5 Most Over-hyped Qualities of Pro Quality Cameras

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Photography | Comments


Professional quality cameras, which, for now we’ll define as the newest DSLRs on the market, have many great features. On the Craftsy photography blog, I have written about what to look for and the most necessary features to have in a DSLR in a previous post. Here, I’ll cover the five most over-hyped features. These are the things that likely do not matter too much to the typical serious DSLR user.

Close Up on Camera Features

The symbols on this camera represent the automatic modes.

1. Automatic modes

The serious photographer does not use these functions. If you have a good handle on shutter speed, aperture and ISO, you will be using the manual mode or the aperture priority or shutter priority modes. DSLRs that have a “landscape” mode, a “portrait” mode or a “sports” mode do all the thinking for you. These modes take all the control away from the photographer and make judgments on speed and light that the photographer should be making. You may get a good image using one of these modes, but you’re more likely to get a good image if you use your mind and your artistic eye to thoughtfully create a compelling image rather than letting the computer do it for you.

2. Autofocus points

It is certainly helpful to have more autofocus points in some specific situations, like when your camera is moving and your subject is moving and the camera is slow to autofocus. But most of the time, you will have time to set a focus point or prefocus to get your subject sharp. No one will be able to look at your image and be able to tell whether you were using 61 autofocus points or 9 autofocus points. It may be slightly more convenient to have additional points, but it isn’t worth breaking your budget over it.

3. Built-in flash

There’s a reason built in flashes are only put on low-end DSLRs. They produce a poor quality of light and are only helpful when you have (literally) nothing else to light your image with. I would use a cell phone LCD as a light before I’d use a built in flash. The light is small and almost straight on your subject, creating hard, awkward illumination. Whether or not the camera has a built-in flash, you’re going to want to buy an external flash to use on or off of the camera to improve the quality of the light.

4. Maximum burst speed and maximum shutter speed

The maximum burst is the number of photos you can fire consecutively before the camera’s processor gets bogged down and the burst speed is how many photos per second you can take. The majority of the time you won’t max out on either with modern DSLRs. Maximum shutter speed is how quickly the shutter will open and close on the fastest setting. Every modern DSLR is fast enough for the typical user. The people concerned with the burst stats and max shutter speeds are taking photos of fast moving objects, like sports or wildlife. If you don’t have a really fast (read expensive) lens, you won’t be getting many good sports or wildlife photos anyway, so start there.

5. HD video

It is very cool that many DSLRs, even the lower-end ones, offer high definition video functions. It’s the high-definition part that get’s over-hyped. On all modern DSLRs, the sensors are big enough that only part of it gets used to capture HD quality video. You really only need a little over 2 megapixels to get HD quality and every DSLR sensor I know about far exceeds that. The more important part is that the camera’s processor can record those 2 megapixels at 30 times a second if your video frame rate is a standard 30 frames a second. Again, all modern DSLRs are capable of this, so it’s now becoming a standard feature.

Of course these over-hyped qualities are only my opinion. What do you think? What features could you live without?

Comments

  1. Keith Leonard says:

    Overall a very good article, but I thought I’d take the time to make some counterpoint arguments.

    1. Automatic modes – I mostly agree, of course I have never changed my mode dial off of Manual, but it’s nice to have these modes when I hand the camera off to someone else to take a picture. Honestly with a reasonable “green box” mode you should be fine. Note that these “auto” modes tend not to be on what are actually considered “professional/semi-professional” cameras, but rather the consumer DSLRs. In Canon land (your image seems to be of a rebel) the 7D, 6D, 5Dmk3, and 1Dx don’t have these scene modes.

    2. Autofocus points – while most people can get away with using center AF point and focus/recompose it’s certainly not true for AI Servo tracking (again using Canon terminology). You get a much higher “keeper rate” with the 7D’s 19 point AF system or the 5D3/1Dx 61 AF point system and tracking for birds in flight or sports. Even shooting super fast primes AF servo can be helpful at f1.2 or f1.4. When you are going to have thin depth of field focus/recompose can cause focus plane shifts, having a good cross type AF point closer in frame to where you want your subject eliminates the problem.

