Canon vs Nikon… and your paralyzing fear of taking a bad picture.

Neither. If you take nothing more than that from this article, walk away with that and walk far away. Canon and Nikon can go fuck themselves, that's not the question you should be concerning yourself with anyway. For those interested in a more verbose explanation, let me tell you a story. 

After a lengthy debate with a friend that had finally seen enough beautiful pictures to get their act together and start pursuing that noble art of photography, we had reached the crossroads that for everyone is where the magic stops and the doubt and insecurities set in.

“I'm buying a camera, I want to start taking photos... ”, that’s my friend. Me: “That's Awesome! Do it-”. “So… should I get a Canon or a Nikon?” my friend says, bright ideals starting to crumble under the pressures of feeling uninformed. Poor sap, fact is, it’s nothing more than a marketing trap. Like those are the only choices. It happens so fast that before I can even start explaining about the excitement of setting up a shoot, or learning exposures, or tell wildly animated stories about how I learned by simply poking and prodding my way through my mom's old camera bag at all hours of the night... here I am, stuck having to pick between to equally subjective non-answers when it comes to making a picture.

Instantly I’m annoyed, I try to change the subject or give an answer that is both enlightened and political… but he keeps pushing for a definitive answer, they always do… but there isn’t, sorry, and there will never be. 

Science is great for measuring things; in fact, it’s the best at measuring things. From Stoney’s to Plancks, we have a word and a tool and possibly a profession to help us categorise anything we come across. Anything that is, except for art. It blatantly refuses to sit still long enough for us to stick a tag on it's head. Oh, but don’t think we haven’t tried, there are people with doctorates and degrees and special honorary titles, heading up board meetings that get paid a lot of money to help force this indignant little cretin into a box, to finally find a grading system that will make it all better. But it still hasn’t happened. The best we’ve come to muster in the last few 100 years has been… does anyone think that it is art? Ok cool, then I guess it is.

This obviously poses a problem when we consider photography, an activity that neatly skirts the realms of both science and art. One in a real way drives the other. So when it comes to decision making time about which camera to buy, we ask the scientists: "Oh mighty THEY who tell us things that are true, which camera will make me be most creative?" To which they shrug and take out their little whiteboards and spreadsheets and start giving you facts.

Facts that have merit, and value but do nothing to answer the question, because the questions are wrong. We can measure, to the single photon, a digital camera’s sensitivity to light, to within imaginary numbers the hypothetical resolution that can be resolved. We can do stress analysis on the bodies, reflective analysis on the coatings on the lenses. Hell, if it’s even vaguely associated with anything, there’s a test and a measurement that we can run and get a score for. “But Neil!” I hear you cry, “that’s how we tell how good a camera is!” Yeah, sure. But we're not talking about that quite yet, and if all you want is a machine that can discern a single grain of rice on the dark side of the moon without a tripod, sure, let’s talk about the latest debayering algorithm. Let’s all jump on the flash-sync speed bandwagon and all huddle under the blanket of image stabilization. But before we do, let’s remember what we’re talking about… pictures, photos, little flecks of colour arranged in a way that makes your eyeballs wants to lick them.

Which begs the question then, what does it take to make a brilliant photo? The answer, as regretful as it is, is you. As much as that sounds like another self-help mantra for idle middle aged mothers, it’s the truth. The only thing standing between you and brilliant, expressive pictures is your inability to get over the fact that which camera you use doesn’t matter. No lenses, no fancy tripods, no expensive memory sticks or grips will get you any closer to that goal.

I know far too many people with obscenely overpriced cameras that take perfectly in focus, perfectly exposed pictures that are boring as shit. “Oh! But look at how sharp that guy’s fingernails are! And you can practically count the leaves on that tree!” they exclaim. “That's awesome! But he’s ugly and you cut off half his head! And he looks constipated!” I don’t think some people even look up from the settings bar to see what they are taking a picture of. Technical superiority won’t give you an artistic edge. Ever. You might have the technical edge over some kid with a blackberry, but the kid with the blackberry is going to be better than you in every single way because she has to work around the difficulties that you are trying to pay your way out of, instead of learning.

Honestly, I don’t know where this unnerving need for the perfect tool came from. Maybe it's just hard-wired into our lizard brains since the first time we made a rock sharper than another rock and saw an actual increase in functionality. Unlikely though, it has to do with all the inflated mystery that surrounds creativity. Where in so many avenues of human existence you can fake your way into the ranks of the elite, being creative is still veiled as the hazy, seemingly mystical, birth right of but a few people.
Which is complete crap really, once you get down to it, everything is just practice. The unfortunate truth is that most people just are lazy.

So how does this impact Canon or Nikon? Think of it this way, I want to put up a shelf so I can place my collection of limited edition hand-crafted Himalayan...whatevers, on it, for the world to see. Obviously I am concerned over getting it right, lest my prized possessions slide off and plummet to their demise on the parquet flooring far below. So I do the rational thing, I go buy a spirit level, if that's not good enough I could make sure it’s damn straight by buying a laser based measuring tool with built-in GPS and a accelerometer to boot - for 100 times the price. No-one would dare to argue that I just made that shelf sit on the horizon line, in fact it would be the definitive measure of level in my neighborhood and people would come from far and wide to gasp in awe at it's lack of an incline.

The same doesn’t apply for making pictures, having laser guidance won’t find the angle that makes all the elements in the frame blend, or tell a story or even just sit in a way that makes it fun to stare at. (It could tell you if it's straight though) That's something you have to work for. You have to take a thousand pictures, and accept defeat on all of those, and then take a thousand more. And then, you’ll start seeing things that work, and things that don’t. No manufacturer will tell you which photo is better, not in any way that matters. And no camera can do things another can't - not in a way that you can't fix, circumvent or just simply ignore.

So before you go asking silly questions about which camera, take a minute and start thinking about the kind of pictures you're interested in. Think about the light and the action and the experience and the printing and the staring-at of that picture. And then once you’ve done that, chances are you could take it with your iphone. Once you accept that, you'll realise that all these statistics and comparisons mean nothing and you could rather go on one lavish photo taking holiday, instead of spending a year's salary on a piece of plastic that will be scientifically defunk this time next year... and getting your friends upset because you can't accept that marketing could be wrong.

Now stop whining and go make a picture.

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