GEAR TALK | The One Reason I'm Not Switching to Nikon
Psychologists recognize two common behaviors when consumers make expensive purchases.
One is termed choice-supportive bias or post-purchase rationalization. This cognitive bias is a way for us to justify our purchase and purge doubts about having possibly made a wrong choice. Fanboys take this cognitive bias to the Nth degree, shouting their product or brand allegiance from the rooftops for everyone to hear. "I bought this, and if you didn't, you're wrong!"
The second is a form of cognitive dissonance called buyer's remorse, a psychological reaction to feelings of guilt over extravagance, a sense of having fallen prey to marketing, and/or an inflated sense of expertise, that a product is not good enough to satisfy the buyer's abilities. "I bought this, and it sucks!"
I'm no Canon fanboy. I realize that both Canon and Nikon offer us amazing products and that each system has its pros and cons. And I'm quite circumspect about purchasing new gear. I rarely lust after a piece of gear as soon as it is announced just because it is shiny and new; I often skip a generation or even two when upgrading my camera bodies. I'm also not one to exhibit buyer's remorse. If I purchase a piece of camera equipment, I will have researched it thoroughly and will feel comfortable with what that new lens or body or flash will and won't do for me in my photography.
I offer this pretext because I want you to know that this little missive is not simply a knee-jerk reaction to the latest camera body announcement but rather the culmination of a long process of mounting frustration with Canon's inability (or unwillingness?) to offer us class-leading image quality. Though Canon has made some nice advances with their cameras over the past decade or so (full-frame video on the 5DII was a game-changer for many, and the 50 MP of the 5DsR raised the bar for resolution and detail from DSLRs), they've mostly been trying to play catch-up (see the 6D vs. D750, 1DxII vs. D5, 5DIV vs. D810). Nikon bodies have continued to enjoy a comfortable lead in terms of outright sensor quality.
As a faithful Canon shooter, I've stood by as Nikon has led the pack in terms of high ISOs and dynamic range ever since the release of the Nikon D3s in 2009. That original "Lord of the Darkness" had me salivating. Being a rainforest photographer, the ability to shoot publication quality images at higher ISOs and to better deal with challenging lighting scenarios sounded amazing. Since then, Nikon has continued to innovate in terms of straight image quality. Every time Canon seems to make strides to try to approach Nikon IQ (e.g, with the Canon 5DIV), Nikon moves the goalposts.
Indeed, the new Nikon D850 has the photography world buzzing. On paper, in the lab, and apparently in the field too, it's the best all-around DSLR camera ever made. The combination of high megapixels, very good high ISO performance, Nikon's typically amazing dynamic range, and a cool feature set is everything I want in a camera for my nature photography. It's the body I would love to grab whether I'm shooting landscapes, macro, or birds and wildlife. There's no way around it. The D850 puts Canon's closest competitors, the Canon 5D Mark IV and my body of choice, the 5DsR, to shame. And the D850 is cheaper too!
About once a year for the past 10 years, I have given a fleeting thought to switching to Nikon. I'm familiar with Nikon cameras and the Nikon flash system so I wouldn't have a problem changing over. The announcement of the D850 pushed me over the edge, and I finally put numbers to paper to seriously analyze what it would take to switch from Canon to Nikon. I've spoken with numerous Canon-shooting colleagues who are having the same feelings as I am with regards to Canon's chronic inability to set the pace over the past decade or so. Many agree that the Nikon D850 is the last straw, and a number have decided to switch over..
Financially, it wouldn't be as bad as I expected. And I really want to switch because I'm tired of having ISO and dynamic range envy every time I shoot alongside a Nikonian friend. Lab results generally put Nikon ahead in straight sensor quality, and studio comparisons give Nikon an edge that even the numbers don't necessarily show. More importantly though is what we see in the field.
Even with a graduated ND filter, it is hard for a Canon body to keep up with a filterless Nikon in terms of capturing highlights and shadows in a high contrast scene. I'm amazed every time I shoot a sunset side by side with a Nikon friend. While I'm struggling with filters, they are getting a similar or even better histogram straight off. And I've shot ISO 25,600 photos with a D5 that made me sure that what I was seeing on the back of the screen was the result of high ISO noise reduction cranked up in-camera. To my dismay, it wasn't, and yes, I've shot the 1Dx II and the 5DIV. Nikon high ISOs are a different beast. To twist the knife even more, we can no longer even offer up the excuse of Nikon using Sony sensors. The D850 sensor was designed by Nikon, leaving Canon as the only major cameramaker that can't seem to seriously up their image quality game.
