Reader Question: Canon 50D or Nikon D700?

I received the following email from a reader today.  (My response is below it; however, I invite you to share your thoughts and advice in the comments at the bottom of this post.)

Reader Question

I would appreciate thoughts on the new Canon Eos 50D vs. the Nikon D700.
I have the Canon EOS 40D with the following lenses: 2.8 17-55 IS and 2.8 70-200IS.
I have not read positive reviews of the Canon EOS 50D but I have seen excellent reviews of the Nikon D 700. Unfortunately I don’t have Nikon lenses or flash.
I like to shoot action photography and sometimes need high ISO settings for low light.
Any thoughts?

My Response

That’s an interesting comparison.  While I have not put the Canon 50D and Nikon D700 head to head in a comparison, I have reviewed both on their own merits.

Nikon D700 Review

Canon 50D Review

If you are considering one of these cameras as an upgrade to your 40D, then you’ve got some tough decisions to make.  I say that because you emphasize shooting action photography in low light.

While the Canon 50D’s ISO settings will expand up to an ISO 12800 equivalent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should use these settings.  Truth be told, the 50D’s low light performance is not significantly different from that of the Canon 40D.  The 40D’s ISO range extends up to ISO 3200.  And, the 50D is generally not worth shooting at ISO 6400 and up (see the 50D Review).  If anything, the 40D offers better high ISO noise performance than the 50D all the way up to ISO 3200.

Don’t believe me, check out this comparison on DP Review:

Despite the fact that the 50D is the newer camera it shows visibly more chroma and luminance noise than the 40D.

So, if you want better low light performance than the 40D, I’d say the 50D is off the table.

The Nikon D700 is a heck of a camera, particularly in low light and at high ISO.  If you’ve read my review, you’ve seen how well it handles ISO 6400 at night.  Totally usable.

But, you don’t have any Nikon lenses.

What about the 5D Mark II?  You can still take advantage of the excellent EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS that you’ve got, although the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS won’t work on the 5D Mark II.  I bet you could still get a good penny for it on the second-hand market though.  Probably good enough to pay for a good chunk of a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS.  Or pick up the Canon 5D Mark II kit for around $3500 and you’ll probably break close to even on the lenses.

I’ll admit that I give a little bit of edge to the Nikon D700 in terms of shooting speed, autofocus and metering, but the 5D Mark II is still a very solid camera.  And, considering that you’ve got a $1600 piece of Canon glass in your kit, it may make the switch to Nikon even harder.

Also, check out this ISO comparison between the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II.

If you are seriously giving the Canon 50D and Nikon D700 equal consideration, I would throw the Canon 5D Mark II in the mix and probably end up with it in your case.

You’re On Deck

What do you think about the above question and advice?  Have you shot the 50D and D700 side by side?  Do you know something that tips the scale for this reader?  Is the 5D Mark II good advice for him?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. says

    Simply put the 5d mk 11 is not a sports camera. It is a good journalists camera abut for sports 3.9 fps does not cut it. I do own one love it but I brake out my 1d mk111 for sports. A nikon d700 is probably a better all around camera then any amatuer canon camera but. Do you need 6 or 8 fps do you feel constrained by your 40 d . Are you making prints bigger then 16 by 20 . If the answer is yes get more megapixels if not expand your glass collection, and do not worry about the latest and greatest.

  2. says

    I think it also depends on if he wants the crop sensor or not. For the “reach” of crop. It may come in handy for sports shoots.

    I think the real question that needs to be asked to the reader is, what is the limiting factor of his body (40D)? If it’s speed, I’d suggest the 50D or a 1dMk2N. Shooting sports with the 5d2’s 3.9fps would be a downgrade from shooting at the 40d’s 6-7fps.

    Being a Nikon shooter myself, I’d have to say a D700 is a mighty fine choice for a body :) Does both low-light, hi-iso, and high fps. A perfect indoor, sports shooter’s kit. Slap on a 50/1.4 and a 70-200/2.8 AF-S VR and you’re set. Should be able to trade the Canon for the Nikon equivalent easily. Just my 2 cents.

  3. panuta says

    I was in this situation recently and would like to share my thought here.

    If you can’t stop thinking about D700, sell all your Canon gears and buy it. Seriously. You only got 2 lenses and a body to sell.

    But if you’re deciding to buy 50D, I recommended you to stick with 40D, at least for now. There’s not much change between 40D and 50D and you’d likely feel it’s not worth the money.

    For me, I’m using 350D and really really want to throw it away. I was really desire for D700 but think I’m gonna be a crazy consumer if I bought Nikon and try to sell a load of my gears (6 lenses — include Canon 70-200 F/2.8 IS). 50D isn’t attractive enough for me. 5DmkII is beyond my budget. So I’m holding my breath for 60D or 5DmkII at reduced price.

