Capturing Passion and Magic

September 30, 2012

Damn Canon and Nikon (less) Both

Yeah, I'm grumpy. I've been considering moving up to a full frame camera body. I keep shooting shows and performances in places with spectacularly crappy lighting, and my studio shoots could be improved the slightly wider field of view provided by a full frame camera (it's a tight studio).

So, I was extremely excited about the new "entry-level" full-frame DSLRs Canon (6D) and Nikon  (D600) were rumored to be announcing at Photokina this month. Outside of the rumor mill price on the D600 seeming to be way too low (it was off by $600), these cameras seemed like they might be the way forward for me. The 6D because I shoot Canon and I thought they might be ready to seriously compete again, and the D600, because it appeared to be enough camera to make a platform switch feasible.

And then the cameras were announced.

The Canon 6D? A huge miss. The announced AF system appears to be a joke - 11 points, but only one worth a damn. That's right - 1 cross-type sensor (sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines). My 7D has 19 cross type sensors, my 60D has 11. The current Digital Rebel, the lowest end DSLR in the line up has 11 cross type sensors.  So what if the lone good  6D AF sensor goes down to -3 EV - I don't shoot many portraits by candlelight. And I doubt it will help when the performer on that dimly lit stage is wearing a dark outfit - that's when it really helps to have good outer AF points, so you can put an AF point on the face, which will be reflecting enough light to focus with.

The D600 is frustrating because it's almost enough camera to get me to switch. Almost. Apparently, Nikon decided that a dedicated rear AF button is a pro feature, so it got dropped from the D600 (the D800 has it). $2,100 camera, not pro enough for the one button I use all the time, according to Nikon marketing. It's a small thing...except for the fact that I use that functionality on every photo. Yes, I could reprogram the AF-L button, but it's not the same.

And there's sort of an issue with the D600 AF. It's the same AF module as the D7000 - which means it doesn't cover as much of the bigger D600 sensor as I would like. This makes off-center compositions harder than they should be, but hey, according to Nikon marketing, I need $3,000 "pro" camera to get a proper artistic tool .

Where both the D600 and 6D fall down is in a place I didn't expect: flash sync.

The D600 syncs at 1/200th, and the 6D at an execrable 1/180th. Considering that Nikon solved the full frame sync at 1/250th of a second problem in 1983, and Canon shipped cameras syncing at that speed in 1989, there's just no technological excuse for the backsliding.

Those sync speeds limit what I can do in mixing ambient light and flash. It limits the action-stopping ability of the shutter when I'm using flash to fill in the ambient light, rather than override it. It even affects the shutter's ability to control user lens shake. The portrait below was shot with a 200 f/2.8 at 1/250th. Dropping down to 1/180th would have put me below the 1/focal length rule for shake free exposures, and screwed up up the already dicey flash to ambient ratio.

And, yes, that's an outdoor portrait - the background was terrible, so I worked hard to choose a place where I could override the ambient with flash enough to kill the background, and I almost didn't make it (reminder to self, get high output reflect for Alien Bees).




Nick Fury

So, what's a boy to do? If I want to go full frame, on paper the D600 is the better camera: faster frame rate, better sync speed, twin card slots, a stunningly good 24 MP sensor, and you can buy it now (at the time of writing, it's estimated to be another two months before a single 6D will ship to a consumer).

If the D600 had come with a dedicated rear focus button and a 1/250th flash sync, I'd probably be selling my Canon gear right now. But those omissions make me hesitate. Hesitate enough to where the pain of doing an entire system swap comes to front of mind.

The 6D is not an option, not unless that AF system turns out to be a miracle. And I'm not dropping $3,500 for a 5D MK III, because it's just not worth it.

The option that makes the most sense is to wait, I guess. Canon's rumored to have a new APS-C sensor coming soon (the size in my 60D and 7D), and if it catches up to Nikon's APS-C sensors in image quality, that might be the ticket.

It used to be simpler - camera capabilities increased as you moved up the line. Now, Canon and Nikon do price-point marketing, as opposed to functionality marketing, or even market segment marketing. And they make strange decisions about what to leave out to distinguish between camera models. And both seem to think that photographers have never-empty wallets, at time when it's harder to make a buck at photography than ever before.

Maybe it's time to consider Pentax.

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