Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Full-Frame, Large Sensor Bonanza!!!

This year's Photokina exhibition certainly was different, a few months ago, both Canon and Nikon each announced two new high-end full-frame DSLRs (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 1DX, Nikon D800, Nikon D4), then just before the end of the year each of them announced a more affordable (not really) full-frame DSLR again (Canon 6D, Nikon D600). And to make matters more exciting, Sony announced the revolutionary A99 full-frame DSLR, and the sweet, expensive RX1. A full-frame Leica completes the picture. Do you see a trend here?
On the other hand, the mirror-less world has never been more exciting, earlier this year, we had the Canon G1X, the Sony RX100, the Sony NEX-5n, the Fuji X-Pro and the Olympus OM-D. However, the Photokina announcements gave us a huge dump of larger-than-average-sensor compacts and mirrorless, most notable the new Olympus XZ-2, E-PL5 and E-PM2, the Fuji XE-1 & XF-1, the Panasonic GH3, and the Sony NEX-6.
You can read a quick summary about most of these cameras on Roger Cicala's blog.
You might know I already have a lovely Canon 5D Mk II, whereas before I had a couple of APS-C Canons and a larger-than-average-sensor Canon G11. I love full-frame sensors, I get better image quality, sharper images, more exposure latitude and lower noise than I ever got with any of my previous cameras, amazing, but there's a huge caveat, shallow depth of field!
Too shallow a DoF? Miss focus from my 5D2 ruined the shot, I would have loved to have both eyes in focus, and that's @ f/2.8, two stops down from wide open!!
I know, you will tell me that we all seek the shallow DoF, and that I am lucky to have a full-frame camera, ok, it's sometimes useful to have that shallow DoF, just not all the time, it is now more difficult to shoot large groups, macro objects, and generally lots of stuff where you need more DoF. I can, of course, stop down and increase the DoF, but that way I will suffer from lower shutter speeds and higher ISOs.
I was jealous - and still am - of those Olympus m4/3 users, they can use the excellent Olympus/Panasonic sharp lenses wide-open and still get sharp shots with just enough DoF, and the correct amount of background blur. I know the same can be done with APS-C, I was more comfortable shooting wide-open with my APS-C cameras, but I am seriously intrigued with the small sizes of Olympus m4/3 bodies and lenses, and I love the concept of the EVF, maybe Kirk is an evil-genius writer, but he succeeded in making me like them without ever trying them, the whole WYSIWYG concept (exposure, white balance, real-time information, histograms, etc...) without lifting your eye from the view finder is intriguing, and that's probably an under-estimation.
M4/3 cameras keep getting excellent lenses all the time, did you see that luscious 60mm Macro? I would buy one because of the looks alone, did you see how sharp the new 75mm f1/.8 lens is? Did you see the crazy 24-70mm f/2.8 & 70-200mm f/2.8 35mm equivalent lenses from Panasonic? They mean serious business. And now one can't complain about the focusing speed or accuracy anymore (except for tracking moving subjects, in which DSLRs are still king). I have been contemplating getting a m4/3 system for a long time, and I am sure the time will come sometime within a couple of years, however, I would rather have a full-frame camera for the following reasons:
  • Image Quality: despite achieving quantum leaps in image quality (OM-D sensor), they can now match the larger APS-C sensors, but they are no match for their larger brothers yet.
  • Egyptian Market: zero presence for such cameras or lenses, only Canon & Nikon DSLRs, no Olympuses, Sonys, Fujis or Panasonics. If I buy a system from abroad, I would never be able to sell it.
  • Flashes: I shoot a lot with flash, sometimes I am a hard-core strobist, and most of the time, I'm a Neil Van Niekerk bouncer, I am not sure that those systems have the same flash hardware, capabilities and prices as the trusted Canon & Nikon speedlites.
So it remains full-frame for me until we get better, smaller sensors. I have a 5D Mark II, which is an excellent camera, image quality wise. However, I was worried before I bought it from the so-so focusing system, I am not a focus-recompose person, and I love to put a focus point directly where I want my focus to be, despite the 60D having only 9 points, they were 9 great points, all of them were cross type (i.e. more accurate), however with the 5D Mark II, you only get an accurate center point, and the outer points are either horizontal or vertical points, they miss a lot and they completely suck in tracking my kids, even if they are just moving their heads when I am composing. Which brings us to the next part.
5D Mark II + 100 Macro L, f/11, Canon 580EX II
