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Are Expensive Cameras Really Worth It?

The Canon R3 is a great camera but is it the right camera for you?
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(Editor’s Note: Ryan Hill is a product specialist at Lensrentals.)

Last week, as part of my job duties at Lensrentals, I was able to spend a few days shooting with Canon’s new flagship camera, the Canon EOS R3. To get the obvious out of the way first, this camera is an incredible piece of technology.

The Canon R3 features the most up-to-date versions of just about every camera feature Canon has ever developed: Dual-pixel CMOS autofocus, over 1,000 manually selectable focus points that cover 100% of the sensor area, incredibly fast and accurate subject tracking, 30 frames per second (fps) stills in high-speed burst mode, 6K RAW video at 60fps, five-axis internal image stabilization, a live-view OLED viewfinder with a 120hz refresh rate, and so on and so on.

The Canon R3 even has “eye control”, which allows you to specify the autofocus point simply by looking through the viewfinder. This feature is difficult to describe, but, in practice, it feels like something beamed in from the future. In short, this pricey ($5999) camera has very nearly everything that Canon can currently offer professional photographers.

That’s until the rumored R1 is announced sometime in the next year or so, then inevitably the R3 Mark II after that, the R1 Mark II after that. The point is: this is never over. There will always be some development just around the corner waiting to make you feel like the camera you own isn’t enough.

Photo of the Canon R3

Useful or Overkill?

That fact is, of course, true of many other products as well. Computers, phones, appliances, even cars; nearly every electronic consumer device is designed to be replaced and discarded when something better comes along. At what point, then, do we start to see diminishing returns? Where is the line between a useful upgrade and a wasteful compulsion?

In the case of the Canon R3, that’s a somewhat difficult question to answer. Digital camera technology has progressed incredibly far in the last decade, and as that progression continues the practical differences between a “great” (expensive) camera and a “good” (affordable) camera are getting harder and harder to see.

While in the past, photographers may have had to spend many thousands of dollars to afford something that was capable of professional work, these days nearly anything above the $1,500 mark can be expected to deliver professional features and results. I, for instance, do most of my daily shooting on a Fuji X-T4.

The Fujifilm X-T4 ($1699) doesn’t have 1000 individual autofocus points, and I can’t control it with my eyeball, but it’s exactly what I need in a camera. I can fit it in a jacket pocket, the lens selection is great, everything works the way it’s supposed to, and, crucially, it doesn’t cost a month’s pay.

Photo of the Canon R3 flip screen

The Right Tool for the Right Job

My experience jumping up from the Fujifilm X-T4 to the Canon R3 for a few days got me thinking: what kind of photographer would I need to be to make all of this technology worth it? Whoever that photographer is, full disclosure, it’s not me currently.

I tested the R3 mostly by taking leisurely walks through a botanical garden, which is akin to testing a Ferrari by driving it to return books at the library. I constantly felt like I didn’t have access to the kinds of conditions where a camera like the Canon R3 could truly shine.

So, who are the photographers that could get a genuine benefit out of the feature set on the R3? Well, a lot of them just got back from the Olympics in Beijing.

This is a camera designed primarily for sports, journalism, and wildlife photographers who need to capture fast-moving subjects in vivid detail without having to worry about focus. Every single feature, from the R3’s in-body IS, to the high-speed burst, to the 120fps video in 4K, to the countless innovations in the autofocus system, is designed with these specific use cases in mind.

Even the arguable “weakness” of the R3, its relatively low 24-megapixel sensor resolution, isn’t a failing so much as it is a conscious decision to make life easier for sports, journalism, and wildlife photographers. These folks need to take a lot of shots, often thousands at a time. And they need to deliver them quickly, often wirelessly from the field.

In those kinds of working conditions, a 50MP RAW image file isn’t a plus. It’s a hindrance. Halving that 50MP resolution also halves the delivery time, while still giving you a shot that’s more than sharp enough to print in a newspaper or magazine. Commercial photographers have plenty of options if they need bigger files for cropping or large-scale prints.

That kind of feature-specific decision is really the answer to the question of whether a camera like this is “worth it” or not. Are you a full-time professional photographer who relies on getting perfect shots of difficult-to-track subjects? Then, yes, it’s probably worth it.

The things the R3 can do could be totally indispensable if that’s the kind of work you do. On the other hand, are you like me? Taking photos on weekends, maybe the occasional wedding or corporate headshot?

Photo of the back of the Canon R3

Spend Wisely

In that case, I’d say your money is probably better spent elsewhere. It’s a cliche, sure, but it’s important to remember that the camera doesn’t take the photograph. That’s the photographer’s job.

What we often ask people who call Lensrentals unsure about whether or not they should upgrade their camera is this: “What specifically do you find yourself limited by in the camera you have now?” Are your prints coming out pixelated? Time to upgrade to something with a higher resolution.

Can’t shoot concerts without getting noisy images? Find something that’s better in low light. Those are problems that equipment can solve.

If you’re just generally looking for something new, though? In almost every case you’ll get better results by practicing with and supporting the gear you have.

But if you really want to try out the Canon R3 and see if it works for you, you can rent one from us. It’ll cost you a lot less than $6K.

“Are Expensive Cameras Really Worth It?” Comments

  1. What if the complaint is one of complexity? Most modern digital cameras require so much menu-diving just to configure the camera that it wastes more time than necessary. Film cameras have the advantage of simplicity. I want to see a digital camera with film camera simplicity. One function per dial or button which doesn’t require a 200-page operator’s manual and multiple layers of menus.

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