After The Switch

Handheld.  Nikon D810/ISO 6400/200-500VR/f6.3/500mm/1-800sec.

I’ve used many different cameras and lenses over the years. My theory was “the right tool for the job”, meaning I really wasn’t interested in the brand I was using but more interested in how well that gear performed for the type of work I was doing.

The first “real camera” I ever purchased was the Canon AE-1 in the late 70’s.  The AE-1 is the camera that convinced me about the brand. It was the first mainstream 35mm SLR that had a microprocessor. It was solid and a reliable body with technical innovation and I never forgot my experience using it. Alas, it vanished in 1981 during my discharge from the Navy while having my household goods shipped back to the states from Cuba. I never replaced it.

In the 90’s, I had a Nikon F100 film body and it was a good camera but I knew at the time Canon made nice cameras. I never considered other brands. I sold the F100 and purchased a Canon EOS-3 and that was my personal hobby camera for several years. Being a still somewhat young engineer, the technical aspects of the EOS-3 intrigued me. The eye control focus was a point of major interest to my technical mind.

As I approached my retirement from The Wall Street Journal, I decided that digital photography was the future and I had better get up to speed on things before I jumped in up to my neck. I went through a series of DSLR’s over a period of a few years, just to understand where the market was and where the state of the art was.

My first DSLR was a Canon EOS 350-D/Rebel XT, a consumer grade camera with an 8 megapixel crop sensor and I was quite pleased with how well it worked. I did realize though that the 350D was not going to cut it for professional work, it was too basic and too limiting.

When I retired from The Wall Street Journal in early 2007, I started my own photography business and decided that the best gear for me at the time was Canon. I invested heavily in what I believed to be the “best tools for the job.” The job then, was primarily wedding and event photography along with some corporate portrait work.

In the day I was eventually shooting with the Canon EOS 1Ds MKII and a Canon EOS 5D. I had also added a Canon EOS 30D to the kit as a replacement to the 350D and later a 50D. Along with the Canon bodies, I used a Canon 24-105mm L, 70-200mm L and the 100-400mm L, along side a 20mm, 50mm and 85mm primes. I also had the kit lenses from the day, the 18-55mm and the 28-90mm from the film days with the EOS-3.

I still wanted to know more about Nikon and when the Nikon D300 hit the market, I purchased a kit that included the 18-200 VR along with a few prime lenses. I quickly fell in love with the camera and used it for several years as my main hobby, travel and home camera.  The predominant issue at the time was that I was more invested in Canon lenses, so I knew that I’d never be a full blown Nikon shooter at the professional level. I loved the Nikon D300 and kept it for several years but had invested far more money in Canon equipment by decision time. Still, I used the Nikon from time to time in my business but mostly it was relegated to a role as a personal hobby camera.

Life was good.

Fast forward a few years, sometime around 2010, I dumped the Nikon D300 and the Canon 30D and I relied on the 1Ds MK II as my primary business tool. A very sturdy and reliable camera it was. At 16.7 megapixels on a full frame sensor, it was the pinnacle of the DSLR technology at the time but was getting long in the tooth as well. The 1Ds MK III was released but I couldn’t see spending another $7,000 on a camera that was marginally better than what I had. By this time, I was beginning to explore nature and wildlife photography and was using my Canon EOS 5D as my primary camera for landscape work.

Fast forward a few years to around 2014 and I had a working kit consisting of the Canon EOS 7D for wildlife, a Canon EOS 6D for landscapes and studio work and was still hanging on to the now ancient EOS 1Ds MKII. By this time the market realities had shifted. Nikon was now in peak form with their camera bodies after releasing the D800, D810 and the D750 and my Canon gear was beginning to fall behind the curve technically speaking. Add to the equation the heavy use I had inflicted on my gear, the realization that my gear needed to be updated slowly filtered in to my brain.  Having a strong foundation in technical performance, I was now itching to update my Canon gear. Business finances being what they are, I’ve never been one to run out and buy something because it is new. I had been shooting with the 1 body and the 7D for many years and most of my business income was derived from those Canon cameras. My Canon lenses were beginning to show their age as well. I had to repair the 24-105 L at one point and my 100-400mm L had been sent in for repairs twice over the years, for the same exact problem. Gear malfunctions were occurring on the job. The repair costs were approaching the original purchase price of the lenses. The release of the new versions  of all my main lenses made me realize that I was going to have to sell off some gear and get new stuff.

