Monday, April 19, 2010

It’s official, I’m announcing retirement:

The retirement of the two Canon Mark II bodies and the 16-35 and 70-200 lenses that have served me so well over the last 6 years. These two workhorses have been the tools which have helped me earn a living. They have been by my side through thick & thin, and then some. I’ve lived with them and enjoyed them as friends. I’ve slept with my head resting on them during train rides across India, I’ve protected them from would-be robbers in Haiti, and hid them under beds in Kabul, Cotabato and Cali. I've been tossed out of Cuba with them when I couldn't convince immigration officials that I was a vacationing tourist who just happened to have worn-looking professional cameras. My Canons have been locked up with my PackSafe in countless five-dollar-a-night hotels around the globe. I’ve shot them, unprotected, in heavy downpours in East Timor and in the dust storms of Southern Sudan. I’ve made images of Rajasthani rickshaw drivers and watched their eyes light up as I showed them their picture on the screen. I’ve handed them to novice monks in Burma and watched in delight as they discovered, wide-eyed, about the magic of digital photography.
Although I have mishandled them, including one incident when I dropped my 70-200 nine feet down, off of an elephant, (that story here) and Ken Rockwell's review of the amazingly undamaged lens here), only once did these Cameras ever let me down; that was in Sri Lanka, back in 2006 while shooting one-year anniversary of the Tsunami when a shutter broke (story here).  
But alas, technology marches forward in this new age of building faster, lighter, better, sharper cameras every 6months. In “digital camera years” these Mark II bodies are dinosaurs. In order to serve my clients well, and provide them with the best images I can deliver, it’s time to replace them with upgraded technology. So, a few days ago I pulled the trigger and ordered two Nikon D3s’s from Adorama…..Nikon you gasp…yep, that’s right, Nikon. After much thought and a thorough analysis of the costs, I have decided to switch back to Nikon. You may remember my story in 2004 when I was robbed of my two trusted D1X’s while in a really bad neighborhood in Lima Peru (story here).  
The debate that many photographers have over Nikon vs Canon, is something that has never really interested me, and I’ve always said that which camera you’re using doesn’t make a difference (see my quote in the last paragraph here.
My decision to “upgrade” is based on the improvement in picture quality at high ISO’s which I believe to be the most significant advancement in recent years, and my decision to switch from Canon to Nikon is based mostly on economic reasons....Let me explain: The way I see it, at this time, Nikon offers a full frame pro body with high ISO capability for $5000 while Canon’s full frame Mark IIIs is $6,115 and lacks high the newer, cleaner, high ISO settings. Since I have to buy two bodies, the math is simple. I can get 2 Nikon bodies, the 2 new lenses I need (the17-35 f2.8 and the new 70-200 f2.8), one extra battery and a flash (SB-400) for $14,609, while with Canon, it would cost me $12,229 for 2 full-frame 1Ds Mark III  bodies, (old technology with max 1600 ISO), plus another $2499 for the new improved 70-200 2.8, for a total of $14,729 . (Replacing the 16-35 2.8 would add another $1,520, but of course, I could just keep using my existing 16-35, 2.8).
Perhaps some would say, “but you can get the 5D Mark II for $2,500”…..I know, I know, but I need the toughness of professional bodies which can withstand the rigors and abuse that I will be subjecting them to, as well as ergonomics that don’t allow dials to be accidentally rotated when bumped (this is a problem I see with the command dial on the 5D Mark II). And then there was the option to get the new Canon Mark IV but I really wanted to get back to a full frame, for the little bit of extra wideness rather than stay with the 1.3 crop factor.
So; soon, I’ll be shooting Nikon again. Frankly, I’m looking forward to something new. Change is good, that’s one of the reasons I love my job so much…whether it’s traveling to a new country, covering a new story or in this case, getting new camera gear; change offers me an opportunity to learn something new.
Sure, I’ll have to get used to lenses that mount and zoom in the reverse direction, and yes, I’ll have to read an owner’s manual the size of an encyclopedia, but hell, why not, I need something to do on my next 16 hour trans-pacific flight.
As for the future of my 2 “gently” used, near “mint condition” Canons (ha ha), I’ll be selling those in order to help defer the cost of the new Nikons. So, if you know someone who might be interested in buying them, let me know, I’ll give them a great deal.




