7 Things I Learned Switching From Canon to Nikon

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

 

Image Courtesy of Amazon.com
Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

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

 

Example of limits of the dynamic range of the Canon 6D after underexposing shadows and brightening in post-processing. (© Kevin D. Jordan Photography)
Example of the limits of the dynamic range of the Canon 6D after underexposing shadows and brightening in post-processing. (© Kevin D. Jordan Photography)

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 modelDynamic Range (EV)Nikon modelDynamic Range (EV)Exposure Difference
7D Mark II11.8D720014.6Nikon +1.1 stops
6D12.1D75014.5Nikon +0.6 stops
5DS12.4D81014.5Nikon +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.

Comparison of exposures taken with lens cap on to compare long exposure noise
Comparison of exposures taken with lens cap on to compare long exposure noise.

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.

Unedited RAW file from the Canon 6D showing oversaturated red hues.
Unedited RAW file from the Canon 6D showing oversaturated red hues. (© Kevin D. Jordan Photography)

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.

 

Image Courtesy of Amazon.com
Image Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Final Thoughts

 

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.

34 thoughts on “7 Things I Learned Switching From Canon to Nikon”

  1. Nice write up, Kevin! I had no idea the D750 had that much more DR than the Canon full frames, even th 5DS! I wonder if the big C has a bump in store for the 5DmkIV?

    Just a quick note on the self timer: my D750 does have a 2 second option along with 5, 10 & 20 second options. You have to go into the Custom Setting Menu, menu C Timers/AE lock, menu C3 Self-timer, Self-timer delay & you can change it from there.

    1. Thanks, Kris. Updated things accordingly. I had gone searching for that setting three different times and still could find the thing. Ah well, looks like I need to spend some more quality time with Nikon’s menu system. 5 years of Canon has poisoned my brain. And I’m really curious about the 5D Mark IV and the 6D Mark II that are coming out this year. I admittedly wasn’t curious and confident enough to stick with Canon, though.

  2. The D810 has an “Exposure Delay Mode” with 1, 2, and 3 second options. I added it to my custom menu so I can access it quickly when I need it. Also the self timer options as mentioned above, setting it to two-seconds.

    As to the quiet shutter sound, I haven’t heard Canon’s attempt at the quiet shutter, but I’d wager anything is better than the quiet shutter attempt on the 810. It’s maybe 20% quieter, but quite a bit longer. Like making the shotgun racking sound almost as loud as the bullet. I’m impatiently awaiting the drop in costs of the Sony A7S or A7RII so I can use my Nikon lenses on an actually silent full-frame camera.

    Good write up.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy, just found both of those in the settings menu. I couldn’t believe the “quiet” shutter mode on the Nikon when I first tried it. It really doesn’t affect me much being a landscape photographer, but if I were shooting a wedding and wanted to neither be seen nor heard, I could see it being an issue. I had taken a look at the A7S and A7RII too before going Nikon. I just couldn’t justify the cost when the D750 was such a good fit for me. Maybe someday…

  3. I think your problem was having a 6D. For your type of photography at least. The dynamic range of the Nikon is probably due to the ISO invariant Sony sensors. I’d venture a guess that you’d probably get similar results from a Sony a7r or 7rII. I’m a Canon 1DX mark II shooter, but primarily shoot architecture and sports. And, at 100 native ISO, I take many long exposures for architectural projects, the long exposure noise is not a problem at all.

    I guess if I were shooting night skies, I’d probably rent one as needed. But I can’t see giving up my Canons. Their menu system and selection of sharp, high quality lenses leaves all the others in the dust.

    1. That ISO invariant Sony sensor is definitely the key. I love that thing. How long are the exposures you are taking with the 1Dx Mark II? I’m hoping to do a write up comparing long exposure noise of different camera models. The 1Dx MII would be interesting to see. And agreed, those Canon lenses were tough to walk away from, especially the 16-35 f/2.8.

    2. “Their menu system and selection of sharp, high quality lenses leaves all the others in the dust.” I agree with this 100% and very well said , its +1. Though DR sucks in canon.

  4. Nikon’s 16-35 f4 with VR is more than equal. And if you need faster there’s also the 17-35 f2.8

    1. They’re both close, but the f/4 aperture for the 16-35mm keeps it being the equivalent, while focal length and lack of sharpness at f/2.8, especially in the corners, do the same for the 17-35mm.

  5. I bought the D750 after trying the 6D a few times and they’re not even close as far as usage goes. The 6D feels rudimentary. like a big rebel camera, slow, clunky and with few AF points. The D750 has better IQ, much nicer body to use, more external controls, nicer zooming, nicer menus, a nicer screen, 2 SD cards, it’s a much, much better camera for weddings as far as I am concerned.

