Camera choice, thoughts from an over crowded camera bag.

100114_0740_dancarr2I’m in the lucky position right now to have all three of Canons latest cameras sitting here in front of me. I have been using the 5dMKII since January last year , I purchased a 7d in August and just over two weeks ago I picked up the new Canon 1dMKIV.  Whilst I’m not going to do exhaustive comparative testing between all the cameras (I simply don’t have the time to do this and plenty of websites out there will do this anyway) I thought I should collect together some of the thoughts I have had whilst using these cameras. These 3 cameras cover a broad spectrum in pricing so they are likely to appeal to both professional and amateur photographers. Which camera would I chose for a particular task? Read on to find out.


People always e-mail to ask me question like “which is the best camera 5d or 7d ?” “Which has the best low light performance, 5d or 1d?”. The problem is that people never ever give me any information as to what they want to use the camera for so often it’s hard to answer that question of which one you should get. Quite simply, there is no perfect camera for EVERY situation. But then most photographers will hardly ever find themselves in EVERY situation anyway. Some may need low light sensitivity because they do a lot of work indoors, some may require a large number of megapixels because they print their work as fine art at very large sizes and some may shoot sports, requiring a higher number of frames per second. Very few photographers will find themselves ticking all these boxes. Of course i’m simplifying things slightly with those three categories….. but you get the idea. Having used these three cameras for a while now I thought I’d put down some of my thoughts and opinions……warning , it’s a bit of a long one though.


Ever since I got this camera last year I have been in love. The quality of the images it produces are quite simply breathtaking if you attach an equally nice piece of glass to the front of it. With it’s full frame 21MP sensor it easily produces the most detailed photos out of the 3 cameras. if you were to put a photo taken with the 5d and 7d next to each other there would be absolutely no doubt as to which camera took which photo. The results are night and day. With the price of the 5dMKII falling recently, the difference in image quality is not even reflected by price difference any more. If straight up image quality is all you desire, the 5dMKII is the camera you need. With such a large sensor though, any shortcomings in your lenses will become more evident. Particularly corner sharpness and vignetting at wide apertures. Pick your lenses carefully for this camera, only the best will match the detail produced by the sensor.

Video quality on the 5dMKII is far superior to the 7d. This is something that I have been asked a lot too recently and my quick answer has surprised a lot of people. To my eye, the 5d video is far superior in clarity and sharpness to the 7d video. That is not to say that the 7d video is bad, not at all, but it is not as good. The size difference between the 5ds full frame sensor and the 7ds 1.6 crop sensor is the reason for this. If absolute quality of the video is your goal, the 5dMKII should be an easy choice over the 7d. If multiple frame rates are a factor then that raises some more questions which will be discussed later. Right now, the 5dMKII is only capable of 30.00 fps although a 24/25 fps firmware update will be available in the coming months (it will not include 720p 50/60fps)

A couple of things that I do not like about the 5dMKII…. shutter lag and 1/200x-sync speed. The shutter lag on the 5dMKII is noticeably longer than both the 1dMKIV and the 7d. After some time you will find yourself adjusting to it but it can be disadvantageous if you are shooting simultaneously with 2 different cameras. I use the 5dMKII a lot at night time when i’m shooting urban skiing and snowboarding and it is still possible to time things perfectly with one shot but it is a noticeable difference. The second thing that I do not like is the 1/200 sync speed. This is no problem at all when shooting in a studio or at night but it makes it very hard to shoot with strobes outside in daylight. Other cameras have a 1/250 or higher sync and you can often push those even further with minimal flash banding. The 5dMKII though is stuck at 1/200. Pushing it even to 1/250 leaves a huge portion of the image unlit by the strobes.

If I am traveling light and not shooting any kind of sports then the 5dMKII is a no-brainer to pick. I believe it to be the ultimate travel photographers camera. It’s is extremely lightweight and also physically smaller than 1 series cameras which in-turn makes it more discreet. The batteries are incredibly efficient and 2 of the tiny batteries will keep you shooting all day long. Some people sight the lack of great weather sealing as a negative against the travel camera tag, but I would say just use on of THESE if it starts to rain. In this case, the positives far outweigh the negatives! By coupling this camera with the 24-105mm f4 lens you have a formidable piece of kit. Add to that a wide aperture prime such as my new favorite, the 24mm f1.4 II L and I would happily travel the world with only that.

