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Canon 50D versus Nikon D3

The Canon EOS 50D and the Nikon D3 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in August 2008 and August 2007. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on an APS-C (50D) and a full frame sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 15.1 megapixel, whereas the Nikon provides 12.1 MP.

Body comparison

The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Canon 50D and the Nikon D3. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also toggle the display to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the 50D – represents the basis or 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Canon 50D vs Nikon D3 front
50D versus D3 top view
50D and D3 rear side
Body view (50D on the left)

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D3 is considerably larger (59 percent) than the Canon 50D. Moreover, the D3 is substantially heavier (58 percent) than the 50D. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. A larger imaging sensor will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, although exceptions exist. You can find an overview of optics for the two cameras in the Canon EF Lens Catalog (50D) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D3).

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 50D (⇒ rgt) 146 mm 108 mm 74 mm 822 g 800 YES 2008 1,299discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1300 g .. YES 2007 4,999discont. check
Canon 7D II (⇒ lft | rgt) 149 mm 112 mm 78 mm 910 g 670 YES 2014 1,799 latest check
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) 139 mm 104 mm 79 mm 755 g 920 YES 2013 1,199discont. check
Canon 60D (⇒ lft | rgt) 145 mm 106 mm 79 mm 755 g 1100 YES 2010 1,399discont. check
Canon 7D (⇒ lft | rgt) 148 mm 111 mm 74 mm 860 g 800 YES 2009 1,699discont. check
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) 156 mm 157 mm 80 mm 1230 g 1500 YES 2009 4,999discont. check
Canon T1i (⇒ lft | rgt) 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 520 g 400 no 2009 799discont. check
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) 146 mm 108 mm 74 mm 822 g 750 no 2007 1,299discont. check
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) 156 mm 156.6 mm 80 mm 1155 g 2200 YES 2007 4,499discont. check
Canon 30D (⇒ lft | rgt) 144 mm 106 mm 74 mm 785 g 750 no 2006 1,399discont. check
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) 152 mm 113 mm 75 mm 895 g 400 YES 2005 3,299discont. check
Canon 20D (⇒ lft | rgt) 144 mm 106 mm 72 mm 770 g 700 no 2004 1,499discont. check
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 91 mm 1340 g .. YES 2012 5,999discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 YES 2009 5,199discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 123 mm 77 mm 1074 g 1000 YES 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D2Xs (⇒ lft | rgt) 157.5 mm 149.5 mm 86 mm 1252 g 1150 YES 2006 4,699discont. check

The listed prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The 50D was launched at a markedly lower price (by 74 percent) than the D3, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

Sensor comparison

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will tend to have larger individual pixels that provide better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixel-units in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tent to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Canon 50D features an APS-C sensor and the Nikon D3 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the D3 is 159 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.6 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Canon 50D and Nikon D3 sensor measures
Sensor size

Despite having a smaller sensor, the Canon 50D offers a higher resolution of 15.1 megapixel, compared with 12.1 MP of the Nikon D3. This megapixel advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.69μm versus 8.43μm for the D3). However, it should be noted that the 50D is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year) than the D3, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that partly offset its pixel-size disadvantage.

50D versus D3 MP
Sensor resolution

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the D3 offers substantially better image quality than the 50D (overall score 18 points higher). The advantage is based on 1.7 bits higher color depth, 0.8 EV in additional dynamic range, and 1.7 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Canon 50D (⇒ rgt) APS-C 15.1 4752 3168 no 21.8 11.4 696 63
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2290 81
Canon 7D II (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 20.0 5472 3648 1080/60p 22.4 11.8 1082 70
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 20.0 5472 3648 1080/30p 22.5 11.6 926 68
Canon 60D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 22.2 11.5 813 66
Canon 7D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 22.0 11.7 854 66
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-H 16.0 4896 3264 1080/30p 22.8 12.0 1320 74
Canon T1i (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 15.1 4752 3168 1080/20p 21.7 11.5 663 63
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 10.1 3888 2592 no 22.1 11.3 703 64
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-H 10.1 3888 2592 no 22.7 11.7 1078 71
Canon 30D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 8.2 3504 2336 no 21.5 10.8 736 59
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.7 4368 2912 no 22.9 11.1 1368 71
Canon 20D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 8.2 3504 2336 no 21.9 11.0 721 62
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 16.2 4928 3280 1080/30p 24.7 13.1 2965 89
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 720/24p 23.5 12.0 3253 82
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2303 80
Nikon D2Xs (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 no 22.2 10.9 489 59
Both the 50D and the D3 offer Live View, so that they make it possible to use the rear screen for framing. Both cameras are still-image focused and cannot record videos.

Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The 50D and the D3 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Canon 50D and Nikon D3 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras. If you need more detail on the specs, you can find comprehensive listings, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Canon 50D (⇒ rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 6.3 13 no
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Canon 7D II (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 fixed no 8000 10.0 11 no
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 swivel YES 8000 7.0 12 no
Canon 60D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 swivel no 8000 5.3 13 no
Canon 7D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 8.0 12 no
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 10.0 no no
Canon T1i (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 920 fixed no 4000 3.4 13 no
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 230 fixed no 8000 6.5 12 no
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 230 fixed no 8000 10.0 no no
Canon 30D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 2.5 230 fixed no 8000 5.0 13 no
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 2.5 230 fixed no 8000 3.0 no no
Canon 20D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 1.8 118 fixed no 8000 5.0 13 no
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 8.0 12 no
Nikon D2Xs (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 2.5 230 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no

Both the 50D and the D3 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The D3 was replaced by the Nikon D4, while the 50D was followed by the Canon 60D.

Summary

So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Canon 50D better than the Nikon D3 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.


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Advantages of the Canon EOS 50D:

  • More detail: Offers more megapixels (15.1 vs 12.1MP) with a 12% higher linear resolution.
  • More compact: Is smaller (146x108mm vs 160x157mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 478g or 37 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (74 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Is somewhat more recent (announced 1 year after the D3).

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Reasons to prefer the Nikon D3:

  • Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (18 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.7 bits more color depth).
  • More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.8 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (1.7 stops ISO advantage).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 6.3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2007).

If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the match-up finishes in a tie (6 points each). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features.

50D 06:06 D3

In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the 50D or the D3 handle or perform in practice. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased. This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites. The full reviews are available, respectively, at cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
dp
review
ephoto
zine
imaging
resource
photography
blog
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 50D (⇒ rgt) 90/100 HiRec HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 1,299discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft) - HiRec 5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 4,999discont. check
Canon 7D II (⇒ lft | rgt) Rec 84/100 Silver 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2014 1,799 latest check
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 83/100 Gold 4.5/5 4.5/5 5/5 2013 1,199discont. check
Canon 60D (⇒ lft | rgt) 87/100 Rec 79/100 Silver 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2010 1,399discont. check
Canon 7D (⇒ lft | rgt) 93/100 HiRec 84/100 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 1,699discont. check
Canon 1D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) - 89/100 Gold - 5/5 - 2009 4,999discont. check
Canon T1i (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec 74/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 799discont. check
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) 90/100 HiRec HiRec 4.5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 1,299discont. check
Canon 1D Mark III (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - reviewed - 2007 4,499discont. check
Canon 30D (⇒ lft | rgt) 87/100 HiRec HiRec reviewed reviewed - 2006 1,399discont. check
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec reviewed reviewed - 2005 3,299discont. check
Canon 20D (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec - reviewed - 2004 1,499discont. check
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4.5/5 - 4.5/5 2012 5,999discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft | rgt) - 89/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 5/5 2009 5,199discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 89/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D2Xs (⇒ lft | rgt) - - - reviewed - 2006 4,699discont. check

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings are only valid when refering to cameras in the same category and of the same age. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

Other comparisons

If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just use the search menu below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If you do not see the camera that you are looking for, kindly get in touch, and I will try to add information on that model to the database.

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