I started out today to write a specific camera review but ended up taking a broader view of a brand that I have come to depend on. I haven’t forgotten about the review, but, in today’s article, I thought I would simply share the love.
I’ve been a Nikon shooter going on 16 years now. Obviously, a lot has changed in the camera world during that time. And, as my career has progressed, I think I can say that I’ve shot assignments with pretty much every brand of camera on the market, every size sensor, and just about every focal length imaginable. But, through it all, I’ve always pretty much stuck with Nikon as the system I chose to own.
Not that I expect to deserve a medal for such loyalty. There are all kinds of reasons people stick with camera brands, and both financial pragmatism and sheer laziness when it comes to looking at other options come into the mix in my case. But, I guess if I try to think about the main reason why I’ve stuck with Nikon all these years, the answer is far simpler. The cameras just work for me. There are ergonomic aspects like the way Nikon seem to feel better in my hand than the other brands I’ve used. That is thoroughly subjective but goes a long way towards my shooting experience. There are practical reasons for sticking around. Since starting my photo journey with Nikon, I have accumulated so many lenses and accessories that to trade all that in for a new system at this point would be a pretty major financial investment. But, I think what I mean by “the cameras just work for me” is exactly that. They work. I can go into pretty much any job in any situation and know that my gear is going to work. Every camera can get finicky from time to time. But, in my experience, Nikons have caused me the least stress of any system I’ve used. If my shoot hasn’t gone well, it’s highly likely that it was my inability to clear a creative hurdle rather than a result of my camera making my race more difficult.
Of course, none of this was on my mind when I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D200, 16 years ago. At that point, the only camera brands I had ever heard of were Nikon and Canon. My old film camera was a Canon, so I have nothing but love for them. But during the extensive 90-minute search I did online before impulsively running out to buy my D200, I didn’t really know much more about the camera other than that it had received some positive reviews online. These are the days prior to there being 1,001 camera reviewers on YouTube and novellas masquerading as comment sections, so when I say I looked at positive reviews, I mean I read two or three and latched onto the ones most likely to give me an excuse to spend money. Despite my lack of planning, the purchase ended up being fortuitous, and after all these years, it is still the system that feels like the most natural fit for me.
I was actually asked to take part in a focus group a while back to discuss different camera brands and their positioning in the marketplace. I can’t remember what it was for. But they asked the normal barrage of questions about features and price points and everything else you would expect, all fairly easy to answer. It wasn’t until later in the conversation that I reached a question that took me a moment to think about.
They asked me to define each of the major camera brands and what adjectives I would use to describe them. This was months ago and my brain is older than it used to be, so I’ll be paraphrasing here. But I believe my responses were roughly in the vein of saying that Canon was the market leader, the standard-bearer, and the camera equivalent of a blue-chip stock. It’s been around forever, and it’s steady. When I thought about Sony, I thought about cameras that were always on the cutting edge of technology, but perhaps not always built with working photographers in mind. They had the flashy specs, but when it came down to day-to-day work, there were ergonomic issues that always seemed to hamper my enjoyment of their systems. Fuji was the camera equivalent of a youthful hipster. And I don’t say that in a disparaging way. Fuji cameras are simply cooler than any other cameras on the market. They are the only cameras I might consider taking with me on a date. And they are the first cameras that inspired me to spend as much time and money dressing them up as I spent on dressing myself. They are also insanely fun to use and inspire me to want to shoot more, simply to have a reason to use them. Oh, and they are affordable. On the flipside, Leicas were like luxury cars. Handcrafted and upscale, but always seemed to cost way more than they needed to. Great if you can afford them, but hard to justify on a purely return on investment basis. Hasselblad was a gold standard: not always practical for my use case or affordable for my wallet, but one of my objects of desire. Of course, those were just my initial thoughts as I tried to put my responses into understandable frameworks for the questioners. So, if I said anything crazy about the brand you love, don’t read those descriptions as full product reviews, rather intentionally simplistic generalizations. The question was about first impressions and brand identity, after all.
Then, I came to Nikon, the brand I’ve been using my entire career. And I couldn’t quite figure out the right comparison. Spending many nights wondering if the grass was greener on the other side had led me to have very specific opinions about other brands. But how much time had I spent thinking about where my own camera fit in? I think because I’ve used the system day in and day out for so long, it might perhaps be impossible for me to be completely objective. For all intents and purposes, my camera system is as close to me as any of my best friends or relatives. I certainly spend as much time with my Nikon as I do with most other human beings. So, I can’t speak on the brand as an outsider looking in. Rather, I can only offer an honest view from inside the marriage.
Like anyone who is close to you, it does sometimes get annoying when you hear people speak unkindly about your friends. So, watching all the recent proclamations that Nikon is dying and/or that all the new cameras are disappointments simply because they haven’t reinvented the wheel does generate from me the appropriate level of side-eye. Sure, there are areas where Nikon is objectively behind certain competitors on specs. And it’s not a bad thing to point those areas out when doing a camera comparison. But, as a working photographer, you aren’t just choosing gear based on specs. Stats don’t win games. Players win games. So, the only way to measure a camera’s value is to see how it holds up out in the field when the chips are down.
And that last part is where the crux of my Nikon description of the surveyor's question was born. When I think of Nikon, I don’t think about the tech specs first, the way I might think about a Sony. I don’t think about whether or not the camera complements my outfit the way I might when reaching for my Fuji. Actually, when I go to put my Nikon in the bag, I’m not thinking about my gear at all. I’m thinking about the job at hand. I’m thinking about what’s in front of the lens and how I am going to light it. Crazy as it may sound, the best compliment I can give my Nikon is that I spend very little time thinking about it at all.
I trust it to do its job. And when you are a working photographer, trust in your gear is far more valuable than having cutting edge technology. Don’t get me wrong. Having all the bells and whistles is nice. Having an extra millisecond of autofocus speed is an objective advantage. But ultimately, those things tend to matter far more in camera reviews and on message boards than they do in the actual field. Unless your camera is completely inept, which is not a problem I’ve ever had with almost any camera produced in the last decade, odds are you have more than enough specs to do the job. What I really want from my camera is that it be a reliable tool, designed with the needs of professional photographers in mind, that gets out of the way and lets me do my job.
I realize that isn’t the sexiest answer I could use to describe my experience with Nikon. I could instead have raved about the excellent image quality, the color rendition perfectly suited to my tastes, or the dynamic range. But, as a working professional, what I love about my Nikons is that they allow me to do the thing that I love with a minimum amount of stress, a maximum amount of efficiency, and an ample dose of dependability. As someone whose livelihood depends on being able to tap into my creativity every day, those attributes are what I value most of all.