DPP Home Gear Cameras What's Your Next Pro DSLR?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's Your Next Pro DSLR?

The lines between top-tier and mid-level camera models are blurring. We look at the features and capabilities that are most important for your work so you can make a thoughtful decision before leaping into an über-pro hot-rod unit.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Higher-end DSLRs also have sturdier shutters. The Canon EOS-1D X and Nikon D4 units tested to 400,000 cycles. But in the grand scheme of things, shutter replacements aren't horrendously expensive, and we've found that other parts of DSLRs (electronics) tend to fail first.

While amateur photographers (and pros, in film days) may tend to keep the same camera body for a number of years, most pros will replace a DSLR when a new model comes out with notably better image quality or AF performance. Thus, day-to-day reliability may be more important than years-long life. Any of the DSLRs in our chart should meet this requirement.

HD Video
All of the full-frame DSLRs in our chart can shoot 1080 full HD video at a pro level. The Nikon D4, D800/D800E and D600, and Sony SLT-A99 can output uncompressed video to an external recording device (or an external monitor) via a built-in HDMI connector. Canon's EOS-1D X, EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D let you choose All-I or IPB compression and Rec Run or Free Run timecoding. (When the firmware update for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III comes out this spring, it will be able to record uncompressed to an external recorder via HDMI.) The A99 can shoot 1080 video at 60p; the others top out at 30p. And thanks to its Translucent Mirror Technology, the A99 also provides full-time phase-detection AF and eye-level viewing, if desired, for video, something the others can't. (The APS-C A77 provides these features, too.) The A77 and EOS 7D are the most capable APS-C DSLRs, from a pro standpoint, but all the cameras in our chart except the Sigma SD1 can shoot video. All can record stereo sound via an optional external microphone and a few via a built-in stereo mic (the others have built-in mono mics). Pro cinematographers generally focus manually, but the Sonys provide usably quick AF for video.

The System
Canon and Nikon offer an extensive line of lenses and accessories for their DSLRs, and Olympus, Pentax and Sony provide enough lenses and accessories to handle most pro needs. If you already have a DSLR (as a great many pros do), it's probably cost-effective to upgrade to that manufacturer's body so you can use your current lenses and accessories. If you're looking at your first DSLR, consider the entire system, as well as the camera body, to be sure it can do what you want to do with it.

Canon and Nikon each offers about 60 lenses that can be used with full-frame and APS-C cameras, and 10 or more designed specifically for APS-C. (When a Nikon DX lens is attached to a full-frame body, it automatically crops to DX format; you can't mount Canon EF-S lenses on a full-frame body.) Canon's full-frame lenses range from a 14mm superwide-angle and an 8-15mm fisheye zoom to an 800mm supertele, including four tilt-shift lenses; the widest EF-S (APS-C) lens is a 10-22mm zoom. Nikon's full-frame lenses range from a 14mm superwide-angle and 16mm fisheye to a 600mm supertele, plus three tilt-shift lenses; the widest DX (APS-C) lens is a 10-24mm zoom.


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