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Nikon Expensive Glasses vs. Canon L series?

Nima Karimi , May 03, 2010; 07:49 a.m.

What would you suggest for a guy who is about to buy his first dslr and is stuck between the Canon and Nikon war? all I want is a camera which can satisfy me for about 1 year or so, and then I will be buying a full-frame.
I've heard the Canon L series glasses are the best lenses available and even better than Nikon's expensive ones. is it true? (I personally don't believe such thing but I'd like to make sure)
since I will be upgrading to full-frame soon. so we are talking about their performance on full-frame camera's.
and please dont start the famous Nikon vs. Canon war down here. let's just talk about these two brand's expensive lenses and compare them to each other. okay? :)
as a start I've seen the famous 24-70 reviews for each brand and I really liked the Nikon's version better (yeah, it's a little more expensive than canon's version but we're just talking about quality not "quality/price")
oh! and BTW I mostly do landscape and stock photography. and I've already chosen two cameras from the two brands: Nikon D90 and Canon 50D
so which way should I go?


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Steve Solomon , May 03, 2010; 09:02 a.m.

Greetings, Nima.
Congrats on your decision to go with either the D90 or 50D. Frankly, since yo uknow you are going FF in about a year, I think that your argument between which lens system is better, is really splitting hairs, for these reasons:
1. At this level, each system is of such high-quality at unless you print murals, and area "pixel-peeper", you will most likely not see a difference in image quality! People may argue this point, but I've done enough research into these systems over the years to realize that this is a fact. You'd have to make a MAJOR change to medium format before any image quality differences are apparent (especially at the standard print sizes). And for web design work (the lower resolution images typical on a website), this is even more true!
2. Each system has its strenghts and weaknesses (even with a lens "class" of focal length range), and each company is always coming out with new lenses, firmware, etc., so that you cannot make a blanket statement such as "Canon L glass is better than NIkon's Pro lenses", with conviction. Besides, both systems make superb FF camera bodies.
3. I've heard it stated that Canon's "per pixel" sharpness is higher than that of Nikon. However, I question even this statement, because I have seen image sharpness of equal quality between both systems. It's a matter of the skill of the photographer/printer, AND number 1 above.
I also think that if you travel, you might consider an m4/3 system (Panasonic or Olympus), because this "kit" will be MUCH lighter and more suitable for travel, plus, the image quality of this system does approach that of mid-range DSLRs such as the cameras you mention. Of course, for action or sports, nothing beats the DSLR.
Having said this, I truly think that the decision on which system to go with depends largely on ergonomics, ie., how the camera feels in your hand, operability, etc., rather than on pure "image quality". You need to take a media card to a store with both the D90 and 50D, and play with them, and compare image quality at home. I bet you won't find much difference, other than the ergonomics of each system! Just my 2 cents. Good luck!

Dave Redmann , May 03, 2010; 09:34 a.m.

There is just no way that you can say, on a system-wide basis, that one is better than the other--or even that the best is one or the other. You will find people who think that the best lenses are Zeiss. For 35mm-style DSLR's, that means going Sony (e.g., the Sony / Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8) or limiting yourself to a few manual-focus primes. I'm sure there are people who think Contax is the best. For DSLR's, that means limiting yourself to the long-discontinued and by most accounts not-quite-satisfactory Contax N Digital. But of course all the world knows that the real best lenses are Leica, so pony up for that M9.

My point is that you will go crazy trying to determine definitively what lenses are the best. Contax is probably not really a viable option, but all of the others are. There are great lenses from more than a few sources. Unless there are relatively exotic lenses that you really want/need, either Canon or Nikon would be fine. Really, so would Sony or (if you can deal with the usual rangefinder issue and the cost) Leica. And if you can skip the full-frame, probably Pentax. And you know what? Occasionally the best lens for a particular application might even be a Sigma or something.

David Manzi , May 03, 2010; 10:12 a.m.

When I made the "C vs N" choice a while ago, what drove my decision wasn't the quality of the individual lenses or the bodies; they're too close to call. But Canon made some nice lightweight f4 zooms of very high quality. I could get high quality "pro" zooms and lighten my backpack. I didn't need the speed of a 2.8 lens, and didn't want to carry the weight. It's worked for me.

JDM von Weinberg , May 03, 2010; 10:32 a.m.

