Have Canon Dropped the Ball?

I use a Canon 40D. I am really pleased with it and if I never had another camera I could continue to make great images with it, but I am a photographer, and it’s not in our nature not to want a better camera, especially at a time like the present when every new generation adds so much. It’s not just gimmicks either, basic image quality and resolution, not to mention noise performance are all improving rapidly. I have had the 40D for over a year and during that time I have learned what I think I want in a camera:

Full frame or 1.3x frame like the 1DMk3

A normal size, not built in sidegrip like the Canon 1D’s (Too big and heavy)

Good noise performance at 1600 ISO or beyond

Fast autofocus, with good frame coverage, like the Nikon D700 or Canon 1Ds Mk3

Reasonable frame rate, although I almost never use the 6+ fps the 40D can give. 3 or 4 would do.

Live view, for macro

A good screen for reviewing fine focus

In body Image Stabilisation. (For my prime lenses)

So what’s my problem? The only upgrade path Canon has given me is the new 50D. This is essentially my 40D on steroids. It has 15 megapixels as opposed to my 40D’s 10 megapixels. They claim to have redesigned the sensor to improve noise, but the serious reviews like DP review’s say that the sensor is overpopulated with pixels. The result is no noise improvement in the face of Nikon’s D300 which is a great camera, and beating the 50D in the reviews. They are £900 and £850 respectively, so direct competitors. If I was starting again, I would buy the Nikon; its better in lots of ways, the trouble is amateurs like me can’t suddenly change our cameras since we have a collection of lenses worth more than the camera. The Nikon has much better noise performance, but why? I think the sensor on the Canon is slightly smaller (APS – C 22.2 x 14.8mm) than the Nikon DX sensor (23.6 x 15.7). Sensibly the Nikon has pushed resolution to 12 or so megapixels, Canon went for 15 megapixels in a smaller sensor. You don’t need to be a former Physics teacher (which I am) to know this is madness without some secret technology breakthrough. The future may well be black silicon, but for the moment both companies are using similar technology and Canon therefore seem to have allowed the marketing people to go for the headline pixel count, on a smaller sensor.

I admit there is much to like about the 50D. There is the high res screen, the compensation for front or back-focusing lenses, the resolution in good light, but serious commentators are saying, it doesn’t amount to significantly better picture quality than I have at present.

So my next choice from Canon, the recently released 5D Mk2. This ticks most of my boxes, although we will have to see the reviews over the next few weeks as it is newly released. It is full frame, with 21 megapixels, and I think I would really like one, but its £2000. Hopefully the much larger sensor can support the greater pixel density and result in a better noise performance at 1600 ISO than I have at present. So to update my image quality significantly, I need to go from my current £600 ish camera, to a £2000 camera. What are you playing at Canon? Nikon could do me a better camera at £900, and their full frame, 12 odd megapixel dream D700, which lets you photograph miners at work by the sparks of their pickaxes costs £1600. Get your act together Canon, this is an all or nothing upgrade path! Right now if you are buying into a new DSLR, I’d say, buy a Nikon.

Why do I care? I’ve just sold my second 40D, bought to see me through a repair under guarantee, and I’m feeling ready to divert the funds into an upgrade. If I had a Nikon, I could afford it, with Canon, I can’t.

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