Steven Christenson is a long time Canon user who recently also added a Nikon D600 to his stable of camera bodies. The thought behind adding a Nikon was to get a higher performing body than his Canon 5D Mark II *and* subject himself to Nikonology so that he can be more effective at teaching workshops. Workshop participants tote many brands of cameras, the dominant brands being Canon and Nikon. As an additional side benefit Steven can now tease himself about owning a lesser camera. 🙂
Steven does NOT believe that a Nikon is automatically a lesser camera nor that a Macintosh is a computer substitute – these are things he says just to spark friendly conversation.
Previously Steven – a Canonite, and Eric Harness – a Nikonian have swapped cameras for a spell to encourage cross-education. It seemed time to bite the sensor – so to speak – and not rely on using Eric’s equipment. Steven is using the Nikon D600 with (and without) a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 manual focus lens for night photography and astrophotography. Steven took both the Nikon D600 and the Canon 5D Mark II on a 3-week tour of Europe which provided plenty of time to form conclusions about the operational differences between the cameras. As a result of his experiences learning and using the Nikon he presents his top issues and keeps score to decide which brand is better from an ease of use point of view.
fEE – An Aggravating Error
Right out of the bag, literally, things went poorly for the new Nikon. With the new lens mounted backward* on the Nikon body all of Steven’s attempts to take pictures were met with fEE. You may be thinking, yeah, but didn’t you just say he mounted it backward? Well, no, Since childhood he’s learned that “righty-tighty, and lefty-loosey” define how one tightens and loosens things. But the Nikon is reversed. To attach the lens you rotate it LEFT, not right. Ok, so if the problem wasn’t the backward rotation of the lens to mount it, what was it? It turns out, that the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens *is* able to have the camera control the aperture BUT you *must* set the lens to f/22 or the fEE error results. It’s not optional. This seems ludicrous. When he puts a manual focus / manually controlled aperture lens on a Canon it all works just fine, that is, in the Canon metering works just fine. Why Nikon insists on messing with the aperture on a manual lens is troublesome. This behavior sabotages one trick that time-lapse photographers use to prevent the camera from random fluctuations of the iris (and coincidentally needless mechanical wear). Left to the camera slight changes in the aperture result in visible flicker. Timelapsers, therefore, use the “depth of field” preview button and then slightly twist the lens to disconnect the electrical contacts thus preventing the camera from monkeying with the aperture. Since the Nikon control of the lens is mechanical, not electrical, it’s not clear if there is a clean way to keep the Nikon from messing with the manual aperture control on the lens. We are adding a point to Canon’s score for more sensible behavior.
Score : Canon 1, Nikon 0
There was another problem, too. After mounting the Rokinon on the Nikon, it was impossible to focus at infinity. Checking the diopter controls, the security of the lens mount, etc. resulted in no joy. Since both lens and camera were a gift, Steven worried that he’d have to tell his wife that something was broken. Indeed, something is “broken” but exactly what is not clear BECAUSE when he turned ON the Nikon, it suddenly became possible to manually focus the lens at infinity. Remember this is a MANUAL focus lens! Steven regularly sets up his Canon and pre-focuses with the camera turned off. His initial thought was that the Nikon hadn’t pulled the aperture open… but the view didn’t become brighter when the camera was turned on so something else odd is going on. What? Don’t know, and it’s an intermittent issue. Canon gets another point for not having this bizarre behavior.
Score: Canon 2, Nikon 0
Viewfinder = Confusion
The next headbanger came when Steven tried to actually shoot with the camera. The viewfinder was filled with all the content intended but the shot was far different from the view in the viewfinder. How different? Well there was about 30% more in the view than appeared in the shot. Unfortunately this unexpected twist meant that Steven’s first night shots of the sky over Santorini were unstitchable due to insufficient overlap. Do you know what the problem is?
Steven couldn’t figure this one out, though weeks later he pleaded with Eric for help and Eric resolved the problem! Here is a clue: the image size was also much smaller than expected: 3936×2624 pixels rather than 6016×4016. Apparently the camera either came preset to or was somehow accidentally put into “DX” mode where only the center of the sensor is used. This behavior is readily noticeable when using Live View. In a warped way, I guess this is what allows Nikon users to mount any lens to any Nikon body – cropped or not – and get a result. Canon’s approach is to not permit mounting of a crop factor lens on a full frame body. The Nikon center crop mode results in smaller files. If that also achieved faster frame rates a full point advantage would be awarded to Nikon, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nikon scores 0.5 points for versatility (though we are sorely tempted to subtract points for unexpected behavior).
Score: Canon 2, Nikon 0.5, Steven -1, Eric +1
Steven intentionally got the Nikon G-Mount Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 for it’s speed and because it’s a form factor that he didn’t already have. But a nice little side benefit came with it. Because of the lens mounting schemes used, it is possible via a cheap little adapter to use pretty much ANY Nikon lens on a Canon body (but NOT vice versa). Nikon gets a full point for this benefit.
