TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY: A PHOTOGRAPHER'S HURDLE
So I was all excited because my 7 year old Canon 7D just got sold online! Which meant I had successfully raised some cash for my next camera. Now my brain was battling it out where several cameras were running through my head and it was not an easy decision to make. The first question that ran through my mind was what applications am I targeting?. I do lot of wildlife photography followed by landscapes and very few portraits. This year I have also committed myself to get into some Astrophotography where I want to capture pretty Milky Way shots. That is where the decision got even more complicated. The challenge here was to find that one camera which can do everything for me.
There are two types of DSLRs that companies like Canon and Nikon manufacture. A crop sensor camera and a full frame camera. A crop sensor camera has a relatively smaller sensor whereas a full frame has a larger sensor. Biggest advantage of a full frame camera is that it can draw more light into the sensor which in turn gives less grainy and noise free images at higher ISO levels. On the other hand the biggest advantage of crop factor cameras is that you can get closer to your subject. For example Canon crop sensor cameras have a 1.6x crop factor which means when you mount a 100mm lens to your crop sensor camera, it actually becomes a 160mm lens. This works perfectly for wildlife because you now get more closer to your subject due to the automatic 1.6x zoom. But then crop sensor cameras don't work well at higher ISO levels because of their limited sensor size. Crop sensor cameras have evolved a lot over the years. Older crop sensor cameras were no good beyond 400 ISO but these days you can shoot at about 1600 ISO with a crop sensor camera and get noise free image. But they are no match to a full frame. On a full frame you can shoot at 6400 ISO and still get a noise free photo which you can print on an extra large canvas and hang it up in your living room. When I looked at my budget there were two cameras that were fitting inside my wallet. The Canon 7D Mark II which is a crop senor body and the Canon 6D which is a full frame body. Third option was to stretch my budget little bit and get a Canon 5D Mark III which is a full frame camera. Let us now look at these three cameras on an overall basis and what advantages/disadvantages they enforced for my applications:
The 6D would be a fantastic camera for Astrophotography and Landscapes because of its full frame nature. But that camera performs extremely bad when it comes to wildlife pictures, primarily because of these reasons:
1. It shoots just 4 frames per second, which is not fast enough to capture a fast wildlife scene like an Eagle fishing. For something like that you need a camera that can capture more frames per second so you don't miss the action.
2. The ability of 6D to track a moving subject isn't that great because it has just 11 auto focus points. Ofcourse it was not manufactured to serve wildlife photographers so Canon wasn't really concerned about this feature.
3. Since this is full frame camera you don't get that extra zoom on your lens so you are little away from your wildlife subject in the field.
So say a bird is perched on a nice branch and light is low because of an extremely overcast day. The 6D would shine here where I can push my ISO to 4000 or even higher and get a really noise free shot of the bird, mostly because the bird is perched and not moving. But then under same conditions if I try to use the 6D for an eagle who is diving in to catch a fish, the 6D would fail terribly because it would not be able to keep good focus on the moving eagle. I can still get a good shot but it would be a hit or miss situation.
So coming to a conclusion, the Canon 6D would be a good landscape and astrophotography camera but a bad wildlife camera. So the 6D was surely on a lower priority for me.
CANON 7D MARK II
The 7D Mark II is a crop sensor camera which shoots 10 frames per second and has 65 auto focus points which makes this my first choice for wildlife photography. The 10 frames per second rate is perfect to freeze the action. Also with 65 auto focus point system, this camera would be excellent to track moving objects and keep them in focus. The only camera that can beat the Canon 7D Mark II in this department is the Canon 1DX full frame. This is top of the line camera that Canon manufactures and it is almost 3 times the cost of Canon 7D Mark II. Also I would surely be able to take good landscape pictures with the 7D Mark II, probably at par with the Canon 6D (Landscapes don't require a high ISO value so both 6D and 7D Mark II would have almost same image quality at lower ISO). Now the astrophotography part is where it starts falling little apart. I can still get acceptable images at 3200 ISO from a 7D Mark II along with noise reduction in post processing techniques. Which means I can click decent Milky Way pictures with this camera. Looks like at this point this is my best bet under the price range that I am targeting.
Now there was a third camera that kept popping up in my mind. The Canon 5D Mark III. Let us look at it in detail.
CANON 5D MARK III
The 5D is a full frame camera so again like our previous discussion it performs very nicely at higher ISO levels. But, there is something that attracts me towards a 5D Mark III. It shoots 6 frames per second and also has a very decent auto focusing system with 61 auto focus points. When I compare it to the 7D mark II, it might fall a little behind at frames per second but then it gives you stunning wildlife photos when the light is super bad. Many experienced wildlife photographers say as soon as the light starts falling, they keep their 7D Mark II inside their bag and grab their 5D Mark III. So looking at my applications, this camera looks perfect as it does everything from Wildlife to Landscapes to Astrophotography. But then all good comes with a price! The Canon 5D Mark III is almost $1000 more expensive than the Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 6D (Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 6D are equally priced). I now started thinking that if I need to get this camera I will need to spend $1000 more. I can get everything out of my landscapes and astrophotography, but I have to compromise somewhere on the wildlife aspect. I wouldn't get the 10 frames per second and a fast auto focusing system, which is extremely important in wildlife (You just get that one opportunity which you can't miss!) Also another factor to consider is Canon 5D Mark III is getting old now. They already have a Canon 5D Mark IV out in the market which has better technology.
After a lot of thinking I came to the decision that I will buy the 7D Mark II as of now. That gets me going with my wildlife and landscapes. I can get some astrophotography as well with this camera. My thought process was that rather than spending $1000 extra for the Canon 5D Mark III, I would save up that money and add some more to it after a few months and get the Canon 6D. That way I will have two camera bodies in my bag. One for wildlife and the other for landscapes and astrophotography. Rather than holding a 5D Mark III which is relatively old now, I'll be holding two bodies which are newer and better in terms of technology. So that was my final analysis. I got my 7D Mark II this week and I absolutely can't wait to take it out in the field!
NOTE: Sometimes the decision to buy a camera also depends on what lenses you own. Sometimes all the lenses you own only work on crop sensor cameras so if you upgrade to a full frame, all those lenses become useless. So it is always advisable to buy lenses that work on both type of camera bodies.
Hope this write up helps you in some or the other way when you make your next camera purchase! Happy clicking!