Nikon V’s Canon

The ultimate quest for the truth, well maybe not…

Why bother comparing the two? Both manufacture quality cameras and optics right! Well I am often asked which brand to go for. This article relates to that simple question with a somewhat lengthy answer.

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I have always been a big fan of Nikon cameras, from the FM2 and in particular the F3 I have always loved Nikon SLR and DSLR cameras. For me even more important is the optics these companies manufacture.

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I really like the AIS range of Nikon lenses, essentially majority metal construction combined with amazing glass, these lenses are fully manual, with aperture rings and clear barrel markings. As far as SLR/DSLR lenses go I personally love using Nikon AIS glass. In particular Prime lenses (ie non zooming, fixed focal length) are a sumptuous pleasure to use.

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A fantastic resource for these and Canon optics is Ken Rockwell’s site www.kenrockwell.com I highly recommend spending several days reading pretty much everything on his site. He has lots of recommendations, detailed analysis, useful info and statistics as well as being a very entertaining read (at least for those in our field of work anyway).

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Canon also make some awesome lenses. When it comes to autofocus image stabilised lenses, particularly non prime zooms, Canon is hard to beat. Canons L series of lenses are just incredible, optically superb but particularly durable and robust. I’m sad to say I have accidently dropped L series zooms and sometimes they sustain ugly cosmetic damage, sometimes they barely mark, either way they almost always continue to function perfectly. I’m not so keen on Canon primes, they are not as pleasing to use as Nikons AIS manual lenses, only a few Canon primes feature IS (image stabilisation) which is absolutely essential for video without using some form of camera support gear.

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A very useful resource for Canon lenses is Bryan Carnathan’s http://www.the-digital-picture.com/ full of excellent detailed reviews of many of Canons EF and EFS lenses! I Highly recommend reading his reviews before buying a Canon lens!

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Lenses are one thing, cameras are another. In the olden days before the internet pro photographers would buy a camera body like the FM2 or F3 and use it day in day out until it died a horrific death or until they retired, usually the latter. Indeed cameras were designed and built to take this kind of demanding usage.

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DSLR’s are different, their life span is determined by technological advancement, not by the time it takes to fail due to usage or maltreatment. What this means is that a DSLR becomes redundant when its imaging specification becomes considered below par in comparison to the latest camera products. So DSLR’s aren’t designed to be your sturdy lifelong friend, always there by your side to capture that crucial moment. They are designed to provide the latest the manufacturer has to offer. Eventually that becomes old hat and looked-down-on. The camera is simply replaced for a more up to date or higher spec model.

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When the F3 came out it cost more than most pro’s make in a month, nowadays the modern equivalent costs as much as what can be made in one or two jobs! You will probably keep that camera for 4 maybe 5 years if your lucky, the last 2 years it will be your beater camera, relegated to the most dirty or risky jobs.

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Back to the question, Nikon or Canon. I always think about Nikon and Canon as being like BMW and Mercedes. Both cars are German, both cameras are Japanese. Both cars represent the best in everyday usage road vehicles. Both cameras represent the best in everyday professional DSLR’s. Some people prefer BMW some prefer Mercedes.

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It boils down to personal taste to some extent and features being the other major deciding factor. I think if you drive either German car you probably have little to complain about (except maybe cost). Likewise if you choose either Nikon or Canon you don’t really have to worry too much.

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Either will be your best buddy for acquiring imagery. For my personal tastes I am happy using either Nikon or Canon for stills work. I ever so slightly prefer Canon, why? It’s a matter of personal taste, I prefer the physical layout of buttons and find the menus more intuitive on Canon. When it comes to video however I have a much stronger bias towards Canon. They have been offering decent quality video in their DSLR’s for some time now, while Nikon has been very slow to integrate decent quality video into the DSLR’s. That’s not to say this cant change. If Nikon produce some killer video DSLR’s I’m certain I will buy them.

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So there we have it, IMHO I believe both manufacturers cameras to be excellent. I am more than happy to use either for stills but video at the moment is a different matter. The video feature added to DSLR’s was an after thought, a gimmick facility that was seized by indie filmmakers and professionals alike, taking the manufacturers and public by storm. I am disappointed that Canon haven’t fully realised the potential of DSLR’s for video.

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For the last 3 years their camera offerings have added a few minor improvements, addressing precious little of the many failings these cameras posses for shooting video. You could argue why should they bother, they are primarily stills cameras after all! Well I would argue from a business perspective if your customers are screaming out for decent video DSLR’s then why not give it to them and reap the rewards financially? Happy customers and happy company bank balance. I guess my over simplistic view of the DSLR manufacturing industry doesn’t offer any great insight.

