Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Commentary: Should I Move To Full Frame? Part 1

In 2012 Canon and Nikon introduced lower cost full frame cameras (D600 and 6D) to the market, while somewhat ignoring the high end DX market. Right now there are many users considering moving to full frame/FX cameras from high end crop sensor cameras, but wondering if they should or not. Moving to one of the consumer grade full frame cameras has several implications, and some of them are bigger than others. In this first part we'll discuss features, and accessories. This commentary is targeted at higher end crop sensor camera users (Nikon D300/D300s and the Canon EOS 7D) who are considering upgrading to the Nikon D600 or Canon EOS 6D. Next week, in the second part, I'll address the issue of lenses. The third part, why you might consider the D800 or 5D MKIII, rather than the consumer grade 6D or D600. The forth part will ask the toughest questions, do I really need to move to full frame, is it really an upgrade for my use, and would I be better off waiting till the next round of high and crop sensor bodies are release before I make a decision? I went through all these questions two years ago when I moved to full frame, so hopefully this series will be helpful to you.

The first question to ask yourself when considering the move to full frame is, what is it about these cameras that I need, that what I have now cannot offer? This is an important question to consider with any camera upgrade, but it becomes even more important when switching formats.

Reasons Why You Might Not Want To Upgrade:

First think about features, because if you have a D300s or 7D, you need to carefully consider this move. Both cameras are dated, in terms of when they were released, and performance wise (image quality), but that doesn't mean they are any less useful today. The high end crop sensor bodies do have some advantages though, primarily in terms of build quality. Both the 7D and D300s have full magnesium alloy bodies, while the 6D and D600 only have partial magnesium alloy bodies. The body of the D600 is also physically smaller than the D300(s), which might be an issue for users with large hands. The older crop bodies also have the advantage of smaller file sizes, due to lower megapixel sensors. Both the 6D and D600 have lower end auto focus systems than their high end crop sensor rivals. The 6D is truly a downgrade in that it only has 11 AF points, only one of which is a cross type AF point. The 7D has 19 AF points, all cross type. The D600 is less of a downgrade, since it has a 39 point AF system, with 9 cross type sensors vs the 51 point system, with 15 cross type, in the D300(s).

Next, functional differences. This is less of an issue with the 6D, but the controls on the D600 are different than those on the D300/D300s. In most cases the controls are a step down, both in terms of quality and function. For example, the D600 lacks a dedicated AF-ON button, which if you are used to that would be a bit of a pain. The AF-L/AE-L button can be programed to work as AF-ON, but button placement is less than ideal for that function. It also removes your ability to use the intended function of that button. The metering and shooting mode sectors are different as well. Both the D600 and 6D have reduced bracketing functionality, vs the high end crop sensor bodies. The cameras also have slower flash sync speeds, the D600 has a sync speed of 1/200s vs 1/320s on the D300(s). The 6D is even worse off, with a sync speed of 1/180s vs 1/250s on the 7D.
In addition, a camera from a new generation can mean other changes as well, particularly in the area of accessories. If you have a D300s or 7D, you'll need all new accessories to move to the D600 or 6D. I'll use the D300s as an example, to show what I mean. The D300(s) use the traditional 10 pin connector for remotes (wired or wireless) and GPS units, while the D600 uses either an IR remote or a different cable type for remotes and GPS units. The D300 user would also have CF cards (D300s has CF & SD), so moving to the D600 would mean switching to SDHC/SDXC cards. Moving would also mean needing to buy new backup batteries, to replace any EN-EL3e they might have, since the D600 uses the newer EN-EL15. If you use a battery/portrait grip, you'll also need to upgrade that as well. In the case of the D300(s) with the portrait grip, a move to the D600 also means loosing shooting speed (5.5FPS vs 6 or 8FPS with grip). Finally, if you use camera specific Arca-Swiss compatible release plates, you'll need to get new ones as well. All in all you could be looking at $500-$1000 in accessories alone from the move.

Reasons Why You Might Want To Upgrade:
What about features and accessories that are better in the D600 and 6D? Both cameras do have some features that would be of interest to D300s and 7D users. The biggest advantage of course is the larger, higher resolution full frame sensors. Both the D600 and 6D have far superior noise performance and larger dynamic range (range of bright and dark light that can be captured). Along with the larger sensor size comes larger, brighter viewfinders, which is particularly beneficial in low light situations.

What other features do these newer full frame bodies offer that the high end DX bodies do not? The 6D has a built in WIFI and GPS, which eliminates the need to purchase external units, that can be lost or forgotten at home. The D600 and the 6D have a built in HDR (high dynamic range) shooting mode (jpeg files only). The 6D and D600 use SDHC/SDXC memory cards, which are often less expensive than CF cards of the same size and speed. In the case of the D600, which has two SD slots, vs a mix of CF and SD in the D300s, that would mean you only need one card type to take advantage of the dual slots in the camera.

Accessories have changed, and in some cases are improved. The D600 uses the newer EN-EL15 battery, which has a larger capacity than the older EN-EL3e, and as a result you can get more shots per charge. The newer battery also has improved safety features, to meet stiffer safety standards (from Japan). The D600 has the ability to use an external WIFI device to connect to your smartphone (iPhone/iPad or Android based device). This functions similarly to the built in WIFI on the 6D.

The reasons to upgrade or not can, in part, come down to what features and accessories that you need for your personal shooting style. For people who shoot anything and everything the D600 and 6D would be good options for that. Once you start to specialize more, whether it be sports or studio work that might not be the case. The final product benefits (image quality) of those cameras over the crop sensor rivals comes down to noise performance, and dynamic range. Some newer accessories, that older models simply did not offer, like WIFI connectivity, may also be attractive. Of course the high end crop sensor bodies have advantages as well, like superior auto focus systems, fast flash sync speeds, and more robust bodies. Newer bodies also might require new batteries, memory cards, grips and more.

The second part of this series's will address the issue of lenses.

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