NET-Photography said...

I'm wondering which wide angle lens you decided to use on the D3s?

I'm currently using the 14-24 for Editorial work and found it to be too wide and too unprotected. It even collects water inside the hood when I used it in the rain.

Karl Grobl said...

Thanks for catching that omission, I just updated the post to include that info....I got the 17-35 f2.8 and the new 70-200 f2.8 VR. I agree that the 14-24 is a bit too wide and with the bulbous front element it's would be too difficult to protect. I also updated the post to reflect that the flash I bought was the tiny SB-400, which is just enough for those few instances when I need fill flash.

Heber said...

Welcome back to the Dark Side...
I don't care either about brand loyalty. But it's good to see you using Nikon ;-).
I think Nikon lacks a usable range f/2.8 wide angle. The 14-24mm is excellent! but not for using in travels and stuff as yours... the 17-35 f/2.8 is the only left option, it's really good but I think needs an update. Anyway, I's going to be great to read your impressions on the new gear, your finds out.
Thanks Karl,

Aymeric said...

I was afraid, when I read the post title I tought it was about your retirement !

Bonne continuation et bravo pour votre travail.


Anonymous said...

I think the thrashed look of the old cameras becomes them very well!

Too bad you are no longer using the standard camera straps -- with these modern r-straps and metal hook-thingies it will take ages for the new ones to reach that great patina. :-)

Tom Askew said...

I have been following your blog for some time now. I have read your stories about the stolen Nikon bodies. As a life long Nikon shooter as a pro I would like to say welcome back. I don't think you will regret the change. Canon and Nikon both build a great camera and I have shot both but I still think Nikon has a feel about that you just can't get away from. Good luck and Blessings for your cameras and your travels

Keith said...

Welcome back to Nikon! I remember years ago when we were discussing the virtues of the F100 film camera.

You're going to wet yourself when you compare the D3's AF accuracy/speed and lack of high-ISO noise to your Mark II dinosaurs.



Jordan said...

Karl those cameras just look rad. In the Marines we were obsessive about using black touch up paint on every eyelet or buckle or clip that showed wear. Every day if necessary. So those cameras wouldn't pass inspection. You would be doing push ups all day for that. In fact Karl why don't you just get down and knock out some pushups right now. Time to get your touch up paint and make those bad boys black again. I bet somebody (maybe a Marine) could get another 5 years out of them!

Karl Grobl said...

Jordan, thanks for your comment.. I've got the touch up paint ready, but my arms are too tired to paint now because of all those push-ups you made me do! Yes, I'm sure my cameras would never pass a Marine's inspection. with all that exposed shiny metal, the enemy would be able to spot me from miles away. I guess you could say that these bad boys are "for civilian use only".
Thanks for your comment, and more importantly, thanks for your service to our country.
Semper Fi

Celso Mollo said...

Hey Karl

Great choice, for the type of photography you do, those Nikon bodies are the very best and I am sure you will continue to capture amazing images around the world.
I just bought a 7D and I will probably sell it soon and buy the 1D Mark IV, it would be too expensive to change my whole system, and besides I need a full frame with higher resolution for my landscapes and that in Nikon`s world would be the D3X, a 8,000 CND camera, and for that I would have to work in the red light distric in my spare time to make enough money to buy it.
Good luck my friend and I hope to see you next year!


Jordan said...

