Monday, November 1, 2010

Upgrading - 7D vs 5DMkII vs 1DMkIV?

... or how I learned to stop worrying, and love da bomb!

The Problem

I have a Canon 40D that I've been very happy with, but some of it's limitations were starting to bug me enough to upgrade:
- Poor low light/high ISO performance (3200 is noisy)
- Not full frame (always feels like I'm wasting my L lenses)
- No video (no big deal, but it's nice to have)
- Less than ideal battery life (for a full day of shooting)
- LCD could be better (usually only a problem in sunlight)

The Solutions
Christmas lights?
With the modern camera line-up, there are stacks of different ways to jump. I looked at getting faster lenses (I love my Nikon 55mm f/1.2 MF) for better low-light performance - I examined my most used focal lengths, and worked out a cost of getting 1.4 or 1.8 lenses in those. That was about the price of a 7D, and that only solved one problem.

Simarly, a quick trip to DxOMark quickly told me that the 7D wasn't worth the upgrade cost over the 40D - the only problem it solved was the lack of video.

The kings of low-light performance in the Canon range are the 1D Mk IV, 5D Mk II and the 1Ds Mk III, but the 1Ds Mk III is the king of wallet damage as well, which ruled that out as a viable option, which left the 1D and the 5D.


The 5DMkII is the choice of wedding photographers for it's combination of a reasonable price, with full frame capabilities and great low light performance.

But, the 5D, like so many Canon cameras (!!?) suffers from pixel stuffing - how high can we bump this megapixel count? Nikon got sick of that game a while ago. Not many people need that kind of ridiculous pixel count, and it just means you have a lower frame rate (3-4 pics/second - yeah, the 40D doubles this), and the pictures take more time to unload, process, etc.

It also suffers from an older AF system (compared to the 7D & 1D), a slow flash sync speed (a worry for a strobist), and the battery life is less than on the 40D!

All annoying downsides of a substantial 'upgrade'.


It's low light performance is bordering on insane. While the 5D may have a slight edge on quality (if you believe DxOMark. Or if you look at the right sample images, the 1D has about a 1 1/3 stop advantage over the 5d), the 1D goes a further (usable) stop of ISO, just incase you HAVE to get a picture.

As far as battery life goes, one charge gets you about 50% more than the 40D, and it gets a tick for it's great LCD (no, really, it's stunning).

Video is included, so the biggest downside...?

It's big; it's heavy? So am I. It's not full frame? But it's closer than the 40D is.

Ok, it's bloody expensive. But if there's one thing I've learnt from the Strobist... rather than upgrading every couple of years, getting the best could mean no upgrading for a lot longer. The cost is spread out over a longer period.

At least that's what I told myself...

Almost Midnight

(Incidently, the Nikon D7000D700 solved almost all these problems, except video, for a better price than the Canon options!)


  1. So you saying that $2K price difference between 5DII and 1DIV is justified for a non pro shooter?
    I'm looking at 7D for price,low light, weight and fast shutter, but then I'm upgrading from 400D.


  2. GK, for me, yes:
    Factor in a battery grip, and a spare battery for the 5DMkII (because I have run out with the 40D battery during a shoot, so I'd be worried with the 5D), and the $2k shrinks.

    Factor in the extra disk space and memory card requirements for the 5DMkII, plus put a value on your time (spent waiting for the data to transfer, to process the images), etc, and the difference starts dropping down again.

    I know I would tire of the 5D in maybe a year or two - the 5DMkIII (or similar) is on the horizon for possibly March next year, making it obsolete.

    Factor in another camera purchase in a couple of years, as opposed to none (the 1D is still likely to have a number of advantages even over the 5DMkIII), and the difference disappears.

    Then there's the better weather sealing, better ISO performance ("At ISO 12800 and 25600 the 1D MkIV shows the lower noise than the 5D MkII.") which was one of my big reasons for upgrading.

    Add to that the 1/300th sync speed vs the 1/200th or 1/160th of the 5D, and the 1D shows a strobist advantage as well.

    I'm also keen on the fact that it has a CF card PLUS an SD card (which I originally thought was naff) because of the possibility of getting an eye-fi card, and wirelessly tethering JPG images to a laptop/iPod/iPad while keeping a RAW copy on the CF card at the same time!

    So I was able to justify it for myself :)

  3. ... and did I mention the 1D came with a free 3 year (2 extra) warranty? :)

  4. Curious what you thought of the video on the Nikon D7000. Reason being is that camera is likely to be my next upgrade (from the D90).

  5. Ooops, braino, I typed 'D7000' where I meant 'D700'. I had been looking at the stats for both.
    The D7000 isn't full frame.

  6. I'm coming from a 30D. I don't need video, but I would like better low light AF. Lower high ISO noise would be good too. Live view, auto sensor cleaning would be nice to haves.

    But there's no way I'm going to pay 1D or even 5D prices for that. And I don't believe the DSLR market is yet mature enough that my next camera will last as long as my previous -- a Canon F1.

    The images/tests I've seen suggest that the 7D *does* have better high iso, at least than the 30D, and I thought better than the 40D as well.

    For wide angle my efs 10-22 has good quality so the crop sensor doesn't punish me at all.

    Battery life is easily solved by carrying a spare battery or two, so that doesn't bother me either. In fact that's a negative about upgrading, as I can no longer use the cheap equivalent batteries the 30D can use.

    So it's either the 7D or nothing for me. And so far it's been nothing. Apart from a new flash, a new lens, and some studio kit.

  7. IanW: in all seriousness, get a torch. It's a really cheap solution to low-light AF problems.

    For the ISO issue, the 30D vs 40D, apparently not much difference in the high ISO (the higher pixel density of the 40D is balanced by the better quality sensor, I guess).

    7D vs the 40D for high ISO noise - about 1 stop better in the 7D. 7D vs 5D, the jury is out - anywhere from 1/2 to 2 stops, plus the 5D goes up an extra stop (25600 vs 12800), so you get maybe 2 stops more.

    Then the 1D vs the 5D, an extra stop, plus you get to go up an extra stop...

    So, an extra 3+ stops of usable ISO range is great, if you "need" it. I did. If it's a nice-to-have, then it's not worth it.

    I've used the high ISO (like 12800) of the 1D a lot already, but it has the added benefit of - with the 40D I wouldn't feel comfortable shooting at 1600+, but with the 1D I don't even think about it up to about 2000 ISO. Beyond that, I think about it... briefly :)