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An Essay Only Nikon Shooters Will Appreciate

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. 

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54 Comments

J Cortes's picture

Well said, Malcolm. That's funny, my first Nikon was also a D200 that I bought after reading a review on Shutterbug about 16 years ago. I tried Sony for a while (A99 which had amazing ergos but no Sony support or love. I also had the A7III & A7RIII), the A7s were technological marvels, but I never enjoyed using them. I wish Sony would use the A99 style body for its mirrorless, but that's another story. Anyway, I went back to Nikon because for me and my work (Portraits and real estate ) they just work.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Same. I tried the a7RIII out for a minute. I enjoyed the result, but just never fell in love with the shooting experience, so ended up sticking with Nikon.

Eduard Garcia's picture

Same experience here. I owned a D90. Last year I went to the shop to buy a A7III (blinded by the specs comparisons from YouTubers). But the camera simply felt bad in the hand (and EVF). I handed the Z6 and I was immediately sold by the ergonomics. I haven't regretted it, shooting with Nikon is such a great experience that it's hard to explain in a comparison article between cameras.

Carlos David's picture

As a Nikon shooter, I have to agree. I never think about them. I know they work. I know they will deliver. As for specs ... yes I want to see best in class eye focus and IBIS in a reasonably priced body, and then and only then, will I jump to mirrorless.

Julian Ray's picture

Spot on Chris.

Nick Viton's picture

same

Jose Martinez-fonseca's picture

I always say that Nikon is the Toyota of the cameras. There will always be more spec-up models on other brands but it will take you wherever you need to go. The most comfortable way? probably not but they are reliable.

Normand Cloutier's picture

My first serious camera was a Canon AE-I. I loved my AE-1. Then naturally when I bought my first DSLR I bought a Canon but things didn't went that well this time. I never felt confortable with it, my pictures were almost all the time tilted to the right Then an old uncle of mine and a good photographer with whom I was close gave me is DLSR before dying in 2013; a Nikon D7000. I felt very confortable with this camera since I started using it, no more tilting to the right, everything was just perfect. So I gave my Canon to my daughter and bought a few lenses to go with my Nikon and I have been happy with it ever since.

Jim Cutler's picture

Agree 100%. I am not out to criticize any other brand or influence anyone. I just am 100% a Nikon guy because I can do any job with them. When I have to use other gear for a while (working on some group shoot) I always come back to my Nikons and have no interest in other brands. It's just a thing. It never lets me down. I am very experienced. I am open to any gear but I get exactly what you're saying. And the the Nikon Z6 and Z7 and the new glass are wonderful. We are lucky to have so many choices of good gear today.

Ed C's picture

I completely agree. I did think about going Sony instead of the Z7II but ultimately I knew that the body was going to be rock solid on the Z I have not heard that about the Sonys. I knew that the controls and menus were going to make sense to me. I know the Sonys don't. My first DSLR was a D100 and I was using Nikon film cameras before that and I really have no complaints. Well a bit of a complaint because I want a Z mount 105 macro that will focus shift but the 850 will still do just fine when I need that niche. The other thing is, as you mentioned, the image quality. Look at DxO mark scores and you still see even the D800 rated much higher than more recent cameras from some of the major vendors.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I'm waiting for that 105 too :-)

John Teague's picture

A very well-written article. I wish all Fstoppers authors wrote as well as you do.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Thank you

Robert Escue's picture

Nice read Christopher!!! I have been using Nikon since the 1980's and I had my favorites like the F I bought in a camera store on the outskirts of Honolulu. It was my go-to body when I wanted to travel light. Like you I could always rely on my Nikons to get me through any assignment without problems.

When I was in the Navy, they used Canon and they were good cameras, but they weren't a Nikon. I always looked forward to shooting with my Nikons. Today I still use them for my burlesque and concert photography. I don't really care about state-of-the-art features, I like reliability and that is what a Nikon gives me.

Steven Dente's picture

I guess for many people the most important thing about a camera system is their personal muscle memory developed from using the same system for many years. I suppose that is a valid point of view.

Herman Heyns's picture

What a brilliant and gracious essay. Like you I have never really worried about the specs but more about the outcome. Most of us have used other brands, I have Sony, Mamiya and an old Minolta. But when I want to get the job done, Nikon is the one.

Jason Savelsberg's picture

Great article, and a refreshing change from the flood of negative doom and gloom articles/posts about Nikon this past year.

I started with Olympus 16 years ago, moved to Canon, then to Fujifilm and finally to Nikon 18 months ago (Z7). I feel the same way about the various camera companies as you do. I really had to laugh at your assessment of Fujifilm though as there really were times when I used my Fujifilm camera as a fashion accessory.

Today I see Nikon as the lower cost, high image quality, utilitarian, tough as nails full frame option. Whenever family or friends handle my Z7 for the first time, they all comment on how "well built", "solid" and "good feeling" it is.

After moving from company to company every 4 years, I have finally settled on Nikon for the long haul.

