When Is It Time to Switch Camera Brands?

There's a lot made about switching camera brands, with comparison of specs and the latest features driving most of the discussion. However, this thoughtful video essay takes a much more pragmatic approach to the question, and it's well worth watching.

Coming to you from Sean Tucker, this great video takes a look at a common question among photographers and videographers and details both why he switched camera brands and his thought process behind doing so. It's certainly very interesting to hear the story behind how Tucker came to own three distinct sets of gear and how his desire to consolidate all that extra equipment into one set drove his decision, but it's the second half of the video that details his decision process and the philosophies that drove it that's especially worth applying to your own experience. Most of us are tempted at one point or another by the allure of the latest and greatest, and I'll be the first to admit that there's certainly a bit of fun in geeking out over the newest gear, but we have to be careful not to confuse that with understanding what the best tool is for our professional work.

Be sure to check out Tucker's book and prints as well.

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Matthew Saville's picture

Yup, those are two reasons why I always stuck with Nikon, even when Canon had slightly better options in the era pre-D700. I loved the dynamic range, and the AF/metering versatility...

We can talk about "it's just a matter of preference" all day long, but the bottom line is that yes, some people do indeed push their gear to its limits, enough that only a certain system will actually meet their needs.

Actual superiority/inferiority exists, people. It's still dependent upon subject matter and shooting style, but it is definitely more than just personal preference and one's ability to "adapt" to a new system. Actual superiority/inferiority exists. Get over it!

Jon Kellett's picture

All Canon cameras since 2014 have had spot metering. The 50D from 2008 had spot metering too.

Dave Kavanagh's picture

Yes pretty much all modern cameras are amazing (relatively speaking), but that still doesn't mean they're equal.

Just to use the example of modern mirrorless cameras picking focus directly from the sensor, unlike DSLR's (hense the issue DSLR's face with forward/back focusing with certain lens, calibration issues etc). Thats a fundamental technology difference that cannot be argued. Its simply a fact.

If you regularly shoot wide open at f1.4 your accuracy with something like a Sony A7R III is going to be more consistent then a DSLR. Of course you "could" perfectly nail focus at f1.4 on any DSLR, nobody would argue that. You just might not get it exactly when you want it though, and that's the point.

Advances in modern tech mean you're more likely to get the shot, when you want to get it. I've always had high end DSLR's and still have had to dis-guard many shots where the models expression was great but focus just wasn't quite accurate enough. So far because of my recent camera change, that hasn't been an issue I've had to worry about.

I don't mean the post to be all about mirrorless. The point about about Canon's lack of dynamic range is just as valid. Yes you "could" expose differently on the Canon to get similar results, but why compromise your workflow when other brands allow you to get the results you want.

The point I'm making in a long winded way is, people often dismiss camera changes and especially brand changes as being unjustified. I don't think anybody is under the illusion that a bad photographer with one brand of camera will magically become a good photographer with another brand. However if there are fundamental differences that allow you to achieve shots you couldn't otherwise (or at least not without compromise) then it's a perfectly rational and justified decision to change camera brands.

Aaron Walker's picture

It was a good video. Use the "box" as a tool, not a status symbol or a crutch. That said, I have considered switching brands myself but haven't done it yet. My first "real" camera was Canon but I've used Nikons professionally. While, just like him, Canon will always have a place in my heart, I may make the permanent switch to Nikon for my personal gear as well.

Jon Kellett's picture

Sean's comments about Canon - Yeah, so true. Canon need to realise that whilst there are still people with the means to spend big on cinema cameras, Canon isn't their first choice. Canon needs to stop being so precious with their C-series. If it can't stand on it's own, then it's only being held afloat by the D-series and should be left to drown, instead of dragging the D-series with it.

I still enjoy using my Canon dSLR, but buying a Panasonic has rekindled my love of photography. Unless Canon does announce a compelling option in the next few months, I'll have zero hesitation in selling the rest of my Canon gear and going full Panasonic.

