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Mad Respect for the New Nikon Df DSLR

The New Nikon Df DSLRThe New Nikon Df
Pre-Order Yours at B&H Today!

I normally don't give a damn about new camera releases. But today Nikon announced a new full-frame DSLR camera that finally got my attention: the Nikon Df DSLR.

Except for gear heads who are really only into photography for the sake of getting new toys, newly announced cameras aren't that exciting. For one, they are just too frequent, and two, they generally offer new features and specs that actually aren't that big of a deal. "Ooo, more megapixels that no one needs? Awesome! And higher ISO limits even though everyone still won't shut up about digital noise? Fantastic! AND there's an in-camera HDR feature so I can create god-awful image composites without the need for Photoshop? I'm in!" We have enough megapixels already, the ISO goes high enough as it is for 99% of shooters, and we don't really need 63 auto focus points - a dozen or so is fine.

But here's the thing that irritates me most about modern digital cameras: It seems every manufacturer is moving away from buttons and dials, towards touch-screens and menu-based navigation. In other words, "Let's make our cameras more like an iPhone and less like a camera." Cameras should have buttons and dials on them. Things you can actually touch and see without the need for a blaring LCD screen. I've talked before about the importance of tangibility. Tangible buttons make adjusting your settings way quicker and easier. I've gotten my hands on almost every DSLR on the market through my classes and private lessons and I can say for certain that the slowest cameras to control are the ones with fewer buttons and more menu-based navigation (I'm talking to you, Nikon D5200).

Enter the Nikon Df DSLR.

Nikon clearly took a cue from the film SLRs of old. This thing has tangibility written all over it. Big clearly marked dials for shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, shooting mode, and drive mode rise proudly from the top of the camera - all the most important functions easily accessible. And the LCD screen up top isn't big and obnoxious displaying every single function from shutter speed to your current blood pressure. It just has the shutter speed, aperture, battery life, and images remaining - the only things you really need on the external LCD screen. And all of this in what I would describe as the most beautifully designed DSLR camera body since the F100. This camera is gorgeous, no doubt about it. With styling very similar to the Nikon FE from way back when, this camera will turn heads whether you get it in sleek black or throwback silver.

Now, of course, this thing has awesome specs inside like a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor with a max ISO of 12,800 (which can be pushed all the way to ISO 204,800), 100% viewfinder coverage, 39 auto focus points, a rugged body...all of these things are worthy of praise. But this camera is really about the design with the functionality of external dials, buttons, and levers. And don't think this radical departure in design is just for looks. Listen to a guy who has worked extensively with SLR cameras from just about every generation since their inception: these tangible controls make shooting quicker, easier, more intuitive, and much more gratifying. This new camera is a big deal in the war against intangibility. For that, I give it mad respect.

The Nikon Df DSLR, I think, will be one of those cameras displayed proudly on people's shelves 50 years from now as an iconic example of when camera manufacturers got it right. I hope to get my hands on one soon.

Read the Nikon Df press release here and preorder yours at B&H in silver or black.

Which is Better: Canon vs Nikon

Canon vs NikonOh God...not another debate of Canon vs Nikon and Nikon vs Canon. Does't the internet have enough of this drivel? Yes, yes it does. But the internet forums and Flickr comments are unyielding on this topic and I still get a lot of questions from students about which one is better. It seems it's up to me, Ken Rockwell, and just a few other no-BS bloggers to fight off the hoards of Canon and Nikon fanboys.

If you're a regular reader here, you know that I don't buy in to marketing hype and I often disagree with the masses out there on the interwebs when it comes to topics like how many megapixels you really need and whether or not you should get a full-frame camera. So I'm hoping you'll trust my words here in the Canon vs Nikon debate.

So then, which is it? Nikon or Canon?

My short answer is this: it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Neither is better, neither is worse. You'd be happy with either of them. I've used almost every model on the market from both manufacturers, I've taught students on just about every model available, I am very, very familiar with the differences between each, and I'm telling you that it's 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. It's Toyota or Honda, Coke or Pepsi, Duracell or Energizer. It's whatever you prefer.

I've even heard stupid things like "If you're into landscapes, you go with Nikon, but if you're into sports and wildlife, you go with Canon." Where that nonsense came from, I have no idea. Neither system is better for one type of photography or another. Certain camera models might be better for certain types of photography than others, but even then it's not often a big deal.

What do pros use more? Probably Canon. More people use Canon - amateurs, pros, whatever. Not because Canon is better but because they have a bigger market share. They have for 10 years running. Simple as that. Maybe it's better cameras, or maybe it's marketing, the color scheme, cunning executives...I don't know.

My biggest idol in photography, Galen Rowell, was a Nikon man. But I shoot Canon, Mamiya, Shen-Hao, Nikon, even Polaroid. So it doesn't even matter what your idolized pro of choice uses. Many of the most iconic and respectable photographers out there don't even make a big deal out of the equipment they use unless they are sponsored by that manufacturer. I use Canon DSLRs, but if Nikon came knocking with a big paycheck and a box full of cameras, I'd be an instant convert.

