Since August 2015, I’ve been out and about a lot with my Canon 760D. Read below why I made the decision to buy that camera, and whether I would make the same decision again today. But first, let’s start with a short history of my photography experience.
My first camera was an Olympus C-700 UZ. In retrospect, what sold me at the time probably was the 10x optical zoom (the full-frame equivalent of 38-380mm). With 2 megapixels I started into the world of digital photography in the summer of 2001. All in all, I was quite happy with the camera, and consequently, in 2004 I upgraded to one of its successors – the Olympus C-750 UZ, now with 4 megapixels and several other improvements.
The two cameras went through a number of vacation trips with me, and were also used quite often at the local Railway Museum. This is also where the biggest disadvantage became obvious: the zoom was motorised and too slow to keep up with moving objects like an approaching train. In combination with the rather sluggish autofocus, I resented quite a number of missed shots. This led to the obvious conclusion: I need something with a bit more punch.
THE FIRST DSLR
Since I was happy with the cameras in general (look-and-feel, handling, reliability) and the images as well, I saw no reason to switch brands. So in 2008, I got myself an Olympus E-510, in a set with the two kit lenses: 14-42mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm ƒ/4.0-5.6. With a full-frame equivalent of 28-300mm, I again had a ~10x optical zoom.
In summary, I was very happy with the E-510 over the years. She was a reliable companion on many journeys and rendered plenty of really nice images. I have to admit, though, that I mostly stayed with the automatic settings and never really occupied myself with the basic principles of photography. I never fully exploited the capabilities of the camera, but I realised one thing: in low-light conditions – at night, or inside the gloomy roundhouse at the railway museum – the E-510 with its kit lenses quickly reached its limits.
Though Olympus did offer “pro lenses” for the E-series at the time, I never pursued that upgrade. Mostly there never was a big event where I had the feeling I actually missed something due to the camera’s limitations. However, exactly that changed last year – which brings me to the current…
In the fall of 2015, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. That provided the opportunity to take pictures of two major sights: the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta with about 550 hot-air balloons, and the night sky free of light pollution. Up in the mountains away from Albuquerque, in the clear, dry desert air and at an elevation of almost 8,000 ft., the view of the Milky Way was nothing less than breath-taking. I asked myself: How do I photograph this right? And what else do I want to take pictures of? So I wrote myself a list:
- Mostly interested in (“must have”): Landscapes / cityscapes (including twilight and night shots), macros, night skies and moon, interiors, also with difficult lighting conditions (e.g. railway museum roundhouse)
- Somewhat interested in (“nice to have”): Events (group pictures), taking videos
- Not interested in (not relevant for decision): portraits, sports, action, wildlife
I fired up the internet, and I felt immediately clobbered over the head with the sheer amount of information. One of the things I learned to value as an information source at the time was YouTube. My initial suspicion that my trusted old E-510 wouldn’t get me very far with what I had in mind was quickly confirmed. Hence, I drafted the selection criteria for my new camera:
- Wide choice of Lenses
- Easy handling
- Large display
- Good image quality, even in low-light conditions
- Range of available accessories, including third-party vendors
- Affordability – my available budget at the time was 1,500 €
APS-C OR FULL-FRAME
The first decision I had to make was for the camera system. Considering the last item on my list, full frame seemed out of reach to me at the time. To be flexible, I wanted to be able to afford more than one lens from the start. So I decided in favour of the smaller (and less expensive) APS-C format, which I have not regretted since. Would I have preferred a Canon 6D after all, if I had had more time for the decision (and to save more money)? Hard to say, but then, the situations where a full-frame camera can really show its strengths compared to APS-C – in the dark, or when separating subjects from background – only occur in a small share of my images.
CANON OR NIKON (OR SONY)
I looked at Sony mostly because of the famed low-light performance. In particular the A7S made a lot of headlines on this subject at the time. However, its price point was way beyond my financial horizon. The smaller models, on the other hand, didn’t convince me in terms of handling and accessories (choice of lenses). That has improved in the meantime, and I do admit that the A6500 is a very interesting camera – not only for its in-body image stabilisation (which my old E-510 had as well). But a launch price of 1,700 €?
I ended up swaying between Canon and Nikon. I think this is mostly a gut decision, because the technical advantages and weaknesses on either side more or less balance out. At times, one is in the lead; then the other. Here, the image sensor seems better; there, it’s the lenses. So I went to a number of stored and looked at the cameras, took them in my hands, played around with them. And came to the conclusion: Canon it is. Simply for the reason that I liked their handling better; it seemed more intuitive to me. In addition, the better video autofocus is a bonus, too.
70D, 700D (Rebel T5i), 750D (Rebel T6i), 760D (Rebel T6s)
Those were the models I had on my short list. The naming is a bit confusing as the entry-level DSLRs have metric names in Europe (700D, 750D…), while they are called “Rebel Tx” in the US. I will stick with the metric names for the rest of this article. The 700D was dropped first. It was good value for money, but all reviews unanimously stated that the leap in quality offered by its successors 750D/760D was significant. The smaller of the two, the 750D, was sorted out next – the additional features offered by the 760D, such as the shoulder display or the second scroll wheel, justified the higher price in my eyes.
This left me with the 70D, and the 760D. They were in the same price range, and offered similar performance. In a number of comparison reviews, the 760D came in first – though close – on the points that interested me most. The choice was made.
And I’m happy with it! It handles well, and offers great functionality with its tilting and turning touch display, or the remote-controlling capabilities via Wi-Fi. Most importantly: I’m more than happy with the image quality! Given the choice at the time, I would make the same decision again today.
In addition, by now I have a collection of lenses that cover my interests as listed above very well. I will write about the particular lenses in future “My Gear” posts.
As far as I’m concerned, there is only one boundary condition that has changed since then, and that is the choice of available cameras. For half a year now, the Canon 80D has been out. Though it comprises the same image sensor as the 760D, it offers drastic improvements in terms of autofocus and overall functionality. Six months after launch, the price of the 80D has dropped by about one third to an acceptable level. An upgrade might be warranted in the future.
WHAT IS THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR YOU?
That’s not easy to answer. Which camera is the best for you depends on what you want do with it. Hence: make lists. Write down what you’re interested in, what you want to photograph – now, and for the next few years. After all, you will have to live with the decision for a while. What is important for you on the camera itself? What budget do you have? Also keep in mind the possibility of buying a used camera. I bought a number of used lenses, and saved a lot of money doing so, without compromising quality.
I have included links to the considerations of several well-known photographers on this matter. Definitely have a look at those, while checking your lists from time to time.
Recommendation: Given the choice at the time, I would decide for the Canon 760D again. Today (October 2016), though, I clearly prefer the Canon 80D. If you get along better with Nikon, have a look at the D7200.
What I’ve learned: There is not “the one best camera”. You have to ask yourself: what do I want to take pictures of? There are many cameras that are specialised to excel at certain tasks – however, they are usually quite expensive and often really shine only under those specific conditions, while falling behind in other areas. For the things I do, I prefer an all-rounder.
- TheVerge: Buying a camera – everything you need to know – does not recommend specific models, but explains in great detail the various features and decision criteria
- DPReview: Camera and Lens Buying Guides – current camera models, arranged by camera type, by budget, by shooting needs
- Tony & Chelsea Northrup: Which Camera Should I buy? (Video) / Buying Used Cameras & Lenses (Video)
Picture credits: Title image (Canon 760D), Olympus E-510: own images