Since the Switch

In GEAR, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons by David83 Comments

Shooting portraits in the desert on the shores of Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya with a Nikon D3s, 300/2.8 VR II, and Gitzo Ocean Traveler. Photo Credit: Corwin Hiebert.

As many of you already know, my transition to Nikon happened much faster than I anticipated. I got a lot of curious emails and tweets about The Switch, but very little of the rabid fan-boy nonsense I worried I might get. Late last year I got two new Nikons, and last month sold all my Canon gear, sending it to good homes from Vancouver to Utah to Malaysia. I am now shooting Nikon only, with the exception of the Canon 5D and 17-40 lens still sitting in an Aquatech housing for underwater work.

Initially I took the cameras to New Zealand, loved working with them, and now, coming off an almost 4-week African adventure, I thought I’d finally give in to the questions about how I’m liking the new gear.

My first reaction surprised me, though it shouldn’t. I love, love the new gear. But now that I’ve shot with the best that Canon and Nikon offer I can honestly say I care even less than I once did about the brand wars. No brand will make you a better photographer, nor will the new Nikon D4x II or Canon 1Ds Mk XXI. You do that. Through long years and humble work and seeking good critical voices to listen to. So if I get even one question about whether my photographs are better now I swear I’ll publicly wrestle you to the ground and make you wear the Cone of Shame.

What do I love about the two Nikon D3s bodies I’m shooting with? They fit me better. I just like the way we work together. Buttons are where they belong for me. The shutter, and the rest of the camera feels more solid. It’s weighted in a way that I like. The low-light noise is amazing. They focus beautifully most of the time and when they don’t it seems simply to be the slightly slower Sigma lenses I’m using. But put the Nikon 300/2.8 VR II on there and wow! These bodies performed incredibly in the most gruelling conditions I’ve ever shot in, taking daily abuse in temperatures of up to 45C/113F and never failing after 2 weeks of brutal off-road bouncing around in bags with little padding. The sensors on both are pretty dusty right now, but that’s not their fault; it’s a mix of Sigma lenses that don’t seal at the body, and my too-casual attitude about tools being tools. I switched lenses more and was slower to put the cameras in bags this trip.

What else do I love? The same thing I’d have loved if this switch were from Nikon to Canon: the forced change of my creative process. Suddenly I’m having to think about my tools again and where I once might have chosen a series of settings out of habit, I’m forced, through unfamiliarity, to be very intentional about things. The discovery is a lot of fun and I think when you re-inject fun into your process you give the muse some room to dance.

Do I miss anything? Sure. I loved Canon’s big scroll-wheel on the back. I miss knowing where everything is without thinking. I miss my 85/1.2 lens. But really, no. A camera’s a camera and while I like working with these D3s bodies a whole lot, I’d be crazy if I told you they were “revolutionizing my photography” or finally allowing me to “shoot like a pro.” Ugh. Was it worth the switch? That’s a tough one to answer. For me, it was, but those reasons are unrelated to whether the cameras make better photographs. If that’s why you’re switching, save your money and spend your time making more photographs.

And what about Sigma? Sigmas lenses continue to surprise me. For the money, they perform beautifully. Yes, the 70-200/2.8 feels slower at times, and they don’t seal at the body like most of my Canon L lenses did. But their 85/1.4 and 20/1.8, for example, are sharp and create beautiful photographs. I got on board with Sigma because I like the idea of making photographs with a stable of lenses that are a little more financially accessible to the people I teach. And, to be honest, I’m a little tired of the whole “Well, sure, I could make great photographs if I had the new Nikon/Canon 10-200/2.0 VR III” nonsense. Work with what you have. Sigma, so far, has not let me down. Weirdly, I’ve had f/0 or f/92 show up as my f/stop a couple times but I think that’s just filthy contacts. Once the cameras and lenses are cleaned I’ll keep you posted.

Yes, there are cameras that allow us to meet client needs better, and some cameras are faster than others, so pragmatically one may be better than another for one person or one need, but I’m hoping we’re all becoming a little more savvy about the brand wars, a little more aware we’re being manipulated. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: photographs matter, brands don’t. I’d happily go back to Canon and keep photographing beauty as I see it. Right now I’m liking the Nikons, but folks, I’ve got a used D200 coming from a friend and I plan to use it to make beautiful photographs too and I’ll bet the farm no one looks at those photographs and says “Well I could make images like that too if I had a fancy obsolete D200.” It just ain’t the tools. So if you’re relying on a different brand, newer and shinier body, another fancy lens, or an HDR tutorial, you’re looking in the wrong place.


