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The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part V

Gear Talk

This is the conclusion of a 5-part series on an experimental switch from Canon to Nikon.

I guess the big question on everyone’s mind is, “Did you switch or not?” Well, read on, gentle reader.

I’ve been a Canon user for the majority of my life. Starting at age 8 with a tiny Canon film point-and-shoot, then to an AE-1 Program, then an A2 film body, followed by a G3 P&S, a Rebel XTi, a 7D and then a 5D Mark II, I’ve owned Canon gear all my life.

The Glass

I love Canon gear. The glass is varied and plentiful, from a crazy 1:5 Macro  (the MP-E 65mm) to a swift, fast, yet affordable 400mm f/5.6 lens for wildlife, to a fantastic 135mm f/2 portrait lens, Canon has glass for practically every occasion.

Nikon, on the other hand, kind of falls behind in terms of having glass that I really do need/use from time to time. The lack of a solid 400mm-range lightweight telephoto is a real bummer, as is the lack of an ultra-wide-angle (17mm) tilt-shift lens.

Speaking of the tilt-shift lenses, Nikon really does need to update their PC-E lenses to match Canon’s 17mm and 24mm lenses. The current 24mm PC-E lens from Nikon doesn’t do independent rotation of the tilt/shift elements, and the newer 24mm TS-E f/3.5L II lens from Canon is perhaps the sharpest 24mm optic they make.

Canon's 17mm TS-E lens is something Nikon needs an equivalent for.

Canon’s 17mm TS-E lens is something Nikon needs an equivalent for.

Of course, Nikon has its share of lenses that Canon users covet, too, like the famous 14-24mm f/2.8 lens.

The cameras

On the camera side, this was essentially a contest between the 5D Mark III and the D800. I’ll say this right off the mark – the 5D is the more versatile camera to me. From it’s snappy autofocus to its 6fps shooting speed to its fantastic low-light performance (better than the Nikon’s at higher ISOs), this is going to be the camera for many photojournalists, wedding photographers, and general shooters – and with good reason.

The D800 is no slouch, but it feels more specialized to me. If you need the detail – say, for landscape or studio work – then this is going to be the camera for you, in my opinion. That’s not to say that wedding photographers can’t use this camera – famed wedding photographer Cliff Mautner uses one, as do many others. To me, it just doesn’t come off as the best option for those kinds of photography; the D600 or the D700 are better options on the Nikon side (again, in my personal opinion).

Fine, fine. But did you switch?

In a word? Yes.

I’m now a Nikon shooter.

Wow. Why?

I love the images coming off that D800, and the Nikon off-camera flash system is just plain sweet. After weeks of shooting the Nikon, the camera flows into my hand like a comfortable, rugged glove, and the various dials and switches positioned all over the body seem to fit me almost perfectly.

I don’t much care that the D800 is a 36MP camera, but I do prefer the way that Nikon treats shadows and I love the dynamic range of the D800’s sensor. Working with that D800 RAW file is a delight – it holds up really well in post, as is shown by the before/after shot below.

 

Original vs finished.

Original vs finished.

Moreover, the Nikon’s off-camera-flash system is really, really cool. Canon’s new 600-series flashes do kinda even the score – and then some, with built-in radio receivers and 5 groups instead of 3 – but those aren’t backwards-compatible. I can snag an old SB-28  any SB-xx0-series flash (thanks to Chris Aldridge for pointing my mistake out) and it’ll work with the CLS system just fine; the reverse isn’t true for the new Canon flash features.

The thing to remember here is that my decision was based on a combination of factors. The Nikon D800 felt more comfortable in my hand after a while, the flash system is awesome, and I preferred the look and feel of the images from that D800 sensor. That means that if Canon comes out with something tomorrow that produces an image I prefer to the D800’s, it won’t be enough to trigger a switch. The ergonomics, the way the camera functions, the flash system and the fact that a lot of Nikon glass works really well with other bodies will more than likely keep me on the Nikon platform for the foreseeable future.

No, after this, the only switch I intend to make is to medium-format digital.

Anything you’ll miss?

Well, there will may times when I’ll take a brief sojourn to the Canon world. The combination of the 7D and the 400mm f/5.6 is fantastic for mid-short-length wildlife photography, and that 17mm TS-E might prompt me to rent a 5D Mark III for an architectural project. But that’s the beauty of a service like BorrowLenses.com – you can reach across the aisle, as it were, and play with the toys on “the other side.”