  4. E.C says

    I have same opinion
    or make a big but good sacrifice
    switch to D700
    I have the same situation and I found the Nikon system better for use in long term

  5. says

    I’m a Nikon shooter, so let’s get that out of the way first and foremost (altho’ my P&S is Canon).

    That being said, if this guy’s serious about low-light, then I can’t think of any way that the 40/50D could possibly keep up w/ the D700. However, is the frames per second of the D700 going to be sufficient? Would the D300 be more apt for this?

    + Nikon CLS. I don’t think you’ll find many Canon people that will argue against Nikon having the better lighting system.

    + Not having to worry about which lenses will work on which body. I can mount my DX (cropped sensor) lenses on my D700 and my FX (full-frame) lenses on my D300. Either or. Maybe not a huge deal, but a positive in my book, nonetheless.

    + Ergonomics. Now, this is *completely* subjective. If it weren’t, EVERYONE would be shooting Nikon now, wouldn’t they? IMO, Nikon’s grip just *works* for me. I originally started out w/ the intent of buying Canon. At the store, I picked up a Canon. Then picked up a Nikon. Then picked up a Sony.
    Canon = ugh, cramped
    Nikon = Ooooh
    Sony = *UGH*
    Needless to say, I went w/ Nikon. Haven’t regretted it.

    If this guy is seriously wanting to know which is better, I’d suggest a couple things:
    – Head to a store (if possible) and handle a D700. Play w/ the menus. Shoot some frames. See if it feels natural or if it feels like it’d “fit.” If not, then perhaps the MkII’d be a better bet.

    – Rent a D700 & some Nikon glass and shoot for a weekend. See what you think. Might want to rent a MkII, also.

    The original question, as asked, really doesn’t give much leeway for interpretation. D700 is the only answer there, IMO. However, if you throw in the MkII, it’s harder to push for Nikon (like you pointed out). I still think the edge goes to the D700, but that is something that is, once again, very subjective. MkII’s an excellent camera.

    The glass here isn’t a factor, IMO. If he goes MkII, then only 1 lens is usable. Go D700 and 2 aren’t usable. They can both be sold for probably little loss, so it’s a wash.

    Considering that there is so little equipment standing in the way (2 lenses + no flashes, etc.), I think a switch to Nikon would be something worth looking at. However, if the OP is satisfied w/ Canon, enjoys the feel and usage of the Canon system, then saving up for a MkII would probably be the better bet.

    All in all, go check ’em out in person. Handle ’em. Fiddle w/ ’em. Ask your hands what they think ;)

    Hopefully that makes sense. I’m cooped up at home being sick, so can’t be bothered to proof-read for spelling mistayks or whatnot. Either way, good luck :)

  6. says

    I’d say you are right on track. I have the 40D and I’m in the same fix. I don’t really want to switch and I am going 5D2. If I didn’t have Canon lenses and experience with Canon control layouts, the choice would be much harder.

    I do think many reviewers are selling the 50D short, though. I have several friends who have gone from 40D to 50D and are very happy. It drives me crazy when reviewers compare the two at 100%. They need compare at the same field of view.

  7. Adam says

    Get a Nikon D300 with the additional vertical grip that holds an extra battery. FPS will go up from 5fps to 8fps. You will have something very similar to the Canon 40D but much faster for sports.

  8. says

    I’ve been shooting with the 40d for the last year or so. I shoot primarily weddings and portraits on the beaches of northeastern North Carolina. The sports I shoot are for fun, but I find that good timing and paying attention out-weighs a blistering fast drive and the “spray and pray” method of action photography. Coming from medium format film into digital, I find the 1/250 second flash synch horribly slow for beach portraits, so the 1/200 of the 5d mkII, while only a third of a stop slower, is a third of a stop slower than too slow. I canned my Nikon 35mm equipment and went to Canon two years ago and have not regretted it a bit, even though I am the lone Canon shooter in the flock of Nikon shooters at the studio where I work. That said, the D700 looks wonderful, but if you’re determined to get another camera, look at the 1d mkIII. It’s the same number of pixels as the 40d, but they’re more effective pixels, and if you really need the speed, it has it. I’m profoundly unimpressed, actually, I’m depressed about the 50d. The only people who seem pleased with it so far are those that work for Canon. Having worked for a Nikon dealer and having shot Nikon for many years, I know that Canon’s customer support blows Nikon away, but the 50d just doesn’t pop my cork. I’m sticking with my 40d until the lens falls off, or Canon actually improves on it, or Nikon starts giving away D700’s or D3x’s.

    I’m through rambling now. Unless it’s letting you down, stick with the 40d.

