Why I made the move from Canon to Nikon

Posted on 12th March, 2013

​I think this is my first ever blog about camera gear. It's something I do intend to cover more in future because, whilst gear may not be the most important factor in a photographer's armoury, there's no denying it does have a big part to play in just what we can achieve.

I've never been one for brand loyalty. At various times I have owned Nikon, Canon and Minolta 35mm film SLRs. I then switched to medium format and used a Pentax 645 and Fuji 690. The original Canon 5D was my first 'serious' digital SLR (after a brief dabble with a Pentax *st DS) and this was then replaced by a 1DS mk3 in 2008. This was purchased second hand, as were most of the lenses I owned during my Canon years. I know in the States, photographers will often rent lenses to see what they like using. Unfortunately rental prices in the UK do not really make that a viable option and I have always preferred to buy and (if necessary) sell lenses, according to what I have needed at any given time. I also don't believe that renting a lens for a couple of days gives you sufficient feel - it takes time to get to know your gear.

Canon 1DS mk3 with the immaculate TSE 24mm mk2, tilted for front to back sharpness
Canon 1DS mk3 with the TSE 24mm mk2, tilted for front to back sharpness

I have to say the 1DSiii was a phenomenal camera. It still is - I just don't own it any more! ;) It is a lovely camera to use; super image quality - from what I can gather, it is still Canon's best full frame dSLR at low ISOs. It's also built like a tank - incredibly rugged - which is wonderful if you suffer from the occasional clumsy moment, as I do! The downside is that it also weighs as much as a tank! Ok, perhaps a "slight" exaggeration on my part, but I was becoming increasingly aware of the weight when out and about on photographic trips.

I'll admit I was tempted when the Nikon D800 was first announced in early 2012 - even more so by the D800e with its 'lack' of AA filter. Over the years I had read many debates about the pros and cons of AA filters on dSLRs and there's no doubt that, at times, I was aware of a certain flattening effect on some images; particularly when I compared them to those taken with medium format. Not a fair comparison admittedly, but the Nikon D800e sounded as if it might be a bit of a game changer; an 'affordable' camera that could come close to medium format image quality yet still retain the flexibility associated with the use of smaller dSLRs and the vast array of lenses available to those systems. However, I resisted temptation and sat tight, knowing I had a super collection of Canon lenses and a camera that would last for years and would continue to produce great images - assuming I did my bit that is!

So why did I change? In the end it really came down to the weight of my 1DSiii and I felt my hand was being forced to make some kind of change. I had a lot of problems with my back and wrist over the summer and, on longer walks, my knees often play up, so it seemed sensible to lighten up a little. The camera body would have to go; and probably some of my heavier lenses, such as the phenomenal 70-200 2.8 mk2. The obvious solution was surely to buy a Canon 5D mk3? - a superb all round camera, no doubt, but not a game changer in my opinion. I was also advised by people who had used both the 1DSiii and 5Diii, that the latter lacked something in comparison at low ISOs - invariably I shoot at ISO 100 so this was a factor. In addition I'd noted that the D800/e was in many ways more similar operationally to my 1DSiii than is the case with a 5D. The 1 series Canons have a lot of direct access buttons to change settings, something I'd grown to love on the 1DSiii and something that is lacking on the 5Ds. Then there's the viewfinder curtain - integral on the 1DSiii and D800/e but an 'easy-to-lose' clip-on for the 5Diii. It's amazing how these things can add up to convince you! But really, it was the lure of what the sensor could reportedly achieve that persuaded me I should give it a go, rather than die wondering!

Nikon D800e with Zeiss 35mm f/2 at f/3.2
Nikon D800e with Zeiss 35mm f/2 at f/3.2

I tend to be reasonably cautious when large amounts of money are involved so, rather than jump right in, I waited until prices had come down significantly (by October) and bought a D800e and 24-120 f/4 lens - the idea being that this would be a reasonably small and lightweight travel solution, covering a good range of focal lengths. I could try out this combination and see if I really wanted to make the switch. I very quickly found myself loving the camera - easy to use and I really noticed that boost in dynamic range. Perhaps the only thing I missed from my 1DSiii was the incredibly bright viewfinder - the D800/e is not quite as clear, though it's not a huge difference. The zoom lens is what I'd describe as a compromise solution - more than adequate when you have so many pixels to play with, but it certainly doesn't get the most out of the sensor. It took a great price on a second hand Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens for me to find out just what the sensor was capable of. The web is not the best place to judge these things but when I tried printing the image above (at A3+ size) I was sold!

You'll have to take my word for it, but the print has a depth to it that I never saw with my Canon gear. That's not to dismiss the many prints I've made and sold previously, but this was just a step up to my eyes. Even with some small patches of fringing (since removed in processing) the print just looked amazing, with incredible detail and with a 3D quality to it. I now felt confident that the hassle of changing systems was going to be worth it and I went ahead with selling my old Canon gear and buying some new Nikon lenses. The buying process is not yet complete, with some budget remaining, but I am really enjoying using the Nikon D800e. Its remarkable ability to handle the light was very much in evidence on our trip to Namibia in December and I've found that it simply isn't true you can only get good results with the most expensive glass. Some of the old manual Nikon lenses produce sterling results, as do the competitively priced 1.8G series lenses - though I only have the 50mm at this time.

Nikon D800e with 50mm f/1.8 G lens
Nikon D800e with 50mm f/1.8 G lens

I'm hoping the forthcoming Samsung 24mm tilt shift lens is going to be a good performer because, by most accounts, the Nikon 24mm PC-E lens is not a patch on the immaculate Canon TS-E 24mm mk2. However, having finally managed to pick up a second hand 45mm PC-E lens, I'm happy to report this one is superb! I also bought a second hand 14-24mm lens last year which, remarkably, seems every bit as good as my old 17 TSE lens (yes I know it doesn't tilt and shift!) and several leagues better than the Canon 16-35mm I once owned.

I'm not the first landscape photographer to have made this change and I'm sure I won't be the last. Likewise, many will think I was crazy to make the change and I honestly do understand where they are coming from too. You have to do what you feel is right for you though. Regardless, it doesn't matter what gear you have, if you don't get out there are use it to the best of your ability. I'm enjoying having less weight to carry, loving the results I can get with the camera and lenses; and I'm really looking forward to a number of exciting projects and trips planned for 2013.