Little taste of Canon

canon_v_nikon

*Excuse grainy iPhone picture!* I’ve always shot with Nikon cameras going back to being a little kid messing around with my dad’s F4, and until recently I’ve never given thought to looking elsewhere. The professional camera bodies from Nikon and Canon realistically produce very similar images, both sell exceptional glass, and neither system will give someone a better eye for a picture. The fierce online debates are really quite laughable. HOWEVER, some reliability issues with my current gear have pushed me into having a little look at what Canon has to offer…

I currently shoot my professional work with a Nikon D3 and a D3s with a host of lenses built up over the years. Both are brilliant cameras, and until mid 2012 the D3s was the best camera money could buy for sports, with amazing picture quality at the very high ISO values needed at some of the poorly lit venues we attend. Then Nikon released the D4 and Canon the EOS-1D X just in time for the Summer Olympics in London. I shot that event with a D4 but was quite unimpressed with the consistency of the Autofocus system. This became a well documented problem and one that took Nikon a few firmware revisions to fix, but it was enough to put me off upgrading for good. I stuck with what I had because it was still producing quality pictures. At the same time Canon shooters using the EOS-1D X were blown away because it was a huge step up in terms of noise performance after Canon joined Nikon in using a full frame sensor.

What persuaded me to look at Canon’s offering is the repair bills I’ve been totting up in the past 18 months for non impact related faults with most of my equipment. I may just be unlucky but it’s left a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth. I contacted Canon and asked for a trial of a EOS-1D X and lens for a few days to see what the Canon shooters were raving about. They treated me exceptionally well lending me like for like of everything i currently shoot with for a month. A switch of systems would be massive but with at least one body in need of an upgrade and some older glass in my bag i figured if there was ever a time to at least look at the other system it was now.

That loan gear went back to Canon yesterday having seen use in many examples of environments I work in, from dark darts halls, harshly lit rugby grounds in midday sun, to Barcelona’s Nou Camp at night. There were things I liked and disliked so here are a few thought’s on the Canon system from a Nikon shooter…

General Observations

  • Other than the shutter button, the control interface was COMPLETELY different to what i’m used to. Dials in different places, zoom ring on lenses works in the opposite direction, cards go in the opposite way round, etc. No problem but sure took some relearning for it to become second nature again.
  • The camera at first felt bulky in the hand and the control dials in awkward positions but actually felt fantastic once I’d adapted to the change.
  • The rubber used on the grips is also slightly harder than on Nikons which is a great thing because it shouldn’t stretch and need replacing with frequent use. Nikon grips also get quite sticky when they wear and stretch which is pretty nasty.
  • Noticed messing around that the EOS-1D X maybe doesn’t quite have the see in the dark AF ability of the top Nikon bodies, but not something i need for sports work.
  • Despite Canon shooters having been blown away when moving to a EOS-1D X I wasn’t. I was impressed but not in awe of the pictures. I think thats a very big compliment to the Nikon D3S.

Disliked

Some of this is incredibly nitpicky and doesn’t affect pictures in the slightest so wouldn’t really put me off buying, but these are things that crossed my mind so are getting mentioned!

