Gear Guide & Recommendations {Part 1: Camera Bodies}

Almost weekly, I receive requests from other photographers as well as beginners who are interested in what gear I use. Those starting out in the field, whether by hobby or trade, are generally curious my recommendations. I generally suggest the same things, so my responses have become fairly standard. However, I knew it would be in my best interest as well as others if I delve deeper into the subject on my blog & spent a bit more time explaining my preferences. Because I’m a Canon guy, I’ll spend much of my time reviewing their gear; it’s simply what I’m most familiar with. At times though, I hope to branch out into the other worlds & provide insight to other brands, especially Nikon. At least, I’ll try to give you alternatives. I suppose it may be helpful at some point to explain why I’ve chosen Canon over Nikon; the reasons are probably less dramatic than you’d think. However, I’ll save that for another post. And since camera related technology advances so rapidly, there is constant need for updating. Consider this a starting point & I imagine this list will be ever evolving. Further, I’m in the process of building a dedicated page on my blog for gear guides & reviews… stay tuned for that feature. It will be a centralized location of the info from these posts.
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Camera Bodies

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
My weapon of choice is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I’ve been using these bodies for about a year and a half now & for the most part have loved them. If I had the extra $ I could easily reason upgrading to the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, although there’s yet to present a situation that the 5D Mark II didn’t handle well. Plus with two kids & one on the way, it won’t be anytime soon! I realized the need for the upgrade from the popular 5D when I continually found myself in low-lighting situations that it couldn’t handle. Yet with the 5D Mark II you achieve incredible noise control even at high ISO settings (i.e. 3200), thus allowing you more flexibility in less than ideal lighting. For shooting stills, you’d be hard pressed to find a body that produces as clean of skin tones, colors & gradiations of tones. It’s really ideal for the photographer who’s looking to invest in a very solid prosumer body. You won’t be disappointed. And although I’m not a videographer, I would be remiss not to mention it’s video functionality as well. It boasts one of the largest video sensors on the market & has become quite the staple for filmmakers. Rumor is that one season of “House” was filmed with this bad boy. Ideal for the Advanced Amateur & Professional. Consider the Nikon D700 as a nice alternative, though not nearly as robust in my opinion.

Description (from Canon USA): Canon’s update to the wildly popular full frame EOS 5D is here, and it’s better than ever. The EOS 5D Mark II has a stunning 21.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with DIGIC 4 Image Processor, a vast ISO Range of 100-6400 (expandable to ISO L: 50, H1: 12800 and H2: 25600), plus EOS technologies like Auto Lighting Optimizer and Peripheral Illumination Correction. It supports Live View shooting, Live View HD videos, and more. It can shoot up to 3.9 fps, has 9 AF points plus 6 AF assist points, a new 98% coverage viewfinder, a 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (920,000 dots/VGA) and a rugged build.

  • 21.1 Megapixel Full-Frame Sensor
  • 3.0″ High Resolution LCD Display
  • Live View Mode
  • 1080p Movie Mode
  • Dust & Weather-Resistant
  • Self Cleaning Sensor
  • Broad ISO Range (50-25600)
  • 3.9 fps Burst Mode

Canon EOS 7D

The Canon EOS 7D. I find it somewhat hard to say anything negative about this body. In it’s price class, it’s unrivaled. If you want to upgrade from a consumer level body such as the Rebel series, I’d highly recommend this as your next step. You’d save around $1000 compared to the 5D & would see a considerable difference to your entry level DSLRs. There are only two reasons why I prefer the 5D Mark II. First, the sensor is considerably smaller than the 5D, 60% smaller if I’m not mistaken (1.6x crop factor). What does that mean? The smaller the sensor, the more noise you’ll get. Second, it’s performance in low light is inferior to the 5D. And quite frankly, that’s a big deal to me. As someone who prefers using available light, I like to be able to max out the capabilities of both my bodies & my lenses. Yet, the 7D has considerable advantages over the 5D in two areas. First, the 7D has twice as fast Frames Per Second burst rate (fps), 8fps verses the 5D’s 3.9 fps, which makes it perfect for action photography… sports, racing, small children! The second advantage is in regards to video. Most videographers would prefer it as it seems more suited for such. Ideal for the Amateur, Advanced Amateur & Professional. The equivalent in the Nikon world seems to be the Nikon D300s.

