The idea of permanent struggle between Canon and Nikon, with poisoned darts, overtaking on the right and last-minute changes to win the opponent- is something that seems to be liked a lot by photography enthusiasts and hardcore label snobs, but has very little to do with reality.
Over the years in which there was a clear brand in command and the rest followed its steps, for some time now the balance between the two historic photographic brands in the professional segment has been set. Some models stand out more than others, there are details that one brand exceeds the other, but overall the balance is favored more for economic or logistical issues (system, laziness to change …) than by quality or performance.
It is true that once the Nikon D3 set a new time, and coinciding with the problems of the EOS-1D Mark III and Mark IV that balance between major powers -it seems that we are talking about the Cold War- staggered.
Or maybe just enough so that from then on the soccer fields were seen as many white as black telephoto lens, which ultimately is the image that we all keep.
Now that the recent Nikon D5 and the newest EOS-1D X Mark II are already on the table, we need to put up to date the data to see if, at least on paper (the Nikon D5 we have been able to try it but the Canon not so far) there is a clear winner in the new generation. From the start something seems clear: D5 is a strong punch on the table, while the EOS seems like a quieter renovation, though, raises the issue of video to another level.
Long gone are the 16 megapixels of the D4s and the 18 of the EOS-1D X. 20 million points is the new standard for this couple, which remains committed to a relatively moderate figure for a full-frame sensor in return for giving more prominence speed and high sensitivity.
In any case, those 20 megapixels are already a respectable number to make cuts leaving a decent size. Cuts both when reframing a picture as directly on the camera to expand the focus, or simply because a DX optics in the case of Nikon is been used.
Continuous shooting speed: Canon wins
There is a tie in resolution, but is a victory for Canon in speed, with 14 frames per second with the active mirror (16 fps in Live View mode) and working in RAW format. The more attentive people will have noticed that in fact the original EOS-1D X already reached those 14 frames per second, but then it was only in Live View (non-moving mirror) and JPEG. The Nikon D5, meanwhile, reaches 12 frames per second with the active mirror and 14 with the mirror lifted.
Beyond the figures, it is almost more interesting to look at other details. For example, the new shutter, which with 400,000 life cycles clearly has to be ready to stand that pace of shooting. Or on the edge of the mirror mechanism to lift it up and down, despite being improved it still have physical limitations.
Also the importance of memory storage and the increasing difficulties of the CompactFlash to support this data flow. Nikon is committed to give an alternative to the XQD with a dual slot version for this format, unpopular but very fast, while Canon limits some of their services (such as supporting 173 RAW files at full speed) to the use of CFast 2.0 cards, the new generation of CompactFlash.
From ISO 409,600 (Canon) to ISO 328,0000 (Nikon)
The Canon is slightly faster, assuming there is not much difference between shooting 12 and 14 frames per second. But if it comes to boast of sensitivity, it is clear that the Nikon wins by a landslide. And its 3 million (328,0000) of boosted ISO was one of the most spectacular data in their presentation and occupied more space in the headlines.
However, we must clarify the issue somewhat, because reviewing the data calmly, actually only one step separates calibrated sensitivities of both models. And that, in the end, is supposed to set the reasonable limits within which you can work: ISO 51,200 for Canon and ISO 102,600 for Nikon D5.
Will the Nikon prevail in extreme lighting situations? It remains to be seen, but the early results that we saw playing with a preproduction unit in Las Vegas were truly spectacular and did not leave an easy ground for Canon, which in fact since a long time goes one step –or half-step-behind Nikon on this subject.
Focus points: 153 (Nikon) versus 61 (Canon)
But if there is a point that draws attention, is the difference in the focus systems implemented on one camera or the other. Thus, even before it was officially unveiled, some already suspected the specifications of Canon could sound somewhat disappointing compared with the D5.
So, facing the canon with 61 focus points, Nikon gave the stroke with a system of 153 points and a very comprehensive coverage in the scene. Again we can talk not of theory but of practice, and what we saw in terms of low light focus -very little light- and monitoring is outstanding.
