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Torn Between Two Lovers – Canon PowerShot and Nikon D80

24 July 2009

A LOT of people email me and ask about which camera I use. So, I’m going to explain how I came to have two cameras, and what I think of them. This is not actually a comparison of brands – since I am comparing a “compact point-and-shoot” Canon with a Nikon “DSLR”.

Karen Two Cameras

Loving my Canon Powershot

I have been using compacts since digital photography came along. I had a Canon Powershot s45, and I carried it EVERYWHERE with me – I would even leave it on the kitchen bench while I was cooking so I could take cute pics of the kids in impromptu moments.

But after a couple of years, this rough treatment had its price – the Canon Powershot s45 got “water damage”, and I strongly suspect, like the remote control for the TV, that the “water” was kid’s saliva!

The cost to repair the Canon Powershot s45 was almost the same as the newer Canon PowerShot A700. I didn’t even consider swapping brands, because I wanted the same thing again, just upgraded.

But I used it in exactly the same way – I would throw it in the nappy bag, put it down on the grass, and store it on the kitchen top, teach the kids how to take pics – because that’s what I have it for – to take super fast pics of stuff really happening around me all the time.

When the new Canon PowerShot A700 was only two weeks old, I crushed the auto-lens cover thingy in the nappy bag, so the lens cover doesn’t close now, and sometimes, I have to push it open with my fingers.

bashedcannon

Due to the dent underneath the “C” in “Canon”, Mr Powershot can’t close his eye, so he can never get to sleep – poor little guy.

Also the “go right” button on the menu selection doesn’t work anymore (I expect due to sand or water damage), so I can’t easily use manual focus, for example. But since I use the Canon in such a spontaneous way, I almost always use it in “auto” mode anyway.

Time went by, and I was getting more and more inspired by photography blogs. I was envious of the depth of focus, lighting, the spontaneity of people’s expressions. I was ready to explore a more careful way of taking pics.

Time to move up to a DSLR

A friend who has been really into photography for a long time had just bought a Nikon D80 after doing months of research to compare Nikon vs Canon DSLRs. He said that he couldn’t find any real difference between the brands at all, not even on price, and he had eventually gone with the Nikon just because it would allow him to use some old 35mm film Nikon telephoto lenses that he had. I trusted his research, and bought my own Nikon D80 so I could share experiences and lenses with him.

So, here is what I have learned (so far).

The Nikon D80 is great for doing a lot of fast photos, because it has much greater capacity. With the flash turned off, it will just take and take pictures – 5 a second, or something like that, if you hold the button down. This has been great for catwalk fashion photography, for example, and the resolution of the pics is definitely greater – which is important if you are going to manipulate images for professional print use, as I occasionally do.

Not only does the D80 have huge internal bandwidth and storage, but it also has actual physical buttons for adjusting everything. This makes it MUCH faster to change the settings, compared to a compact, where you have to change down through menus on the screen. With the Nikon D80, I can change manual to auto focus, aperture, etc without even taking it down from my face. Very cool, once you get used to it. The DX 18-135mm zoom lens is definitely a more powerful zoom than the Canon compact.

orange_moon02

For example, these moon rising shots were much clearer and dramatic, and more fully convey the experience I had, taken with the Nikon D80. And the range of controls of almost everything in the menus is HUGE. The Nikon D80 just feels like a very powerful tool.

Problems with the DSLR

BUT! The Nikon D80’s carry case is a big as my head, whereas I can put the Canon compact into my purse. So I never take the Nikon D80 anywhere casually, and so, I never take impromptu pics with it.

I just presumed that since the DSLR was physically bigger, and more expensive, it would naturally be twice as capable in every way. But not so.

The in-built flash is much less powerful than I expected, and although the DX 18-135mm zoom lens is “zoomier”, it does not actually allow any more light than the Canon compact – they are both limited to an “f” stop of 3.5. Because I don’t like flash photography very much, getting more from natural light is important to me.

And a MAJOR problem is that I can’t take Macro photos with the Nikon’s DX 18-135mm zoom lens. The Canon compact’s single in-built lens, however, can take amazingly close up pics using the “flower symbol” macro setting for focus.

Dragonfly

For example, this pic of the wings of a dying dragonfly my kids found. I just LOVE discovering these amazing textures and structures, so this is an important part of my photography.

Learning to Love Them Both

On the other hand, a huge advantage of the Nikon D80 is that you can change the lens. For example, I have just started experimenting with a fixed lens 50mm lens (it has no zoom). Because fixed lenses are so simple, they can pass a lot of light…which is great for me, since I don’t like using flash. For example, the current Nikon Standard 50mm f/1.4G lens (with auto-focus) has an aperture of f1.4. That’s FOUR TIMES more light than either of my current zoom lenses. However, this lens is around US$400-500, and I’m just not ready to spend that kind of money.

So in the meantime, I am using a Nikon “E series” lens from the late 1970’s or early 80’s that my friend gave me. It uses the same “F” mount that Nikon still uses, so it goes straight on, but it won’t auto-focus OR work out the exposure. This is no problem, since I just take a picture, see if it is too bright or too dark, and change the ISO, shutter speed or lens aperture to fix it. I’m loving the way I can shoot in almost any natural light, and don’t have to operate the zoom. And, the retro look of the tiny lens gives the Nikon D80 a vintage fashion look I love!

oldschoollens

My D80 gets some street cred with an “old school’ lens accessory.

Summary

Part of the reason I am so happy with my Canon Powershot compact is that it is a pretty sophisticated camera. It has great light sensitivity, it can be made fully manual, it has a quality zoom lens, etc. Because it is so much quality packed into a small size, it makes sense that it is not a cheap camera.

I guess my advice is….don’t buy an DSLR unless you want to do a LOT of reading of the manual, lens changing, experimenting, and carrying of bulky gear. Unless you do, you won’t be getting any of the benefit of the much greater capacity to take “professional” quality photos.

Using an DSLR is a different kind of photography for me. Far more planned, like landscapes, and portraits, and special effects stuff. I’m excited about all the pictures I know I will be able to take with the DSLR. But there are so many possibilities, it can be overwhelming. I’ve got a lot to learn!

So for day to day, I’m still packing my ever present, much abused, ever faithful Canon PowerShot A700 compact into my handbag/nappy bag. And when I or my kids finally kill it, as we surely will, I’m probably going to go straight out and buy the current Canon equivalent, the PowerShot A1000 IS or the PowerShot A2000 IS.

Happy snapping!