Nikon To Canon: Not

Camera dorks, like most dorks, are obsessed with “systems.” You only ever hear dorks talk in hushed tones about how the most important thing to consider is not the individual purchase, but how all of your purchases should meld together into a cohesive whole that is a larger synergy. You hear this a lot when you ask camera dorks for buying advice. “It’s not the single item that matters, it’s how the whole system fits together” they will say. They make sure that before you go out and buy that Nikon D40, you have duly considered whether or not the Nikon system has the lenses and accessories you will need to handle all of your photographic requirements from now until the end of time. You get similar sorts of lectures when asking for buying advice about computers, stereos, maybe cars, bicycles, etc. These are all dork system hobbies. You should smile and knod, and ignore them.

In the photo world, the two major systems are Nikon and Canon. No one really knows why this is, but it’s been this way for a long time. Starting in the 50s and moving into the 80s Nikon dominated the professional 35mm markets with a series of bodies whose names all start with the letter “F”. Canon did well in the so-called “consumer” markets, but didn’t hit it big with the Pros until the advent of autofocus. Nikon was slow to implement autofocus well and as a result Canon slowly ate into their market share. Canon’s pro digital bodies have done similarly well, to the point where at many sports events you might see nothing but white Canon lenses out in the field.

In the various photo forums on the intertubes, there is constant discussion of Nikon vs. Canon, Canon vs. Nikon. Even in this humble weblog, Pete has written many hundreds of words about a Nikon camera as compared to the Canon camera that he is used to. In constrast to that piece, I will now tell you why I always look at the Canon cameras with admiration, but I have never bought one.

I’ve used Nikon cameras for a long time. I originally picked up a Nikon because I liked the viewfinder in the thing and because my friend had a Nikon F5 and a ton of lenses. This would allow me to borrow things. Although I never did borrow things, I still liked the viewfinder in the thing. I tried a couple of Canon bodies from the time and loved how quiet they were and how the autofocus actually worked (it wasn’t until the late late 1990s that Nikon had good AF). But, I could never tell if anything in the viewfinder was actually in focus. So I went with the Nikon.

When I switched from film to digital bodies, I stuck with Nikon mostly out of initeria and because I liked how the bodies handled. At the time I told myself it was because I didn’t want to replace “all of my lenses” even though all of my lenses are cheap, and I bought new digital zoom lenses anyway.

Still, I am an engineering geek and I like shopping. So I always keep up with what Canon is doing. Every year starting at Christmas and going until around the middle of Janurary I make a list of everything I would need to pick up a new Canon “system.” It’s not a lot. A body, a couple lenses, a flash. In past years there have been many reasons to consider this. The Canon sensors and imaging pipelines have had a reputation for higher quality, especially with regard to noise performance, than what Nikon has built. There are a few lenses in the Canon lens line (70-200/F4 L, the tilt-shift stuff, prime lenses with the fast AF ring motors) that Nikon lacks. Until this year Canon had the only affordable “full frame” body on the market. That would have been cool to have.

But, I never pulled the trigger. I’d go to B&H; and collect everything up in my shopping cart on the web site and then delete it all. I had three reasons for this, none of which is really a “system” reason. I would have no problem changing “systems”. I could get used to the different UI. I have no problem replacing lenses and flashes and stuff. No, my reasons are simpler.

First, I don’t like the Canon viewfinders. For whatever reason I have never picked up a Canon body where I can really tell what’s in focus in the viewfinder, especially with wide lenses. Even the most marginal Nikon finder, like the one in the D100/70/50, was better for me than the Canon stuff. I’ve never figured out exactly they they don’t work for me, but they don’t.

Second, the Nikon wireless flash lets me slave off of the built-in flash.

Third, the chimping UI on some of the Canon bodies confused me the first time I tried it. I found this annoying. OK. This isn’t really a reason. I just wanted to have three items in the list.

That’s basically the whole story. Whenever I try to buy a Canon I get right up to the part where I hit the button and I remember these things. And then I’m sad that I won’t get to use that great 70-200/F4 L lens.

I wish Nikon would make that lens already. Maybe I’m in the wrong system.