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The Switch: Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part I

Gear Talk

This is Part I of a series on moving from an all-Canon setup to an all-Nikon setup for four weeks. Will I go back to Canon at the end of four weeks? I have no idea…

The Gear List

The Gear List

“I’m going to check out a bunch of Nikon gear and go shoot with it for four weeks. Then I’ll write a series of articles about it.”

I grinned at Jim Goldstein,’s VP of marketing, and my nominal boss. He stared back at me, first with a blank expression, then with a knowing glint in his eye.

“You’re looking to switch, aren’t you?” he asked. “And you want to use this idea for a series to test the waters on the other side, dontcha?”

He kinda had me there. I’d been eyeing that D800 ever since it was announced, and was eager to give it a try. More importantly, I really was thinking of switching sides.

Nikon D800

Nikon D800

Two of my idols, David Hobby and Joe McNally, both shoot Nikon. Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System) for their external flashes is world-renowned, and is a traditional area of strength for that brand. As someone who uses lighting a lot these days, I had seen what all the fuss was about and wanted to put it through its paces for my own shoots.

“Well, no, I’m not looking to switch,” I told Jim. “But if it happens as a result of my experiment, well…”

Jim’s a good sport, and we both agreed that it would be worth it to see what a Canon shooter with an open mind would feel about moving wholesale to Nikon gear. So, he signed off on the gear loan and off I went.

What I got

Nikon 70-200 VRII

Nikon 70-200 VRII

As I mentioned, I wanted to shoot that D800. Why not the D4? Because I don’t need the high framerates and I don’t like the big bodies (ditto for the 1Dx on the Canon side) unless I’m out shooting birds (which doesn’t happen as often). I also wanted the pop-up flash on the D800, as I planned to use it to trigger the SB-910s I was checking out.

And more importantly, I wanted to see what all the hoopla about the D800 was about. DxOMark has given this sensor some pretty impressive ratings and I was curious to see just what all the fuss was about.

So here’s the gear list

Nikon SB-910s

Nikon SB-910s

So I basically have a range from 24mm to 200mm, with a macro (Nikon calls them Micro) lens, and a couple of flashes. I’ll also have a few rotating lenses like the 16-25 f/4 and the 24mm PC-E lens for other assignments during this time, so I think I’m going to have a pretty thorough experience shooting Nikon.

By the time you read this, I’ll already have done one lighting test shoot with the D800, not to mention some landscape work. I’ll be using samples shot with the D800 a lot through this period, so keep an eye out for any images you see in articles by me – chances are, they were shot with the D800.

Editor’s Note: This already happened. Sohail’s “Finding the Photo in the Cruft” article which was written after he wrote this piece but posted before this one, used an image shot with the D800.

So what am I looking for?

Nikon 105mm Micro

Nikon 105mm Micro

Well, this one’s a bit tough to answer, but among other things, I’m looking for what the user experience is like for a switcher. Moving from Canon to Nikon is a bit like moving from Mac to PC (or vice versa). There are a lot of things that need getting used to, and I’ll be talking about the switching pains of moving from one system to another.

I’ll also be looking for areas where I can draw a clearly defined line between Canon and Nikon. Each system has some strengths and opportunities; Canon has traditionally been strong in the video realm, whereas Nikon has had the edge in high-ISO performance and off-camera flash. Yet these lines are blurring now, as Nikon’s latest crop of cameras is pretty strong in the video department, whereas Canon has been making some great strides in high-ISO performance with the 5D Mark III and the 1Dx.

Nikon 24-120mm f/4

Nikon 24-120mm f/4

Are you really considering switching, though?

Well, why not? As a long-time renter (before I started working for, I was a pretty regular customer) I didn’t build up a lot of Canon gear, and what I did, I can easily sell off. If there are some clear reasons for switching for my kind of photography, then yeah, I’ll absolutely do it.

The D800 is really the impetus for this experiment. I’m morphing from an assignment shooter who’ll take on anything from wildlife to portraiture (and sometimes they’re eerily similar) to more of a fine-art photographer, shooting more B&W film, and narrowing down my subject matter. For the kind of work I want to do, I considered looking into medium-format gear, which is what I shoot when I use film. The D800, with its touted dynamic range and resolution, is a very tempting proposition.

I think that’s why this experiment is SO much more than a gimmick. At the end of this series, I really don’t know which way I’m going to go. Will I ditch Canon for Nikon? Will I stay with what’s worked for me so far? Or will I devolve into a hairless, hunched, crazy creature, cradling a D800 in one arm and a 5D Mark III in the other, hissing, “Precccioooouussss! Myyyy preccciooouusssss!”?

