Canon EOS 20D, 30D, or Nikon D200?

I am contemplating digital cameras this week, following Canon’s pre-PMA announcement of the EOS 30D. I had expected a 10-megapixel honker to match the Nikon D200. Instead, the Canon EOS 30D is a marginal upgrade to the 20D, similar to the Nikon 70s compared to the Nikon 70. My initial reaction: Why didn’t Canon do more? I already had compared the D200 and 20D before the announcement. My conclusion: Canon doesn’t need to.

For some time, I’ve griped about the Canon EOS 20D compared to the Nikon D70 (at one time, I owned both cameras and now have only the 20D). I often found the photos taken with the D70 came out as I expected, which wasn’t always the case with the 20D. The camera acted more like an extension of my eye. 

As I understand it, and I could be wrong, Nikon’s approach favors in-camera processing and reproducing the film effect. That approach resonates with me. I’m no big fan of post production. Reality: I’m no great-shakes photographer, but I feel better about the stuff that requires skill over software reprocessing. Besides, I don’t have enough time to really mess around tweaking photos.

Canon’s approach, as I understand it, and again I could be very wrong, is to do less in-camera processing and also to put more emphasis on reducing noise. Hence, to my eye, the 20D focus tends to be soft compared to the D70. That said, the more I use the 20D, the more willing I am to do that little extra post-production cleanup.

Another consideration for the differences: Canon produces its own sensors. Nikon, like most other manufacturers, uses Sony sensors (D70 sensor was a Nikon-Sony collaboration, or so I understand). I’m sure some of the difference I see is in the sensor.

Still, I wondered about the Nikon D200. I don’t have access to one for testing, so I’ve had to rely on reviews by people that have one. Ken Rockwell raves about the camera; of course, he uses Nikon cameras anyway, and the D200 would be a big step up from his D70. I respect Ken’s opinion, and certainly his samples impress. Like Ken, Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 18 – 200 mm f/3.5-5.6G DX ED VR lens piques my interest3the idea being to use the one camera and lens most of the time.

After scouring lots of D200 reviews or D200 and 20D comparisons, I would pick the Canon over the Nikon, and so the same would apply to the 30D, therefore. PBase forum member Norm (I don’t know his last name) has posted some excellent Nikon D200 and Canon EOS 20D photo comparisons. Several blind tests are revealing. Consistently, I favore the D200 100-400 ISO shots but the 20D for the higher ranges. The amount of noise produced by the Nikon D200 really surprises, considering the class of the camera. I tend to shoot without flash as much as possible, so noise is a major consideration. Low-noise at high ISO would matter lots to me.

Phil Askey’s D200 review went up, today, I believe (he had a preview posted for months). Phil’s final review has greatly influenced my D200 perspective. Apparently, the default D200 setting is for less sharpening than, say, the D70 or 20D. Even so, I preferred the 20D shots in all his comparisons, extra in-camera sharpening or not, something quite surprising.

I won’t likely follow Ken down the D200 and 18-200mm lens track. And I had considered switching back to Nikon. I’m no great-shakes photographer. The 20D probably exceeds my capabilities anyway. But I’m finally reconciled that I made right choice in the 20D. As for the 30D? Nah, there’s not enough new there for me to switch. Challenge now is to really master what I’ve got.