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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-04-29

Photographer Discusses His Decision To Make 'The Switch'
Florida freelancer switches from Canon to Nikon.

By Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

Preston had a very difficult time getting any sharp pictures of Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson with the Canon Mark III during spring training in Orlando, Florida on March 9, 2008.
"The cover image doesn't look in focus."

My decision to switch camera systems from Canon to Nikon was cemented when I heard those words from an art director. It was a cover shoot of seven executives who are based all across the United States. They gather once a year for their annual convention. It was a simple, four light shoot, with an exposure of 1/250th at f6.3 at 250 ASA. Problem was, I was shooting with a 1D Mark III, Canon's flagship camera.

Initially I thought all the AF issues were blown out of proportion. I had one of the first Mark III cameras in the country and thought that even though the new "AF" wasn't as good as I expected, it surely could not be as bad as the review I read on Rob Galbraith's site. When Canon announced that they would accept early Mark III cameras for the sub mirror fix and firmware update, I sent it in just to make sure. The camera that came back to me was inconsistent, unreliable and just unusable.

I have been a professional photographer for 15 years. I interned at both the Los Angeles Times and Palm Beach Post newspapers. I spent 5 years as a staff photographer for the Sun Sentinel in Ft Lauderdale. Even though the newspaper provided me with a complete set of Nikon equipment (2 N90 bodies, 20-35, 80-200, 50 macro and two flashes) I bought and used my personal Canon gear on all assignments that didn't involve rain or hurricanes.

I have owned and used most EOS series 1 cameras ever made: The EOS 1, EOS 1n, EOS 1V, DCS3, EOS 520, EOS 1D, EOS 1Dm2 and now the Mark III. I have covered all of the major sports (MLB, NHL, NBA, NASCAR, PGA, LPGA) and their championships. I shot over 200 NFL and NCAA football games in my life, including two Super Bowls and five NCAA D1 National Championship games. I know how a professional Canon AF camera is supposed to operate. I was even profiled in Canon EOS Magazine (with the cover story) in March 2000, talking about how amazing the EOS 1V was. I was a total Canon EOS fan boy.

WAS.

Of all the cameras that I have owned, the Canon EOS 1D Mark III is easily the worst performing AF camera.

My photo assignments differ greatly now that I am a full time professional freelancer. I primarily shoot advertising and corporate assignments for companies such as Disney, GM and Pillsbury. I also work for magazines that you have heard of (ESPN, Forbes, Business Week, etc) and many you have never heard of (CIO, CRN, Plan Sponsor, etc). I shoot 80% portrait and lifestyle type photos. My need for a great AF camera is much less than it was when I was a newspaper guy, but when I need it, I expect it to work. I need to know that my $4000 camera is going to do what I need it to do.

Photo by Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

Preston has worked for ESPN The Magazine. Shot with a Canon Mark II digital camera and a 400mm 2.8.
During the early part of Spring Training 2008, I needed to decide for good if I was going to stick with Canon or switch. I tested a few different angles and situations at an Atlanta Braves pre-season game. It was a 1 pm start on a hot sunny day in Florida, and the camera couldn't perform. I was stunned how the focus tracking of the batters running toward me in the first base photo box weren't sharp. My overheads of Tim Hudson pitching weren't sharp anywhere in the frame. Photos of the Braves shortstop backlit (he wasn't moving) wasn't focused. I could no longer "trust" my Mark III.

I could have bought another Canon 5D to replace that camera body and keep all my Canon glass, but that is buying old technology which will soon be replaced. Also, that camera does not have a fast AF mechanism and frame rate for any sports coverage. I thought of getting the 1DSm3, but who knows if that camera has the same AF issues. And, at $8000, I am buying more camera than I want at this point. For a little more money (around $9400) you can get a complete Nikon kit with 2 Nikon D300's, the 3 fast Nikon zooms, and 2 flashes.

The rational choice was to switch to Nikon. Some have called this move extreme, but I think I made the only decision possible. As a freelancer, your reputation is on the line every time you take an assignment. Competition has never been tougher. A ruined shoot or two, you may lose a client forever. When that editor or art director moves on, he or she will remember that time you failed on that job.

Some may say that they cannot afford to do this - I say that if you value your photo career, you cannot afford NOT to do this. You must find a way to make sure your photography talent is not hindered by defective equipment. If you are a full time professional, you should be incorporated and have business credit.

As a corporation, you can lease the gear instead of purchasing it. You can pay $340 a month on a $1 buyout / 3 year lease for almost $10,000 in gear. If you can use "other people's money" and finance your equipment, you should do it. Keep the $10,000 in cash, hire a good accountant and invest the money in your retirement account.

After I got my 1DmIII back for the second time, I was told that Canon has different settings that shooters can set for different lighting conditions. Using these settings, there was an improvement in AF accuracy with my 1DmIII. However, I have a philosophical problem with this...

