The Decision

As many of you know I have been a long time Canon user and enthusiast. Few of you know my history with camera systems. I have switched brands three times due to advances in technology.

In high school I had a class that was called Photography/Astronomy, we spent the year studying both disciplines.  The class changed my life. It inspired me to pursue photography as a career. My astronomy interest has taken me to 3 total solar eclipses, one annular, plus numerous lunar eclipses.

For that class I got my first 35mm camera, a Canon FTb, a totally manual camera with matched needle exposure meter. In the summer after high school, 1972, Nikon introduced the Nikkormat EL camera, Nikon’s first electronic auto exposure camera. That advancement prompted my first “Nikon Period” and the end of my first “Canon Period.” I used Nikon cameras from 1972 until 1999; my last camera body was the Nikon 8008s.

In the late 90’s I led a series of photography workshops and tours. Students began showing up with these white lenses that featured image stabilization. I patiently waited for Nikon to follow suit. About 18 months went by and there didn’t seem to be any stabilized lenses coming anytime soon from Nikon, so like a lot of other photographers of that period, in 1999 I switched to Canon, primarily because I wanted the 100-400 IS lens, (which I still own – even though it has been rebuilt several times).

It would be years later before Nikon offered stabilized lenses. Thus my second “Canon Period” began. A few years later, I was invited to be a Canon Explorer of Light.

I was a Canon Explorer of Light for 10 years, traveling the country speaking at events on behalf of Canon. I loved that experience, and enjoyed every minute of it until that relationship ended on 2013. That relationship ended 5 years ago. I continued to use Canon gear, but now was free to try products from other companies.

I was curious when Tamron came out with their first 150-600mm lens, and I bought one. I really enjoyed the lens especially having a 600mm that I could hand hold and even use from my kayak. Thus I began a professional business relationship with Tamron. It wasn’t long before I had 4 Tamron lenses. I was also using 2 of my Canon lenses as well. I am not a big equipment freak.  I had never owned so many lenses, there were way more than my camera bag could hold! When I travel I like to carry no more than 3 lenses. My 3 lenses of choice lately have been my Tamron 15-30 f/2.8; my Canon 24-105 f/4 L II and either a Tamron 150-600 f/5.6-6.3 or a Tamron 100-400 f/4.5- 6.3.

In the past few years I have been doing more night photography and more long exposure photography using strong neutral density filters. This is an example of what I have been working on.

4010-170929-_DWA9289.jpg4 min; f/8; ISO 100; 15mm;  Haida15 stop neutral density filter

With this type of photography in mind, I bought Canon’s highest rated sensor camera, the 5D Mark IV.

I was reasonably satisfied with my night images, the high ISO noise was well within the limits I wanted.  But when I starting doing more and more long exposure images with the filters, I noticed that the Canon camera was very susceptible to color noise, especially in the shadows as shown by the image below.

decision-100%crop5DM4noise.jpg5 min; f/8; ISO 100; 18mm; 15 stop neutral density filter (Click on image to see a full size file)


The temperature was in the 80’s when I took this picture.

I was surprised I was not seeing the strong color noise in my night images.  The more testing I did, I began to realize that the noise was from sensor heat and once the temperature was over 70 degrees the noise got much more noticeable. At night, it was always cooler than that when I photographed, and most of those exposures were under a minute.  At night you are seeing High ISO noise, and the Canon camera is very good at high ISO. The noise I was concerned with was being caused by much longer exposures and sensor heat.

With the long exposures I need for time/motion effects, I was shooting an average of 4 minute exposures, going as long as 10 minutes. If I enlarged any of these images it looked as if there were Christmas tree lights in the shadows with thousands of red, green and blue dots or dashes.  If I set the camera to use the long exposure noise reduction, that did eliminate almost all the noise, but the problem with that is if you take a 4 minute exposure, the camera needs another 4 minutes to process the image before you can take another photograph.  During the middle of the day that is not a huge issue. But at sunset that meant you could take one 4 or 8 minute exposure and then wait 4 or 8 minutes before you took another. By that time, the sunset was over before you got off your second shot. To compensate, I would take 2 camera bodies with me, shoot one image and while it was doing the long exposure processing, take the lens off, put it on the second body and make another exposure.  Not only was that tedious, but changing lenses in the field creates situations to get dust on the sensor.  So I continued looking for other possibilities.