Before I bought the 5D2, I waited for Canon's imminent full-frame announcement to see if I would buy that instead, they announced the 5D3 which was way out of my budget, so I only had the option to buy the 5D2, end of story.
When I heard about Canon's rumored "affordable" full-frame, I was really excited, it would be the same price as the 5D2 (sell mine, buy new, no loss), and would certainly have more features like a pop-up commander flash, swivel screen, and more importantly, a much better focusing system, rumors mentioned the 7D's great focusing system, I was very happy and excited, until Nikon announced the D600.
I am quite impressed with the D600, I see it as an excellent move by Nikon, and I assume it will sell like hot cakes, Mic has received his, and it seems very nice. Am I jealous? Mmmaybe. Do I want one? Certainly. Will I buy one? Unfortunately not, the cost of replacing all of my lenses and flashes with Nikon ones will be huge, and I will lose a lot of money selling my own stuff, so I have to stay still for now, maybe one day I will only have one camera and one lens, switching would be much easier then, I would even buy the Sony A99, drool. Darn you Nikon for producing such a nice teasing camera.
Now the Canon, after the D600 announcement, I saw an entry on that stated the 6D would have 11 AF points, my heart sank at that moment, my only hope in the new full-frame was broken to pieces, and true, the 6D in my opinion is a fail on several levels, but I don't doubt it will sell well amongst hard-core Canonistas, and at some time in the future completely replace the 5D Mark II. Here's what I like/hate about both the Canon 6D and the Nikon D600, and take care that both cameras sell for the same price, so the comparison is relative:
Canon 6D - Me Likey:
  • Full-frame sensor, will probably have excellent image quality, can't imagine it will be better than the 5D3 however.
  • Built-in WiFi & GPS, genius, the Wi-Fi remote capabilities with smartphones are excellent.
  • Small, light body.
  • 4.5 fps, faster than the 5D2 at least.
  • Same battery as 5D2, 5D3, 7D & 60D, thanks Canon.
  • Silent Shutter taken from 5D3.
  • EV -3 sensitive center focusing point.
  • Weather sealing.
Canon 6D - Me Not Likey:
  • Crappy outer focusing points, a no-go for me.
  • 1/4000 max shutter speed, I checked my photos and I shoot a lot of 1/6400 and faster shots in full sunlight.
  • Crappy outer focusing points, oh, I mentioned it before.
  • LCD auto brightness not available, a very nice feature on the 5D2, sucks not to have it.
  • Loss of joystick.
  • 97% viewfinder, come on, I hate it when I carefully frame a shot only to find out that I have to crop something I didn't notice while shooting.
  • Crappy outer focu..., oh well, you get the idea.
Nikon D600 - Me Likey:
  • Sony 24 MP full-frame sensor, I expect amazing things.
  • 100% viewfinder.
  • Can mount DX lenses.
  • Can switch between DX & FX modes.
  • Commander pop-up flash.
  • Dual SD UHS cards, bravo Nikon.
  • 5.5 fps, woot.
  • Weather sealing.
Nikon D600 - Me Not Likey:
  • 1/4000 max shutter speed, however, for Nikon purists, previously they had a base ISO of 200 and a max shutter speed of 1/8000, now that the base ISO is 100, they can get away with 1/4000.
  • Center clustered AF points, although it has 9 cross type points, they are all very close to the center point, so they can be considered as one large cross type point.
  • EV -1 focusing compared to Canon's EV -3, although I don't it won't differ 90% of the time.
  • No dedicated AF-ON button.
  • Can't change aperture electronically during live view, you have to have a lens with an aperture ring.
As you can see, both cameras are comparable, with a clear edge towards the Nikon, now when someone tells me they want to switch to full frame, I will certainly point them to the D600, at least they can use their DX lenses, bravo Nikon.
Oh, I wish Sony makes an RX1 with a 50mm Zeiss lens, and sell it for $1000, I would buy one.



  1. I hadn't realized how many of Nikon's current cameras only had native ISO to 200. Going from D70 (ISO 200) to D200 (ISO 100) I had just assumed newer cameras were ISO 100 as well. Both of those shot at 1/8000 tho, so the D600 would be a downgrade in exposure range for me. Looks like the D7k is the other consumer level camera that does ISO 100 and of course D4.

    1. (I'd like to reply on behalf of my coauthor Mshafik) Hi Chris. Yes you're right ISO 100 isn't as common in the previous generation of Nikon cameras. The current generation however is bringing it back. For example the lowly D3200 has ISO 100 as well.
      As for the 1/4000 shutter of the D600, one interesting question is whether the D600 has an extended highlight range in which case, is it possible that at low -1 (ISO 50) it can actually have at least equal highlight range to a D200...? :)

      Best regards,


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