DSLR Camera Choice

From my previous post you can see that it became evidentially clear that one of the problems about my choice in photography (what I have a passion for) is that I have invested in 3 systems (Fuji, Panasonic Lumix and Sony-NEX) that are not suited for some aspects of this genre. They are all capable cameras and can be used to take pictures of wildlife/nature provide that is not moving much. But as soon as the subject starts moving they quickly become less suited and my chances of “catching the shot” are lessened.

The Fuji for example is almost useless (in these situations) as the focusing system is not suited to moving subjects. I don’t think that anyone would argue with this. Additionally there are no telephoto lenses available at the moment, the current longest focal length being 60mm (35-EFOV = 90mm). Fuji has created some kick-ass glass and I will miss the opportunity to learn more about the camera in the future.

The Sony-NEX whilst having a better focusing system still isn’t up to par for this type of photography either. Sony has two telephoto lenses available; the 18-200mm which has a 35-EFOV of 300mm maximum and the 55-210mm which has a 35-EFOV of 315mm maximum. Both of these lenses are very slow at the long ends with apertures of f6.3 and this coupled with the NEX’s focusing system is where the problems lie when trying to focus on a subject that is moving. The remaining problem for the NEX system is that these two lenses are not great (optically) at their extreme focal lengths and when combined with the unforgiving sensor on the NEX-7 results in poor image quality. I have already discussed some of the other problems with the NEX system in my Fuji X-Pro1 post here.

Finally the Lumix G5, which whilst being the most capable of the 3 systems also has a few problems; although these are mostly with the Lumix G system and not the G5 per se. There are two main problems; one is that as good as the focusing system is, it is still not suited to moving wildlife. The second problem is I will need to invest in some longer focal length lenses. If I go for the Pro X lenses these are a grand a pop and the only true telephoto lens is a zoom of 70-300mm with and 35-EFOV of 140 to 600mm! This sounds good and it has a faster aperture of f5.6 but the lens is a monster on the diminutive Lumix G5 and because of the small sensor it will be unable to isolate the subject from the background. As soon as you start pushing the Lumix G system, its size advantage quickly disappears, their latest flagship the GH3 is larger than some of the larger-sensor DSLRs.

To fund the DSLR I will have to sell all 3 camera systems. I will miss the G5 the most, there is just something about the camera that I just adore. There is nothing concrete I can articulate but there is something “je ne sais quio” about it. The Fuji is a close second; I love the old-school nature of it. If money wasn’t an issue I would be holding onto both (or just the Lumix-G5). I won’t miss the NEX much as I have stopped using this system since I got the Lumix and then the Fuji.

So now that I have listed why what I have is not really suited to shooting wildlife, what do I go for?

With no investment (beyond memory cards, filters and camera straps etc) the choice can be at this stage independent of the system. That said I quickly dismissed the Sony SLT DSLR range as these are not true DSLR’s and the customisation pales in comparison to what the Nikon and Canon cameras can offer. The idea of an Alpha A77 with the Sony 16-500 f2.8 + 70-400mm lens did interest me for a while; I also liked the idea that this has built in GPS and a very ingenious articulated LCD too. The negatives outweigh the good points; these include the limited lens range and the fact that they are mid-way through a transition in the hot-shoe fitting. The final issue is that the SLT design itself has problems, whilst I have no problem with the EVF (it is very good), we have added another piece of glass between the lens and the sensor. I see issues in that the mirror (as well as the sensor) will have to be kept clean as it is always there in the optical path.

So Nikon or Canon? Both systems are comparable in the lens range and have a good selection of cameras and accessories too. So I started with the bodies that I could shortlist and then move onto the lens selection; this is actually the wrong way round but I needed to know what camera would suit me best, both systems have some excellent glass so this wasn’t as much an issue as the DSLR choice.

So for Nikon the possible candidates are:

  • D7000
  • D300s
  • D800

D800-Front
The D3200 and D5200 were non-contenders as they don’t have a high-enough frame-rate and suitable buffer; also who needs 24MP in an APS sized sensor? The D800E was discounted as it was quite expensive and I am still unsure about the moiré issue. The quality issues and the fact that it is based on the D7000 removed the D600 from the list too. Finally, the D4 was also removed for two reasons, the main one being cost and I don’t see why Nikon decided that this should be the only camera to use a new memory format as one of its cards.

The possible Canon candidates are:

  • 7D
  • 6D
  • 5D-MarkIII

Canon EOS1DX
The 1100D, 600D, 650D and 60D were removed for the same reasons as the lower Nikon models (although the articulated LCD of the 600D, 650D, 60D and D5200 are nice).The Canon 1DX is also way-way-way too expensive and weighs a tonne.

