Switching from Canon to Nikon

Switching from Canon to Nikon

Switching from Canon to Nikon

When you buy a DSLR you aren’t just buying a camera. You’re buying into a camera system full of lenses, flashes, batteries, and accessories. It’s a costly investment for which the camera is only the tip of the financial iceberg.

 

I started my investment in Canon 15 years ago

I gathered an impressive collection of Canon gear well suited to my needs. Eventually I was able to cover everything from an ultra wide 14mm to a crazily zoomed in 400mm.

 

Nepal at 14mm

Nepal at 14mm

 

Iceland at 400mm

Iceland at 400mm

 

I also had a number of high performance primes and a handful of top of the line Canon “L” lenses. Early last year I was even able to buy my favorite lens of all time, the rare and exceptionally beautiful 50mm f1.0L lens.

 

Cool

Shot with my favorite lens of all time, the Canon 50mm f1.0L lens

 

It took a decade and a half to collect this stuff; it took barely a week to sell it all on ebay. I’m a Nikon shooter now through and through, and I have no regrets.

 

Why I switched

I switched for three reasons:

1. Canon was not producing the results I was looking for

No Canon camera matches my photographic needs nearly as well as the Nikon D810. Nikon has higher image quality, better dynamic range, and is more customizable. After shooting for so many years with Canon, I’m shocked at all the settings I can adjust on my D810.


2. Canon’s customer service sucks

Canon’s service is abysmal. I’ve had repeatedly poor, sometimes even insulting experiences with Canon. Canon treats every customer as though it’s the first time they’ve ever used a camera. They refuse to see and fix problems because you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about.

Nikon availability is also far better. Nikon has Authorized Service Centers all over the USA including one near me in Chicago. Canon has just three – this means expensive shipping unless you happen to live near Costa Mesa CA, Jamesburg NJ, or Newport News VA. I live in Chicago (note to Canon: this is America’s third largest city), equidistantly far from pretty much all of Canon’s USA locations.


3. Switching is fun

A Canon camera feels like an extension of my own hand. With Canon there is no more learning, only doing. While I enjoy the confidence, I miss the learning. With Nikon, everything is new and fun all over again.

Chicago on the Nikon D810

Chicago on the Nikon D810

 

Canon image quality

Every photographer develops a style as experience is gained. Personally I’ve grown very fond of long exposures of scenes with water. Getting to a location, setting up my gear, shooting the scene, and editing afterwards is supremely relaxing for me, almost meditative. While I greatly enjoy the process, I also expect results.

This shot from Thailand shows it best:

Silver Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

Silver Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

 

This is one of my favorite pictures from Thailand, but the quality is poor. This picture would have worked well if I had shot it with a Nikon D810. To understand why, you need to know one of the key points of how a digital camera works.

Digital cameras don’t really take pictures, they gather data. Digital cameras do a great job except when something is too bright. When something is too bright the digital camera records the object as pure white, and the information is lost forever. This is called clipping.

Clipping in real world photography means that you need to darken your overall exposure so that you can capture important detail in the bright parts. Correctly exposed digital landscape photographs therefore end up looking to look dark and require editing to bring out all the fine details:

 

Thailand original, uneditied

Thailand original, uneditied. Notice how bright the sky looks.

 

This scene was a very high contrast one, where the bright sky would have clipped if I had used a longer shutter speed. Unfortunately that means everything else is quite dark.

I always check the histogram on my camera to ensure I captured as much information as possible. The histogram shows how much data was collected in the bright parts and in the dark parts. More on histograms.

Here’s what my histogram looked like after shooting this scene:

 

Histogram as shot

Histogram as shot

 

It’s slightly dark – darker than it probably should have been – but shooting long exposures in fading light is not an exact science and you don’t get a second chance. The next step is to attempt to bring out the shadows in editing to balance the overall scene. This is where Canon cameras are at their weakest, and it’s the main reason why I no longer own a Canon camera:

 

5D Mark III nosie

5D Mark III nosie

 

This is ugly! Digital noise is everywhere. Sure, you can try to get rid of the noise by editing, but noise reduction software works primarily by blurring the image:

 

Rocks crop 1

No more noise, but a massive loss in quality

 

The point of all of this is that Canon cameras are in a bind when it comes to landscape photography. You can’t expose for the shadows (take a brighter picture) because then you’ll clip the highlights. You also can’t expose for the highlights (take a dark picture) because the shadows produce too much noise even at the highest quality ISO setting of 100.

