The Switch: Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part II

The Switch: Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part II

This is Part II 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…

I’ve had the D800 for about 2 weeks now, and have shot with it in the studio, out in the Marin Headlands, and a variety of other spots. In this article, I’ll focus on my initial experiences with the Nikon setup, a few of the challenges I faced, and some observations along the way.

In the studio

I spent two days in the studio, working through lighting setups. The idea was to see if I could replicate the lighting setup I have when I use my Canon gear with the Nikon stuff instead.

My setup on the Canon side is simple. I use two Paul C. Buff Einstein monolights, a 580EX and a 580EXII. I use PocketWizard’s ControlTL products to trigger everything; PowerMC2 modules for the Einsteins, FlexTT5s for the speedlights. On-camera, I use a PocketWizard MiniTT1 and an AC3 ZoneController.

Fortunately for me, the exact same setup is available for Nikon. The SB-910’s go onto the Nikon version of the FlexTT5, and I actually used one FlexTT5 on-camera instead of the MiniTT1. There’s also a Nikon version of the AC3 Zone Controller,

The goal this time around was to try some selective lighting techniques to get a silhouette portrait, for one, and to have the option of selectively lighting a section of it.

Here’s what the setup looked like.

Silhouette portrait setup

Silhouette portrait setup

What you’re seeing there are two collapsible black backdrops being used as flags to cut the light spill (we rent Impact 5X7 collapsible backdrops that work well for this purpose) and a Wesctott Scrim Jim (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite modifiers) in the background. I have two Einstein lights blasting into the white cyclorama behind the Scrim Jim, which avoids hot spots from forming on the scrim, and one SB-910 with a Rogue Grid to focus the light.

Okay, enough with the lighting lesson. How was the gear?

First and foremost, I bruised my hand on the friggin Nikon.

The Nikon Bruise

The Nikon Bruise

See that? On the middle finger? It’s not as dark in this image because of the flash on my cameraphone, but look, take my word for it.

Where that finger rests on the D800, the grip is a bit angled and sharp, and my delicate digit obviously didn’t take kindly to grabbing it as hard as I did.

On the Canon, the grip is more rounded and doesn’t dig into my hand as much. A minor issue by and of itself, but it kind of speaks to the adjustment period any Canonista will have to endure if/when they switch to Nikon.

And speaking of ergonomics, what on earth is up with that reverse threading on Nikons? I’m used to “righty-tighty”, “lefty-loosey”. On the Nikon, it’s backwards. The focus threading is the same way – it’s backwards from the Canon. I’m going to go into the office at some point and see how Sony, Olympus, and Fuji focus; I suspect all three are the same as Canon’s focusing direction, but don’t hold me to it. Regardless, Nikon, what the heck?

Ergonomics are a big deal, and if I can’t get used to the Nikon, it’ll be a dealbreaker. I’m hoping 4-6 weeks with this gear will help me overcome that hurdle.

Buttons! All these buttons!

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.

The many buttons of the D800. Image courtesy Nikon.

The many buttons of the D800. Image courtesy Nikon.

In all honesty, the difference in number of buttons that are on the D800 vs the 5D Mark III may be small, but it’s the use philosophy that makes a difference here. Having physical toggles for things like drive and metering mode felt strange; these are a button press, followed by a flick of the dials on the Canon.

Honestly? I totally dig it. Even though I am used to the Canon way, and can tell with a glance at the top LCD what metering mode I’m in, or what drive mode the body is using, having the physical buttons is a bit more… reassuring, perhaps. I’m finding myself really digging the Nikon philosophy in this case. If I don’t end up switching, I’m going to miss those buttons.

How about that off-camera flash capability? Pretty cool, eh?

Okay, yeah, that’s something to write home about. I think I’m going to have to devote an entire entry to just that, but suffice it to say, color me impressed.

I use PocketWizard’s ControlTL gear a lot, and on the Canon side, there’s this really, really annoying sock that has to go on your 580EX and EX II flashes that helps cut down on interference that otherwise inhibits the radio’s range and reliability.

Shooting with the Nikon versions of the the PW gear was like breathing a sigh of relief. Not one misfire, not one incorrectly set exposure – AND NO SOCKS!

I didn’t play a lot with the built-in flash settings; that’s for another blog post, as I said.

So. You gonna switch?

What? This is just part II of the series. Wait till the end.

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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


  1. Actually I did the opposite switch around a few years ago, going from Nikon to Canon. I had been shooting Nikon for years and when I went digital, Nikon did not make a full frame camera, In fact the factory reps told me several times they never would, that DX was the new normal. So I tried a Kodak 14N, but the ISO performance was terrible. When the first 5D came out I jumped and sold all my Nikon glass, I am still rebuilding my lenses in Canon. So I know Nikon figured out their mistake and now makes great full frame cameras, but I will stick with Canon, they each leap frog each other from time to time but then come back.

    • Maybe! 🙂

  2. Definitely interested in reading further in this series. I’m a Canon user and in this business professionally. It’s really… difficult to talk or read about the differences between the two without it turning into some kind of holy war. People getting their feelings hurt, gross exaggerations of ability, accusations regarding personal skill, etc.

    So, yeah, very interested in this. 🙂

    I’ll probably never scroll down to the comments ever again, however.

    • It is difficult; I’m already facing a lot of grief from my Canon friends about this 🙂 Still, I’m keeping an open mind, working through all the options.

  3. I was Nikon shooter at the age of film camera F5 was my Favorite and gear, moving on to digital i have used Nikon D80 and D90 but when i had switched my self to canon 60D i am really much more satisfied……. recently i have checked/shooted Nikon 600D at henry’s but feeling it is inferior than canon in lot of areas……. I love Canon……..

    • Assad, what do you prefer about Canon?

  4. I was shooting a Nikon D700, it is a great camera and switched to a Canon 5DMkII when I was going to upgrade. I found that I had to go through a learning curve to use the 5DMkII and had several issues with the quality and performance of the Canon so now I’ve switched to the D800 and can not be happier.

    • Johnny, why’d you switch to the 5D MKII originally ?

  5. that’s what I miss on the Canon camp, physical, mechanical buttons! To heck with these tiny dot buttons and submenus…And with every new bodies the move them around too…grrrr

    • Yup – the move of the magnification buttons from the right to left side on the 5D Mark III STILL drives me nuts.

  6. I primarily shoot Sony (currently the A77 & A580), but bought a Nikon D3100 just for compatibility issues I was having in classes and such. Like you, I was kind of annoyed by Nikon’s reverse threading – having to turn the opposite way to mount the lens, focus, etc. Seriously, what is with that?

    • It really is annoying sometimes, but I’m finally getting used to it. Then I had to go back to Canon for a bit to use the MP-E 65mm lens for a project and spent a good ten seconds wondering why I was having so much trouble getting the lens mounted on my 5D Mark II. Gah!



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