  9. HotAir Specialist says

    I don’t believe in telling other people what to do. Rather, like Eric, I think the best thing other people can do is to give you the information and viewpoints that will facilitate your decision-making.

    In this case, what appear to me to be the only feasible choices, namely the d700 (which I think might be your best choice even though I shoot Canon gear) and 5D Mk II, both involve selling off some gear and acquiring other gear. If you’re not comfortable doing this, then maybe the best choice is to stick with what you have for a while.

    As for selling gear, I can tell you something about the current climate on eBay. Basically, the 17-55 f2.8 IS has dropped from the $800+ range down to $600-$700 due to a raft of rumors concerning this lens’ putative high failure rate after a year or more of use. Also the general market is showing signs of distress due to economic conditions, and I think these conditions are going to worsen significantly over the coming year as the economic crisis expands. So if you are going to sell any gear, you had better do it sooner rather than later.

    Also a recent series of comparative reviews on of 70-200 F2.8 lenses suggests that the Canon version is noticeably superior to the current Nikon offering on both cropped and especially full-frame sensors. However, there is speculation that Nikon is on the verge of updating their current offering.

    Finally, while the 50D doesn’t strike me as a useful upgrade over the 40D, I would suggest the technology is evolving so rapidly that waiting is a viable strategy. Reportedly the 450D is due for replacement soon, substituting a one-year for an 18 month cycle. If this “500D” eschews megapixels for superior ISO range, then it’s possible that the 50D might also be on a one-year upgrade cycle, and we can all hope that it too will pay more attention to ISO range improvements now that the pixel density of the cropped sensor seems to have reached a kind of plateau.

  10. Leon says

    I have been a long time Canon user (EOS 10D, 20D, 30D, 40D and 50D) with a bunch of EF-S lenses, flashes and accessories. I just sell all of my Canon stuff and bought a Nikon D700. Is this insane? No. I have very good reasons:
    I can´t say Nikon’s optics are better than Canon’s own. Neither is their appearance, and in a way, its construction and ergonomics. But once you have a Nikon D700 in your hands, you put it on the works and see the results, you can’t say anything less than there is no way of comparison between the 50D and this one. From its ultra-precise focusing and metering, to its wide dynamic range, low light behavior, etc. etc. Just watch and compare its results, especially at ISO 1600 and upwards.
    When I bought the 50D I was very disappointed comparing its results with the 40D. It seemed to be a backward movement. Then I began to think for at once upgrading to a real better machine, a full format one, for me to have the best photo quality: that’s the main issue; I want to have the best picture taking device in any circumstances of light, contrast, focus, metering, ambient and handling, in order to have the best pictures, and with the utmost possible variable features to get what I need.
    I’m not a wealthy man and that’s the reason why I wanted to invest in one machine I won’t need to change every year or so for me to get the quality I need in my photography. I know that the Nikon D700 will last for a good time without getting obsolete, even as they present new and upgraded models. Canon’s commercial mentality is to push you all the way and all the time to buy a new model as soon as possible, plausible for them, not for me.
    I have worked with a 5D and was very pleased with its results. It’s an excellent camera. The EOS 5D Mark II? Haven’t touched one with my own hands. I have read lots about it in the web and think it’s an excellent camera. But, I don’t need mural size photos. If some day I need to make one, there are other ways to do it, even with a 12MP camera. Canon’s EF-S lenses won’t even attach to its body (Nikon’s DX lenses will work with the D700, admittedly with some restrictions, but they will). The video feature is not for everybody. Anyway, not for me; I can live without it. 21+ MB each RAW file? Try to download a couple of full 16MB flash cards to your two years old PC!!! Not to mention processing each photo in Photoshop. There is no comparison with Nikon’s D700 sturdiness, weather sealing, handling, operation, featured options, incorporated flash, and the focusing and metering system. The only thing I miss is the “Quick Control Dial”. In order to buy the 5D Mk II, anyway I would have to sell all of my EF-S lenses and buy new ones. So, in this case, the choice of the D700 with new lenses was not a financial pain.
    The 50D is a lesser camera than the 40D: you can stay with your 40D and won’t regret it. But if you really want to upgrade, you have two excellent alternatives: the 5D Mark II or the D700. My thinking is that the Nikon is a lot more professional oriented than the Canon. I, for myself have decided to make the change in order to get the best and long lasting equipment I can get for my money.

  11. Melomind says

    @ Tim. “If it’s speed, I’d suggest the 50D”. 50D is no faster than 40D (0.2 FPS slower, however it’s unnoticeable, I believe).
    Upgrade from 40D to 50D is a nonesense. If your main subject is sports, go for D700.

    Since my main subject is portraits and landscapes, I’ll go for 5DMKII.

