Changing Camera Systems: The Pros and Cons – Part I

Canon 5D Mark II

With camera manufacturers in stiff competition with one another, if you pay attention to what features they work hardest on you’ll begin to realize that they also tailor their products to certain segments of the buyers and that many of them pride some features well over others in order to get sales. Recently, I was in search of a new camera system and if you are too, check out this brief list of the pros and cons of each system. This list includes the most popular systems: Nikon, Canon and Sony. The next list will include the rest (which in some ways give the top three a run for their money.)

Nikon

Without a doubt in my mind, Nikons deliver the best image quality out of the camera. In addition to this, they are built with a very solid construction, have a wide range of accessories and lenses available to their system, shoot the fastest overall amongst their line of cameras, and deliver stunningly beautiful low-light and high-ISO images. Additionally, if you’re shooting out in the field you’ll know that their cameras are the ones that allow you to change settings the quickest. A prime example of this is the wheel dial for shooting mode on the D700 vs the Canon 5D Mk II‘s method of pressing a button and then moving the shutter wheel.

As good as a Nikon is though, there are problems if you’re going to adapt the system for their hybrid capabilities. Nikon isn’t a camcorder or video company, so they’re at a natural disadvantage when it comes to this. Nikon video has been said to have a terrible jello effect and isn’t used or raved about anywhere as much as Canon or Panasonic’s. Therefore, Nikon is the system for the people that want excellent still image quality.

Canon

After my hunt for a camera and looking at different systems, I decided to go back to Canon from Olympus. Canon is highly regarded in the photography world but let’s be serious: they’re not perfect! They’ve got a lot going for them though and they continue to get better and better. Canon cameras are characterized by their low-light and high-ISO performance (though not up to Nikon’s level), excellent video quality, wide range of lenses, adapters, and accessories available to them, the fact that they have an APS-H sensor camera for sports shooters, and cameras that are known to dominate the entry-level DSLR market.

I chose Canon over any other system because of their sheer flexibility that accommodates to the ever-changing digital age of photography: I’m a photojournalist that requires great video and great image quality in one body. The 5D Mk II was my choice for such a task.

Canon have their flaws though. For starters, their bodies aren’t as good at standing up to abuse as Nikon’s or Olympus’s. Their bodies tend to be big and heavy for some with smaller hands. Additionally, because of their versatility overall they tend to not have the very best at one particular thing. For example, Nikon has better high-ISO performance and Sony has more megapixels for studio shooting. What can be said though is that Canon has the best video quality of the three (though Panasonic does better in some regards.)

Sony

Sony is very new to the full-frame camera range, but they’ve been in the DSLR category for a bit longer. Sony has a lot of support going for it because of the fact that they’ve cannibalized from so many different things.

Here’s a rundown: Sony has created video cameras for a while and they are used by every network out there. If you talk to some video professionals about which system they prefer from Canon, Sony or Panasonic most of them will say Sony. Indeed, I was trained on Sony’s in college. On the contrary, they have yet to put video capabilities in their DSLRs.

Taking from the image quality their video department delivers, Sony also adds onto this the fact that they bought Minolta: a company that was huge in the film world. When they bought Minolta, they got access to lots of lenses that allows them to immediately compete with Canon and Nikon.

Further, add onto this that their camcorders have always used Carl Zeiss lenses. Therefore, this allowed their DSLRs to use Zeiss lenses in addition to creating their own Sony Alpha lenses. Then factor in the huge player in the game: Sony is a manufacturer of almost any electronic product you can think of.

If you compile all of this together, you have a formidable system that is actually well supported across the world (though not as well as Canon or Nikon). However, what they have going most for them (according to reviews and tests) are lots of megapixels and one of the best menu systems out there. Their image quality has only recently become better with high-ISO settings and the fact that their higher-line of cameras haven’t been announced can only mean that their system can get better. Like Nikon, it seems at the moment that they are mainly focusing on image quality instead of taking the versatility route that Canon has taken.

In the next post: Olympus, Panasonic and Pentax.

 

Comments

  1. Ian says

    I have been evaluating different systems for some months, and still haven’t decided on a brand yet (though I’m leaning toward pentax now). I disagree that image quality is so different between brands. With the exception of a little noise at high iso there is really little IQ difference between modern 10Mp+ APS-C systems.

    You can only compare brands based on what you are looking for, so for your info I am looking for a small, portable, durable system without sacrificing image quality. Therefore it follows that my requirements are:
    1) APS-C system. I am not willing to sacrifice enough to go with 4/3, but I don’w want the weight of FF.
    2) Sealed magnesium body. For durability.
    3) prime lens selection. To save weight/size and (where possible) cost.

