Pro Camera Advantages: It's More Than Just Sensor Size

Pro Camera Advantages: It's More Than Just Sensor Size

Discussions about entry-level, mid-level, and pro-level cameras often revolve around the differences in their sensor size or resolution. However, that's just one aspect of many that separate these types of cameras. Let's take a look at the other benefits that a pro-level camera brings to the table.

APS-C versus full frame is one of the more hotly debated topics among photographers. Discussions on this topic are often centered upon aspects of image quality like dynamic range, low light performance, and high ISO performance. What I don't see discussed often are the benefits of a pro-level camera that don't directly improve your final image quality. Sure, some of these you could attribute to being able to get the photograph in the first place, but I'm talking about actual image capture.

I'm often asked "what camera should I get," which usually turns into quite the discussion. I make sure that I tell people that all modern digital cameras take great photos, but that when you spend more for a pro-level camera, you're often paying for features that don't necessarily contribute to better images, just better operational convenience.

Better Focusing and Viewing

More Focus Points and Groups

When I bought my first full-frame camera, I kept my crop sensor camera and loaned it to my brother-in-law. He shot it for a while and then bought a Canon 80D. When he returned my Canon T3i, I thought I would take it with me to use while my Canon 5D Mark III was doing something else.

It quickly became apparent that I had forgotten just how excellent the 5D Mark III was in comparison. The T3i's nine focus points and 3.7 fps seemed so old-fashioned. Trying to shoot flying birds with a large telephoto lens was simply frustrating.

I gained a whole new appreciation for the Canon 5D Mark III's 61 autofocus points. Along with the number of focus points is the ability to use different autofocus point selections and groups. I'm now shooting a Canon 5D Mark IV, and the one thing I like best about it is being able to assign two buttons for back-button focus. I have one programmed to use whatever point I have manually selected, which I use most of the time. The other I have programmed to use a group of focus points in the middle (large zone AF), which is used occasionally for fast-moving things, such as flying birds. I can switch between the focus modes by simply moving my thumb over one button.

Better Focus Tracking

One of the benefits of having more focus points is the ability to track objects. The more focus points you have, the better the camera can track using those points.

More Viewfinder Coverage

Most crop sensor DSLR cameras have less than 100% viewfinder coverage, usually around 95%. Less than 100% coverage means that the viewfinder isn't showing all of the area that the sensor is going to capture. The result is that you may end up with an image that has things around the edge that you didn't see in the viewfinder but end up in the final image. This means you'll need to crop in post-production.

The non-shaded area represents an approximation of 95% viewfinder coverage. Notice the machinery on the left and the dent on the right that were not visible in the viewfinder, but that end up in the final image.

Shooting and Storage

More Metering Zones and Points

Pro-level cameras often have more metering zone options, such as multiple center-weighted zones and a smaller spot-metering zone. Pro-level cameras also often use more points for metering. For example, the Nikon D850 has a 180,000 pixel RGB metering sensor, whereas the Nikon D750 has a 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor, and the Nikon D5500 a 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor.

Faster Shooting

Pro-level cameras often shoot more frames per second (fps). Entry-level cameras will often have around 4 or 5 fps, whereas a pro-level camera will typically shoot 7 to 10 fps. This may not sound like much of a difference, but when shooting sports and wildlife, it can make quite the difference, especially if you're picky about exactly where that bird's wings are in your photo.

Fps can also make a difference when shooting bracketed photos. The quicker those shots are, the better chance you have of things not moving between shots.

A camera with 7 frames per second and a 21-photo buffer captured enough frames to be able to select the perfect wing positioning of this cormorant.

Larger Image Buffer

Along with FPS is the dreaded buffer. Pro-level cameras typically can shoot many more continuous frames before the shooting speed is either reduced or stopped while photos are being written to the memory card.

Dual Memory Card Slots

Perhaps one of the more important features for pro shooters is the addition of dual card slots in the pro-level cameras. Although memory card failures are not very common, many photographers won't shoot important events without the ability to record the images to two cards simultaneously. I rarely shoot to both cards at the same time, but it is nice knowing I have an extra card in the camera for overflow or for transferring images.

