In this second installment of the Nikon vs Canon argument, I’m going to talk about controls and ergonomics. I believe this is the most important comparison when looking at which brand to choose.
If you’re wondering what makes my perspective of Canon vs Nikon different, then have a look at my introductory post outlining how I have shot both Canon and Nikon systems over the past three years.
My general philosophy around ergonomics and controls is that the exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) are the most important.
These three should be accessible one-handed with your right hand so that you can keep your left hand stabilising the lens as you change settings. Less used controls can get away with requiring the left hand or both hands.
Here’s what I’ve found working with both brands of camera:
This is probably where your experience with a DSLR starts (otherwise it’s hard to take a photo).
Nikon is the clear winner here, as the on/off switch is right under the shutter release in all the models I’ve seen. I can quickly and easily turn the camera on and off using one hand. Perfect for turning the camera on as you bring it to your eye to capture a candid moment.
It is very intuitive and quick. I never have to think twice to make sure I’ve turned on the camera.
Canon on the other hand has a couple different placements, with the stupidest being on a range of cameras including my Canon 5D Mark III.
The on/off switch is on the left hand side of my camera under the mode dial and must be accessed with a second hand. There are times when I bring the camera up to my eye and the power is off.
Sure I could just leave the camera on all the time since it will go to sleep to save power, but since Nikon’s button is so well designed and placed, this is something that I feel Canon should address.
Scrolly wheels (a.k.a. command/control dials)
The command/control dials are one that you will use most often, as they will change your aperture and shutter speed (if you take you camera off automatic mode, and please take your camera off automatic mode).
This round is a lot closer. Both Canon and Nikon have their front command dials place near the shutter release. Nikon’s is below the shutter and Canon’s is above but in everyday shooting this difference is minimal.
Where you start to see a difference is in the rear command dial. Nikon has placed its rear command dials right above where my thumb is naturally placed to hold the camera. This makes it easy to reach.
The rear command dial on the Canon is placed further away from where my thumb rests and so I have to stretch to use it. This was actually one of the main reasons I chose to go with Nikon back in 2008 – I thought that the stretch might strain my hand and be a pain (literally).
Now that I’ve shot regularly with my Canon, I’m convinced that it’s a better design than the Nikon. I’ve let go of any issues I may have had with placement because it’s an absolute joy to use. In fact I know of at least one photographer who loves this feature so much that he jumped ship from Nikon to Canon.
The rear command dial can be scrolled through very quickly allowing for quick changes of settings on the fly. The scrolling really shines during image review. Due to the design and interface, I can quickly scroll through an entire shoot and see an almost stop-motion like overview of the shoot. I can quickly stop at any particular picture to have a closer look.
Seriously, it’s awesome. It is especially good for my sports/fitness work as I can quickly see if I captured the most compelling moment of physical expression.
This is probably the toughest comparison of Nikon vs Canon. Straight out of the box, I find Nikon’s easier to use even though it doesn’t jive with my general philosophy of ergonomics.
Nikon actually has at least two different placements depending on what model, and in both cases you need to use your left hand to use the button. Ideally I still think they should have a button that’s on the right hand side to change this setting (perhaps the “OK” button).
I don’t mind using both hands to access controls, however the more I can do with my right hand, the more I can leave my left cradling the lens and providing stability to capture a sharp image.
Canon on the other hand is more consistent with its ISO button placement. My 5D has a very small ISO button beside a few other small buttons on the top right of the camera.
I don’t like their implementation on the 5D mark III because I’m not confident of the placement of the button even with the little dimple for tactile feedback. In fact I’d likely prefer how lower end Canons only have a single somewhat larger ISO button in a similar place so that it is easy to find.
Luckily, my Canon 5D let’s you change which button controls ISO in one of the settings menus. You can make the back “SET” button that’s in the middle of the rear command dial so that you can just press it and scroll the front command dial to change ISO. I find this much more intuitive and quick than the other methods.
Winner: Canon by a slight margin if you change your custom settings, Nikon wins otherwise
Nikon vs Canon | The rest
It’s a bit harder to talk about the other controls as these can even differ between cameras within a particular manufacturer. Here’s a quick overview of what I like/dislike about the two cameras I’ve had the most experience with:
Click on the “+” to expand more on each heading.
Final Thoughts on choosing Nikon or Canon based on controls
If I were choosing a camera based on what I know now, I would consider what I’m shooting and how the controls/ergonomics of potential cameras relates to that. I would go into the camera store and pick up every model of a particular brand (if I was ever going to move upwards in a particular system).
Overall Winner: It depends on what you shoot and what settings you’re going to use the most
In my next post I’ll be talking about differences in performance between Canon and Nikon.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment area below. Hope you find this post helpful!