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Canon 5D Mark II vs Nikon D90

Updated on August 9, 2013

An Amatuer's Point of View

Have you considered owning a full featured professional grade camera? What has held you back? Is it the “quite high” prices? Do you wish that a SLR or DSLR camera could fit into a purse or shirt pocket? Is the jargon too confusing? Then above all else, which brand is the most functional and which model is the best for your wants and needs?

Even after reading numerous articles, reviews and comparisons on this subject I find myself questioning decisions that I thought were already made. However, I have decided to zero in on both the similarities and differences of the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera and the Nikon D90 SLR camera. These cameras are two of the most recent models added to the mix and they appear to be the highest ranked among many photographers. Also, they both share a rare feature among SLR and DSLR cameras – video.

Before making this decision I asked myself a lot of questions.

  • Question: How much money am I willing to spend? Answer: No more than $3,000
  • Question: What brands do I concentrate on? Answer: Canon, Nikon and Sony
  • Question: What feature is the most important? Answer: Low light capabilities, wide angle shots and the ability to blur the backgrounds

Then I realized that I hardly knew enough to ask any more questions. I knew what results I wanted but had little clue of what would give me those results. At this point you may be asking yourself “how can this amateur help me make a decision about such a complicated and costly purchase”?

I believe that I am no different than any other “want to be photographer” that has made up their mind to take the leap from a compact camera to a higher level – moving on…

Before I go much further I will admit that the final decision will come down to the final cost. At the same time I ask that you keep an open mind with me because we all know that the final cost can be deceiving. For example, the camera body has to have lenses that attach to it. Editing software can change and improve any photo – but it too can be expensive. Both of my chosen cameras are capable of taking professional photos – but will does one shine over the other in any substantial way?


Price is important to all of us without an unlimited amount of disposable income. The Canon 5D Mark II body (without lens) can typically cost $2600 to $3000. The Nikon D90 body (without lens) can typically cost $900 to $1000. Yes, that is a huge difference. The price range is reduced however when you consider that the full frame camera can eliminate the need for some extra equipment such as strobes and artificial light sources.

The Cannon 5D Mark II has the ability to change settings inside the camera such as background blur where the Nikon D90 requires a lens to do the same thing.

Full Frame or Crop Frame Sensors

Full Frame is determined by the size of the CMOS sensor and is comparable to the size of the original 35mm film.

If you have done your own research you know that the Canon 5D Mark II has full frame and the Nikon D90 does not. The Sony DSLR A-900 is a full frame camera but it does not offer video.

This is an important feature for me. As I said before I want to take low-light photos. Many shots are taken indoors, seldom with sufficient light and where it is almost impossible to take a clear and non-noisy digital photo. The lower the light conditions the blurrier the photo will be, but the full frame sensor allows increased light into the sensor.

The ISO setting controls the amount of light accepted into the camera’s senor. A full frame camera has a larger ISO range than one with a cropped senor. To benefit fully from the ISO settings there is a learning curve.


The addition of HD video to a DSLR digital camera is big. The Canon 5D Mark II and the Nikon D90 DSLR digital cameras are the only ones on the market at this time other than the Canon Rebel T1i SLR camera.

The Cannon 5D Mark II offers HD video in 1080P resolution and the Nikon D90 offers 720P resolution.

There are so many features that make up the total packages of these two DSLR cameras. I will not even attempt to talk about all of them. Like I said before there are features that are most important to me such as the price, the full frame versus the cropped frame and the video. Of course the Live View Mode and the self-cleaning feature on the Canon 5D Mark II turn my head as well.

I look forward to the discussion that is bound to follow. Thanks!



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    • profile image

      Geovani 4 years ago

      Thanks alot - your answer solved all my problems after several days stglugring

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      wow , , , so informative, three thumbs up, yup I got three of 'em with articles well written like this one. I perceive just from reading this you have done the research for me and the comments have been informative as well. But, I realize to before making an investment more research in your hubs and others will be beneficial , , ,thanks for the enlightenment , , ,remember to have fun, fun, fun , , ,:)

