A Spin Around the Block

It's been nearly five years to the month since I moved from Nikon to Canon.  After years of loyal use Nikon had made clear a full frame sensor DSLR or anything at all with lower noise wasn't part of their business plan.  A grand exodus of professionals leaving Nikon took place during a 2-3 year period as they moved to their main competitor Canon.  I was a holdout, but I eventually made the journey as well.

I went on-line to B&H Photography and carefully placed an on-line order that totaled over $60,000.00 USD's.  I replaced every piece of Nikon gear I had with the Canon equivalent.  Immediately I went on E-bay and within 10 days had shipped out the last of my Nikon gear.  The bottom line was that switching brands cost me roughly $18,400.00 USD's.  Looking back I think I made out well on the used market because I made sound purchases.  Top quality lenses rarely lose much value and often increase in value.  Still, $18,400.00 was a significant amount of money so I'm not in a hurry to do that again any time soon.

With that said I really loved my 4mp D2h's.  They were fast, handled well, and the ergonomics wonderful.  Moving to my Canon 1d Mark II and 1ds Mark II in contrast felt like moving from a sports car to a very nice and capable utility truck.  Bigger, bulkier, slower handling, and built like a tank.  Today I'm still using that very first 1ds Mark II and it still performs as it did when new.  It's 16.1mp full frame sensor produces images which are even better than when new thanks to advances in software.  In the entire 5 years I've shot Canon I've never once had a client tell me the image wasn't big enough (not enough pixels), which was a big problem with the Nikon depending on my client.

Today things are different.  Nikon makes a superb 12mp D3 and an even more superb 24mp D3x, both full frame DSLRs.  I hadn't had a good chance to try either in the field until this last week.  My new client showed up with a wicked grin on his face and said "you've gotta see this" and pulls from his bag a brand new Nikon D3 with zero miles on the shutter.

Holding it in my hands I immediately felt a huge difference from my Canon.  It felt great, not too small and not too large, not too light and not too heavy.  All the controls were in their proper places, the 'skin' felt great, and then I asked if I might turn it on.  My client smiled and gave his permission and seconds later I was looking through that beautiful big view finder watching the exposure and AF systems do their thing as I bracketed different subjects.

I knew this was a fast camera just from that.  But I had no idea how fast a camera could really be until I cracked the shutter release and just milliseconds later the camera was machine gunning exposures at the rate of 11fps!!!  Over the course of our next two outings I had additional opportunities to try his D3 back to back with my Canon 1ds Mark II with different subjects and my experiences only improved.  The Nikon D3 is one very fast handing camera!

But how is the image quality you ask?  And can you live with only 12mp after living with 16.1mp for the last five years?  The image quality is superb!  I don't think there is a great difference between the two cameras in image quality as there is in handing as the Canon 1ds Mark II's images are really good.  But the D3 images are really good and the lower the light, the better than the Canon they are.

Other factors like a wonderfully huge and detailed 920,000 pixel LCD also makes a huge difference.  For the first time in the field I was making worthwhile evaluations on an images sharpness.  I could actually SEE what I'd shot, I no longer had to guess.

I've used the Canon 5d Mark II with it's 21mp images and when it comes to low light capability the 5d Mark II and the D3 are very close.  Too close to choose one camera over the other.  Overall image quality I'd give the edge to the 5d Mark II.  Overall speed and handling there is no edge, the D3 is hands down the better camera.  I've also used the Canon 1ds Mark III.  My comparisons apply accurately here as well.  I can just imagine the 24mp D3x image quality would steal the show.

Will I be moving back to Nikon?  Yes, I've thought about this quite a bit.  But it will depend.  Canon is due to update both their 1d series cameras and the new 1d Mark IV and 1ds Mark IV should be announced very soon.  If these are 'light' upgrades I might very well move back to Nikon.  It's no wonder Nikon has won back a good portion of their professional base who left them 5 years earlier.  If Canon doesn't hit a pair of home runs with the 1d Mark IV and 1ds Mark IV I'm afraid the pendulum will swing the other way and you'll be seeing a sea of black lenses at professional coverage's and not the sea of white we've been used to for a long time now.

But Nikon shouldn't rest on its laurel's.  There are still some serious holes in its lens line up, notably a 35/1.4, 24/1.4, 85/1.2-4, 135/2 ALL with AFS motors.  Nikon has no fast wide glass at all, and their 85mm F1.4D and 135 F2DC lenses are both super slow screw drives of a 15 or more year ago design.

I suspect the next 2-3 years will see both Canon and Nikon close any holes in their product coverage, update their current models, and be as innovative as possible.  They'd better, we now have Sony nipping at their heals with some very capable gear and then there's the Leica M9 full frame rangefinder and S2 professional DSLR..


Until next time...