Going over to Nikon is commonly referred to as ‘going over to the Dark Side’. A reference to the black lenses of Nikon against the white lenses of Canon combined with more than a hint of Star Wars thrown in (hence the New Hope title).
That’s exactly what I’ve done. I don’t want to make this post about if it was the right choice or which camera system is better. Those questions can only be answered by the photographer him or herself so it would serve no purpose for me to write about that.
Instead I’d like to write about my personal experience of moving to Nikon. Ever since I went to DSLRs I’ve been shooting Canon, I’ve never shot with any other brand. So, to move to Nikon means to learn a new system. First of all, the range of lenses for Nikon isn’t as large as Canon so I had to make some choices about which lenses to go for. For some this was easy, my Canon 300 f/2.8 L IS could be directly replaced with a Nikkor (the brand name Nikon uses for its lenses) 300 f/2.8 VR but for others such as the 24-105 L IS and 100-400 L IS there isn’t an equivalent.
I decided to replace the 24-105 L IS with the Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8. On paper a very different lens but I had tried the Canon version before getting the 24-105 but an incompatibly with my 7Ds had made me switch to the 24-105 so I knew what to expect.
The 100-400 L IS was replaced with the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR which I plan to use some of the time with a 1.4x teleconverter. The 70-200 was more of a risk as I’ve not shot with that lens before but the zoom range from Nikkor didn’t offer many options. The lens has a good reputation so I confident it will be a good choice.
The first problem I faced was the different layout of the controls. In some ways it reminded me of my first taste of the Canon 1D range where the controls and the menu system didn’t match up with the common system on the xxD and xxxD range. Even simple stuff like viewing the histogram for a photo had me pausing for a few minutes and more than a few occasions having to look in the manual.
Canon’s menu system is build around a selector wheel on the back with an ok button in the middle, a mode selection wheel on the top left and a dial on the right hand side to control the selected option e.g. shutter speed.
Nikon’s menu system has a primary selector dial on the back right hand side, a secondary selector dial on the front right and a multidirection button on the back. In addition to that is a selector for exposure, a selector for focus mode and a selector for AF mode.
The selectors make for a different experience when shooting and I stuffed up the first Hawk I shot because the AF mode selector was on the wrong setting. Easily done when the setting isn’t displayed on the LCD top screen or on the LCD display on the viewfinder (also the same for the focus mode). An area that Canon is clearly ahead of Nikon.
These shortcomings are offset by the auto-ISO setting which allows you to set the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed and ability to set the FPS shooting speed.
With the settings dialled in it’s time to start shooting. The focus speed seems comparable with Canon kit, the tracking speed seems improved with a higher keeper rate than what I would usually expect (maybe partially down to the lower user selected FPS shooting speed) and of course the improved metering that had made me move. With my Canon kit I use to shoot using evaluative metering and dial in exposure compensation as needed after checking against the histogram. Shooting with Nikon I decided to allow the camera to take care of everything to see how it performed. This would give me a basis to work from and also tell me how well the LCD screen on the back represented the true image (the 7D LCD image was darker than the true image). My first outing with the camera produced some good results with the vast majority of the images metered well despite not making any adjustments to the compensation.
Physically, the build quality of the Nikon is very good. One noticeable improvement over the Canon kit is the top quality hoods that lock into place, compared to Canon’s (excluding the high end L primes) cheaper plastic hoods that are just screwed into place. One let down was the battery grip that covers but does not replace the internal battery. Meaning you have one battery accessible in the grip and another in the camera you have to remove the grip to get to. Canon’s design of having both batteries in the grip is much, much, better.
It’s still early days for the new system and a badly need to test it in the very challenging low level photography discipline but the initial results are promising.