I have no idea. But we’ll have some fun finding out along the way.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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  • Matthew says:

    Please post what you are switching from? 5DII, 5DIII, 7D??? And what lenses were you using as that will help with us knowing what you’re comparing! Thanks!

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Hi Matthew,

      I’m switching from a 5D Mark III (primary body) and a 5D Mark II (secondary body). I have three lenses that cover 80% of my shooting; the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, the 24-105 f/4L IS, and the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro. I tried to replicate that setup as much as possible on the Nikon side.

  • Monique Martin says:

    I’m very excited to read about this process. I’m one of the only ones in my “group” of photographers who shoot with a Canon. I’m wondering what all the fuss is about with Nikon. I ask my Nikon users and I can never get an answer.

    • Tom Norris says:

      I can relate to your response Monique. I am a long time Canon user and find the latest Nikon DSLR’s very intriguing especially the D800e. I’m curious whether to test the Nikon waters or stay with Canon.

  • Brina Healy says:

    I’ve been shooting Canon for 30+ years. The cameras are OK, but the electronics are weak. Over the years I’ve noticed that…

  • Chris says:

    *Buys a DSLR …talks about shooting film. -facepalm

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      I can do both, you know :-) I love B&W film, but the bulk of what I shoot is on a 5D Mark III. I find both, film and digital, rewarding and useful in their own ways. Ain’t nothin wrong with straddling the fence here. :-)

  • Paul Bird says:

    Good idea for an article. I look forward to sharing your experiences and hearing your final opinion.

  • I’d love to hear the results of this from a video angle too but I suspect Canon has the edge with the m3. Actually I’m thinking of doing a similar experiment, switching to Sony because neither Canon or Nikon do 1080p@60fps. Sony has had that for years. Looking forward to reading about your venture.

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Balaine, the video aspect is the only thing that might keep me with Canon; Philip Bloom did a great shootout on full-frame cameras including the D800, D4 and 5D Mark III here:

      His conclusion was not flattering for the D800 :)

      Sony is another interesting player; suddenly, a lot of third-part manufacturers are taking another look at them as well for things like wireless TTL flash, radio triggers, etc. I don’t think I could stand to do another experiment like this (going from Nikon/Canon to Sony), but let us know how it goes for you if you do decided to switch to Sony!

  • CM says:

    Earlier this year, I made the switch over to Canon. There was a certain look about Canon files that appealed to me more than Nikon, so I can honestly understand much of this is preference, rather than “what is better?”. I feel like I didn’t have to fight with the files as much for anything that needed subtle color correction. As much as Nikon’s lighting system is amazing, I can honestly say I love Canon’s Speedlite 600EX-RT flash even more. Good luck, and great article.

  • […] This is a quick ‘n dirty post that’s part of my “Switch” series. Part 1 of the series can be found here. […]

  • Judy Borron says:

    Looking forward to hearing about your experiences! Glad you are getting the opportunity to experiment and compare.

  • […] Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. […]

  • mark p says:

    Does it really matters if you use canon or nikon? i’ll make this real’s dont make your pictures look good. it’s the photographer who knows how to use their camera in different fields of photography!

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Mark, I don’t disagree that ultimately, great images come from the photographer. Thing is, all the pros I know and all the masters I’ve ready about are also technical masters of their medium as well, and their work stems from having the technical chops to pull off their vision. Choosing a system that you’re comfortable with contributes to that.

      If you are constantly finding that you have to struggle with your Canon 5D Mark II’s focus system in low light, for example, that’s going to detract from your focus on your subject. Or, if you find that the Nikon D800 you’re using doesn’t quite fit your hand the way a 5D Mark III does, then you’ll be fighting your gear and _that_ would take away from your process.

      So, yeah, I do think that what you chose matters. It should be a system that works for you. That’s what this whole series is about – the process of one photographer seeing if Nikon works better for his style and subject of photography than Canon does.

  • […] Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. […]

  • […] Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. […]

  • […] Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. […]

  • […] Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. Part III: CLS starts to look pretty good. Part IV: In which I return to Canon for a spell. Part V: The conclusion, in which you learn what I ended up with. Op-Ed: Thoughts on Switching […]

  • Charlie says:

    Have fun with your project. My girlfriends both shoot with a Nikon and I switched from Canon so that we could all exchange lens. After 3 months I appoligized to Canon and went BACK to my 5D Mark III and my Fav Canon lens. There was no comparison to the ease, speed, and quality IN MY OPINION.

  • Pretty all back to film now. Puff on digital.

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