From Canon to Nikon: Conclusions

On September 2, 2008, in Photo, Places, by peterb

(Part 1 of this article explains my rationale for answering the question “How hard is it for a Canon shooter to go Nikon?)


I set out to answer the question “can a Canon shooter go Nikon?” The best answer I have for this question is a personal one: in writing this article, I’ve been packing up the D300 to send back to Nikon, and I’m mentally tallying up my bank account to see if I can come up with the cash to buy one — and the 17-55 f/2.8, and an SB-800 — for myself.

This is not to say that one can’t get good results out of a Canon. Rather, having decided to address the “what should I upgrade to?” question squarely, I can’t unring the bell. The D300, with the accompanying lens, is a combination that, out of the box, made composing and exposing compelling images practically effortless. When I last used a Nikon — a D70 — I felt like I was quite literally fighting the camera tooth and nail in order to get an image of acceptable quality, an image not overwhelmed by unpleasant ISO noise. Those days are gone.

Are there things I don’t like? Yes. The camera is a just a bit too large, and, with the 17-55/2.8, a bit too heavy. That’s the most serious complaint, since if you don’t carry the camera with you, you can’t make the shot. My other complaints are mostly errata. The focus mode switch on the body is in the worst possible place. I don’t like that the CF card slot door requires me to flip a fiddly little switch to open it, instead of just being a friction door. I don’t like that the icons on the camera body for exposure modes and focus modes are practically indistinguishable. And although I’m willing to learn to thread the camera lenses the other way, God and Rene Descartes intended minus to be on the left and plus to be on the right, which means the exposure compensation controls work opposite to the way they should.

But all of these are minor complaints, and instead of a thousand-word counterargument, I’ll just use a picture:



I’d like to thank Geoff and Matthew at Nikon for their help in setting up this test. I’d like to thank psu for providing a guide to the perplexed when I stubbornly refused to look at the manual, and Ian McCullough for loaning me his SB-800 and various lenses. I’d like to thank our models, Jill, Christina, Aimee, and Katie. I’d like to thank KatKat B. — who takes much better photos than I do — for helping manage the lighting on the riverwalk shoot. And I’d like to thank those of you who commented on drafts of this article, which was a great help.

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13 Responses to “From Canon to Nikon: Conclusions”

  1. Just got a D300 myself, upgrading from a D80 that I’ve dragged all over Europe for the last year, and the D50 that I used before that. The new D700 has unleashed a flood of nearly new D300s on the used market. At $1200 I couldn’t resist.

    Size does matter. Size is why I started with Nikon despite owning a Canon A1 film camera and my friends having Canons (and more importantly lenses I could potentially borrow.) The Rebel requires lemur fingers to hold comfortably with one hand.

    The D300 is a bit of a beast compared to my D80, but I haven’t really noticed it. Partly because I’ve been shooting a lot with my new lens, a Sigma 150-500mm. When you have a lens that huge, the extra heft/size of the D300 body is actually a bonus. But if it really bothers you, you might want to check out the newly announced D90. Same sensor as the D300, body size of the D80 but with the awesome LCD from the D300 plus a HD movie mode! (I wonder if a firmware upgrade will bring that to the D300.) Only obvious drag is that the AF system isn’t as advanced.

    Auto-ISO… you mention that all Nikons have it… they might, but the D300s is the first one that gives me the control I need. Shooting manual mode with Auto-ISO is brilliant for sports… hell it’s brilliant all the time. I control the creative parameters (aperture and shutter speed) it jacks up the ISO to get the exposure right. Putting the ceiling at 800-ISO means I’m almost always going to get the shot I want unless the light is really bad. It’s the manual mode you always wanted.

    And I’ll just say that I too love the Nikon’s flash capabilities. Again, manual mode + off camera remote i-TTL flash = total control. It’s almost too easy.

    But, as good as the new kit is… Adobe Lightroom has been the biggest factor in improving my photography. Shooting RAW is now as easy as JPEG, but with an incredible amount of control. Try it out if you haven’t. 95% of the time it kicks the shit out of the alternatives that I’ve tried (Aperture, Capture NX, Bibble Pro)

  2. psu says:

    My one complaint about manual+auto-iso on Nikon bodies is that it does not allow for easily exposing off of the meter reading. Because if you shift either shutter speed or aperture the iso shifts to compensate the exposure back to middle gray. The result, I think, is that you need to use exp. compensation to do this. Which is sort of retarded.

