What Camera do I use?

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Ask Ron, Photos, Travel 20 Comments

Yesterday afternoon along Fourth-of-July-Creek, Seward, Alaska.

Yesterday afternoon along Fourth-of-July-Creek, Seward, Alaska.

What camera do I use has to be the one question I get more then any other, so it makes for a perfect Ask Ron subject.

First, I thought I would add, I think it is a great question.  Unfortunately, for some reason I often see this question ridiculed on on-line photography forums with responses to the effect of ” no one ask Michelangelo what kind of brushes he used?”  As you might notice, photographers can have big egos, although in most cases I don’t think that they are really intending to compare themselves indirectly with Michelangelo.  But it really isn’t a good analogy as I have a feeling that today’s digital cameras make up a far greater percentage of most people’s discretionary income – far more so then a paint brush.  For such a large purchase, I think you should be asking what others use, what they like / dislike about the camera, etc. – I know I do.  And, it certainly is possible that people did ask Michelangelo what kind of brush he used – I bet he had tried a lot of brushes in his day and probably knew as well as anyone as to which worked and which ones didn’t.  But I digress.

So for me, for the last few years I have been using the Canon 1Ds Mark III.  Great camera.  When it was released it had just about all the latest features and the large full size sensor produced a wonderful, low noise, high quality image.  The thing was incredibly weather proof and built like a brick – unfortunately it weighed about as much as one too.

But, now that a couple of years have past, the features on the Canon 1Ds III were not nearly up to date – I really missed not having HD video.  The slow frame per second rate coupled with the slow auto focus made it less then ideal for wildlife, and about worthless for things like birds in flight.  I found the weight to be a pain at times as well.  So this September, before leaving on our last photo trip I decided to sell the 1Ds III and replace it before a new version was released and the value took a further hit.  I replaced it with two cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon EOS 7D .  Actually the amount I received for the 1Ds III covered a good percentage of the cost of both the two newer bodies, so that made it an easy decision.

The Canon 5D II gave me an everyday camera with the same sized sensor as my 1Ds III, but in a much lighter body and with cool new features like HD video.  I used to own the original 5D, so the new version felt very familiar.  The 7D gave me a very good wildlife camera with its super fast auto-focus and frame rate, with pretty much all the latest bells and whistles including some cool features like the electronic level – no more hot shoe mounted bubble level!  It also has the identical control layout as the 5D Mark II – an important consideration when working with two bodies.

So how do I like the change?  So far I’m very happy with both cameras.  For one, I like having two bodies – most of my career, even back in the slide film days I have had two bodies, unfortunately that wasn’t possible with the 1Ds III because the thing was so expensive.  Two bodies not only give me a back up camera, but it allows me to keep a “wildlife setup” handy at all times even if I’m working on landscapes – a real plus in places like Denali.

As far as the individual cameras go, I think I will follow up with more specific thoughts on each one on a couple of future blog posts.

Comments 20

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  2. Ron, you can count me among the photographers who winces when someone says “that’s a GREAT picture! What kind of camera do you have?”

    The implication in that question is that if Uncle Bob (the rank amateur) had my gear, he could make the same image. How hard could it possibly be?

    You and I both know that there’s so much more that goes into photography than the gear itself – especially for wildlife (my specialty).

    There’s an incredible investment in time, patience, physical strain, researching habitats and behaviors, the insanely long drives to get to the locations – not to mention years of experience and practice and the investment of many thousands of dollars in equipment.

    Sure, Uncle Bob might be able to get the same shot I did, but likely only after making the same kind of investments. He’d never say after a successful surgery “thanks for saving my life, Doc! What kind of sutures do you use?”

    Just my opinion…

    Charlie MacPherson

  3. Nice article. Very good points. I have the 5D Mark II and just rented the 7D to take along on a trip to Costa Rica this week. As great as the 5D is, I miss having the 1.6x crop sensor for wildlife. Plus the 10 fps with the 7D is awesome compared to the 3.9 for the 5D.

    Do you think the 7D is good at high ISO speeds? That’s where I think the 5D is amazing–I’ve gone as high as 2600 with little to no issues.

