Canon vs Nikon. Photographers are divided into three categories. The first ones use Canon, second prefer Nikon and others accept both. Those third type photographers do have a camera but no “religion”. Thanks to Andrey Galagin I used Canon from the very beginning. And I kept on thinking that I made the right choice for many years.
Light version of the article:
I upgraded my Canon camera. Didn’t like it. Sold Canon and bought Nikon. Didn’t like it. Sold Nikon and bought Canon. The end.
This article is not about comparing two camera systems. Don’t waste your time if you’re looking for this kind of thing. This is more like a report to my fellow photographers who were torturing themselves for a whole month with questions like: “How is that new 5D mark III? You’re switching to Nikon, seriously? Why? How’s that D800? Why you’re changing it? Wow, you’re now using 1DX, how is it like?” and so on. I promised them to write an article where I will explain everything. It would take a lifetime writing emails to each of them. So here’s the story.
My first DSLR camera was Canon 20D. I still have a photo made with it in my portfolio. Then I had a full-frame Canon 5D, a great camera. Then I switched to Canon 5D Mark 2 which supports HD-video filming. This device shocked the whole wedding video industry by the way. And I stood at the origins. I got an invitation from Max Dedkoff to attend a conference of wedding videographers (or simply cameramen). There I presented a video shot with my brand new Canon 5D Mark 2. There was a silent pause after the presentation ended. Then the videographers started saying altogether how unbelievable and astonishing it was. “How is it possible to produce such high quality video and get such a movie style depth of field? Where’s the trick?” This presentation turned the whole wedding video market upside down. Within a year everyone was filming with a photo camera. Clients were quite puzzled. )))
During my master classes I always tell people to take it easy. I tell them not to hurry with buying very expensive cameras and lenses even if they’re eager to spend a lot of money. You’ve got to know how to use your device accurately. If you can’t be accurate then don’t by a camera which is smarter than you. You just won’t handle it. Buy something simpler and learn how to use it. Become accurate with it and then start breaking the rules. Create something unusual, something that you would like. No sooner than you outgrow your camera and lens then you make an upgrade.
I’ve outgrown my Canon 5D Mark ll. I needed more dynamics and a higher detail level.
This camera became a kind of a brick to me. I had to change it and I aimed to Canon 1-series only.
I was choosing between Canon 1Ds Mark lll and Canon 1D Mark lV. To get the picture of 1D Mark lV I borrowed some RAW shots from Sergey Ivanov. His photos were brilliant as usual but I decided upon 1Ds Mark lll after all. Of course it could be more practical to borrow both cameras from my colleagues but it’s not that interesting to me. I prefer buying the device and trying it out in different environments without any rush. This way I can make my own unhurried conclusions.
Owning the equipment makes using it a different story. You shoot when you want and where you want. You don’t hassle because you don’t need to give the camera back on the next day. Buy it, use it and then sell it if you don’t like it. Then buy something you would like. Your experience is your pleasure.
So this time I did the same. I just went to the shop and bought the camera. I was going to test it in the field during my photo sessions. Time proved that Canon 1Ds Mark lll produces really artistic and detailed shots. This camera paints perfectly. It was a successful purchase. But there were a few things that confused me from the beginning. First of all, this camera has a dust sucking matrix. It attracts dust within a kilometer radius just the same as the first Canon 5D. First few times I took it to the service. Then I got enough of driving to Belorusskaya street and started to clean the matrix myself right in the studio. Then Misha began cleaning it for me when necessary and it saved the situation. I would build a monument to Misha for that.
Second issue is an outdated monitor, just the same as installed in Canon 5D. It has extremely faded colors. And finally, there’s no video recording option. Anyhow, I got adapted to the monitor. Misha handled the matrix cleaning. Shooting videos also wasn’t a problem because everyone in the studio had their Canons 5D Mark ll. So I just enjoyed using my new camera.
