Op-Ed: Thoughts on Switching

Op-Ed: Thoughts on Switching

Last week, I posted Part V of my “Switch” series, which you can find here:

I’ve pretty-much laid out my reasons for switching, but I felt compelled to add some kind of postscript to that series. So, here it is.

Switching from one platform to another isn’t easy. It kind of forces you to take a hard look at the platform you have and, if it isn’t working for you, you have to be willing to say, “Yeah, what I have now doesn’t work for me.”

That takes a bit of humility to admit. It also takes a bit of firmness to say that a certain camera/computer/whatever isn’t working for you. It might work just fine for someone else. But it’s not working for you.

On Facebook and Twitter and G+, the reaction to this series was largely positive. There was the usual plethora of “Gear doesn’t matter” posts, of course (to which I say, “No it doesn’t – except when it does.“), but for the most part, folks liked the series and they were generally supportive.

I did, however, receive a verbal shellacking from some folks who know me personally and laid into me about this switch. The general consensus was that I was pixel-peeping, nit-picking, and just plain silly for even considering a switch. If, after all, Canon was good enough for Art Wolfe and Vincent Laforet, it should be good enough for me. Or was I saying that I knew better than Art Wolfe and Vincent Laforet?

It’s kind of difficult to defend yourself from that kind of line of questioning. World-class photographers around the planet use Canon (just as other world-class photographers use Nikon), and it’s pointless to say something along the lines of “Canon just wasn’t good enough, so I switched.”

The distinction, then, to draw here is not that Canon wasn’t good enough, but that the Nikon D800 worked better for me. It is a personal preference. And standing behind that preference takes, as I mentioned earlier, some bit of firmness.

I can riff about this for a while, but let me break it down  into a few bullet points that came as something of a series of revelations for me over the course of this nearly 2-month-long experiment.

  • Knowing what you like and standing behind it takes some level of self-confidence and firmness. It’s not always that easy to be assertive in a field filled with passionate (and often argumentative) people.
  • It takes humility to admit that the system you’ve been with for years doesn’t work for you as well as that other system that you had the opportunity to work with.
  • Don’t obsess over charts and graphs. Make your gear choices on things like ergonomics, features you feel you need, and whether you like the way the camera works.
  • It takes an open mind to break out of a platform-specific mindset. Get out of your comfort zone. Rent a Canon if you’re a Nikon shooter. Rent a wide-angle if all you use are telephoto lenses.
  • Admit it when you find yourself falling into gear lust. Happens to me all the time. Acknowledge it, revel in it, then move on.

These are some of my basic “lessons learned” from this experiment. There are plenty of other lessons, of course (locking down the D800 on a hefty tripod and using mirror lock-up for the sharpest images is another one), but these are the more ruminative principles that sprang forth from this experiment.

In the end, I went with the system that worked better for me. That’s what the biggest takeaway should be from this series, and that is what should define the criteria for your own gear choices.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at anymedium.com.


  1. Our criteria for choosing any electronic component be it a D-SLR , a computer or anything else is personal and if we searched thoroughly to find something to fit our needs, then we are satisfying ourselves and we should be the only judge of our choices.

  2. First off, wanted to say that I really enjoyed the series, it’s always nice to see common sense winning out over the rhetoric of most online Canon vs Nikon debates.
    I did feel though that the review was very heavy on the studio photography side. I’m currently using a Canon 7D for underwater/landscape/wildlife and was considering moving up to the 5D iii, but the lens that I really want (200-400mm f/4L) seems to be taking forever to come out. With Nikon I can get a 200-400mm f/4 now, at a price savings for a single lens that would pay for a new D800. Any thoughts on switching for the landscape/wildlife crowd, apart from the extra MP and richer shadows? (Planning on keeping the 7D with Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and 100mm f/2.8 for underwater either way).

    • Hi Ryan,

      Yeah, you’re totally right that the series was more focused on studio stuff, and I probably should have thrown in some thoughts for the landscape/wildlife crowd, especially since I shoot a fair amount of that myself.

      For the landscape crowd, the D800 is the hands-down winner for two big reasons: detail and dynamic range. As an example, look at this before/after: http://cl.ly/image/3T1z440O3g2P

      Now, that’s not a good picture, nor is it the most clean of adjustments, but that’s what a file from a D800 looks like with a really quick +2 EV brush applied to the foreground. I love the latitude those big files give you.

      For wildlife shooters, Canon’s lack of a 200-400 never bothered me because I had the really nice 400mm f/5.6 lens, which is a fraction of the cost and weight. No IS, but since I prefer shooting birds and keep my shutter at 1/1000 and above, it doesn’t hurt me.

      Going Nikon means that I really don’t have anything in that range, unfortunately. Still looking for something good there. I’ve shot with Nikon’s 200-400 and it’s a solid lens. Next weekend, I plan to take it out with a battery grip for the D800 and a 1.4x teleconverter. With the D800 in DX mode (yay for smaller files!) using NiMH batteries in the grip, I can swing 6fps at an effective max focal length of 840mm at f/5.6. Not half bad.

      I’d say it’s almost a toss-up for wildlife shooters – both platforms are fantastic either way. Slight edge to Canon here for some great glass (400mm f/5.6 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, as well as the upcoming 200-400 with built-in teleconverter).

      Hope this helps!


      • Thanks Sohail, this is definitely useful info, although I don’t know if it makes my choice any easier. Guess I’ll just have to get into a shop and try them both.

        • Keep an open mind and try the Sony A99 as well. You may be surprised.

  3. Now forget all of the Canon/Nikon nonsense and pick up a Sony A99 and a lens like the Sony Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 or the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM and come to where the future is.

    (Ducking and hiding now!!)



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