    If it’s difficult to decide, I’ve got a suggestion that just works for me when it’s about a complex decision or it just goes difficult (not only for choosing photo-gear :-) ):

    1. Just take a spreadsheet of Excel, make a column listing the factors of choice important for you for each camera.

    2. In another column just indicate the degree of importance from 0% to 100% judging from your personal preferences and requirements (If it’s 0% you probably don’t need to show that criteria at all). The sum of “importances” of all factors must be equal to 100%.

    3. In the next column rate Camera #1 against each criteria using 10 or 100 points scale and multiply the result by the appropriate importance rate (e.g. you have criteria #1 making up 30% of importance for you and you rate it at 9 out of 10 points. Then the resulting point will be 9×0,3 = 2,7). Do the same for another column for camera #2.

    4. Sum up the results for each camera and the choice is done – pick-up the camera with the highest points! =)

    Take care!

  12. Yuri says

    You have a very capable camera and two quite nice lenses. There are many detail gaps that you should address in order to get the best advice.

    What type of action photography? Need for low light ability – how low?
    Children playing indoors with one 60 watt bulb in the corner as your only light – OR – a junior hockey game in a moderately lit rink – OR – what is it you shoot and under what type of conditions. Perhaps it may only be an addition of a lens that is in order? You need to spell out the deficiencies you face in your present equipment, otherwise the answers you get will be all over the place as people speculate as to what it is they think you need – just tell us. Could this also be a case of equipment lust. There is no shame in being an equipment junkie. I love the stuff.

    The reviews of the 50D are usually negative in light of how little certain features have improved (or not). I think the big one is noise with regard to high ISO settings (consensus seems to it has not improved over the 40D and maybe worse). Otherwise it is quite a nice camera with marked improvement over the 40D (the ability to fine tune focus for your lenses; higher resolution LCD etc.). The D700 has great low light ability. Although it is a full frame camera, while the 50D is an APS-C sized sensor.

    Which is better, the Canon 5D II or the Nikon D300?

  13. Dan says

    If money is not an issue and time is than switch to D700. If time is not an issue than wait for the 60D/6D it will be coming out the 11/09 – 2/10 and that will make up for the 50D which is not a big difference from the 40D. I’d say just sell or trade the 40D for a 50D and still have your Canon gear. That way you lose only about 2 bills thann sell off all canon gear you lose up to 50% of you total investment.

  14. Melomind says

    @Yuri. Great ending of your comment indeed!!! :))) or it could be expressed as “Compare uncomparable!” =)

  15. Antonis says

    I have a sizable collection of Canon glass (including top-of-the-line EF-S zooms) and have shot both film and digital Canon bodies for the last 20 years….

    Despite it all, I recently got a D700 with only the 35/2 D to try it out. I shoot for B&W and judge results by prints, not by pixel peeping (I do that too for technical purposes, but what finally matters is the look of a 17×22 print).

    I am impressed enough to want to buy more Nikon lenses and put the Canon glass aside for when a better body comes along. In looking at bigger prints from the D700, I do miss the resolution of a 25-some megapixel sensor, but I find that the grain pattern and the exposure latitude at high ISO more than makes up for it – for now!

    After all these years of Canon, I don’t miss the ergonomics, the Nikon is superb. But in a perfect world, I wish I could choose from the vast array of Canon AF lenses and still use the D700. But maybe I am finding out that manual focus is not such a novel idea after all and some of the old Nikon glass is worth rediscovering. In fact I dug up my ancient 50/1.4 (yeah I was a Nikon shooter back when) and like what I see (though not the bokeh!).

    Considering the reviews for the D3x, I’d say it’s Nikon time for the immediate future and worth investing in the system. Also, I see full frame sensors here to stay. I am sure Canon will soon drop the other shoe and we’ll see what they offer for the high end – but for now, I’d say the big decision would be between the 5DMkII and the D700 (the latter trading at around $400 less than the 5DII).

    I am sorry, but my conclusion is that one has to keep an investment in more than one system at a time in these digital days. The old film logic for sticking with one brand for the long haul doesn’t quite apply any more. It was true for the EOS system for a long time only because Nikon was so late to bring full frame sensors and high ISO. Now that we have several players (Sony included) — it will be hard not to cherry-pick from among several options across brands.

  16. says

    I was in your same situation. I had a 40D with a 24-70L, a 70-200mmL IS, and a handful of Tamron lenses. The 50D was not worth the upgrade, but I needed the High ISO and better autofocus. The 5DMII is too slow IMO, so I sold everything and bought the D700 and 24-70 equivalent (as well as other things).

    It was worth the switch, but the best part is that Canon L lenses will sell close to market value on eBay. Just make sure Canon doesn’t have a rebate program going on.

    I think I lost $100 on each L lens.

    But the quality of the D700 is more than worth it.