I am about to buy a new DSLR and shortlisted the two models, Nikon D5100 and Canon 550D.

From the pics that I have seen on Flickr it seems that Nikon pics have more saturated color than Canon. Is it true? Also will it be possible to take similar pics from Canon 550D ?

I heard from a Canon 550D user that you can get similar results from a 550D too. On the contrary I heard from some enthusiasts that you need to do a lot of post-processing on Canon pics if you want to achieve Nikon like results because a Nikon sensor by default puts in more color. He went on to add that Canon pics are closer to real world colors while Nikon gives more saturated colors for eg. the sky would look more blue with a Nikon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please see the FAQ. A "healthy debate" is not welcome! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 12:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ pictures on Flickr don't reflect the camera as much as the photo manipulation skills of the uploader. Using your logic I'd be able to say that Nikon users are better at using Photoshop than are Canon users :) \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 12:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Saturation should not be a criteria for judging a camera body as it mostly depends on the post-precessing and on lenses. Built-in default preset in Nikon gives you more saturated photos than the built-in default preset in the Canon does, but its always adjustable in the post. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Nikon Pics have more saturated Color than Canon. Is it true?" - No this is not true. For all intents and purposes unless you are looking under a microscope at lab results - the brands produce VERY similar results out of similar quality lenses. For your average joe or even serious pro - the differences are not important enough to warrant a brand preference on this item alone. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ P.S.: by saying "a healthy debate is not welcome", I don't mean that answers shouldn't consider all sides. They should, but they should aim for objectivity, not the partisan arguments that that implies. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 15:24

5 Answers 5


The only fair way to compare something like saturation is a RAW-to-RAW comparison under conditions and settings that are as faithfully-duplicated as possible. As others have mentioned, saturation is one of the things that's typically affected during image processing -- even the processing done in-camera when a JPG file is created (thus, most users don't even realize it's happening).

You might find that the only way you'll get a really good answer is to set up a test on your own, but you might find a good starting point would be to review files produced by a review site like DPReview. They have test reports for both the D5100 and the 550D, and both of these reports have a section showing RAW outputs of their standard test scene.

The test for the D5100, in fact, will let you compare RAW outputs of the D5100 and 550D interactively at various ISO settings. On this screen, you can not only compare the outputs, but you can also download the RAW files produced for the test. These RAW files might be the easiest approximation you can find for purposes of an apples-to-apples test.


There is really no way to objectively analyze the saturation of photos from any brand of camera. There are far too many factors involved, far to many layers of indirection, that create a lot of "noise" that obscures an objective result. A lot of review sites certainly try to produce as objective of comparisons as they can, such as DPReview and DXOLabs, however you have to take it all with a grain of salt.

Here are the facts:

  1. What you see on your screen is not necessarily what others see on theirs.
    • Computer screens all produce different results, even when properly calibrated.
    • An uncalibrated screen may over saturate or under saturate, preventing you from seeing the "actual" photo
  2. What you see in print is usually a greatly reduced level of saturation and dynamic range
    • Prints, which often look excellent when viewed in a proper setting under proper light, are often mere shadows of what the camera actually captured
  3. Dynamic range and bit depth of modern cameras tends to surpass all but the most expensive screens and printers
    • Most cameras these days have 12-14 stops of dynamic range
    • The best computer screens may have as much as 10 stops, but usually only 6-8 with cheaper screens
    • The printers with high dMax may be able to achieve 7 stops of dynamic range, but realistically you may bet 5-7 stops
    • Lower dynamic range reduces contrast, which affects saturation
  4. Post-processing enhancements account for a significant majority of the "wow" and "pop" factors that give a photo its emotional impact
    • Saturation can be enhanced significantly during post processing, either directly, or via exposure tuning and contrast enhancement
    • A lot of the artistic style of a photographer is achieved with post processing
    • Two photos of the same exact scene at the same exact location taken with both a Canon and a Nikon can be made to look identical to each other with post processing.
    • Any technological differences can be entirely eliminated or hidden, as in the end, they really don't mean all that much...the photographers vision and style means far more
  5. Most IQ tests are done at 100% crops levels (full size, pixel peeping) and do not reflect real-world viewing situations
    • A significant amount of photography is viewed online these days, at tiny resolutions that on-screen approximate 4x6" to 5x7" print size
    • Most prints involve significantly higher pixel density than a computer screen, and higher pixel density absorbs undesirable artifacts, noise, etc.
    • The IQ measurements of a 100% crop are useful from a statistical comparison standpoint (think using DXOLabs to compare the low-level hardware capabilities of two cameras)
    • The same IQ measurements of 100% crops are largely worthless from a real-world standpoint...good gear can help you fully utilize your capabilities, but its really the capabilities of the photographer that matter.

