Tom Oldham: After 22 years of using Canon professionally I've switched to Nikon, here's why
During the Virgin Media V Festival last year Pocket-lint shadowed official photographer Tom Oldham from stage to stage, trying our own hand at gig photography and finding out it's not as easy as you might think. And the year before we interviewed him about what this particular job entails. Both times Canon cameras were a significant part of the story.
But not so for V Festival 2014 as Oldham has jumped ship. After 22 years of predominantly using Canon cameras in his work for Virgin Media, MTV, Mojo and a host of other brands he decided to ditch them in favour of Nikon kit.
He has swapped his two Canon 5D Mark IIs for Nikon D810s, foregoing the Mark III, and this year's V Festival in Chelmsford was their first outing. Indeed, he only got them two days beforehand.
That's why Pocket-lint decided to again shadow Oldham, although this time not to have another crack at festival photography but to find out whether it was easy enough to change camera brand on the eve of one of the biggest work gigs of the year. And whether he thought it was worth it.
It was, he told us.
"I had Canon 5D Mark IIs which were long outdated and they were due for a refresh quite a while ago. But Nikon just seems to be leading with how much tech it is cramming into these bodies. And the power of the things is astonishing. There is obviously a DSLR market leader there, I think," he said.
"It’s funny because you go into the pro room and there’s a load of hardcore photographers in there and all the ones that are using or have just moved to Nikon are going, ‘yep.' And all the Canon guys are looking a bit wide eyed and a bit daunted.
"The recognition is clearly there for what Nikon is creating at the moment."
He believes that is because nothing else out there touches the D810 for picture performance.
"The only thing I can do is compare picture quality to what I was using before, but the main thing that I can pull up is that the latitude of the [RAW] file is astounding. We put two stops into a sky on a low wide shot where the sky was burnt out – we put a graduated filter down on it – and it all came back. I did not have that before. I was genuinely blown away on how much data is there," Oldham explained.
"It’s great for us. We’re shooting in really bright light and then running indoors and shooting in really low light, and obviously we adjust our exposures and ISO accordingly, but all that data in the shadows and the highlights is all there. We’re cranking up the ISO to unholy levels too. When I was shooting in film, the objective was to keep the ISOs down as low as possible, but now if I’m shooting Rita Ora indoors at 2,000 ISO great, it still looks brilliant.
"We can now be shooting at a five hundredth of a second at 2,000 ISO indoors and no one cares because it looks great. You’re not going to get a kicking for that and it will blow up the size of a house."
One thing you will have to consider if you're also thinking of jumping ship though is that you will have to learn an entirely new system, he revealed. Using a high-end Nikon camera is quite a test for someone so familiar with Canon - something even Pocket-lint is aware of when we test cameras from both sides.
"It has been a baptism of fire, but there’s no better way of getting to grips with it. Rather than being sat there with the manual open pointing at my telly, to be out here using it, to be hardcore all day next to some of the best music and news photographers in the country, you have to make sure your stuff is as good," he said.
"I just shot everyone yesterday, got in front of as many artists as I could, just to get my head around the controls. The lenses attach in a different way, the zooms go in a different way, the fingers and thumb controls go in a different way, so it’s the reverse.
"What I’m having to do, I realise, is think and do the opposite of my reflex. What is my reflex telling me? Do the opposite of that. So I’m just trying to get into the habit of what does what. But the main priority is that I know that it is better. I have to get up to speed with it. It is not the problem, I am. Any problems therefore are finger problems rather than equipment problems. Because I know this thing is absolutely kickass kit.
READ: Nikon D810 review
"I’ve got two D810s with the 14-24mm f/2.8, which is an astonishing bit of glass, a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, the 85mm f/1.4, and I’ve borrowed a 300mm f/2.8, which is also astonishing.
"I think the really interesting thing about all of that glass in combination with the 810 is that if there is anything out of focus, anything that’s badly exposed, I can’t blame it on the kit any more. It’s all down to me. And that is a new thing for me."
Certainly, there were moments during his first day out in the field (literally in this instance) that proved the adjustment would be tricky. Especially with zooms and lenses twisting the opposite way to Canon equivalents.
"With Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs, I thought ‘oh my God he’s going to do a jump’ and instead of zooming out I zoomed in a couple of times. I was like, ‘I definitely didn’t get that shot.’ But I did get a really tight frame of a body in mid-air with no limbs," he laughingly explained.
"And sometimes you’ve got seconds to try and sort a shot out. I had the wide lens with me, which a lot of guys didn’t, so I wanted to get Ricky Wilson in the crowd but I’m jamming this lens on there the wrong way and thinking, ‘why won’t this fit?’ So that was funny."
But Oldham is convinced it's all worth it. While consumers need to consider exactly what they want to do with their cameras before they make a similar plunge, from Canon to Nikon, vice versa or even to another brand, such as Samsung, Panasonic or Sony, it is the Nikon D810 that has turned his head in a way that no other non-Canon camera has before.
"You can’t ignore the evidence. It’s staring you in the face – this is a better camera than anything else comparable. Price wise I think it is incredibly competitive, it’s not high, high end, it’s really good mid-level cost. And it’s as good as anything you’d ever want. Unless you need super fast action frame rate," he finished with.
"I’ve just changed 22 years of habits, reflex, gut reaction and every single form of training I’ve ever had – completely jumped ship – simply because this is a better camera."
You can check out Tom Oldham's portfolio of work and find out more about him on his own website at tomoldham.com. He's also an active user of Twitter (@Tommyophoto) where he also posts regular examples (sometimes of Example. Probably). And you can find out more about the Virgin Media Louder Lounge and the exploits at this year's V Festival on its own dedicated Twitter feed (@VMLouderLounge).
You can also see some of the band and artist shots Oldham captured during the Festival using his Nikon D810s in our gallery below. All the pictures of him and the cameras themselves were taken by Pocket-lint using a Nikon 1 AW1 weather-proof compact system camera.