Nikon vs Canon | It's all about Control(s) | Matt Korinek - Photographer

Nikon vs Canon | It’s all about Control(s)

Read the whole series:

In this second installment of the Nikon vs Canon argument, I’m going to talk about controls and ergonomics. I believe this is the most important comparison when looking at which brand to choose.

If you’re wondering what makes my perspective of Canon vs Nikon different, then have a look at my introductory post outlining how I have shot both Canon and Nikon systems over the past three years.

My general philosophy around ergonomics and controls is that the exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) are the most important.

These three should be accessible one-handed with your right hand so that you can keep your left hand stabilising the lens as you change settings. Less used controls can get away with requiring the left hand or both hands.

Here’s what I’ve found working with both brands of camera:


This is probably where your experience with a DSLR starts (otherwise it’s hard to take a photo).

Nikon vs Canon | On/Off Button on Nikon

Nikon’s On/Off switch is under the shutter release.

Nikon is the clear winner here, as the on/off switch is right under the shutter release in all the models I’ve seen. I can quickly and easily turn the camera on and off using one hand. Perfect for turning the camera on as you bring it to your eye to capture a candid moment.

It is very intuitive and quick. I never have to think twice to make sure I’ve turned on the camera.

Nikon vs Canon | On/Off Button on Canon

Canon’s On/Off switch is on the left hand side.

Canon on the other hand has a couple different placements, with the stupidest being on a range of cameras including my Canon 5D Mark III.

The on/off switch is on the left hand side of my camera under the mode dial and must be accessed with a second hand. There are times when I bring the camera up to my eye and the power is off.

Sure I could just leave the camera on all the time since it will go to sleep to save power, but since Nikon’s button is so well designed and placed, this is something that I feel Canon should address.

Winner: Nikon

Scrolly wheels (a.k.a. command/control dials)

The command/control dials are one that you will use most often, as they will change your aperture and shutter speed (if you take you camera off automatic mode, and please take your camera off automatic mode).

This round is a lot closer. Both Canon and Nikon have their front command dials place near the shutter release. Nikon’s is below the shutter and Canon’s is above but in everyday shooting this difference is minimal.

Nikon vs Canon | Rear Command Dial

Nikon’s rear command dial is right under my thumb.

Where you start to see a difference is in the rear command dial. Nikon has placed its rear command dials right above where my thumb is naturally placed to hold the camera. This makes it easy to reach.

The rear command dial on the Canon is placed further away from where my thumb rests and so I have to stretch to use it. This was actually one of the main reasons I chose to go with Nikon back in 2008 – I thought that the stretch might strain my hand and be a pain (literally).

Now that I’ve shot regularly with my Canon, I’m convinced that it’s a better design than the Nikon. I’ve let go of any issues I may have had with placement because it’s an absolute joy to use. In fact I know of at least one photographer who loves this feature so much that he jumped ship from Nikon to Canon.

Nikon vs Canon | Canon Rear Command Dial - Scroll Wheel

The scroll wheel on the back of the Canon may be further from my thumb, but is a joy to use.

The rear command dial can be scrolled through very quickly allowing for quick changes of settings on the fly. The scrolling really shines during image review. Due to the design and interface, I can quickly scroll through an entire shoot and see an almost stop-motion like overview of the shoot. I can quickly stop at any particular picture to have a closer look.

Seriously, it’s awesome. It is especially good for my sports/fitness work as I can quickly see if I captured the most compelling moment of physical expression.

Winner: Canon

ISO Buttons

This is probably the toughest comparison of Nikon vs Canon. Straight out of the box, I find Nikon’s easier to use even though it doesn’t jive with my general philosophy of ergonomics.

Nikon vs Canon | Nikon's ISO button placement on the D600

Nikon’s ISO button placement on the D600

Nikon actually has at least two different placements depending on what model, and in both cases you need to use your left hand to use the button. Ideally I still think they should have a button that’s on the right hand side to change this setting (perhaps the “OK” button).

