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Some time ago, my friend Dylan Vidovich  wrote a guest article on this blog about his (very wide) experience of Nikon and Canon cameras.  I have never owned or used a Canon, nor had enormous curiosity about what they would be like. Just occasionally I have picked one up, and been completely baffled by the menus, but I have never doubted that they are great cameras. I have never got involved in the supposed Nikon v Canon war. “X is great; Y is rubbish” is too common a mentality. It appears to be many people’s default mode about anything, but it’s a waste of time to think like that, in my view.


Having had a number of recent requests for camera lessons (group and individual) I went back to thinking about those Canon menus. Helping people who have “technical” cameras and don’t know their Aperture from the ISO is a real joy – but I realised that I will be more effective at it for Canon-owners if I have my head round Canon terminology.

What camera to buy, though? I didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount, but thought it was worth getting a decent older body, full frame, and one that would have been a rival to one of my Nikon bodies back in the day.

Helen shooting across the Cuckmere Estuary – the Seven Sisters, down on the Sussex coast

My first Nikon DSLR was the D700. Casting my mind back to the early days with that excellent camera, I remembered a day spent shooting on the South Coast with my friend Helen. She had a Canon 5D Mkii (if I remember rightly) – a full-frame camera launched just two months after the D700, and so its nearest direct rival. If there is one Canon camera about which I have had an abiding curiosity, it is the 5D Mkii, so I sent my pennies off to MPB and they sent me a DSLR in lovely condition, with a 50mm lens and even a good sized memory card.


What follows is by way of a few first reactions to the Canon. I haven’t attempted a side-by-side shoot, still less a technical comparison, between the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mkii. That was all done, pretty exhaustively, back in 2008 when these cameras came out!

No, here are just a few thoughts from my first couple of days shooting with the 5D Mkii. I have been out with it twice, and on the second occasion felt I was getting the hang. That shoot gave rise to the Bromley Life blog piece I posted last week. What do I make of this strange beast in the bosom of my Nikon family?

Clematis seed heads on John Lory Farm (home to Affordable Granite) – one of the first images I took with the Canon

The Canon 5D Mk ii with 50mm 1.8 II lens

1 The menus really are SO different. I use Lumix MFT bodies on holidays, and find them very easy and intuitive because similar to my Nikons. Canon menus make me feel I’m lost on a different planet.
2 Compared to all my Nikons, the body feels plasticky – especially the card bay cover, rear wheel control and battery cover. BUT the camera has about 40k actuations, could be 15 years old, and everything is in place and working. It hasn’t broken! Plastic is fine.

3 The shutter sounds and feels like a bomb going off. I want to ask, “is this normal?”! The thing practically has recoil! Is this normal?

4 Having got back-button focus set up to my satisfaction, I have to say that the beast operates like a dream. The low number of focus points compares poorly with the D700 – but tbh it really is no problem. That aspect is more like the Nikon D90, launched around the same time as the 5D Mkii, and a classic amateur camera in its own right.

The Nikon D700 with 50mm 1.4G lens

D700 and 5D in conversation

5 Raw file quality is stunning. The high pixel count compared to the D700 really scores – detail is superb. To be honest, in 2008 Canon hit just about the optimum pixel count with this model – very similar to my current Nikon D5 and D6 bodies. The images from the 5D are lovely to edit, with realistic colours which I like very much.


What do I take away from all of this?

  1. When my cousin bought me the D700, having already invested in Nikon, he did a great thing for me. I have no regrets about investing time and money in the brand over the last 14 years.
  2. If Phil and Tim had jumped the Canon way, my professional photography story would be no different in terms of progress and the quality of my photos – I would just have spent thousands on Canon lenses and bodies instead!
  3. If I were forced to choose between the D700 and the 5D Mkii I would be torn. I prefer the focussing on the Nikon – and the level of detail from that Canon sensor. I also have a gut feeling that Canon does bright colours better – but that the Nikon wins on subtle tones and skin. But a Nikon v Canon war? No need!

A barn door on John Lory Farm – Canon 5D Mkii

Brighton Girls – one of my first images with the D700, back in January 2009! 

4. If you want to get into digital photography, remember that the greatest period for technical innovation was between 2000 and 2010. Once bodies had reached 12, 16 or 20 Mpx, further innovation has been deckchairs on the Titanic. Cameras from 2008 or 2010 have a lot to offer – and they are now CHEAP, secondhand! Buy a used classic rather than the very latest is my advice.

5. Teaching photography is serious. I am a perfectionist (I admit it, without shame!) and I feel the need to be au fait with different systems so as to be an effective teacher. I’m sure that Canon has moved along, as has Nikon. But I also know that anyone who can use a Nikon D90 can use my D6, to the extent that they understand the D90! I am hopeful that more recent Canon’s will follow the 5D in a similar way.

If you are interested in learning photography (including camera operation, composition and editing) with me, please contact me. I will be glad to hear from you!

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