I’ll give you the summary: at high ISO in JPEG comparison, the Canon delivers similar performance but with higher resolution.
This may sound like a surprise, but let’s look at was buried in my article where I mention the Rebel T2i.
Not only that, but the newly minted Canon 550D has nearly the same ISO performance as the Nikon [D5000] and 20% greater resolution—the cost of that resolution is a one stop worse dynamic range
(The Nikon D5000 and D90 have the same sensor design.)
This is the problem with reviews snippets taken in isolation: the Canon 550D and the Nikon D90 are nearly the same (street) price so it may seem that the Nikon D90 is a bad value but this isn’t the case at all. The Nikon D5000 is much cheaper than the Canon 550D and delivers the same ISO performance as the D90, are we to say the 550D is a bad value then? The Canon 550D has the same sensor as the Canon 7D are we to say that the Canon 7D is a rip off?
No. Because the Nikon D90 has a much, much brighter viewfinder and better dynamic range than the Canon 550D—in turn the Canon 550D has a better video mode and higher resolution than the D90. And the Canon 7D tops the D90 with even all-metal construction and a 100% viewfinder (both notoriously expensive to manufacture). Here is a small table:
|Cheaper||More expensive||Pros (upgrade)||Cons (upgrade)|
|Nikon D5000||Nikon D90||higher res LCD, pentaprism,backward compatible AF motor,flash commander mode||$250 more, lose articulation|
|Nikon D5000||Canon 550D||20% higher resolution, higher res LCD, better video||$350 more, loose dynamic range, lose articulation|
|Nikon D90||Canon 550D||20% higher resolution, better video||$150 more, lose dynamic range, lose pentaprism|
|Nikon D90||Nikon D300s||7fps, metal body, 100%viewfinder, two card slots, advanced AF, meters old lenses, pro setup||$700 more, lose scene modes|
|Canon 550D||Nikon D300s||7fps, pentaprism, 100% viewfinder, metal body, two card slots, advanced AF, dynamic range,pro setup||$550 more, worse video, lose resolution|
|Canon 550D||Canon 7D||8fps, pentaprism, 100% viewfinder, all metal construction||$650 more|
|Nikon D300S||Canon 7D||1fps faster, 20% higher resolution, better video||$100 more, lose dynamic range, lose 2nd card slot|
(My street prices were rounded to the nearest $50.) Plus there is a $100 – $200 rebate if you purchase Nikon bodies with a lens: as I noted earlier, the street price of Canon tends to drop faster and Nikon tries to maintain the price longer but offer rebates instead.
(As for JPEG, that’s a post-processing design decision. Did you know that Nikon’s tend to be undersharpened and have more faithful red channel color? So what.)
The table shows you that basically these cameras have a price interleave that is nearly exactly right. The D90 is the 550D with different tradeoffs; the D300S is the the 7D with tradeoffs. The D90/550D give up similar things to the D300S/7D. I mentioned this before. When it comes to sensors, Nikons tend to have better ISO and dynamic range but at the cost of resolution. I also mentioned this before.
This sort of pixel peeping is going to give you the exact same result that a Nikon D3000S/Canon 7D comparison gave you last year. I bet if I tested resolution at low ISO the Canon would win; if I tested dynamic range, the Nikon would win. Yawn!