Then I started working and living in Thailand and took my 1Ds Mark lll with me. Tropical living taught me to avoid carrying any additional weight in order to do productive photo shooting. It’s so hot out there. Each additional device is a problem. It’s very exhausting. Things that would be normal in Europe are critical in tropics.
And then in fall 2012 Canon announced the release of 1DX and later, 5D Mark III. I got back to Ukraine for a few months to do several photo sessions with my 1Ds Mark III and was looking forward to try out the new 5D Mark III. I looked through forums, saw test photos and finally received Canon 5D Mark III RAW shots from Dmitry Smaglov. Those shots were beautiful and had this subtle, almost like studio produced lighting. So 5D Mark III seemed to satisfy me in all ways. It showed fine images, great dynamics and absolutely fantastic ISO level.
So I got a plan to sell my 1Ds Mark III and buy a brand new Canon 5D Mark III. Also I was still having some expectations concerning the upcoming Photokina exhibition. Maybe they would present some Canon 3D with super megapixel matrix like Nikon D800 has? No it didn’t happen. They only presented a childish attempt called Canon 6D. Anyhow, I sold my Canon 1Ds Mark III for $3500 and with the same money I bought Canon 5D Mark III. I was going to put it to personal test as usual. If it wouldn’t go well I would buy another camera. First time I used it was in a master class in Kiev. The camera felt great in the studio. I didn’t try it outdoors though. All in all it wasn’t as good as 1Ds but I was satisfied. So I got back to Thailand with my new 5D Mark III. I made a first photo shoot there and got a bit disappointed. It didn’t show that quality I used to get with Canon 1Ds Mark III.
Shot with Canon 5D Mark III
The image on the right was heavily post-produced. The one on the left is almost raw. I understand that these cameras are of entirely different classes and it’s not correct to compare them with each other. But with 5D Mark III I didn’t get this special feeling anymore. Only when you get from better to worse, you understand what you’ve lost. It’s the one thing when you upgrade from Canon 5D Mark lll to Canon 1Ds Mark lll. But when you’ve learnt all pleasures of 1Ds Mark lll and then downgrade to 5D Mark lll it’s a real shock. I didn’t expect it and it was hardcore.
The issue got to be solved though. I could buy 1DX but it was quite pricy. Canon 1Ds Mark lll was out of production. It was impossible to get a new one. Buying it second-hand on the internet in Thailand didn’t feel like a good idea at all. Spending $3500 and watching the purchase turn into a brick within a month didn’t sound great. So I tried to get my old camera back. I offered $300 + full refund to the photographer who bough my Canon 1Ds Mark lll. But he refused and said he didn’t like the new 5D. How right he was. )
I didn’t want to bother anybody in Ukraine with my camera issue. It would waste a lot of time. But I didn’t want to shoot my next photo session with Canon 5D Mark III either. Not cool.
Then I turned my attention to Nikon once again. I made a deep web research, checked all Nikon websites that I knew and googled as much as possible about this camera system. I noticed that D800 has great dynamics. It seemed really incredible. NEF’s (RAW’s) from D800 were amazingly flexible. None of Canons could pull out as much actual image data as Nikon D800 did. This was a relief.
The solution was found!
On those same master classes I always said that I shoot only with Canon cameras. But at the same time I liked Nikon for its dynamic range and white-on-white behavior. Canon doesn’t make good white-on-white shots. It just loses the track and makes a crazy white balance that is impossible to fix with any kind of graphic software. Nikon doesn’t have that issue. Need white on white? No problem! It’s impossible to pull the darks up in a Canon’s RAW file using Photoshop. Those areas become saturated and colored. You can’t just pull dark tones up alone, no way.
All black areas would become color blots then. Nikon doesn’t have that. Speaking of Canon’s advantages these cameras really love color. When you shoot something colorful the image just blows your mind. Nikon in its turn doesn’t feel color at all. Like a Buddhist monk, everything is as it is for Nikon. That’s why I would recommend Canon for those who like color and artistic shooting and Nikon for those who do photo reports or lots of Photoshop. So, in the past I accepted both camera systems. And at that point I got a chance to try out Nikon which could be something entirely new for me. It was an interesting and fascinating solution.
