Nikon v Canon – Tribal warfare

Nikon v Canon – Tribal warfare

This is a recycle of an article I wrote a few years ago on a previous site, but the point exists as much today as it did then. What prompted me to repeat it here, was being asked by a novice which brand I would recommend, as they had received assertive but conflicting reports from other sources. I pretty much recited this article from memory, as my response.

Amongst many novice, experienced and even professional photographers alike, there exists a tribal, almost religious fervour in support of one’s “chosen “ manufacturer of photographic equipment. This phenomenon is rife in circumstances as diverse as bar room chat, photography clubs and particularly some of the more popular and oft frequented internet forums. Nowhere is this feudal behaviour more adequately demonstrated than when the opposing sides are representing the two most popular names of Nikon and Canon.

It has intrigued me as to how and why a pair of photographic equipment manufacturers can engender such devisive brand loyalty from people who would usually eschew any such allegiances in the way that they might switch credit card companies or energy suppliers.

This issue should be considered in the context of comparing “apples with apples and oranges with oranges”. It is about comparing the two manufacturers’ models of equivalent levels of specification.

However, the irony is that frankly, there is nothing to choose between Nikon and Canon in terms of their ability to help you achieve quality photographs. Firstly there is the mantra, most popular amongst the old
school professionals who have done their apprenticeship and learned their craft, which states that it is the photographer, and not the camera that makes a good photograph. Secondly, each of the manufacturers follows any advances by the other with its own competitive model, seemingly within milliseconds.

All of the popular consumer photography magazines (conventional or online) revel in producing comparative reviews. The differences are almost always miniscule, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the magazines too are to some extent biased toward one faction or the other, in much the same way as daily newspapers will align themselves politically. Of course this further compounds the tribal war cries of the individual consumers as they digest the pages of wisdom in their favourite magazine. An aspiring tribal warrior rushes to copy and paste an extract (often out of context) from a comparative product review into his favourite forum, which apparently proves that what he and his tribe have always advocated is now beyond debate. However, after 5 minutes of rallying cries from his own tribe, the opposition paste an extract from a
review of the same two products, from an alternative source, demonstrating that it is conversely their chosen demi god of cameras who is the chosen one. Thus the fundamentalism becomes perpetuated and the ensuing discussions become ever more inane and vitriolic.

So, what is it that turns otherwise normal rational human beings into evangelical geeks? What compels individuals, who ostensibly just want to take good pictures, to become the photographic equivalent of a diehard football supporter? It seems to me that the principal criteria which governs product loyalty is as innocuous as it would be unsuspected by the individual at the time. That is it depends entirely on which manufacturer’s product he chooses for his entry level camera. Note the use of “he”. This is not the writing of a male chauvinist; quite the opposite in fact, as in my experience few if any women photographers participate in this macho sabre rattling.

The biggest mistake an aspiring first time DSLR buyer can make is to ask the question “what is the best make of camera for me to buy?” on an internet forum. You will be set upon by hordes of the tribal leader’s lower order workers shouting the name of their false idol. The net result of this is that the novice will be left without any rational reasoning upon which to make a decision save that he has say 53 respondents who say one manufacturer is best, without qualification, and 54 who vote for the other. You might as well save yourself all the non constructive ear bashing and simply toss a coin in the first place.

Whichever choice you make, two things occur shortly afterwards: One, money gets spent on extra lenses and accessories, which investment, alas, will only fit the one manufacturer’s camera; Two, our newly equipped photographer begins ingratiating himself with owners of similar equipment in order to further his knowledge of its functionality and operation. At this point, if his investment in expensive lenses has not already sealed his fate, he may find that the disciples, whose pool of knowledge he has been dipping into, are in fact missionaries out in the field to recruit new members of the tribe.

This still does not fully explain why this hypothetical new photographer allows himself to become indoctrinated as a fully paid up member of a given faction with never a voice of dissent. Here there are a number of criteria which may play their part. Perhaps some people are merely susceptible to pack mentality and vainglorious acceptance by tribal peers. One of the more unpalatable effects of this is that some of the internet resources can become very cliquey. Forums can be a fantastic resource within which I have frequently found answers to thorny issues I could not resolve on my own. However, if your post is picked on for a dose of condescension by a member of an internal clique, then his buddies will rapidly fall upon it like hyenas on a carcass, without uttering a single constructive word (primarily because they don’t know any). However, the forums are also frequented by photographers with genuine knowledge and experience, which they are willing to impart to ordinary mortals. But such resources are best used for resolving specific technical issues rather than making broad purchase decisions.

The good news for consumers generally is that this rivalry ultimately influences the design and marketing offices of the two manufacturers, and drives them inexorably to leapfrog each other, sometimes with trivial twiddly bits, but sometimes with actual technological advances. This is particularly true of entry level specifications and capabilities; this is key to the manufacturer’s later sales of higher end cameras. The down side of course, for some, is that two and a half minutes after you have parted with your “hard earned” for the latest state of the art toy, manufactured by your particular tin gods, it has been superseded by a new model, and the one you have just bought is available for a fraction of the price you paid just before you last blinked.

In conclusion, there is nothing to choose between Nikon and Canon in any given sector of the market, either in terms of the cameras or the lenses, which would make any difference in terms of the quality of  photograph which I or anyone else I know could achieve.

The fact that I appear to have become a slave to Nikon is solely because of the first critical purchase decision mentioned earlier in this article. My entry level Nikon D40x was well enough reviewed and, at the particular time I was in the market, could be purchased at a remarkably competitive price. Thereafter I learned that high quality lenses were more important than the camera body, and were where future investments should be made. So I made several such investments before I ever considered that I should upgrade the camera body, and by the time I came to think about my next camera body I was already effectively locked in to Nikon.

Where does that leave the naive and vulnerable novice photographer, looking for his or her first digital SLR camera? First of all take note of reviews to try and establish that a given standard of camera from either manufacturer is capable of doing what you need of it, and is not unnecessarily complicated or expensive for a novice to contend with. However, do not necessarily be swayed by review conclusions which state that one or the other manufacturer wins the subjective contest by a short head.

Accept , having decided upon the general specification which is appropriate for you, that either Canon or Nikon will do the job admirably. Your next step should be to go to a camera store and actually compare the two in the flesh. Pick them up, hold them and operate them, and make your final decision based on which one feels more balanced and has controls which to you seem ergonomically most convenient. And if you choose to seek any advice from photography forums, dutifully ignore any single sentence responses which are unaccompanied by any constructive reasoning.

As George Orwell nearly said “Nikon and Canon are equal, but sometimes one is more equal than the other”. Time for common sense and perhaps a truce.

Of course, if Nikon were to offer me any free equipment, then it would be a completely different story!


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  1. avatar
    Jane Raggett

    Being a complete novice in the art of photography with a Canon this had been interesting to read . Thanks

  2. avatar
    Jan Lawrence

    Great article. I am still trying to figure out if I want a full sized DSLR or an EVIL. I am currently trying out a Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

    • avatar
      Woodcote Photography

      Jan, I know it’s a long time past, but I have only just seen your message in the approval/moderation queue. Thanks for taking the trouble to read it, and I hope it dispelled some of the myths

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