The flat light where a landscape might be successful with a Canon 5D Mark III is so narrow that even though an overall image might look great, it’s nearly impossible to take a picture where everything is noise free, sharp, and beautiful.

 

100% crop

100% crop from a Canon landscape photograph – blurred and full of false color (purple ice? what?) The Canon camera did me no favors here

 

 

Nikon and Sony (who makes the D810 sensor) have proved that the technology exists for in excess of 14 stops of dynamic range. Keep in mind that a stop represents a doubling of light for each numerical value; thus it increases exponentially as you move higher along the scale. Fourteen stops of dynamic range from the D810 is EIGHT times the amount of light data as the Canon 5D III’s paltry eleven stops.

Unfortunately for photographers everywhere, Canon has been anything but innovative in recent memory. Instead of innovation, they continually “derate” their products to keep their obscene pricing model in check. The Canon 6D, a $2000 camera, has a pathetic 9 autofocus points which is obsolete in every possible way. Canon has an obscene pricing model because it supports sales of their more expensive products. Why buy a 9 point autofocus camera when for “just” a thousand more dollars you can get the 61 autofocus point 5D III?

Even Canon’s old EOS-3 film camera had 41 autofocus points plus Eye Control where the camera knew where you were looking and would autofocus based on your own vision (how futuristic is THAT!) But the revolutionary autofocus system died with the camera in 2007. Get with the times Canon!

 

Comparing the Canon 5D Mark III to the Nikon D810

First of all, thank you to my girlfriend who stood there patiently while I dorked out with not one but TWO cameras.

Canon original

Canon original, ISO 100, f1.4, 1/500 sec

 

Nikon original

Nikon original, ISO 64, f1.4, 1/100 sec

Keep in mind that these are RAW files. A RAW file is not a picture – they are files, data straight off the sensor that is interpreted by whatever software happens to be reading the file. In this case I used Lightroom software without any adjustment. Since a lot of us use Lightroom, it seems a fair comparison.

These two unedited exposures tell us plenty right off the bat. The Canon is too dark and a touch too blue, and the Nikon is nearly cartoonish in how bright and yellow/green it is. Time to edit:

 

Canon edit

Canon edit

 

Nikon edit

Nikon edit

 

Canon’s metering system tries to prevent clipping and thus tens to slightly underexpose pictures. I’ve often shot with the Canon at +1/3EV (1/3rd of a stop) to compensate for this. Of course, this means some of my Canon pictures had clipped highlights. The Nikon tends naturally to overexpose pictures when shot at 0EV. This helps bring out the shadows at increased risk of clipping. I’ve already started shooting the Nikon at -1/6 EV to counteract this because I really do not want clipping (*note: This was posted in Apr 2015. As of Feb 2016, I use -1/2 to -5/6EV depending on the lens because the Nikon handles underexposure exceptionally well, and now I NEVER blow the highlights). Although you have to go deep into the settings to really fine tune the adjustment, it’s nice that the Nikon allows exposure bias in 1/6th increments where the Canon only allows bias in 1/3rd increments.

The Nikon has the ability to recognizes faces while the Canon does not. In this instance the Nikon realized there was a face, and it brightened the shot to give exposure preference to the face. This is a really nice feature to have, and there’s no reason why Canon can’t do something similar. But for the time being Canon has left that feature only to their absolute top 1DX model, which costs as much as a car and is used exclusively by sports photographers who don’t need that feature anyways. Meanwhile the wedding photographers who use the 5DIII and actually do shoot faces have no such option. Even point and shoots and cell phones have face detection these days; why can’t Canon’s expensive DSLRs? It’s yet another example of Canon’s derating features and lack of innovation.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. To simulate the shadows which I’ve frequently encountered in landscapes, I seat each camera to -3EV (1/8th the correct amount of light) and reshot the scene.

