JAMES ROUSE Photography vs. ROSS HARVEY Photography, Canon vs. Nikon: in The War of The Cameras, who will win? Boo Marshall meets the battling buddies for a series that will try to determine which brand, if either, is the Holy Grail for pro photographers.
At the beginning of the year, I interviewed James Rouse and Ross Harvey for this magazine. Two young men who in a relatively short period of time have become fully booked, highly sought-after wedding photographers. They each credit the other with their success, saying it was their friendship and collaboration over the past two years who propelled them to positions of envy for most start-up businesses.
But although the friendship and professional collaboration is strong, the rivalry between the two is evident from the moment you first get to know them. Ross uses Nikon and James, Canon. (One also has a PC darkroom and the other a Mac — but that’s another battle for another day).
So editor Scorey decided, what could be better than a series of articles where the friends could battle out their preferences? Photographers could see the results and determine if there is any outright winner in the War of The Cameras. Meanwhile, I get to umpire!
On one of the hottest days of the year, I met James and Ross by the river in Norwich to get a sense of their battle plan and to try to determine if, (with apologies to Frankie Goes To Hollywood), when two friends go to war will they score more than a point?
Now, I’ve known both photographers for a couple of years, and I’ve never once met up with either of them without them including cameras in the conversation. A typical conversation with James will start with me asking, «How’s your gorgeous daughter?» Followed up by James replying «Well, I’ve just bought a Canon pancake to photograph her and the dynamic range just before her bedtime…» — well, I exaggerate, but only slightly.
But still, as I arrived, James’ first greeting was, «Boo, these articles are going to be like a therapy session for me! I can’t believe I’m being encouraged to talk Canon vs. Nikon!»
Ross had clearly decided on a different, more traditional battle strategy. “I’m going to wipe the floor with him,» he said — as an alternative to the customary «Hi Boo, how are you?” Thankfully I determined he had actually started the Canon vs. Nikon debate, and wasn’t about to leave to clean the pub kitchen as payment for lunch.
The first thing I wanted to know was, how had each photographer made their decision as to which brand to go with? It’s a question that a lot of photographers ask each other, probably because we either want to have our own choice validated, or because we want to make sure we’re not missing out on something magical with the rival brand. For both James and Ross, the reasons were quite simple.
“I was on holiday in Florida,» James started. «I was determined to buy a DSLR whilst in America. So I left my girlfriend in the Wet and Wild park, all day as it turned out, and sat in a little internet cafe researching which one to buy. At the time, the Canon 400D was coming up with the best reviews — and as I found a really good deal which bundled the kit lenses, 70-300mm and the 18-55mm. I went and bought it, along with a nifty fifty, the perfect little 50mm f/1.8.
«A few months on», James continued, «I wanted to upgrade. At the time I was a financial adviser and one month on, reaching all my targets, I was presented with lots of Argos vouchers. Argos happened to be doing a very good deal on the Canon 40D, this time bundled with the 17-55mm f/2.8.1 also got the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS at the same time. And that was it really. I was Canon then!”
After trying out his skills as a wedding photographer a couple of times, James decided to take the plunge and sold all his Canon gear to buy two Mk ll’s and the 24-70mm f/2.8. «But it wasn’t long after that,» he remembers, that I then switched to primes — and so the zooms went.» With the arrival of the two pro bodies and the primes, and results from weddings that were bringing James dozens of enquiries, he went full-time. And in the past year, whilst waiting for the launch of the ID X, he sold his Mk ll’s to move onto Mk Ill’s, which in turn were sold and replaced with two ID X’s, which are now his current pro bodies. «I remember being told that I was actually on the minutes for sales meetings at the retailer I purchase my kit from,» James laughs. «Because I had on pre-order all at the same time, the two Mk Ill’s and the two ID X’s. When the Mk Ill’s came out, I bought them with the 24-105mm lenses, because they were being sold in kit form before body only. And I just wanted them fast!»
Ross however, went a slightly different route. “I just wanted a camera!» he laughed. “So I went out and bought the best deal I could find — would you believe — it was a Canon!’’ That was back in 2005 and Ross used that body, the 350D with a 50mm f/1.8 for the next four years. «It wasn’t until 2009 that I started to look into getting a full-frame camera and then it was a choice between the Mk I! and the D700. What sold Nikon to me eventually, was the fact that the D700 used the same sensor and AF as the D3 — which was THE big camera at the time». Like James, Ross didn’t plan to become a wedding photographer, let alone a full-time one. At Christmas of the year that Ross was researching full-frame cameras, his father gave him a very generous gift. «I unwrapped my Christmas present from Dad to find a Nikon D700, an 85mm f/1.4, a 24-70mm, a 70-200mm and a 50mm f/1.4. Oh, and two SB900’s. But the most important thing about the gift was the label. It said, ‘Follow Your Dreams’.»
