Photography / Buying Guide

A Guide to Canon DSLR Cameras

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If you ask anyone who the top camera manufacturers are today, I can guarantee Canon will be near or at the top of the list. The company’s products weren’t always top-of-the-line, but over the past decades Canon has built an impressive range of cameras that satisfy beginners and professionals alike. The sheer number of cameras and lines can be dizzying, though, so here is a helpful guide to help you figure out exactly which model is best for your needs.

The Professional’s Choices

When you want the best features, the most durable build quality, and the assurance that your camera will deliver on every promise it made, you should look no further than Canon’s 1D series. Currently featuring the flagship 1D X Mark II with a full-size (integrated battery grip) body, it is built to withstand the constant wear, tear, and weather professionals need to put their equipment through. It is capable of top-of-the-line performance, thanks to a full-frame 20.2MP CMOS sensor and dual DIGIC 6+ image processors, along with a high-end, upgraded 61-point AF system that is sensitive to -3 EV and offers all points—even with an f/8 lens. Contributing to its speed are lightning-fast continuous shooting rates of up to 16 fps in live view and 14 fps with full autofocus and auto-exposure. Along with this, the camera incorporates a CFast 2.0 card slot alongside a CF slot that allows for up to 170 raw shots to be taken before slowing down. In addition to stills, the 1D X Mark II also boasts outstanding video quality, up to DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 at 60 fps. Users can also benefit from a wide expanded sensitivity range up to ISO 409600, Dual Pixel CMOS and Movie Servo AF, built-in GPS, and much more. The only “downside” of this system is the cost, which may be out of reach for the average shooter.

Moving down the line, we will find a pair of recent Canon full-frame releases, the 5DS and 5DS R. Making a splash as the highest-resolution full-frame-format DSLRs available to date, the 5DS series delivers 50.6MP raw images and is optimized for the utmost in clarity and sharpness. The 5DS R’s difference must be noted here for those wondering—it features a low-pass cancellation effect that neutralizes the softening of the optical low-pass filter and provides sharper images, though at a higher risk of aliasing and moiré. The cameras also embrace other features that make their professional line a great choice, including a 61-point AF system, a large 3.2" 1.04m-dot LCD, and a large optical viewfinder.

Where these models introduce new tools is with dual DIGIC 6 processors and the EOS Scene Detection System with a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor for accurate color and exposure. Another difference is in body design; the 5DS series is constructed with additional damping of movement from the shutter and when mounted on a tripod, to ensure maximum resolution. Additionally, though not pitched as a video camera, it does offer Full HD video recording, as well as a Time Lapse movie function.

Another 5D model, the Mark III, is the go-to choice for many photographers. Loved because of its outstanding image quality for stills and Full HD video, as well as its relatively compact form factor, the Mark III is the obvious choice for shooters who require a reliable tool for a wide variety of shooting conditions. It benefits from the use of a balanced 22.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor that requires less processing power, provides better noise performance, and has plenty of resolution for a vast majority of situations.

Semi-Professional and Advanced Amateurs

Sitting comfortably at the top of the semi-pro heap and potentially making a case for inclusion as a professional body is the 7D Mark II. Leveraging a 20.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and dual DIGIC 6 image processors that can create stunning images at up to 10 fps at full resolution with expanded sensitivity of ISO 51200. Another speedy aspect that makes this a common pick for sports and wildlife photography is a 65-point all-cross-type AF system for stills and the use of the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system in live view and video. Speaking of video, this model offers Full HD 1080p recording at up to 60 fps and uncompressed output over HDMI, making it a very capable camera for filmmakers.

One thing that separates the 7D Mark II from a number of other similarly specced cameras in this arena is the build quality. The 7D series offers a seriously high-end build with a magnesium-alloy body and numerous seals for working in inclement weather. The shutter is also designed to withstand 200,000 actuations and its built-in GPS module will embed location data in your files.

Moving back into the full-frame game, Canon is aiming to make this normally out-of-reach digital format more affordable with the very capable 6D. This no-frills model lacks many of the bells and whistles of its bigger brothers, but makes up for it with excellent image quality via the 20.2MP sensor and DIGIC 5+ processor. It delivers stills and video on a very similar level as the bigger 5D Mark III, as well as decent performance in terms of speed. The 11-point AF system is manageable for most tasks and it has a great native sensitivity of up to ISO 25600, which is extendable to ISO 102400.