    You can see that they deliberately crippled the 6D so it won’t take away from the 5D mk3 sales.

  6. Thanks Kevin for such a beautiful write up. It was indeed very helpful. I am a beginner and a big photography fan. I am still learning and do not own any DSLR as yet, but have been researching a lot on both Canon & Nikon cameras in order to decide on which one to buy. Soon, I will be buying my first DSLR, so I request you to kindly give me your advice regarding making a choice for my first DSLR, which will remain a good gear even in the future (just by buying additional lenses) as my photography advances. I love Landscape photography, Wildlife photography and Astro-photography, so wish to buy camera and lenses suitable for that. I have a budget of 80,000 to 1 Lakh INR for the body and additionally 1.5 Lakh INR for the lenses. Please email me your inputs, advices, opinions on [email protected]. Thank you!

  7. Never having used a Canon camera, I couldn’t compare the two myself, but I am very glad that I opted for Nikon from the start (D80, and now D7100) – and I will doubtless stay with the when I eventually jump to full frame. So some of the things that cause transition problems (such as control layout/function and menus) are not a problem since that’s what I’ve always been used to. I think that is one of the reasons why people tend to stick with one or the other (not to mention the compatibility of lenses etc.). I am surprised that you didn’t go for the 17-35 Nikkor though – I had heard good things about it and even though it was an older design, it was still praised. I had the DX equivalent ($1500 worth) and thought the price stung – it had been a great lens. So thanks for the article – really interesting!

  8. Nice article! I own a Nikon D5100 (I’m not a professional photographer I’m just a photography lover) I have a nikkor f/1.8 50mm lens, an SB700 external flash and just recently bought 2 umbrellas and a 600watts ring lights. I do a lot of makeup head shots and I’m having trouble getting a “real true color” on the skin. I’m using a white background. The skin of the model is looking too warm for my preference and if I “play” around with the WB the skin gets kinda green/blue/yellowish. I was wondering if you have anything I could read so I can understand better how to properly set artificial light and the WB. Thanks!

  9. I’ve been thinking of jumping up to a DSLR for awhile, but canon’s inability to ship a decent sensor and nikon’s lack of 16-35 and lacklustre 70-200 make deciding between the two impossible, especially when the only other lens I would have is a 50/1.4. I’ve been telling myself for years that canon will probably figure out sensors before nikon figures out lenses but they’re sure taking their sweet time.

  10. I’m just a beginner purchased D 5500 love photography this article lil bit help me plz continue want a guide in this feild plz give more information on my mail [email protected]

  11. Naga Sai teja Gadde

    Hey,
    U are wrong abt Nikon not having a lens equivalent to canon’s 16-35mm f 2.8. Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 is amazing and the distortion u get out of it is equally beautiful. You should definitely try it out asap and trust me.. U will change ur impression.

  12. which is the best lense for focus and to get blurred background for my photographs..????? i’m using nikon D3300…

    1. You need a lens with a large maximum aperture to capture a photo with shallow depth of field and solid bokeh (background blur). Prime lenses (non-zooming lenses) typically are easier to find with larger apertures as zoom lenses with large apertures are harder to produce and are thus very, very expensive. I’d look into a 35mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.8, both are about $200 each and will produce amazing bokeh for the price.

  13. While 16-35 f2.8 is a very versatile wide zoom for event photography, if you’re shooting landscapes the 16-35mm f/4 set to f/16 is sharp as a tack. Obviously it wouldn’t be as good for astrophotography, but I use the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 for that.

  14. I don’t see the point where you long expose with higher ISO, If you expose long = you need a tripod = you use the base ISO of 100 or 64 ..

  15. Ok….so …..I please need help.
    Canon shooter with a 1dx and mkiv ….on the way.
    Have too much Canon glass to leave….
    Landscapes are my next venture…..
    60″ prints….no larger…..night photography as well
    What to do?
    Don think the bodies I have will do night work…..
    Anyone know …will the 5dsr be the answer?
    Maybe the Sony a7rii with my Canon glass?
    Any and all thoughts are welcome…..
    Please email to me at [email protected],com

  16. I’m getting tired waiting for the 6D Mark 2 and have been seriously considering a jump to the Nikon D750. I don’t own thousands of dollars in Canon gear, which takes a big burden off my shoulders. I think a new 6D will only be available in the second half of the year and will run for ~3000 with the new 24-105 II. The D750 + 24-120 seems like a much better option, given the superior sensor, dynamic range, FPS etc. It’s essentially a cheaper 5D Mk III. Any thoughts?

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