Canon at -3EV

Canon at -3EV

 

Nikon at -3EV

Nikon at -3EV

 

Again the Canon looks slightly darker than the Nikon. For the purposes of this test, that probably gives Nikon a bit of a head start when trying to brighten each exposure. But that’s what each camera selected as a -3EV eposure, so let’s go with it.

 

Canon brightened

Canon brightened

 

Nikon brightened

Nikon brightened

 

Here’s a close in 100% crop:

Canon

Canon

 

Nikon

Nikon

 

I’ve always thought Canon and Nikon were pretty close competitors, and that it didn’t really matter which brand you went with. But having used both the Nikon D810 and the Canon 5DIII, the Nikon is so plainly better it’s astounding – especially given the D810 costs about the same as a 5D Mark III! For the same price you get more detail, more resolution, AND massive shadow recovery ability. That is just amazing, and it’s going to make a world of difference in the kinds of photography I like to do.

 

What about resolution?

The Canon 5D Mark III shoots at 22.3 megapixels, the Nikon D810 shoots 36.3 megapixels, and the new Canon 5Ds shoots at 50.6 megapixels. None of this matters, and it didn’t play a role in deciding to dump Canon.

When talking resolution, there are two questions that need to be asked:

1. At what quality is the resolution being offered?
2. What are you going to do with the resolution?

Let’s first take a look at quality. The percentage improvement of the new 5DS over the Canon 5DIII is 225%, and over the Nikon D810 it’s a 40% improvement – not as much, but still quite nice. But at what cost? The new camera will achieve such high resolution by squeezing more light gathering photodiodes into the same space, sacrificing low light capability and dynamic range. This means low dynamic range, poor low light performance, and overall poor image quality in demanding landscape scenes. Initial reports are that the new camera’s dynamic range is on par with the old 5DIII and that its low light capabilities are worse. Certainly Canon thinks so, having already limited the 5DS’s ISO to 6400, expandable to 12800 (the 5DIII’s ISO range is expandable to 102,400).

Then there is the question of what you’ll do with all that resolution. The answer is nothing, and I’ll show you why. The 5DIII can produce a 19.2″x12.8″ print at 300dpi. The D810 does 24.5″x16.3″, and the Canon 5DS will put out a 28.9″x19.3″ print. Each of these cameras put out more than enough resolution for prints of any size at normal viewing distances. That’s because the larger the print, the less necessary 300dpi becomes because viewing distances increase.

I personally like to print at 30″x20″ and the 5DIII will do it at 190dpi (great at 3 feet viewing distance), the D810 puts out a respectable 245dpi (great at 2.5 feet), and the 5DS will do the print at 290dpi (great at 2 feet). But it’s all wasted resolution because everybody looks at large prints from far away. Practically speaking, each camera offers more than enough resolution to produce sharp looking prints at any reasonable size and viewing distance.

Printing is also not an exact science. If you start with a sharp, high quality shot, you can easily get away with doubling or even tripling the original size. And the Nikon D810 starts with much sharper images than the Canon because it lacks an anti aliasing filter which tends to blur images in an attempt to prevent moire (digital repeating patterns). Well, the Canon doesn’t always prevent moire, but the presence of the anti aliasing filter always blurs the image. With the Nikon, images are always as sharp as they can be.

 

In closing

I took the best pictures of my life with the 5D III. Although Canon may be lacking as of late, the 5DIII is a phenomenal camera. But even at this early point in using Nikon, I’m convinced that the D810 is a better camera. And since the two cameras cost pretty much the same amount of money, it’s a no brainer.

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Comments ( 20 )

  • SirusVirus

    Thank you for writing this article!

    I’m originally a Nikon shooter, and I want to migrate to Canon… The only thing I don’t really like with Nikon is color as I’m a portrait photographer. By reading thousands of articles and viewing millions of pictures I still think that Canon has the edge in color, especiall in skin tones. The second good thing for Canon is that Photoshop usually works better with Canon, it is easier to get nice colors SOOC and after post processing.