Canon's 400mm f/5.6 is another lens we need a Nikon equivalent for.

Canon’s 400mm f/5.6 is another lens we need a Nikon equivalent for.

I’ll also miss Canon’s live-view feature. Live-view on the Nikon is greatly improved from the D700, but it still blows compared to Canon’s live view. As I understand it, the LV in Nikon is pixel interpolation, rather than a pixel-level magnification, which makes using LV for manual focusing really difficult. Canon also has a higher-bit-rate video recording mode (up to 95Mb/s in the ALL-i mode) than Nikon and the addition of log color features like Technicolor’s Cinestyles gives Canon a pretty big edge in the video arena.

Once again, however, that’s the beauty of having a service like BorrowLenses.com. When I get to the point where the D800’s video features start to fall short, I can always go rent a Canon 5D Mark III – or a RED Epic.

Conclusion

This has been a hard few weeks. To be honest, I didn’t start this project with the presumption that this is where I’d end up. I was honestly curious about the Nikon D800 and that universe of gear in general, but in my heart of hearts, I didn’t think I’d really switch.

Yet, here I am. For a gear-head like me, switching camera platforms is a bit like switching political parties – it involves a mix of guilt and excitement and makes for some nerve-wracking moments of introspection. Ultimately, I feel like I made the right decision. After all the pros and cons I weighed, all the analysis and thought I put into this experiment, ultimately, the Nikon emerged as the camera that was right for me. The fact that it also felt great in my hand was just plain gravy.

This concludes my Switch 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

  • Andi says:

    Let me know if you need anyone to take that Canon gear off your hands ;)

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Ha! It’s going up on eBay as I speak – though I’m holding on to my 5D Mark II body for the moment. I’ve hacked it to use Magic Lantern and will be doing some tests to see how hard it’d be to make the video coming out of both, the D800 and the 5D, look as similar as possible so it’s easier to use both cameras for filmmaking.

  • I made the switch for exactly the same reasons. Sold off the last of my Canon gear a week ago. Been shooting D800 for 6 months. Gets better every day. Have also used it often for video – it looks terrific.

  • sammcconkey says:

    I made a similar switch from PC to Mac a few years ago. Despite the guilt and the fact that I felt like a hypocrite, (having preached the virtues of PC all my computer life), the Mac just “felt right in my hands” to borrow a phrase. Great article. Great reasoning. Great insight. Thanks for sharing…and, welcome to the dark side.

  • Tommy says:

    I just came home from a week in the Bay Area. I rented the 17mm TS-E for my 5Dmk3. It was a nice and sharp lens, just not impressive or versatile enough to justify the $2,300 price tag. But if needed I’ll turn to BL for renting.

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      That was one of the reasons I was okay with switching. Having a service like BorrowLenses.com around makes the pain more bearable :-)

  • Mike Litoris. says:

    Traitor!

  • Assad says:

    In near future if Canon Launches a Camera with 46 MP sensor,,,,, than what will you do??????? same thing happened in Past when Canon upgraded 40D with 50D and claimed that they have upgraded 50% sensor resolution (from 10 MP to 15 MP) in a record time of 10 months…………..

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      H Assad,

      That’s a fair point, and it’s why I addressed it with in the following paragraph above:

      The thing to remember here is that my decision was based on a combination of factors. The Nikon D800 felt more comfortable in my hand after a while, the flash system is awesome, and I preferred the look and feel of the images from that D800 sensor. That means that if Canon comes out with something tomorrow that produces an image I prefer to the D800′s, it won’t be enough to trigger a switch. The ergonomics, the way the camera functions, the flash system and the fact that a lot of Nikon glass works really well with other bodies will more than likely keep me on the Nikon platform for the foreseeable future.

      That being said, never say never, right? ;-)

  • There’s also one more thing, those old manual focus lenses works well on the Nikon D800, since Nikon hasn’t changed the F-mount like Canon have with FD to EOS.

    But I must say agree with you on the fact that the D800 is not a camera for everybody. With the large file that the camera produces, the buffer get filled up quickly and that makes it slow for fast action. But the camera lends it self very good to landscape (I’ve not shot much portraits with it the camera as I’m mainly a landscape shooter).

