Nikon D3500 vs. Canon T7: Which one should you buy?

You don't need to know much about photography to know that Canon and Nikon are two of the major brands in the business of selling photographic equipment. And there's a good reason why those names have so many fans: they make really good cameras and lenses, and have done so for generations.
It makes sense that many beginning photographers would turn to those same companies when looking for an inexpensive DSLR for the first time. The Canon EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D and Nikon D3500 are certainly two of the least expensive interchangeable lens cameras (meaning the lens comes off as opposed to being fixed to the body) you'll find on the market now: at the time of writing, they're each selling for about $400 with an 18-55mm kit lens.
So which one is better for a beginning photographer? We think that the Nikon D3500 will be the better choice for most people. The bundled 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G VR kit lens is superior to Canon's, battery life is more robust and users who plan to do significant post-processing will find Raw files more malleable. But as usual, there's more to the story than just that.
Read on for a detailed feature-by-feature comparison and find out how we came to our conclusion.
Photo quality vs. a smartphone

If you're considering either of these cameras, there's likely one question at front of mind: How much better will it be than my smartphone? The answer is a bit complicated.
Both the D3500 and T7 use 24 megapixel APS-C sensors, which are many times larger than anything found in a modern smartphone. Bigger sensors come with benefits: more flexibility processing image files, and all things being equal, better low light performance.
But things aren't exactly 'equal' anymore. Smartphones are now using computational techniques to reach beyond the limitations of a smaller sensor: Night Sight in the Google Pixel is an example of this. In short, the advantages of a big sensor are somewhat diminished, especially if your photos will only ever be viewed on a computer screen or a mobile device.
However, 24MP of resolution comes in handy if you'd like to make large prints, or if you plan on making substantial post-processing edits. And there's the potential for zoom: the bundled kit lens provides a bit more reach than the telephoto lens on most smartphones, and there's always the option to buy additional, longer zoom lenses.
The advantages of a big sensor are somewhat diminished, especially if your photos will only ever be viewed on a computer screen or a mobile device
And then there's bokeh: the lovely blurry background effect imitated by portrait mode. Without getting too in-depth, smartphones with portrait mode will generally produce synthetic bokeh that looks close enough to the real deal to satisfy most users, and in many cases will produce a stronger blurred effect than either camera's kit lens is capable of.
If highly convincing bokeh is a priority though, you can add an inexpensive 50mm F1.8 lens to either camera and the results will (for now, at least) outperform a smartphone. And if you don't have a recent smartphone with a good portrait mode, a camera with additional lens will cost quite a bit less than a $1000 flagship smartphone.
This is a long way of saying that yes, the 24MP sensor in either the D3500 or T7 is better than what's in your smartphone, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the image quality advantage that you might expect.
Photo quality vs. each other

Comparing the two cameras, you won't see any dramatic differences in image quality. The Nikon offers a higher ISO sensitivity, which will allow for shooting in very dark conditions without a flash (and quite a bit of unpleasant splotchy noise as a result). Some people prefer Canon's out-of-camera color rendition and tendency toward deeper reds, but the differences are subjective and subtle.
The Nikon does offer more malleable Raw files if you intend to push shadows in post-processing, but it's not something we find a lot of beginning photographers wanting to do.
Each camera sells with an 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 lens, which will be wide enough for landscapes and long enough to frame a head-and-shoulders portrait. While they both offer stabilization and cover roughly the same focal range, the lenses are quite different in age: Nikon's 18-55mm is about three years old, surprisingly sharp and collapsable when it's not in use. Canon's lens dates back to 2011 and isn't as sharp.
Viewfinder and Live View

Both the T7 and D3500 offer 3" 921k-dot non-touchscreens primarily for image review and navigating menus. It's possible to use the screens for still image composition and shooting, but live view (as it's called) on both cameras uses a much slower autofocus system. Shooting with your eye to the optical viewfinder means you don't get a live preview of your exposure, but you do get a faster autofocus system.
The viewfinders on these cameras are comparatively small, and less comfortable to use than that of a bigger, more expensive DSLR. There's plenty to be said for having an optical viewfinder at all: they're much easier to use in bright light than a rear screen, and provide a sense of 'being there' that many photographers prefer.
There's no clear winner in this category: neither provides a great viewfinder, and for live image composition on an LCD (perhaps even with tap-to-focus!), you'll want to look elsewhere.

There's not much to separate the T7 and the D3500 in terms of video recording capabilities. Both offer 1080p recording; the T7 provides up to 30 fps, the D3500 records up to 60 fps, which will represent fast motion better. However, you'll be using live view to record video on these cameras and as we've already established, autofocus while shooting via the rear screen is not very good.
Both will record decent video clips, but if you own a smartphone that was launched in the last couple of years, chances are your phone will do just as well (or in some respects, even better).
Wireless image sharing

As is required of a digital camera in 2019, both the T7 and D3500 provide the means to beam images wirelessly from your camera to your phone. They go about this in slightly different ways. Canon has built Wi-Fi into the T7 which will connect with the company's app. If you have an Android phone with NFC, the connection process is made even simpler.
Nikon takes a different approach, including only Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi. This allows the camera to maintain the wireless connection and transfer 2MP images as you're shooting, something not possible with Wi-Fi. The downside is that 2MP is your only image size option: which to be fair, is big enough for social media and 4x6" prints.
For most users, the benefits of the constant connection will probably outweigh the need for high-resolution images, and we'd recommend the Nikon if easy image transfer and sharing is a priority.

At last! A category in which either of these cameras will run circles around a smartphone. If you rely mostly on the optical viewfinder for shooting, the T7 or the D3500 will get you through days of shooting without ever flashing the dreaded low-battery signal. The T7 is officially rated to 500 shots per charge (which tends to be lower than most people's real-life results) which is quite good, so the D3500's 1550 shots per charge rating is insanely good.
Relying heavily on live view or recording a lot of video footage will drain the battery faster, but as we've established, these aren't strong suits for either camera so that's kind of a moot point.
The D3500 comes out on top but both cameras are really winners here.

If you tally up the 'points' for the D3500 and you'll see how we drew our conclusion that it's the better pick between the two. However, the two cameras are incredibly similar in most ways, so it's really only details like a nicer 18-55mm kit lens and incredibly robust battery life that tip the scale.
It's pretty remarkable what both of these cameras offer for their price, but it's also worth noting what you aren't getting, like a touchscreen, faster autofocus in live view, robust continuous autofocus, subject tracking for sports and action photography, 4K video... you get the idea.
It's pretty remarkable what both of these cameras offer for their price, but it's also worth noting what you aren't getting
If any of those features strike you as important, and you aren't too attached to having an optical viewfinder, then it would be in your interest to consider options like the Canon EOS M100: we think it's actually your best bet for under $500.
But there is something quite appealing about an optical viewfinder, the ergonomics of a DSLR and the way a traditional camera engages you in the process of taking pictures that smartphones can't touch. If it's these qualities you're after, then we think the D3500 is well worth your time.

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