What kind of camera are you?

Are you Coke or Pepsi? PC or Mac? Oxford or Cambridge? Nikon or Canon? Stephen Fry reveals where his loyalty lies

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 20th September 2008 in The Guardian “What kind of camera are you?” – The Guardian headline.

Every Coke has a Pepsi, every Visa a MasterCard. Who do you support in the Boat Race and why? Don’t you dare tell me you couldn’t give a fig either way: it’s Oxford or Cambridge, at some point one must develop a preference, for whatever reason. It’s Harvard or Yale, Harpic or Domestos, AA or RAC, PC or Mac. Binary tribalism: Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a song about it.

canon.article.jpg
Canon EOS 1000D: All the convenience of a compact, but underneath lies the potential of a real grown-up SLR

In the world of serious SLR photography, the choice has always been between Nikon or Canon. The single lens reflex (SLR) camera is best defined as being the sort of camera where what you see is what you shoot. As the initials tell you, it is a single lensed entity, a lens that can be changed with a twist of its bayonet. A clever mirror ensures the viewfinder’s image is more or less congruent to that of the lens. The SLR is the choice of photojournalists, paparazzi, sports photographers – anyone who needs fast, accurate shooting. The camera goes up to the eye and will be manufactured (with apologies to Pentax, Olympus, Leica and Minolta) by Nikon or Canon. A huge range of Nikkor F-mount lenses for the Nikon and EOS EF lenses for the Canon have built up over the years; they are forwardly and backwardly compatible with new DSLR and old SLR bodies, but not across the brands. An EOS won’t fit a Nikon body nor a Nikkor a Canon. There are issues with older Canons and with some Nikon auto focus lenses, but generally speaking, this broad description is correct. A profitable war zone where two major powers continue to joust.

One of the most active battlefields within this world is that of the entry level DSLR. Many people with ordinary compact digitals decide, after a while, that they are ready for the Real Thing. Serious professional kit is wildly expensive, but there is the mid-priced range for the prosumer (yes, isn’t that a lovely word?), and finally there is the “My First SLR” category, hotly contested because once a toe is dipped into either the Nikkor or EOS pool, it is unlikely the customer will change: too much will have been invested in the lenses.

Canon has had its reliable 400D and 450D and Nikon their excellent D40 and D60 models available as entry level DSLRs for some time, but I have been spending the past week in the company of Canon’s new 1000D (aka the Rebel XS or Kiss F), which I will come straight out and say I adore. It does everything you could hope to welcome a newcomer to the field of SLR photography.

New DSLRs are exceptionally annoying: the outlay is far from insignificant and it is galling when, six months after you’ve taken the plunge, a new one comes along. I won’t claim that Canon will never improve on the 1000D, but I can recommend the plunge being taken here and now. For about £400 you get one hell of a lovely camera. It is astoundingly light (some people will dislike that; I happen to love it), manageable and friendly. With four-stop image stabilisation, a 10.2 MP sensor, a customisable menu, an integrated anti-dust self-cleaning system, a large enough LCD display (albeit slightly smaller than other models), excellent Pro software, the Digic III processor used in higher-end models, SD and SDHC (but not Compact Flash) memory card compatibility and just about all the features you would expect on a prosumer model (no spot metering though, which some users will miss), it is superb value for money. It reacts quickly in Jpeg mode and, most importantly, takes fantastically high quality, low noise photographs using a gigantic permutation of manual and automatic settings. A true pro would wish for faster responses when shooting RAW, but for the rest of us, this is The One. All the convenience and ease of a compact is there, but underneath lies the potential of a real grown-up SLR. If you do buy one, give yourself time slowly to learn about real photography. Be warned: as in music and painting, no gadget can replace talent. For what it’s worth, I have Mr Magoo’s eye for a shot.

Initials of the week

DSLR Digital single lens reflex.

SDHC Secure digital high capacity memory cards.

RAW An uncompressed, unprocessed image file. These are much larger, but allow complete control over the image.

This blog was posted in Guardian column

26 comments on “What kind of camera are you?”

  1. Reepham says:

    I was searching for some software to control my Canon camera and came across this:

    http://www.breezesys.com/DSLRRemotePro/features.htm

    It now supports the camera you’ve just mentioned.

  2. bnt says:

    “In the world of serious SLR photography, the choice has always been between Nikon or Canon.”

