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I am upgrading my camera from a compact point and shoot to a DSLR. I am struggling to choose between the Canon 200D and the Nikon D5600. The Canon 200D is a good all rounder with the dual pixel AF, but only has 9 AF points where as the Nikon D5600 has 39. Is this a deal breaker? Is it worth getting the Nikon D5600 for an extra $100-200? Thanks for your advice in advance!

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  • for questions like that it is usually very important to mention what kind of photography you are most interested in. Is it landscape (slow moving)? Sports (fast moving)? Portraits of small children (fast moving) or old people (slow moving)? Mix of several of these? Also you should read this: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/22627/… Jan 3 '18 at 0:33
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The Canon 200D is a good all rounder with the dual pixel AF, but only has 9 AF points where as the Nikon D5600 has 39. Is this a deal breaker?

If it was, nobody would have bought Canon entry-level DSLRs for a long time, as they have had the same diamond-shaped, 9 point autofocus layout for many years now.

Is it worth getting the Nikon D5600 for an extra $100-200?

That entirely depends on your use-case.


In-depth:

Note that everything below is written without considering both the 200D or the D5600 specifically. This is not meant as a rant against either manufacturer, but as general information about what one would look for in a decent AF system.

AF-points (and how much of them are available) is only one aspect of the whole autofocus-system. I'd even go as far as to completely ignore the number of AF-points and say that the most important factors* (in descending order) are:

  • Focus speed and reliability: A no-brainer, really. If the AF system takes longer to focus than my subjects bear to hold still, then it is useless to me. The same applies if it only manages to get 1/10 - technically well-made - shots in focus. With DSLRs, that's usually no problem - and if it is, it usually comes down to the lens.
  • Low-light-ability: If your camera has 100 AF-points, but only 1 works at moonlight-levels, then when shooting at moonlight-levels, your camera practically has only 1 AF-point. If you plan on working with natural light (and/or the lack of it) only, then this is crucial.
  • Coverage of the frame: 100 points that would only cover the innermost 10% of your camera's frame would not be a real advantage over having 1 (or 5) points in there. Covering a larger area of the frame will reduce the need to recompose (meaning: focus your shot via the center AF point, then subsequently frame your shot (and shoot)).
  • Distance between the points: The less distance there is between two AF points, the less I have to recompose (but the more I have to change my AF-points - or the AF-point matrix). However, the AF-points you can see in the viewfinder do not cover the whole area the assigned sensor will work at - shooting "in between" AF-points therefore will not lead to misfocussed photos most of the time.
  • AF-matrices: When shooting shot-critical things (sports, mainly), having the ability to chose areas instead of single points of the whole AF-field can make a difference.
  • Ergonomics: As the density of AF-points increases, if you plan on using them, a fast way to do so is crucial. With DSLRs, that usually is no problem, but I would certainly test it before I buy one.
  • Ability to deal with high f-numbers: As far as I know, Canon entry-level DSLRs' AF-systems can deal with up to f/5.6 (I do not know about Nikon, but I would think that it's about the same). So if you buy a 70-200mm f/4 L IS II and an Extender EF 2x III, your effective aperture would be f/8 - and your AF system would work no more. Also, for high apertures, it is not unusual that only the central AF-point will continue to work.
  • Cross-type sensors: In my experience, they are somewhat overrated. I never, ever got a better focus out of the cross-type sensors of any camera - though I have to admit that I like to use them for peace of mind.

* "Most important factors" in my opinion - all of them are important, though different styles of photography will require different features. So, please, don't see this as a general law of photography. All but the first two can be balanced out by using some decent technique.

If you want further reading, I recommend Canon EOS DSLR Autofocus Explained (most of it is not Canon-specific ;-) ).


Conclusion:

The number alone does not account for anything and both cameras will be quite nice to start your DSLR-career. If I were in your situation, I would try out both and see which one suits your needs best. Both systems have their pros and cons (ergonomics, lenses & flashes, relatives & friends that might lend you lenses & flashes, ...), and I would consider those, too.

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Does having more focus points give you a "better" camera?

It rather depends what you want to do with it.

As a lens can only focus at a single distance at any one time, then if you're taking photos of still or slowly moving subjects, it's not going to make much difference at all.
Even if you use focus/recompose [1] you could still get away perfectly well with a single AF point.
Landscape photography, portrait, product... all can be done perfectly well with a single AF point.

On the other hand, if you're trying to shoot a sports game, then you'll need good 3D tracking, so your intended subject stays in focus all the time.
For this, even 39 points is barely enough, unless you can keep your subject reasonably centred in the frame.

Thirdly, if you use the camera on 'full auto' then you have to rely on it making best guesses as to what you actually intend to be the main subject of your photo. Sometimes, this makes 39 points a bit much... it's not actually intelligent & doesn't know you want a picture of the dog rather than its owner, so will blindly guess at the most significant contrasty bit in near-field, & you'll end up half-squeezing 3 or 4 times til it gets it right.

Note: You can always reduce the number of points it will use, via the control panel. I have a 39-point camera - 20% of the time I have it on 39-point, 60% on single point, [20% any other setting], but that's because most of the time I'm shooting things that don't move.

[1] Focus/recompose - briefly, to use the single central focus point; aim at e.g. the nearest eye of your subject, then without changing distance, move your framing until you have a more 'interesting' composition & then take the shot.

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If you have fewer AF points there are ways around it, so the number of AF points should not be a big factor in your purchase. Even with just a single AF point you can do the point, half-press, reframe, shoot manoeuvre. In fact, some people autofocus this way anyway (note that focusing is done to a plane, not a sphere, so reframing will push focus slightly out, but usually still within acceptable DOF).

9 focus points is not a huge limiting factor. To complicate things there are other variables too, such as their low light ability and whether they are cross type or only linear. 9 of the AF points on that D5600 are cross-type, whereas only the centre one on the 200D is. Only the central AF point on the 200D supports f/2.8 and I'm not sure about the D5600. The 200D specs are refreshingly detailed in this area.

There's also live view AF which can use CDAF. The 200D has "49 points" in this mode but really the figure in this case is less meaningful than for PDAF as it's effectively unlimited anyway. The D5600 says it's unlimited in this mode.

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