Photo by Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

Preston has worked for Sports Illustarted. Shot with a Canon EOS IV film camera and a 400mm 2.8 with a 1.4x converter.
Why do I need to think about different custom function settings? I feel that the camera's AF should work great in ALL situations. With my EOS 1V, I never changed settings. With my EOS 1DmII, I never changed settings. Images from those cameras were in focus. On a shoot, I need to think about the lighting, the exposure and connecting with the subject. I do not need to think about the "-7 AF micro adjustment" or the CF settings #2 since it is a bright and sunny day.

The Nikon D3 requires no change in settings when you go from hot sun to an air conditioned room or from an action shoot to portrait job. The camera just works.

The only item that almost kept me from switching was the Canon 24 tilt shift lens. Yes, I am talking about a MANUAL focus lens. My last 3 advertising jobs were architecture/travel jobs that have taken me all across this country and to Hong Kong. That t/s lens and the full frame Canon 5D is a great combination, so I needed to test it against the full frame D3 and the new 24 Perspective Control lens from Nikon.

When I received the box from NPS, I could not be more impressed. The Nikon 24 PC lens has a great manual focus ring. It feels like those old time manual lenses with a smooth focusing feel. It focuses like my Hasselblad glass did. With the big viewfinder of the D3, manual focusing is a breeze. I will be using this combination for my next advertising job in May.

The first shoot I had with my Nikon gear was for Reader's Digest. They were flying me to Alabama for a portrait, so I had to read the manual on the plane ride. I haven't read a camera manual since my original EOS-1, but the menu system in the D300 is so vastly different from anything I have ever used before. Of course, everything was reversed (lenses, zoom ring and control dials all rotated the opposite direction and the exposure meter went the wrong way) and that slowed me down, but I managed. After analyzing the images, I was really impressed with how sharp the zooms are. I have always heard that the Nikon glass was better, but now I am know first hand.

The new Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 zoom has opened up a new world for me. I have never had a rectilinear 14mm lens on a full frame body before, and it really is amazing. I also cannot believe that lens so wide can be so sharp wide open. It is a very special everyday zoom lens, not just a specialty prime lens you need to throw on your camera. The only thing that concerns me is the front element of this zoom is huge and cannot take a filter. So, there will be no polarizer, ND or UV filter to help protect the front element.

Photo by

Preston was profiled in Canon EOS Magazine (with the cover story) in March 2000, talking about how amazing the EOS 1V was.
The 24-70 f2.8 zoom will probably be my "main" lens. For my Canon jobs, I would try to switch out to prime lenses during portrait shoots because the Canon 24-70 is mushy in the 50 mm range, but the Nikon 24-70 is sharp - plenty sharp for portraiture. The Nikon 70-200 VR 2.8 is probably the sharpest zoom lens that I have ever used. The majority of my RD assignment was shot with this lens, at all focal lengths. I haven't had images that sharp since film.

Another improvement is the Nikon strobes. Canon strobes have always lagged behind Nikon's, and this is still true. I shot one wedding for my wife's business and we were able to compare the Canon 5D/580 EX combo against the D300/SB800 combo. The Nikon results were much more reliable and consistent. I rarely use on camera flash, so this isn't a major concern, but is worth noting.

I will not bore you with my detailed analysis of the D300 or D3. You all have heard how the high ISO images look great. TRUE. You have all heard how the AF is fast and reliable. TRUE. A few things that are not mentioned are the in-camera functions you can do. You can activate "D lighting" to any images you have shot, and it will reduce the contrast in an image and re save it as another file. You can also remove redeye in camera. You can also shoot it in low ISO (100 ASA and 160 ASA) and it records the image in low contrast. That is especially helpful when you have to shoot midday on a hot Florida day. The Capture NX raw converter is amazing. The level of control you have in program is unbelievable.

When I was having my Canon "fire sale" on SportsShooter.com, many photographers emailed me asking if I switched and what my impressions of the new Nikon gear was. For me, I switched because the timing was right. Canon's flagship has a major defect, my EOS lenses were starting to show some age and more importantly, Nikon released a pair of the best digital SLRs ever made, the D300 and the D3. I could not be happier with them - it was not an easy to switch, but a necessary business decision.

(Author's Note: I would like to thank Canon rep Chuckie Luzier who tried everything to help me out. In the end, the camera has a design flaw that Canon is not admitting to and that is something that no rep can fix. I would like to thank Bill Fortney and Bill Pekala of Nikon for helping me switch and making sure I have everything I need. I bought all of my gear from Robert's Imaging in Indianapolis. Jody and Christie are always great to deal with. )


(Preston Mack is a freelance photographer based in Central Florida. You can view his work on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/pmack and at his personal website: http://www.pmack.com.)


Related Links:
Preston's member page

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