AF points: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II vs. Nikon D5
And Canon? In fact, after a figure that sounds like little, there are very significant developments. Not so much for the 41 cross-type points already present in the previous generation -although not actives with all the optics- but because Canon overcomes one of the most frequent criticisms of the original EOS 1D X allowing to work now with all points even with optical f8.
What does that mean? Photographers to shoot with a telephoto lens and a multiplier that reduces brightness to f8 no longer have to comply only with the center point.
Furthermore, the EOS-1D X Mark II also promises improvements in focus in low light, and in its renewed viewfinder will also appear more clearly illuminated the chosen point or focus area to work in the dark.
Nor can we talk about the focus and forget about the Dual Pixel AF mode of Canon, but since it is a mechanism to work on Live View or when recording a video, we better focus on this aspect.
4K video: Canon wins
Many of the expectations about the possibilities of the new EOS 1D Mark II X fall, of course, in the video section, where we can find some vital improvements that places it -at least on paper- well above its main competitor.
So the first thing to note is that the new Canon is capable of recording video in 4K DCI resolution (i.e. 4096 x 2610 pixels) at 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60 frames per second, while the D5 records in 4K UHD standard (3840 x 2160 points) and in no case it exceeds 30 frames per second.
Although in both cameras H.264 codec is available when processing video sequences, the EOS-1D X Mark II also offers the possibility of shooting in low compression M-JPEG format, allowing you to reach exorbitant 800 Mbps data flows recording in 4K at maximum speed. Nikon, however, comply with 144 Mbps flows. By the way, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, seven times cheaper, record 4K to 100 Mbps, reaching a bit.
Intrigue remains, though, what requirements will need a computer to manage high-quality videos of Canon, because we are talking of sequences capable of exhausting a 64 GB card with only 10 minutes of recording. In the case of the D5 the problem goes in another direction, and that is that only Nikon can record clips of 3 minutes in 4K.
Nikon also seems to have forgotten to include the ability to record video in slow motion, something that is already present in many other cameras of similar or less price. Canon does include a capture mode in Full HD resolution at 120 frames per second.
Beyond video formats, and failing to conduct field tests, it could be good news the inclusion in the new Canon of the Dual Pixel AF focus technology, which has given such good results in the EOS C100 Mark II camcorder and into simpler EOS – it debuted with the EOS 70D – at the moment to focus when the mirror is up.
But if there is a point where the balance of superpowers that we talked about at first is clear, is to talk about the price. The Canon will be finally somewhat cheaper (about 5,999 dollars according to the Amazon.com) than the D5, whose price around 6,500 dollars. But in these figures we could almost talk about a small difference. And one thing is to compete, and another one is to set the prices at the top.
To be surprised or angered at this point for those thousands of euros would be a bit absurd. Not only is something relatively common in this segment, but we are talking about very professional and specialized tools that, in fact, they make sense only for a minority of photographers and agencies.
Particularly for those focused on action, sports or daily photojournalism, as long as they can carry the weight and the bill for these teams. There are smaller and cheaper alternatives, they will target those already tired of SLR (Single-Lens Reflex Camera). True, but they do not provide the same as these two cameras in areas such as speed, in focus and let us not forget the resistance of bodies.
In fact, it is worth remembering that both the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II as the Nikon D5 models are designed for agencies and newspapers (do they still exist?) Rather than freelance photographers who may suffer a fit of laughter when seeing the price and remembering what they charge for each of their photos. The good news is that regardless of who wins this new battle (possibly both), the technologies and advances that this couple presents, more affordable models will somehow appear.
And of course, I have cleared the path at the top of the catalog, now it’s time to put new questions on the table. Which is the place of the EOS 7D Mark II with the arrival of the Nikon D500? When will be available a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV? Will Nikon be encouraged to republish a model as the D700, which had many fans at some time?