One of the first shots with my new Nikon D700 at the new, old house this weekend.
So the decision to switch from Canon to Nikon was a hard one for me (and apparently, my decision has been hard on a few of you too):
Nancy wrote: WHAAA? my leader switched! I feel like a little kid whose teacher disappeared...and she went to another school, and I'm looking for her...but it's dark...where is she? I am a sheep...must follow...
Ann wrote: I feel like my dog ran away.
Kelli wrote: Oh, man, I'm so sad. You were my Canon-go-to-girl. First the last ER and now this...this is the worst Friday ever!
Coley on the other hand has been quite excited about my switch to Nikon. In fact, when I rented it, he said "I just knew you were going to switch to Nikon because I heard you talking on the phone about that boy you love (I should clarify that I don't actually love Nate, I just love his pictures) who used to have a Nikon and then changed his mind and bought a Canon and you were so happy because you had a Canon too but then he changed his mind again and went back to Nikon and you were so sad - I just knew it!"
An ongoing joke in all of my online photography classes is that 'You can't have your cake and eat it too.'
You always have to be willing to give up something in order to gain something in the world of photography and cameras are no exception.
There's a lot to consider when purchasing a camera. My hope is to help everyone out here by listing some pros/cons/my thoughts on various cameras in different price ranges. My biggest considerations personally in purchasing a camera (given the way I shoot) are related to the focusing system (the more autofocus points, particularly cross-sensor autofocus points, the better/quicker your camera is going to focus for you) and the ISO range (a high maximum will allow you to shoot successfully in lower light situations without a flash) so these will be the two features I will emphasize. Please note though that ultimately, these are just my opinions (based on research/specs I've read) since I haven't shot with all of these cameras. So if I don't list your particular camera as my favorite, please don't send me hate mail (because it's not nice and it kind of ruins my day).
Also, please understand that I simply can't answer all of the personal emails I get in regards to equipment recommendations and photography advice as it just it takes too much time away from my online students (and my family) and really, it isn't fair for me to be charging my online students for information if I'm offering that same information for free via email).
Also note that I'll just be giving recommendations for the newest Canon and Nikon releases as there are just way too many camera models out there for me to review them all. If you want to read an in-depth side-by-side review of cameras though, check this out.
Oh, one more note...my recommendation is to ALWAYS purchase your camera body separately and to avoid purchasing it in a kit (which comes with a lens). In general, kit lenses are made for affordability, not quality. So you're much better off getting the camera body only and purchasing your lenses separately. And please note that while I linked to B&H photo for these cameras, it doesn't matter where you get them (I just usually shop B&H or Adorama).
Will talk more about lens choices in the next week or two.
So without further ado (in order by price range)...
Nikon D60 ($500 body only) vs. Canon Rebel Xsi ($600 body only)
The Nikon D60 has three autofocus points with only the center autofocus point being a cross-sensor. It's maximum ISO is 3200. My biggest complaint with the Nikon D60 (and also the older D40 and D40x) is that they can only be used with 'AF-S' lenses which limits your lens selection significantly, particularly if you're lens budget isn't big to begin with.
The Canon Rebel XSi has nine autofocus points with only the center point being a cross-sensor. It's maximum ISO is 1600.
This is kind of a draw. For the price, they're both great cameras. Both of the autofocus systems are good but not amazing. I like the higher ISO of the Nikon D60 but I don't like the fact that it is limited to AF-S lenses (AF-S lenses are spendy so if you have the kind of money to drop on them, you'd be better off getting a higher end camera body anyhow).
That said, Canon is introducing the new Rebel T1i in May 2009 ($800 body only). This camera will also have nine autofocus points with only the center point being a cross-sensor but this camera has an amazing maximum ISO (12,800). It also has video. So the introduction of this camera makes it (in my opinion) the best camera in the market in this price-range (though it makes it more comparably priced to the Nikon D90 discussed below).
Nikon D90 ($900 body only) vs. Canon 50D ($1100 body only)
The Nikon D90 has 11 autofocus points with the center point being a cross-sensor. The maximum ISO is 6400. The D90 also offers the option of video which is a huge draw to a lot of photographers.
The 50D has 9 autofocus points but they are ALL cross-sensors and it's maximum ISO is 12,800. This camera does not offer video.
Since video is not really a consideration to me, I think the Canon 50D is the way to go in this category (though it's more expensive) due to the focusing system and the high ISO.
Nikon D300 ($1800 body only)
The Nikon D300 is an amazing camera with 51 autofocus points (yes, 51!!!!), 15 of which are cross sensors. It's maximum ISO is 6400.
Canon doesn't make a camera in this price-range which makes the D300 the winner by default.
Nikon D700 ($2700 with rebate body only) vs. Canon 5D Mark II ($2700 body only)
These are the only two Full Frame cameras I'm reviewing - will explain what Full Frame means here in a minute.
The Nikon D700 has 51 autofocus points and 15 of those are cross-sensors. It's maximum ISO is 25,600.
The Canon 5D Mark II has 9 autofocus points but only one of those is a cross-sensor (it also has 6 assist autofocus points). It's maximum ISO is also 25,600. The Canon 5D Mark II offers video, though again, this is not much of a consideration for me personally.