    • profile image

      Stu71art 6 years ago

      I forgot to mention that the sensitivity of the smaller 12.3 million pixel sensor in the Nikon is actually so advanced that to come close to getting the best from it you'd have to be using the absolute highest quality Nikon lenses...something which few enthusiast users can really afford to do, usually opting for Sigma or Tamron...although they make some excellent lenses at more affordable prices they still don't compare to the expensive Nikon range...perhaps the point I'm putting forward is that the smaller sensor D90 with a high quality lens would possibly out perform the Canon's full frame with a mediocre lens which if correct would definately make the D90 the better option as the price difference would allow better lenses to be was partly the full frame which was pulling me towards changing but looking through some more pictures I'm really thinking again...once you're at 12 million and above the quality is so high that unless you're working professionally and having you're work massively enlarged anything more isn't really necessary and many enthusiasts are being sucked in to the belief that more and more pixels is going to drastically improve their photography...I can shoot a scene with my cheap 28-100G lens which was from my old F80 days set to 60mm and get an ok picture but switch to my 60mm f2.8D micro lens and the same scene is improved in every to sum up I guess the moral of the story is better lenses not more pixels or even full frame.

    • profile image

      Stu71art 6 years ago

      I almost bought the D5 Mk ii today to replace my D90 but chose not to as the deal I was looking for wasn't forthcoming so I left it for now...the Canon has almost twice the pixel count which is one reason I wanted to switch but also because the more I look into both Canon and Nikon gear it is apparent that Canon seems to offer twice the spec for half the price on many slr's...with 21.9 million pixels the D5 Mk ii is more comparable to the 24 million pixel Nikon D3X and has other features which are much in the UK the D5 Mk ii costs around 1699GBP compared with 4799GBP example where the Canon is vastly superior is the ISO range...26,500 compared with the D3X's 6, D90 has exactly the same ISO range for 599GBP...anyway although I'm probably going to switch to Canon very soon and sell all my Nikon gear I can't say anything negative about the's the first digital slr I've had having been a very happy user of both the F80 and FM2n and I know the D90 has more features than I'm likely to ever need or use...looking at some of my pictures at full pixels I'm stunned at the level of detail and the 12.3 million pixels can be blown up to A3 and beyond without becoming degraded so I think even a pro could make good use of it

    • Debbie Cook profile image

      Debbie Cook 6 years ago from USA

      I do not own either camera. I have however talked to several photographers that own these cameras. I, like you, have a hard time deciding which is best. I think that it finally comes down to what you can afford, what type of photos you like to take and which one has the best lenses available - after all most of the photo differences will be in the lens catagory. Unless you want to capture quick action such as with sports photography,there is little differences that I can find. Some say that they think the Nikon is a bit quicker.

      My choice is still with the full frame (Canon 5D). You know exactly what you are shooting without the photo being cropped by the camera. A good macro lens will give you the results you want.

      I'd love to know your decision:-)

    • France Travel Inf profile image

      France Travel Inf 6 years ago

      Okay - now I am really wondering what to do. Have you shot with both of these? Mostly I am a landscape person, architecture details (so macro quality is important). My Canon T70 -- wow does that date me --- is amazing as far as I am concerned but I want a digital at this point unless shooting black and white.

    • Debbie Cook profile image

      Debbie Cook 6 years ago from USA

      The Canon is a full frame and the Nikon is not.


    • France Travel Inf profile image

      France Travel Inf 6 years ago

      I guess my question is why the broad difference of choice. I mean, Canon has DSLRS that are closer in cost to the Nikon D90. Why did you choose the high end Canon? I am on the precipice of buying the Nikon D90 because I had the Canon Rebel and ditched it because of the grainy pictures. It was not the high end you have chosen so I am just curious your thoughts because the more I read the more confused and indecisive I get!

      Thanks for anyone who wants respond!

    • profile image

      karepesina 7 years ago

      very nice hub

    • profile image

      sourav 7 years ago

      as i could see, canon 5dmarkii is a very good cam, but in my case, i liked d90 more. as it is cost effective and one can buy more expensive range of lenses. i had d80 and i could take snap handheld in room light which can be prited ok in 11X9 inch size

    • profile image

      Daniel 7 years ago

      NIce Articles.....

    • nms profile image

      nms 8 years ago from Cochin

      no SONY? A700? :O

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I love my digital camera I have had it for 5 years now and its held together with duct tape after several missadventures. It has a scratch accross the viewer from sliding down a mountain but it still takes wonderful pictures and I LOVE it. It is wonderful, it is a pocket sized Nikon .