I increasingly looked at Nikon as being the better choice for the future. Canon seemed to stop progressing somewhere around 2014. Their new bodies were minor upgrades to existing equipment and the technical performance wasn’t keeping up with Nikon by this time.

The precipitating event that convinced me to switch brands came when I was out working one day and took a spill, falling down into some serious rocks with my camera and lens in my hand to break the fall. Well, break things it did. I destroyed the 24-105mm L. I also destroyed my wrist and seriously bruised my ribs. I was laid up for a few months and had to stare at my broken arm and broken lens while I contemplated my future as a photographer.

Contemplate I did and I made the decision to not replace the busted lens, instead making the decision to jump to Nikon.  I sold off all my Canon gear and used the money from those sales to finance a new kit of Nikon bodies and lenses. I started with the Nikon D750 and picked up a used D800 along with a fresh set of lenses to meet my business needs.

Fast forward to 2018. I’ve since added a Nikon D810 and D7200 to my kit. I’ve settled on a 24-120mm VR, 70-200mm VR and the 200-500mm VR as my main lens kit, along with a 20mm and 50mm prime and a 18-140mm DX lens for the D7200. I probably didn’t lose a lot of money on the switch, I was able to replicate what I had with Canon for only a couple thousand dollars additional expenditure.

Making the switch to Nikon was a good choice though. My business photography focus (no pun intended) had shifted away from weddings and events and more towards Nature and Wildlife photography, so a lot of the lighting equipment I had accumulated for the Canon kit was no longer needed. Selling that studio stuff helped me reduce the financial impact of the switch.

Today my primary kit is based on the D810, D750 and D7200. I won’t upgrade to the D500 or the D850 any time soon. At least not until something breaks and I can pick either body up used for a bargain. There’s just no need.

The D810 is probably the best camera I’ve ever used. The D750 is probably the 2nd best body I’ve ever used. The D7200 still has the best crop sensor of any camera in its class and though it is obsolete now, it has a low shutter count and has a technical performance that matches the Canon EOS 5D Mk III.

So how is it working out? Nikon vs Canon?

What I’ve discerned is that the Nikon bodies outperform any Canon body I’ve ever used. The image quality is a cut above, even on the now long toothed D750, which Nikon still sells like hot-cakes. The auto-focus on the Canon bodies was always one of the problem points I had with Canon. The 7D had an advanced auto-focus system, but low light performance was weak. It needed good light to get consistent, reliable focus. The 6D produced very nice images, but at 20 megapixels and a crippled auto-focus system, it was simply stuck in 2014. Nikon’s 2014 bodies smoked them in just about every regard.

I like the Canon interface more than the Nikon bodies. Canon’s operational controls are intuitive and their layouts don’t seem to change a lot from camera to camera. Very easy to maintain operational continuity with Canon. But, in comparison to the Nikon bodies, I have seen a lot better results. The Nikons are giving me higher resolution, more detail, less noise, better photographic dynamic range and much fewer missed focus images. Reliability as been 100% The Canon bodies focused very fast but were all over the place. The Nikon bodies with 3D tracking were exactly what I needed for wildlife. I don’t miss shots with the Nikons. With Nikon, the focus is either dead on 99% of the time or completely lost. With Canon bodies, I’d see a lot of variation in critical sharpness using AI continuous tracking and would lose a lot more potentially critically sharp photos. The Nikon hit rate is far better.

In three years since I’ve been on Nikon bodies, I’ve probably taken over 100,000 photos. Nothing has broken, nothing has gone wrong and when I pick up a Nikon camera I’m confident that what ever I aim my camera at, I’ll get a sharp and clean image that will post process much easier than anything I ever saw with a Canon body.

So, despite the constant advice you’ll hear on the internet photography forums, switching brands is not necessarily a bad thing. The investment in glass is of course a big concern but when your lenses are failing and the bodies aren’t keeping up with the state-of-the-art, one has to make decisions that move you into the future and not just “good enough.”

I expect to use this Nikon kit as a my core for several more years. I know there are newer cameras on the market now and the lure of mirrorless is wiggling away in that watery golden sunlight, but nothing I’ve seen tells me that I’m going to do any better at what I do with anything different. Canon and Sony and Pentax and Fuji all make fine cameras, but they aren’t going to give me a better result.

The lesson I suppose is; don’t be afraid to make the switch. I did and I’m in a better place now as a result.

Your mileage may vary.