On a personal note: System decision – Why Canon APS-C?

Canon 760D

When you are new to photography, or think about switching to a different camera, the predominant question is which system to go for. A compact camera or one with interchangeable lenses? Single-lens reflex or mirrorless? Micro-Four-Thirds, APS-C or Full-frame? Each of those has its applications, its specific strengths, but also its particular weaknesses – there is no “one size fits all”. Of course, there are “all-round” cameras – usually, they turn out to be Jacks of all trades, masters of none. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you are looking for.

The decision for a particular brand comes later. The technical differences between comparable cameras of different manufactures have become almost negligible. Thus, the choice is often one of personal taste: What controls and menu system do I prefer? Which cameras did I own before? To come to a good decision, there is one central point to ponder:

What do I want to photograph?

Calendar 2018

I already went through all these considerations once, about two years ago, when I picked my current equipment. Now that I am thinking about switching to a camera with a wider range of functionality, all these questions come up again.

DISCOVER THE POSSIBILITIES

There are many different disciplines within the area of photography that all have their own requirements. The following – drastically simplified – list gives a short overview of typical criteria:

  • Landscapes – great dynamic range
  • Portraits – shallow depth of field
  • Nightscapes – good image quality (little noise) event a high ISO values
  • Wildlife – long range with telephoto lenses
  • All-round – wide selection of lenses
  • Travel – light-weight, compact size
  • Video – good video auto-focus, connections for peripherals

It is clear that some of these criteria contradict each other: if you want to take classic portraits with minimum depth of field, you will need a full-frame camera and a lens with a wide aperture. A Canon 5D Mark IV with just its kit lens already weighs around 3.5 lbs.; with a portrait lens such as the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 it’s over 5 lbs. This might not be a problem in a photo studio, but when going on a hike, you will think twice before lugging it along. A Sony RX100 III, on the other hand, weighs less than a pound, is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and still gets highly recommended by many photographers as a very good travel camera. It has its limitations elsewhere.

For taking pictures at night, the best choice is a large sensor with low resolution, so that each pixel can gather a lot of light – such as the Sony A7S, for instance. This is a full-frame camera with just 12 megapixels, but outstanding low-light performance. For wildlife, a smaller sensor has its advantages, because it provides a longer reach with telephoto lenses due to its narrower field of view. A Canon 80D has 24 megapixels and a crop-factor of 1.6, which means that with a 300mm lens, it provides a view similar to a full-frame camera at 480mm.

Hence, the question you should ask yourself is not: Which camera is the best? You should ask yourself: Which camera is the best for me?

All packed up for the next photo excursion
All packed up for the next photo excursion

WHY I DECIDED FOR CANON APS-C BACK THEN…

Looking ahead on the upcoming upgrade, it is worthwhile to revisit the original considerations. Foremost: What has changes since then? Essential insight from back then: I am mostly an all-rounder. I do not have a particular area that I deeply specialize in. I photograph whatever I like: landscapes, but also people at events. Sometimes nightscapes, sometimes animals. A tiny detail here, the ‘big picture’ there. I want decent image quality, but I also want to be able to carry the camera along an entire day without it becoming a millstone around my neck.

After thorough consideration, I decided for the Canon 760D. In my blog-post about the camera, I have described in detail why. I’ve never regretted this decision.

The crucial points were the articulated touch screen, the (for me) intuitive handling, and most of all the huge range of lenses that are available from various manufactures. Last but not least, the price played a role as well, of course. The 760D has more than fulfilled my expectations, and I was able to take many great pictures with it – far beyond what I had originally thought of.

I have learned a lot over the past two years, and with skill, the requirements grow as well. Hence, I have asked myself increasingly often over the past few months: Is a camera like the 760D still the best camera for me?

…AND WHY I HAVE DECIDED NOW TO STICK WITH IT

Over the course of time, I have purchased numerous lenses of various brands (Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Samyang…). In order to keep the financial impact of an upgrade at bay, it was clear from the beginning that I would stay with a Canon camera. That still left three options: mirrorless, full-frame, or an APS-C upgrade.

Mirrorless cameras are clearly on the rise, not at least because their live-view auto-focus systems, for a long time the Achilles heel of this type of cameras, has significantly improved. A DSLM would certainly have advantages for me: the electronic shutter can take thousands of pictures for a time-lapse video without wear, and focus-peaking makes focusing manually a lot easier. The problem, however, are the lenses. In theory, I can keep all my lenses and use them with an adapter, on a Canon EOS M5 for example. Reviews from many sources show that in practice, it’s not so easy. Not every lens works with every adapter, and oftentimes, autofocus issues remain. Of course, there are lenses made specifically for mirrorless camera – but that would mean an additional investment. Also, the limited battery life of most DSLMs is a factor for me. Last but not least, there is a very irrational reason: the feeling to have a “real” camera in my hands and the clunking of the mirror are an integral part of photography for me. The bottom line is, mirrorless is not (yet) the way for me.

That leaves full-frame. When the new Canon 6D Mark II was released recently, the temptation was big to go for it. I compiled a list and compared the overall costs of switching to full-frame with an upgrade on APS-C, and the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

On the assets side, I listed realistic (compared across several platforms) selling prices for my current camera as well as lenses that are for APS-C only, such as my “always-on“. On the spending side, I listed the costs for the new camera, as well as for the replacement lenses needed to complete my lineup again. For the APS-C upgrade, the price difference of the camera was the only factor.

All in all, I concluded that switching to full-frame would cost me around 1,500 € more, mostly due to the lenses. I asked myself: Is it worth it?

The headline already gave it away: No, it’s not. The gap between APS-C and full-frame has become significantly smaller over the past few years, much owing to lenses such as Sigma’s 50-100mm ƒ/1.8. This allows you to take great portraits and nightscape shots even with a smaller DSLR. Of course, some gap remains. But the occasions where this would really make a difference for me are so rare that this is not worth the extra 1,500 €. And there are other disadvantages as well: A Canon 5D with its kit lens is in every dimension (width, height, length) four fifths of an inch wider than my 760D with the ‘always-on’ lens, and it weighs one and a half times as much. What good is a great camera if I don’t take it with me because it’s too bulky?

Hence, I will stick with Canon APS-C DSLRs. For me, they are the ideal compromise between size, flexibly, functionality and image quality. Current rumors indicate that in the spring of 2018, the successor to the current Canon 80D will be released. If this comes true, I will take a very close look at that camera. The main reasons for the upgrade can be summarized quickly: increased functionality and vastly improved auto-focus. Until then, I will certainly enjoy my 760D, and the pictures I’m taking with it, a lot.

I hope these considerations have also been helpful for you.

– Jochen =8-)

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

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