Karl I've done thousands and thousands of push ups. I hate push ups, really. But If doing push ups now will keep me alive later then I'll do them. So I'm glad you knocked out some push ups. Whenever I don't know what to do I just get down and knock some out. I think we're all better for it. I know you're busy but if you come to Germany then stop by. We can have a coffee, and then a beer later. Or maybe we can meet up with Ken Rockwell in San Diego. I was in Iraq a while back telling him how we used to take our beat up HMMWV on photo excursions and he said we could have a ride in his wife's Cayenne Turbo some day. I'm down for that. Or come visit me in Afghanistan if I end up there.
Semper Fi. Jordan

Serge Van Cauwenbergh said...

Karl, welcome back to Nikon! Body and lenses are excellent choices.

Mike said...


Is there a reason you didn't go for the new Canon 1D Mark IV?

Karl Grobl said...

Yes, Mike, it was the crop factor. I wanted full frame and wasn't willing to settle for the 5DMarkII, nor was I willing to fork over big bucks for Canon's full frame pro-body, the "s" model, since it's high ISO capability is quite limited. Thanks for your question.

Will Austin said...

Hello Karl, very interesting post! I am a Nikon shooter and I have a different workflow than most as I like to get the very best quality out of my Nikon NEF files. Let me know if you need any help/advice in this area. Cheers!

Lee Kay said...


Good luck with your new toys- I'm sure you'll enjoy them greatly. I deffinitely agree with your choice of full-frame over crop for wide angle, but I'm not sure your choice of the 17-35 is the best one. With the crazy high-ISO abilities of the D3s, the lost stop with the 16-35 f/4 VR will mean much less than having a newer technology lens, with VR (when it matters). On the flip side, your usage model may be better served with the all-metal 17-35. The extra money can also make a difference, but that seems to be too late for that...

Karl Grobl said...

Thanks for the comment Lee Kay, Actually I considered the 16-35 f4 VR but I often I shoot wide open and need the shallower depth of field...and as you mention, metal construction. I would have liked to save the money and be a bit wider but the f4 doesn't cut it for me.

Thomas said...

Finally !!!!
Looking forward to the full frame I suppose !
Take good care and let me know when you are around here...
Stay safe !

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl!

Can you comment on why you don't use primes?

Also how important is resolution to you in your work?


Karl Grobl said...

Thanks for the question.
I don't use primes because I need to be able to adjust my composition without moving backwards and forwards all the time. I own only 2 lenses and try to travel as light and agile as possible. Changing lenses takes too much time and energy, in my fast paced shooting style. In terms of resolution, I don't worry fact I shoot only jpeg and I have never had a client complain. A well executed jpeg is all you need for most applications. In fact, World Vision Cambodia has blown up some shots I took way back when using a Nikon D1x, to a size of about 6 feet by 8 feet....they look great. And all the rest of my clients use my images in printed publications, and comment how crisp and clean the photos are. I'm not against raw, if you have the time to mess with it, but I don't photoshop anyting, I try to get a good jpeg the first time.
Happy shooting,

Tauno Ööbik said...

What about AF-S 24-70 f2.8. It is a really sharp and modern glass, although the seize factor seems to be against it.

Karl Grobl said...

Hi Tauno,
Thanks for the comment.
The 24-70 is not wide enough for me, I like a much wider angle so the 16-35 is my choice.

Karl Grobl said...

oops, I meant to say 17-35.

LG said...

Hey, are you going to be selling your lenses as well? Send me an email, maybe we can work something out. Thanks!

jsvfoto said...

Thanks for sharing that you only shoot jpeg. It's nice to know that a pro doesn't consider it an inferior format. Have fun with your new gear.


Rob said...

Although I agree that what works for you is more important than brand, I'd still like to welcome you back to the world of Nikon. I just had bag filled with gear, including the Nikkor 14-24, 24-70 and 85, all stolen out of a bus in Yunnan province in China. Luckily my body and new 70-200 survived. As my insurance will cover everything I'm also thinking that it's time to switch to something other than the 14-24 as like others have said, it's a great lens but has its challenges.

Zen Photographic Workshops said...

Welcome to the dark side. We a freindly lot. Cheers

Kayode said...

The History behind this cameras is quite timeless, you could probably get away selling it for more than you got it really . Would have made an offer but .....