  3. I think the whole point of manual+auto-iso is that you don’t want to fool around with the exposure… and as long as the metering does the job (and 90% it does) I get exactly the DoF and Shutter speed I want. For the other 10% spot metering and recomposing does the trick (and I assign spot meter to one of the buttons on the front of the body, so it’s quick and doesn’t make me lift my head from the viewfinder.)

  4. “God and Rene Descartes intended minus to be on the left and plus to be on the right, ”
    I so agree with you. It drove me a little nuts on my D80 and I could never completely wrap my mind around the concept. But on the D300 you can CHANGE it! menu item F10 is “reverse indicators” : set it once and all is right again in the world ;-)

  5. minoltaguy says:

    OK, you said that someone would say it, so here goes: Why compare the newest top of the line Nikon to a 3 generation old entry level Canon? To be fair, forward a request to Canon and see if you can test drive their new 50D with 17-55 2.8 lens?

    Just a thought. It would certainly be a better comparison.

  6. J says:

    Yes! what Minoltaguy said! (i said something to the same effect a few pages ago)

    Especially with the difference in UI between the low end canon and high end nikon!

  7. psu says:

    I don’t understand the obsession with “fairness.” This piece is not supposed to be some objective commentary on the absolute utility of one machine over another machine. It’s a writeup of one person’s experience trying machine B after having used machine A for a while. I’m sure that the higher end Canon bodies would have resulted in a similar experience. We just did not manage to have one to play with.

  8. peterb says:

    I’m not really interested in comparing “cameras”, as much as just discussing the sorts of tradeoffs one makes when one crosses the Great System Divide. I think those sorts of things transcend model lines.

  9. minoltaguy says:

    When crossing the great system divide, you should try to be on a somewhat level point of entry….

    For example, when a Mac using friend (Core Duo 2ghz Leopard OS) wanted to see what windows was like, he found a P3 with a low amount of ram, that XP was shoved onto…. It was not a pleasant eperience for him. Had he used another core duo machine, the results would have been different.

    Put 2 top end cameras together, or two bottom end, THEN compare the user interface and see what the experience and tradeoffs are.

    After all, I’m sure most people would prefer the cruise ship to a leaky row boat with a broken oar. Heck, even a 35ft runabout might be better.

    Imagine comparing the low end Toyota Corolla against another manufactures high end product. Not much of a user experience comparison.

    One closer, that is on topic, 2 guys at work that shoot Nikon got 400mm 5.6 lenses. “Steve” got the Nikkor, “Chris” got a Sigma. “Steve” goaded and gloated about how much better the Nikkor was. “Chris” retorted with ‘for as much more as you paid for it, it d@** well better be.’

  10. erik, brussels says:

    you can still use your external flash (SB800 SB600) at higher speeds than the synch speed in auto-FP (>1/250 eg 1/500 1/1000 etc..). The flash will magically flash repetitively and cover all of you sensor, even if the whole sensor is not exposed all at the same time. Nifty. The Nikon flash system is its hidden weapon: awesome. Now you seem to be impressed by the D300′s high ISO performance. Seen some D700? Not one speck of noise on ISO 6400? The quality you got at ISO 6400 is what you get at ISO 25600 on a D700. THAT is a wow-experience.

  11. SD says:

    Thanks peterb! That was entertaining and informative.

    I, myself, switched from Minolta to Nikon, a number of years ago – and went through the same sort of thing as you. But now I can’t remember how the Minolta works any more!

    The Nikon does have quirks – but I also hate the feel of Canon’s plastic. It’s alien to me. I don’t mind the way the Canons work – it just feels funky in my hands.
    Kinda like how some people swear by Sony Walkmans and can’t stand other ones.

  12. BJN says:

    As mentioned above, you can change the direction of plus and minus command wheel operation with a custom setting, the only bassackward thing you have to live with is the silly F-mount lefty-tighty mount direction. I’ve been shooting wth Nikon for many years and I still find the lens mount direction annoying.

    The last reason I want my D300 is to impress people. In fact, I find it very annoying that my friends on a recent trip were impressed by my photos and praised the camera. The D300 is a nice camera but it still requires a photographer to run it – in fact it’s very much a “photographer’s camera” – few people would be happy buying it to use in it its most point-and-shoot configuration.

  13. jen says:

    I’m currently a Pentax K10 owner but I thinking of making the switch to a Nikon D300. Can you give me any insight/feedback please?

    While I have taken some good shots with my Pentax I find there are some definite drawback: focusing speed/accuracy, softness
    :white balance issues
    :terribly slow Pentax accessory flash recycle time!!!