Three is the lucky number for Apple and Nikon

I was just reading Joe McNally’s post about Aperture 3 and I thought, Yes, three is the lucky number for Nikon and Apple, huh?

Someone today asked me to give a short answer as to which they should buy. Here it is:

Probably neither. But if you must… if you use a Mac, get Aperture; if you use Windows, get Lightroom.

A little Nikon and Canon

Since the introduction of Canon EOS in 1987, Nikon’s market share has been a long slow decline. By the time of the Canon EOS Rebel (film camera) in the 90’s, the consumer market became Canons. Nikon innovated in digital, but Canon quickly caught up such that Nikons appeared expensive. Digital just accelerated the trend. It was looking bad.

Then the Nikon D70 came out and and Nikon’s profits turned around. The Nikon D40 jumped Nikon into the #1 dSLR manufacturer in many countries, having reached parity in sales with Canon.

But the Nikon D3…

I felt the same way as Joe about the jump to the Nikon D3 (for me it was from the Nikon D200 not the D2X). In fact, I felt that way before I even handled the camera. The day it was released, I was at a bar talking about how the Nikon D3 and D300 were going to turn the corner for Nikon in the sports photography and location shooting—just based on the spec sheet and a write-up on Active-D Lighting. I was so excited, I think I convinced Andrei to buy one.

And now, for once, Canon is on its heels. Now, three years later, Canon’s latest sports shooter, the EOS-1D Mark IV, has yet to catch the Nikon D3s in autofocusing performance. This is autofocus—Canon’s bread-and-butter! It’s weird looking at a world where Nikon has better autofocusing down the entire line—and don’t get me started about the tiny little mess of an AF system in the 5D and 7D.

Canon is too great a company to every be “out”—they’ll innovate their way out of this one. But the days of trashing Nikon or holding on to futile rationalizations are over.

Apple Aperture 3

Apple Aperture 3 is the bomb.

…or perhaps teh awesomeness. In any case, I’ll disclose my biases:

I couldn’t resist the call of the Jobs and went and purchased Aperture [on release day]!

Since we were in Palo Alto, I had to make the required stop for Caitlin for dinner at Patxi’s. We opened the box there while waiting 40 minutes for our pizza to cook. Someone from the 14-person long table came up to Caitlin, who was reading the box, and said, “Excuse me, I want to thank you—half the Apple Aperture team is sitting over there.” We turned around and got an ovation as their first real-live customer.

I should carry my camera around more often.

There are a lot of parallels: Here is what I said about Adobe Lightroom:

Lightroom, even if it sucks, will be a serious threat to Aperture. You’d be an idiot to think otherwise.

Lightroom didn’t suck and since it’s introduction, Lightroom has been tearing into Aperture’s market share. Previous updates of Apple Aperture have maintained its strength in areas that it was always strong: digital asset management, multi-monitor full screen support, output management. But never really tried to compete with Lightroom head-on.

For instance, Apple’s digital asset management was always better than Lightroom, but before Aperture 3, there was no export/import syncing: you had to export entire library, or entire projects, not just selections. And on reimport, you had to delete your old project, not just accept updates and edits. Did I mention there was no way to switch between multiple libraries without restart? This example alone makes things almost unusably frustrating.

Aperture 3 is like the Nikon D3—it changes the equation. Faces, Places, video and audio support, slideshows that are jaw dropping… and that’s before you start talking about a real honest-to-goodness fight with speed, presets, adjustment brushes, import bricks, library syncing… even XMP support. David Schloss gives a head-to-head rundown.

Can Aperture 3 be the Nikon D3 for Apple?

Nikon looking ahead

When it comes to photography, Canon’s still got a lock in some areas.

Canon’s still got the lenses: in particular, the fast-wide primes and the “baby L’s.”

I predicted Nikon would be forced to compete with these… let’s see how I did.

Let’s get the fast-wide primes out of the way first. Put simply: Canon’s fast-wide primes suck. Even stopped down to f/2.8, they do worse than Nikon’s new zooms: 12-24mm f/2.8G, 24-70mm f/2.8G, and 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. That’s a no-no because: Canon’s advantage is in megapixels, and Nikon’s cameras are phenomenal at high ISOs. The high pixel pitch exaggerates the crummy performance of these on the corners. So what you’re really buying is something that has a small depth-of-field—a poor man’s Leica with autofocus. Ask yourself if you honestly expect Nikon’s new 24mm f/1.4G to be anything short of phenomenal—and then compare that to the Canon’s EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM—albeit the latter is much cheaper. Canon’s fixing this problem with a slew of updates over recent years, so I expect this to change.

