Time for some new photo gear.

Time for some new photo gear.

There is no doubt I’m due for a major equipment upgrade. If I didn’t charge money to take pictures I might be able to convince myself that the Canon 5D Mark2 I’ve been shooting with since forever (and which I bought used)  was still good enough for professional work. And you know what, maybe it is. My clients certainly aren’t complaining about the quality of the images I deliver, and the 5D Mk2, while ageing, was the undisputed king of the photography world for a while, before the relentless march of technology left it forlorn and forsaken. But who am I kidding. While the Mk2 was truly an impressive innovation, so was the electric  typewriter.  And who uses an electric typewriter these days? 

I think the electric typewriter is a great metaphor for the Mk2, because that is about how far behind current imaging technology the camera is. It’s autofocus was never considered a great feature, even when it was new, and by today’s standards it is so poor as to render the camera unusable in a practical sense. It’s dynamic range, while mindblowing in 2009 when it was released, is far out of step compared to modern cameras, and dynamic range is a selling feature because it makes so much difference to high-contrast images. And, flaw of flaws, it’s got only one memory card slot, meaning no professional working for a paying client would ever be advised to use it. And finally, 20 megapixels just isn’t a lot these days. Yes, it’s “enough,” but more megapixels would mean more cropping options (especially with the tack-sharp images achievable with a better focusing system). 

So, with all that in mind, the camera I upgrade to must have dual memory card slots. This is not negotiable. It has to be reasonably well weather sealed and I have to be able to hold it for hours at a time in my hand without fatiguing. It also needs to play nice with my current collection of EF lenses.

Let’s summarize my options. I can stay with Canon or migrate to Sony (the only other realistic option). If I go with Sony, the only serious choice for me is the a7Riii, because the a7Riiv is unjustifiably expensive. If I stay with Canon, my two options are the 5D Mk4 or the 5DsR. These cameras are the same price used, so the decision comes down to features and reliability. But really, the sR is not the best option for me. It’s a great studio camera, but it lags in high ISO performance, it’s slow and the file sizes are huge. And 50 megapixels is serious overkill for what I do professionally anyway. So really, the only option in my price range is a used 5D Mk4. 

Advantages of going with Sony: Unparalleled dynamic range, high resolution without ridiculous file sizes, awesome video specs and performance, top-of-the-line eye autofocus and in-body stabilization. Sounds amazing, right, so what’s holding me back?

Disadvantages of going with Sony: I would have to buy at least three new batteries, a new controller for my strobes and a metabones adapter for my Canon lenses. I’m also not sure how well my EF lenses will work through the adapter. Sometimes they work great, sometimes there are issues, so reliability is a real question. And, to top it off, here might be the dealbreaker. In Japan, Sony cameras only have Japanese language menus.  I speak and read Japanese well enough to manage if there were no other option, but do I really want to have to navigate the infamously labyrinthine Sony menus in a language other than English? 

Advantages of staying with Canon: I can continue to use my EF lenses natively (this alone is almost enough to settle the matter). I can also use all my peripherals natively, including the batteries which have served me so well. Canon DSLRs have proven themselves to be ruggedly reliable with intuitive ergonomics and easy to navigate menus. 

Disadvantages of staying with Canon: I’d still be using a DSLR and not getting the advantages of a mirrorless system. Also, Canon is halting development of the EF lens line in favor of the RF line and there will be no adapter for EF bodies. That means an upgrade to something like the EOS R5 in the future, when I can (hopefully) afford it.

Image from Adobe Stock.

All in all, there are no dealbreakers in the stay-with-canon Canon option. It is the default choice. On the other hand, the Sony a7Riii is undeniably the better of the two cameras in terms of resolution, dynamic range and future-proofing (non-English menus notwithstanding). 

The adapter (E-mount body to EF lenses) alone is about $660 new here in Japan, the three batteries I would need would come to more than $250 and the controller would be an extra $50. That adds up to $960 in addition to the camera body, which itself is $100 or so more than the Canon. So, the difference is about $1,000. 

If money were falling like mana from the heavens, I could justify the extra $1,000. But, living in Okinawa, there are only so many potential customers out there willing to pay my (more than fair) rates, so I have to balance what I spend against what I can realistically earn.

I also have to think about what that money could buy me in other gear. For $1,000 US, I could buy new stands for my speedlites, a few extra modifiers (low-cost Neewer types give the best bang for the buck) and maybe even the Canon f/2 135mm EF lens I’ve wanted for a long time (which is $300 cheaper than its Sigma counterpart). 

Add the Japanese-only menus back into this equation and I think I’ve just made my decision. I’ll let you know how I like the used Canon 5D Mk4 I’m going to buy.

Photo of Sony camera by Touann Gatouillat Vergos on Unsplash

Paul Sean Grieve

I am a professional photographer living and working in Okinawa, Japan.

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