I realized that I need a good Nikon camera and some fine lens as well. Within a week of surfing the web I decided upon exact models. Then I called my Thai mate photographer who lives in Bangkok. I said that I‘m going to buy a full Nikon set and that I’ll be there soon. I also asked him if he could sell my Canon gear on the internet. He agreed. I hopped in a bus and returned home the next day with Nikon D800, 24mm f/1.4 lens, 135mm f/2.0 lens and SB 910 flash. I took D800 because of its dynamics and high megapixel level. I decided to save some money and didn’t get Nikon D4 despite it seemed a more familiar class for me. All in all this set was enough to test a new camera system. If I wouldn’t like it, I could save more money selling D800 rather than D4. But if I would enjoy the system I could upgrade to D4 anytime. Nikon D4 also didn’t have those marketed 36 megapixels that I wanted to play with.
As it goes to lenses, I chose Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4 as it was the best option among wide angles. Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 DC in its turn had a perfect focal distance for portrait shooting. I’ve heard many people were dissatisfied with above mentioned portrait lens. But I couldn’t accept an alternative in 85mm f/1,4. I needed more focusing length because of higher distances during photo sessions here in Thailand. And 85mm full frame is not strictly a portrait lens after all.
Nikon D800 — $3160
Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4 G NANO — $2180
Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 DC — $1150
Nikon SB 910 — $450
Total — $6940.
Plus $100 transport expenses and we get the amount of $7040.
Bangkok photo shops. Shot with Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4
And this is assuming that I had a Thai friend with me and we got discounts everywhere. We went to each shop and got the goods of our interest laid out. We wrote down two different prices for each item. Each device had one price with Nikon warranty and another with shop warranty. Then we sat down and decided which shop had the best offer for my set. In some places they had prices with official warrantee lower than prices with shop warranty in other spots.
Lens test. Shot with Nikon D800, Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4
Nikon D800 camera test with Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4. Diaphragm: f/1.4
Anyhow, this $7000 amount could be way higher if I would be shopping on my own. Thank you, Kai.
I tested the devices at home, made a photoshoot and then spent a whole week turning all Nikon settings inside out. The camera showed amazing dynamics in grey. It was perfect. Canon was far behind and it couldn’t even dream of such dynamics even in its brightest marketing future. Remember me saying that 5D Mark III has great dynamics? Well it is a child’s play comparing to Nikon D800. Nikon’s 35 megapixels showed unbelievable images to me, a person who grew with Canon’s 22 megapixels. I was so excited with new opportunities before me.
The original underexposed photo. Nikon D800 and Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.4 G NANO
Having this as a result. Using only two sliders.
Having this as a result. Using only two sliders. ISO 1600.
This was a top moment of me thinking: “Why didn’t I switch to Nikon before?”. Indeed I’ve seen Nikon shots and had a chance to play with editing. But after I got fed up with all Nikon’s advantages, I started to notice that I couldn’t find normal skin tone and adequate white balance while shooting both indoors and outdoors. Here in Thailand, 95% of my sessions were open air. I needed a correct skin tone by default. I tried to find adequate white balance but I couldn’t. It just wasn’t there. And then my enthusiasm started to fade.
The more I tried to achieve something the more complicated it got. I started to notice the dirty blackness of the images. I figured out that with Nikon it was impossible to get a crystal clear pictures like I had with Canon 1Ds Mark III. No matter how much settings I tried I wouldn’t get that normal, adequate photos. It was always dirty-black with odd white balance and uncorrectable skin tone. The greenness of images started to piss me off. I couldn’t remove it with simple shooting techniques and camera settings. I did understand that this was a different system. And yes, it was very unlike Canon which I got used to. But I’m a professional artist. I’d see the 1% difference of red tone on printed photos. I understand color and how it’s composed. There should’ve been some sensible setting or a mix of settings which would give me normal WB. Not even like Canon, just normal WB. A white balance where white is white by default and skin looks like real human skin.