Since I'm based in Costa Rica, where pro camera gear is not available for purchase and the community of pro photographers is small, selling and acquiring a whole new kit with multiple bodies, lenses, flashes, and accessories would simply be too stressful and time-consuming. Purchasing online and having gear shipped to Costa Rica is also a non-starter because of very high import duties and customs headaches. I could buy and sell my gear in the US but I only have a 2 week window every year when I make it up north. Trying to coordinate sale of Canon gear and purchase of Nikon gear in that limited time frame would be too crazy. If I lived in the US, the change would be easier. I could sell and buy gradually. My kids and many of my photographer friends also shoot Canon. Sharing gear is a nice benefit. And I've never been a fan of Nikon's interface and menu system.
Nonetheless, if I were based in the US, I would most likely be selling my Canon gear and moving to Nikon!
As I've done throughout my nature photography career, I'll continue to strive to take great images with my Canon gear. Shooting Canon is not going to prevent me from taking most of the pictures I want. Nor would switching to Nikon suddenly make me a better photographer. I want to be clear. The tools we have at our disposal with both Nikon and Canon would have been unthinkable to the previous generation of photographers. If I can't take a good photo, it's not my camera's fault!
But, I'll be honest, knowing that I am at a disadvantage in my chosen profession relative to Nikon shooters is not a good feeling. As a nature photographer living and working in the neotropics, I deal with low and challenging light on a daily basis. I want to have the best tool possible in order to take the best photos I can. Canon does not offer me that tool. Nikon does.
I love the high-resolution of my 5DsR, and the high ISO and dynamic range performance are better than most people think. But, they are no match for the Nikon D850. What about the Canon 5D Mark IV? That body offers Canon's best high ISO and dynamic range to date. But, the ISO performance seems similar to the D850, especially if we equalize for file size. And while the 5DIV offers Canon's best dynamic range, it still lags behind even the Nikon D810. The Nikon D850 actually improves upon the D810's dynamic range, even with the higher megapixel count, further widening the gap with Canon.
Sticking within the Canon ecosystem, I could add a 5D Mark IV to my kit for better high ISO and dynamic range performance than that offered by my 5DsR. But, I don't want to be stuck switching between bodies depending on whether resolution (5DsR) or high ISO/dynamic range (5DIV) is the priority for a given shot. Do I need 50 megapixels? Not always, but for someone who sells large prints and shoots thinking of book projects and gallery exhibits, having tons of megapixels is an advantage. Once you see the detail in a 40 MP+ body, you'll never be able to look at smaller files the same way!
So, neither my conscience nor my pocketbook would let me buy a 5D IV today knowing that there is a cheaper and substantially better (in basically every way) body right across the aisle. (Same applies for a 5DsR.) I want it all in one body, and I want it now! The Nikon D850 has it. We can quibble about the minutae of sensor performance and pixel pitch but it is clear that the Nikon D850 certainly appears to be the best DSLR body available to the nature photographer today. Dishearteningly, it's not a sudden jump but rather the logical next step in the trend of Nikon's dedication to superior sensor quality and functionality.
I hope that a new Canon body (either a 5Ds II or 5D V) will compete with Nikon's combination of high resolution and great high ISO/dynamic range. Keep the 50 MP resolution of the 5DsR, add in the autofocus and frame rate of the 5DIV, keep the intuitive Canon interface and menus, bring ISOs and dynamic range up to the Nikon standard (finally!), add in full-frame 4K video, along with some cool features such as a tilting screen, keep the price around $3500, and we Canon shooters will have the camera we've always wanted.
Sounds crazy? Well, you may say I'm a dreamer but I'm certainly not the only one. And Nikon has just done it! Unfortunately, Canon's recent track record of only modest advances in ISO and dynamic range that repeatedly fall short of Nikon's offerings seem to give us little hope that Canon will suddenly make a major breakthrough.
In closing, Canon, please step up your game so we don't feel like we're perpetually stuck in second place! While I understand that market segmentation might be smart from one business perspective, not having an answer when a competitor raises the bar in such a compelling fashion surely would be equally bad for business, at the very least in terms of corporate image if not the bottom line. I prefer Canon's interface and menu system (Nikon's is a relative mess), back LCD screens, live view, selection of lenses, and flash system (just try to use Nikon's new SB5000 flashes in wireless mode without constantly referring to the manual!). I really want to continue to love Canon cameras too but until Canon gives me a body to really get excited about, I'll have to continue lusting after the Nikon D850 and trying to make myself believe the tired axiom that Canon is due for a major breakthrough. I'm pretty sure that lusting after my neighbor's body puts me in violation of the 10th Commandment. If I go to Hell over this, you'll be hearing from my lawyer, Canon!
And to all of my Nikon-shooting friends and workshop clients whom I've needled about their allegiance to the dark side, my apologies! Like most bullies, my need to belittle comes from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and the subsequent tendency to lash out :-) Help me out here, Canon!
What do you think? Leave a comment below!