Headline :: I Switched To Canon. World Still Turns.
I made a “what’s in my bag” post in 2009 about my mixed kit of Nikon and Canon gear. I’ve recently sold my Nikon gear and have gone 100% Canon to the surprise of many including myself. I’ve fielded lots of questions on Twitter about it, many I have not gotten to, so I’m making this blog post to cover your questions and to take the time to talk about why I am doing all of this. In this post I’ll talk about my past kits, my current kit, why I made the switch, the gear on my wish list, and why none of this matters all that much. Be warned, this is fairly wordy.
The last time I had a complete kit with matching camera bodies was sometime back in 2007 when I was shooting with Nikon D200’s. Here’s a “what’s in my bag” timeline of my bodies and lenses for the last eight years.
• 2003 – Nikon D100 :: Nikon 35mm f2
• 2004 – Nikon D100 :: 35, added Sigma 20mm 1.8
• 2005 – Nikon D70, D100 :: 20, 35, added Nikon 85mm 1.8
• 2006 – Nikon D200, D70 :: 20, 35, 85, added Nikon 80-200 2.8 (I bought a used first AF version of this lens for about $400)
• 2007 – Nikon D200, D200 :: 20, 35, 85, 80-200, added Nikon 105 f2.0, Nikon 50mm 1.8 (got rid of the Sigma 20mm. Never loved that lens.)
• 2008 – Nikon D3, D200 :: 35, 50, 85, 105, added Nikon 24mm 2.8 (80-200 broke in late 2008. It was going to cost $420 to fix. Never fixed it.)
• 2009 – Nikon D3, Canon 5d Mk II :: all the Nikon lenses from 2008, Canon 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.9 (non IS), Canon 15mm fisheye.
• 2010 – Added Canon 35mm f2, 90mm 2.8 T/S.
• 2011 – Sold all the Nikon gear, the Canon 15 fish, and finished the kit you see above.
In 2008 I upgraded one of my D200’s to the D3. In 2009 I caught the DSLR video bug and added a 5d MkII to my bag along with a 24-70 2.8 and a 70-200 2.8 (non IS).
So… Why the switch? Take a look at my bag in 2009…
It’s a mixed bag of glass and bodies. When I was on a job I would have to choose one or the other. My Nikon D3 was my baby. I used that camera more than anything else but when I got the Canon I started using it quite a bit to get to know it. I was still shooting weddings with Marc then and wedding days were the worst. Marc shot Nikon and I shot mostly Nikon except when I needed that 200 reach then I would shoot Canon because I had that glass. My best Nikon lenses were my 35mm f2 and my 105 f2. The 24 2.8 was pretty good but not the best. I preferred my 105 over my Nikon 85 so much that I barely used the 85 so it stayed in the studio most of the time.
For workshops I ended up using the Canon a lot because it was the only camera I had a zoom lens for and I found I could teach with a 24-70 2.8 for just about everything I need to do during a workshop. Being that workshops have been 50% of my work I ended up using that lens a good bit but I hated that lens. At 2.8 the edges and corners are soft and distorted at the wide range of the lens. My studio manager, Dan, had a 24-70 as well and we found it did the same thing. It wasn’t just my copy of it. I’ve talked to many Canon shooters who have found similar poor results with their 24-70. I imagine we’ll see a version II of this lens at some point. My personal opinion is it isn’t worth the money.
The next problem with having such a mixed bag was found in shooting when I needed two camera bodies on me on one job. Consistency is key for me and picking up one camera that works one way and immediately switching to another camera body that is completely different caused issues when shooting. The only time I had matching bodies was somewhere in 2007 when I had matching D200’s. That was a good year of gear for me. I would have gone to two D3 bodies but they were darn near $4,000 each and I could never fully justify that cost. Remember I’m a cash and carry photographer. Having $4,000 straight up in cash is pretty rare.
Speaking of consistency, mixing Nikon photographs and Canon photographs in post production is like mixing Fuji and Kodak films on a job. It can be done but it takes work. My Nikon has a “look” and so does the Canon. Back in the days of film you could have any camera body you wanted and choose film stocks at will based on which one you preferred or which film gave you a certain look for a certain application. These days the sensor in our digital cameras is the film base. You can do this and that in post production of course but natively each digital sensor has a unique character. I could do things in post with my D70 files that I could never replicate with any other Nikon sensor. I could keep skin tone neutral but push the cyan’s and blues to an interesting look. It did this “thing” that my other Nikons didn’t do. That’s just one example. The easiest thing to do is start a job with one camera and stick with that through the job.