  1. Hey David. Yeah, I don’t really like the ball head that comes with it. I’ve been considering between 3 ballheads. Markin Q3, BH-30 Pro II and BH-25 Pro. The Markin Q3 seems overly big for this tripod. The BH-25 seems perfect for its size but I’m not sure if its strong enough. Do you have any issues fitting the BH-30 into the Gitzo Bag?

  2. Author

    Hi Darren. Thank you. The ocean traveler comes with a dinky little stainless ballhead. I removed that and put a medium Really Right Stuff head on. It’s a little big and I think i’d try a smaller one if it’s important for it all to fold up neatly, but for my needs it’s fine. And it’s a great head.

  3. Hey David! Since you have changed from Canon to Nikon, have you found that one camera works better or worse in certain situations compared to the other camera, or have you found any pro’s or con’s about the 2 cameras?

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  5. Great post, David. As a long time Pentax / Sigma shooter I’ve always felt a bit out of the mainstream. I may not be on the bleeding edge of development but it is nice just to concentrate on shooting and say out of the Canikon religious wars. Start with good gear and the rest is up to the photographer. Amen.

  6. Good article David. I also switched from canon to a D3S last year, and what you wrote is exactly right.

    purchasing another frying pan never made anyone a better cook.

  7. Geir, unless you have specific client concerns, it seems to me that you are the only one that cam answer this. Ultimately there are many levels if quality. For one person an iPhone is plenty, for another nothing less that a 40mpixel Hasselblad will suffice. An upgrade will get you bigger and sharper and faster, but not necessarily better.

  8. Interesting thoughts, but I have a question: is there a lower limit on quality. I ask because I am an Olympus E3 user, and tire of all the horse laughter around me and feel I’m riding an old beast destined for the slaughter house. The whole process of switching to anything at all beats me, but I worry that me and my old horse will be left behind when all you mustangs ride into the golden sunset of top gear.

  9. If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura. Nobuyoshi Araki

  10. I have been Nikon all my life & my brother has been Canon, we enjoy the brand banter but our shots are totally a reflection of our skill, creativity, vision, and environment, David try the Nikon 85mm f1.4, old version or recent new one, great lens.

  11. David- Great post. It really isn’t about the gear, as much as experimenting with any number of tools that help with what you want to express. For me, it’s medium format, digital and 35mm. Ignore the blather from people who want to give the 125% solution, and just get to shooting. Fantastic service that your providing to all of us, regardless of intent and experience. Bravo Zulu!!

  12. I have maintained all along it is the photographer not the equipment that matters.
    I truly believe that cameras are like cars, they all perform the same basic function and equipment choices are made based on what feel good in your hands.

  13. MichaelG, thanks for doing the math on my behalf but the only role that tripod was playing was taking the weight of my arms. I wasn’t looking for any more than a little support, and this rig did that just fine. I’ve got a pretty good sense for these things and the tripod i usually use is much, much bigger. Still, thanks for the warning.

  14. I was happily using Nikon equipment until I began seeing images taken with Canon’s MP-E65mm macro lens. With its 1 – 5x magnification – no other lens was quite like it. After two years of having it gnaw on my mind, I finally switched systems.
    For some subjects, the system brand does matter…

  15. David,
    You always strike a chord with me. I am beginning to think you are a physic phemomenon. I have always shot with Nikon and have a small stable of lens which I have built up over the past few years. Recently I was looking at adding some top Nikon Zooms and was completely turned off by the price. How can I justify that, as all I want to do more than equipment purchase is to shoot. The Sigma info is appreciated and gives me an alternative. In regards to the D200. I still shoot with mine as a backup and make some excellent images. I am convinced it is all about the eye and determination.


  16. David,

    I couldn’t agree more with you in regards to relying on your eye to make the photographs. Some of the most poignant images I’ve ever laid eyes on are those made during WWII, many of which had negs developed in toilets due to the lack of running water in the urban combat environment overseas. There is so much power in those images, not just because of the sacrifice those artists made, but because it wasn’t about the gear and all about the powerful message sent to future humanity. Stay safe.

    Best Regards,

    Doug van Kampen

  17. Nikon f5s are so cheap now as well. around $300 Better yet you get the beautiful colors of film:)

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  19. David, since you don’t care that much about equipment, why did you do it anyway? I mean why did you go through all this trouble of selling your old gear (and it is difficult because who would buy very used gear from professional photog.), buying a new set of gear, and getting used to it?

