Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nikon No More or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Canon

Brown Pelican photographed with the new rig. All photos in this post are cropped but have had nothing else edited. Apologies in advance for all the camera speak that is about to occur. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.

For years, I have been living life as a minority. No, not as a lonely half Korean half Welsh intergrade (are you out there HKHWs?), I mean I'm a birder who uses Nikon camera gear. Most birders use Canon, it is known. But I was not about to fall in line...for years I withstood the microaggressions, the slights, the taunts, the outright persecution.

And now it has come to this. I have jumped ship. I am a defector.

I recently switched from a Nikon D7200/Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR ED lens to the Canon 90D (their new APS-C body) and the extremely popular 100-400mm IS II USM lens. Why?

It wasn't the hostility from other nerds that got to me. In fact, I have had repeated problems with my Nikon gear over the years. For example, my most recent Nikkor lens performed very well at first, but by this time last year it was no longer to able to produce sharp images of objects at just a moderate distance away. It was all but impossible to get a tack sharp image of a bird in flight unless it was very close - and this was not a result of dirty lens or camera contacts either. I tolerated this unhappy situation for too long, and perhaps some kind of calibration may have helped...but when I did the ultimate dumbass move and dropped my shit on a sidewalk, Nikon refused to fix the lens because it was a gray market product. I had never even heard of the gray market (in this case, that means it was not supposed to be sold in the U.S., it was made for other markets), and this information is buried in their website. Around this same time is when the D7200 died while birding in Belize, when it was only 6 months old...I have had other previous problems and enough was enough, I was not going to give them my business any longer.

Since all that BS went down I have spent almost a year of using my ancient 80-400mm backup lens. It has been collecting dust for years but can still produce great images and had great sharpness with distant objects, much unlike my much newer, more expensive lens that was failing me even before it kissed the pavement.

Double-crested Cormorants at Lake Merritt.

But I could only deal with that setup for so long...the backup lens has an agonizingly slow autofocus and the D7200 had proved untrustworthy. Now, I am a Canon man. I'm ready to be sponsored, lets make a deal Canon, I'm your guy. Better hurry and set something up with me while I'm still in the honeymoon phase.

A few initial impressions, as a fresh Canon convert:

Regarding the gray market, from my "research" it seems that the Canon service department will fix Canon stuff no matter what, gray market items just are not covered by their warranty. In contrast, Nikon has tried to make it very difficult for independent operators to service Nikon equipment (whether a warranty is supposed to be in effect or not), and they won't service any of your gray market items at all.

There is almost little to say about the 100-400mm II lens. It is fantastic. Fast autofocus, great images, and definitely a closer minimum focusing distance than its Nikon counterpart. It also feels extremely well built and will hopefully be sturdier in the long run. So far it performs AS ADVERTISED and I can see why it is so popular with birders.

Ring-billed Gull at Lake Merritt.

I do have a bit more to say about the 90D. Having used nothing but Nikon before, it took a while to get used to the physical setup of a Canon DSLR, things are just arranged differently. No strong feelings about the differences yet but I do miss how easy it was to change focus points on the Nikon while shooting, though I know with the 90D you can "reassign" certain tasks in the menu so I can potentially do a lot of customization.

The battery life was better in the Nikon D7200, the D7000, and even the D90 (that's right, not the Canon 90D, the Nikon D90...real original naming schemes these companies have). It seems considerably better in the Nikons in fact. Oh well.

While learning the camera, for a good little while I thought I was just slow catching up to Canon menus, but after a bit of digging I discovered that getting the best performance out of the 90D is not really intuitive for anybody, even for very experienced Canon users. However, there is some great content on Youtube about this camera, if anyone gets a 90D I highly recommend checking out all the content Michael The Maven has made for it - good stuff and usually explained in a straightforward manner at a reasonable pace. He also made a FB group specifically for Canon 90D users, which is also informative and people are usually civil. I don't agree with all of his advice about what settings to use but even so he has put out a lot of helpful material.

Western Gulls at Lake Merritt.

Now that I know a little bit about the camera and what settings are good to play with, I've got to say I like it so far. The focus tracking is excellent, and the photos I've taken so far require no sharpening outside of the camera, even when objects are far and a lot of cropping is involved.