But really, you should be very suspicious of anyone who is a huge fan of either. There's nothing wrong with loving your equipment, but no one should really have any major loyalty to either brand unless they are getting compensated for that loyalty. Wearing a wristband that resembles a coveted Canon lens or sporting a shirt that proudly states "I shoot Nikon"...might as well wear a shirt that says "I'm new to photography and I'm really just into it for the equipment."

All that being said, I tend to recommend Canon over Nikon when students are shopping for their very first camera. But if they already have their eye on a Nikon or they already have some Nikon gear, I tell them to go with Nikon. But either way, let me break down my viewpoint on this matter into more specific categories:

Image Quality:
It's quite simple, neither has a leg up in image quality. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I admit that some of Canon's cameras may have better image quality than some of Nikon's cameras and vica versa, but on the whole, neither manufacturer is consistently better in the image quality department than the other. And besides, this is hugely subjective. You may favor a camera with richer blues and greens whereas I may favor one with stronger yellows and reds. Canon and Nikon both create excellent image quality. Even the worst, bottom-of-the-line, entry-level camera from either manufacturer will kick the you-know-what out of the top of the line cameras from 5 years ago.

Megapixels:
Trust me, you don't need as many megapixels as you think. 18 megapixels is way more than enough for prints probably 6 feet long. Anything more than that, like Nikon's ridiculous 36-megapixel D800, will cause more trouble than it's worth. Both manufacturers should knock it off with the megapixel battles. They're forcing us all to get faster computers, bigger hard drives, and more memory cards all for what? So we can share our pictures on Flickr and Facebook, maybe print a 16x24 now and then? You could use an 8-megapixel camera for that. Click here to read an article I wrote about how many megapixels you really need.

Controls and User-Friendliness:
This is the one and only category where I feel Canon edges out Nikon. Canon cameras are more user-friendly in almost all respects and their control layout is more logical. Ah...You feel that? That's the feeling of Nikon fanboys trembling with dissent to that statement. But I stand by it. I don't say this is a personal preference kind of thing. I don't mean that prefer Canon's control layout, I'm saying that Canon cameras are more intuitive and I can prove it. Read this article for my proof. I've taught hundreds and hundreds of students on both Canon and Nikon through group classes, one-on-one lessons, and online photography courses. It's based off this experience that I say many of Canon's controls are easier to learn, they are more intuitive, they require less explanation, and they leave less opportunity for confusion. Of course, not all of the controls are better on a Canon - Nikon does have a leg up on some things like the white balance control and flash options, but Canon cameras are just a bit more user-friendly. But whatever the case, you can get used to whatever control system you want. Once you do, the other camera's controls will seem ridiculous and backwards.

Build Quality:
Some Nikons feel really nice and solid, built like a tank. Some Canons do, too. Those are their higher-end, more expensive weather-sealed cameras. They also each produce some cameras and lenses that feel like they'd break if you sneezed in their general direction. Bottom line is you gotta feel it in your hands to know which one you want. And remember that better build quality usually equates to more weight and cost. Also, I know it seems like you're really punishing your camera with the conditions you shoot in, but you're not. Even the cheapest DSLR can withstand very rough weather and even rougher handling. The high-end built-like-a-tank models are designed to withstand the tortures of real-life combat, 100% humidity, driving rain, mud, rocks, and whatever else a National Geographic photographer can throw at it. The rest of us don't need such protection.

Ergonomics:
Again, both manufacturers make some cameras that feel like they were built for your hands. They also each make some cameras that feel like you need a second thumb just to hold it right. Find the camera that fits your hands best, regardless of manufacturer.

Lenses:
Both companies have huge R&D departments for new lenses, both offer top-of-the-line optics, and both are on the cutting edge of lens design. Each manufacturer has equivalent lens options, too. You'd be hard-pressed to find a lens by either manufacturer that doesn't have a suitable counterpart in the other. I will point out, though, that Nikon cameras are often compatible with Nikon lenses from as far back as the 1970's, which is kind of cool. But let's be realistic...with how insane everybody is today about getting the best quality lens, how many shooters are really going to opt for an old manual-focus lens from an era of lower-quality glass?

Conclusion:
Don't get caught up in the Canon vs Nikon debate. It's all a bunch of hot air. Great photos come from great photographers, not great cameras. Some of the most iconic photos in our history came from equipment that makes a camera phone look like professional gear. What matters is technique, composition, knowing how to use your equipment, and an ability to capture the right moment under the right light. Camera gear are just tools. Nothing more.

Nikon is Backwards

Nikon is Backwards

If you know me, you know that I really don't care about the Nikon vs. Canon debate. As I've said before, that rivalry is about as useful as the "my dad can beat up your dad" argument. The bottom line is that both manufacturers make fantastic cameras, both have their strengths and, most importantly, it's the photographer, not the camera. A great photographer can get great shots with either system.

BUT...

There is something I want to point out about these 2 systems that no one ever seems to address. It's something so simple and so basic that while everyone is arguing about megapixels, color reproduction and ISO performance, this point just never comes up.

The point I speak of is that Nikon is backwards. That's right! I said it! Nikon is backwards! Despite my Switzerland-like neutrality between the two systems, I can confidently say that Nikon is backwards. And I can prove it.