  20. Hey David

    Great article….I am a Nikon shooter too, but you’re right, the camera doesn’t matter the photographer does. Glad you are enjoying the new shooting experience though…the images look great!

  21. Glad you haven’t changed your tune, David. ;c) Gear is still just gear. In any case, thanks for your honesty on assessing the new gear you’re using. Happy travels! :c)

  22. Time and time again, I have talked about the canon verses nikon nonsense with a couple of co-workers that are rabid fans of one or the other. I interchange between the two brands all the time, mostly because of the lens selection I have for one or the other. Don’t care who makes it as long as it works.

    Nice to hear someone else that isn’t brand specific and believes that camera’s are tools, not creative gods. 🙂

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  24. If you want your Sigma lenses to seal go to a bike shop, get an inner for a large mountain bike (sand bike even) tire (might be special order) and you slice the tube into a little 1″ round and slip it over the back of the lens. It’s not perfect but it will form a curtain around the bayonet mount when the lens is on the body. If you want a real gasket installed get the service manual for a lens and take it to a to a tool and die maker and have them remove the flange, machine a trough into the flange, install an O-ring and re-assemble the lens.

  25. Well written David. Tottaly agree with you. I am also one of those who used both systems. Doesn’t matter which one I use now, I also had to adopt to new buttons, but that put me back to basics, to learn what I wanted with image and find right buttons. Each system is good, but GOOD images you can make only by knowing your gear and use it. Not just sit at home and read articles about noise comaprisment etc..
    I constantly get emails from my readers, going like this:
    “hey, can you tell me, what equipment you use? I wan’t to make great pohotos like you too”. 🙂 Well… they never learn.
    Also another thing about this “gear” stuff. People always wait for new release of body, new lens, so they wait and wait, to buy the lates. Recently there was fuss about D700 and it’s successor and I know a few friends, that still wait for it for more than 2 years. I didn’t wait, I bought what I wanted and went shooting. In this period of time (2 years) I doubled my income and already “refunded” invested money.

    I really like your ideas, opinions and am following this blog regullary. It’s just, that I don’t comment much, But thet does not mean, I don’t like your blog. Keep up the good work.

  26. I agree-it’s what you do with it that makes the difference although I do appreciate immensely the review!
    And, I have a stupid question to ask knowing that you are too busy to answer. Worth the shot. I have a Sigma macro lens for my Nikon D200. I can no longer get it to work (error message I don’t understand). It doesn’t have enough miles on it to warrant the misbehavior. It must be me, but I don’t know what I’m not doing! I can’t find contact info for Sigma to ask for help. No instruction book to trouble shoot with. No dealer here to go to.
    Appreciate any contact info you can put out there.
    I love you blog-your images and writings. This is the only time I ask this kind of question!

  27. While looking at the opening image, I got a nagging feeling something was not quite right. A quick check of the weight of your gear (D3s+300/2.8+ battery, cards, strap, etc..) indicates all of that stuff weighs in at about 9.5 pounds (Yikes!), plus you seem to be using the setup to steady your own balance by adding more weight. Beware… the max load rating of the tripod is 8.8 pounds. If you get distracted, you could easily find yourself trying to explain how you managed to plop everything (say, $13,000 worth of gear) upside down into a rice paddy, sand pile, or worse… (Yikes…. Yikes!). Fair warning and cheers… M

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  29. Now that you’ve lived with the C to N switch for a while, may I ask if your pp workflow has changrd? “Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom” lays out some very detailed steps using Canon examples. Has your Nikon work lead you to re-think any specifics?

  30. Hah! I bet I can take better picture with a new PhaseOne IQ180 😉 Anyway, a good post to remind us that the eye behind the viewfinder is more important than the camera!..though it’ll be nice to have bigger viewfinder….

  31. “I’m hoping we’re all becoming a little more savvy about the brand wars, a little more aware we’re being manipulated. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: photographs matter, brands don’t.” – the debate goes on and, apparently, always will.

  32. Are your photographs are better now that you switched?

    JK JK.. no no.. please don’t wrestle me to the ground and make me wear the Cone of Shame.

  33. Hello David,

    I’m one of the lurkers on your website, trying to get my two cents in whenever I have the opportunity. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts about your switch. This is personally interesting to me, because I get asked so many times by friends and acquaintances as to what is the best SLR camera in the market. I sometimes get snarky and humorously answer: “it’s the one you can afford!!”