Meanwhile I managed to sell my 24-70 on the island. My Thai mate in his turn found some customers in Bangkok for my Canon 5D Mark lll, Canon Speedlite 600 EX RT flash, and X2 extender. All this was sold with a total $2000 loss from the original price. As a result my switching to Nikon cost me $9000 at that point.
By the time I realized my catastrophic and unsolvable Nikon situation I had only Canon 135 f/2.0 left. All other Canon gear was sold.
So I invited my fellow photographer who had Nikon D600. We shared images and compared them in Photoshop. I listened to his opinion on certain issues. It turned out he had similar problems with his camera. Now it was clear that Nikon has some certain negative patterns. And my friend couldn’t find a solution as well. The nikonian didn’t like those patterns but he was unable to do anything with them. Seemed like I shouldn’t bought Nikon. Well, things happen.
I didn’t set a goal to write this article. I was only testing cameras searching for an appropriate image. The reason was not to compare the systems but to get pleasure from shooting photos. This was more for my own satisfaction rather than a client-oriented move.
I’ve got some shots of Natali as an example. These are not the worst Nikon can do but still a good demonstration.
Simply saving NEF to JPG without any editing. Shot with Nikon D800 and Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 DC. Notice the unnatural green and violet tints.
Simply saving NEF to JPG without any editing. Shot with Nikon D800 and Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 DC. See the same greenness.
Clicking on the grey concrete with eyedropper tool.
Trying to correct white balance. There is a grey concrete on the background. Its color is somewhere around 15-20% on the gradient map. Clicking with eyedropper there.
Getting this as a result. All other white balance efforts ended up the same. Seems like Nikon and white balance are not made for each other.
Natali tried to correct a NEF file in Photoshop too by the way. The goal was to make human skin look normal and to remove all the dirt and blackness from the image. So she sat down in front of the monitor with enthusiasm. Natasha knows how to make post-production and she’s quite good in it as well. But after half an hour she stood up and made a helpless gesture. It was over.
I suppose it was the last nail in Nikon’s coffin. I’ve never met such inadequate image.
I was using Canon for so long and I couldn’t notice Nikon’s disadvantages from the first sight. Its high dynamic range didn’t compensate all of the problems. But it could be a different story with a different person I guess. There are people who do good photography with Nikon. I saw it. I even saw how. But I expected to get this without heavy post-editing. It turned out it was possible for me to avoid this with Canon but not with Nikon. So I ended up being an absolute Canonian. Nikon’s image is not for me.
Autofocus with Nikon D800 and Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 DC.
Twisting and turning but out of focus unless I corrected it manually. I never had this with Canon. )
The video is uploaded in full size. Set 1080p in the lower right corner for quality viewing.
Concerning the lens.
I enjoyed Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1. Such a great lens, never had any problems with it.
What I didn’t like at all was Nikkor 135mm f/2.0. It’s a piece of trash, not a lens. I’ve read other people’s claims but in reality this Nikkor is even worse. I’ve never seen so much chromatic aberrations with any of Canon lenses available on the market. You spend $1150 and get a cheap fake of a cheap fake of a Chinese lens. Chromatic aberrations (HA) were catastrophic, both red and green. They were everywhere. Photoshop corrections didn’t help it because a too major part of color range was involved.
This shot was made while I was watching a small snake moving on a tree. This is NEF. See red and green HA all over the tree texture. This is a perfect example of chromatic aberrations as a distinct type of art.
Which aberrations will you choose this season, red or green? Anyhow…Nikon has both.
I just can’t imagine working with this lens. I shot portraits and long distance photos with it. HA were so strong that sometimes instead of my client’s legs I could see only huge red aberrations.
