Canon and Nikon comparison pt.1

Some of you may have wondered why a seasoned Nikon user like me would have all of a sudden took a leap towards Canon quite literary out of the blue. Some of you may also have joked that it was because of a certain someone’s nudge that I have “jump ship”. I have to say the decision was mine to make & no amount of “poisoning” would have made me switch nor would it have convinced me to stay. I have always said when asked if I will ever switch to a Canon system in the past while I was actively shooting Nikon. My answer has always been, if Canon made me a system which allows me to get the shots without getting in the way, I would switch. It’s the same the other way around if Nikon should able to do this for me in the future.

What I will do over the course of my next couple of posts is to compare the various aspects of the Canon system & the Nikon system. My area of experience would be of course from my experience with the D50, D60 & D300… primarily my comments will be on the D300. I briefly used a D700 before however have never used it in the field so my comments on the D700 would be based on the limited experience I had with the unit. As for Canon, well my experience is solely my usage of the 5DmkII for the last week or so. Although this brief period in time, I believe I have fiddled with it enough to know the ins & outs of this camera to make some assessment on how it performs. I have also taken it out for a spin, if you recall my posts titled, “Carnival” & “The Marina Revisited” on my facebook.

A friend said that when I switch from something old to something new, there is bound to be biasness… in which somewhat can be equated to your ex-girlfriend vs you current girlfriend lol! I assure you that the switch to Canon was not because I got bored with Nikon or was unhappy with it, I still regard Nikon systems as a formidable brand. I have taken many photos with my D300 & the testament is the countless number of albums over facebook, photoblog & photomalaysia. With some of the most memorable photos I have taken with it, it has truly served me well over the last 2 years.

To avoid saying which of the features I feel is “better”, I’ll instead say “I prefer”. I will however indicate pros & cons for each of the areas while being objective to different users & different expectations or preferences. After all comparing the two is like comparing the best car from Ferrari to the best car from Porsche. Each is best, but at the same time each designed for a different kind of user. It’s like Nikon & Canon, they are both good systems but tailored for different personalities & expectations. No matter how much genetic manipulation you do to an apple, it will never taste like an orange. All in all, I’ll try to make this article unbiased, uncut & RAW/NEF! lol…

Also many comparisons over the internet talk about the differences in image quality, ISO, autofocus accuracy/speed/low light & so on so forth. What I will be comparing is ease of use & having a camera NOT GET IN THE WAY of me trying to get my shot. A good camera is something that doesn’t make it difficult for me to accomplish my objective…. getting the shot I want! Low noise on high ISO & picture quality is one thing, pixel peeping & clunky controls is another. So I’m not going to dwell too much on picture quality or image comparisons. I will instead attempt to look at Canon/Nikon in a way that a normal Canon vs Nikon writeup doesn’t. Hopefully this will be a new perspective that perhaps folks should think about before they go straight into “image quality comparison test charts”… zzz

Overall outlook & design

A good DSLR makes it easy for the user to get to the setting & make changes quickly so that the photographer can get the shot. All the bells & whistles, so call great dynamic lighting technology improvements & high ISO mean nothing if you fumble with the settings & miss the shot. The design needs to be well thought of, intuitive & easy to use.

Nikons are build sturdier but heavier. Canons are a little more flimsy & lighter. When I say flimsy I don’t mean it creeks if you press the plastic areas. It just feels more plasticky & less solid. With my experience lugging my gear all around with me when I was shooting Nikon, weight was a serious consideration when I decided to go Canon. Canon’s lightweight design won me over. Part of getting the shot is also ensuring you don’t break your back getting it! When you are encumbered with what you are carrying, it makes it all that harder to enjoy your hobby especially when you are on vacation in another country.

Where handling the camera & the grip is concerned, both systems have relatively sizable grip for your right hand. Let’s continue with some basics…

Turning ON the camera

How basic can you get lol! But believe me this is an important part of the camera. You can’t get your shot if you can’t turn on your camera now can you?

Nikon’s power button, or should I say flip switch is right around the shutter release button. See figure 8 on the diagram to the right.

This I have to say is an excellent placement for the on switch. Just flip the switch clockwise & the camera turns on. If you flip it further, it lights up the LED display on the top of the camera. What’s cool is that you can flip the switch on when you’re holding the camera with only your right hand. Although the switch does not have a lot of tactile feedback, I’ve never had problems of it accidentally switching on while the camera is in the bag.