Description (from Canon USA): With a host of brand new features designed to enhance every facet of the photographic process, from still images to video, the new EOS 7D represents a whole new class of camera. Made to be the tool of choice for serious photographers and semi-professionals, the EOS 7D features an all-new 18.0 Megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor and Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors, capturing tremendous images at up to ISO 12800 and speeds of up to 8 fps. The EOS 7D has a new all cross-type 19-point AF system with improved AI Servo II AF subject tracking and user-selectable AF area selection modes for sharp focus no matter the situation.

  • 18.0 Megapixels
  • 3.0″ LCD
  • HD Video Recording
  • Selectable Video Exposure + Frame Rates
  • Dust & Weather Resistant
  • 100% Viewfinder
  • Self Cleaning Sensor
  • High Sensitivity (ISO 12800)
  • 8fps Burst Mode

Canon EOS 60D

I’ve yet to have the opportunity to test drive this new body but based upon the specs I can confidently say that it’s an impressive tool. When I’m able to test it, I’ll update this section. Ideal for the Beginner & Amateur. Check out the Nikon D7000 as an alternative.

Description (from Canon USA): With the new EOS 60D DSLR, Canon gives the photo enthusiast a powerful tool fostering creativity, with better image quality, more advanced features and automatic and in-camera technologies for ease-of-use. It features an improved APS-C sized 18.0 Megapixel CMOS sensor for tremendous images, a new DIGIC 4 Image Processor for finer detail and excellent color reproduction, and improved ISO capabilities from 100 – 6400 (expandable to 12800) for uncompromised shooting even in the dimmest situations. The new Multi-control Dial enables users to conveniently operate menus and enter settings with a simple touch. The EOS 60D also features an EOS first: A Vari-angle 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (1,040,000 dots) monitor for easy low- or high-angle viewing. An improved viewfinder, a number of new in-camera creative options and filters, plus HDMI output for viewing images on an HDTV all make the EOS 60D invaluable for the evolving photographer.

  • 18MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • 1920 x 1080 HD Video Capture
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card Slot
  • Vari-Angle Clear View 3.0″ Flip-Out LCD
  • DIGIC 4 Image Processor
  • 5.3 fps Continuous Shooting
  • Works with all Canon EF and EF-S Lenses
  • ISO 6400 – Expandable to 12800
  • HDMI Output to HDTV
  • In-Camera Editing Options

Canon Rebel T2i

The Rebel series will always be a bit sentimental for me; it’s where I got my start. I talked Joy into letting me spend some of our savings on my first DSLR & we bought a digital Rebel. I probably only used it for a little over a year but I guarantee you I recorded tens of thousands of images; it was a workhorse. For the entry-level DSLR photographer, these bodies are simply hard to beat. Although missing many of the features that a prosumer camera would possess, they are quite impressive. The price tag on a Rebel appeals to a much larger audience & seems ideal for most people’s starting point. For the shopper in the <$700 range, it’s the right choice. If you can spend $700 more, the 7D is definitely worth the extra bling! Ideal for the Beginner & Amateur. The Nikon D90 seems to boast similar specs.

Description (from Canon USA): The new flagship of the EOS Rebel line, Canon EOS Rebel T2i brings professional EOS features into an easy to use, lightweight digital SLR that’s a joy to use. Featuring a class-leading 18.0 Megapixel CMOS Image Sensor and increased light sensitivity for low light photography, the EOS Rebel T2i also has an advanced HD Movie mode for gorgeous Full HD movies. Able to capture up to 3.7 frames per second, it’s ready to go the minute it’s picked up. Advanced Live View, a new wide-area screen, plus features like Canon’s brilliant Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone features ensure brilliant photos and movies, easily.