Score: Canon 2, Nikon 1.5, Steven -1, Eric 1
Finding Your Way Around
Obviously the menu systems are different on a Nikon and Canon. Mostly its a matter of taste. Both Canon and Nikon camera models regularly and needlessly re-arrange the names and locations for settings. There is no clear winner here. Likewise the locations of buttons and the features on those buttons move around as bodies change – sometimes maddeningly so. Steven doesn’t have enough experience with Nikon to form an opinion about this, but every one of his 3 Canon bodies has buttons “needlessly moved”. For example the top-deck light button moved from the innermost to the outermost button. Why? Canon must have been bored. Steven does find it annoying that the top deck light on the Nikon D600 is built into the on-off switch… and the light doesn’t stay on long! In fact, locating the Nikon on-off switch just above the settings wheel has resulted in several unintentional turn-offs of his Nikon. Accidental power off is happening less over time though.
One example of a difference in philosophy between the Nikon and the Canon is in the ISO setting. On Canons you press the ISO button (top deck), then spin the wheel. You can change the ISO one-handed. On the Nikon, you must hold a button (lower left) on the back and spin the control with the other hand – two-handed control. I prefer one-handed control it’s easier in the dark. On the other hand, you must wade through several menu settings to format a card in the Canon. A double, double-button press (plus a selection) allows you to format one of the two cards in the Nikon. It’s a little SCARY that I can accidentally format one or both cards by accidentally holding the wrong buttons on the camera.
An example of a Nikon gaff is in image delete. Press delete then press delete again and poof, image shredded. If Steven fumbles (and he’s known to do that) it means an image can go up in smoke by accident. The Canon method is to press delete then require a scroll and a third operation for confirmation. It’s a little more tedious, but safer. It is clear, however that the Nikon has more buttons and more controls available with less total fumbling. So we award Nikon another 0.5 points. And now the score is tied (except that Eric is leading Steven significantly).
Score: Canon 2, Nikon 2, Steven -1, Eric 1
In astrophotography and landscape astrophotography it is very useful to collect dark frames. A dark frame is a normal shot but with the lens cap on and the goal is to capture an image with stuck pixels or black level offset to fix other images taken with the same settings and at the same temperature. Much can be learned about this in our BLOG. Anyway, while shooting dark frames indoors with a capped lens, Steven was very distraught to discover that significant amounts of light can leak in through the eyepiece of the Nikon D600 and render the dark frame (or any high ISO night shot for that matter) unusable. Above is an actual shot. While it is true that light entering the viewfinder of a Canon 5D Mark II (and other cameras) can fool the metering system, Steven has never observed light leakage of the severity that the Nikon D600 displays. Both Canon and Nikon offer eyepiece covers to solve this problem., but in truth, the cap doesn’t seem necessary on a Canon except when metering. Canon wins another point here.
At a final score of 3 to 2 in favor of Canon does this contest feel like it has been rigged? Have you used both types of cameras? What is YOUR favorite feature or biggest pet peeve? Leave a comment!
Every once in a while, I have to try something a little “left field”.
What if, I thought, instead of stitching a panorama or vertorama of a landscape, I tried stitching a 180 degree vertorama of stars. I have stitched a landscape shot with a star shot before as shown in the image “Above and Below”. For “Above and Below” I combined a stack of star trails with a shot from just before dark of the landscape. Unfortunately after stacking the star trail for the top, I found none of my image tools could be convinced to stitch the portions of the image together satisfactorily and the two halves of the whole lay dormant in the bit bucket bin.
The star shot – that is the top half – is very similar to this shot on Flickr. I opted to use a stack with fewer frames to keep the sky dark and let the smear of the Milky Way stand out. I then very crudely combined the two shots using the “Collage” tool in Picasa3. I followed the crude paste up job with the “touch up” tool to blend the seam lines. The touch up tool is a crude approximation of the Photoshop Healing Tool and Clone tool combined into one. Sometimes it is very effective, sometimes not so much.
But one evening I found myself staring at the dark skies at 9,000 feet above the town of Bishop, California. The Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon and was nearly directly overhead. So I thought I’d try something that I expected to be difficult… but proved surprisingly easy. I thought I would try to stitch together the stars in the night sky in much the same way that one can stitch a panorama together.
But Would Stitching Stars Work?
To answer the question, I took the following 8 shots at high ISO, 30 seconds each.
I then dropped them into Photoshop CS5’s PhotoMerge tool and got this peculiar and clearly poor result:
Photoshop’s confusion was partially understandable. When I took the eight shots for the image I shot 4 shots from the horizon up to the zenith. I then turned the camera 180 degrees and shot the remaining 4 shots descending from the zenith to the horizon. The top of the first shot must be stitched with the bottom of the second shot, the top of the second with the bottom of the third, the top of the third with the bottom of the fourth … and then the great discontinuity: the top of fourth shot needed to be stitched with the TOP of the fifth shot. Realizing that the problem might be the topsy turvy issue, I rotated shots 5 through 8 to preserve the “top to bottom” alignment. Unfortunately using the default mode Photoshop could not figure out what to do with the topsy turvy or the consistently aligned images. So I tried another approach. I changed the Photomerge projection mode to “cylindrical” and obtained the following:
There is a peculiar and inexplicable bulge in the result, but it certainly looks quite a bit more realistic than the first try. It took about 5 minutes to do the stitching.
To compare, I fired up the Microsoft ICE tool (an Image Composite Editor – free from Microsoft for PC users) and dragged the 8 original un-rotated exposures and got this:
in about 3 minutes. The ICE result is a lot closer to what I was expecting and the tool did not seem to object to having either the topsy-turvy or properly aligned images thrown at it.
After cropping the ICE result and a little image clean up I arrived at the following visual conundrum. Which way is up? Well, the middle of the picture is up! The top and bottom are the East and West horizons.