Let's look at 4 undeniable, undebatable, and - dare I say - astonishing bits of evidence that prove Nikon is backwards. Allow me to remove the shroud from over your eyes...

 

Exhibit A
The light meter/exposure compensation scale

When you look at the exposure compensation scale or the light meter scale (both use the same exact scale) of a Canon camera, you see something like this:

Canon Exposure Compensation Scale

Positive on the right, negative on the left. Makes sense. That's how we were taught in school and that's how pretty much every other meter on the planet is designed - positive to the right, negative to the left. That's how society is set up - to have higher numbers to the right and lower numbers to the left.

When you look at a ruler, the higher numbers are to the right, the lower numbers are to the left. And if a ruler had negative values on it, they would be on the left side of zero. Same deal for a radio dial, a speedometer, and book pages.

But now picture a ruler where zero is off to the right and then as you move left, the numbers progress up 1, 2, 3... Or picture your speedometer with 0 mph on the right and as you accelerate, the dial sweeps to the left. Doesn't feel right, does it?

Well, here's your Nikon scale:

Nikon Exposure Compensation Scale

It's backwards. Plain and simple. It just doesn't jive with how we think of numbers. We think of positive numbers on the right, negative on the left. Nikon decided to throw caution to the wind and flip the positive and negative. I don't know why, but they did.

So, there you go. Nikon's exposure compensation and light meter scale is backwards.

Strike one, Nikon.

 

Exhibit B
The lens mount

What's the old rule for fastening a screw, nut, bottle cap, or jar lid? "Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." You rotate to the right (clockwise) to secure something tighter, you rotate left (counter-clockwise) to loosen it.

So now instead of a bottle cap or screw, let's attach your lens to your camera. With your Canon lens, you line up the dots and rotate right (clockwise) until the lens clicks into place. Fasten it on just like a jar lid.

Okay, let's do the same thing with your Nikon. Take your lens and line up the white marks, now rotate clockwi-NOT SO FAST, AMIGO!

You're going to have to throw out everything you've ever learned about fastening things to other things because on a Nikon, you rotate the lens counter-clockwise to attach it to your camera. So instead of righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, you'll have to remember "righty-removy-the-lensy, lefty-attachy-the-lensy." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, though.

So, there you have it. Nikon's lens mount is backwards.

Strike two, Nikon.

 

Exhibit C
The rear lens cap

As a result of the lens mount being backwards for a Nikon, the rear lens cap also fastens on backwards. Rotate right to loosen it and remove it, rotate left to attach and tighten.

But just like the lens attaching the camera in a seemingly backwards way, I'm sure this clockwise to loosen and counter-clockwise to tighten thing only seems backwards to us. Surely only us Americans with our crazy imperial measuring system are on this page. I'm sure this "backwards" tightening/loosing business makes complete sense to the rest of the world.

What's that? It doesn't? It's backwards everywhere?

Damn. Strike three, Nikon.

 

Exhibit D
The zoom ring

Let's look at the zoom ring for a Canon lens:

Canon zoom ring

Ah, yes. Lower focal length numbers on the left, higher focal length numbers on the right - just like inches on a ruler and mph on a speedometer.

Now here's Nikon's zoom ring:

Nikon zoom ring

Hmm...okay. Lower focal length numbers on the right, higher focal length numbers on the left. Backwards from every other scale we're familiar with in the rest of our lives...alright. Makes sense, I guess, when everything else on the camera is already backwards. I mean, if I have to think backwards when attaching the lens and using the light meter, why stop there? Better to go 100% backwards than only partially. Right?

Strike 4, Nikon. You were out one strike ago.

 

Closing Statement

I have no idea why these things are backwards on a Nikon. My guess is that they just had to be different than Canon. Too bad being different makes everything backwards in this case.

So, in summary, this backwards business is the main reason I recommend Canon over Nikon. Now some of you gear heads out there may be thinking "that's ridiculous to recommend Canon over Nikon based solely on these trivial matters. Nikon is clearly better in image quality/ISO performance/auto-focus/blah, blah, blah."

Well let me respond to this imaginary devil's advocate with 2 statements:

First, these "trivial" matters actually play a huge role in the usability of the camera. If you're constantly fighting decades of training on what's considered forwards or backwards, then you're fighting an unnecessary battle. A camera's controls should get out of your way. They should be so easy and intuitive to use that you never have to think about using them - you just use them.

And secondly, Nikon doesn't have better image quality, ISO performance, auto-focus or blah, blah, blah. Canon doesn't either. Sure, you can compare MTF charts and side-by-side sample images. You can do an in-depth analysis of noise performance and color reproduction. But most of that stuff has no practical application in photography. Plus, Nikon and Canon are always out-doing each other. Canon may be the top today, but Nikon will be back on top on a few months. It's a never-ending seesaw of who has the latest technology, best image quality, and better auto-focus system.

So don't worry about Nikon vs Canon. Concentrate on learning how to use your equipment to the very fullest. Concentrate on becoming a better photographer, not a better gear reviewer.

But all that being said...let the angry letters begin!