My first impression was that noise was more of an issue at higher ISOs in the 90D than the D7200, but I am becoming less convinced of that as I have gotten to shoot more in less than ideal conditions. In any case, I'm not dying of a grain overdose.

ISO range is more heavily customizable in the D7200, which is better in theory...but I feel like the 90D sensor may actually be smarter/better, and when using auto ISO the camera is not so quick to jump to a high ISO when it is not actually necessary. I would say the Nikon options for this are better, but the execution (which is what counts) seems to be in the 90D's favor.

A Glaucous-winged Gull at Lake Merritt.

The insane frame rate the 90D has is something I'm still adjusting to. The shutter is also more sensitive - this means that I'm often shooting 2 or 3 shots at a time involuntarily. Not a big deal, I'll get use to perfecting the light touch.

What else...oh yeah having a touch screen on a DSLR is just crazy to me. When I first got the camera I forgot the LCD display was a touch screen and wondering why navigating the various menus was so weird. It was a geri moment. Speaking of geri, I also failed to wirelessly upload photos to my embarrassing. The camera does not come with a USB cord for image upload (lame) but luckily I found one that works lying around. At least I can get the camera to upload files to my phone without much difficulty.

Ok, that's a good start I think. It's not like I'm a photographer, right? The new Canon goods were a great way to ring in 1,000 blog posts, and I feel like it really has made crushing a lot easier even though I'm using the same focal length I have for years.

Female Canvasback at Lake Merritt.

Male Canvasback at Lake Merritt. I miss hanging out at the lake and all its tame birds, but the Oakland the Nikon days...have come and gone.

One of the best birds to show up in Santa Clara County this fall was this Plumbeous Vireo at Charleston Marsh in Mountain View. This was a county bird for me and the first one I'd ever seen in northern CA. Luckily finding the bird was less difficult than figuring out where to park.

I was surprised at how well the new setup tracked the bird as it foraged in a pine. The vast majority of the shots I took had the bird nice and sharp, even though lighting was not ideal, it was moving around a lot, and of course there were constantly sticks and pine needles in front of it.

Acorn Woodpecker in dreary conditions at Guadalupe Oak Grove County Park in San Jose. I do like how the roof tiles look in this one. 

Belted Kingfisher at the Los Capitancillos Ponds in San Jose. This one is much more heavily cropped than the other pics in this post. Looks good from here.

Bewick's Wren at Rancho de Bastardos, not heavily cropped.

And here we are, at the dawn of The Canon Era. Hopefully Canon will be more dependable for me than Nikon was. At this early point in our fresh relationship, I not only feel resolution with a long conflict, but a sense of absolution as well. I'm optimistic that my camera-related grievances will be minimal for a good stretch, which will be quite the about face from the past several years.

If you're still reading this camera heavy post, thanks for bearing with me. Soon we will be back to your regularly scheduled blogging, bashing some birders, reppin the radius, maybe finding some vanguards, and chronicling my tireless journey to find other HKHWs.


  1. Great post, thank you. Funny, I was thinking about doing the opposite. Speaking to a professional bird photographer recently and he, after using Canon for 20 years, is going Nikon. He says that after being behind for some time, Nikon has recently surpassed Canon in both sensor technology and autofocus. I'm just going to try not to break my stuff and give it a bit more time to sort out. There's also the mirrorless option.

    I have enjoyed my Canon gear, which is the 7d MkII and 400mm/f5.6 prime.

    1. Hmmm...if true, that is for stuff well out of my price range! Durability has been my main problem with Nikon (other shit has happened besides what I mentioned above). I strongly considered the 7DII but the 90D pretty much matches its awesome frame rate, has a new sensor, and the price was right compared to a body that has been out for quite a while.

      The mirrorless revolution is intriguing but I think it will be a while before I jump on the bandwagon.

  2. Glad you're liking the new setup! Hope you got an extra battery or two for February. Does your computer not have an SD card slot? Or a related dongle? I think my camera is capable of wirelessly uploading photos but I've never tried it.

    1. I don't have an extra. I will just use yours. Thank you.

      It does have a reader, but I have been conditioned to not use it so I forgot about it! One of my Nikon bodies had a fucked up card reader so I was always terrified of taking the card out of the camera. Another typical Nikon experience. I should get over my trauma and start using the slot, haha.

    2. THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID. Also yeah I forgot that was an option till my old laptop's USB port quit functioning.