    I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with the D200 and the D700 and I get my share of nikon envy (power button placement, intuitive focusing), but as you’ve mentioned…I can still get the same results no matter what camera I use (and I make the same mistakes too!!).

    With that said, I’m glad to read about your update, David! Thanks for sharing…now, only if it was economical to own two brands, and a plethora of lenses, wouldn’t that just be sweet??? 🙂

  34. Hey David, enjoyed the article, very well put. I often am asked why I shoot with Nikon and simply it’s what I started out with. Personally I do like the way Nikon lays out it’s buttons and menu system. But when it comes down to creating the image all that doesn’t matter.

    BTW, still have my D200 on standby, it’s the backup to my backup.


  35. Welcome back! Great post…follow up question…

    Dropping all brands from the answer (and repeating what dps asked a few days ago) if you could take only one lens out with you, what would it be and why?

    Would it be the 85 1.2? I’m sure that there would be a great deal of wisdom packed into that answer!

  36. Glad to hear you talk about the experience of changing gear in an intelligent way. The process of “discovery” you mention is great.

    Oh and, LOL @ “So if I get even one question about whether my photographs are better now I swear I’ll publicly wrestle you to the ground and make you wear the Cone of Shame.”

  37. I am very impressed.
    I am ‘older’ but new to blogging and photograpy.. when I look at your blog I see yet again how much I have to learn, anni

  38. I read this post with a grin – thank you for that. And I think you scared the brand fanboys away a long time ago.

    But calling my fancy D200 obsolete hurt my precious 😉 This little gem can do more than I will ever be able to get out of her.

  39. Really nice post, but I’m too eager to see some public wrestling and a cone of shame not to ask…

    Are your photographs any better now that you’ve switched to Pentax?

  40. I had no idea you made the brand switch. May I ask why?
    I’m planning a blog article (or several) about making the right choices when choosing a brand, and it would be great to have some input.
    If it gets too big for the comments, send me an e-mail. Thanks!

  41. Hi David!

    Since you have more clout in the photography arena than most people following your blog, I would like to know if you have had a chance to look into conflict minerals? This issue was brought to my awareness by the Enough Project, who have listed a bunch of manufacturers who utilize materials obtained from the Congo, where the most brutal conflict in the world is currently going on.
    I have already sent a bunch of emails to Canon (who are not really big on certifying their supply chains) and Nikon and Sigma too, but no one has answered me yet.

    What’s your take on this?



  42. While I am primarily a large format photographer, I have a love for Nikon, which I use when I need a small camera. I’ve been a Nikon user since the very beginning, starting with a Nikon F2 and moving up the Nikon F6 that I now use. I can’t see parting with the F6 for any reason.

  43. “Fancy obsolete D200” … Awesome, hehe. My switch to Canon a few years back was mostly for the same reason: Canon just felt right. Although I do like the sound of a Nikon shutter, lol. 🙂

  44. Great post, David. I’m thinking on buying a 70-200 2.8 lens and the Sigma is in my list. Can you elaborate a little bit more on your experience with the lens so far?

  45. David – is the Sigma lens you mention this one:

    Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX DG OS HSM

    I’m looking for a 70-200 and whilst I’d love the Canon one its twice the price of the Sigma.

  46. Author

    Bruce – I love the Ocean Traveler. It’s light and durable and easy to dry and clean. It’s very small and these days I prefer a bigger tripod, but for travel and assignment work when I’m not doing a lot of longer exposures, it’s a great tripod. The big question is, do you need the stainless steel and corrosion resistance. Lovely tripod, very sexy, but all that stainless steel and carbon fiber is incredibly expensive.

  47. I have to agree with you about Sigma David. I’ve been using them for years. I’ve had 2 70-200 2.8 (one was stolen) and played with the 30 1.4 24 1.8 and 20 1.8. In my experiences, their lenses are sharp, and for the price they are great, but their contacts do get a bit dirty, and weird things happen. They also generally focus slower, and not as precise as their Nikon and Canon counterparts, but does that make them bad, or not worth the money? Personally, not at all. They are great tools for the average user. 95 percent of the population would never have a problem with them, and be happier with them than they are with their more expensive, slower, mega zooms. If Sigma started sealing their lenses I would rarely consider a Nikon a must have lens, but they just dont quite have the perfection that a nice Nikon piece of glass does, or the low light lock focus. But again, that really shouldnt be a deterrent. I;’ve had mine in africa and central america and never did i miss something.

