Photography 101: Reasons for My 2 x 1 Decision

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

First off I am a Canon shooter. I have been since 2009 when I switched from film to digital technology. Before that I shot Nikon, Leica and Rolleiflex. When I made the switch I think Canon had the edge: they had recently released the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and it was a game changer. And I still think Canon has the best lens choices overall (subjective not objective conclusion on my part).

A lot has changed since 2009. Sony is producing some stellar sensors and even Nikon uses them in their newer models. Most experts and professionals would agree that Nikon and Sony cameras get better results from their sensors (at least on paper). Real world examples would support that conclusion but to a lesser degree in my opinion. Actual shooting performance is closer than paper specifications would indicate.

Having said that I will concede that, now, both Nikon and Sony camera bodies enjoy (marginally) better resolution, higher ISO performance and dynamic range. But Canon is much closer, in terms of real world performance, than many photographers think. Unless you’re a pixel-peeper you probably won’t see any real difference in your prints or web images. Again, viewing specifications and viewing at 100% magnification might show some subtle differences.

Personally I love the ergonomics, layout and build quality of Canon camera bodies. I think Canon and Nikon are pretty evenly matched in this regard (as far as professional level cameras go) but I think Sony comes up a little short. Quite a few professional outdoor photographers have had their Sony camera bodies fail at critical times and as a result have lost shots. More than a few have gone back to the two leaders for their reliability: professionals cannot afford camera system failures. They lose both time and money and put their reputations at risk.

So my buying decisions are strongly biased towards Canon as my camera system of choice. Additionally, I have a ton of money invested in Canon L-Glass (Pro-level lenses). For me to switch midstream would cost thousands of dollars and money doesn’t grow on trees. Canon sensor technology is finally gaining ground (at last) and is coming closer and closer to Sony and Nikon. Who knows, in a few years time they might even regain the lead—not that it really matters that much. Professionals need systems that are: robust, reliable and diverse (with good tech support). That’s Canon and Nikon.

If you don’t make your living with a camera you have many more choices available. Professionals don’t have that luxury. Watch any sporting event, or follow photojournalists covering world events as they unfold, or even professional wedding photographers in action, and what you will see are mostly Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses. The white lenses are Canon L-Lenses and the black lenses are typically Nikon. You might see a smattering of Sony systems but not too many and there are reasons for that. Staying with Canon is a no-brainer for me (and Nikon shooters should stay with Nikon).

I am returning to the States for a short visit (after a five-year absence) before heading back to Asia. While I’m there I will be refreshing my camera system. I am primarily a wildlife, nature, travel and street photographer. My Canon EOS 5D Mark II has been a good camera (it was State-of-the-Art when I bought it in 2009) but its been used hard in harsh conditions and is getting long in the tooth. Digital technology has made big advances in the past eight years so it’s time to upgrade. I’ve had great results with my 5D Mark II but bottom line it’s not a very good wildlife shooter.

I briefly toyed with the idea of going with the flagship camera at Canon: the 1Dx Mark II with a list price of $6,000 USD (body only). It’s a GREAT camera (comparable to the Nikon D5) but has a few drawbacks: its price, it’s a CMOS full-frame sensor (not the best for wildlife shooting) and it has an anaemic pixel density of 20.2 MP. It is lighting fast at 14 fps, it has a sturdy magnesium alloy body and has robust weather sealing. It’s a freaking tank. This is the camera choice of top flight professionals (along with the Nikon D5).

My second idea (and the one I’m favoring) is to buy two camera bodies: the new 5D Mark IV with a list price of $3,500 USD (body only). A good pro-level shooter comparable to the Nikon D810 It also features a CMOS full-frame sensor but enjoys greater pixel density at 30.4 MP. It shoots at 7 fps and comes with a magnesium alloy body and complete weather sealing. I need a full-frame high-resolution camera for my nature photography (scenics) and street photography. I need good high ISO low light performance and high dynamic range.

That still left me with a problem relative to my wildlife photography. When shooting wildlife at a distance with long lenses common wisdom says you’re better off with an AFS-C crop-sensor camera. The 1.6x crop advantage yields 60% more EFOV (Effective Field of View). Thus my 400mm lens would act like a 640mm lens. The 7D Mark II with a list price of $1,500 USD satisfies that need (comparable to a Nikon D500). Its APS-C crop-sensor is 20.2 MP like the 1Dx Mark II but crammed into a smaller sensor. It shoots at 10 fps and has the same sturdy magnesium alloy body and weather sealing.

This 2 x 1 (two for one) combination should do nicely. I can either spend $6,000 USD for one camera body or I can spend $6,000 USD for two camera bodies. All three camera bodies share Canon’s improved AF (autofocus) tracking systems, dual card slots, heavy-duty magnesium alloy bodies and robust weather sealing throughout. They have many other features in common too. If I was a conflict photographer (or what we used to call a combat or war photographer) I would probably chose the 1Dx Mark II, but I shoot a range of subjects and need more flexibility.

Field Notes: Since I switched from Nikon to Canon I haven’t kept up with the different models of Nikon camera bodies. When I compare a Canon model to a specific Nikon model I might not be correct. You Nikon shooters will probably know which models compare most favorably to the Canon models I mention. Also, this post is not a slam against either Nikon or Sony—I have good talented friends (some professional) who shoot both models with great success. I am only stating my opinions (not facts) and preferences for one over the other. And as I mentioned I am locked into Canon systems for economic reasons among others. SFD

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