    “Serious”, as in “the ones the Paparazzi use”? It’s all Canon there, but there’s a lot more going on down in the Prosumer world that the Canon 1000D lives in. Sony is doing well, Olympus is getting innovative, and Pentax still appeals to people who actually enjoy photography. The Canon and Nikon marketing departments are good at their jobs..!

  3. Puplet says:

    Dear Stephen

    Knowing how you’re always a champion for the underdog, I thought I’d point out that, on closer inspection, the real binary tribalism in the world of dSLR cameras is: Canon *and* Nikon vs everyone else. It is for this reason that the useful word ‘Canikon’ was formed. Curiously, in this particular instance of consumer gang warfare, ordinarily major electronics manufacturers, like Sony (once Minolta), Samsung (made by Pentax) and Panasonic (makers of Leica SLRs) attract small but ferociously loyal followings of devotees who, just like Mac users of the 1980s and 90s, see themselves as marginalised outcasts, misunderstood by the world at large.

    Puplet

    PS I can’t believe you didn’t buy a lovely Olympus instead.

    PPS The carbootsale-in-the-sky that is eBay now sells Nikon AI to Canon mount adapters so you could put Nikon lenses on a Canon if you wanted. It’d be the perfect combination for those one regularly finds on the middle of bridges at the Boatrace shouting ‘Oxbridge!’

  4. Sidthespid says:

    Perhaps I’m betraying my ignorance, but I was wondering why Fuji isn’t considered a serious contender. The first time I held a Fuji, I was smitten. Though I am possibly deluded, as I root for Oxford and don’t own a Mac (yet). Heathen.

  5. jakeybob says:

    “apologies to Pentax, Olympus, Leica and Minolta”

    … and Sony ;)

  6. robertas says:

    Hm you forgot Rolling Stones or the Beatles and Dostoevsky or Tolstoy :)

    I’m really really lazy when it comes to bringing camera anywhere with me… so I rely on other people to take pretty pictures of places I visit. I’m horrible arent I? :)

    But I’ve paying attention to pretty pictures of late and I’d like to give it a go. Hopefully like with my baking, it will not turn out horrid.
    But then again, its not really about having Mr. Magoo’s eye for a shot (even if you do), but about having fun while doing it… right? :)

  7. lilyblossom says:

    I’m a digital rangefinder, a Leica M8 to be precise.

  8. atomac says:

    Actually, Stephen, I am a Pentax. Is that like being TAB or Dr.Pepper. Good article I wrote something similar recently.

  9. shadowfax994 says:

    My Pentax K10D was reading over my shoulder and has retreated in a huff. (When I was upgrading to a DLSR it was my Pentax or the Canon Rebel and frankly I think the K10D was by far the superior purchase.) Never underestimate the underdog, Stephen!

  10. Matea says:

    hooray for Apple and Canon! :)

  11. pez says:

    “Coke or Pepsi? PC or Mac? Oxford or Cambridge? Nikon or Canon?”
    you can add fender or gibson to that list. for the record i’m a coke, mac, don’t know, nikon and fender kind of guy. beatles or stones? you could ask beatles or elvis. i’d be beatles both times :)

  12. mrfriis says:

    I happen to be a Nikonite but I´ll say congratulations to you all the same. Now you just need to take a stance on the whole Lightroom vs. Aperture (my pesonal choice) debate and you will be all set.

    Oh gosh, it never ends does it…

  13. Joe D says:

    Pffft. It’s not Nikon vs Canon or Canikon vs everyone else.

    It’s vulgar plastic Canon crap vs the elegant, sturdy, user friendly stuff that everyone else makes ;)

  14. SteveC says:

    Now you just need to take a stance on the whole ‘Lightroom vs. Aperture (my personal choice) debate and you will be all set’

    Like everything where there is a choice, there is a debate. Some will get upset if their marque is not represented. And if you head over to MacRumors there’s plenty of mass debating going on. Usually by a bunch of highly qualified debaters.

  15. xugglybug says:

    I want to pick a hole in your statement “In the world of serious SLR photography, the choice has always been between Nikon or Canon.”

    Whilst I agree that in the digital era, most choose Nikon or Canon, years and years ago, the cameras to be had were made by just those you apologise to; Olympus, Leica, Pentax.

    I shoot with a Canon 350D. I also shoot with an Olympus OM2. I prefer the OM2.

  16. Neil says:

    “New DSLRs are exceptionally annoying: the outlay is far from insignificant and it is galling when, six months after you’ve taken the plunge, a new one comes along.”

