The Switch from Canon To Nikon – Why I Did
This post may seem overdue, since I’ve fielded quite a number of questions related to my switch to Nikon, but I think it’s kinda timed perfectly. Sometimes all the answers aren’t delivered all at once, and I wanted a more comprehensive overview in response to the most common question I’ve received over the last six months: Why did you switch from Canon To Nikon?
So – here it is: Being a professional photographer for the last 10+ years, you’d think it wouldn’t surprise me that many people in this industry are very, very interested in the gear you use. My take has always been, and still is, that great photography is a product of great interactions, along with a solid understanding of technical know-how, recognizing how to utilize or create excellent lighting in all circumstances, and creative composition/framing. Plus only about 100 other things. But the top thing, for me? Hands down? Great interaction. So, for a very long time, I wasn’t paying too much attention to this brand or that brand.
The very first time I decided to purchase a camera with the sheer intent to go pro, I looked at all the models out there and just found myself buying a Canon camera. Not a concentrated choice point. I wanted to buy a good camera and, at the time, I selected a Canon D60. Shortly thereafter, I upgraded to a newer model. And a backup. Then a newer model. And a newer backup. And, then, gasp, a newer model. And so it continued. Along with all of that, of course, were the multiple lens purchases and all the associated gear.
And, somewhere in the middle of all that purchasing, I started really getting how much money we sink into gear. Probably a direct result of itemizing those purchases every year for tax purposes, bejeebus. But, either way, I finally started paying more attention to photography gear. Not just what I was using but also what other people were using. If that sounds weird, keep in mind that one of my major business practices is to pay less attention to what everyone else is doing and consistently stay focused on my own creativity, my own business, my own systems. And that’s worked well for me. I’ve kept quite busy doing just that.
But, nonetheless, I kept hearing great buzz about the Nikon low-light capabilities, the Nikon ISO sensitivity, the Nikon auto-focus, the Nikon sharpness. I watched some friends whose work I greatly respected jump from Canon to Nikon, and still I thought, Oh well, I’m simply too invested in another brand. What’re you gonna do?
In all that time, I never even picked up a Nikon camera. Unless, of course, it was during a workshop and I was answering a question for a participant who shot Nikon, and then I had to pick up the camera to get a feel for what they were doing – but, since it seemed like a whole other world to me, I’d quickly resolve the issue and then hand the camera back.
I didn’t properly shoot a Nikon camera until 2012, when I finally unpacked one Nikon D4 and one Nikkor 85mm 1.4 lens and went out with my kids for a casual afternoon in downtown Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I tried a few practice shots. First some color…
Then some black & white portraits:
The difference of shooting with Nikon
The first thing I noticed, right out of the gate, was the feel of the camera system in my hands. I’d been shooting with a nearly opposite-seeming system for the last ten years, and I knew that equipment inside and out – and yet this system immediately felt better to me. The ergonomics made sense to me. The buttons were where I preferred them, and the ability to program other functions to be right at the fingertips of just one of my hands felt enormously convenient to me. I really like keeping as much of myself free to interact as possible.
(In photography and in life).
The other thing I noticed was the incredible speed of the D4, while I was shooting action shots. While downloading, I was struck by the sharpness of the files right out of camera. And I kept finding more things I liked – so I started shooting more and more. I maxxed out the ISO capabilities, downright squealing with what I could actually push it to (images I can work with at 12,800 ISO, wha??). I tried out other lenses (dear 105mm 2.8 macro, where have you been all my life?) and then the flash system (I love). And then finally the big test: I took both camera systems with me on a commercial shoot at a rather large, beautiful spa in Wichita, Kansas. That’s right, I lugged two full systems with me on an airplane just for this blind test.
I shot more with the Canon system throughout the day because it was what I had always shot with and, for some reason, I felt like I’d been commissioned to shoot with what I’d always shot with (even as the client told me she trusted me to use the right gear). But, when all was said and done, about 75% of the delivered images were – to my surprise – from the Nikon system. And I’d shot less with the Nikon gear! In the end, even outside of the more comfortable ergonomics, I simply preferred the look and feel of the images, the incredible dynamic range in contrasty, low-light instances, and – I have to say it again – the sharpness in the files.
After that, I just decided to switch from Canon to Nikon entirely – to move completely away from a system that had done me well for a long time /// pause for dramatic effect of next message, in bold:
(**note: Please save any emails that may be defending Canon or Canon gear because I intend no disrespect to Canon at all. I really, truly, absolutely do not.**)
unpause, continue on /// and to just fully embrace the brand-new-to-me Nikon system that simply felt more like my future in photography.
It was slightly bizarre that all this happened right around the exact same time my image made the cover of EOS Magazine, along with a lovely featured spread.
But timing is a funny thing sometimes.
I have shot quite a lot, lot, lot this year with the Nikon D4, the Nikon D800 and all my favorite lenses. There are quite a few of those favorite lenses, too, and Adorama was kind enough to create this page of all my favorite gear, so you can see them all here, broken down in detail. I am still learning about all the capabilities at my fingertips – as they are vast and far too much fun to experiment with – but I love that I’m still learning things about these cameras. Ensuring that you love how you’re working, and what you’re using to work with, is a huge part of managing burnout. And that’s not a light thing. I absolutely took this factor into account when I switched.
And speaking of loving! I am loving the images I’m capturing now. Here is a small selection:
Was it hard to re-learn everything with a whole new brand of camera?
One other big question I’ve heard is this: Was it hard to re-learn everything with a whole new brand of camera?
What I’d found hard was learning so much about photography! Learning to consistently shoot 100% in manual, the relationship of aperture to shutter speed to ISO, the ins and outs of white balance and metering and 1, 3, 5, 7, however-many point lighting, flash photography, composition, angles, color casting, perspective distortion and all the rest.
That’s portrait photography.
And that’s a lot to learn.
But here’s the thing: I already learned all that. That knowledge has been acquired and it’s constantly being reinforced with a regular shooting schedule – so it’s not going anywhere. What I also found hard was learning how to quickly read a subject, as far as how to interact with them for the sake of portrait photography. I keep learning that each and every day – and the more I learn myself, the more I am able to produce, and the more I am naturally inclined to teach.
I already know photography, and that’s the hardest part.
Which direction the lens turns when you mount it, where the buttons are, how the memory cards pop in and out … those are new details that are learned fairly quickly.
That’s the easy part.
So, no. I didn’t have to re-learn everything.
I just needed to go through a period of time where I jumped off autopilot, when it came to my technical movements, and focused on relearning some new movements (some new chords, so to speak). That way I could quickly get back to autopilot when it came to manual shooting, which is the only way I shoot – and keep my focus right where it belongs: on interaction, lighting, framing, and loving this profession.
And now that I feel like I’ve done that, I decided to write this post.
If there are any other questions, comments, or needs for clarification, please leave them in the comments section. I’ll happily answer them all here.
And, this probably should go without saying, but since this is the internet, I just want to be clear: this is my experience switching from Canon to Nikon – not the whole of humanity’s. I can only speak about my experience.
(So, um, I did : )
Thanks for reading.