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The Camera for Me

Published April 27, 2015
Pfeiffer Rock

Photo taken of a huge rock on Pfeiffer Beach, just minutes before the fateful event that has me in the camera market for the first time in several years.

I find myself in the worst place a photographer can find himself: without a camera. I ruined mine. Yep, it died in my arms. If you didn’t read about it in my newsletter, here’s how it happened.

As a result, it is time for me to choose a new camera. I have updated the camera recommendations page, and I wanted to supplement that with my process for choosing my own camera.

Choosing a New Camera

I always tell people to start with defining their budget and then work into a specific camera. In my case, however, I have no budget. The sky is the limit. That is not because I’m rich, but rather that I devote such a huge chunk of my life to photography (and have for several years). Therefore, a camera is one thing on which I will spend whatever is necessary. If the best camera costs several thousand dollars, then I will do it.

At the same time, I’m not one to throw money needlessly at something – even photography. If camera X is only .1% better than camera Y, but camera X costs $5,000 more, then I’m foregoing the .1% and buying camera Y. That’s an extreme example, but I think you know what I mean.

Limiting the Options

If you don’t start narrowing down your camera by budget, how then do you narrow the choices?

My first thought was to do so by sensor size. I have always believed that sensor size is the most important thing in a camera, so that is where I started.

But, wait a second, with all the advances in camera technology (particularly with Micro 4/3 and APS-C cameras) is sensor size really that important? I decided the take a look at that issue in this article, and came to the conclusion that full-frame is the way to go. That conclusion is supported by articles showing that full-frame cameras have much better low-light performance and a wider dynamic range as well. I decided to stick with full frame cameras.

The Full Frame Choices

Limiting the contenders to full-frame cameras limits the field to 7 options. I am not including the professional models of Canon or Nikon because the specs and testing results are no better than cameras at the level on the chart below. So I created a chart with the core specifications for the full-frame cameras on the market today (and the 5D mark ii for comparison’s sake). Here is the chart:

Core Specifications of Full-Frame Cameras

This is the core data for my choice.

Eliminating Choices

Based on this data, I was able to eliminate certain choices right away. Take a look at the Sony A7R in the chart above. When I did, some things jumped out at me causing me to eliminate several of these cameras from contention. For example,

  • Does it make any sense to pay $700 more for the Nikon D810 with specs that are no better than the A7R? I don’t think so.
  • Similarly, does it make any sense to pay more for the Canon 5D mark iii with lesser specs than the A7R? Again, I don’t think so.
  • The Nikon D750 has no better specs than the Sony A7R and they are the same price, so I would eliminate that from contention as well.
  • Finally, the Sony A7II has significantly lesser specifications, and only costs a few hundred less than the A7R, so I would eliminate that too.

After eliminating these choices, I am left with the Canon 6D, the Nikon D610, and the Sony A7R as my possible choices.

This might sound odd since I just used the Sony A7R to eliminate several other choices, but now I’m about to eliminate the A7R. I like this camera, but I don’t value its two top features: its small size and its high megapixel count. There is just no reason for me to pay more for those two things.

The two cameras that really catch my eye are the Canon 6D and the Nikon D610. Due to recent price drops, these are just tremendous bargains at the moment. The Canon 6D was previously $2,099 and is now only $1,399. The Nikon D610 was previously $1,996 and is now only $1,496. Both a full-frame, high megapixel camera with great low-light performance and dynamic range.

At these prices, does it make sense to even look at anything else? For me, it doesn’t.

As between the two, I pick the Canon 6D. The Nikon costs a bit more, and I just don’t put a lot of stock in the numbers from DxO that show every Nikon better than every Canon (see the articles on low-light performance and dynamic range for more information on their testing results). Plus, to be honest, I’m sitting here with a bag full of Canon lenses, batteries, and accessories. As between the 6D and the D610, I’m inclined to save the hundred bucks on the camera and be able to use my same lenses. That leads me to the Canon 6D.

The Canon Choice

But wait a second. Let’s not get too worked up over price. Remember I don’t really have a budget. So what am I giving up by going with the 6D?

Since I’m thinking about a Canon, let’s check out the 6D against the 5D mark iii. Here’s how they match up in core specs:

Canon 6D versus 5D mark iii core specs

I give the overall edge to the 6D, irrespective of price. I think that’s rather shocking, but that’s what the testing results show.

Let’s look at some features now. Honestly, these two cameras are very similar. They use the exact same processor. They look very similar. More of the features are the same. There are some differences though, and here is how they stack up:

Canon 6D versus 5D mark iii features

Honestly, I think I’d call this a tie. Technically the 5Diii has more advantages in the chart, but none of those matter to me. The number of autofocus points do not matter to me (I just need one). I only want one card slot. Speed is not a factor for me.

Reviews

The last steps in my process is to check all the reviews. Suffice it to say that I did that. I always start with The Digital Picture and it was very highly rated there. I also generally check DP Review, and it checked out there (but they did not seem as high on it as The Digital Picture).

In addition, since I have been discussing the comparison of the 6D with the 5D mark iii, I checked out others’ comparisons of those cameras. Here are several:

None of these reviews showed me any clear reason to spend the extra $1,100 for the 5D mark iii, and a few made a good case for the 6D. Importantly, it has become clear to me that overall image quality is at least as good with the 6D.

Conclusion

It will be the Canon 6D for me.

But what does this mean to you? As to the result, not much. It makes no difference to me which you choose, as long as you’re happy with it. But hopefully my process is of use to you when it comes time to choose your own camera.

Now it is time for me to forget about gear and get on with taking some pictures!

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