After losing almost my entire photo kit due to blatant stupidity on my part (yay insurance), I was put in the unenviable position of rebuilding a camera system from scratch. Being a portrait photographer, I immediately gravitated towards full-frame bodies. I was close to pulling the trigger on one when it hit me: Why not try a crop sensor? I'm glad I did.
Like most photographers, although I tend to stick to a couple of genres, portraits and weddings for me, I also get the odd call for jobs that are a little out of the box for me. This may be a sporting event, photojournalism coverage, you get the idea. Usually when I get that call, I answer "yes" but with some hesitation. How will my full-frame camera do with something like that? Will my lenses have the reach I need? Will the autofocus be quick enough? You get the idea.
But, what if I could pretty much guarantee the performance I need no matter the situation, yet still have a camera that had fantastic image quality for portraits? I mean, I used to use APS-C cameras all the time, right? Before the original 5D I did a lot of work with crop sensors. Maybe it's time to seriously consider one again. I was discouraged to find, when doing research, that most reviewers dismiss cropped sensors out of hand for photographers who focus on portraits. Personally, I think that's B.S. I decided to go my own road, reviewers be damned.
First of all, mirrorless was out for me. Yes, I know they've come a long way. I was in love with my Fuji XT2 (RIP), but if I were to be honest about it, it still had some issues with autofocus and I missed an optical viewfinder. When I was putting together my new kit, I wanted to be pragmatic and not emotional. I wanted a DSLR. I settled on a Canon 7D Mark II. Why Canon? It had 90% of the performance of the Nikon D500 and I don't care about 4K video. Taking advantage of a sale, I now have great autofocus in a rugged, speedy body that will do anything I need for less than $1500. The AF points cover the frame from left to right. The high ISO performance is great. As good as full-frame? Not quite, but close enough. If I need more light, I'll provide it myself. If I miss a shot with this, it's my own damn fault.
To be fair here, I could have also gone the route of grabbing a used, high-performance, full-frame body like a Nikon D4 or some such. I thought about this, but when I considered that I could get the same performance with more resolution at half the price for a new body, it just didn't add up for me. Now, if I were doing portraits in, say, the Sahara, then yeah I would spring for a more rugged body. But as I'm in Denver I'd rather go with something a bit more practical. All right, so the body is taken care of. But what about the lenses?
When I was looking to build my kit, by far the most important focal range for me as a portrait shooter is from about 35mm to 135mm (full frame equivalent). I ended up picking up two lenses: the Sigma 18-35 1.8 Art and the Sigma 50-100 1.8 Art. So far, I've gotten two copies of the 18-35 and both have been lemons. I've heard almost universal praise for that lens, but apparently my luck is crap with it. I have the Sigma Dock but the focus was so far off that it made calibration impossible. I have a Canon 17-55mm 2.8 on order. When in doubt, go native. But what about the Sigma 50-100 Art?
This lens is stupidly good. I mean, I don't know how more people aren't talking about this lens, but it's flat out amazing. It's a bit heavy and there is no image stabilization, but for image quality like this I just don't care. I'll do a full review of the lens soon, but for now just know that I can shoot at f/1.8 all day long with it and not bat an eye. Sharp as a tack.
So, now that I've got the long end of my portraits taken care of, how does the system as a whole perform for portraiture? Flawlessly. Yes, the 7D Mark II is a sports photographer's dream, but the quick, reliable performance is also a boon for portraits. I was nailing focus on the eyes like it was going out of style. I never had to wait for the camera. It was just a part of me. This is not an endorsement of a particular product, however. I'm sure Nikon and Sony's offerings are just fine. This is what I got and what I'm telling you about.
But what about the bokeh? Is it shallow enough? Of course it is. Believe it or not, the shallowness of depth does not make a better portrait camera. If that were the case, everyone would be going medium format as soon as humanly possible. The fact is, full frame is great! APS-C is also great! Is it more difficult to get the ultimate in shallowness? Well, yeah, that's physics for ya. But I don't think that takes away from the image. For me, I'll take a camera that I'm comfortable with over something as insignificant as a stop of depth.
So if you're in the market to buy a new body, don't believe the hype. APS-C is just as capable of doing portraits as full frame. There may even be some advantages to that smaller sensor. In the end, your clients don't care what you got the shot with. It only matters that you got it.