No serious photographer would consider using an entry-level DSLR as a go-to camera. This is not because showing up to a paid gig with a bottom-range camera would be "embarrassing," like some people maintain. It's because low-end cameras lack certain capabilities that make a real difference in some situations, particularly when shooting action, such as a dolphin show at Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan.
The limited functionality of one low-end camera became abundantly clear on my day trip to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium with my wife. I took my Canon 100D and a camera bag full of lenses, hoping I'd have the chance to snag some decent pics. No clients paid me to take pictures and I have no intention of selling what I shot. However, I always like to shoot pics for my website, which is what I show people in the hopes of convincing them I'm a good photographer, so it pays to bring the best gear possible on such outings. The 100D is the best camera I can afford right now, so it had to do... and it performed admirably by the standards of a $350 body. Yet, I found myself frustrated in a couple of ways. You might not sense that by looking at some of the pics, which turned out not too bad, but what you can't see are the pictures I wanted and couldn't get (at least not without extremely good luck).
The first shortcoming was burst speed. Shooting a dolphin show is a lot like shooting sports. You wait for something to happen and when it does, you have to react quickly. You press the button, hold it down and let the camera snap as many pics as it can automatically. The 100D will do 4 frames per second. Not too shabby for a $350 camera body, but the Canon 1Dx will do 12. That means, for example, that if a 1x shooter presses the shutter button just as a dolphin exits the water and he holds it down for exactly the one second the dolphin is out of the water, he'll end up with 12 shots to choose from. The 100D shooter will have four. That's eight frames the 100D shooter is missing. It's statistically likely that the "perfect" shot - the one the client selects for her international advertising campaign - is going to be one of the missing eight rather than the four you nailed. That said, the 100D got me the shot below, which is not half bad at all. Is it worth paying 20 times the price for the 1Dx? If you're an enthusiast who doesn't make his living shooting action (or a pro who shoots mostly static subjects), no way. If you're a busy, working, well paid pro shooting on contract, emphatically yes!
The second peve with my cheap camera is buffering capacity and write speed. This is partially an SD card issue, but without doubt, better buffering on camera side would have made my life easier. More than a few times, I held the shutter button, got 8 or 10 photos, then tried to capture more, only to find that nothing happened when I pressed the button again. That's right. There I was pressing the shutter button as all kinds of amazing stuff was going on and the camera screamed at me "Hold your horses, would ya!" I missed a whole lot of action I would have caught with a camera with faster write speed and better buffering capacity.. The only reason I caught the shot below is that the dolphin held the pose for a long enough time.
The third issue is noise at higher ISO speeds. The shot of the bull shark below was taken at ISO 3,200, which on a 1Dx, or even a 5D III would not have produced a lot of noise in relative terms. The 100D did very well for a $350 body, but was noticeably grainy. A camera with better low-light capabilities would have produced a cleaner image even at ISO 6,400 or even 12,800, giving me another two stops to play with and letting me take my shutter speed up to a reasonable 320 or so. As it was, in order to avoid noise, I had to deal with camera shake, a trade-off that a (much) higher-end camera would have eliminated. The pixilation you see in this shot has more to do with web compression than camera noise, but the noise didn't help any.
If all you want to do with your photos is put them on the web and share them with your friends, an inexpensive DSLR like my Canon 100D is the way to go. If you're a pro whose time and reputation are valuable enough to justify the expense, you need tools that can keep up with you.
Thanks for reading!
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.