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The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part IV

Gear Talk

This is Part IV 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…

On this edition of “The Switch”, I took a brief sojourn back to Canonland with the 5D Mark III and a gaggle of Canon lenses.

Among the gear I picked up were the venerable 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lenses, two of Canon’s finest bits of glass.

So: what was the experience like?

I’d been using Nikon gear for weeks now, longer than the original 4 weeks slated for this experiment. I’d gotten used to the Nikon, and was expecting the process of going back to Canon to be a bit jarring.

Back in Part 1 of this series, I’d said:

It’s true. The D800 has more buttons than I expected. There is a physical switch for so many functions, from drive mode to metering mode to custom functions for the two front-facing buttons. On the Canon, I’m used to using the menu system and the LCD’s on the top and back of the body; so much of that is relegated to the buttons on the D800 body.

So, going back to the Canon, I expected to fumble with the body a bit before muscle memory took over. I thought I’d be reaching for buttons that weren’t there, pushing the wrong buttons, etc.

To my immense delight, there was none of that. The Canon fit right into my hand, like an old glove. At one point, during a rush shot, I reached up and changed ISO, then flipped the shutter speed up to compensate, both without moving my eye from the viewfinder. The back wheel on the Canon hit my thumb perfectly as I used it in concert with the top-mounted dial to change shutter and aperture settings, and the back-button focus and AE-Lock buttons were exactly where I reached for them.

In the cold, brisk wind buffeting Grizly Peak Road in the hills above Oakland, I stopped and took a few shots, resulting in this 2-exposure image.

The view from Grizzly Peak

The view from Grizzly Peak

Coming back to the Canon was… strange. On the one hand, it was familiar. On the other hand, it was a bit… wrong, I think.

There are definitive differences between Canon and Nikon. The 5D Mark III is all sculpted curves, small buttons, and a bald top (there’s no built-in flash). The D800 is sharp corners, big knobs and buttons, pointed top. One of the reasons I advise people to hold both cameras in their hands before they buy one is because the feel of a camera can make a substantive difference in your choice. If your hands are too small for the camera, or you can’t reach a particular button, or you have to cramp down on it, it’s not going to work as well for you.

In my hand, the Canon has always felt more natural. I’ve always liked the curve of the body and the smooth feel it evokes. It always has felt more “right” to me.

That is, until now.

Going back to it was at once familiar and alien. Shooting with the Canon just didn’t feel right anymore – like what I was holding wasn’t substantial enough. I got into it and shot for an hour or two and by the end, learned to ignore that “lack” of something, but there it was again when I pulled it back out of my bag later that night to get the memory card out.

I’ve always said that ergonomics will make a difference in my decision. This return back to Canon would, I thought, simplify that part of my decision. Now? Not so much.

A word on image quality

Frankly, both the D800 and the 5D Mark III are amazing cameras. Pixel peepers (I use this term with a sense of endearment, not derision) will look at the image above and point out that the blacks have more color noise in them than the D800 (it was shot at ISO 100), as you can see below.

Frankly, after lengthy conversations with Jim Goldstein, our marketing VP, I’ve come to agree with him that pixel peeping these images to that extent is kind of pointless. So I’d ruled image quality out as a reason for any potential switch. After all, it’s photographers that tend to quibble over things like color noise in the shadow, not clients. Clients tend not to see the tiny differences we do; it’s in our nature as photographers, I think, to quibble over that stuff.

But that being said, there’s an important point here. As photographers, we are making art, and that’s an intensely personal thing. Yes, a client will look at an image and not care that there’s this weird color speckling and some banding in the image above at ISO 100. But I can see it. And I didn’t have to zoom the image to 100%. It was evident in both Lightroom and Aperture.

Our art and craft is something that’s personal to us, and whether or not a client can see something that’s obvious to us shouldn’t necessarily dictate our creation process. If I can find a tool that resolves an issue that I can see in an image and that leaves me feeling better about what I created without any issues for the client, then I am darn well going to use that tool.

Take a look at the image below.

This was made with the D800, and to my eye, the shadows are richer, denser, creamier than they are in the image made with the 5D Mark III.

Now, software can most likely cover the gap between the 5D image and the one made with the D800. I may be lacking the post-production chops to achieve what I want. And as I get even better, I may be able to resolve what I didn’t like about the 5D image. That’s the argument that Jim made quite convincingly, that any difference in perceived image quality can eventually be overcome by advances in software technology – and given the big jumps I’ve seen in one version of Lightroom to the other, I believe it.

Conclusion

There’s a final part (Part V) to this story coming. No spoiler alerts, but that’s when I reveal whether I went through with the switch permanently or not. It’s been a fun few weeks living on the other side, and I’ve seen plenty of reasons to stay where I am with Canon, and plenty of them to move, too.

Tune in next week for the conclusion of this series. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.

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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 sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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Comments

  • Ayden says:

    It’s really interesting to see your point of view! I’ve been a Nikon shooter for five years now and I’m in a place where I have been using the Canon 5D Mark II for close to eight weeks. Still not sure whether I like the camera better–but I certainly love the glass.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Yeah, the glass is my big sticking point. Love that 400mm f/5.6 (cheap to rent, too), and the 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro is one of Canon’s finest bits of glass. Also bummed that there’s no 17mm TS-E lens on the Nikon side.

  • Derek says:

    We are so lucky as photographers to have such amazing tools available to us.

  • Interesting read and looking forward to the final part. Always shot Canon but would like to try Nikon’s offerings.

  • Jeff says:

    I frequently shoot with Nikon and Canon Cameras. I love both, but favor the Canon as I find with my dyslexia, I forget where the eternal buttons are. If I shot in a style or two, I’d definitely learn where the buttons are, but I love to scroll through the options when I am changing from long exposures to macros, to video, etc. I am just glad we have choices, and fabulous ones at that. :-)

  • robb hill says:

    I’m curious to know what you think about the two different flash systems. Years ago I switched from Nikon to Canon – had a Nikon D1x and hated it and when the 5D came out I switched. But I’ve always found the Canon strobes vastly inferior to Nikons’. Wondering what others think. (I can’t afford to switch back.)

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Robb, I actually talked about the flash systems in Part III of this series (http://www.borrowlenses.com/blog/2012/10/the-switch-moving-from-canon-to-nikon-part-iii/).

      Basically, I think Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) has the edge here. The flashes were silly-easy to set up and I got the wireless system up and running without breaking a sweat. Fantastic bit of tech there. Canon’s catching up with the new 600 series flashes and the new ST-E3-RT transmitter, but isn’t backwards-compatible.

      In short, I think Nikon got it right from the start. Canon’s catch-up late in the game shows the value of getting it right from the get-go, I think…

  • Aaron Priest says:

    It wouldn’t be right to seriously evaluate the D800 and not try Nikon’s 14-24mm f/2.8 for a day. ;-) Crazy lens! (I own it and a D700.)

  • Jon Farmer says:

    I am a wedding photographer and durability/reliability is a major concern of mine; I used Nikon from 1983 through 2006 and had many problems with AF, Exposure not being consistent, flash failure and brake down, during this time I thought it was because of the fairly intense work load causing these failures and that these failures were to be expected. When I made the switch to Canon I then came to realize that the Canon system was far more reliable. As for image quality, I find both systems excellent with Nikon possibly having a very slight advantage in skin tones, however I will give the edge to Canon glass for sharpness especially with primes.

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Jon – totally with you on the Canon glass. I already miss that 100 f/2.8L IS Macro – what an amazing lens!

  • [...] Part IV: In which I return to Canon for a spell. [...]

  • [...] 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 [...]

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