I don’t mind using both hands to access controls, however the more I can do with my right hand, the more I can leave my left cradling the lens and providing stability to capture a sharp image.

Canon on the other hand is more consistent with its ISO button placement. My 5D has a very small ISO button beside a few other small buttons on the top right of the camera.

I don’t like their implementation on the 5D mark III because I’m not confident of the placement of the button even with the little dimple for tactile feedback. In fact I’d likely prefer how lower end Canons only have a single somewhat larger ISO button in a similar place so that it is easy to find.

Canon vs Nikon | Canon's default ISO button placement

Canon’s default ISO button placement is on top of the camera. I much prefer using custom settings that allow me to use “set” button in the middle of the command dial instead (see scroll wheel image above)

Luckily, my Canon 5D let’s you change which button controls ISO in one of the settings menus. You can make the back “SET” button that’s in the middle of the rear command dial so that you can just press it and scroll the front command dial to change ISO. I find this much more intuitive and quick than the other methods.

Winner: Canon by a slight margin if you change your custom settings, Nikon wins otherwise

Nikon vs Canon | The rest

It’s a bit harder to talk about the other controls as these can even differ between cameras within a particular manufacturer. Here’s a quick overview of what I like/dislike about the two cameras I’ve had the most experience with:

Click on the “+” to expand more on each heading.

Zoom Direction
Rear AF-ON
Autofocus settings
Motor drive
White balance
Mode, picture styles, quality, size
Format Cards

Final Thoughts on choosing Nikon or Canon based on controls

If I were choosing a camera based on what I know now, I would consider what I’m shooting and how the controls/ergonomics of potential cameras relates to that. I would go into the camera store and pick up every model of a particular brand (if I was ever going to move upwards in a particular system).

Overall Winner: It depends on what you shoot and what settings you’re going to use the most

In my next post I’ll be talking about differences in performance between Canon and Nikon.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment area below. Hope you find this post helpful!



Nikon vs Canon | It's all about Control(s)Matt Korinek

4 comments on "Nikon vs Canon | It’s all about Control(s)"

  1. Hello Matt,

    If it’s all about controls, you have a look at the Fuji X-Pro1 🙂

    Forget the heavy DSLR Bodies and have fun with leight weight and easy controlling.


    • Hi Uwe,

      Thanks for reading this post and taking the time to comment.

      Next time I am in a camera shop I will have a look at the Fuji X-Pro1 and see how it handles.

      I do believe the controls are most important when comparing Canon vs Nikon because they are so closely matched in most of the other aspects that are important to me (image quality, focus speed and accuracy, etc.). If I were to seriously consider the Fuji, I would have to bring those things into consideration as well.

      Due to the type and style of shooting I do, I need very fast an accurate continuous autofocus. It also helps me to have a full frame sensor that can be used at high ISOs with as little noise as possible. I don’t love the weight but I love the results I get out of my cameras.

      How do you find the image quality, autofocus and ISO of the X-Pro1? I would love to hear your thoughts.



    • Hello Matt,
      If you need a fast continious AF …. Forget about the Fuji X-Pro 🙂

      The IQ is absolutely great … Also HighISO performance is great.

      And, as I wrote, the controls are wonderful.
      Aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed control dial on top of the body, fn-button near the shutter button, which you can use as a “ISO Button” … Wonderful EVF and OVF.

      But in fact the X-Pro1 is made to calm down 🙂

      Fell in love with handling and image quality … Calm down, take,a seet, have a coffee, talk with models as a friend …. And take great shots!


    • Hi Uwe,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with the Fuji X-Pro. Sounds like it’s not right for most of the work that I do, but I do appreciate how a camera that slows you down can be a refreshing change. In fact I have two film cameras that I use for just that.

      If I was looking to do the same with my digital work, I would seriously look at it.



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