Is brand important?

A student asks me this via email:

Hi Michael, hope you are well. I wanted to send this email as I enjoyed the class you taught and enjoy reading your blogs!

As an amateur photographer the very first camera I started out with was a 35mm Minolta. Hence the reason I purchased my digital Sony, as my lenses were compatible.  I’ve have been building my equipment around “Sony” but have come to so many roadblocks.

I’m not sure if you remember me but I had to borrow your camera in class because I did not have a Nikon or Canon which was compatible to your remote flash. I would love to attend your workshops but I have no knowledge of Nikon or Canon. There has also been some part time job opportunities that I could not apply for because they preferred Nikon or Canon.

So therefore my question is…should I trade in all the Sony equipment and begin with Nikon or Canon? If so, which brand and model would you recommend?

Currently I have the Sony A700 model with 3 lenses (16-105, 50, 70-200macro).

Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!  (Can’t wait to attend one of workshops, need more help with lighting theory).

Great question, and one that occurs regularly.

And a tough question, too. And it is one to which the answer, as so often in life, is “it depends”.

Let’s go through the various aspects to this choice.

  1. Technology. The A700 is a great camera. In general, though, there is little difference in quality between brands. Sure, Canon and Nikon, as market leaders, have larger R&D budgets, but in the end, all cameras end up with the same features. Differences are minimal. Do not discount Sony, they want to be number two soon, and who knows. If Canon has benefits (very extensive lens selection) and Nikon has advantages (low ISO), Sony also has advantages (available Zeiss lenses). Where Canon has drawbacks, so does Nikon and so does Sony (ask me if I like the Sony proprietary flash socket, or if I like Sony’s menu navigation). All cameras have aperture, shutter and ISO settings, so in the end, technology is not the decisive factor – either way. More important than “what brand is this camera” is “how modern is this camera”. They all get better every year.
  2. Backward Compatibility. Clearly a big one: if you have many thousands of dollars in one equipment maker’s hardware (say, Minolta lenses, which work on Sony cameras, since Sony bought Minolta) that is a factor to be taken into account.
  3. Market. Now we come to a biggie. The market leaders, Canon and Nikon, have a huge advantage over others, since the pro photography pretty much is Nikon and Canon. You have seen it yourself: if you cannot operate Nikon or Canon, many people do not want to know you. This is unjustified – but “it is what it is”.
  4. Peripherals. From available third-party lenses to Pocketwizards, all peripherals are available for Canon and Nikon. So that too can be, for pro shooters, a benefit of switching.
  5. Knowledge, Support, Expertise. An offshoot of the previous point. Books. Courses. Technical support. “Hey guys, my flash just died: anyone have one I can use?”. “Guys, who knows how I turn on this custom feature on my camera?” – Availability of used gear on Craigslist. Reviews on the magazines and online (like my blog). All these are easy if you use Nikon or Canon.

So what would I advise you?

If you are considering a switch for technical reasons, I would say “wait”. I have shot with Olympus, Panasonic, Asahi Pentax: Nikon, Canon, and I teach all others: all cameras are great. The camera is not the important thing, the lens is – and the photographer.

But since you want to be a pro shooter who has already run into roadblocks, I would seriously consider the switch.

To what? Canon or Nikon is a personal choice. What feels better?

Then you choose the level: for you I would say

  • Starter level (Rebel, or 3000/5000) – avoid. These cameras need more pro features
  • Mid-level: 60D or D90, say: great options.
  • Basic pro: 5D, 7D, D300s, etc: great options.
  • Pro: 1D, 1Ds or D3 etc: overkill, I would say, at this point, and in general, overkill for most users (but that said: I use a 1D as well as a 1Ds).

My advice: Check out When you have a particular camera in mind, ask me about that one. Ask your friends and ask other photographers.

I hope that helps.