    How true, the next ‘must have’ camera ingredient to seriously lighten your wallet is nearly here…

    Adding to the current potpourri of feature choice for DSLRs comes the next big “I must have this item” from camera manufacturers, due for release sometime in 2009: GPS-enabled DSLRs.

    Companies like Air-Semi in the UK have been developing low power draw and always-on GPS chips for cameras and mobile phones, these should start to make an appearance in cameras next year to support the fast growing user base of geotaggers.

  17. joe72 says:

    I’m still holding out for JPEG-XR – supposedly the best of both worlds (RAW and JPEG).

  18. dance says:

    What about the Nikon D90? Kit lens is VR, and it takes HD movies – albeit short ones. I think it bests the Canon any day. But then you expected this kind of remark, didn’t you?

  19. Marjolein says:

    I just discovered your blog, liked it, and then it turned out you’re a Canonite :(

    I own two Nikons (an SLR and DSLR – that D40 you wrote about) but the Leica M8 still makes me drool… Unfortunately it’s not suitable for a student budget.

  20. Jessa says:

    I am a Canon. I love my 350D, it has taken some wonderful photos. :)

    Although, comparing Pentax to Dr. Pepper really messes with me. Then again Dr. Pepper isn’t that great in the UK– much prefer the Imperial Sugar version available in Dublin, Texas.

  21. Dark Waters says:

    “In the world of serious SLR photography, the choice has always been between Nikon or Canon.”
    I’m afraid I must dissent! In the ‘Sixites, Canon were not really known for serious SLRs, and I read somewhere ages ago that it wasn’t until the FD-mount cameras that their lenses came up to scratch (if you’ll pardon the pun). And Olympus were Nikon’s biggest rivals – with the OM System – until Canon began to push them out in the ‘Eighties.
    And some ‘serious’ photographers (amateur or professional), would have preferred Leicas and Contaxes for their lenses.

    But nowadays, yes, it is largely between Nikon and Canon, particularly since Minolta gave up the struggle (now being carried on by Sony, of course), and Olympus haven’t really been appealed to professionals for a long time. Pentax digital SLRs are great, but over the years they’ve seemed to blow hot & cold on SLRs, sometimes launching new models with a fanfare, then doing little for years.

    I’ve used Nikon (still have an F3 and FM), Canon, Olympus & Pentax. I love Nikon, but I think Canon’s ergonomics and ease of use since the T90 and then into the autofocus era, is better. Nikon can sometimes make the controls a little too complicated.

  22. joelmeadows1 says:

    I have a Nikon D40x and I really like it. I did consider a Canon but a friend of mine told me that when he was at college, all the professors rated the Nikon lenses. I am a fairly recent camera convert as I used to be awful with film but when I picked up a compact, suddenly my shots started getting better. I am never going to be a professional photographer but sometimes I get shots that I am really proud of. I would never buy a Sony camera because they’re not Mac-compatible. As for other things, I am a Mac, Stones guy. The Mac is because of the years I’ve worked as a sub and journalist. I realise that there’s nothing wrong with a PC but I just prefer Macs…

  23. sunnydisposish says:

    Last week I caressed a similar Canon SLR digital camera at a nearby major electronics store. Then the alarm went off and I promptly put it back.

  24. muddy250 says:

    Afraid I never tire of this contest as I look smugly down from the high ground through the bright, clear viewfinder of my oh so superior Nikon D300. Bought a few months ago to replace my 9 month old Nikon D80…oh dear…

  25. JCdeR says:

    Everybody here seems to be a something …. I’m a “something” too and I prefer to call this “something” myself. I have preferences and tastes but certainly not to level of conducting warfare with the opposition “somethings”

    Only thing I know is that when you’re a something you tend to pay for it…. more than the product-group/something of which you belong is worth … It’s called marketing my dear people, now there’s a “something” for you, Marketing… the most powerful element in the common world today. They love “somethings” they thrive on “somethings” they plant, grow and develop “somethings” …

    Me?, I’m an everything I will drink mostly anything when thirsty, and this doesn’t only apply to “drinking”

    J.

    Munich, Germany

  26. petterw says:

    Bought this camera a few weeks ago as my first DSLR and with a second lens it has been the perfect companion snapping both distant hippos and busy street life during a trip to Burkina Faso. Easy to carry and easy to learn producing great shots to start with and even better when you put the time in to learn it properly.

    Thanks for the review. Helped me make the choice between the finalist I had narrowed it down to. Cheers. petterw

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