Full disclosure :: I got my first 5d and the 24-70 and 70-200 at an amazing price. Something I can’t really blog about kind of a price. Suffice it to say a company believed in me and gave me a deal. It’s not sponsorship per se but a relationship. So that relationship afforded me to dive into Canon to get into video. That was a one time thing though. Everything else has been full retail or used.
This also was going down around the time I started a commercial job that has turned into a long term relationship. This client required a pretty high resolution natively. This job also requires tethered table top shooting. Nikon’s capture program was a piece of crap and Lightroom didn’t have tethering built in yet. The 21 MP Canon gave my client the file size they wanted compared to the D3 and Canon’s EOS utility software for tethering is far superior to Nikon’s Capture.
That job started with my one 5d. It began to grow in scope that I started bringing on more crew to help me and my 5d was living in the studio more than in my bag. That left me with the D3 and D200 back in the bag for a back up. Once you start shooting full frame you probably would be like me – going back to a cropped DSLR is not an option. Changing different bodies from hand to hand on a job is hard enough, throwing full frame vs. cropped field of view changes makes that switch even more frustrating. I had my D3’s mirror box and shutter rebuilt last year because it was getting near the end of it’s life and the D200 had similar high mileage on it but it wasn’t worth putting any more money into. I had one solid body to travel and shoot jobs outside of the studio with and my backups were questionable.
With the 5d staying home it was time to get another camera body for the road and my other jobs to back up my D3. Video is still on my radar and Canon still rules the roost for DSLR video. Nikon has a 20+ MP body but it’s $8,000. That’s a big bag of Canon gear for $8k. With all of the shooting I have done with the 5d I have fallen in love with the sensor. I hate the ergonomics. It has never felt at home in my hands. The AF is horrible compared to the Nikons. The D3 is a pro body. The 5d is prosumer. What to do? What to do? I’ve got two half assed rigs.
This year I’m simplifying, updating, and stream lining everything I do. My camera bag has been a hacked together bag of stuff for long enough and it was time to commit to one system or the other. I thought long and hard about this for months and decided all the Nikon gear had to go aside from my original D100 and 35mm f2 lens. I was going full on Canon and I was going to build the exact kit that I wanted to have. No more hodge podge of used gear deals. No more 100K shutter click bodies as puny back-ups. I’ve got new work coming in and a lot travel on my plate. I need a solid system that I can count on, that will do what I need and will stick with me for some time to come.
So I went with Canon. The first thing I had to retire from my current Canon kit is that stupid 24-70 2.8 L lens. I hate that thing. It weighs 400 pounds and at 2.8 it falls apart very quickly. At f 8 and up it’s great but I live in the 2.8 – 4 range a lot and that lens just doesn’t cut it. We are now shooting two sets for our commercial client so those two sets have dedicated 5d’s and my 24-70 went to live on one product set full time and I bought Dan’s 24-70 2.8 to put on the other set. My 90mm 2.8 tilt shift also lives on those sets. It’s great for perspective control and shifting focus planes. I know some of you are going to ask me to blog specifically about all of that. To be honest I have so much on my plate and a dozen other blog posts in my draft folder plus a studio move coming up in the next month so…. That one will be awhile from now. I’d rather blog about that when we get into the new space and have those rigs finalized. Marc would be the best to blog about that really because he’s engineered an awesome system for us. More on that later.
So here is my current kit again and why I have what I have.
I’ll start from the top left and move across the three rows.
Canon 85mm 1.8 – I know the Canon 85mm 1.2 is the rockstar lens but that damn thing is currently $2,050. I’ve rented the lens and worked with it a few times. It’s a beautiful piece of glass but it is heavy, slow, and honestly, I can’t see any justification to pay that much for that lens when the 1.8 is such an amazing performer at $400. I’ve shot these two side by side and the only way I would get the 1.2 is if someone just gave it to me. A lot of people say they need it for low light event work. If I was doing low light event work I wouldn’t have a Canon kit. I’d be Nikon only because the AF is superior to the 5d. That isn’t just my opinion. Through all the workshops I’ve done I have watched countless Nikon shooters pick up their camera and shoot while Canon 5d shooters string curse words together and start asking for flash lights to help focus. Justifying the expense of the 1.2 for a camera that already sucks when it comes to focusing just isn’t something I need to consider. The build quality of the 1.8 is nice. It’s solid, fast, quiet, well made, and sharp as a tack. Even at 1.8. Sometimes lenses are a bit soft at their widest aperture. I really love this lens.
