The latest cameras announced by Canon and Sony are some of the best they have produced. These are professional cameras with high-end features and price tags to match. What if, however, you're just starting out in the industry and in need of a professional-grade camera but don't yet have the budget?
In a recent video, we discuss why the Canon 5D Mark II is the best camera you can buy if you're just starting out. This 12-year-old camera is still an incredible option today for a number of reasons, and in this article, I'll be discussing what these reasons are.
Old, Not Dated
The Canon 5D Mark II was released all the way back in 2008. So much has happened during that time that it seems like a whole lifetime ago. Twelve years in the world of technology is a long time, and due to that, many people tend not to consider these kinds of cameras. I think this is a mistake, because the 5D Mark II is still an incredible option, especially when you consider the price point.
This camera can be bought from MPB.com here in the UK for around £450, and in the US, it can be bought for just over $550. Although the website does have less expensive versions available too, I wouldn't recommend buying a camera with a high shutter count.
At that price point, this camera sits perfectly within the budget of many photographers that are just starting out. The other implication of this price point is that it sits within the same bracket of many APS-C cameras currently on the market. For many people starting out, cameras like the Sony a6000 are popular options. Many beginners pick to purchase an APS-C camera when they first start out predominantly due to the price point; however, a secondhand 5D Mark II may be a better option instead.
When you compare the 5D Mark II to the current APS-C camera at around the same price point, you'll find that in low-light situations, the Canon often outperforms them. The difference against the a6000, for example, is more than a stop when shooting at high ISO. If you're shooting at 6,400 on the 5D Mark II, you'd need to shoot at around ISO 3,200 in order to match the amount of noise in the image.
When you start to compare the 5D Mark II to flagship APS-C cameras like the Fujifilm X-T4 and the Sony a6600, the Canon performs extremely well when it comes to low-light performance. At ISO 6,400, the differences are negligible, and the 5D Mark II comes at a fraction of the price. For this reason, the 5D Mark II is still a very capable option for photographers just starting out or on a budget.
A Professional Camera
The Canon 5D Mark II was the workhorse camera when it was first released. This is the camera that many professionals trusted in and for good reason. The construction of the camera was second to none at the time of its release, and even today, the build and design mean that it's made to last.
One of the useful advantages the 5D Mark II has is that the shutter speed can go up to 1/8,000 s, which is a full stop faster than many current APS-C cameras. Even the Sony a6600 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4,000 s. In real-world shooting environments, this really does make a difference. In the video, I discuss how I needed faster shutter speeds than 1/4,000 s when shooting at wide apertures outdoors.
EF 50mm f/1.8 II, 1/5,000s, ISO 100
There is also the point of the 5D Mark II being rated for a greater number of shutter actuations, which adds to its overall durability. This is a 5D series camera, meaning that its weather-sealing and build quality are of a very high standard. There are few situations where this camera cannot be relied upon.
It's Full Frame
Many might scoff at this point, but it can't be discounted. It's a ful frame camera, which provides a few great advantages. The angle of view, for instance, makes a huge difference in real-world shooting. Take, for example, the EF 50mm we shot within the video. This "entry-level" wide-aperture lens will not be able to produce the same kind of images on an APS-C camera. The wider angle of view with the shallow depth of field is one of the major reasons people upgrade to full frame. APS-C cameras with the same lens simply cannot produce that look as effectively.
The larger sensor allows you to make full use of your lenses without any crop factor compromises. This is useful for almost every kind of photography, save maybe sports and wildlife, where the extra reach of the smaller sensor can come in handy.
For portraits, having the ability to better control your background blur is extremely helpful. Even with inexpensive lenses like the EF 50mm f/1.8, you're able to produce images with shallow depth of field, which isn't as easily achievable with a smaller sensor camera. If you shoot landscapes or architecture, being able to shoot with a wider angle of view can make all the difference. It's easier to zoom in or crop into an image than it is to move further away from a subject, because sometimes, there's no option to move farther back.
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, f/8.0, ISO 100
Many photographers that are just starting out tend to purchase an APS-C camera with the aim of upgrading to a full frame system later. I think it's a better idea to start with a full frame camera because from a price perspective, it's definitely within reach. This also prevents any confusion when it comes to compatibility between formats, and there are no adjustments required due to differences in the angle of view.
When you put a high-quality lens on the front of the 5D Mark II, you can produce brilliant results every time. To test this, we shot some images for a company using the 5D Mark II, and in that real shooting environment, the 5D Mark II performed extremely well. Shooting with lenses like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art produced results that the company we shot for were very happy with. I don't think there's a better benchmark than a happy client; that's what really matters.
Even if you're not in a position to purchase high-quality lenses immediately, you have the format to be able to make use of them when you eventually can. In the meantime, you can rent lenses for your camera, and once again, you don't have a crop factor compromise to deal with. Renting is a great option, and this is something that I did early on in my career. Lenses like the Canon 24mm tilt-shift are quite expensive, and when I couldn't afford to buy it, I rented. If I had had an APS-C camera at the time, I wouldn't have been able to make proper use of that lens.
Essentially, buying a full frame camera to begin with affords you far greater potential.
Why Not the Canon 6D?
One of the most popular comments I've seen from a number of people is about how the Canon 6D is a better option. I disagree for a number of reasons.
First of all, it's more expensive on the secondhand market. That extra money could be better used towards lenses or accessories. The second reason is that the 5D is better than the 6D in several key ways. The build and durability of the 5D Mark II are far better than the 6D. Weather-sealing is a key point to consider, and the rated number of lifetime shutter actuations is greater on the 5D too.
Even when it comes to handling, the 5D has a proper joystick, better ergonomics, and overall better design. The 6D does have slightly better autofocus in comparison to the 5D Mark II; however, the differences are negligible in real-world environments, especially once you've calibrated your lenses. I know this because I've shot extensively with both systems, and I've owned a 6D camera for a number of years.
Ultimately, you're paying more for the 6D to get slightly less of a camera.
When you're first starting out, getting the most for your money is extremely important. This is why I think that a 5D Mark II is probably the best option. If you can find one in good condition with a low shutter count, it should serve you well for years to come. There are professionals that still shoot with a 5D Mark II that they bought years ago, simply because it's such a brilliant and reliable camera. For the money, there are very few options that compete with the kind of value the 5D Mark II offers.
My final recommendation is that you buy secondhand cameras from reputable companies. This is because they offer great after-sale care and also a warranty to give that extra peace of mind.
Check out the video linked above to see how the 5D Mark II performs.