My Nikon to Canon Switch: A Tale of Slots and Worst Case Scenarios

My Story
In mid November of 2012 I photographed a high school senior and had the first compact flash card go corrupt on me in years. Prior to that I once had lost a couple of files on a vacation in 2006. That experience had caused me to eventually change what is a horrible practice amongst digital photographers – in camera deletion. In camera deletion and removing cards during write cycles is a common factor in media card corruption. I really thought I had it figured out. I learned the hard way that even if you “do the right thing” when it comes to the care and use of your media cards it’s only a matter of time before one goes supernova on you. If you think it can’t happen to you I’m sad to say that I was in that boat as well. There I was sitting at the computer, sweating it out – trying different card readers, different laptops. The stupid thing would just not mount.

The images were inaccessible.

nikon to canon switch coles classroom

I spent the next three weeks or so in mental anguish over this shoot. I had sent the card off to a data recovery service. It was the one the media card company recommended. Their customer service was less than fantastic. Not only did it cost some bucks to have them work on it, there was a stress factor. I can’t even imagine if it had been a wedding. Eventually they were able to recover enough from the card that I could deliver the session to my client. I had dodged a bullet and learned a valuable lesson.

Up until then I had been a Nikon user. I started with the D70, and except for a brief stint with the odd Nikon mount Fuji S5 Pro my DSLRs had always been Nikon. I had never given switching over any significant thought. I was using a D3 and D700. Like a total moron the D3’s second slot was set to overflow (meaning it didn’t back up the first), and of course the D700 is a single slot camera. I had been eager to upgrade, it had been 4 years since my last camera body purchase and while the D3 and D700 are both very capable cameras I had my eyes on a D3S. Now I promise I’m getting ready to explain why I switched from Nikon to Canon…

This story is less about a brand switch than it is learning from a mistake. If you are doing paid photography work and are not using a dual slot camera where the second slot is set to record duplicate files I’m calling you out. You’re making a mistake. You’re doing disservice to yourself and your clients.  Photographers don’t like to think they are being irresponsible. I’ve had people argue with me about this topic. They use two cameras. They use smaller card sizes and change them a lot. The common argument is that for years there were only single slot cameras available. There are all sorts of excuses and rationalizations I’ve heard from photographers as to why they aren’t outfitted with dual slots yet. Whatever the reason if you do have a card failure I guarantee you that your client will not care about your reasoning – you will just have failed to protect their images.

If you are doing paid photography work and are not using a dual slot camera where the second slot is set to record duplicate files I’m calling you out. You’re making a mistake. You’re doing disservice to yourself and your clients.

Nikon Upgrade Options
At the time this happened all of the Nikon event shooters were up in arms about Nikon’s lack of successor to the D700. Everyone wanted a D700 “S” that had two card slots and the D4 sensor. We would have even settled for that goofy XQD card that the D4 got. Unfortunately Nikon went a different route…

Nikon released the D800, a camera featuring more megapixels then there are episodes of Cops, and the D600 which was a “prosumer” body. The D600 wanted to be the mythical D700s, but it lacked the rugged body, the weather sealing, and a number of other pro features that I had grown very used to shooting my D3/D700 combination. My upgrade choices were the $6000 D4, the D800 whose files needed to be on the Biggest Loser, the D600 whose known issue of sensor oil spots and lack of pro features had me wondering if that was the best choice, or the D3S – the perfect solution (only it had been discontinued)  should I switch to canon from nikon?I began to look at the Canon 5D Mark III compared to my current Nikon line-up and came up with this:

My Nikon vs. Canon Face-off (D3/D700 vs. 5DMK III)
Canon Advantages:
The 5D3 has some big advantages over the D3/D700:
* Better low light capabilities.
* Much, much, much, quieter shutter. The silent mode stays on 100% of the time for us.
* Higher resolution. Now I know earlier I complained about the ridiculous file sizes of the D800 but the difference with the 5D3 is that it has a small, medium, and a large raw file choice. So you can take whatever resolution you like.
* Self cleaning sensor! The D3 didn’t have one, and the D700’s cleaning feature didn’t seem anywhere near as effective.
* Obviously since it doesn’t have a vertical grip built in it’s smaller and lighter weight (unless you add the grip).
* Canon’s 50mm f/1.2L and 135mm f/2L are two lenses I always wanted to use when I shot Nikon, and they are really awesome.

Canon Disadvantages:
* The 5d3 has one CF slot and one SD slot. This is annoying. It forces you to have a mix of media cards. The other thing about it is the SD card slot doesn’t support UHS cards, which are the fastest available. Some websites have gone as far as to actually suggest to not use the second slot at all to prevent speed bottlenecks. Honestly to me this is the worst advice any professional with this camera could take. Two slot cameras are essential in my opinion. My real world experience has taught me to know when the buffer is going to fill and anticipate the fast moments to pace my shots. Is it ideal? No. Would I dream of not using the second slot for backup? No.
*Button layout and ergonomics go to Nikon, but it’s not a major deal. Canon allows you to customize the function of their dials so we quickly changed flipped the roles of their aperture and shutter speed to “Nikonize” our 5Ds.
* Recovering under exposed blacks on the Canon Mark III is a total joke compared to the D3 sensor.
* If you switch brands you have to endure people’s lame “coming over to the dark side jokes.”

I did look hard at the D800 – but even though the camera wasn’t outrageously priced, knowing our shooting style meant we’d be buying a lot of hard drives and possibly needing computer upgrades.  Really of all of these choices (keep in mind I needed 4 cameras for my two person photographer team), the D3S was the perfect event camera. It had everything I loved from the D3, just better in low light. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was “upgrading” to used cameras that had been around since 2009. Used cameras that were going for $3500 each, when for $3500 I could buy a brand new Canon 5DMKIII. So we decided that the best cost effective move for us was a switch.

canon vs nikon coles classroomMaking the Nikon to Canon Switch
The easiest way to switch brands is to first pick a good time to do it. If at all possible you want to do it in the slowest period of time for your business. We did it in 3 phases over the course of a month. Lenses hold their value remarkably well, and I was actually surprised how much we got for our bodies.  In fact, make sure to check back in to the site because my next post will be all about my tips, advice & resources for where you should sell your camera gear and how to get the most money for it all.  

All in all, making a camera brand switch certainly isn’t ideal but at times necessary. Luckily, photography gear holds its value quite well and the cost of us making the Nikon to Canon switch wasn’t nearly as bad as even I first anticipated.

Have you had any memory card issues? It’s not fun and downright scary.  Let me know your story in the comments.
Josh