Mark English's picture

Having owned and shot: Minolta, Canon, Nikon and Sony in that order I can say this; I loved my Minolta SLR cameras and was sorry to see them leave the market, I enjoyed my Canon 1DXMk111 &1V but had problems with my EOS D20 and D30. Canon cameras always felt handcuffed to me though this may have changed recently. Sony ergonomics just don't work for me and their menu system is just not as intuitive as the other brands in my opinion and Nikon, Well Nikon has been "bombastic" They just work through rain, hail, sleet and snow. I love the Nikon colours and ergonomics. I have shot my favourite images on my 850D and I'm sure this love affair will continue as i move onto their mirrorless range. I remember Canon getting a hard time a while back when their Cameras were slightly behind the curve, 1DX MK111 af etc, but they bounced back. Nikon will bounce back in market terms once they get their Video AF up to speed with the competition. All in all whatever you shoot should work for you. Nikon works for me!

Simon Miller's picture

Nikon can be summed up in one word. Dependable. I used to use Nikons (F90X's - two of them) as the backup both in the studio, and on location to compliment the MF we used at the time - always consistent, no frills, no fuss, workhorses for every occasion. If I had to take a step back down the ladder of digi MF Hass (H6D) it would be Nikon, I tried Fuji GFX - cool as you say but far too fussy and fiddly for my liking - when the camera is in control of you creativity and the spontaneity of the image suffer. Not so with Nikon/Hass

Robert Teague's picture

I've been a Nikon user since the late 1970s, starting with the awesome F2 Photomic. Every Nikon I've owned, with the exception of the F3 (mine was a piece of junk) has been sturdy, reliable and just plain worked as I've expected. I'm now using the Z7. I've used other formats (6x6, 6x12 and 4x5, DX), but there is just something in the images that come from a FF Nikon.

JustThe VisualStuff's picture

True story.. I been using my crop sensor d5200 for about a decade now. That camera inspired me to do sooooo much. Of course I spend some money on lenses and other things for that camera but believe I shot weddings, parties, events, concerts, models, landscape, travel, baby pics (all three of my kids were born after I brought the camera, and that camera is older than my first born) but overall I shot all sort of content. Recently I been shooting videos with that camera and brought a dji ronin rcs2. The camera still does its job and shoots amazing 1080 videos. But this is not the reason I chosed to create an account after years of reading articles on this site. The main reason I created this account and to post a comment was, my 3 years old just dropped that camera on the marble floor the other day. My d5200 was sitting on a chest freezer with a 35mm/lense hood. My 3 years old grab the lense hood in attempt to pick up the camera and take pics. As I was standing there 10 feet away yelling "noooo" I saw the camera took the fall (in slow mo) as it turned and twist in mid air. And the back left corner made the initial contact with the floor. I'm disbelief I picked up the camera saying "the glass in the lense is probably broken, maybe camera might not even turn on it's soo old" to my wife... Everything worked. Moral of the story, Nikons just work times and time again. Even after almost decade of abuse and getting dropped by a 4 ft tall human, it still works. Getting a nikon z6ii soon..... Hoping that will be my go to for next decade til 2031 🤣

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Haha. I've been there, seeing your camera drop to the floor in slow motion. I dropped my D800 once in the middle of a shoot straight onto the cement floor. Severe panic took over, but then I picked it up and it just kept shooting.

Michael Schafer's picture

I just purchased a used D700. I reluctantly sold my D300s. In my opinion two of the greatest cameras ever produced

Steve Powell's picture

I started with a Minolta, way back in 1969, then had a Pentax K1000, Olympus, Canon, Sony, and Nikon. Nikon cameras have met my needs the best.

Alex Cruise's picture

i started out with D3000 upgraded to a D7000 and currently on a D750.

What company makes the Leather Case and Strap?

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I don't actually know. I got it off of Amazon a couple years ago. I just looked at it and the branding said TP. But I couldn't find it on Amazon when I went looking for it just now. They had a lot of similar options for the newer Nikons, but I couldn't find the same one that I have for the D850.

Thomas Moffatt's picture

Right on the button. If something is happening fast, and it often does, I am already solving in my head the way needed to get the image with my Nikon cameras. There is good reason why I have stuck with Nikon since the early 1980s. I love the recent lenses, that hold up well in bad weather. But a few lenses I am still using that saw first light around 1984. Nikon is rugged, dependable, and when the job needs to be done FAST, it does it.

jacek jarzabek's picture

All top end cameras are great. My first real nikon was f2 then f4, d100 and on from there... i also used other cameras (including mid format film and digital - i use phase one as my primary studio tool) - i like nikon controls because I'm use to it, but once again, all major cameras are more than capable to capture AMAZING images (being Canon, sony, fuji pentax etc)

Nick Nguyen's picture

Back in 2003 I had a first generation Digital Rebel, which I purchased for the low light capability. I loved everything about it except the lack of a spot meter, which would have required me to spend almost double for a 60D, a camera that was nearly identical in every other way. Both cameras had the same metering sensor so the lack of a spot meter was purely to create a gap between the two models. When the D80 came out with features that even the D100 lacked, it was clear to me that Nikon was always going to try and put their best features in their newest models if they could, regardless of market segment. Maybe a worse strategy from a business perspective, but won me as a customer, and I haven’t looked back since.

