f/5.6 on a crop body will not be able to give DoF as narrow as 85mm @ f/4 on a FF camera (it's closer to what 85mm @ f/9 on a FF looks like). There probably should not be as much difference as we see in the examples, though. The lack of IS, coupled with the narrower minimum aperture that requires a longer Tv means hand holding the camera will probably induce more blur. This can, of course, be overcome by using a tripod and timed or cable release. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 29, 2019 at 5:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I said camera bodies :) If the lens is softer, indeed the lens is softer, though it would still be debatable how much picture profiles could compensate for the contrast (not sharpness) loss even then. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 29, 2019 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a pretty big difference between the (horrible ) pre-IS 18-55 kit lenses ( I had one that came with my Rebel XTi) and lenses like the AF-S 24-120mm f/4G or the EF 24-105mm f/4L. And you are still dealing with the significant difference in DoF between using a crop sensor at 53mm and f/5.6 (85mm and f/9 equivalent) or a FF at 85mm and f/4. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 29, 2019 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ And face it, the IQ of the sensor of the 2006 Rebel XTi/400D can't hold a candle to the sensor performance of the 2012 D800. Those are documented, tested, facts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 29, 2019 at 12:44

The main difference in the images seems to be a much shallower depth of field on the full frame camera. So, yes, there is a solution: a suitable lens.

Try the Canon 50mm f/1.8. It's very cheap (not that much over 100 EUR/USD/GBP/whatever-currency-you-prefer), and the f/1.8 aperture allows you to have a much shallower depth of field. Also, it overcomes the need to have image stabilization or flash, because the aperture is so big. Your Canon zoom lens lacks image stabilization because it doesn't have "IS" in its name.

What the Canon 50mm lacks is zoom, so you need to learn to zoom with your feet. Set the aperture to f/1.8 (use the aperture priority mode) and start shooting!

Now, of course a 10 MP crop sensor camera won't be equivalent to a 36 MP full frame camera. However, given the right lens, you may just end up with somewhat better pictures.


There could be a bit of blur move in the hair on the forehead on the Canon picture (did the cat frown?).

For me the Canon picture has a bit of front focus (compared to the Nikon where focus is exactly on the eyes). My experience with the xxxD series is that the focus isn't always accurate, all my lenses got better when moving to a 70D. However, a faster lens can help because it will allow a more accurate focus sensor to be used by the 400D (there is a focus sensor that comes into play when the lens can open at f.2/8 or better).


I see a couple of noticeable differences here:

  1. As mentioned in the comments, the Canon camera is some years older.

  2. I don't know much about Nikon, but if the zoom lens is 24mm - 120mm and has a consistent f/4.0 aperture all the way through then I'd take a guess that the quality of that lens is better than the Canon kit lens.

  3. Based on the bokeh in both images, it looks like you're shooting with a wider aperture on the Nikon, producing a shallower depth of field. This is commonly associated with a more professional look anyway. Try keeping the Canon kit lens at 18mm with the aperture at f/3.5 and move the camera closer to get the same framing.

  4. You didn't mention if you're shooting JPEG or RAW, if you're shooting JPEG then you're relying on the camera's in-body colour science to replicate the colours best it can. Canon is pretty good at replicating realistic colour but this isn't necessairly what you want. The colours on the Nikon picture seem a bit more constrasted/saturated but this is down to the way the camera processes it's images - not necessairly the quality of the camera itself.

  5. Shutter speed - the Canon image doesn't appear to be as sharp, this could have been caused by some movement and your shutter speed not being as fast as the Nikon's. It could just as likely be down to point number 3 and the Nikon just having a better lens.

  6. Possibly the biggest argument here, your Nikon is a 36.3 MP full-frame camera and is capable of capturing a hell of a lot more data than the 10.1 MP crop sensor in the 400d

edit: by mentioning the size and MP of the sensors, I'm stating that the Nikon sensor can capture more data and will therefore have better dynamic range as well as images that appear sharper thanks to the higher resolution and the compressed ratio that you view them at. As mentioned in the comment below, simply having a higher resolution is not by any means directly related to a better image.


  • Setup the test again, but use the same shutter speed, aperture and ISO on both cameras.

  • Shoot in RAW, not JPEG, and then edit the images manually to really see the difference in what has been captured.

  • Look at getting a better lens for the Canon, the 50mm f/1.8 (commonly referred to as the "nifty fifty") is arguably the best value for money prime lens that Canon make, however on your crop-sensor camera it may be a little too "zoomed in" for the type of photos you want to get.

  • If you truly want to use a Canon camera that's lighter, they do a "portrait" kit which comprises of the 200D (smallest/lightest body they make with some impressive stats for it's sizr and price) and a 50mm f/1.8 lens

  • \$\begingroup\$ good answer, apart from #6. Resolution is not the biggest argument in producing a pleasing image. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Mar 28, 2019 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks, @osullic - in general, no it's not the biggest argument; my point here was actually more regarding full-frame vs crop-frame and the difference it would make in terms of dynamic range etc. between the two cameras however reading it back I can see why it would look like I was making a point around resolution. I'll make an edit \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28, 2019 at 15:57

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