  • The Nikon D4 and D4s were designed so the controls when shooting the camera holding the upright grip are in the same relative positions as when holding normally. With the EOS-1D X this is not the case and is a little awkward at first. The same buttons and dials are present but the relative positioning is a little off so I found myself searching for the AF-on button each time i switched to portrait orientation.
  • I don’t like the menu system as much as the one I’m used to and found it overly complex. Things like there being 3 separate White Balance menu’s when it could all be achieved in one.
  • There is no scrolling down in the menus, so you scroll sideways to different pages instead, which makes for a lot of pages! I’m used to it now but still don’t like it.
  • The custom menu to group commonly accessed menu items is a good idea but could do with holding more items. Another symptom of above.
  • Would prefer more bracketing options available from the bracketing button. It seems to only allow bracketing 3 frames, 1 either side of an ideal exposure. My Nikons allow 3, 5 or 7 frames. Don’t do much HDR but do sometimes bracket for later work in post.
  • When using a speedlight on the camera, it’s screen illumination is not activated when the illumination button on the camera is pressed. This is stupid! The two should be linked as they are on Nikons.
  • The focus point displayed in the viewfinder is BLACK. If i’ve selected an off centre point and its dark or i’m shooting a busy scene it’s blooming easy to lose. Theres a setting to have the point blink red occasionally to remind you where it is but it’s not well done. Nikon’s have illuminated viewfinder points as standard and they are super crisp without the weird light bleed from the side of the viewfinder the EOS-1D X shows.
  • No focus assist with a lens in Manual focus mode, or more importantly a manual focus lens. Not a biggie for me because I rarely want that but still a nice feature to have.
  • None of the lenses I was lent allowed you take manual focus control if the lens was in AF mode. With a pro Nikon lens,  if you are in AF and turn the focus ring it automatically detects this and disengages AF. With the Canon glass if you do this it feels as though you’re fighting the AF motor.
  • No built in interval timer for shooting images for time-lapse. Instead you must buy a very expensive separate intervalometer. So unnecessary when Nikon show it’s merely a software feature. As a £5k+ camera at launch no need to hold back features!!
  • I would like the option to update a custom setting group live as happens with Nikon. Ie if I’m in mode C1 and I change the shutter speed it is stored so when I come back to that setting group the change is still there, without having to go back into the menus to save it. Light changes during a shoot so I’m often flicking between say a fast shutter and slow shutter group of settings and updating the exposure on each as i go.
  • Meter seemed to want to underexpose by about a 1/3rd of a stop, but consistently so, meaning you can factor it in.
  • Not so sure of the durability of the coatings used. In 3.5 weeks both the bodies i had showed wear on some of the sharper edges from just being placed on floors etc carefully. And on the white 400mm lens the white coating on the lens hood was crap, flaking on the edges again from careful use. Really obvious too because it’s black below.

So yeah quite a list but most of it would be inconsequential to most people.

Really Liked

  • Whilst extra pixels aren’t a necessity for newspaper use I really appreciate the fact the EOS-1D X shoots 18MP files but is still super fast. There’s more room to crop in which is important with sports work, and bigger files are liked by commercial clients too.
  • I’d been told TTL flash exposures were shaky with Canon but with the latest speed light they lent me it was spot on.
  • The 400mm f/2.8 is freakishly light, hand holdable even, but still very sharp. Other lenses fantastic too though 16-35 not a patch on Nikon 14-24 which is the nearest equivalent.
  • One piece lens hood on the 400. The 2 piece on the Nikon is a pain in the arse!
  • The mount between the camera body and lenses is bigger and beefier, and the lenses have electromagnetically controlled aperture blades meaning no aperture lever sticking out at the lens mount, which is all to easy to bend on Nikons.
  • Could fit more gear in my think tank roller bizarrely. Meant could take an extra wide lens and teleconverters on plane hand luggage which is a help.
  • The LCD screen is gorgeous!
  • Noise performance up to 3200ISO very similar to my D3s but the EOS-1D X wins above that and hands down upwards of 6400ISO. It just holds detail and colour brilliantly.
  • AF system is very good. As good as that on the D3s in that it tends to just work. Menus to control it here can be a bit involving but you get used to that. With good technique It makes very sharp pictures.

Overall the EOS-1D X is a very good camera. Can’t say its twice the camera my D3s is or anything, but at the rarely used very high ISO values it can make useable pictures I currently can’t. As a freelancer this might be quite important. In terms of ergonomics I just think there are things on the Canon that could easily be made much better with the same physical buttons, through software, and not more Nikon like – Just better!

There is of course a latest and greatest from Nikon just out, the D4s, which is meant to respond to some of the complaints of the D4 I didn’t like enough to buy. My D3 at least is due an upgrade so what I do from here will be largely dependant on how the numbers can be made to work with some help from Canon. This test has merely demonstrated i’d be happy shooting Canon, not that I feel it’s a must. Cameras change a lot and i’m sure a EOS-1D X replacement isn’t far away so i wanted to experience the system more than a specific camera. The rest of the decision is purely financial with an eye to the future. We’ll see…

Many thanks go to Jakki at Canon Professional Services for helping me out and arranging the loan.

Leave a Reply