    BTW, can you tell (or even better write some article) anything about color for Nikon vs Canon?

    • Ed Graham

      Canon images have always looked inherently flat and desaturated to me. This can be a good thing if you shoot portraits. Nikon seems to be naturally brighter and more colorful but these adjustments are easy to make. If you shoot jpg you can make the adjustments in camera; if you shoot raw it will depend on your editing software. Lightroom displays Canon and Nikon RAWs very differently. Personally I don’t think color is a good reason to switch because they both shoot in the same 14 bit depth, so the color information captured is going to be basically the same. Keep in mind I am just getting to know the Nikon and I don’t shoot a lot of portraits.

      I do not think that Photoshop works better with Canon. I was getting posterization with the Canon where there should have been smooth gradients between the tones. There was also ugly color noise in the shadows all the way down to 100 ISO. By comparison the amount of detail coming out of the D810 at ISO 64 is just incredible, even in the dark shadows. This is important to me shooting travel landscapes but since you are shooting portraits it might not matter at all.

  • Randy Foulds

    Timely and informative article, Ed. Thank you. I am in the same situation, considering a switch to Nikon after many years with Canon. I am very disappointed in the dynamic range of Canon and cannot understand why they are choosing not to address this in the 5D! Do you have any favorite Nikon glass you would recommend to replace the Canon 16-35mm or 24-70mm, for example? Of course, replacing the lenses is always the bigger factor dollar wise. I also get noticeable chromatic aberration
    in both of the Canon lenses.

    • Ed Graham

      Hey Randy, many Canon lenses have identical or nearly identical Nikon counterparts. Nikon makes a 16-35 f4 VR (stabilized) lens which replaced my Canon 17-40 f4, they make a 24-120 f4 which replaced my Canon 24-105 f4 (and added some range too) and they make a 70-200 f2.8 which replaced my Sigma 70-200 f2.8. I also really like the new Sigma 50 and 35mm Art lenses but you have to be willing to play around with the AF fine tuning. Overall I have absolutely zero regrets about switching but I have yet to travel with it, that will be the real test I think.

      • Randy Foulds

        Thanks, Ed. I have been looking into the Sigma Art lenses and having some fun comparing various brands with Nikon and Canon at http://www.the-digital-picture.com. Of course it’s always exciting purchasing new equipment. I also have been with Canon since going digital back in 2002. I’ll look forward to your followup after your next trip.

        Is your travel purely on spec or do you travel on assignment, and if so for whom.

        Beautiful photos, BTW.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful article.

        Randy

  • Leith Phillips

    I owe you. I’m an enthusiastic amateur who likes landscape best. I was frustrated by the low dynamic range of my 5D MkII and went the Sony A7R route (similar sensor to the D810) with a Metabones adapter for my excellent L lenses. It was an expensive experiment that failed because of a number of compatibility issues with two copies of the adapter. The Sony alternative has worked well for some, but not me. So, I sold the Sony and started working out how I could get the best possible results with the new 5DR – being obsessive about perfect exposure and probably blending images. Then I read your article and the penny dropped: for the price of a 5DR, I could afford a D810 AND a Nikkor 14-24mm, which I’ve always wanted. So now my Canon bodies and seven L lenses are heading for Ebay this weekend. I have already bought the D810 and the 14-24mm to force myself into committing to the change. My eventual line-up will be Nikkor 14-24mm, 70-200mm f/4, 85mm 1.4 and the interesting new 80-400mm, and two Sigma primes – the 35mm and 50mm 1,4 Art. Unfortunately with the 14-24mm, I also have to invest in a second Lee filter system, but it will be worth it in the long run. My second body will be the D610 or maybe the D750. It’s fun to be starting over and I feel like it may be the push I need to make a creative breakthrough.

  • Guy

    Hello Ed,
    Thank you for confirming what I’ve felt all along but could not express so eloquently. Particularly, the dramatic difference in dynamic range, the Nikon’s face detection capability, and the truth about resolution. Everybody tries to argue that it’s all about resolution, but there is more to good image capture than just the number of pixels. All of your arguments were spot on and backed by real examples. I’m following you on Flickr. I’m a great fan of your photography. Incidentally, I still have the D800E; I haven’t yet made the jump to the D810. I’m still wondering if the difference is dramatic enough.

