Gear Update – Nerd Alert!

Health Warning: Contains acronyms, jargon  and images relating to Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). Do not read if easily bored!

I have little trouble  finding  excuses for my GAS but at heart it’s just a love of complicated toys. Excuses include:

  • I’m old so I need the best gear to be able to get the quality of images which come more easily to the young.
  • Hearing loss has drastically narrowed my world and photography must expand to fill the gaps.
  • Half the pleasure is in the technicalities of what makes a good, sharp image.

For whatever reasons, most years I decide to run down a little more of my savings to improve my kit. Last year I bought the amazing Sony RX10 mark 4 Bridge Camera. It has a built-in lens which covers the astonishing focal length range which is the 35mm equivalent of 24-600 and the even more astonishing f-stop factor of f2.4 to f4. Canon’s huge 600 f4 lens costs more than a small car and weighs 4 kilos. Owing to the inflexible nature of physics, this can only be possible in a small, lightweight lens if the sensor is much smaller than 35mm. In good light, however, the Sony is extraordinary and I had months of fun through the summer shooting stills and video. However, on one wet day, a fitted rain cover damaged the zoom motor. It still worked as normal but made a nasty noise. I sent it off to repair and was told it would cost £650! At the time I couldn’t afford it, so had it returned to me. And as the light began to fade in November I began to see more of its shortcomings. Photo opportunities in November and December were few, so I postponed a decision.

Now, in February, with a chunk of capital available, I have spent a long time weighing up the pros and cons of an all Canon set-up or a mix of Canon and Sony. One important factor is whether, with my memory not as sharp or quick as it used to be, I could cope with moving between two very different systems of controls. The Sony camera offers great ease of use and portability but cannot compete with a DSLR system in more challenging situations such a low light or low visibility. Could I find a light-weight Canon system which would cover the range of the Sony without weighing me down? This is what I had already:

Canon 5D4 – one of their best full-frame cameras.

Canon 400 f4 DO mk2 – a lighter and more compact version of the standard 400 prime lens. It still weighs 2.1 kilos though.


Canon 18-35 f2.8 – a super wide-angle lens

Sigma 105 f 2.8 macro lens

This combination was better than the Sony at the wide-angle end, but left a big gap in the middle between 35mm and 105mm, and another between 105 and 400. To fill part of the gap I bought the 50mm f1.4 lens – small, light and wonderful.

To add to the complication, just after I traded in my crop-sensor (APSC) 80D for the 5D4, Canon brought out the considerably upgraded APSC 90D which on paper seemed to offer more magnification of those elusive creatures just far enough away to be relaxed but not near enough to get a crisp image. Tests between the two in the shop were inconclusive, so I decided to buy a 90D on a 2 week trial. I would lose money if I took it back, but could really test the two cameras against each other. Here are two images cropped in Lightroom to the same size. Both use the 400 lens with a 1.4 extender. One is with the 90D, the other with the 5D4. Can you tell the difference?

There was one lens I needed to fill in the gaps and really prove the benefits or otherwise of the 90D: the iconic 70-200 f2.8.

It’s expensive and heavy, but still a lot lighter, cheaper and less bulky than the 400. With its fast 2.8 aperture at 200mm offers the prospect of using my 1.4 extender lens to achieve the same 400mm at f4 as the bigger lens, but with a lot more versatility.

This time I bought second hand and went into test mode: full frame versus APSC (crop sensor) 400 prime versus 70-200 zoom. Again the results were very close, but some of the 90D images, when blown right up, had less noise. These two images were both taken with the 70-200 and the 1.4 extender, and both cropped to roughly the same size. This one is the 5D4:And this is the 90D

Was it worth sending the camera back and losing over £100? It had other advantages:

  • A higher burst rate – the speed at which it could take continuous images. This is especially important for bird photography.
  • It’s lighter than the 5D4
  • It brings the image closer in the viewfinder, making it easier to focus.

These ponies were 600 metres away, taken with the 90D, 70-200 and 1.4 extender.

Final decision: I would keep all three cameras, and see how I got on carrying a range of lenses, concentrating on learning the Canon system properly, and going for quality over ease of use. I count myself as very lucky having the resources to be able to do this.

Watch this space.

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