Canon 24mm 1.4 II L – This one was worth the expense for me. Wide angles inherently have a much larger depth of field at any given aperture. Telephotos have a narrower depth of field at any given aperture. I spent a lot of time talking about that on my last creativeLIVE class. I love the 24mm field of view on a full frame sensor. 20mm is just a tad too wide for my taste in most applications and 28mm isn’t quite enough. The 24 is perfect in my opinion and how I shoot. For Canon 24 choices you have the 24-70 2.8 and I’ve already covered that I don’t like that lens. Then there is the 24mm 2.8 at $360 or the 1.4 at $1,670. I did a lot of research on this lens and put my hands on both the 2.8 and the 1.4. The 1.4 is far superior in build quality, it’s fast, and sharp at the edges. The 2.8 is quite nice but it feels cheap. The 1.4 has a great feel and it’s beautiful to look through and can soften the background a bit more at 1.4 or 2.0 more than 2.8. It makes more of a difference on the wide for me. Well worth the high price tag over the 2.8 equivalent.
Canon 135mm f2 L – My go to portrait lens on my Nikon was the 105mm f2. I shot that lens on every job. You could have welded it to a camera body and I’d be fine with that. It was also my longest lens after my 80-200 broke and I decided it wasn’t worth fixing. So when I was researching the replacement I naturally looked at the Canon 100mm f2. I had already decided on the 85 and I wanted a little more diversity in focal length since I was going to be using primes. I rented the 135 f2 and used it on creativeLIVE and fell in love with this lens. It has a great reach and is sharp at 2.0. It’s a gorgeous portrait lens.
Next up are the lights. Those are three Nikon SB-80dx flashes and one Canon 580ex II. The Nikons are there because they are awesome off camera lights and affordable. They used to be more affordable but with used prices on the rise these days they are still a good value. Just not the value they used to be. I have the 580 because I had to put my D3 in the shop last year and had two weddings to shoot for Marc back to back and had to shoot Canon only. I needed the AF assit beam and no one had an st-e2 in stock. Yes, I bought a $450 AF assist beam for the stupid 5d. When you have two weddings and your main camera is in the shop you take care of it. Add to that I teach a lot of flash courses and a lot of people have Canon flashes so it’s good that I own one so I can speak about it in classes. I call it the 580 II ex though because it is “too EXpensive”. They’re $500 now. That’s a stupid, stupid price for that flash. I should probably sell it and get a few more SB80’s but every now and then it is useful to have a run-n-gun TTL flash. That’s when I use it the most but I don’t take a lot of run-n-gun events these days.
Next to the lights is an Arctic Butterfly sensor brush and a regular nasal aspirator for blowing dust and crap off the sensors. The Arctic Butterfly is awesome. I love that brush. Highly recommended.
Back to the top of the bag are two ThinkTank cable management 20 bags. They hold various sync cords. I love those little bags. Underneath those bags is a Canon 35mm f2. This is a great performing lens. It performs like my Nikon 35mm f2 but it’s not built as well. It’s kind of cheap feeling but, again, it’s a solid performer. I use this lens quite a bit. I love the 35mm viewpoint. This lens will be the first I replace though. I will eventually replace this with the Canon 35mm f1.4 L. That is a hot lens. From image quality to build quality I feel it is worth the price. It’s $1,500 so that one goes on the wish list for now.
Also under the ThinkTank bags is a Canon OC-E3 off camera TTL cord. It doesn’t see a lot of use but it is good to have when I need to run-n-gun something and I don’t want my flash on camera and would rather hand hold the flash. Also shoved in that compartment is a small Sekonic L-308s handheld meter. You don’t have to have a meter as a digital photographer but they sure are handy to have. It should always be on your wish list. I also have an older Sekonic L558 meter with a built in Pocket Wizard transmitter. It’s larger than the 308 and doesn’t fit in this kit that well. It lives in my smaller Think Tank Airport International bag that holds my film gear. The 308 is a fantastic small meter that is pocket sized and can handle reflective, incident, and flash readings.