Eva, Michael Tim and Oskar said...

Hi Karl,

what about between 35mm and 70mm? Do you generally not use that level of zoom?



Karl Grobl said...

Hi Eva,
When it comes to 35-70mm, I just walk forward with the wide lens or back up with the tele :)

NET-Photography said...

One thing in my opinion that Nikon is not as good as Canon is weather sealing.

My Canon Mark II and Mark III as well as sealed lenses never had a problem in the rain. Never stop working.

Two D3s stopped working after several minutes in the rain. Rubber gasket on 14-24 and 70-200 will not keep water out of lens mount. After drying them....they came back to life. From now on I will never subject my Nikon to rain ever again.

Karl Grobl said...

Thanks for the comment Natthawat, that's interesting I'll be careful with the D3s until I know its limits. How hard a rain storm was it? A typical Bangkok downpour or just a drizzle? I'm in BKK quite a bit, we should meet for a cup of coffee. Enjoyed your website and blog. Great shots of the protests.

Anonymous said...

I was upset about some comments. How can somebody being so.... you know...i wasn't born with a silver spoon. I got my every clothes from my mom's friend, because we can't offered new. When I was in the college on a railway I got penalty. My hole money for food was 1000HUF for a month. My penalty was 600 HUF so..It wasn't any side job. I am strong I survived 3 weeks on bread and tea. When finally i called my mom- because i was very hungry- and told her my stupidness-, I cried.
I learned my lesson how can appreciate old and used things. I bought my camera used too.

If you sell yours earlier probably I'am the one, who buy it because this is a good deal. I don't care is something has scraches or dents on the outside, but works perfectly.

I hope you found somebody, who appreciate, and taking care of , and not judging about the outside.

Btw.: Karl, are you teaching classes? I love your pictures. Each tell a story. I would like to learn from you if its possibe.

Karl Grobl said...

Thanks for your comment, I hope people read it. Coming from someone like you, who obviously had a difficult time early in life and learned to get by with, and be successful with, used or old stuff is a good lesson. I've said before that the camera doesn't matter as much as the photographer's eye, lots of determination and a passion for the craft. I love it when I see great photos being made by folks who don't have all the fancy new gear. Bravo to you!
As far as teaching....I lead several photo tours each year, and on those tours I teach about photography. you can see the tour offerings at
Take care,

Theodore Paradise said...

Hi Karl - I just recently came across your blog and have enjoyed reading it. Did you consider the Nikkor 16-35 f4 VR?

Karl Grobl said...

Hi Theodore, thanks for the question...I answered it above for someone else, but it's worth repeating because it's a good qustion.

....Actually I considered the 16-35 f4 VR but I often I shoot wide open and need the shallower depth of field...and as you mention, metal construction. I would have liked to save the money and be a bit wider but the f4 doesn't cut it for me.

Jason said...

Don't waste your time with the SB400 even if Mr Rockwell likes them.
Check out what Joe McNally thinks of the SB900
Its so cool.
A little bit bigger but honestly amazing. SB400 is like a toy in comparison.

Chris said...

Oh my, Joe McNally makes the most fake looking pictures by putting flash units just a about every place light would and should never come from.

Imho that is just the opposite of what Karl is trying to capture with his pictures. So why would he need that flash power?

If I were to carry two of these Nikon howitzers, I'd use the lightest flash available, too.

Jeroen said...

Nice to read a pro's objective opinion. It seems there's a lot more objectivity amongst pros than there is with the semi-pro/amateurs.

Must be tough to say goodbye to equipment you've used so intensely.

I think the Nikons will not disappoint you when it comes to durability. Good luck with making the switch!

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl.

I've been shooting with Nikon for many years now, and I am about to cross the border with a Canon, or maybe a Panasonic, for video reasons. Its a shame Nikon has not got anything in the lineup yet, and I have waited long enough. Unlike your plan, I wouldn't be selling any of my Nikon gear (not just yet...), and I agree with you. A camera is a tool, and it only serves you best for what you need it for. Its good to be loyal to a brand, but if you need it to make money for a living, will the brand loyal worth the value?