Nikon’s outdoor shooting saturation level is another topic following the pattern. There were only two options possible. You either get a dull image or …oops, oversaturated. That was very strange. I spent a lot of time digging Photoshop and searching for an answer. I also examined all the files in that slow, standard Nikon camera software. When I got tired of this I downloaded Capture NX 2 from their official website. Luckily it had a free 2 month trial period. I was finished with the program in two hours though. And this was a last resort blown to bits. My sympathy to Nikon was over. The decision was made. I needed a new camera.
Farewell the king, long live the new king!
I didn’t have much options to choose from. First idea was to look for used Canon 1Ds Mark lll. This meant buying an outdated device, no video, dust sucking matrix, faded monitor and praying for it to work. Another option was to get a new Canon 1DX. Spending huge money but having the best possible camera available at the moment. I decided that the second option was more reasonable. Natasha was absolutely for it as well. Whose wife is going to advice her husband to spend thousands of dollars on buying new photo equipment?
Ok. I’m buying Canon 1DX. And two discrete lenses and a new flash in addition. Remember, I sold all my Canon stuff except Canon 135mm f/2.0 before getting Nikon. Weird kind of fun…
I tried to order Canon 1DX in a local shop on the island. But they couldn’t get it shipped there. After 10 minutes of conversation with Bangkok head office I was told that they didn’t have that camera in Thailand at all. They didn’t know when they would have it either. It was impossible to order because shipping time was unpredictable. Alright, moving on.
I called Kai and surprised him once again. I said that my memory card was full and I needed a new camera. He got the joke. But it wasn’t funny for him actually as he had to sell my equipment set once again. First we tried to return it to the shop. They refused saying there should’ve been technical defects to do that. My suggestion that Canon gives 2 weeks for returns and that Nikon brought me so much headache didn’t work.
We couldn’t find 1DX in Thailand. So we ordered it from Japan. It was quite close luckily. I waited for about 10 days for the camera to be shipped in Bangkok.
I bought a ticket on a plane from Samui to the capital of Thailand. There I gave my full Nikon set to Kai and we headed up to pick my new Canon 1DX. “My pretty” was waiting for me in a black box. I unpacked it, tested it and made the purchase. I bought some lens and a flash there also. I perfectly knew all the prices for photo devices in Thailand already. They are quite unusual by the way. For example I got my Canon 1DX delivered for $7000 which is a cost price. It’s what Canon charges officially. In Ukraine it would be $1000-$1500 more expensive. With that being said, lenses are way cheaper in Ukraine and Russia for some reason.
Canon 1DX — $7000
Canon 50 mm f/1.2 — $1760
Canon 24 mm f/1.4 — $2070
Canon Speedlite 600 EX RT — $640
Total — $11470. Adding $300 for my plane ticket and $100 commission fee for withdrawing local currency cash.
Finally we have the amount of $11870.
The whole experiment cost me about $20000 in total.
Canon 1DX with new lenses worked great. I would say perfect. The image is so good I don’t have words to describe it. It is clear, naturally sharp and artistically beautiful. Usually I never start editing right after the session. Mostly I did this on the next day soonest. Getting tired on the photoshoots you know. But with 1DX I immediately upload all photos on my computer and start editing with enthusiasm until late night. It’s a great pleasure working with what you like. Nikon taught me so.
Have a look at my further works that I will be uploading here. They are going to be made with my new gear and you will be able to check out the image quality. Through a prism of my taste and style though. I started a new “Photosessions” section in the blog part of the website. I will be uploading about 50-100 photos at a time, all made here in Thailand. These would not be special production photos but simple ones with little if any post-editing.
I’ve read Canon 1Ds Mark lll and Canon 1DX comparison tests. Usually they state that these two cameras are quite similar in most key aspects. Well it’s not true. These devices are way different from each other. I don’t rely on statistics. I’m a practical photographer. And having tested both of the cameras in practice I’m confident that each and every dollar spent on Canon 1DX is worth it. Keeping in mind the optics for those cameras though. Only good lenses will give a perfect image and fulfill your new camera’s potential.
