Question Time

Time for a reader question, I thought. So… reader Lisa asks:

I searched through your blog before I thought about sending this email. I have been reading a lot of online information about the Canon 5DMii having focusing issues, unlike the old Canon 5D.  I found nothing on your blog about focusing issues. I do a lot of pet photography for non-profit organizations and I cannot afford focusing issues, but I want to move up to a full-frame semi-pro camera (that’s affordable to me). If this is the case, what is your opinion if you’re willing to offer it up, on purchasing a used 5D to get reliable focusing as opposed to a new crop like the Canon 7D? I have been using…ah hem…my little XSi (been collecting professional lenses and saving up for a new body). Should I just invest in the 7D and wait until a new 5D comes out?  I really want the full-frame, but I need focus reliability.

Excellent question, and one with a few different answers.

First: the rumours. I generally take these with a pinch of salt. Canon cameras do have the occasional focus issue, believe me – but the Mark II having such issues is more of a “meme” than reality, I think (Meme? look it up. Google is your friend.). Often, people who complain do not understand how to use the equipment. In general, I would not be put off unless you are sure that for your types of photography, a camera will not do.

Now, some notes in response to your questions.

  • There is a big difference in focus systems, and the 5D MkII has the old system, while the 7D has the best focus system I have yet seen on a DSLR. Fast, flexible, great options. Much more modern than the 5D’s (either 5D).
  • That 7D focus system is especially good when you are shooting sports. It is fast. For animals – if they move, a newer focus system is great. Not the most important thing, but great.
  • You shoot in controlled conditions, so noise (one advantage of full frame) is less important to you I expect.
  • You shoot in controlled conditions, and at f/5.6, so focus will be good too.
  • The original 5D is a bit of a dust magnet. I would say a newer camera would be beneficial. Also – the focus system of the MkI and the MkII is essentially the same.
  • Yes – I agree, full frame is great. But for you, I would say it makes less of a difference. Low noise, not a great issue.

So if the choice is 5D (MkI) or 7D, I would vote 7D. On the other hand, if you really want full frame, then 5D Mk II would be my choice.

The moral, for everyone here who faces similar choices: there is often no “best” choice. In this particular case, all the options are good in different ways, so you will be delighted whatever you choose.

10 thoughts on “Question Time

  1. Isn’t there another consideration in Lisa’s case? She indicates she has already started collecting ‘professional’ lenses which I assume means those designed to work with full frame sensors. If she does get a crop sensor camera like the 7D, how would lenses designed for full frame perform on the crop sensor?
    Thanks for the insight. SB

    • And perhaps I should have mentioned that! The reason I did not: the full frame (“EF”) lenses work fine on the crop cameras (note, NOT the other way around: EF-S lenses cannot be used on full frame bodies).

      Note: On a crop camera, each lens will appear 1.6 times longer, so a 16-35 becomes 21-46. But this can be a good thing, eg when shooting sports.

  2. I don’t have either 5D or 7D so can not comment from direct experience. On our trip last June there was a 5D Mk II and the owner did not seem to have any problems with it.
    Lisa should visit a well stocked camera store and try them out or visit a camera store with a good return policy so she can really try out the one she wants at home. One or the other might feel better in her hands.

  3. My first DSLR was an XSi. I outgrew that camera and chose to move to the 7D as my primary body. I have not regretted it at all. As Michael stated, the 7D’s focusing system is highly adaptable and excellent at tracking moving subjects (especially if you spend some time learning how it works). If you are primarily shooting outdoors or in adequate light, you will likely be very satisfied with the 7D. You could also consider using off-camera speedlights to shape the light and produce “bright pixels,” which are “sharp pixels” when working in low light environments. 🙂

    One of my friends has a 5DMkii and he complains that it occasionally has trouble locking on to subjects in very low light situations (but I think many cameras share this issue). However, the quality of the 5Dmkii images at ISO 1600-3200 exceeds that of the 7D. The 5Dmkii is rumored to be updated later this year so you could always wait. However, rumors are rumors and a 5DmkIII could be over a year away as Canon has not upgraded the 1Ds line yet. Both are great cameras! Good luck with your choice Lisa and thanks Michael for helping your readers make sense of it all!

    • You’re welcome.

      Indeed, low light focusing is bad on all cameras. Worse on the 5D than on the 7D. And high ISO is better on a full frame camera – but on both of those, do not worry too much. I shoot at high ISO with a 7D as well, and especially with Lightroom’s excellent noise reduction algorithms, I’m fine even at very high ISO values. And animals – you are likely to be using controlled light and lower ISO. Exactly, Jay, that’s Willems’s Dictum: “Bright pixels are sharp pixels”!

      • Michael, this past year you have greatly impacted the pursuit of my photography passion, I cannot thank you enough!

        Yes, I do work with controlled light and even have a portable studio (yes with speedlights — thanks again Michael!) for studio portraits. Just yesterday I visited my favorite local camera shop and tried both cameras, just as Ron suggested. My choice, I fell in love with the 7D! It just felt so natural in my hand moving from the XSi and in my brief trials seemed really fast in comparison to 5DMii, which is what I need for my fast moving subjects.

        Thanks again!

        • Great choice, Lisa. Yes, the 7D feels great. It is the most modern of the quality Canons (even my 1D MkIV, which is more recent, has an older focus system). Get the 7D (or do you have it already?) and have FUN!

          • Getting it in two weeks. I feel like a kid waiting to open my present just before Christmas! I even dream about it!! (Hope that’s not wrong.)


  4. Michael, I just wanted to thank you again! My work has been successful and fulfilling for me and I owe much of what I know about lighting and my camera to you. My Canon 7D has been a great companion, a great choice and I am now getting ready to purchase the Canon 5DMiii. ~Cheers to you!!

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