Then again, Nikon shouldn’t sit still either. My 85mm f/1.4D is practically screaming for a G AF-S revision. I count that as the next Nikon in this category.

I never much liked “baby-Ls”: the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM, the Cannon EF 50mm f/1.8 L II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM, and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM. The MTF just reminds me that Canon just doesn’t care about sharpness on their f/2.8L’s outside the center. But you have to admit, they sell well and Nikon has a serious gap. Nikon came out with their first baby-L competitor this week: the 16-35mm f/4 G ED VR—the new trick is it’s image stabilized. I note with some amusement that for years Nikon stated that making optically image-stabilized wide angle lenses was both pointless and technically infeasible. Chalk one up to market pressure. Still, I think Canon has Nikon beat on this one. I never understood the attraction of the baby-L’s but I think it has something to do with the small size and reasonable price: this one at $1260 and a pound and a half, is neither.

Expect more Nikons here, also.

In the bodies there are two gaps: the lack of a decent point-and-shoot and the inferior video capability.

The Canon S90 is a phenomenal P&S, the G11 is its no-compromises sibling, and the Elph line (SD series for the last five years) is such a great design that it is iconic—and copied. On the top-end, I think the Nikon EVIL (or it’s non-interchangeable predecessors) will end the G11 series. Not sure how Nikon plans to respond to the S90 and SD series. The latter is a tough nut to crack.

Nikon cameras only shoot 720p, Canons do 1080p. Both cameras are plagued by a rolling shutter—but Nikon more so. Neither cameras can autofocus while shooting, and it takes a firmware update from Canon to do the manual stuff. Canons are clearly better right now. Nikon was the first (with the D90), and basically their CMOS is stuck with the “it’s a gimmick” stage of development. I assume Nikon will address this and leapfrog Canon. Seeing Canon’s advantages in the video market—the last company to adopt HD video, but still the winner—I don’t see this as really being an area great for them.

Seems like Panasonic’s game to win—truth be told.

Apple and Adobe looking ahead

Because of Canon’s presence outside optics: Canon always been a behemoth next to Nikon, and in this space, it looks even worse: Adobe Photoshop is undisputed… and so powerful, its presence affects the entire photography industry—John Nack says that Nikon white-balance is “encrypted” and a million photographers cried out, and were not so suddenly silenced.

Some may say that the Nikon D70/D40 of this world is the greatly improved iPhoto import in Aperture 3 and XMP support for those migrating from Lightroom. I don’t buy it. Just as “You’d be an idiot to think” that Lightroom won’t improve their import tools, the single largest barrier to Aperture adoption, besides price, has been lack of timely RAW support. This hasn’t changed one bit. Sure Apple support Canon sRAW and Panasonic LX series. But, we’re talking about years here: How about the Olympus E-620, released a year ago? How about the hot-selling Olympus Pen and Panasonic GF-1? The turnaround is super slow when Adobe is sitting there updating the DNG ASAP and the “rest of us” wait for the lethargic “RAW Compatibility Update” only to be disappointed. 🙁

That needs to change.

Another thing looking forward is to realize that Adobe Photoshop is a behemoth, not because it’s that great of a program in of itself, but because it is a platform. Training and tools have been devoted to that program in a way that no other compares. People brag about Lightroom’s training and plug-in support, but, other than the specific case of the RAW processing plugin, I’ve found the whole thing very lackluster and comparable to Aperture 2. In many cases, people are spending their money on presets that should be given away for free. Both get a failing grade here. I don’t think Lightroom 3 beta or Aperture 3 improve on this… and this isn’t Apple’s forté either. More’s the pity.

Still, Aperture is here to stay. Aperture 3 dumped a whole load of mess for Adobe’s team to catch up on. Given that Adobe has moved much of the software development to Asia and that their build process is notorious slow, it’s going to buy Apple a little breathing room.

Remember the rumors that Aperture will be dumped? What ever happened to that?