And obviously, I feel like the Nikon won in this category (since this is the camera I bought) due to it's advanced focusing system.
Note that there are more expensive digital cameras on the market but they just aren't affordable/practical for most of us who aren't shooting professionally so I'm not even going to review those.
So as you can see, my decision to switch to Nikon was NOT because I think Nikon makes better cameras straight across the board (because in my opinion, they don't). My decision to switch to Nikon was based primarily on the fact that for the type of camera I shoot with (a full frame camera) and my style of shooting (candid with lots of fast-moving, uncooperative subjects), I felt the Nikon D700 I rented outperformed my Canon 5D Mark II.
Full Frame Cameras
Most digital cameras on the market have something called a 'crop factor' (most digital cameras have a 1.6 crop factor. What difference will you notice when shooting with a Full Frame camera vs. a camera with a crop factor?...the biggest thing you'll notice is how 'close' or 'far away' your subject appears when looking through the viewfinder of your camera. If you are shooting with a camera that has a 1.6 crop factor, it changes the focal length of the lens they're using, making your subject appear closer. For example, if you put a 50mm lens on a camera with a 1.6 crop factor, the focal length of that lens becomes 80mm (because a 50mm lens with a 1.6 crop factor looks like this mathematically; 50 x 1.6 = 80). Full Frame cameras however, do not have a crop factor. So if you put a 50mm lens on a Full Frame camera, the focal length of that lens is truly 50mm. Kind of confusing, but all you really have to know is that when you put a lens on a camera with 1.6 crop factor, your subject will appear closer than if you put that same lens on a Full Frame camera.
So a camera with a crop factor can be a huge benefit when you're shooting things like sports with a subject is far away (because it will make your subject appear closer). But it's a huge detriment when your shooting in tight quarters or want to photograph a large scene (again, because everything appears much closer to you). And while you can try to compensate with that by using different lenses, it's not in everyone's budget to own 5 different lenses.
It's a perfect example of 'not being able to have your cake and eat it too.'
Note that there are other technical reasons behind shooting with a Full Frame camera (I just wanted to give you the most simplified explanation). For me, I prefer the benefits of shooting with a Full Frame camera.
More thoughts (and some repeat thoughts on the Nikon D700 vs. the Canon 5D Mark II since these are the two cameras I was deciding between)...
The upside of the Nikon D700
The Nikon D700 just has a MUCH MORE sophisticated focusing system than the Canon 5D Mark II. The D700 has 51 autofocus points and 15 of those are cross-sensors. The 5D Mark II has 9 autofocus points and only 1 of those is a cross-sensor. So I can focus on all my uncooperative, fast-moving subjects with a much higher degree of accuracy on the D700. I took both cameras to the park and tried to shoot Annie while she was playing on a swing and the D700 pummeled my Canon (with comparable lenses) in regards to focusing. In addition, Nikons just have a lot more options than Canon offers on their cameras that allow you to customize your camera to the way you shoot (simple things like being able to reverse the direction you scroll a particular dial based on your preference). And while that may not seem like a big deal, I like being able to customize my camera to fit my needs. With Canons, you just adjust your style of shooting to fit your camera.
The upside of the Canon 5D Mark II
The 5D Mark II is a 21.1 megapixel camera (the Nikon D700 has 12.1 MP). That honestly wasn't much of a consideration for me though because quite honestly, the race for camera manufacturers to develop the digital camera with the most megapixels is kind of silly to me. Once digital cameras passed the 10 MP mark, it really didn't matter to me anymore (unless I was enlarging something to make a mural - which I'm not). In general, I like the color my Canon produced slightly better. That said, I shoot RAW images so I have a lot of versatility in editing and can compensate for the differences in color there (though there's a learning curve I'll be going through for awhile after switching to Nikon). In addition, Canon has a much better selection of high quality prime/fixed lenses (prime lenses are lenses that don't 'zoom'). So in switching to Nikon, I had to give up two of my favorite prime lenses; the Canon 50mm f1.2 and the Canon 24mm f1.4. Losing those two lenses was actually my biggest issue in switching to Nikon.
So I pretty much based my decision off of research/specs I had read on both cameras and by renting the Nikon D700 for a week. Ultimately though, my final decision came down to the superior focusing system of the D700. (I rented from Pro Photo Supply).
Nikon has typically been known for having superior focusing systems but Canon has really stepped up to the plate with some of their newer cameras mentioned above. For example, the new Canon 50D has 9 autofocus points with all of those being cross-sensors. Why in the world Canon didn't put that same autofocus system into it's new 5D Mark II (which only has one cross-sensor) just boggles my mind (actually, I know why they didn't...it would have wiped out the market for their $4,500 1D Mark III camera). So basically, you can get a better focusing system (in the Canon 50D) than you can in the Canon 5D Mark II for half the money. I considered going with the 50D for this precise reason, but ultimately decided that I wasn't willing to give up the Full Frame.
So there it is (hope it's helpful).
I typed all of this up while sitting at the DMV waiting for Ross to take his driving test (will post about that tomorrow).