So we have a short list of the following:

  • Nikon D7000
  • Nikon D300s
  • Nikon D800
  • Canon 7D
  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 5D-MarkIII

I have played with all of these cameras and owned some of them in the past too (Nikon D7000, D300s and Canon 7D).

I discounted the 6D next as the camera has been castrated by having a very poor focusing system so although OK in the studio won’t be very good for action shots. Next to be removed was the Nikon D7000; although it is well specified and in some areas better specified than the Nikon D300s its buffer wasn’t very large and it felt “cheap” in the hands too. Speaking of the D300s, this was removed from my short list as it is so old its noise reduction and low light performance is also out of date too.

Canon EOS 7D

That leaves 3 cameras, the D800, the 5D-III and the 7D. Last weekend I spent some time playing with them side by side thanks to Lee at the Lincoln High Street branch of London Camera Exchange (LCE). The remaining cameras have similar specifications in some areas and the differences were definitely in the swings and roundabouts area; the D800 for example had the highest resolution of 36MP, whilst the Canons had only 16MP (7D) or 24MP (5D-III), but both Canons had higher burst speeds and buffers. With a much reduced short-list I could concentrate on the how they feel in the hands and after taking this into account I removed another camera from the list. I didn’t like the feel of the grip, it was too small and my little finger had nowhere to go. This is similar to the D7000, both this and the D800 need (and I mean NEED) to be fitted with a grip. The D800 is also not really suited to action and I don’t need 36MP pictures.

So I was down to the Canon 7D and the 5D-III bodies, I just couldn’t decide on which one so I went away and did some more research. I looked at the focusing systems, the fps as well as the buffer and although the 7D can shoot faster than the 5D-III, the 5D-III has an awesome focusing system that nocks spots off the 7D. The only camera with a better one is the expensive 1DX, the ability to auto-focus at f8 on this camera is being added to the 5D-III later this year too (around April 2013). The 5D-III can shoot at 6 fps and has a reasonably large buffer too (17 or 18 full size RAW shots).

There are a couple of (new) Canon accessories that are available that I may wish to use; the GP-E2 and the 600EX-RT.

Canon GP-E2
The GP-E2 is a GPS add-on that adds GPS coordinate information to the EXINF data of images shot whilst this is attached. It works through the hot-shoe on the 5D-III but on the 7D this needs to be connected to the camera via a USB lead. The GP-E2 can also add direction information to images on the 5D-III but not the 7D.

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT
The Speedlite 600EX-RT replaces the 580EX-II and requires a newer camera (5D-III or 1DX) to utilise all of its features.

There are many other great features on the 5D-III that you can read about that made this a no-brainer choice. But this camera also has to be able to do other kinds of work and the 5D is simply more versatile than the 7D.

My new Camera

My new Camera

OK, so which lenses did I buy? Because of funds I only purchased one for now, the ever versatile 24-105 f4 IS L USM lens. Whilst this is not a telephoto lens it is a good starting lens. I also haven’t come to a full decision about the telephoto end either. I am torn between the 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS USM Lens and the much older 400mm f5.6 L lens (no USM and no IS either). Both are available second-hand in the LCE shops, one locally and one further afield. Both are roughly the same cost and once funds allow, I will invest in one of them too. I also see a few of other items being added, the GP-E2 as I like to geo-code my images, a 50mm f1.4 for low-light performance and a 600EX-RT as a flash can be useful, finally a remote cable release for tripod ;w-light shots.

My first Canon lens

My first Canon lens

What else do I need? I purchased the camera and lens with an additional LP-E6 Battery and the BG-E11 grip as I managed to get a good deal from Lee. The only other item that I have added at this time has been ordered from WEX; this is the custom Kirk arca-swiss L bracket for the 5D-III+BGE11 grip. I used the camera on location today and the generic “universal” arca-swiss bracket kept coming loose on the tripod head.

5D-III+BG-E11+Kirk L Bracket

So with my decision made I now have the 5D-III, the 24-105 lens, battery grip and spare battery. I didn’t know that I would “need” the Kirk bracket until this morning so I have only just ordered this so it should be here before my next shoot.

One thought on “DSLR Camera Choice

  1. Richard

    The 5D’s have always been very solid performers, I personally would say the choice boils down to Nikon D800, D300s, and Canon 5D and 7D. With my studio and landscape bias I would go for a D800, but for now I am still sticking with my old D200. The reason, 36 MP over kill. At 35 MP I would end up having to upgrade my computer, my primary backup harddisk storage and offsite backup storage.

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