  • 18.0 MP CMOS (APS-C) Sensor
  • Full HD 1080p Video
  • Advanced Live View
  • 3.0″ 1.04 Million Dot Clear View LCD
  • Up to 3.7 fps RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG
  • ISO 100-6400, Expandable to 12800
  • 63-Zone Metering / 9-Point AF System
  • Compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC
  • Eye-Fi Menu Status Indicator Support

As you can see there are several great options for different user levels. Canon has done a pretty good job of meeting the needs of beginners, amateurs, advanced amateurs & professionals. There isn’t a body mentioned above that won’t capture fantastic images given the user’s ability to control the settings, properly compose a subject & shoot. You can’t underestimate the value of knowing your camera inside & out. And although camera bodies are a necessity, I find there’s an even better investment that will more rapidly advance your abilities as a photographer… the lens! Lenses have the ability to make good camera bodies look great. In my next gear guide it seems appropriate that I discuss my favorite lenses as well as my recommendations for alternatives at various price points. Until then, let me know how I can expand on these guides to better help you. I hope you enjoy!

  1. Elizabeth Mahan / This is an excellent review! One question, what made you first choose Canon over Nikon? Did you test them both before you bought? I have a Nikon D60 and tested it alongside the Canon Rebel, and I just liked the feel of the Nikon in my hands. Do you find the features on the Canon to be better than Nikon? Should I choose to upgrade one day in the distant future, this would be pertinent info. :)3.02.11 / 9:36 am
  2. Tommy Botello / This is a great resource for those looking at investing in their first DSLR or upgrading. I am curious though, have you experienced any issues with the autofocus system in your 5D Mark II? I first heard about it from Michele Anderson of Pinkle Toes Photography (she wrote a blog posting about it). She had the 5D Mark II and sent it in multiple times and Canon replaced the entire AF system each time, but it never remedied her problem. She ended up switching to Nikon's D700. After reading of her situation, I researched more and found others to have the same issue with their 5D Mark II. I have to admit I'm a Nikon shooter, though I have no prejudices against Canon. I find Nikon's AF systems and low-noise ISO performance to be a bit better, in my opinion. I feel that Nikon puts more emphasis on these traits than megapixels. I mean, the Nikon D3s only has 12.1mp but is probably the low-light king among DSLRs. So, megapixels shouldn't necessarily be a deciding factor. Nikon has since developed newer sensors however with higher megapixel counts while improving upon it's ISO performance. Video is a great feature to have in a DSLR, but I don't feel that someone should base their decision on a camera body because of it's video capabilities if they're only going to use it every now and then. If your focus will be on the video side, then the 5D Mark II is the one you want. Bottom line, I tell people to go and test the cameras in person before buying. Hold the body, see how it feels in your hands. Also, go through the menu system and see how easy/difficult it is to navigate. These were deciding factors in my decision years ago. The lenses you use are also a great determining factor in getting the images you desire. I look forward to your next post and seeing your thoughts.3.02.11 / 11:49 am
  3. Ben Finch / @Elizabeth: Thanks! Great question... I initially chose Canon when I was shooting film & bought my first SLR. I don't know if I had a good reason to select it over Nikon except that it was probably on sale & due to it's brand recognition... I've liked Canon since those Andre Agassi commercials. Ha! Then, when I purchased a DSLR, I chose the Canon because I already had a lens for the 35mm that I could use on the digital camera. So for me, I decided to stick with what I started with. Both Nikon & Canon have distinct advantages. I have many friends & photog heroes who are Nikon users. The placement of controls are so different than Canon that it takes a bit for me to get used to it... neither in my opinion is better, just different. I personally prefer the colors & skin tones of the Canon as well as the assortment of the lenses they offer (plus you can use Nikon lenses on a Canon but not vice-versa). Canon's lens variety & build is reason enough for me. But, Nikon, in my opinion boasts a more consistent AF (auto-focus) system & the user controls seem more fitting for those starting out in photography. That's likely why it felt better in your hands; they are fantastic cameras. In most cases I recommend sticking with what you began with; you'll be familiar with the settings & won't have to reinvest in lenses. As you grow as a photographer, you'll continually learn how to max out your camera's abilities. At that point, you may realize you need to upgrade. I don't perceive ever switching (pending an endorsement... ha!) but my Nikon friends say the same! @Tommy: Great to hear from you; thanks for your comment. You bring up some excellent points & nice suggestions. Although I've yet to have any problems with the AF in my Mark II, I have heard from others a similar story as your friend. I feel like the AF in the next generation 5D (or the like) is the most needed issue to be addressed. There were times I experienced some soft-focus but it was due to a lens that needed re-calibrated rather than the body. And, you're absolutely correct, there are much more important things than megapixels... great points!3.03.11 / 4:23 pm

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