    Everyone wondering about them, if you are considering them, go for it, its a solid company doing cool stuff

  48. Hi David-
    I enjoyed reading your post. I have one lens (CannonL 24-105) for now and it serves me pretty good. But, yes, I wish I had a couple more lens choices. It’s good to hear from you again and about your opinion about tools.
    Hope you consider visitng West TX on your grand American tour!

  49. Hey, David… groovy snapshot of your initial impressions of Nikon and Sigma gear. I use the Sigma 105/f2.8 and the Sigma 70-200/f.8 and have been quite happy with them. My cameras are Sony so I also have a Sony Zeiss that I love using the most and a Minolta 50/1.4 that is absurdly sharp.

    The issue with seals is an important one and I’m glad you comment on it. No one ‘wants a dirty sensor’ and this is where ‘you get what you pay for’ does make a difference.

    You also point out that Nikon really has taken serious getting maximum image quality from low-light and that is something I hear time and time again from Nikon users.

    I am curious what you think of the Gitzo Ocean Traveller. What are its strengths/weaknesses?

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  51. I am so happy that you didn’t get into the brand wars with this one, I find it really frustrating and just wish people would focus on the craft and not the gear.
    I have some fantastic images from my old Canon Digital Rebel (the original) and have always felt that the knowledge of creating the image is more important than the branding on the equipment.
    Enjoy the last day in Nairobi, makes me smile when I think of that city. Lots of friends and fantastic memories, hopinh to revisit in the next 18 months, maybe even go for the migration.


  52. The only time I had f/00 show up on my display was seconds before I dropped my 2-day old 24-70 lens off the camera onto the rocks in a river.

  53. Hi David,

    I’ve been lurking on your site for quite a good while now and I’ve learnt a ton from your books!!! Thanks ever so much for your teachings, I just find them totally invaluable!

    I’ve recently shot some pictures for my hubby’s hotel and they liked them so much that they’ve put them on their website. One of my friends just asked me what gear I was using for those images. I’m the total outcast here, because I’m shooting with Olympus 🙂 He was really stunned and said I was doing really well considering the lower-end camera and lenses I currently own. I was smiling inside big time when I read his message and in my reply kindly referred him to your website for some studying 😉

    Great photographs are just great photographs and doesn’t matter if they were shot on a certain brand. I don’t think anybody could ever tell that anyway… oh, this picture was surely taken with XYZ brand.

    I guess I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this post about The Switch 🙂

    Looking forward to see some more of your beautiful photographs 🙂

    Best wishes,


  54. I have shot both systems over the past six years and all I have to say is AMEN! Tools are tools… Talent is talent. Thanks for the insight on your switch in systems.

  55. Now, if you switched to a D50, that really would revolutionise your photography and help you capture true beauty! 😉

    Silliness aside, it’s great to have you blogging again.

  56. Good to see a post from you Dave, and glad the Nikon gear is working out. Appreciate the continued inspiration in the words and advice. We need to hear it in a world that tells us more is better!

  57. Not the “Cone of Shame!”
    Always love to look at your photographs, never looked at the brand of camera you use. Was I supposed to?
    Thanks for sharing your visions!

  58. Author

    Ian – I haven’t, though I’ve got the Sigma EX 85/1.4 and it’s fantastic. But nothing is quite the same as that 85/1.2L – pure magic when you get it right.

  59. Great post. I have one sigma lens and it’s an amazing lens. I do also get the 0 -92 fstop thing which is a common problem, but nothing that a remount won’t fix.

    the D200 is a beautiful camera and I know you will have fun w/ it.

    Cheers David, thanks for the post-

  60. Glad you’ve enjoyed your trip! Mostly glad though, that by making the switch you seem to have a little tiny part of you that seemed a little lost. Probably a combination of the Trip with Jessie and now using gear that is forcing you to learn something new, but your “voice” as much as it can be in a blog post, sounds rejuvinated 🙂

    And I’ll look forward to hearing some more thoughts on the sigma lenses. I’ve contemplated this for a little while and have recently heard some really great things about them. Even that they are a little lighter, which is not such a bad thing, when your toting them around all day 🙂

  61. I’ve shot an f/0 lens only once, but didn’t like it. Too hard to keep the lead eye in focus. Now, an f/92! That’s the new Sigma virtual reality lens right?

    Have a safe trip home David.

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