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Entry level dSLRs - any good?

 

Don't underestimate the quality of entry level camera equipment. The photography market today is bursting at the seams with a plethora of companies desperately trying to persuade you that you must buy the latest greatest camera body, lens, tripod and so on.  Of course as our photography gets better and more enjoyable, we are compelled to invest in better equipment, and hopefully the time to use our new toys.  But in this day and age, as camera technology races ahead, do we really need the biggest and the best?

“The best camera you have is the one you have with you at the time.” This has never been more relevant than now.  Even my phone has an amazing camera in it, and the same is true for most of us.  If you look at the market figures for amount of cameras sold by type, the very high performing smaller modern cameras are making a big dent in the sales of high end kit, and there is very good reason for this. 

I could go on with a deep analysis of this on many levels, but to make my point, I would like to stick with a comparison of an entry level DSLR and a high end DSLR from a few years ago.  When I started taking my first landscape shots, the whole world was raving about a magical new full frame professional camera called a Canon 5D.  It marked a new age of performance and accessibility for many.  A top flight image sensor with brilliant dynamic range.  It was as at home at the top of mountains shooting astro photography as it was on the shoreline shooting surfers or in a studio full of lighting equipment.  It was solidly built, small enough to go anywhere, the battery lasted for what seemed like ages.  I could go on!

                                                                       

Since then, the industry has done exactly what everyone expected and continued to innovate and produce better and better cameras, lenses and accessories.  So if this is the case, and my iPhone has as many megapixels as the original Canon 5D, then what is Canon’s current entry level DSLR like?  We would be led to believe that if we want professional looking imagery that we have to buy expensive kit, but that’s far from the case these days.

As an example, the Canon 1200D is not to be underestimated. I have had people on my courses with this and similar cameras.  It’s very rewarding showing them how to capture long slow shots of gorgeous sunsets.  The reaction is often the same.  They realise that if they know how to control their entry level DSLR and the kit lens that came with it that they can capture the shots they have been dreaming of all along. 

So lets pitch the legendary Canon 5D from 2005 against the current Canon 1200D:

Canon 1200D Key Specs

  • Announcement Date: 12th Feb 2014
  • 18MP - APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • ISO 100 - 6400
  • Canon EF/EF-S Mount
  • 3″ Fixed Type Screen
  • Optical (pentamirror) viewfinder
  • 3 fps continuous shooting
  • 1920 x 1080 video resolution
  • 480g. 130 x 100 x 78 mm

Canon 5D Key Specs

  • Announcement Date: 12th Nov 2005
  • 13MP - Full frame CMOS Sensor
  • ISO 100 - 3200
  • Canon EF Mount
  • 2.5″ Fixed Type Screen
  • Optical (pentaprism) viewfinder
  • 3 fps continuous shooting
  • No Video Mode
  • 895g. 152 x 113 x 75 mm

As you can see, we have come a long way in 9 years!  There are still photographers using the 5D now, and even more of the Mk2 & 3 versions, they are everywhere. So lets break it down.  Nine years between the two models and let’s see how far we’ve come.

                                                           

                                                                   

SENSOR

The 5D has 13 megapixels - The 1200D has 18 megapixels!  Almost 50% more resolution.  Plenty to meet the needs of modern screens and printers.  The dynamic range of the 1200D is about 11 stops, almost exactly the same as the much more expensive 5D.  So, the legendary £2K+ camera is thwarted by the new entry level bad boy.

ISO

As ever, newer and newer cameras get better high ISO performance, less noise at higher ISO is always the goal.  Without going into controlled tests between the two cameras it is hard to say which is the winner.  The 1200D has one stop higher ISO performance than the 5D going to ISO 6400 vs 3200 on the 5D.

Other Factors

  • The newbie 1200D has a bigger screen than the 5D.
  • It has the same high frame rate as the 5D of 3 frames a second.  (This might not sound like much but I used to shoot very successful action sports events on the 5D.)
  • The old 5D did not shoot video, but the 1200D does full HD!
  • The 1200D is lighter, smaller and therefore more portable

The lens bundled with the 1200D is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II.  The focal length of 18-55mm on a crop sensor camera such as this equates to 29-88mm in real terms.  A perfect all round focal length for every day use.  This is the mark 2 version of this popular lens and it is surprisingly sharp with good and accurate auto focus.  And it comes with image stabilisation to help you get sharp shots in lower light when the shutter speeds gets slower.

If you really wanted to, you could pull this apart far more than I have.  The point I am trying to make is that you can turn out some really serious work with today’s entry level equipment. 

Lets look at what it would cost for the 1200D and the accessories .  I got these prices from UK distributor Wex Photographic. 

  • Canon EOS 1200D Digital SLR with 18-55mm IS II Lens - £289
  • Manfrotto Off Road Tripod - £119
  • Kata DR 465 DL Backpack - £30
  • Hoya 58mm Polariser - £30
  • SanDisk 16GB Extreme Pro 95mb/sec SD Card - £24

TOTAL  -  £492  (UK prices inclusive of 20% VAT)

So there we have it.  For under five hundred pounds you can get a good quality set up that will serve you for years and, used correctly can capture the same glossy high end images that pros might tell you is only possible on high end kit.  It is worth saying, the same is quite achievable with a Nikon set up.  Prices will differ slightly no doubt, but it wont be far off the spec above.

Have I used a Canon 1200D?  Yup, and it was much the same as using any of the high end Canon cameras.  The operating system is very similar and useable.  This camera is just at home capturing 30 second exposures of hypnotic sunrises as the big boys.

 

                     

Noirmont Point Martello Tower “La Tour de Vinde” in Jersey. One hour before sunrise - fill light from a Maglite during the exposure. 30seconds @ f/6.3 ISO400 55mm.