Sony came out with the a7r2 camera and I tested that.  While it was better than Canon in the dynamic range and better at high ISO, I still saw some color noise during long exposure.  Not as much as the Canon but still enough to warrant the long exposure noise reduction processing.  So I waited for a better solution.

Then Sony came out with the A7 r3 and Nikon released the D850.  I began reading great reviews of both cameras. I arranged to borrow a Nikon D850 from Gary Farber at Hunts Photo. I shot the Nikon side by side with the Canon.  Here are the results.

D850vs5DM4 240sec.jpgNikon D850 vs. Canon 5DM4 300% crop at 240 sec (Click on image to see a full size file)


D850vs5DM4 480sec.jpgNikon D850 vs. Canon 5DM4 300% crop at 480 sec (Click on image to see a full size file)

D850vs5DM4 900sec.jpgNikon D850 vs. Canon 5DM4 300% crop at 900 sec (Click on image to see a full size file)

As you can see the Nikon is better but the Canon was not so bad. Of course this was November and it was not that warm outside. Not only did the Nikon have less color noise, the dynamic range was noticeably larger. I thought about switching at the time, but I could not commit to the Nikon because of the ergonomics.  There were too many features I thought I would miss when using the Nikon for wildlife photography. I was sure I could get used to it for landscape photography. So I stayed with Canon.

But I was still frustrated with the color noise in the Canon, especially when summer rolled around.  So once again I decided to do more testing.

I recently had an opportunity to test the Sony A7 r3 in hot weather, around 97 degrees, and here are the results.

SOnyA7r3_300%.jpgSony a7R3 240 sec; f/22; ISO 200; 26mm; 300% crop  (Click on image to see a full size file)

I noticed it had color noise as well. I did not do a side-by-side test (Sony vs. Canon) this day because I knew what to expect from the Canon.

I recently had the opportunity to test the Nikon D850 vs. the Canon 5D Mark IV on a hot day here in Sacramento. With the temperature close to 100 degrees, I shot both cameras side by side and used no long exposure noise reduction on either camera.

Here is the Canon at 100% crop

canon 5 d m4_100%crop.jpgCanon 5DM4 4 min; f/8; ISO 200; 24mm 15 stop ND filter (Click on image to see a full size file)


And here it is at a 300% crop

canon 5dM4_300%crop.jpgCanon 5DM4 4 min; f/8; ISO 200; 24mm 15 stop ND filter (Click on image to see a full size file)


Here is the Nikon D850 at 100% crop

NikonD850-100%crop.jpgNikon D850 4 min; f/8; ISO 200; 24mm 15 stop ND filter (Click on image to see a full size file)


And here at 300% crop.

NikonD850_300%crop.jpgNikon D850 4 min; f/8; ISO 200; 24mm 15 stop ND filter (Click on image to see a full size file)


Here they are together.

canon 5dM4_vs NikonD850300%crop.jpg4 min; f/8; ISO 200; 24mm 15 stop ND filter (Click on image to see a full size file)

As you can see, the Nikon is virtually noiseless, even at that extreme temperature with no long exposure noise reduction.

After seeing the results of this test, I ordered 2 Nikon D850 bodies, batteries, XQD cards, etc. from Hunt’s Photo.  My second “Nikon period” will begin and my second “Canon Period” will end.

Due to my professional relationship with Tamron, Tamron is being gracious enough to exchange my Canon mount lenses for new Nikon mount lenses, in exchange for me supplying work for their promotional campaigns.  Since at this time, neither Tamron or Nikon make a 24-105mm lens, I ordered the Sigma 24-105 Art lens as well.

There are some things I know I will hate about the Nikon, especially ergonomics, their limited touch screen, no built in Bulb Timer or GPS, etc. but I know the quality of the images I will be getting will be worth the change of systems. I am sure I will love their autofocus system, high dynamic range and large files.

I will write more about the switch once I get the new equipment. I know the comfort curve will take a while, but I will try to give you as unbiased an account as I can while progressing through the switch.

Meanwhile, I will have 2 Canon 5D Mark IV’s for sale,  a Canon 24-105 L II; Canon 17mm Tilt/Shift lens (I’m going to miss that one!); Tamron 180mm macro; an almost new Canon 600 EX II RT flash; a Canon 550 EX flash; several CF cards; Lexar USB 3 CF card reader; etc. I am sending the cameras to Canon for a cleaning and performance calibration will post the sale items and prices in a week or so.  If you are interested in any of that equipment let me know ASAP.


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