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However I for one would be more than happy to continue using DSLR’s for video if they were developed sufficiently to solve most of the key short failings they currently posses. I cant see it would take much, a 7D sized DSLR with average stills performance, 8Mega pixel sensor with the capability to record to internal media at full HD with a robust high data rate pro compression codec suitable for editing directly onto the timeline. Some form of hotshoe or battery grip that enabled XLR balanced mic and line level, phantom powering and live gain adjustment for audio. Suitable metering via headphones and audio meters. A complete lack of moiré and reduced jellow effect. It should have options for full frame and S35 crop factor. A decent articulated LCD display. 1080p 50/60fps. Those few things alone would yield an awesome camera that could sell for less than $3000 – £2000. And it would sell like hot cakes!

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Sadly I have no say in the design of video DSLR’s and there is currently no sign of such a product in development let alone close to release. So I will continue to use DSLR’s for video and stills of course. I will look upon the down sides of these cameras as technical challenges to solve in those moments when I’m staring out of a window sipping coffee or just daydreaming.

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In conclusion then if stills is your bag, buy a Nikon or Canon and be happy. If video is how you roll then currently Canon still has the leading advantage but who knows what the future will bring?

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Canon EOS 1Dx for shooting video

Canon EOS 1Dx for shooting video

I remember being very excited to see what Canon would come up with in the 5D MK III. When they finally released it, like many other filmmakers I was very very disappointed. I knew many photographers who were over-the-moon with their new 5D MK III, rightly so, it’s an awesome stills camera. Lets not forget that is it’s primary function. But for us weirdo’s who use DSLR’s for video it left a lot of us considerably underwhelmed.

Yes they have given us some nice video related features with the 5D MK III but so many key issues were unresolved. Sometime later people like Philip Bloom started scratching around with the 1Dx. Canon’s current flagship DSLR. For stills shooters I can see the 1Dx is an amazing camera. What it offers photographers at that price it’s hard to not love it! But Philip Bloom http://philipbloom.net/ had shot sections of a music video with a 1Dx and seemed very enamoured with it. This was just what I wanted to hear after being so disgruntled with the 5D MK III. So I decided to get my hands on one to play with.

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Philip describes the 1Dx as having something special about it, hard to put his finger on but nonetheless a certain lovely something. I have to say I totally understand what he means. I can’t quite put my finger on it either. I have studied 100% pixel blow ups comparing the video resolution of the 1Dx and 5D MK III and it’s hard to see any great difference. But when you view rushes from the 1Dx the images just look lush.

The 1Dx is a serious pro piece of kit with a price tag to match, one could comfortably purchase two 5D MK III for less than a 1Dx. Indeed you could get your hands on both the 5D MK III and the Nikon D800 for less than a 1Dx. I have to say the Nikon D800 is a kick-ass DSLR. It’s no wonder many stills shooters have grabbed one for themselves. So bearing in mind the cost difference between these cameras can I justify paying the price for a 1Dx, taking into account the difference in video output is somehow indescribably better but its hard to know why?

Yes and no is my answer. I personally think the 1Dx when used as a stills camera and a video DSLR is definitely worth the money. However if all you do is shoot video then you have to consider other options such as Canon’s own video camera the C100 which costs less and is after all a dedicated video camera with some lovely features and none of the nasty drawbacks of DSLR’s for video. You have to except that the 1Dx, albeit delivering a more pleasing video image, still doesn’t solve many of the short falls of DSLR’s for video. Heck it doesn’t even have a headphone socket to monitor audio! Yes moiré seems well handled as does aliasing, but jellow is still there, no audio input with XLR’s or phantom power, the rear LCD is fixed into the body of the camera, necessitating a separate monitor or EVF. But it does resolve much more detail than previous video DSLR’s such as the 5D MK II or 7D.

So why would you buy a 1Dx for video when Sony have some very tasty offerings now, Canon’s C100 sounds very promising and new HD video cameras with some amazing spec’s seem to be announced every week or so lately! (Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera!)

Well for me I love the ergonomics of pro body DSLR’s like the 1D series over the likes of the 5D MK III or Nikon D800. When I buy a new DSLR the first thing I do is attach a battery grip to its base so it forms a larger more hand filling shape. I have quite large hands and the 1Dx fits into my hands perfectly (no grip required). Some shooters I know have smaller hands and don’t like using battery grips or full size pro bodies. It’s a personal preference thing. I like the way the 1Dx’s buttons fall under my fingers. Does that justify buying it for video? Probably not. For me the special look of the 1Dx’s video, the ergonomics and its pro build quality all combine to make for a very compelling choice for shooting video. That’s not to say I wouldn’t still consider the C100, but in conjunction with the 1Dx. But now were getting into a different price range where one could almost consider the ludicrously expensive yet deliciously absurd Canon 1Dc or even a C300, Sony’s F55 or even a RED! (well almost). All of which have significant advantages over a 1Dx and C100 combo.

So the 1Dx sits in a very tricky position for me, it’s not quite good enough for me to not need another video camera yet its price makes it a very expensive purchase if it’s not to be used day in day out as my primary video camera. The wise filmmaker would wait a while to consider their options, to learn more about all the other camera options that have come out recently and I’m certain there will be even more cameras to choose from in 3-4 months time. Will I buy the 1Dx then? Probably, as a filmmaker I’m drawn to that special look it generates that I cannot quite describe!