    3. Built-in flash – I’d rather have one than not for a couple of reasons. The at night shot with no close background and no bounce flash handy you can get a decent shot if you know how to use it. More importantly is that they now have optical speedlight triggers built in, so it’s nice to have if you only occasionally use off camera speedlights and don’t want to invest in a radio trigger system. Certainly the radio triggers are more reliable, but it’s a nice feature to have. Having used a 7D for years I saw no downside to having a pop-up flash on it, with my 5D3 I am pushing ISO to those insane levels (which it handles surprisingly well) when I don’t have my flash or radio triggers in the bag for whatever reason.

    4. Maximum burst speed and maximum shutter speed – Much like the AF point discussion this is more about the type of photography being done than anything else. I’d rather have the 8fps of a 7D or the 12/14 fps of the 1Dx when shooting football games, track and field, wildlife, kids being crazy, etc, than the 3-4 fps of your typical rebel. The 5D3′s 6fps feels like a good compromise, and the higher end rebels are around 5 now, but I can still feel a big difference between 8fps and 6fps. If your thing is taking landscape shots or posed portraits then I agree, it’s not so important. The max shutter speed is quite handy if you are trying to take f1.4 or f2 portraits on a bright day, granted you can get there with ND filters but again, it’s more gear in the bag and time required to put them on the camera, time that is not always available.

    5. HD video – I think you need to be careful in the wording here, your typical DSLR does not use “a portion” of the sensor to record video, it’s not a crop mode (though that is available on a couple). If you shoot 1080p video on a 35mm format camera (6D, 5D2/3, 1Dx) then the image is taken across the entire surface of the senor, so you get the same thin depth of field effects that you do for still photography. You also benefit from the large surface area of the sensor taking in more light, yielding better ISO performance. 4K video isn’t far off though, but it would be mostly useless today, as most people don’t own 4k TVs. The biggest issue with DSLR video for consumers is the lack of good autofocus on most cameras, but that’s changing as well.

    Thanks,
    Keith

  2. Willard says:

    I can live without the badge that says Nikon or Canon

  3. Christina says:

    When I was young… I used to sell cameras in a camera shop, maybe 4 – 5 years. The cameras I sold the most were canons. But Nikons were always the number one camera even back in the days. I still have my old Pentax ME Super which is getting a bit rusty, but it still works. I purchased a Pentax DSLR camera and had it for maybe 2 for years and it started having issues, plus I thought it was slow. I ended up purchasing a Canon about 5 years ago and just this year it stopped working properly. I decided it wasnt worth it to get it fixed and the trade in value was next to nothing so I kept it and bought another Canon. I really like it. I dont use the on-board flash, although it is more controllable than I thought. I purchased an external flash from Vivitar and love it! I do a lot of close up shots of art pieces I make along with my jewelry. I also love to take photos everywhere I go. A camera that is on the higher end is too expensive for me, but I think the photos from my canon are great! With the new camera, I do far less digital corrections with photoshop. They are much more clearer and the colors are amazing. I use the AF mode most of the time, but when it comes to doing macro, I use the manual mode. I like having the flexibility of the camera even though I dont use all if its features.
    Great article…:-)

  4. Don says:

    Re your comment about Auto Mode. It never ceases to amaze me the numbers of people I encounter with an excellent consumer DSLR who use them as point and shoot cameras, never taking them out of Auto mode. Asking several of them about this I often get comments about the complexity of the manuals that come with them. I can agree with that when it comes to explaining the myriad features that are bundled in that little black box, but come on, how hard is it to learn the basics of shutter, aperture, ISO and how they interact?

  5. Jon says:

    Bit unsure about what this article is about. Firstly I am pretty sure pro dslr cameras only have 1 auto setting and don’t have any scene modes, that is certainly the case for my 5d mk2 and the other features are very important for certain styles of photography, barring the attached flash which again the 5d mk2 doesn’t have. Sorry but auto focus points, drive modes, fast shutter speeds and HD video are all excellent and very useful features for all sorts of different styles of photography.

