The Search for a Better DSLR Camera

A gull harassing an Atlantic Puffin in IclenadCanon 5D Mark III camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 IS L series lens and Canon 1.4x Converter @ 280mm. 1/1600 second @ f5.6 ISO 400 I'm not a specialist wildlife photographer. I have, however, made some photos of wildlife over the years with which I'm very happy. But its not an area of photography with which I've had a great deal of experience. What's more my current camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, really isn't the best choice when it comes to recording fast moving action. It just doesn't have the frame rate or buffer to compete with, for example, the Canon 7D or ID Mark IV camera. But, as I mainly photograph people and landscapes, the decision to purchase a full frame camera was the right one.

My Canon 5D Mark II is now 3 1/2 years old. Its time I looked at replacing it. At this stage I'm considering either the new Canon 5D Mark III or the Nikon D800 camera. Again, neither camera represents the best technology has to offer for photographing fast moving wildlife. However, both these cameras offer significantly improved specifications and features (e.g. focus, frame rate, buffer, weather seals) at a similar size and weight when compared to my current camera. Photography is very much a game of compromise where features and their potential benefits have to be considered in relation to size, weight, useability and cost.

The above photo features a group of Atlantic Puffins being harrassed by a couple of gulls at Breiðafjörður in Iceland. While 1/1600 second is a pretty fast shutter speed, and given that the gull in the centre of the frame was heavily braking at the time, it is not razor sharp. The most likely reason for this is as follows:

  • The camera's auto focus system was not able to track the gull's movement as it moved forwards through the frame. So technology may have let me down.

On a related issue its impossible for our eye to see the individual slices of action produced by fast moving subject matter. This is one of the wonders of photography. But the faster the action the more frames per second you need to be able to record the frame that best conveys the combination of movement, gesture, structure, appearance and emotion to produce a compelling image.

By recording more individual slices of action cameras with faster frame rates and larger buffers may allow you to record more compelling images. With more slices (frames) to choose from there's a greater probability of recording the most dynamic/interesting slice of action that best tells the story.

I'm much more interested in making images than I am in equipment. However, the time has come for me to upgrade and, with the new Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800E cameras soon to become available, my research has begun.

For those folks in the same boat as I care needs to be taken to make the right decision. You are not just buying a camera, but a system. So, if you're considering changing brands there are two things, in particular, to consider.

  • You'll need to replace your lenses when changing camera brands. That can be expensive.
  • You'll need to adjust to the new interface and logic (i.e. menu structure, buttons and dials) associated with a different camera brand. Always try and, maybe, hire before you buy.

What's more as you'll need to adjust to the new features and logic associated with your new camera, particularly when changing to a different brand of camera, its important to become familiar with the unit before untertaking any serious photography projects. The amount of folks who purchase a new camera just before they head off on an overseas trip is, frankly, frieghtening.

The more technology that's incorporated into cameras the more complicated, in most cases, they become. You'll likely need to spend a couple weeks getting your head around the camera's features, logic and navigation system. You don't have to know everything, but you need to know how to set your camera up for the type of photography you do. Some of the settings you'll apply may be once only settings which you may never have to change. But there are other features which you will need to understand, locate, set and, where appropriate, change on a case by case basis.

Needless to say you'd want to be able to do that extremely quickly. Its necessary to adjust your way of thinking in line with the camera's own logic. The more you play with and use your camera the more confident you'll become. Repetition of effort will, eventually, allow you to employ your camera more as an extension of yourself, rather than it being a barrier to experience. Use you camera as often as you can, particularly during the first few months after purchase. Familiarity will grow into expertise allowing your own creativity to blossom.

From a features and specifications point of view I need a camera with a full frame sensor that incorporates a large pixel count. It needs to be able to record a scene with excellent color fidelity under relatively high contrast (dynamic range) conditions. The ability to photograph at ISO 1600 or higher, with little or no discernable noise, would be a benefit as would improvements in metering, focusing and flash intergration. A camera with a faster frame rate, larger buffer and significantly better dust and weather seals than offered by my current camera would also be welcomed. Both the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800E seem to fit the bill nicely. 

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru