The first DSLR camera I ever bought was a Canon Rebel XS. Between seeing Canon cameras in advertisements and having friends who shot Canon, I never really considered another camera manufacturer.
As my photography progressed, I eventually realized that I wanted to make the leap to a full frame camera. Despite only owning one Canon EF (full-frame compatible) lens—a $100 50mm f/1.8—I stuck with Canon without doing much research into what might suit what had turned into a landscape and night sky photography-focused hobby. In reality, I could have had free range to invest in another camera system, but stuck with Canon because I assumed that each of the major manufacturers (Canon and Nikon, specifically) were basically producing the same cameras with different branding. The deeper I went down the rabbit hole of photography gear, the more I realized that this was not necessarily the case.
After watching what companies like Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, and others were doing with their new generations of DSLR and mirrorless systems when compared to Canon, I eventually made the decision to jump ship from the Canon DSLR system. I ultimately decided to sell my Canon 6D and 24-105mm f/4 lens and cross enemy lines by buying a Nikon D750—one of Nikon’s closest competitors with the Canon 6D—which I felt better suited my needs as a landscape and night sky photographer. After having used my Nikon D750 for 5 months now, there are a few differences I noticed between the Canon and Nikon systems, some of which I expected and some of which came as a surprise. While some of these may be specific to the 6D and the D750, some are also trends that can be seen across the camera lines currently being sold by both Canon and Nikon.
1.) Everything Twists the Wrong Way
It’s a small and obviously surmountable difference between the two camera systems, but when you use a camera often enough that it feels like an extension of your own body, subtle differences like knobs and rings twisting in the opposite direction can be unnerving at first. As soon as I took my Nikon out of the box and decided to attach the 24-120mm f/4 lens that I purchased with it, I immediately noticed the difference.
The caps on the camera body and lens twist the opposite direction as they do on the Canon system. When I first went to attach the lens, nothing happened because I was twisting the lens barrel the wrong way. When I finally managed to attach it and looked through the viewfinder, I tried to zoom out to 24mm and my lens started to zoom in instead. It’s a difference I have since gotten used to, and it’s one that does not have a huge effect on me as a landscape photographer since I normally taking my time setting up a shot. However, if I were a wedding photographer who needed to move quickly or else risk missing a key moment, losing a few seconds while fumbling trying to change a lens or frame a shot could have feasibly been the difference between getting the photo and missing it.
2.) The Better Dynamic Range
Not only was this one not a surprise, but, as a landscape photographer, this was one of my main reasons for making
the switch from Canon to Nikon. Dynamic range is the ability of a camera’s sensor to gather data from both dark shadows and bright highlights in the same exposure. The Canon 6D did an amazing job with dynamic range compared to my old crop sensor Rebel XS, allowing be to get shots in a single exposure that would have otherwise needed a few sets of bracketed shots. However, the D750 has been a night and day difference compared to the 6D.
On the Canon 6D, badly underexposing an image in-camera, especially a night shot with very deep shadows, often meant a death-sentence to an image. Bringing up the shadows of the Canon 6D file resulted in a very noisy foreground with bad luminance noise and even worse purple and magenta color noise. On the D750, the wider dynamic range allows for more cleanly bringing up the shadows in post-processing, revealing detail that, if found in a 6D RAW file, would be like stumbling into Narnia.
For the sake of comparing the dynamic range of similar Canon and Nikon cameras, take a look at the table below to see how Nikon tends to have greater ratings across the board.
|Canon model||Dynamic Range (EV)||Nikon model||Dynamic Range (EV)||Exposure Difference|
|7D Mark II||11.8||D7200||14.6||Nikon +1.1 stops|
|6D||12.1||D750||14.5||Nikon +0.6 stops|
|5DS||12.4||D810||14.5||Nikon +0.5 stops|
3.) The Difference In Long Exposure Noise Is Not Even Close
For anyone who has read my articles “5 Great Ways to Reduce Noise in Your Photos” and “The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Milky Way Photography”, you may have noticed that long exposure noise is something that I’m interested in. Shooting night photography, which is one of my main focuses, often requires taking long exposures at high ISO to expose for dark foregrounds. With the Canon 6D, my foregrounds were often riddled with colorful hot pixels, which are a result of the camera’s sensor heating up while taking an exposure. In some photos, these hot pixels were bad enough that the shots were either ruined, or they were not clean enough to be printed, costing me the ability to sell prints of them.
