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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Year Of Full-Frame DSLRs

The landscape for nature photographers who are in the market for a full-frame DSLR has never been richer

Labels: CamerasD-SLRsGear

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Landscape photographers, in particular, have some very good reasons for adopting a full-frame workflow. While action and wildlife shooters get some specific benefits from APS-C DSLRs, the full-frame models let us exploit the wide-angle end of the spectrum, and when image quality is of paramount importance, nothing beats a full-frame camera.

If we look at most of the camera manufacturers' lineups in tiers, tier one would be the entry-level DSLRs for under $1,000 and tier three would be the very top-of-the-line models that routinely cost more than $5,000. In between are the cameras that most photo enthusiasts use, like the readers of Outdoor Photographer. That middle tier has some advanced APS-C-sensor cameras, as well as some key full-frame models. The full-frame models are a bit like pure sports cars. They don't have a lot of the über-pro features of the tier-three super-cameras, but like Han Solo says about the Millennium Falcon, they've got it where it counts: the sensor.

For landscape shooters, full-frame cameras offer the very best image quality. In the tier-two price points, you'll sacrifice a certain amount of speed, buffer size and exotic construction materials, but are those aspects of the camera all that important to you? A photojournalist working in a combat zone can make good use of unlimited high-speed burst rates and ultradurable alloys and composites, but landscape photography is generally much more tame.

The three cameras we spotlight in this article represent the pinnacle of DSLRs for nature photographers. They aren't especially cheap, nor are they crazy-expensive. They're all famous for image quality and versatility. They have incredible low-light capabilities, and they can shoot cinematic-quality HD video. In short, these are the ultimate cameras for many OP readers: the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the Nikon D800/800E and the Sony SLT-A99.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon's EOS 5D Mark II started the pro HDSLR craze, and the EOS 5D Mark III is a better camera in all areas.

New 22.3-Megapixel CMOS Sensor
One megapixel doesn't seem like a lot, but the 5D Mark III's new 22.3-megapixel full-frame Canon CMOS sensor provides better image quality than its predecessor's 21.1-megapixel unit at all ISO settings. The 5D Mark III has a normal ISO range of 100-25,600, expandable to 50-102,400, and we found 25,600 to be quite usable when needed with our 5D Mark III test camera.

New AF System
One of the main gripes about the EOS 5D Mark II was its "old" AF system. The Mark III fixes that, using the same 61-point high-density reticular AF system as the new flagship pro EOS-1D X—the most sophisticated SLR AF system Canon has ever released. It works in light levels as dim as EV -2, uses the same high-performance AI Servo III AF tracking algorithm as the EOS-1D X and can be configured in a number of ways to suit the shooter. The 21 central AF points serve as cross-types with apertures of ƒ/5.6 or faster—until the EOS-1D X, not even 1-series EOS cameras provided cross-type sensors at ƒ/5.6. Our 5D Mark III test camera handled birds in flight very effectively with EF 300mm ƒ/4L IS USM and EF 400mm ƒ/5.6L USM tele lenses.


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