Canon’s switch is at the bottom of the camera. See the diagram on the left on the label Power/Quick Control Dial switch. Flip it once counter-clockwise, it turns on… however your quick control dial is disabled. To enable it, you need to flip it one more time in the same direction. I honestly don’t care about locking the quick control dial so for me it’s rather pointless. The tactile feedback on this switch is somewhat hard, so it takes a little bit of effort to flip the switch on. Also you need two hands to turn on the camera. Some of you may argue that it can be done with one hand, but I think you’d look silly trying to do it.

I like the Nikon power switch better. Woops…. sorry. I “prefer” the Nikon power switch….

The levers

Nikon uses levers mostly as switches. The AF/MF lever on the front left side, levers for changing focus options & even a lever to pop open the CF compartment. Canon has none of this, except for the power switch of course. I do not have a preference on this area, some folks prefer this. For me either is fine.

The knob

Both cameras have buttons around the body, however Nikon has a knob on the left side of the body with 3 buttons on the top & a release mode dial under it. You can see this in the earlier diagram showing the top part of the D300. You can change your WB, Quality & ISO in the form of those 3 buttons. The dial allows you to make several changes like liveview, delayed shutter release & single/continuous shooting.

In the same position, the Canon has a simple knob (they call it the mode dial) with your preset settings for Program mode, shutter priority, aperture priority, full manual & 3 customizable presets which the user can program. I will talk a little more about the C1, C2 & C3 function later on.

I prefer the Canon knob because it’s simpler to understand. The first time I got my D300, I was confused what the knob does… in fact I thought the top could turn but obviously I was wrong!! The dial under the knob is a weird design. You can only see what you have set as you turn it. The rest of the settings are hidden from you until you turn it. This design is replicated on the D700 & D3… something I didn’t really care for.

The buttons

Both cameras have a strew of buttons with various functions. Both have buttons lined up vertically on the left side of the LCD. Canon has 2 rows of buttons in front of & behind the LED on the top. Nikons are behind & next to the shutter release button.

There is nothing special about these buttons in the way they are positioned but it’s how they work that is different.

On Nikons, to make changes to settings, let say your ISO, you hold the ISO button which is on top of the knob & dial the command dial with your right thumb. Honestly I really hate the way Nikon implemented this concept. I don’t care for stuff like hold this button & press this way of changing settings because it cumbersome. However in Nikon’s defence you can make a change in the settings within the menu (if you can find it lol!) so that it mimics how the Canon buttons work…

On the Canon however, to make changes to the ISO, you press the ISO button on the top & dial the change on the main dial just behind the shutter release button. Guess what? You don’t have to hold the ISO button down to do it. Simply press the button, dial the setting you want & either press the button again or half shutter release the camera. Pressing any other button also get’s you out of the ISO setting mode. To me this is much easier… I’m all for NOT HAVING TO HOLD THIS BUTTON & PRESS THAT!

Command dials

Nikon positions its command dials one in front of the shutter release button & the other right behind the LED control panel.

Canon’s version of the dials are one just behind the shutter release button & the other in the form of what they call the quick command dial, which is a round dial on the body on the right side of the LCD display.

I have mixed opinion regards to these 2 designs. While I prefer the Nikon dial which is located in front of the shutter release button & prefer Canon’s implementation of the quick command dial.

Canon’s front dial has too much feedback & is a little tough to turn to be honest. However the quick command dial is ingenious! While Canon uses this quick command dial to flip through menus & settings, Nikon uses the multiselector (which is basically a direction pad) to go through the menu. If you wanted to scroll through a list of menu items on the Canon, you just dial it somewhat like what you would do on a blackberry. On the Nikon, you need to press…. press… press… aduh! Since Nikon’s menu system is complicated (I’ll cover this later one), it’s a nightmare getting around the menu system with the d-pad. However there is an option deep within the menu somewhere which enables Nikon’s dial to scroll through the menu. It’s… erm…. somewhere in there… lol

To me, the quick command dial is easier & quicker to get to where you want & make changes quickly. This is one of the primary reasons for my switch to Canon!

… to be continued…

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