The 6D is one of Canon’s more connected cameras, offering built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, making this a great camera for photographers who are very in tune with today’s numerous social media networks. And, much like the other cameras on this list, the 6D is a viable video option, offering high-quality recording at Full HD 1080p at 30 fps in multiple compression options.

Moving down the line we encounter the 70D, a lightweight 20.2MP APS-C option with the DIGIC 5+ image processor that enables high-speed 7 fps shooting and low noise through the expanded ISO range up to 25600. Making it a great advanced option is the plethora of physical dials and controls on the body, giving shooters a fast way to make changes to settings while shooting. For performance, it has a 19-point phase-detect AF system that will handle a majority of subject matters quickly and accurately, as well as the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system for live view and video.

Video is possible up to Full HD 1080p at 30 fps, and this model features a 3.0" 1.04m-dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD that makes shooting at odd angles or taking selfies a much simpler affair. One thing not much talked about is the type of viewfinder used in the camera: the 70D still implements a pentaprism (versus the lesser pentamirror) that offers a much brighter and clearer image. Finally, the 70D does have built-in Wi-Fi for connectivity.

Rebels and the Entry Level

It is no secret that Canon’s well-known Rebel line is aimed at beginners, but the latest T6s and T6i work to further blur the line between advanced users and those just starting out. The T6s, especially, helps by being the first Rebel to have a top LCD panel and a quick control dial for fast adjustment of settings. Besides those differences, the cameras are otherwise the same spec-wise, including a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor, the DIGIC 6 image processor, and an expanded sensitivity range up to ISO 25600, all of which combines for an extremely good set of skills.

These models also feature a 19-point all-cross-type AF system and Hybrid CMOS AF III for locking onto subjects, and have a maximum continuous shooting rate of 5 fps. Full HD 1080p video is possible, as well—not surprising, considering Canon’s affinity for video in all of the latest models. Another great feature is the 3.0" 1.04m-dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD, and both of these models have built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, making pairing with mobile devices quickly and easily.

Still available alongside the latest models in the series is the T5i, a nicely featured DSLR that holds up well today. It has a modest 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor and the DIGIC 5 processor, which can work in low light with sensitivities up to ISO 25600. It also has a 9-point all-cross-type AF system and the original Hybrid CMOS AF for faster live view and video focusing. The T5i is equipped with a 3.0" 1.04m-dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD and can shoot Full HD 1080p video. This makes it a more economical model than its newer compeers and a great option for users looking for a little more than your basic DSLR.

A more intriguing option in Canon’s DSLR line, the SL1 holds the title of smallest DSLR, and pairs perfectly with the company’s more recent pancake lens offerings. It is very similar to the T5i, with an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor and the DIGIC 5 processor, as well as the expanded ISO range of up to 25600. It differs in its implementation of a fixed touchscreen 3.0" 1.04m-dot LCD and a standard 9-point AF system. It receives a boost for video performance with the Hybrid CMOS AF II and it can capture images at a rate of 4 fps. This model is a very compact DSLR, and those looking to upgrade their shooting capabilities while keeping their pack light will definitely appreciate the design.

For budget-conscious consumers or those just looking to dip their toes in the photography pool, Canon has the T5, a pared-down DSLR with all of the basic functions new photographers will enjoy and quickly learn. It has an 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor along with the DIGIC 4 processor, which enables Full HD 1080p video recording, ISOs up to 12800, and 3 fps continuous shooting. Additionally, it has a 9-point AF system and 3.0" 460k-dot rear LCD. This model is basic, but just what any beginner needs to start creating beautiful images, especially since it comes bundled with an 18-55mm zoom lens.

16 Comments

I am lookig for a replacement EOS Digital. I had a T3i, 400D, 300D, Xsi how do these compare? Where does a 40D fall in place?

Hi Scott,

Since many other cameras have been released it seems that this article is in need of an update. But to help answer your question, the 40D, which has since been updated to the 70D and 80D, since a bit above those cameras you mentioned. I would say the 70D is the best bang for buck in Canon's lineup right now.

