What Makes A Camera “Better” Than Another?

What makes a camera better than another? Some people count megapixels, others “feel” the camera, and then there are people like me that look for durability. One other thing that I really love about shooting Canon is in the editing process. I feel like less work is required in post to make it look like I imagined than with other brands.

When I find a camera I like, I hang onto it for a long time. I completely lose track of the technology race that the cameras are involved in, and won’t look into it again until I need a new one. The last time I upgraded, it was because the horse I was on fell into a puddle so big I should just call it a pond. My camera was trapped under me, and I was trapped under the horse.  The camera before that was replaced because my boat capsized two miles from land, and the cheap dry bag I was using did not keep my gear dry on the swim back to shore.

Backlit images will put any camera to the test.  The ability to keep details in the lights and in the shadows is mandatory for my style.  - Canon 5Ds R
Backlit images will put any camera to the test. The ability to keep details in the lights and in the shadows is mandatory for my style. - Canon 5Ds R

“Better” cameras don’t always mean better pictures. Give me a camera that works consistently, doesn’t surprise me, and can handle the tough lighting and weather that I encounter and I’ll keep it until it falls apart, or I destroy it, usually it is the latter.

I have two personal cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III. I’ll probably never sell the Mark II, it’s a great backup, and it fits in my underwater housing. These housings cost thousands more than the camera itself and are only made for that specific camera, so if I were to upgrade my housing every time a new camera came out I’d quickly go broke.

On a recent trip to Moab where I was shooting a story on paddle boarding on the Colorado River, Canon offered to let me try out any of the cameras in their lineup. Part of me wanted to decide which to take by looking at the price tag and choosing the most expensive, but the truth is I shoot the 5D series for a reason. It’s not huge, but it shoots like it is. This led me to asking for the 5Ds R, which is basically what I have with a few upgrades, and 50 megapixels. I also asked for the Canon M3, a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses. The M3 was small, light, and not so expensive that if I dropped it in the river I couldn’t replace it.

I’ve never been a fan of the megapixel race. Quality doesn’t come from numbers, there are too many other factors involved to be able to judge a camera by pixels. The truth is that to print an image in a magazine you only need a 6 megapixel image. So my feelings on these cameras are in no way based on the size of the sensor.

In practice, shooting with the 5Ds R made going back to my 5D Mark III a bit depressing. Not due to the difference in megapixels, but mostly because of the “Low Pass Filter Cancelation” which made my star photos nice and crisp. It also had a bunch of native features that I used to only get by using Magic Lantern, like a bulb setting that is useful without an intervalometer, and its own built in intervalometer.

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The "Low Pass Filter Cancelation" in the 5Dr S keeps details sharp, especially useful for astrophotography.

When put into a situation that actually presents some difficult lighting scenarios, or when challenged with “forcing” a camera to give you an image that takes some arithmetic or creativity that the camera can’t figure out on it’s own, that is when a “better” camera will shine. I’m happy with my 5D Mark III, I probably won’t upgrade until I drop it on a climbing shoot or a bear decides it’s a chewy toy. It’s a great camera, but I understand now why the 5Ds R is a much better camera.

Regarding the Canon M3, I’ve become a big fan of small but powerful cameras. They truly suit my lifestyle, and the photographic adventures I end up on. The M3 has been given some bad press because it’s not as fancy as the Sony cameras.  When I look at the images that I got with it though, I can’t think of a reason to complain. It shoots amazing photos, handles tough lighting beautifully, and fits anywhere. And, I’m getting that nice Canon RAW file that I know how to work with. Sure, I’ll shoot my 5D Mark III for anything major, but for trips that aren’t jobs, that M3 works perfectly.

I didn't want to risk dropping the 5Ds R into the river as I paddle boarded alongside my brother for this photo, so I took the Canon M3 instead.

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