  4. I am also very happy with my 5DmkII & 7D. They are 2 different tools, but make for a powerful combo in the field. Fortunately, the price for this setup is also relatively affordable for both pros and enthusiasts.

  5. Thanks for the post about which cameras you use and why. It was very informative. I use the Canon Mark II and I was wondering about the new, lighter weight models.


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    Hi Scott,

    I did pick up a T2i for the video, but it was a pain to pull out a separate camera just for video purposes – I like just hitting a button and having video. I’m also doing some other things with it that I hope to share soon.

    The 5D does do a amazing job with noise. I haven’t tested the 7D as much, but my initial impression is that it might not be as good as the 5D when it comes to handling noise, but still very good. I haven’t used it in low light much yet, so I’ll wait on my opinion.

    Hope you guys have a great trip to Costa Rica – I’m sure you will.

    Hi Jon. I knew you used this combination and liked it – it really is an capable system for the money costing far less then a 1Ds III and 1D IV combination while providing similar performance. In fact, except for the weather proofing, the 5D out performs the 1Ds III in just about every other way.

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    Thanks Lynn. From what I understand, the 7D has basically the same auto focus system as the new 1D Mark IV, making it a great alternative.

  8. Hey Mark,

    I agree – I think it’s not only a perfectly relevant and pertinent question, but an important one.

    Speaking of which – I need to sell my old D2x .. you wanna buy it?



  9. I asked Paul Souders when we were photographing whales together this summer if he could tell any difference between the images from his 7D & 1DmkIV. He said that he could not. He lost the 1DmkIV a few weeks later to a bear smacking his underwater housing and flooding it. That makes an even better case for the less expensive body!

    Happy Holidays.

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  11. Pretty capture Ron, sounds like these cameras will do the job, but I haven’t shot with them as you know I shoot Nikon. I have some friendswho shoot these and like them though.

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  13. I just tested the 7D’s high ISO capability at the zoo and was pretty impressed. It’s pretty close to the 5D Mark II. I started seeing some noise over 2000, but I had to crop the photo to even see that. Some of the photos weren’t as sharp as the 5D, but it may have been because I wasn’t using a tripod. The real test will be when I head to the jungle tomorrow.

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  15. I enjoy using my new Canon 250 — I think like the “Rebel” in USA. Don’t you just hate it though when people admire your photographs and then say “but of course you have a good camera”. The cameras are good, yes, but you still have to have that “eye” and imagination for that extra good image. One of my favourite shots was taken in 1959 with an old Kodak Retinette !!

  16. I took quite a few shots at ISO 2000 in Costa Rica with the 7D and was impressed. Here’s an extreme example of the 7D at ISO 5000. I ran the photo through noise reduction software and did a little work in PS to retain the sharpness of the bird. It was VERY dark in this rainforest and I was quite a bit aways from this woodpecker. This shot was handheld with the 100-400.


    I find the 5D Mark II to be sharper than the 7D, but it’s worth the tradeoff as the 7D is better for wildlife.

  17. Hi Ron,

    Seeing that you are a canon expert user, I’m wondering if you have an opinion on converting from raw to dng ? I have converted to lightroom for photo organization, but am on the fence about digital negative (.dng) format. If I convert, tagging without a sidecar file is my main reason. I’m leaning towards not saving the raw as embedded file as it doubles the file size. However, it feels like a one way ticket. It goes against everything we’ve been taught about safeguarding the negatives.

    Without the RAW, do I give up anything that canon supports? Only thing I can think of are digital photo professional (dpp) SW features (lens correction, dust removal, etc), which I don’t really use. What does your work flow looks like with respect to digial negative archives and use of canon supplied SW?


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    Hi Gordon,

    Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I do save all my raw files, always have. They come in handy at times, especially as some new processing options become available, or as my skills in PS improved – it was nice to go back to the raw file and re-convert the image.

    Now, as far as raw vs dng, I haven’t bothered converting any of my raw files to dng, I don’t really know if there is an advantage. Thanks,


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