    In the end I like that you point out that it’s not that Nikon is better then the Canon, but it’s how it feels in your hand. And that’s also my own reason for sticking with Nikon since I first began shooting Nikon back in 2003, with the analog film camera F90x.

    And I must say it was interesting to read your journey from Canon to Nikon, not because you switched, but because you put down all the pros and cons, and if you in the end didn’t switch, would not made the read any bad.

    So I hope you’re happy with the switch, and I wish you good luck as a Nikon shooter.

  • René Bang says:

    Hi.. Thanks for an interesting read :)

    In one point i am a little confused:

    “Speaking of the tilt-shift lenses, Nikon really does need to update their PC-E lenses to match Canon’s 17mm and 24mm lenses. The current 24mm PC-E lens from Nikon doesn’t do independent rotation of the tilt/shift elements, and the newer 24mm TS-E f/3.5L II lens from Canon is perhaps the sharpest 24mm optic they make.”

    You are right about Nikon not having a 17mm PC-E Lens but it is worth mention that they have PC-E 24, 45 and 90mm, all newly built and sharp as the sharpest prime lenses you can get.. And.. they all have independent rotation!

    In all fairness, i have never used the Canon version, but i own the Nikon PC-E 45mm.

    Would you clarify on the independent rotation?

    Thanks.

    • Sohail Mamdani says:

      Hi René,

      Sure thing. Have a look at the image here: http://cl.ly/image/3n1U2N242X2A

      See the tab that enables rotation of this Nikon 24mm PC-E lens so you can switch from horizontal shifting to vertical shifting? Well, there’s no separate rotation for the tilt mechanism as there is on Canon’s 24mm TS-E lens.

      So, on those (albeit not very often) occasions when you want to shift the lens upward, then tilt it forward, you can’t, because the tilt mechanism will be in the wrong position for a forward tilt. I ran into a situation when I needed to do this recently, when I shifted the lens down to kill much of the boring sky in the shot, but wanted to use a larger aperture for a faster shutter speed, but couldn’t tilt the lens forward in order to increase my depth of field. It wasn’t a deal breaker; I just had to go lug my tripod out of the car for the shot, but it would’ve been nice to be able to move the tilt mechanism independently.

      Cheers,
      Sohail

  • René Bang says:

    Thanks for clarifying :)

  • “those aren’t backwards-compatible. I can snag an old SB-28 and it’ll work with the CLS system just fine”

    Small detail, but I don’t think it’s that far backwards compatible to use an SB-28, only the SB-XX0 flashes work with cls as far as I know

  • Ha! I am one who is considering a switch from Nikon to Canon, I recently lost :( ALL of my gear and have been agonizing over the details/reviews/opinions about what to get. I have been shooting Nikon DX for years and have been contemplating a switch to Canon with this “opportunity” to go full frame. Your series lays out some of the important things for me, not every silly tiny detail that I can’t or don’t want to understand. I will be renting a D800 in the next month thanks to your article. Excellent job. A sincere thank you for taking the time to document the struggles of your conversion. BorrowLenses to the rescue again!

  • [...] tossing this for my DSLR” awesome, since I have specific needs that call for a DSLR (and one switch per lifetime is enough for me, thank you). But if you’re just getting started with photography, or need a [...]

  • Katie Stacher says:

    I am an amateur using Nikon and taking a lot of wildlife. I am struggling to find an affordable lens for my needs that will allow me crisp photos of the animals I shot. What would your opinion be on a Nikon lens for my needs comparable to a Canon 400 f/5.6? That lens was recommended to me for wildlife, but I am a Nikon user.
    This blog is truly fascinating. I did just discover it so I will have to go back to read the beginning!

  • hjoseph7 says:

    After years of dealing with Canon, I’m about to switch back to Nikon. Nikon was #1 back in the days of film and is now taking the lead in the DSLR dept.

  • David M Zhou says:

    Hi Guys,
    Very interesting topic. I am in same token with Sohail Mamdani never ever had Nikon. But, I said but, I was playing my friend Nikon, same like Sohail said, Nikon body real more comfortable then Canon. I am birder, my Canon 5D ii, the photos after crop nothing. The photo of bird shows more mosaics, like last time went to Yellow Stone, I have took very good photos a fox catch a mice. Kind of guilty send to my magazine. I just consider it’s time to switch to Nikon?
    upper a buddy said if Canon issue a 46 mp? Yes, but when? I care 36mp. that is perfect for me. Thanks.

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