My best advice to you is to buy the camera that feels best in your hands, and gives you the functional capabilities that allow you to best utilize your skill. The minute technological differences between a D5100 or a 550D are inconsequential, as they are largely equivalent. If the 550D captures more "realistic" color and the D5100 takes more "saturated" color, but the 550D feels better in your hands, get the 550D. You can easily enhance saturation with RAW images in post processing, along with pretty much anything else that may not fit your style.

The only meaningful differences in camera equipment generally involve the things that cost more money. A low-end camera will usually offer minimal features, and while you can certainly take excellent photos with such a camera, you may find some things more difficult to do, or requiring more effort, than with a more capable camera. It doesn't matter if you choose Nikon or Canon, a more expensive model from either will usually include better AF capabilities, making it easier for you to capture subjects in motion and action shots. A top of the line camera will usually bring a much higher frame rate to the table, allowing you to fire off 10-14 frames per second rather than a mere 3-4. The actual photos you capture that are keepers are likely to be unchanged, and you will still have to apply that artistic prowess in post to add your personal touch, your style, to the photographs you take...but better technology can increase the number of keepers.

Minor things like which brand produces more "saturated" photos are moot points in the face of an advanced AF system that lets you nail focus every time on that figure skater, or that airplane, or that elk during a rut...so don't worry about them.


The 550D has something called "picture styles" - you can use those to get more saturated pictures in JPEG right out of the camera.

Picture styles are presets you can set to control the image processing settings in-camera, there are 5 color pictures styles, one black and white and 3 user defined styles.

One of the things you can set in a picture style is saturation.

You can see examples of the 6 different pictures styles you get from Canon in this page on the Canon site or on this page in digital photography school, I also remember a web based app that let you try different picture styles on the same image but I can't find it now.

Picture styles let you control the saturation without any post-processing at all.

Now obviously if you do post processing this opens a lot of more powerful possibilities, just shoot in raw and play with the colors as much as you want.

Doing this in post is much easier than you think because most post-processing programs can save and load the processing settings you choose - so you work on getting the saturation exactly right once and then copy it with just a few mouse clicks to all the other pictures (and all the pictures you'll take in the future).

And finally, I have to add that getting a nice blue sky is more about light and exposure than image saturation settings.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nikon has similar functionality. Only the name differs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 13:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that if you shoot RAW, then picture styles are irrelevant as your workflow software will ignore it, and it's down to you to play with the colours as you see fit :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mile - if you use Canon's software it will use the in-camera picture style to set the initial processing setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohanKarlsson - I didn't try to say Canon has something Nikon doesn't have, only that you can control saturation without post processing \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nir I understand. However I was giving this information to Rebecca Jones, since the original question was about comparing Canon and Nikon. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 20:44

I imagine Nikon's Neutral picture style is pretty much the same as Canon's Neutral. For Canon's the point and shoots have the most saturation in Standard Picture style, whereas in the flag-ship-models, saturation is restrained. If you are a Canon user, and are using Standard picture style, increasing the saturation will make the colours clip to the right side of the histogram.

So I don't know how Nikon's can have more saturation than Canon's Standard picture style and still not have colour clipping (the RGB histogram), see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/19725722@N06/4839774919/


Do images captured on a Nikon camera have higher saturation than those captured on a Canon? (Assuming default settings)

Perhaps, but the more I research this, the more conflicting information I see. The problem with looking on flickr is that the images have likely been post-processed and saturation is more of a photographer's preference than a hardware thing.

Can a Canon camera match the saturation of a Nikon?

Yes. However, saturation of an image is reliant on many factors including the camera's sensor, lens, film type (or digital processing), shutter speed, lens flares, lens filters... and the list goes on...

That said, I will assume all of the other factors are negligible and focus only on the camera body. The sensor is one factor that is not under the control of the photographer (beyond your purchasing decision), but the digital processing is not. On a Canon, this can be controlled by choosing a Picture Style, on Nikon Picture Control. So, while the defaults may treat the image differently, you are free to tell the camera how you want your images to be processed. Also, if you choose RAW images, there is even less difference, as you can control the processing even more.


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