While my purchase of the Nikon D750 was a decision made for many different reasons, the ability of the D750 to handle long exposure noise was the deciding factor. I saw a few tests indicating that the sensor of the D750 handled hot pixels much better than the 6D, and my own tests since making the switch have been as good as I had hoped. I now stand fearlessly in the darkness, snapping long exposure that span multiple minutes, knowing that I’ll only have a few hot pixels to clean up in post-processing instead of having to deal with a landscape that looks like it was covered in confetti. If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty excited about this part.
4.) The “Quiet” Shutter Sound
When I first got into photography, I used to take walks around Boston taking photos with my Canon Rebel XS. While I rarely shot street photography, I was well aware that if I ever wanted to surreptitiously capture a photo of someone during my walks, the loud, mechanical sound of the shutter was going to alert anyone within earshot of me of what I was doing. When I upgraded to the Canon 6D, I could not believe how satisfying it was to have a quiet shooting mode that dampened the sound of the shutter when capturing a photo. The sound it made was subtle, pleasant, and would not disturb those around me like the Canon Rebel XS did.
When I first opened up my Nikon D750, I scrolled through the different shooting modes and tried out each of them. The quiet shutter mode on the D750 was so loud that I thought something was wrong with it. After pressing the shutter a few more times and thumbing through the manual, I realized that the camera does not do anything to make the sounds associated with taking a photo any quieter, it just makes the two sounds associated with capturing the photo happen at different times. The manual indicated that when you hold down the shutter release on the D750, the mirror does not flip back into place, meaning that, in theory, that you can take your finger off the shutter release later and allow the sound of the mirror flipping back into place to occur at a more convenient time. In reality, all this does is make one loud sound when you press the shutter release and one slightly less loud sound when you take your finger off the shutter release. I greatly miss the 6D’s shutter that just makes one quiet, satisfying sound.
5.) No More Oversaturation of Reds
With both my Canon Rebel XS and my Canon 6D, I noticed on numerous occasions that the RAW files coming straight out of the cameras seemed to have a red hues that were oversaturated. Red flowers, red clothing, and red lights in night photos were especially overpowering to the point that I felt that I needed to underexpose an image at times to keep the reds in check. While this quirk is often correctable in post-processing, there were certainly times when I felt like the effect was strong enough that I made for a distracting element in the photo, or was harsh enough that I ruined an image.
Take the photo of the Boston skyline below, for example, which is an unedited RAW file taken straight out of the Canon 6D and converted to jpeg. I find the oversaturation of red hues to be especially noticeable, taking the viewer’s eyes away from the skyline and towards the deep red reflections on the water. In each of the red reflections, the subtle texture in the water is lost, which I could not correct by bringing down the Highlights, Red Luminance, or Red Saturation.
While I haven’t yet taken my Nikon to recapture the above photo of the Boston skyline, I haven’t noticed the RAW files coming from the Nikon D750 to have the same issue with saturation of the red hues and my Canon DSLRs. The RAW files I have processed thus far from the D750 have seemed to represent colors evenly across the board.
