Lance Keimig finds that a lot of people talk about what kind of folks use what kind of cameras within the Mac/PC and Canon/Nikon universe. “It’s kind of funny,” he says, “I see that a lot more Nikon users work with PC’s and Canon users are Apple devotees, but I’m a dedicated Apple user who’s switched from Canon to Nikon.
This is the third installment in a series featuring the many stories and myriad reasons prompting users to switch camera brands. Make sure to follow the links at the end to read about photographer switches from DSLR to Mirrorless. The following views expressed are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent that of B&H Photo.
Keimig bought his first camera, a Canon A1, in 1985. After moving to San Francisco in 1989, a night photography course appealed to his visual senses, and set him on the path to becoming a nocturnal specialist. “I went from an A1 to a T90, and never went to autofocus until I got a digital camera,” he says.
In the early days of digital, the extended exposure times of night photography made this subject better suited to analog capture, and Keimig relied heavily on medium format cameras—Hasselblad and Ebony 6x9—for his nighttime work. “I used 35mm more for commercial work up until 2005, when I got my first 5D,” he explains.
Making the Switch
Keimig transitioned to a Canon 5D MK in 2009 and he also used a 6D, although he never owned one. After anxiously anticipating the launch of the 5D MK III, Keimig notes “When that came out, it didn’t seem enough of an upgrade to make the investment, so I just went between the MKII and a rented 6D.”
He was starting to think about investing in Canon 6D’s when the Nikon D750 hit the streets in 2014. “I rented a D750 for a commercial shoot that featured landscape lighting after dark, so it was extremely contrasty,” Keimig explains. “I had heard so many good things about the D750’s ability to underexpose and then lift the shadows in post processing. And that’s pretty much what sold me on it,” he adds.
After renting and borrowing the camera on several occasions over the winter, “I finally took the plunge and bought a D750 in spring 2015.”
Favorite Nikon Features: Image Quality and Durability
According to Keimig, the superior image quality of the D750 was a primary reason for his switch. “The quality, specifically with high contrast, high ISO shooting, just blows the Canon’s I’ve shot with away,” he says.
He finds the image noise patterns of the two brands to be distinctly different. “In Canon cameras there tends to be this low background, blotchy pattern noise, typically in underexposed skies, which I don’t get in the Nikon,” he explains.
“With the Nikon you’re more likely to get a hot pixel noise, primarily when working in really hot conditions,” he adds. “That kind of noise is easier to deal with than the blotchy noise from Canon cameras.”
“The D750 is relatively small and light for having a 24mp sensor, and it is relatively well weather sealed,” Keimig notes. He is also impressed by the camera’s cold weather handling. “In 50 degree temperatures or below, I have no problem doing 30-minute exposures up to 800 ISO.”
High ISO Performance and Dynamic Range
As all experienced night shooters can attest, this subject regularly requires the use of long exposures and high ISOs.
“The Canon 5D Mk II just could not do Astro landscape/Milky Way images at high ISOs, so I relied on the 6D for that, and it was getting a little long in the tooth,” Keimig explains. “But with the D750, I use everything between ISO 100 and 12800 on a regular basis. Being able to do 8 ten minute exposures at ISO 800 opens up a lot of possibilities that most people tend to overlook,” he notes.
What’s more, when using Canon cameras, Keimig would often shoot a second exposure for shadow areas and blend the two in post. “But because of the relative ISO invariance of the Sony sensor in the Nikon camera, you can underexpose shadows and then boost them two to three stops in post-processing without adding much noise,” he explains.
“I like to keep my workflow simple,” he says. “I’d much rather do everything in-camera in one frame, if I can.”
Challenges to Nikon Gear and Perks to Canon that He Misses
One distinction Keimig finds between brands favoring Canon is the quality of the Live View image.
“It’s kind of weird,” says Keimig, “because the image quality is definitely better on Nikon cameras, but the Live View quality is a lot noisier, making it more difficult to focus in low light conditions.”
He notes that most Nikon cameras use Live View Exposure Simulation, meaning that given camera settings are reflected in the Live View image, while other camera brands can accommodate the brightest possible Live View image, independent of camera settings. “When you’re working in moonlight or starlight, you want that Live View to be as bright as possible,” he says.
Another aspect of Canon’s image display system that Keimig misses is the option to rotate vertical images in-camera, when loaded to a computer, or just on the computer.
