Lessons Learned Shooting with Canon

AnnapolisCanon-0226.jpgMy friend and fellow photographer Emily Chastain approached me with a great idea. She suggested that we plan a shoot where we swap cameras; I would use her Canon and she would use my Nikon. Now, I’m not sure if she was just tired of my Canon bashing or if she had something else in mind, nevertheless I jumped at the opportunity to give her a chance to experience the greatness of Nikon. We scheduled the shoot in Annapolis, giving her home field advantage…

Approximate read time: 9 minutes (if you’re as slow as I am).

For the record, we both agreed to approach it with an open mind, looking for the strengths and weaknesses of both brands. After all, every photographer that owns a $5,000 camera will tell you that it doesn’t matter which camera you have. …yet I still haven’t been able to get any of them to trade.

Anyway, we hit up the town around sunset and kept shooting well into the evening giving us a chance to play with our speedlights too. We were lucky enough to have Lacey Garcia model for us, and she rocked it out! For anyone wondering here’s a look at the gear we were using:

AnnapolisCanon-0080.jpgEmily’s gear (that I was using)
Canon 5D Mark II
24-70 f/2.8
70-200 f/4
580EX2
580EX
RadioPoppers Px

My toys (that Emily was using)
Nikon D300
17-55 f/2.8
70-200 f/2.8
SB-800
PocketWizards Plus II

It was a learning experience, to say the least. I really wish we had a videographer with us to record all our comments and the visible ineptitude we both felt. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to make note of all the things that stood out to me, good or bad.

The differences…

I don’t like the auto contrast/brightness of the playback screen. It tries to adjust depending on how bright the environment is, but I find that it only makes me wonder how it really looks.

I enjoyed pushing the limits of the camera’s ISO range. My D300 isn’t amazing by today’s standards, so the 5Dm2 gave me a little more leverage at 3200 and above. It handled well, but I don’t think it’s as impressive as the D700, which is in the same price range as the 5Dm2.

I don’t like that it only shows you the last photo you took in a sequence. If I shoot three images in a row and then look at the playback screen it will show me the third image. Nikon on the other hand will quickly display all three images.

Image Stabilization in the telephoto lens is tangible. You can actually feel it working. I can’t decide if I like that or not.

The colors on the Canon appear more vibrant. The screen was definitely more vivid than what I see on my computer, but I think that has to do with the color settings in camera (which is kind of moot when shooting in RAW).

The on-screen menus and settings don’t feel intuitive; there is too much hierarchy which makes things harder to find and longer to adjust. Just try adjusting the Kelvin color temperature or deleting a picture and you’ll see what I mean.

I don’t like that nearly all of the buttons have multiple purposes.

The flash interface is a complete joke. Does anyone know how to turn on rear sync??

I love the streamlined form factor of the Radio Poppers; it’s a significant improvement over my clunky, dangling PocketWizards. The major downside is that Radio Poppers require you to have a speedlight attached to your hot shoe, which is not only expensive and bulky but a waste of what could otherwise be an off-camera flash. After using the poppers I’m eager to get the new breed of PocketWizards which seem to take the best of both worlds.

Canon’s approach to focus seems to be “close enough.” Personally I’m a stickler for focus, so this is a big one for me. Rather than staying locked on the object I focused, it occasionally decided that the background should be in focus instead (and yes, I checked to make sure I was in Single point focus mode). Emily confirmed that it happens particularly at wide angles. Not sure if this is a common problem, but it’s sure an annoying one.

I positively do not like using the wheel to set the focus point. I realize you can use the undersized directional pad for that as well, but I found that to be just as cumbersome. I suppose this is merely an issue of familiarity. Similarly, I don’t like the center point button on my D300, but Nikon wised up and fixed that in the D300s.

The rubber side of the Canon strap is more comfortable around my neck than the rubber side of the Nikon strap.

The flash range of eTTL seems more extreme than I thought it would be. -2EV might as well read “off.” Then again I prefer to shoot in manual, so I don’t have much to compare it to.

The recycle time of the 580EX just couldn’t keep a reasonable pace. It proved very inconsistent and I wasn’t even pushing it very hard. Emily said the batteries were fresh yet I was still getting some hang time on 1/8th and 1/16th power. I’d like to think that this could be remedied with an external battery pack like a Quantum Turbo (with which I am used to shooting).

Mounting lenses on a Canon is just about the only thing that feels intuitive to me. I have no idea why Nikon lenses mount backwards, but it has always annoyed me. Apparently the engineers at Nikon have never heard of “Righty tighty lefty loosey.”

I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but it feels like Canon’s depth of field (at least on the 24-70 f/2.8) has a faster falloff. Or perhaps it’s just more shallow than Nikon’s. Occasionally I would stumble upon this sweet spot where the images just seem to sing. Whatever it is, it looks nice and seems to give some pictures just a little more oomph.

It seems like Canon’s RAW files recover more detail than Nikon when you darken the image (in Lightroom). However, the image falls apart when you brighten it. There is a striped pattern to the grain/noise that becomes obvious when you push it.

I do not need nor want 21 megapixel images. Yes there is more detail to work with, but they take longer to import, process, and export. With Nikon’s top of the line camera (in my opinion, the D3s) weighing in at 12.2 megapixels Canon has decidedly won the megapixel war. …but they’ve let Nikon take the lead in most other areas (not including video).

In conclusion…

AnnapolisCanon-0194.jpgI feel like this was just an extended edition of why I don’t like Canon, but I’m being completely honest in saying that there wasn’t much that impressed me. I never experienced that “Wow!” moment that I did when I first shot with my D300 or my old Minolta for that matter.

Obviously I’m a big fan of Nikon, and now that I’ve given Canon a reasonable chance I appreciate Nikon all the more. Sure there are a few things that drive me crazy about them (like the lens mount, shoulder strap, and the interval timer mode), but all in all I’m now certain that it’s the best fit for me. It has a lot to do with the way I’m wired.

I’m a very technical shooter. I’m not the sort of guy who reads the manual; I’m the guy who reads it twice. If there’s a button, I want to know what it does. I want to have all the control at my fingertips, and Nikon allows me to do this in a way that feels intuitive to me.

I think Canon is better suited to people like Emily and my sister who don’t much care for technical details. They feel a lot more than I do, and they approach photography as an art where I tend to view it more as a science. The magic of Canon seems to be that hard-to-describe sweet spot. If that’s your thing then you might be better off with a Canon. …but I’ll still give you a hard time for it. =)

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9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned Shooting with Canon

  1. Interesting! It’s funny to see where our assessments matched up (and didn’t match up.) Thanks for doing this with me! I enjoyed the perspective.

  2. That was very enlightening. It was great to hear both sides of the debate. Even if I was impressed enough to switch to Nikon, I have about 30G wrapped up in my Canon equipment. But as you guys agreed on, it’s important to know your camera, whichever brand you use. Then it is all about getting it to become part of you, so everything comes so naturally to you, that you don’t have to think hard when confronted with a quick photo op.

  3. nice post, Stephen. I’ve read about the bokeh with full frame vs crop sensor – that probably explains the difference rather than the brand. :-)

    thanks for sharing!

  4. I’d love to try out a similar experiment–thanks for the useful info! The Canon autofocus issue also drives me nuts. My 5D mII is thankfully much better than my 7D was, but still not perfect. It would be my main reason for a switch to Nikon (shhhhhh! don’t tell anyone).

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