Next up is a lightsphere that I’ve painted black to be a studio grid reflector for my hotshoe flashes. I talk about that in this post. There are also 2 Honl Photo speed grids. The 1/4 and the 1/8th. The Honl grids are awesome little grids that I just slap on hotshoe flashes with velcro. I don’t leave home without them.
A small army of Pocket Wizards are next. I carry six Plus II transceivers and I just recently broke down and bought a Mini TTL. The next face lift I’m going through is with my lighting kit. I’m going with lights that Pocket Wizard has a new system for that will allow me to control them from camera. I’ll go into my lighting kit when it is done in a few months. I’ve been researching that for years. I prefer the Plus II’s because they run on AA batteries instead of the button cell the Mini uses. AA’s can be found at any gas station on the planet. That button cell? Not as easy to locate in every situation. I also like the Plus II’s have four channels on them. The mini only has two. You can program them to any of 32 but out in the field if you start having interference issues and you need to cycle through channels you’ll have to have a Plus II and do the “learn” mode thing on the mini or plug it into a laptop and reprogram the channels. Kind of a pain in the ass. But I love how small the Mini is when it’s on camera.
Next to the Pocket Wizard farm is an Eagle Creek small Protech cube to hold AA batteries and accessories. I love these cubes. I have four of the small ones and two of the large ones. I use the large ones to carry all of my chargers and extra cables in my checked luggage when I travel. They are rugged semi hard sided cases. Inside the cube I have four Dot Line AA battery cases. Best AA battery cases I’ve ever used. Underneath the cube is a Canon 70-200 2.8 L non IS lens. I did not go with the IS lens because I rarely need that feature and it saved me a good chunk of change by just sticking with the classic L version. If I’m shooting at 200 at slow shutter speeds I’m going to use flash 9 out of 10 of those times. It’s a great lens. If I was a full time wedding shooter I might reconsider and go with a VR lens. Yes, I said that correctly. VR is Nikon’s name badge. Because if I was a full time wedding shooter I’d be Nikon. Have I said that enough?
Down below all of that are two 5d’s with BG-E6 grips. I just can’t use a camera any more without a grip. I was going to only grip one of these bodies but that sort of goes against the whole “two matching bodies” thing that I want again. I want each camera to have the exact same feel so they get outfitted alike. Same grip. Same straps. Etc. I’ll probably add a Black Rapid DR2 to the bag.
In the flaps of the bag are various small items. Nothing much different than in my 2009 post other than the fact that I have up to date business cards in my bag now.
So. That’s my bag. That’s why I went Canon. Why all the primes? Because they are better than zooms. Especially when we are talking about Canon. I almost bought the 16-35 2.8. I know that’s a good lens. Many say it outperforms the 24-70 quite a bit. But the 24 1.4 was far more attractive to me than the 16-35. The 16-35 would have been more versatile for day to day shooting but I don’t want to be a day to day photographer. I want to see what is in front of me and pick the best lens for that. Primes are also faster in the aperture department than zooms. They’re usually sharper. They’re usually less expensive than zooms. Usually. When you get into the 1.2 and 1.4 primes of course they are on the same price levels that fast zooms are.
If you are new to the craft one of the lessons I want you to take away from this is to see how disposable camera bodies are. Look at what stays with me through the years… the glass. Lenses are your best investment in your kit. They are the number one thing you have to really be clear about when purchasing. That’s why I only buy Canon or Nikon glass as well. I’ve owned Tamrons, Tokinas, and Sigmas. I’ve regretted each and every one of them. I bought Tokinas and Tamrons when I was in school and for the first few years after graduating. They fell apart, they would rattle, they weren’t all that sharp. Sure they are less money but a good lens can last your career. The last 3rd party lens I bought was the Sigma 20mm 1.8. That lens held me through until I could buy a Nikon but I got rid of that lens as soon as I could replace it with something in the Nikon line up. It sucked. I know many of you will provide links to glowing reviews of these 3rd party lenses and I’m just saying don’t bother. I’ll never own another again. I know they have some nice lenses but for the long haul, stick with original glass.