Now on to low light performance. The 5dMKII performs the best in low light situations. You can make enormous, beautiful prints from photos shot at ISO3200 and higher. Even when comparing to the much newer 1dMKIV, the 5dMKII has a slight edge in low light performance, again thanks to it’s full frame sensor. Much has been said about the low light performance of the 7d, yes its good for a 1.6 crop but personally over iso 1600 it was not acceptable to me. This isn’t based on specific tests just real world shooting.

I’d like to say a quick note about frames per second too, obviously the 5dMKII is the slowest of the 3 in this category. 3.5 fps is VERY slow. If you only intend to shoot naturally lit sports, this is not the camera for you, you will need something faster.

Canon 7d

I had high hopes for this camera on its announcement. A fast fps camera in a small package is the dream for any photographer that has to carry their equipment on their back all day. I had to try one out so I picked one up as soon as they became available. Video functions were fun to play with, especially the 60fps 720p mode. Quality was acceptably high in the video but not as good as the 5d.  Still much better than traditional video cameras like the Panasonic HVX though. Ergonomic improvements such as dedicated video buttons were a welcome addition over the 5d.

Who is the 7d for then? Well as it turns out, Canon did not make any leaps in image quality over the 50d. Cramming 18MP images into a 1.6 crop sensor was, in my opinion, a ridiculous idea. If they had left it at 12MP it would have been an entirely different camera. Unfortunately, with a camera in this price bracket they are targeting a consumer group that is not necessarily totally clued up on the technicalities of sensor size and pixel density. The fact of the matter is that I have had commercial posters printed 20ft wide with my 8MP Canon 1dMKIIN. 20FT !! And they look fantastic (check the galleries in my facebook group for some examples) You do not need to have a huge number of MP in order to make large prints, it is far far better to have lower noise than larger photos. For the most part, professional photographers now understand this, the new 1dMKIV is only 16MP and the Nikon D3s is only 12MP and there are NO complaints about either of those figures. Canon made the decision to put 18MP in the 7d just to appeal to the consumer market which has been sadly misled into thinking that the MP count is the magic number.

7d photos were not bad, there are plenty of examples out there to look at on the review sites. Compared to cameras in the same price category it is superior, but for someone who owns a 5dMKII and a 1 series camera the quality difference is fairly large. Rightfully so , the other cameras are FAR more expensive. So who is the 7d for then? The feature set on the 7d is quite incredible for a camera in that price bracket. For an amateur photographer who likes to take photos of many things from sports to landscapes and maybe the odd video, this one is for you. It is not the best at anything, but it does everything and it does it better than other cameras in a similar price range. If price is your deciding factor then this one is for you.

A few other things i noticed while shooting with the 7d:

  • 8fps is not always 8fps. The camera slows down the max FPS in darker situations or when using a lens with a small maximum aperture. Try firing a burt at 8fps and then covering your lens with your hand to hear it slow down even with shutter priority set to a high enough shutter speed to maintain 8fps. I spoke to Canon about this issue, they were aware of it and said it was simply a feature of the camera.
  • Spot AF point is a great idea. The 7d allows use of a spot auto focus point that is much smaller than the others making it easy to focus on tiny subjects far away. It works very well.
  • The auto focus system in general is excellent. As good as my old 1dMKII , but far far inferior to the new 1dMKIV
  • Weather sealing is great, i shot all day with the camera soaking wet. No problems.
  • Its very light but sturdily built. Oxymoron? No, compared to a 1 series it is very lightweight but at the same time it feels solid in the hand.
  • AF point selection is a bit over complicated for my tastes. I prefer the simpler 1dMKIV.
  • 1/250 sync is fine but it cannot be pushed to 1/320 like the majority of the 1series cameras. Pushing past 250 produces significant banding.
  • JPEGS from the camera exhibit significant noise reduction and smoothing. They need considerable sharpening in post, but they respond well to the sharpening. Try and shoot in RAW when possible.
  • If one more person asks me if the 5d quality is really that much better than the 7d I will stop answering e-mail questions 🙂 The difference is night and day. Full frame vs 1.6 crop , c’mon people!!