    All the best,
    Guy

    • Ed Graham

      Thanks a lot Guy. Have you made the jump yet? What are you shooting with today?

      • Guy Yowell

        Hello Ed,
        I never made the switch to the D810. I’m still shooting with my D800E. I got some nice shots when I visited the National Parks this past September. You can check them out on my Instagram page.

        I’m holding out for Nikon’s next release. I was very impressed by the advances made with the new D5 and D500, particularly the improved autofocus and increase ISO sensitivity. The increase to 153 points, with 99 cross-type sensors, is a real advance in the AF wars. Although I don’t think we need any substantial increase in resolution (more pixels), an improvement in AF would certainly be welcome. I’m hoping that Nikon will make an announcement in the next months.

        Incidentally, your insights on the new Canon 5DS (with its 50+ megapixels), which hadn’t even been released, were amazingly accurate. A number of reviews I’ve read by owners complain that the files are so large, they’re almost unmanageable.

        Best regards, Guy

  • Tom

    Great article. I started as a Canon user, the Rebel. My decision to switch came in 2009 when I really wanted a full frame camera that shot 8 frames per second (I was shooting basketball at the time). My only choice was to move to the Nikon D700 with battery grip. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve even borrowed some friend’s Canon gear just to see what I’ve missed. My conclusion is the switch was the best decision of my photography career.
    Tom

  • Prashaunth Jagannathan

    Ed, Thank you so much for such a wonderful article. I am glad I have come across your write up just at the time I, almost decided to buy a Nikon D810. Though, I have read several articles about the image quality, sharpness and dynamic range that this machine possess, It was easy to relate and understand the nitty gritties.

    Just to give more insight, I am a wedding and kids photographer based out of India, using Canon 5D MIII for the last couple of years. Contemplating at buying a Nikon D810 with couple of prime lenses to start with (for bridal makeup and closeup shots) and then to slowly migrate fully into Nikon once I get used to the ergonomics and controls.
    D810 is selling at 2300USD as of today on a limited offer! Can’t wait to order one 🙂

    Looking forward to see more articles from you!
    Shaun

    • Ed Graham

      Thanks Prashaunth! I hope you enjoy the D810. A year later, I am still glad I made the swtich. I think you could definitely make the D810 work for weddings although in my experience it has required somewhat of a different shooting style as opposed to the Canon.

  • Wildgeese

    The color cast of a Nikon image is easy to adjust within the camera. I find my own Nikon to cast green and just adjusted it and since have a more pleasing (in my own eyesight) and balanced color in my shots. It is also true that Nikon tend to over expose so i shoot a little bit under. Perhaps this is the reason why they work better compared to canon when the sun goes down.
    One thing i find canon to be good at is the position of controls and buttons. Its is a tiny bit more fiddly with Nikon and all their different models have their controls/buttons also in different places, so it is a pain to move from one model to the next.

    • Ed Graham

      I like to underexpose because the shadows are captured so well with the Nikon that there is virtually nothing to lose by underexposing. I do find it slightly annoying that each of my lenses seems to have a sweet spot for exposure adjustment, and so with every lens change I am having to reset my EV compensation. Nikon does have some nice in camera color adjustment features, but shooting RAW it doesn’t really do much for me personally.

  • Mark

    I made the switch from Canon to Nikon at the very end of 2014, because I too was sick of the lack of innovation on Canon’s part, along with a slew of service incidents, repeat services because products came back unrepaired, etc. When I bought a 5d mark iii and it came out of the box with a defective mirror box, which made the AF system backfocus with all points other than the very center one, and it took them three service trips to figure it out and finally fix it, I had enough.

    So Initially I was excited for Nikon, and their awesome dynamic range, and all the features they have that canon does not. Here I am, a little over a year later, finding myself wanting to switch back. The only thing that has prevented me is that Canon has STILL not released new cameras. I feel that they are coming very soon, though.

