Sensor technology is advancing at breakneck speeds. High ISO performance is improving so fast that stratospheric speeds previously unheard of are now reality. But really; do people really need such high sensitivities? Professionals might, but for consumers, ISO 6400 is plenty for most shooting conditions.
This is where older full frame bodies come in for photography buffs looking to get the full frame look (smoother out of focus transition, if you have no idea what this is, you probably won’t care about it). With the recent surge of full frame bodies available from Canikon, including the so called consumer typed Full frame bodies, there are 15 bodies from 2007 til now. Canon1D-X, 1Ds III, 5D MK III, 5D MK II, 5D MK I, 6D, Nikon D4s, Nikon D4, Nikon D3x, D3S,D3, D810, D800, D 700, D610, D600.
There are now sufficient Full fram bodies, both new and pre-loved, to satisfy almost every photographic niche.
So… What would be a good choice for you to step into the full frame world?
System choice aside, stick with something you are familiar with. Most importantly, get something you are comfortable with lugging about on shoots. Any of the cameras above will do the job for many situations that people face, though some will do better than others in specific situations.
Personally, I bought the Nikon D3 about one and a half years back, and I have never been let down by it, except in the most challenging of situations (think near darkness where even your naked eyes have trouble discerning anything). I can say that using a D3 released me from any perceived limitations, any shot missed is truly my own fault. The speed and capabilities of the flagship body is such that the camera takes the shot at the slightest of touches and reacts as fast as you can. Take note that with the accompanying large sensor size, compatible lenses will necessarily be large and heavy. Barring technological advancement, this is how it will be for the coming few years ahead. Hence, think about what you intend to shoot. Will it be fast paced sports, portraits, landscapes?
I will be listing some older full frame cameras under several general categories for the uninitiated. Of course, each camera can be used for any purpose that you deem fit, the grouping simply makes the choice slightly more “optimised” for that usage.
Landscape: Canon 5D Mark II
The high megapixel count of 21 MP definitely works in the 5 D’s favour over its Nikon equivalent (12MP). The relatively poor autofocus is not critical given that your static landscape photo op isn’t exactly going to test the agility of the AF system.
Macro: Canon 5D Mark II
Once more, the high megapixel count will work in its favour. Macro shots favour detail above all, more megapixels should, all things being equal (light availability, for instance), mean more detailed photos. Another big plus for the Canon lies in the form of the MP-E 65mm, a specialty Macro lens that has no equal (to my knowledge) in the Nikon or Sony lens lineup.
Having the MP-E with a 5D Mark II will set you back quite a fair sum, be prepared to feel some pain in the wallet. Of course, if you are on a budget, the 100mm USM Macro will fulfill your purposes just fine.
Sports: Nikon D700
Qualities valued in sports is responsiveness, autofocus speed and high frame rates per second (FPS). Short of going all the way to the former flagship D3, the D700 will be the camera that gives Nikon users all they need for sports. 8 FPS (with grip), 51 point AF system, excellent buffer capacity and superb high ISO performance ensures that the D700 will serve you well in a sports shooting situation.
Street shooting: Nikon D700
Again, qualities to look out for are similar to that of sports. High ISO performance during night shoots, responsiveness, quick and accurate AF, all help with capturing “the Moment”.
Video: Canon 5D Mark II
This is a no brainer. Short of going to Sony Mirrorless bodies, the venerable Canon 5D Mark II was the camera to go to for video shooting and the one that made HD DSLR Filmmaking mainstream. Excellent bit rate, decent filming ergonomics make the 5D Mark II a superb performer on the video arena.
General shooting: D700
Call me biased here, but I favor the D700 simply due to the very manageable 12 Megapixel files. Quite simply, smaller but still very malleable raw files make it a pleasure to edit the files in either Lightroom, Capture Pro or your raw processor of choice. Also, don’t forget storage (either on your computer or on the go) is much easier with smaller files. Storage may be cheap, but hey, whatever helps right?
This article may go outdated very quickly, given how fast new full frame models are being thrown out of factories (especially from Sony, the current camera innovator in chief). Nevertheless, if you are on a budget but still want the full frame look and older high specification performance, older DSLRs are definitely worth a look.