What Camera Should I Buy?
This is Paul, Nikki’s husband, and this is my first post. :) One of the questions we get often is “I want to buy a ‘nice camera’ because (insert reason). What should I buy?” By ‘nice camera,’ they usually mean a DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex camera). We then wish we could just email them a link to a long explanation regarding what they should buy and why. So here is my attempt at just that. This post will cover camera bodies only and is directed toward beginning photographers.
What do you want to spend?
Before I really get started, keep in mind that depending on what lenses you want, they may (and often do) end up costing more than the camera body. The lens is an integral part of a good picture and many people (including myself) would argue that the lens is even more important than the camera. That being said, let’s focus on the camera body only. There is a wide range of prices when looking at DSLR bodies. Do you want to spend $250 or $3,500?
The Nikon/Canon battle
After they tell us how much they want to spend, we usually end up suggesting a Canon camera body that fits their price range. Some will go out on the internet and end up buying the Nikon in the same price range because they did their research (as they should) and found that there is a Nikon body in the same price range that slightly (and I mean slightly) outperforms the Canon that we recommended. I don’t think anyone will argue with the fact that Canon and Nikon are extremely close performance-wise. Depending on who you ask though, you’ll get a different opinion as to which manufacturer is better and they’ll argue until their face turns blue as to why. But honestly, they both take awesome photos and there are plenty of arguments both Nikon and Canon have as to why you should go with them.
Then why did we recommend Canon?
To be blunt, it’s because we shoot with Canon. Prior to buying our first “nice camera,” we researched and researched and researched. From what we found at the time, some of Canon’s lenses were better than Nikon and vice-versa. But it seemed that regarding the lenses we cared about, Canon slightly outperformed Nikon (again, only slightly), and also were slightly cheaper. Lenses also tend to stay “up to date” much longer than the camera bodies themselves (remember when I said that I think the lens is more important than the camera body?). For example, in five years, there will be a much nicer camera body than what is currently available for the same price, but I doubt there will be significantly better lenses. The last reason we went with Canon was reliability. This is something that doesn’t get brought up very often and it’s probably because both manufacturers make extremely reliable equipment. However, several sites we found online stated that Canon was slightly more reliable. So these are the reasons why we went with Canon. So it depends on what you care about.
So what Canon bodies would we recommend?
These are the Canon camera bodies we recommend in each price range (prices are from a quick eBay search):
Canon Rebel XSI ~$230
Canon Rebel T3 ~$300
Canon Rebel T3i ~$450
Canon 60D ~$550
Canon 6D ~$1700
Canon 1DX ~$6800
(If you’re a Canon user, you’re probably curious as to why we didn’t include the 7D or the entire 5D family (mk i, ii, or iii). I’ll get to why in a second.)
First, the XSI is a great hobbyist camera and with a good lens, you can get some awesome photos from it. The T3 will perform slightly better in almost all situations and you can take 720P video with it. The T3i outperforms the T3 by quite a bit, but it also costs 50% more. It also takes 1080P video, and has a flip out screen. The 60D again is a step up from the T3i and still includes the flip-out screen. Now, there’s a big price jump moving to the 6D (and it doesn’t even include a flip-out screen!). This is because all of the previously mentioned cameras are “cropped sensor” cameras while the 6D has a “full-frame sensor.” If it wasn’t obvious, this means that the cropped sensor camera has a smaller sensor than a full frame sensor.
In general, full frame sensor cameras tend to outperform their cropped sensor counterpart by quite a bit when it comes to overall image quality and noise. (Noise is when you take a picture in a dark place and it looks grainier than a photo you take during the day. Try this; take your smartphone and take a picture in your living room at night (without a flash). Now take the same photo with the curtains open and plenty of sunlight allowed in. Compare and you’ll see plenty of noise in the photo taken at night.) Something else to keep in mind is that the cropped sensor camera will appear more “zoomed in” than the full frame camera when using the same lens – about 1.6 times more “zoomed in.” In other words, someone using a cropped sensor camera with a 50mm focal length lens would see roughly the same thing as someone using a full frame camera and an 80mm focal length lens.
If you’re buying a full-frame sensor body like the 6D as your first body, we would still recommend something cheaper as the 60D likely will be “good enough” for what you want to do with it and you may not notice (or care) about the difference. Also, you can’t use an EF-S lens with a full-frame camera but you can use EF or EF-S lenses with a cropped sensor camera. This means that the cropped sensor cameras previously mentioned also can use more lenses. I think of the ‘S’ in EF-S as being a warning that it destroys full frame cameras. Last, the 1DX is a truly awesome camera. It’s so big, so heavy, and so far out of our price range that if you’re buying one as your first DSLR camera, you probably have really strong biceps and should help us out with our student loans.
Now, regarding why we didn’t include the 7D or any of the 5D’s. The 7D is roughly $850 and performance-wise, is too similar to the 60D to justify the $300 price gap. What about the 5D mk iii? There’s nothing about the 5D iii that justifies it being nearly twice the price of the 6D. In fact, the 6D outperforms the 5D iii in low-light situations; it has lower noise and also is more sensitive to light for better focusing. The 6D is also smaller and weighs less which you will appreciate after carrying it around for 8+ hours. Yes, the 5D iii has slightly more megapixels, but I have yet to see one of my pictures on the side of a large building, so I would disregard this fact. The 5D mk ii is about the same price as the 6D, but the 6D outperforms it in almost all categories . That’s not to say that the 5D family isn’t great; prior to the 6D being released, the 5D family were the go-to camera bodies for most photographers (Nikki uses the 5D ii and absolutely loves it). But once the 6D was released, it’s tough to justify the current pricing.
Hopefully this post will be enough to get you started on your camera search and if you ever have any questions, feel free to email us!