With that camera and a D3, Ross shot his first wedding using only a 24-70mm on the D700 and the 50mm f/1.4 on the D3. «Six months later, the D3S came out. It blew me away with its high ISO capability — so I sold both the bodies I had and bought two of them. I also added the primes, 24mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4, sold the 70-200mm and bought the 45mm tilt.
The 35mm has since become my lens of choice.»
One month ago, James got married. And who could he pick as his wedding photographer, other than his collaborator and friend, Ross? I asked James if he thought it was slightly strange that he has become such a successful wedding photographer using Canon and yet his own wedding would be taken on Nikon? The guys looked at each other. “Well», said James, «my own wedding was entirely shot using Nikon…»
«Except,» Ross interjected, «for the portrait shots.» At this point I was slightly confused.
«So,» I asked, «did James take self-portraits for his wedding portrait shots? Did you have a second shooter who uses Canon?» Once again they exchanged a look. «Urn, I bought one of James’ Mk Ill’s off him,” Ross said. «Purely to use with the 50mm L f/1.2. Um… And the 135mm L.» He stood quickly. “I’m still going to wipe the floor using Nikon for the shoot offs!»
So there we have it. I’ve known Ross as Nikon for professional use and someone who buys the Fuji X100 and Olympus OMD for his own personal use — but to photograph his best friend at his wedding, he brings along a Canon because the lens range includes two that Nikon «Can’t compete with. At the moment.»
For both the photographers, James’ wedding really opened their eyes to how they interact with other couples during a shoot. «It was a totally awesome wedding to shoot”, says Ross. “It was very enlightening for both of us to go through the process. Certain things made it perfect. We both knew the venue, Southwood Hall, extremely well as we both shoot a lot of weddings there».
«Because the venue knows us so well”, James said, «we were allowed to go over and arrange things according to what time of the day the photography would happen. So the outdoor ceremony was arranged for where we knew the light would be best, the drinks, the portraits, the speeches, everything. It was a photographer’s dream to have that kind of control over where everything was to be shot due to light.»
Ross continues, “Yes, light is the top priority. Whether you’re shooting with Nikon or Canon, the light comes first». Ross only had to shoot four formals at his friend’s wedding. «Although to be honest,” said Ross, «it’s very easy for photographers to be negative about certain things, including the number of formals. But both of us would say that it’s better and just as easy to be extra positive. If formals bore you, change them so they inspire you. Mix them up and take them from different angles. Always challenge yourself. And in fact, the most challenging thing for any wedding photographer is taking that shot with a group of people who are not at that moment disposed to standing still, and, due to the time when a wedding ceremony ends, usually under the most challenging light conditions. So see it positively. This is a real challenge to get something real and beautiful and different».
After that enlightening diversion, which may have happened to sweep me away from the revelation that Ross keeps certain Canon peripherals in his camera bag, we returned to the subject of brand.
«Most people,» James muses, “will sit in one camp or the other because they don’t want to admit they’ve spent a lot of money on one system without fully trying the alternative.”
Ross agrees, although he also observes that, «People become emotionally attached to a brand. And that’s the ultimate in sales techniques, to see that attachment happen.”
Again, both are adamant that they won’t use filters on their lenses, whatever the brand.
“If it’s a creative filter, fair enough,» Ross says, «but for protection? I don’t get it. Why spend so much money on excellent glass, only to put something extra to clean on top”? James agrees. With the sigh of a newly married man he says «It’s like buying a new sofa and keeping the protective plastic cover on.»
We then had another diversion as the table of ladies next to us were attempting to take a group self-portrait, and Ross and James leapt up to give their assistance. With consummate professionalism both Ross and James ensured that within seconds all the ladies were arranged into a wedding-perfect bridesmaid style of group pose, to make best use of the harsh overhead 1pm sunlight, and were laughing and relaxed.
«That’s how it’s done!» James laughed when they returned. «But the best thing is, we’ve now got an awesome group of ladies who, if they’re available, are going to model for our Canon/Nikon shoot off challenges!»
As we part company I hear Ross and James arguing good-naturedly about dynamic range.
And one thing is for sure, both know intuitively that communication is the best possible tool for photographing people, and that whatever brand you use will only ice the cake. So whatever conclusions they come to, they will be completely objective. And it will be interesting at the end to see if anyone’s kit comes onto the pre-loved market, and whether either of them will make the minutes of another sales meeting agenda.