Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking A Walk On The Dark Side: Canon vs. Nikon Ergonomics

The Nikon D200, originally a $1,800 camera from 2005 that can be had for around $600 used today.

Recently, I got the opportunity to shot with a Nikon, specifically, a D200, the father of the current D300s. Never having shot with a Nikon dSLR before, I was very eager to give it a try and see exactly what it was like on the other side of the fence, having been a Canon shooter since the day I got into dSLR photography.

Granted, it was a bit of an adjustment, but my, my, was I ever impressed . . .

Nikon Positives

Very comfortable in-hand.
The grip on this thing is absolutely amazing in that it is a very soft, almost sticky rubber that should afford a firm grip even with sweaty hands in the middle of summer.

Great for manual focus.
Until Canon incorporated interchangeable focus screens in its mid-level dSLRs, we could just about forget thinking of manually focusing our lenses. On the other hand, the D200 is just as good as my 45-year old Canon FTQL film camera that was made for such focusing.

Setting lock buttons.
Granted, this isn't a problem for me but it must be for some people as Nikon incorporated setting lock features on the camera to prevent accidental switches during shooting.

Better AF point spread.
The Canon's 9 vs. the Nikon's 11 AF points doesn't seem like much of a difference until you see how they're laid out in the viewfinder. Canon's diamond pattern can make portrait shooting interesting (in a bad way) while the more conventional Nikon grid makes it a snap, or, in this case, a click.

AF assist lamp/built-in intervalometer
All the Nikons have one of these (heck, even my $100 Olympus P&S does) while not a single Canon SLR has since 2002. Instead, Canons with a pop-up flash pop the flash and emit bursts of strobe to act as the AF assist. Besides being ineffective, this will annoy subjects and potentially get you thrown out of a public venue for being a PITA. AS for the intervalometer, Dxx Nikons and up have them while no Canon does.

This is undoubtedly the quietest dSLR I've ever used.

Metering mode button
On Canon, you have to change the metering on the LCD. On Nikon, just turn a button.

External file format control.
On a Canon, if you want to change your file quality settings (RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG), you'll have to dive into menus. On the D200, hit a button and then adjust in the topside LCD screen.

Dedicated ISO, white balance, and drive controls
On mid-level Canons, if you want to adjust these things, you'll have to use the dual function buttons. On Nikon, you have single function buttons for ISO and WB. For drive, it's even better as all you have to do is spin a wheel, which eliminates the need to look at a LCD display altogether.

External image protect button
Again, if you want to protect your image on a Canon, menu-diving is required. On the Nikon, just press a button on the back of the camera.

Better located depth of field preview button
The Nikon's DOF preview is on the right side of the lens mount, which means that you can just move a finger to touch it as you are free to play with the lens using your left hand. On the Canons, this button is on the left side, which means that you have to take your hand off the lens while previewing your DOF.

Yes, the D200 isn't sealed as well as its successor, but it's better than any Canon until you get to the 7D, which costs around $1,500.

Better on-off-light switch
People with a need for speed will appreciate the under the shutter finger location of the D200's on-off switch. In addition, the control for the light on the top LCD is here, too. On the Canon, it's not as conveniently-placed being located nearest the viewfinder chamber.

Nikon Negatives

Aperture rings on old lenses
On the old non-G Nikon mount lenses, the aperture ring has to be stopped down to minimum aperture for the camera to work. Unfortunately when shooting, it's really easy to bump the aperture ring and thus stop the camera from working.

Thread-on port covers
Yes, it's a sturdier design than the Canon flaps, but, since these covers come off the camera, they could be very easy to lose, too.

No quick control dial
Canons have the wonderful, intuitive quick control dial that allows users to blast through menus at near warp speed. Nikon only has a 4-way joystick (Canons have one, too). True, this is a lot better than the set of 4 buttons on lesser cameras, but still not as good as the rear wheel on the Canons.

Focus mode control on front of camera
Maybe Nikon just ran out of space on the back of the camera or maybe the designer came to work with a hangover that day, who knows. Either way, placing a 3-way control in a place where the photographer can't even see it wasn't a good idea.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Yes, I didn't get all that much time to play with the D200 when it came to diving through menus but I did manage to get a good feel for the external part of the camera which does, needless to say, have a lot of great things about it.

Again, this reiterates the wise advice that, when buying the camera, in-hand feel and ergonomics, not just the spec sheet, should play a large part in making the decision. Besides this, when shot in RAW, all cameras are pretty much equal, anyway.

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