    Some comments on brands:

    Canon:
    – Strong in the high end and the low end, but they have a big gap in the middle. The high end is great with big fast FF cameras and big fast f2.8 zooms. The low end is great with light bodies and consumer zooms. In the middle you have the 50d which competes well with under $1000 segment but lacks the features of a Nikon d300 or pentax k7 top of the line APS-C cameras. To get better than the T1i (other than body material) you have to go to the 5D2, and pay $2000 more.

    – Cheap primes more expensive. If you want high image quality at a lower price/weight one option is cheap primes. Canon has only one EF-s prime, their cheap EF primes are more expensive (at least in Canada) than the Nikon equivalent.

    Nikon:
    – Great mid range body in the d300 (best autofocus and metering between $1k and $2k).
    – Good range of cheap primes. Need more DX primes to reduce weight/size, but better.
    – In the low end they are eliminating the in body motor, which means the low end bodies can’t use the cheap primes!! Who knows how long they will support the motor in the mid range, so your lenses may lose some functionality with your next body.

    Sony:
    – Only one camera choice (A700), and it lacks most of the features of the competing brands.
    – Anything other than consumer zooms is expensive!!
    – Poor selection of prime lenses.

    Pentax:
    – K7 has most of the features of the D300 (plus video, which is a bonus rather than make or break for me), but in a body that is much smaller and lighter.
    – High iso noise is a little worse than the competition
    – Pentax has a full line of compact/light lenses made for APS-C. The lenses are a little more expensive, and have higher f-stop (generally 2/3 stop slower), but are half the size/weight. They also benefit from the stabilised body, which counteracts most of the speed difference.
    – Lens build quality is better than the competition, and image quality is equal or better.
    – being a smaller company the accessories and lens line-up are more focused on the high end consumer market. So they don’t have the selection of specialty lenses that are available for Nikon or canon (tilt shift lenses, 400mm+ Super Tela lenses, etc.)
    – Generally their predictive autofocus is behind the competition. The K-7 is said to have improved, but it is not near as sophisticated as the Nikon.

    DISCLAIMER:
    This is all based on research, and I have only handled the cameras briefly in the store. All these companies could fit my needs (backpacking/travel/family/experimentation). The question is: which one fits best?
    Right now it is looking like Pentax because a lighter system is more likely to come out of the closet more often. It might have worse performance in low light, but the best camera is the one you have on you when you want to take a picture.

  2. says

    Each brand has its fans, and, inevitably, some of those fans will write articles. You just need to recognize the bias and judge for yourself.

  3. vss says

    I currently work with both nikon and canon systems D700 nikon 24-70 f2.8g and canon 5d Mark II L16-35 f2.8 II, L24-70 f2.8 and L24-105 IS f4.0. Generally I have found that both systems are very good. I prefer using the Nikon for sporting events, because of the high fps (frames per second) and the canon for Landscapes and video. The color balance on both of these systems is very good. For focusing I really like the Nikon’s auto focus with 52 points of focus area, where canon decided to continue using the original 5d focus area. Although the auto focus is good in both systems, my preference is with Nikon’s auto focus and would give it one star up over the 5d Mark II’s.

    Canon’s 5d video is surprisingly good and I have found that I’m using it alot for recording sunsets and the HD resolution is just something you need to see. The built mono recording system is ok??, however I will take it for now. Believe me the HD video on this is very good.

    In summary, Nikon provides a great system for landscapes and sports and a great selection of lenses. Canon provides an excellent system and one I prefer for landscapes and video. Bottom line is, you really need to know what your personal preferences are before purchase. If available do some trial shots with the camera of your choice (bring a memory card) and your favorite lens and see if the results meet your expectations.

  4. Mike says

    Rumors are that Sony will be hitting the market with incredible video DSLRs, pro level, in the Fall with more to come. More new lenses too.
    The A200 and A300 series are place holders with their replacements in 2010/11 showing consumer versions of what the upcoming new pro gear will do with video.
    Oh, and every lens, including primes, Zeiss, and old AF Minoltas, are anti shake.
    Sony sells a number of full featured DSLRs now including a full frame. Lenses cost the same as others for quality (APC and Sony are affordable and comparable. G is pro line + Zeiss and cost the most because the are very good). Don’t see it yet in the line up? Buy a like new used Minolta for a song.