PS. The SB400 is not as good as the SB900, but the I think SB800 is still the best flash. Perfect size, and it doesn't have the over heating issue. I have 2 of these, and will be keeping it for a long time!

Tom Truong

Ed Baumgarten Photography said...

Welcome back to the darkside!

Anonymous said...

The SB400 is light and easy to carry around. The other speedlights are cumbersome and not suitable to his shooting style.

Besides, the higher iso performance will not necessitate much more than the fill light he said he was getting it for.

I use it all the time for the same purpose. Not to light up the sky so to speak and it is cumbersome to use in a fast paced style of shooting in such environments he shoots in.

NET-Photography said...

It was downpour and today one of the dial on vertical grip stop working. I don't use vertical shutter release much so it might have stopped working for a while now but I just found out. After giving it a quick spin for few minutes, It came back to life again. Now I don't fell like Nikon are that durable. Also my 70-200mm II got dent near the lens mount already. The lens external barrel around the mount is not that thick unlike Canon's 70-200.

Less than two months with Nikon system (switched from Canon because of service center is really bad.) I have more and more regrets with Nikon durability. Oh and one time the 70-200 will not AF at all. After re-mount the lens it works fine. Could have been dirty contacts. I never had this problem with Canon.

If I can go back in time, I will stay with my Canon. It may not focus as good as D3s but at least it works and very dependable. -_-

Karl Grobl said...

Natthawat, I'm sorry you're having so many problems with the Nikons. Despite all the problems, you're making great photos there in the big mango. Keep it up. Cheers, Karl

BigEasy said...

Welcome back! I too believe too much time get's wasted in the Cannon/Nikon arguments. Both make top quality equipment depending on your needs.

What I found most interesting was your field setup... 17-35 and the 70-200, with a SB400. You obviously put importance on available light. I too am a big SB400 fan and have promoted it with many as the perfect field flash when used with the newer high iso bodies. (my pocket rocket as I call it).

I'm looking forward to seeing your next round of photos with your new Nikons. As for your camera bag.. well great minds, I guess, as we carry the same. One thing I also carry in the bag is a 24-120mm. Not Nikon's best or fastest lens, but I find it is just perfect for bridging the gap between my 17-35mm and 70-200mm. With the higher iso bodies it is plenty fast enough most of the time.


Paul Vincent said...

I have been a Nikon user ever since film age. The only thing that bothers me the most of Nikon bodies are the rubber seals. In a matter of months the rubber loosens and breaks apart from the body. I have already replaced these rubber seals twice and it not cheap! I have several bodies of Nikon so it will be so much expensive replacing all of them.
What i did is cut a portion of the rubbers to fit in its place and super glued them back. Even the rubber grips of the lenses are loosening. Im just wondering with your line of work these rubbers will loosen very fast.
Im a wedding photographer here in the Philippines btw.

Karl Grobl said...

Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. The rubber grips on the Nikon have had a history of falling off. My D1x bodies all had to be superglued down. I'm hoping that they have fixed this by now withe the new D3s! We shall see. Hey, how are the elections going over there? Aquino won I believe. I'm going to be in Manila next week, are you Manila based? Cheers,Karl

Paul Vincent said...

I have a 1 1/2 year old D3 and a 8mos. old d700 and the rubbers are starting to loosen. I also ordered a d3s here in our legit local distributor but theyre out of stock, so im still waiting, i have tried handling one though and its sweeett!

Yep, I'm based in Manila, Quezon City. Well theres no official announcement yet but its Aquino alright. Hope I can get to meet you on your visit here if scheds will allow. Btw, better bring light clothes, its 35-37 degrees here at this time of season. Just a heads up.

Glenruben said...

How much do you want for the canons? As a hobby photographer and sometimes student of photo I'm very interested in used, tried and tested gear!