Another interesting thing to note here is that I bought each and every Nikon lens I owned in the last eight years on the used market. Being that used prices have seen a dramatic increase in prices these days I actually made money when I sold my Nikon glass. I brought in about $300 extra so far and I still have one more lens to sell. My beloved 105 f2. I kind of might want to keep it. I’m having a hard time letting go of that one even though my D3 is off to a new owner.
My wish list :: The 35mm 1.4 as discussed earlier. I really want the Canon 14mm 2.8. If I’m going to spend more than $2k on a lens it would be the 14mm. That is a gorgeous wide lens with great reviews. I’ve never touched it but I’ve seen plenty of images and video from it. I need to rent it at some point to see for myself but I’d love to have that wide of a lens that isn’t a fish eye.
Notice I sold my Canon fish. I bought it used at a good price but never used it. It’s too much of a cliché lens and I found myself avoiding it more than using it. If you aren’t using it and it isn’t a “CYA* in an emergency” kind of piece of gear, then sell it. Move it out of your bag and fill your bag with essentials that will always be used.
The next thing on my Canon wish list is a good ol’ 50mm. I thought I would live without one for awhile since my old Nikon 1.8 didn’t get a lot of use but on two jobs this week I was needing the 50mm. Of course right? As soon as you don’t have it you want it. I’ll most likely go with the Canon 1.4. The 1.8 is too cheap of a build for something I want with me for a long time and the 1.2 is not justifiable for me. The 1.4 is a nice lens. If you are starting out, the 1.8 is a must have lens. Must. Have. A kit lens and a nifty fifty will get you a long way.
The last thing I want to add to this kit are a few Canon extension tubes for shortening the focusing distance of my 85 and the 135. I’d like to get the 12 and the 25 if I can find them in stock.
Oh, rentals? I personally use Aperturent. They have an amazing selection, they are super easy to work with, they don’t require a blood sample and your first born as a deposit, and score for me… they are based in Atlanta so I can just go pick up and drop off with them. They ship nationally as well. Check ’em out.
Some folks on twitter have asked if I have GAS lately. The thing I preach against. Gear. Acquisition. Syndrome. Nope. I’m not doing all of this because I just want new “toys”. I need to do this for the work I currently have on the books and the new work that is starting to pick up from the recent promo pushes. My Nikon gear and my Canon gear were never complete. My Canon stuff was getting allocated to full time product work in the studio. My own bag was diminishing and I was blowing dust off old cameras to act as back ups. Most importantly, I’ve built my camera bag without the use of a single credit card. Piece by piece.
At the end of the day… it’s just gear. Plastic, metal, and glass. Basic tools of the trade. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, Whatever. I can name you a list of amazing Nikon shooters and amazing Canon shooters. We could pixel peep and shoot resolution charts until our eyes bleed. Stuff in my bag may not be right for you and stuff in your bag might not be right for me. What is in my bag is hand picked, highly researched, tried out first, and bought after bills have been paid and I still have the cash to do so.
I hope this has been useful in answering some of the questions that having been coming through the social media channels. I was such a Nikon fan boy a lot of you do seem so surprised that I switched. I am too honestly. I’ve had a few moments wondering if I made the right decision. I need this kit locked down and set and ready to last for awhile. I’m still pursuing digital medium format. That’s still in my future. I’m still researching that front. It is going to be some time until this starts to show up in a bag in my studio though and in the mean time, I have work to do.
Oh, that brings me to another point. A number of people on twitter pointed out to me that Nikon was about to release this or that. Canon was also getting ready to do this or that. Rumor site of the day said that maybe by X time we’d see the next whatev camera. I can’t wait for the next thing right now. There is always a next thing. The thing you are holding now used to be the next thing you were waiting on. The only thing I’m really excited to wait for is the Fuji x200. No idea if they are making it but I sure hope so. Can they make the world’s greatest digital camera even better? I sure hope so!
Can we end this blog post with a big round of applause to the fine folks at ThinkTank Photo? My Airport Security bag pictured above is five years old now. Look at it in 2009 and again in 2011. It’s on its third set of wheels but there’s not a single tear in the fabric or kink in the zippers. It’s the greatest camera bag I’ve ever owned. When I do a post on my new lighting kit I’ll be showing you their Logistics Manager bag. That thing is amazing.
Gear, gear, gear…. Go shoot!
*When Meg read through this she didn’t know what “CYA” meant. It means “Cover Your Ass” in case you didn’t know either.”