Canon 1dMKIV

This is the big daddy of current Canon family. Only recently available in limited numbers before the Winter Olympics , I was luck enough to get one from CPS a few weeks ago. Initial impressions are all very positive. Low light performance is not quite on a par with the 5dMKII, but it is so close that it requires pixel peeping to notice it. 10fps is ridiculously fast but the number of photos you can shoot before the buffer is effected greatly by the speed of your memory card. I would recommend at least 30mb/s cards. If you have older cards, now would be the time to upgrade. Build quality is incredible, as you would hope for in a product that costs more than $5000. It feels like you could take this to the end of the earth and back again and it would still keep ticking. Video clarity is so similar to the 5dMKII that its impossible to tell the difference without close scrutiny. Where the 1dMKIV comes into its own though is the available 24/25/50/60 fps modes. The “jello vision” associated with DSLR video is also hugely improved. I have found it possible to perform much faster panning motions with this camera before seeing the dreaded rolling shutter effect. If video is your main goal , the 1dMKIV is the camera for you , as long as price is not an issue.

The auto focus system of the MKIV is greatly improved from the last 1 series camera that I owned which was the 1dMKIIN. I skipped the MKIII after the reports of bad focus in that camera but the MKIV seems to have no such problems. I have seen none,and have heard of none reported on the internet. Believe me people will have been looking hard for it after the MKIII debacle!! What is interesting is Canons decision to leave out some of the new focus modes that were implemented into the 7d. The 7ds zone focusing modes seem like a good idea and at first I was a little annoyed that they were not included in the flagship camera. Once I shot with the MKIV though I realized that they are just not necessary though, the MKIV AF is so intelligent that you just don’t need it. And less complex AF point selection is beneficial in situations like sports shooting. With the 7d I found myself spending much more time trying to decide which type of focusing i should be using. In a sports situation I would have missed the shot by the time I had decided. Canons solution, just let the camera decide. The only thing I would like to have seen is the 7ds spot AF point. Dedicated video buttons were left off the MKIV but again I believe this was just for simplicity and a cleaner design. The use of the AF lock button as the Rec. Start/Stop button is a good solution and works very well. Much more intuitive than the 5dMKII.

Image quality is fantastic, infinitely more impressive that the 7d (obviously at 3x the price) but not quite as detailed as the cheaper 5dMKII. Again, if quality if your priority, the 5dMKII is still the best bet but if other factors enter into the decision like durability and shooting speed then the 1dMKIV will still hold up admirably to pixel peeping and production of large fine art prints. Low light shooting is very impressive too. With my MKIIN I would try not to shoot over ISO 400. Now I can shoot at ISO 1200 and achieve similar quality photos. Low light is not quite as good as the 5dMKII, but in most situations it is so similar that it does not matter. Impressive given the 1.3 crop sensor.

In my opinion the 1dMKIV comes as close as possible to my ideal camera. Some people are not happy about the 1.3 crop factor but for me I think I prefer to have the longer reach on my telephoto lenses. My 15mm fisheye is not a full 180 degrees but again, there are lenses that can offer that field of view if I really needed it. 16MP images are far bigger than I will need in the majority of situations but its nice to have nonetheless and the build quality means that I never have to worry about the camera, just the photos. For those who skipped the MKIII, you will also notice the reduction in weight with the new LI-Ion batteries in the MKIV. Coming from a MKIIN I can tell you that it is a noticeable difference both in the camera and the weight of the spares that you have to carry in your pack.

Most people will always find something to complain about when a new camera is announced but the fact is that all specifications are a trade off. It is impossible to have the mythical 21mp, 10fps, full frame camera that fits in the palm of your hand (at least with current technology). The quicker that people learn to understand how one specification affects another the quicker they will find their perfect camera, more than likely its out there already.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Founder of Shutter Muse, full time photographer and creative educator. Dan lives in the Canadian Yukon, but his wanderlust often sends him in search of images all around the world to meet the needs of clients and readers alike.

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