Now if only Aperture could finally wean me from the dreaded Photoshop roundtrip…

6 thoughts on “Three is the lucky number for Apple and Nikon

  1. Here is another non-scientific data point about the impact of the Nikon D3.

    When Apple Aperture launched, there were three “Profiles” videos:

    – Heinz Kluetmeier – Sports – Canon
    – Joe Buissink – Wedding – Nikon (here)
    – Richard Burbridge – Fashion – Hasselblad

    Now, there are four “In Action” videos with Aperture 3’s launch:
    Chase Jarvis – Fashion/Documentary – Nikon
    Jim Richardson – Travel – Nikon
    Bill Frakes – Sports photography – Nikon
    Doug Menuez – Documentary – Nikon

    As always, the videos are well produced and worth watching

  2. Reactions to Rob Galbraith’s Canon 1D Mk IV AF performance.

    My thinking: This should be no surprise unless your religion is Canon. Faulting Rob Gailbraith for his born-again Nikon bias also falls flat given that he was the first to figure out the focusing problems with the Canon 1D Mk III—a problem no other reviewer noticed and one which Canon has since acknowledge. The overall review can first be read that the 1D Mk IV is head and shoulders above the Mk III in focus tracking. The only issue anyone is having is that for some reason it’s not better than Nikon—and actually, in most situations, it’s worse.

    Nikon will focus more accurately in general—the SRS “3D” integration ensures that. What goes on is even if the subject falls out of the AF sensor area (or even out of frame), the Scene Recognition System will use the 1005 area evaluative meter to assist in subject tracking. Nikon is the only company with so many points and with color sensitivity (in other words, it tracks by color information). So when the subject comes back into frame and into the AF sensor, the sensor is already primed to find it. That’s technology at work. In Galbraith’s soccer issue, the Nikon is almost always better except under extreme lighting (my guess is the SRS gets thrown for a loop then).

    In low light situations, the Canon should do better because there might not be enough color information for the 1005 RGB meter to detect and Canon does area-based AF, which means it gets more light per AF point. I’m a little shocked at the Mark IV’s indoor performance, and I bet that gets fixed in a firmware update. Right now though, it’s a new camera and there are bugs. No big surprise.

    Canon seems to win out in two areas, a couple of shots in soccer night as mentioned above and in track and field when the running is running toward the camera. The latter may possibly be because outdoor contrast, or it simply may be a function of Canon having a very aggressive AF servo tracking. My thinking is it’s the latter and the reasoning is because there is an AF lockout where everything is misfocused after the speedskaters finish the race, because out of focus Canon shots were unusably out of focus, and because Canon AF consistently achieves focus lock in testing faster than the Nikons at all levels (note this is in testing, not real world). All of these point to an AF that is tuned to jump to conclusions and trust the predicitive AF, even if it’s wrong.

    I can’t emphasize enough that this is an area where Canon has dominated for the past two decades. For them to lose this crown, not once, but twice (Canon 1D Mk III vs. Nikon D3 in 2007 was even worse than this), is really… unthinkable. Sport photography has been Canon’s bread and butter since 1987, but Nikon clearly has a better product with a better performing camera and (slightly) better performing zoom lenses.

  3. Rob Galbraith says Canon 1D MKIV Auto-Focus still unreliable. Is it true?

    My take: If you have the Canon 1D Mk III beating the Nikon D3s in tests its been shown repeatedly to have failed in, then you have lost all credibility to claim that the Mk IV beats it. Sorry!

    Obviously, their reviewers were biased and wanted the Nikon to fail. The Mk IV is comparable to the D3s, but the Mk III has a defective AF system. Remember, it was Rob Galbraith that first reported it three years ago, Canon denied it, sites like Pro Photo Home denied it was true and defended Canon, and then Canon fessed up later, and all these sites act as if that was always the case.) Time to go hunting their website for Canon sponsorship! (just kidding). BTW, the “counterpoint” is B.S. since Galbraith never claims that the Canon 1D Mk IV AF is defective. For instance, in their counter-example Galbraith claims only that it is overly aggressive (when the runner stops running, the AF doesn’t let up and keeps prefocusing), that claim has been independently verified by many professional Canon photographers, and is strangely missing for their test. Hmm…

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