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What’s the appeal of Nikon over Canon?

I’m not making this post to be inflammatory — I’d honestly like to know, objectively, why a new SLR buyer today should choose Nikon over Canon. I know a lot about Canon’s camera and lens lineup, but nothing about Nikon’s.

The other day I was trying (while horribly uninformed about Nikon’s lenses) to recommend a lens upgrade path for Allison Weiss’ Nikon camera. Applying general knowledge that should apply to both Canon and Nikon’s 1.6x-FOVCF cameras, I figured I’d recommend:

And a few optional lenses for the future that we‘ve found fun in our shooting, including:

I browsed through’s Nikon lens reviews and was very disappointed overall.

There are a few lenses that I wish Canon had equivalents for (most notably an image-stabilized macro prime). But there were far more lenses that seemed completely missing from the lineup or inferior to their closest Canon equivalents in speed (widest aperture), build quality (metal instead of plastic), features (fast focus motors, image stabilization), or optical quality (edge sharpness, CA, barrel distortion, vignetting) — and usually at equivalent or higher prices.

Most of the praise I’ve heard for Nikon has been about their supposedly superior camera bodies, especially in regard to high-ISO noise performance. That looks like it’s no longer true, especially in the midrange and high end, although they’re both very good. Either way, it looks like Canon and Nikon are close enough in general body quality and performance that it’s hard to declare a clearly “winning” brand for more than a few months at a time.

Therefore, it should be the lenses, not the bodies, that determine which brand a new buyer should invest in. You’re likely to spend more money on lenses than bodies (at least, you should), and you’ll keep the lenses through the lifecycle of multiple bodies. Lenses are far more important.

And from the impressions I’ve gotten so far, I’m just not impressed by Nikon’s lens lineup at all.

But a lot of people whose opinions I trust swear by Nikon equipment. It’s clearly great for them, but with my limited exposure to it, I’m just not seeing why.

What am I missing? Why should a new buyer today, with no previous investments in either company’s equipment, choose Nikon over Canon?

Update: Answer roundup.