Somebody noted that they don't see the point of dumping investments (existing systems) - This is fear. Fear of losing money, fear of "being wrong" about a system, fear of the unknown (what will come next). We can't allow fear to control our decisions on art or business.

Maybe it's time to just stop mentioning brands at all and just talk about photography since any camera can produce amazing work if used right. I would rather see new photographers learn to take awesome pictures than see a ton buy a certain brand and post crap cause they never learned to take a picture.

Tim Cray's picture

Great point, David! There are too many "so called" professionals on this site and many, many others touting brand A over brand B...A.K.A. "fanboys." These sites need to edit potential posts and weed out anything that doesn't relate to actual photography instruction or unbiased reviews of cameras. These sites need to focus on what is important to photographers...and it's NOT why someone switches from one brand to another.

Alex Cooke's picture

That’s literally what he said in the video; he prefaced his entire discussion with the point that if you can’t make the shots you want with any brand, you need to work on your own skills.

Tim Cray's picture

I've never claimed to be a pro and everyone can improve on their photographic skills. With that being said, I don't need YOU or anyone else telling me what I should and shouldn't do, either.

Matthew Saville's picture

As a landscape photographer, I couldn't say that with a straight face for a whole decade while Canon's dynamic range was so horrible, and Nikon's (and eventually Sony's as well) was so far beyond it.

However with the progress Canon is making with the 5D4, they're at least on the right track, and I can once again (for the most part) vaguely encourage people to just pick whichever system feels right for them...

Jon Kellett's picture

Of course if we look at the drange (dmax-dmin) of a print, the dynamic range from Canon is fine on almost any substrate you care to mention. Gamut may be an issue, but dynamic range should not.

Matthew Saville's picture

That would, quite literally, be assuming you either shoot JPG, or don't adjust the tones of your raw photos before printing them.

With a raw file that has ~15 EVs of DR, you can capture a scene with that much DR, and then process it to "fit within" the range of a print. That's how it works. Forget digital, that's even what Ansel Adams did with B&W film- capture as much DR as possible on the film, and then burn & dodge etc.to fit as much DR as possible within the constraints of the print.

Jon Kellett's picture

It would seem that there's been a miscommunication. We appear to agree that even if Canon really does have poor DR (which I personally doubt), it is still more than required if the output is a print.

With regard to gamut, that's always an issue - You always have to soft-proof to see how out of gamut colours are converted.

Matthew Saville's picture

Indeed, my idea is not being explained well enough I suspect. My apologies for not finding a good enough way to make this clear. However, forgive me for persisting, because I'm actually working on an eBook on this concept, and I'd like to try and get it right, otherwise I'll be in real trouble LOL.

I understand that print output is always a constraint, as is the DR of any LCD display. However, through in-camera processing, the DR of the scene can be made to fit the DR of the LCD, (or the print) by way of things like "DRO" (Canon/Sony) or "ADL" (Nikon)...

This feature significantly boosts the shadows of the scene, (and sometimes under-exposes the highlights as well, depending on the shooting mode) so that the JPG image (the preview of the RAW file, too) shows the full dynamic range of a scene, even if that DR is far greater than what the LCD could natively show.

And yeah, in the era of the 5D2/3, and the D800/D800e, there was a HUGE difference in dynamic range, and Canon shooters were hard-pressed to capture a variety of different scenes with a single click, due to severe shadow noise. Landscape photographers in particular dumped their 5D2's and 5D3's en masse, because the D800 set such an incredible standard. I know I threw away all my GND filters when I first tried the D800e, and slashed my need to bracket/HDR by 90% or more.

Jon Kellett's picture

Printing is such a complicated subject. C-type vs inkjet prints is in itself a big mess of an argument, let alone what colour space you use or any other considerations, like substrate choice. If you're interested, this article is a good read: https://www.breathingcolor.com/blog/guide-to-digital-printing-part-1/

Regarding Canon and shadow noise... Don't get me started ;-)

I ended up setting +2/3 stops exposure comp and even then, sometimes having to push exposure a bit more. On my 70D I found that I could overexpose hightlights by 1/3 - 1/2 stops before recovery was impossible. This extreme approach to ETTR was necessary just to give me a fighting chance of clean shadows if I had to add a little in post. I try to avoid boosting shadows by any more than 2/3 - 1 stop, otherwise it's time to reduce noise.