Dear Shawn, 

I have a 5D Mark III, and love it! However, I do not want to expose it to the beachand other adventure trips. I would like to get a second Canon (so I can keep using my lenses, also the ones from a 60D I no longer have) for travel purposes and everyday use. I did not see the 80D in this discussion, and I am currently considering it. Any thoughts? Thank you!  

Hi Camila,

This roundup was written just before the announcement of the 80D, which is why it was left out. However, using the above, it sits just above the 70D. It takes much of the 70D's design and upgrades it in almost every way. It should be an excellent option for general shooting. Though, if you are worried about the elements and sand, the 5D and 7D series are much better sealed than lesser bodies.

Can you expand on the statement about the 6D "This no-frills model lacks many of the bells and whistles of its bigger brothers.."?  Specifically, what does the 6D lose from the 7D(both APS-C) and 5D(APS vs. APS-C)  features other than magnesium body?

Hello Keith,

If we have to compare, the things that are notably different are the AF sensor (only 11 points on 6D), smaller screen compared to 5D, slower continuous focusing, only one SD card slot (CF & SD slots on 5D), the viewfinder isn't quite as large or offer full coverage, fewer ports (example, no PC sync terminal for flash), and a few other things, in addition to the lighter, less durable body. Besides all of this, the 6D is a spectacular camera, able to make images just as good as the 5D series. The only other difference users have noticed (myself included) is that 6D video processing isn't quite as good as the Mark III, though it is still very good for a DSLR.

Hope this helps.

Why not just say that the article is an Add for Canon cameras?

I don't think Rebel SL1 is an advisable camera. I own this camera and image quality is quite poor (especially jpg).

I'm very sorry of the biassing of this article, because there are surely other camera manufacturing companies that produce similar (if not better) products than Canon.

From the very beggining of the article, when you claim the Canon 1D to be the only and obvious option for professionals, you are saying that ther is no D5 or any other camera that can compete with It. Preferences are respectable, but when you publish something, I think that it's necessary to be objective.

Mybe the title for this article shall be:
"What are the options that Canon offers?"

or

"Which Canon is for me?"

Shoot Canon professional bodies and L glass.  When is Canon going to offer a professional mirrorless body with 4K (they have high end protypes 8K)?  Canon could be great if they get with the program.  Please suggest to them to move into this key professional space ASAP.  Thanks.  Doug...P.S. Sign me up for testing...

Kind of a smorgasbord of camera models but not very helpful in distinguishing performance issues for each one. For example, saying the 5D MK3 offers "less noise"--less noise than what? Is it less noise than the 5Ds or the 1Dx MK2? Maybe if you flesh out some of the ad copy with some details about why one performs better than another in each different situation, it would help make the kind of information available that doesn't come in the manufacturer's brochure, which we can read on our own.

Any guess as to when Canon markets the 5D Mark IV?

Hello D Doe,

Unfortunately we do not have any official guess as to when Canon will bring out the 5D Mark IV. However, the 5D Mark II is about 4 years old at this point so I personally would expect to see the camera sometime soon considering previous release cycles, possibly by the end of this year.

Every article on B&H should be about Canon.

It's a little unfair to state that 'The company’s products weren’t always top-of-the-line'. Canon have always been great innovators.
I own 35mm Canon film cameras built in the early 1960's which are still working perfectly and produce fantastic results to this day...
I'm sure there are many people out there who fondly remember the Canon F1, which was one of the finest professional 35mm film cameras ever to be mass produced.
Sure they aren't Leica or Haselblad, but they've made professional quality photographic equipment reasonably affordable to the man in in the street, for decades, and should be applauded for that. 
Nikon are of the same ilk as Canon. I wonder if you will be making any condescending statements about their product history on your blog when they launch the sucessor to the D5s?
I somehow doubt it, I would think you probably have a higher profit margin when you flog a Nikon.

 

Hi Frank,

Sorry if you were offended by the statement, it was meant to imply that Canon has worked their way up from a small company making what some would consider "copies" of other manufacturer's existing cameras (ex. The Kwanon based on Leica) and from using other companies optics (Canon actually used Nikkor glass in their early cameras) into the juggernaut they are today. I myself own an AE-1 and it is a great camera from decades ago. I'm glad you enjoy your cameras.

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