  6. shiela foy says:

    im one of those people who keep my d s l r camera on Auto, i am lost after i line of aps speed iso etc totally confused in seconds.Help Help.

  7. leon says:

    Agree with the post and all comments. Except, if you ever want to progress in this hobby or proffesion…Take a chisel and remove the “Green nob/Auto” with a chisel, and select “M”, then shoot thousands of photies, and process in RAW…. If not, try another hobby or proffesion.

  8. Rob Mynard says:

    I’m a full time wedding photographer but I’ve come from an extreme sports background so I might approach some things a little differently and while I would agree with most of the points here there are some times when a few of these features can be helpful. A high burst speed can be really useful for situations like the bouquet toss, shooting digital means that it doesn’t matter if i take 20 shots of the one moment and I can then select the best couple for the best story later (the moment it leaves the brides hands, the peak, the fingers of the girls grasping for it…). I’ve actually hacked my Nikon to double its burst for a shorter time (old skate sequence hack) and use it for this moment. Its also nice for spontaneous moments like if the groom picks the bride up and spins her around…
    Also while the built in flash is usually a nightmare, when the dancing hots up I like to throw a fisheye on my second body and use the built in and a dragged shutter to get really fun dance shots (eg. http://solarisphotographyaustralia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/MM-Solaris-Photography-Australia-012.jpg )
    None of my cameras have “Auto” scene modes, i think thats only on the lower end consumer models, so that’s not a problem but I’ve never used the video function so I’d be more than willing to pay less for a professional body without all the video/live view functionality… eg. why not have an D800, D800E & then a D800V (video model)
    rant over :-)

  9. BonnieW says:

    I agree in general but I do believe all these features are needed by many people who are not serious photographers but still want a good camera… in my case please let me make a point for Auto Mode. I do know how to use a camera but when I am going for a walk with my friends who are not photographers I prefer to pay attention to the conversation while I happily snap here and there, I don’t want to ignore my companion… if there are several companions my concentration level is even less. Then there are the times I haven’t picked up my camera for many months, it can take a wee bit of time for my rusty brain to work, which takes me right into the third reason… when I am out and about and not intending to take photos, I see something I need to shoot immediately and it wont wait for me, especially a captivating street scene. I don’t have time to think, barely have time to get my camera out of my tote bag and then out of its case, so I don’t want to lose my shot… give me good old Auto for these times. Okay, so, I’m getting up there in years, maybe a younger person could move faster and think faster, but I like to have Auto to fall back on. You are also disregarding the disabled/challenged who may be highly artistic and yet have difficulty making decisions, or even physical difficulties with adjustments.

    Scene modes can be helpful for unusual settings that a person is not used to… I’m thinking of a time when I used ‘museum mode’ to shoot artifacts behind glass with perfect results. And a time when the short flash in ‘night portrait’ mode captured the geese in the pond while the rest of the pond, and the city lights in the background were the proper exposure for Blue Hour, a beautiful photo thanks to Scene Mode and my in-camera flash… yes, you can do this with no thinking and no tripod. Might I suggest that the die-hard believers of ‘Manual’ actually investigate the Scene Modes instead of believing they know everything. It has room for creativity, even if you are able bodied and able minded.

    Burst also has a place on my camera, for street scenes and basically for anything that’s moving, because you see, I’m moving too, I’m a little wobbly at times, not as steady as I used to be and there is no room for a tripod in my purse nor is there time to set it up. Burst pretty well guarantees that at least one of my five shots will be in focus. Laugh if you want, you’re gonna get old too!!!

    It was a worthwhile post to read, as were the comments.

  10. Thomas says:

    I agree 100% with what is said in the article. I do mostly portrait and macro photography and have never used any of the five mentioned features. I only use manual focus in manual or aperture priority modes.