Later on Kai together with his fellow photographer came to me from Bangkok. We spent three days doing photography and sharing experience. They explained me how they’re editing their Nikon photos. It’s a really complicated thing. They couldn’t show me a satisfactory result with white-skinned type models though. They had adequate picture for Asian and African types only. And even so it turned out they use several layers to accomplish that. Saturation level on a green layer is manually decreased. Then the green layer is added with Overlay. Then they paint the image or its part. And then again some complicated editing. Although in the end it looks beautiful. For instance:
Looks great but it’s very complicated to achieve. The skin looks amazing. But this is the result of painting and heavy post-editing. This technique is good for single photos but almost useless when you’ve got 500-1000 files in a photoshoot. This option is not for me. I imagine having a session with 500-1000 photos and applying their editing technique. I would have spent a month on post-production rather than giving the result to my client after two weeks as I’m used to do.
I always try to finalize each photo at the moment of shooting. And then I spent minimum time on post-editing. Usually I like turning up saturation, just a bit above natural level. Then I correct color density and that’s it. Sometimes I also fix white balance on Canon RAW’s but not always. It isn’t necessary though. I just like to adjust WB to a certain skin tone. This is what I tried to do with Nikon. But the result did never satisfy me.
Below is a Canon example made in contrast to what I had with Nikon. This photo was made without additional lighting as well. Camera: Canon 1DX. Similar type of lens but from Canon — 135 mm f/2.0. The shot was made with the same f/2.0 diaphragm. Outdoors. Without additional lighting or reflectors.
Simply exporting from RAW to JPG. Without corrections. Shot with Canon 1DX and Canon 135 mm f/2.0
JPG. File edited within 10 seconds. Saturation + color density. Shot with Canon 1DX and Canon 135 mm f/2.0
This result looks fine to me. A white tennis shirt remained white with all its color shades. The sea got more natural in color. Skin tone turned the way I like it to be. It’s a beautiful and commercial tone I would say.
Notice that the rocks became a bit green. In some way this color is more natural than in a RAW file. Therefore, the image gets edited correctly. It doesn’t lose it’s whites and the colors are corrected in a right way. So the overall picture gets balanced. And all this is done without any defects, like the ones I saw using Nikon. And without any bizarre workarounds.
100% crop. Shot with Canon 1DX and Canon 135 mm f/2.0
Here’s a 100% crop for you. Now scroll back up and compare it to the portrait shot with Nikon and the same lens. It’s understood that these are different camera classes but Canon 5D Mark lll has a similar image capture approach. Anyhow both Canon and Nikon have certain specific patterns.
Some more photos made in Thailand with Canon 135 mm f/2.0 and Canon 1DX:
Remember that I accepted both Canon and Nikon? I changed my mind. Now I’ve tested both systems in the field with some fine optics. I tried out a variety of Canon’s and one Nikon camera. I love Canon only from now on. But I’m still not 100% sure about using Nikon in a studio. I’m rarely working in a studio these days. I suppose Nikon might be quite good in there. Anyhow, I tried both camera systems in practice and outdoors and I wouldn’t buy Nikon for shooting people. Nikon’s marketing is great, but Canon is just a better camera.
That’s all for now.
Respect if you’ve read this up to here. I hope I didn’t hurt anybody’s tender feelings to their beloved Nikon. This is just my one of a kind story and it’s posted here for my friends. It only expresses my experience and point of view on the Canon vs. Nikon topic. I’m not going to argue with anybody on which system is better and why. Kindly do not try to prove me anything. I do what I feel right. My life, my pleasures.
Now I’m shooting with Canon 1DX, the best camera for me.
Wishing you great shots no matter what camera you are shooting with. )
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With kind regards, Eduard Stelmakh
Canon vs Nikon. A small experiment at the cost of $ 20000.