“With Nikon cameras, if you rotate images in the computer, it also rotates them in the field,” he says. “When shooting vertically, this can result in your image being rotated 90 degrees to take up just half of the frame.”
For this reason, Keimig doesn’t rotate his images until everything is imported into Lightroom. “Then, I select all the vertical images and rotate them manually,” he says.
One last minor difference between the brands is battery life. “I would rarely change batteries during a whole night of shooting with the Canon camera, but with the D750, I always go into the second, and sometimes the third, battery,” says Keimig. “But it’s not a big deal because I don’t mind carrying spare batteries with me.”
Weighing Professional and Prosumer Camera Models
As a night photography specialist, Keimig’s insights about his switch are primarily targeted to this subject. “Night photographers’ needs are quite different than wildlife, or sports, or wedding photographers,” he says. “Frame rate and autofocus are not really concerns for me because I rarely use or require them.”
Since much of his time is dedicated to teaching photography workshops, Keimig is very familiar with most camera models and brands. “I’ve seen a lot of other cameras while working with students in the field,” he says.
Entry level cameras can be particularly challenging when used for night photography, he advises. “With lower level cameras, if they have more advanced features, it’s not unusual for them to be buried deep in the menus and not easily accessible.”
As an example, he points to the manual exposure controls in old Canon Rebel cameras, which required the simultaneous triggering of multiple controls in order to change both aperture and shutter speed settings.
Cropped sensor cameras offer another challenge, since these models tend to limit the wide angle lenses one can use. “This is especially problematic with fast wide angle lenses, which is what I want to use the most,” he says.
“I like to make large (30 x 45” and 40 x 60”) prints, so having an APSC or micro 4/3rd sensor just doesn’t make sense for me,” notes Keimig. “On the other hand, I don’t think everybody needs a full frame camera.”
Working at Night with Various Camera Models / Brands
While Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic cameras don’t really appeal to Keimig, he has rented various Sony cameras. “There are some things I like about them, but other things not so much,” he says.
He is also intrigued by the new Pentax K-1 DSLR, which features an AstroTracer mode, “which is basically a built-in equatorial mount,” Keimig explains. “It seems to have comparable image quality and features to the D810, for considerably less money, so it’s something to consider for people wanting to do more serious astrophotography,” he points out. Yet, a more limited range of available lenses and the semi obscurity of the Pentax brand also need to be weighed in the balance.
Since switching to Nikon, Keimig has tested a wide assortment of current models. “I’ve used a D800 E and a D810, and they’re great, but I don’t feel like they offer me anything more than the D750,” he says. “They may have a faster frame rate or better autofocus but, as a night photographer, I don’t really care about either of those features.”
He describes Nikon’s 7000 series—D7000, D7100, D7200—as “great cameras for less serious nighttime enthusiasts.” He finds these models much better suited to nocturnal subjects than Nikon’s D5000 series.
Keimig recently tested a Nikon D5, and he has also shot with a D500. “The D500 is one heck of a sweet camera,” he says, “offering a lot of the features of the D5 on an APSC camera. His favorite feature: “The backlit buttons on the back of the camera, which is just about the best thing ever.”
Wish List and Parting Advice
“I think the image quality is very much there,” Keimig says about his Nikon. “But the feature that I really want is the same one I’ve been looking for forever—programmed shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds.”
Another item on Keimig’s wish list is a more robust in-camera interface with the smart phone. “It is very advantageous to be able to control your camera and review images wirelessly from a phone. Out in the desert, I’ll often find myself setting up in awkward positions, lying on my back wedged between rocks. It would be a lot better if I didn’t have to spend my nights doing that.”
Returning to the topic at hand, Keimig offers some words of wisdom to anyone seeking to use a new (or unfamiliar) piece of gear on a shoot.
“I’ve found that it’s really hard to learn to use a new camera in the field, he says. “So anytime I’ve got a new camera, I sit down with the manual in my living room to learn where all the buttons and features are, and try to make the most of it before I actually go out shooting. I recommend that my students do that same thing.”
“A lot of times people will say, ‘I’m going to take a workshop, so I want to get a fancy new camera,’ and they rent something and get on a plane,” Keimig points out. “Taking that approach is not usually a recipe for success.”
To learn more about Lance Keimig, click here to visit his Website
To read the other stories in our series, Why I Switched, click here https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/p/why-i-switched.
Do you have a story or some insights to share about switching brands? If so, please add your voice to the Comments section, below.