There's a "distinction without a difference" here.
But do look at cost ranges for the particular lenses you will want to buy in the future. In some areas N has the advantage, in others, C.

And why "full frame"? Is is some atavistic urge or do you really have good reasons for going to 35mm-sensor size? If you do, then why not get a used 35mm sensor now instead of futzing around with APS-C at all?

There is another sort of contradiction here: if you don't have the money to buy "FF" now, why are you worrying about which $5000 lenses are marginally better than others? Expecting your ship to come in? ;)

Matt Laur , May 03, 2010; 12:13 p.m.

Given the excellent qualities of both makers' lenses and bodies, I'd say this should come down to ergonomics. You need to handle that D90 and the 50D like you mean it, and see if the controls land where you expect them to. If the menus make sense. If the viewfinder's information is what you need. When you go full-frame, the same design sensibilities will be there from each maker. It's something to consider.

Nima Karimi , May 03, 2010; 12:16 p.m.

well thank you all for answering.
I've been told before that choosing between Canon and Nikon only depends on how you like the ergonomics of each camera. but since I heard a lot about Canon L series glasses, I was really curious if there is any differences. now I know that even though there might be some differences in MTF charts and lab test, but there are not much obvious differences in real life and I should just go with the one system that I feel like. :)
@JDM von Weinberg: I would love to get a used FF (in fact a used 5D would be perfect) but I couldn't find one here. and I have only 2000$. despite the fact that I have to save some money for a full frame lens too. and I don't think with 2G's you can get a FF body with Lens (even if it's a used one).
actually I was thinking of acquiring a cropped body with a cheap walk-around lens (since I can't afford the great 24-70 right now) and some useful primes with some accessories and stuff. then start collecting money to buy the full-frame.

Dennis Peek , May 03, 2010; 12:47 p.m.

Keep in mind that bodies and lenses will continue to change and evolve over time, regardless of which system you select. One of the most expensive investments you will make is the glass. Quality lenses are where the money is. Bodies will be updated every few years but the lenses should continue to be usable over several body changes.

I used Canon years ago in the days of film before auto-focus. They have twice changed their lens mount so that older lenses will not work on newer bodies. When that happened, the value of their used lenses dropped through the floor. Nikon has remained fairly consistent in allowing older glass to be used on newer bodies. Some features such as autofocus and metering may not be possible with older lenses. To me, that shows consideration in the end user's investment and better engineering design by maintaining usability. For that reason, I switched to Nikon.

I use full frame Nikon glass on a D200 (reduced frame) with excellent results. Focal length is, of course, different but the quality lenses are still usable. When I upgrade to a full frame Nikon digital body, that glass will still be usable or at least have value.

The choice is yours but consider the long term investment costs and customer support.

JDM von Weinberg , May 03, 2010; 05:45 p.m.

Recent eBay sales show a rather large number of Canon 5D (mark I) with the 24-105mm L lens have sold for between US $1600 and $2000. The body alone can go for as little as $1000. Your $2000 should do if that is really what you need. That being said, I still wonder if you really have a reason for going to the larger format? It's not "full" versus "cropped" any more than 35mm is "cropped" 6x4.5cm.
A year ago, I got both the mark 1 body and the 24-105 and a 430EX flash for about $2100. All like new.

JDM von Weinberg , May 03, 2010; 05:55 p.m.

And for heaven's sake:

I used Canon years ago in the days of film before auto-focus. They have twice changed their lens mount so that older lenses will not work on newer bodies.

There's only been one change and that was in 1986 (One-Nine-eight-six!) Get over it. Twenty-four years is a long grudge. It's entirely possible that the OP wasn't even born then. ;)

I have a full complement of pre-1986, non-AI, very expensive Nikkor glass. There is hardly a Nikon digital body that will let me use these lenses on them with metering, etc. When I went to Canon, there was none that would let me use these lenses. Complicated tables are necessary to judge what Nikkor lenses can be used on what body (e.g., http://www.nikonians.org/nikon/slr-lens.html), so getting on a high-horse about Nikon compatibility since 1959 is not quite on the spot.
That's why I went to Canon where inexpensive adapters let me use ALL my old Nikkors, admittedly, stopped down for metering, but metering is otherwise easy and possible.

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