My Panasonic on the other hand, whilst having less DR appears to have more _usable_ DR. Of course, the type of photo that I take contributes to that. No bright sky and pitch black shadows for me usually.

Matthew Saville's picture

Having been a digital camera user since 2003 or 2004, I folllowed Canon and Nikon's sensor development pretty closely since about 2005.

I think Canon simply made a fundamental mistake in understanding how photosites gather photons, and how those photons are tallied up by the electronics.

Canon was often touted as having amazing highlight recovery; I remember the first raw shooters (yeah, it used to be all JPG and TIF!) who first started bragging about how amazing their highlight recovery was on their 1Ds or their 5D, showing examples of pure white skies being magically recovered to have decent detail.

With time, Nikon on the other hand slowly dug deeper and deeper into the realm of shadow recovery. And, as we now know, that proved to be the smarter direction to R&D, because an overflowed photosite is an overflowed photosite, whereas a nearly-black photosite with just a few photons in it can always be improved, theoretically.

Anyways, that's my point- If you have an extremely, extremely dynamic scene, and if for whatever reason you're only able to use a single click to capture it, then Nikon/Sony sensors have a massive amount of DR with which to capture that scene. And, furthermore, that massive amount of DR can be processed in-camera to display both preserved highlighs and recovered shadows, quite clearly and crisply even in a DR-limited EVF or print medium.

Ok, go and shoot close headshot with eyes consistently in focus with focus and recompose at 85/1.4 ;)

Alex Wolf's picture

Brave of him to take his gear straight to a store for a quote, feels like he left a bunch of money on the table. I've given up on used gear online / in person stores as they always quote me 30-40% less than what I can get on Craigslist, with a little bit of patience. Given enough gear, than can quickly add up to thousands of dollars :(

David Wo's picture

Great point. Maybe the delay to get more money was outweighed by needing complete set now.

Jon Kellett's picture

In my country, we don't have Craigslist. Your options are TradeMe (getting damn hard to make money there now), the local "eBay-lite" or retail.

I ended up going the retail route and trading some old Canon gear for more than I could have made at auction, so for me I understand the author just rocking up to a shop. Admittedly I had to see two shops, one of which had a list of all items and serial numbers beforehand...

Matthew Saville's picture

...not right now. That's when. ;-)

Reginald Walton's picture

Well like he mentioned in the video, it doesn't really matter what brand of camera you have or what gear you have, at some point, people are going to see your images and make up their own minds whether you're a good photographer or not. I get it, people want to switch for whatever reasons they choose, but if you can't take good pictures with brand X, brand Y isn't going to make your picture taking skills any better.

Even for an amateur like me, it is very expensive to switch brands. I own a Sony a6300 and 7 lenses. Switching all that to another brand is something I don't like. Sony might be the hottest brand for FF, theey seem to have forgotten aps-c. For the time being, I am happy with the results I get although I am not happy with the ergonomy.
But if they continu with not supporting aps-c, I will have to switch.

user-165452's picture

I watch Sean Tucker and like his photography, but I also watch other film makers and photographers. Some paid online courses, some free Youtube etc. I see a lot of comments about this is not for beginners, he is wrong, he is right. It doesn’t matter. He had a thought, made a video and put it out there, take what you want from it. He never claimed this video is for beginners to tell them what they should do. I love my Blackmagic Design cameras, they feel like using a Mac vs PC, I feel more creative using them, thats why I use that brand, because the way in which the company thinks and approaches their customers, comes across in the finished product. That is the main reason I choose a brand. That’s my view anyway.

Sometimes we also need to change what brand what Youtubers we should watch ...

Felix Wu's picture

Or...he could have bought a 5dm4 and be happy. It’s small, light weighted and has good image quality for both stills and video...he could have used just one brand all this time. From a business standpoint I don’t see going with Sony would bring extra benefit to his type of work.

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