6.) The Menu Systems Are Very Different
I can be pretty lazy at times, especially when it comes to learning something I have no interest spending the time to learn. With camera systems this laziness reared its ugly head (with the minimal amount of effort required, of course) at Nikon's in-camera menu system, which I found to be jumbled and confusing after five years of shooting on a Canon. Settings such as the 2-second shutter delay, which, on the Canon 6D, was a simple option on the shooting dial along with a separate 10-second shutter delay, is hidden deep within the crevices of the custom menu settings on the Nikon D750 (there is a shutter delay mode on the D750's shooting dial, but the default setting is a 10-second delay). I knew learning the new menu system was going to be something to get used to when making the switch from Canon to Nikon, but I have still been surprised with how many times I have had to flip through the manual to accomplish changing a setting that I figured would be a fairly basic process. Is this a surmountable difference? Yes. Could I remedy this “issue” by dedicating more time practicing navigating through the Nikon menu system so that it becomes second nature like it was on my Rebel XS and 6D? Yes. Am I going to gripe about it nonetheless? Clearly I am…
7.) There Is No 16-35 f/2.8 Equivalent
With the introduction of more and more high-quality lenses by third party lens manufacturers such as Tamron, Sigma, Tokina, Zeiss, and more, the gaps in the lens market continue to close. In many cases, reliable options are available in common focal lengths and zoom ranges, and companies continue to get creative, increase maximum apertures, and make high quality glass available for different camera systems. However, there is still one gap I noticed for Nikon when it comes to fast, wide angle zooms.
Canon’s 16-35 f/2.8 lens is a beautiful piece of glass. While I never owned it, I rented it several times for my Canon 6D and was extremely impressed with its performance. It’s a versatile lens with a good focal range, a fast maximum aperture, superb sharpness, and it accepted screw-on filters by avoiding having a bulbous front element. Since switching to Nikon and trying to find a similar lens to Canon’s 16-35 f/2.8, I realized that there isn’t one—at least not quite.
When searching for an equivalent to Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8, I had a few requirements that I was hoping to satisfy. First, I wanted a zoom range similar to 16-35mm, with the widest end being 16mm or wider. Second, I wanted a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or wider. Third, I wanted the lens to accept screw-on filters without needing to purchase a dedicated filter system. Unfortunately, that’s not a lens that exists for the Nikon system.
While I was not able to find a lens that perfectly fit my requirements, it would be unfair to say that there were not any lenses that came close. Nikon offers a 17-35mm f/2.8, but it’s an old lens that leaves some sharpness to be desired and isn’t quite as wide as I would like. The Nikon 16-35mm is a great lens, but only has a maximum aperture of f/4, meaning it would not be ideal for Milky Way photography. The Nikon 14-24mm is a superb lens with a fast maximum aperture, but its bulbous front element means that if I wanted to attach something like a polarizing filter, I would need to invest hundreds of dollars in a dedicated filter system. The same goes for the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, which also have bulbous front elements. To top it all off, due to construction of the cameras, Canon lenses can’t be reliably mounted on Nikon bodies, meaning using a lens adapter would not be a solution.
In the end, I picked up a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, a sharp, fast, fantastic overall lens that fit almost all of my criteria. I have not yet picked up a filter system, and I’m still not sure if I will. However, given how good the lens is, I have a feeling that the first time I try to use it to photograph a lake or a waterfall without a polarizer, I’ll start doing research into which filter system I’m going to put money towards to try to make the Tamron 15-30mm the total package.
The Canon versus Nikon versus any other camera manufacturer debate is one that will never be settled. Every photographer will inevitably have different preferences and different systems that best suit their needs. Some may value the lightweight potability of a mirrorless system such as a Sony or Fujifilm offering over the heavy DSLRs offered by Canon or Nikon. For others, attributes such as battery life or autofocus speed may be more important. For those thinking of making a switch to Nikon, and especially for those who have a Canon 6D or are looking into a Nikon D750, this hopefully gave you a few things to think about before making the switch. In any case, try to invest in a system that you think not only fits your needs now, but may also be able to progress along with your photography and fit your needs in the future. Things very well may change in the next few years as technology changes and improves. However, for now, and as much as I can try to predict for the near future, Nikon is the ideal fit for my photography and shooting style.