    I’ve put 80,000 photos on my Nikons in the last year as a wedding photographer and in that time, I have still not gotten used to the color and contrast curve difference in the raws. Straight out of camera the photos look god awful compared to when i shot Canon. Not only are the colors mute, there’s something weird about the contrast curve that makes everything look extra flat. Under many conditions you get that hideous yellowish color cast that no matter how hard I try, I cannot shake off. I’ve tried making color profiles with xrite color cards, using profiles from other cameras, etc. It helps, but it doesn’t fix it completely. Whenever my secondary photographers shoot Canon under the same conditions, it’s a reminder of how much easier it was to edit Canon raws.

    Then we have lenses. Nikon lenses, are ok, but Canon has some true gems.My 85mm 1.4g has nothing on the Canon 85 1.2L ii, the look is just not the same. The Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR II is really more like 60-135mm at portrait distance, it’s impossible to get the same degree of compression as the canon version, so it’s impossible to get that dreamy 200mm look. The 24-70 2.8 ii is far sharper than Nikon versions. Let’s not even try to compare the 135L to the Nikon 135 f2.0 DC, that’s just not fair.

    I would agree 100% though, for landscapes Nikon is the winner.

    For portrait/wedding/event photographers, I still prefer Canon. Ultimately though, that’s just my opinion, each to their own!

    • Ed Graham

      Thanks for the comment Mark. After a year of shooting Nikon I too have many moments where I miss Canon. Neither camera offers a perfect solution but I do find that with the Nikon my landscapes are a lot better while my portraits have been a bit worse. Specifically I have found the Nikon takes a MUCH longer time to lock focus on people and I have missed once in a lifetime shots because of this. As you mentioned, the Nikon’s out of the box colors are also more of a challenge to work with, particularly when shooting under the difficult lighting conditions that tend to occur at weddings. I haven’t been able to find a single consistent profile to apply because as the type of light changes, the amount of adjustment you need also changes. The focus breathing 70-200mm is inexcusable; it isn’t much of an issue for me personally but I don’t see how a $2000 supposedly 200mm lens can only produce an effective focal length of 135mm at close focusing distances (where it is quite often used!)

      Despite my complaints, since my preference has always been landscapes the Nikon remains a far better fit for me. I LOVE that I can jack the shadows to ungodly levels and the photo still holds up. I could barely get another stop out of the shadows from Canon without getting all sorts of ugliness going on. The painstaking process of babying my Canon RAW files always took so much of the joy out of photo editing. Now with Nikon I can make a landscape picture look exactly how I want it to look and it holds up at 100% magnification. I can print it large, hang it on a wall and look at it from any distance and it looks great.

    • Ed Graham

      I should also add that like you, the experience I had with Canon service was abysmal to the point of insulting. I could have dealt with the crap shadows of the Canon, but when you have recurring problems with the camera (as I did) and nobody at Canon lifts a finger to try to help fix it regardless of the amount of $ I was willing to pay them (and did pay them with no results), it becomes much more palatable to toss out 15 years worth of photo gear and start over fresh.

  • Guy Yowell

    Hi Ed,

    I’m a big fan of your work. I was searching for your article titled “Switching from Canon to Nikon”. I had saved the link to “thepolarroute.com” and was surprised to find that the link no longer worked. I was able to find the article on your website, but discovered that many of the examples do not appear to open any longer.

    I wanted to share the link to this insightful article with a fellow photographer who was considering making the switch from Canon to Nikon.

    Maybe there was a problem when you copied to the article to your new website?

    Best regards,
    Guy Yowell

    • edgrahamphotography11

      Hey Guy,

      Thanks for the comment and sorry about the issues. Yes, I switched everything over to the new edgrahamphoto.com website and I have had some unanticipated issues with the images. I have thousands of images to transfer over and it is totally impractical to do it one image at a time, however I am hoping to have this sorted asap (I’m guessing within a day or so.)

      In the end I am hoping to have a totally seamless 1:1 transition; i.e. even your old polarroute links will still work, they’ll just be redirected to the appropriate page on edgrahamphoto.com.

      Thanks again,
      Ed

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