CHRISTOPHER BAKER's picture

Amen. You solved my conundrum. About to upgrade. Was thinking of moving to Sony, but have been engrained in Nikon. I must agree, my camera has never failed me, it's easy to navigate and feels great in my hands. Thanks for an enjoyable read. Cheers!

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Thanks for reading!

B Laramie's picture

Nice article. I have been shooting Nikon since I bought an F2 Photomic in 1974 and have never had any reason to switch. I have owned lots of other brands, Olympus, Pentax, Canon, etc. but always came back to Nikon.

Garreth Alphonso's picture

This is a really nice article to read, especially since it feels like one written by a photographer, who is aware about his biases, but is still a better judge of a camera as opposed to the perspective of something a tech reviewer who isn't strictly a photographer would write.

As a Nikon user, this puts the experience in words, something we all probably think about the system, but can't express.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Thank you

Nick Bentley's picture

really nice article. I couldn't agree more I'm a Nikon shooter and there reliability and ease of use is amazing! i recently dropped my D5 on a job and it kept on working all day. when i put it in for service they told me the front body mount was damaged and had to be replaced. you wouldn't have know it it just kept on working. Im also more than happy with the Z6 that i use it punches way above its weight.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I feel like my Nikons are built for the long haul. I try not to drop them. That's not to say I never have :-o Lol.

Nick Bentley's picture

Yeah it wasn’t planned haha! I got lucky. I check my camera strap a lot more often now

Christian Berens's picture

Canon of course has a larger market, i believe they focus on that marketing as well. They focus on intro cameras to build their brand loyalty

Nikon just builds cameras that work, and they work well. They take their time releasing when they're ready, not necessarily when the market demands it.
I'm glad you brought up ergonomics, when I've used other brands, i just can't get over how terrible they feel in my hand. Clunky, odd shapes, buttons that you have to move your hand off shooting position to change, etc...
Nikon is all there.
I love it
I also love the "affordability" of the lager lenses, in particular the 200-400 ƒ/4. I remember when I got mine, a Canon buddy of mine said "WHOA you must be loaded" LOL. But then i compared the prices (even used) of the two lenses and wow, Canon users get screwed on that.

Dennis Massey's picture

I have been a Nikon Pro for over 40 years in Florida. I was the original Spinnaker Calendar Photographer and agree with the way you presented this article. Worrying about my Nikon gear was the least of my concerns when planning an assignment. It was lighting, Location, models and makeup etc. My son even took my first Nikon Camera to college where he graduated Validictorian with a Master’s in Graphic Design. Haven’t switched to new style mirrorless camera yet because my Nikons never gave me a reason to change yet:)))

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Congrats on the Valedictorian :-)

regan albertson's picture

My first Nikon was a D50, and soon enough, I was hooked on Nikon. It's not just the ability to use legacy glass, but it's comfortable. I'm still finding ways to use the tech in my old D810. I imagine I'll get a D850 eventually, as the prices fall due to the perception of obsolescence that doesn't exist when the new, (probably) last DSLR is rolled out. I have warned Fstoppers that I'll put them on time out if I see another "____ is dead", or "Is _____ the Nikon Killer? headline. I still remember all the Canon users salivating over my D300S when it arrived. A couple of months later, they had the new 60D and they felt guilty for thinking about straying.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I feel as though my D850 will still be one of the best cameras on the market for several years still to come. So I'd expect the DSLR to be around for a while.

Neal Rattican's picture

Yep, I can relate. My first Nikon was an FTn 35mm film camera back in the day, and I've had Nikons ever since. The D200 was my first digital Nikon. Now I have the D810 and D500 and am pondering the Z 6II or 7II. I agree with Chris, Nikons just feel right in my hands. That's no knock on the other brands. After all, none of the name manufacturers are making junk. All of 'em are good. Best of all for me, Nikon has always been reliable. All issues I've had with Nikons have been photographer-centric. Nice read. Thanks, Chris.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Thank you

Richard Reed's picture

Great read. As a Nikon owner, I always look forward to reading your articles on this site. My first Nikon was a D40. I chose it over the Rebel at that time because of the build and ergos and have never looked back since.

Currently I've got a D800, Z5 and N80. There are so many people on the web at a certain phase of their photographic journey where they're spending more time pouring over and comparing camera specs instead of actually making photos. I'm guilty of doing the same and have flirted with other brands, but at the end of the day, all of this gear is more than capable of producing excellent images.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Well said

Roaring Lion's picture

Nice piece, Christopher!

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Thank you

Michael Dougherty's picture

I was really sad when I sold my D200 several years ago but the industry standards had moved on. It's too bad that Nikon didn't just keep updating the internals with improved sensor, better processor, and with the external buttons in exactly the same place on upgraded models. For example, D200-24 for a 24 MP model, D200-45 for the 45 MP model. The D200 just had a perfect form factor.

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