I am not a ‘Canon Man’

What does your choice of camera brand say about you?

Or… ‘What camera did you take that with’

Using my 24mm tilt shift lens in Seattle

Using my 24mm tilt shift lens in Seattle. My ‘walk round’ lens of choice in big cities ;-)

The other day I was talking to a few people at the Focus show in Birmingham – one noticed that I’d got my old Canon 1Ds mk3 with me.

“Ah, a Canon man” he exclaimed in a meaningful sounding way.

Whether this referred to the Nikon ‘I am’ bags being handed out, the collection of my black and white images, shown as big prints on the Innova Paper stand, or some deeper psychological insight, I wasn’t sure.

Well, I am not…

I  always have some difficulty with any meaningful association of ‘equipment brand’ with the photography I produce…

My camera is a tool for the job, a very good one, which happens to be made by a particular manufacturer. I do have reasons for my choices (as I’ll mention later) but in some ways they reflect some advice I was given many years ago, that you’d rarely regret spending extra on good quality hammers, chisels, wood saws and screwdrivers.

The Focus show had all the major manufacturers there, and a good look at the stands quickly shows a mix of corporate branding, but all enhanced with images – good looking photos.

It is obvious that if you take almost any camera advert, then apart from shots taken with a lens that is only available from one manufacturer, the actual camera used is pretty irrelevant.

They are selling a brand with an image, with which they want you to associate some meaning/affiliation with their brand. If this were not so, then we’d see an awful lot more use of standard test images, for selling printers, paper and cameras ;-)

Take any decent level camera and a lens fit for the subject and the results are all going to be on a par, or more particularly, the results will more reflect the abilities and experience of the photographer (and maybe art director), than the name on the front of the camera.

Sure, there are differences, but the majority of ‘brand discussions’ you see on forums more readily suggest more that people should get out and take more photos, than shed any illumination on relative ‘merits’ of cameras systems ;-)

What printer did you use for that?

As I’ve produced and shown large prints over the years I’ve noticed that above about 17″x11″ (~A3+) the common question ceases to be ‘what camera did you use’ and becomes ‘What did you print that on’.

It was great to see a collection of my black and white prints on the Innova stand (see the previous post here), and I’m really pleased to be asked if they could use them, since I know that printers and papers are promoted through good pictures ;-)

Some time ago a (different) paper supplier and I were discussing this, in particular how papers were often sold by ‘feel’ when picking them up, and by seeing nice looking photos printed on them – neither of much real relevance when putting your own images behind glass in a frame…

If you also know that there are only a limited number of photo paper manufacturers around the world, then some of the ‘brand following’ you see gains additional perspective.

Cameras and personality

Is Hasselblad taking their brand in an unwise direction?

A branding move too far?

Brand management is a big issue for the camera companies, and you can be assured that a lot of effort goes into those various advertising campaigns you see – whether it goes down well is another matter though.

It’s at the ‘top end’ where opinions seem more polarised – I note the generally bemused reaction to the Hasselbling announcement at Photokina 2012. Indeed, I took the photo to the right at Focus, where the new ‘Lunar’ was on show (in a case).

Given that much of the survival of the more niche camera companies depends on people with anomalously deep pockets, I’m curious to see where this one goes.

It’s worth noting the lens names that go onto some Japanese lenses – how much ‘German’ expertise goes into the Zeiss or Schneider names you see on some cameras?

But how much does it matter to the average photographer?

Take these two personalities from one on-line quiz I saw about what camera brand means what.

“If you use YYYY you’re a sucker for high performance, big lenses and fast money. Never mind what the brand is called, you know what you need and go for it. Your knowledge of photography is immense, You probably know more than all the text books and like to show it.”

“If you use XXXX you are a true professional. Forever the perfectionist who always wants the most from the equipment. You see the world in tiny details and a day job as ‘pixel peeper’ would probably be a dream come true.

Neither are perhaps that flattering, but I’ll let you guess which brands are being referred to…

But Keith… you use Canon kit

Yes, quite true…

…however I use Canon mainly for a combination of historical, economic, and lens availability reasons.

  • Historical – My very first DSLR was a Canon 1Ds in 2003 – at the time the only 35mm full frame available. I like to shoot wide, and crop cameras were/are not an attractive option. At the time I had no existing lenses to support. The time span adds familiarity – watch me struggle with a Nikon lens that requires an anti-clockwise movement to attach it ;-)
  • Economic – I now have quite a collection of lenses and kit that I’d prefer not to have to swap. This doesn’t mean that if Nikon were to produce a top notch 16mm tilt/shift lens (and Canon stuck around 20MP), I wouldn’t consider using it with a D800E
  • Lenses – I use the Canon TS-E17 for quite a bit of my architectural work. Two other (currently) ‘unique’ lenses I use are the 8-15 fisheye zoom and MP-E65 Macro
TS-E17, EF8-15 and MP-E65 lenses

Three Canon lenses that I regularly use

I’m still using my 2007 EOS 1Ds mark III because the newer 1D X just isn’t much of an advance [for my uses] over the 1Ds3 [my reasons in more detail

There’s also my printing – currently on a Canon iPF8300. Not chosen because it’s stunningly better than say, an Epson 9900 (all top end printers are broadly similar these days) but because I tried one out and found it easy to use. A printer like that isn’t a cheap bit of kit, so business related issues come in too.

Is there a point to this?

Apart from my being slightly miffed by being categorised by brand, it’s no more than to try and look beyond the tools you use and look to the results they produce.

Despite my interest in the technical side of photography, I’m inclined to believe that too many people don’t put nearly enough effort into the creative side and still feel that a better camera would ‘improve’ their photography.

That, and next time you feel like saying that you prefer brand X, to try and think why?

I am?  I choose not to be…

  • Stuart Carter

    Absolutely. When I set up full-time, I went to a camera shop (remember those?) and picked up a high end Canon and a high end Nikon. I took lots of pictures with each. Tried moving the focal point around. Tried changing the ISO quickly. Tried all sorts of ‘real-life’ tasks.

    For me, the Canon was most intuitive, so I bought the Canon. My fingers knew instinctively where the right buttons should be.

    I’ve considered a few times debadging my cameras – the number of portrait subjects I have who judge, immediately, on my brand of camera is not insignificant. If I shot with debadged cameras, the discussion point would go away (or maybe move into new territory!)

    My answer to “Do you shoot Canon or Nikon?” is… “I shoot with a camera” (unless I’m feeling playful when I answer Olympus)

    This is a great article… thanks for sharing it!