Operational Comfort

More Buttons, Dials, and Joysticks

I like tactile controls. I don't know why, maybe it's just the tech geek in me, but there's just something satisfying about pressing a button or rotating a dial. Pro-level cameras typically have more buttons for specific tasks. I shoot manual mode a lot. Having separate dials for shutter speed and aperture are a joy. You may not realize how much you like them until you go back to a camera that doesn't have a rear dial.

The Customizability of Buttons and Custom Modes

I mentioned earlier about my dual back-button focus setup. This is just one of the features of pro-level cameras, assigning particular functions to different buttons. Being able to program the custom modes is really cool; one turn of the dial and I know exactly what my settings are going to be.

Miscellaneous

Weatherproofing is something that pro-level cameras have that lower-end cameras typically don't. This could be something to consider if you intend to shoot in adverse conditions that involve rain and/or dust.

Disadvantages

I don't think an article would be doing this topic justice if it didn't include at least some mention of the disadvantages of pro-level cameras. They're going to cost more, probably weigh more, be larger, and full frame cameras will have fewer lenses that work with them. I think for most people, these are just accepted things and won't really be an issue, except that cost thing, that's always an issue.

Conclusion

Overall pro-level cameras are, for most people, much more enjoyable to use. You'll most likely see an improvement in image quality, but the benefits go way beyond that. Each photographer will need to weigh the pros and cons of each camera and decide which is best for them.

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19 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

crop after shoot the horror!

Ivan Lantsov's picture

funny boy not met person who print all image

So everything that you shoot fits into the crop that was decided at the factory? Time? Really?

IIRC you said "If possible, I don't like to spend the time cropping images." Maybe I misunderstood, to me cropping is like everything else. Sometimes it works SOOC, sometimes not...

I have no problem cropping in post, as I always straighten my images and I always post process. However, for someone who might be shooting JPG and wants to post images straight out of the camera, this might take some getting used to. It's not really a big issue, but something worth noting.

Seth Lowe's picture

If you're shooting tethered with agency/client people over shoulder, not looking like you know how to frame a shot due to inaccurate coverage is frustrating.

Dave Dundas's picture

I had the same thought, I'm willing to give him just about every other point in the article, but show me one photographer who claims he never crops, and I'll show you a liar. :) Not including the decision making process, the actual function of cropping takes, literally, 2 seconds. Also, every once in a while, those few pixels around the edge that make up that missing 4-5% are nice to have when something has moved suddenly, and you're almost cutting off part of your subject. While I shoot full frame now, it was never an issue for me with my crop sensor either.

Stuart Carver's picture

It’s funny I had this argument on YouTube with someone, he claimed that only poor photographers crop, good ones don’t need to.

I asked him what about going 1:1, or 4:3, 16:9, 4:5 etc.. he actually replied with nobody should be posting anything that isn’t the base ratio of the sensor, at that point I told him he was an idiot and left the conversation.

All your points are true. However, I have to say the buffer on the mk4 is small if you are using RAW files.

Yeah, I should have jumped ship long ago. Now I'm just collecting money and if the next Canon camera isn't a game-changer then I'm out of there! (Not holding my breath)

Very few cameras are game changers today. The Z6/7 are delightful cameras as is the R.
The GFX100 is a "game changer" for some but as I have high res bodies I know that it ain't.

You missed one big point that I have come across, full manual control. I was trying to show someone how to take a better photo in very difficult lighting conditions and could not get a entry level Canon to go full manual, it still wanted to do one thing automatically.

Sounds like the Sony RX100 Vii ticks all the boxes. Compact bridge it is ;-)

Stuart Carver's picture

It is a bit annoying that you have to pay more money for a few extra buttons, in the case of say Nikon APS-C DSLR, the D3200 and D7200 have the same sensor so you essentially pay a grand to able to control your shots more.

A massive pet hate of mine is not having stuff like a level on all cameras, an accelerometer must be pennies to buy and it’s beginners who would benefit far more from it than experienced shooters.

Better focusing alone means rhe difference between capturing "the" image or not. Worth it.

Stuart Carver's picture

Thats the one main difference but is it worthy of the ridiculous price you have to pay? its definitely worth paying more as you said, but perhaps not that much more.

David Bolender's picture

Lead photo is crooked. Taken with the T3i?

:) Canon M100, an no, it's not crooked, the lines on the LCD are perfect - probably just a perspective thing.

Ian Meyers's picture

I love the recommendation for the dual back button focus... definitely implementing this one for a trial run.