Film Talk

Your “Dated” DSLR Will Still Give You Good Images

February 17, 2021 5 min read


Your “Dated” DSLR Will Still Give You Good Images

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I think it would be fair to say that the rate at which new cameras are announced and released is quite astonishing. In fact, just after I had finished uploading the video below to YouTube, Sony announced the Alpha 1.

One Lens Ecosystem

Since September, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going to be ‘the big one,’ the big cine camera investment that will last me for years to come. To shoot client work, stock footage, and personal passion projects. I wanted something with built-in NDs, 12bit color, RAW, and the possibility of shooting at a higher framerate than 60fps. I was thinking about the Ursa G2, but I had the Ursa 12k for a few weeks recently, and having previously owned an Ursa Mini 4.6k, I know that the form factor is just too much for me; a solo shooter. So I opted for The C300 Mk III.

I have wanted to have a cine and photo set up under the same lens mount for years, as I wouldn’t say I like to use hybrids that much. I still think you are better served by having a separate dedicated photo tool and a reliable video tool. If one breaks, you still have the other.

But for years, it was a case of having a set of lenses for photo and a separate set of lenses for video, and I know you might be thinking ‘why not use an adapter’ in a lot of circumstances, it wasn’t plausible. For example, the Voigtlander 17mm wouldn’t work on a sony, or my Fuji XF lenses weren’t compatible with that camera, and so on. So finally, after near enough a decade, I am back to having both cine and photo under one single lens mount, the EF mount, and the camera I recently purchased to accommodate the stills was the 5D Mk IV.

Five Years Is a Lifetime In New Tech

As of this year, 2021, The 5D Mk IV is a 5-year-old camera. In terms of technology, that seems like a lifetime. If we jump over to the Blackmagic line for comparison, within that time we’ve had the Ursa Mini 4.6k, the Mini Pro, The Ursa Broadcast, the Pocket 4k, the 4.6k G2, the Pocket 6k, and now the Ursa 12k.

When I think of the 4.6k, it feels like that release was a lifetime ago, and the camera feels very outdated compared to something like the Pocket 6k.

Likewise, without going through all the numbers, Sony has had four new entries into the alpha line since 2016, and even Canon has introduced an entirely new system, the mirrorless RF series. The point, technology, especially camera technology, moves very fast.

It can feel like to even think about getting an expensive digital camera from five years ago will be a huge detriment because of how outdated it may be compared to newly released models. And that’s certainly reflected across social media and YouTube, there is a slight collective thought process that older cameras will not produce images that as good as the current models released on the market, and that is simply not true.

Now, the primary aspect of picking up the 5d Mk IV was, of course, for the native EF mount, and I wanted the best  Canon stills camera with that mount outside of the 1D series. The R5 wasn’t within my budget, and regarding the 6D Mk II or the 5D Mk III, while I didn’t buy the 5D Mk IV for video, I know in the back of my mind I will likely use it as a b-cam at some point, so 4k was also a selling factor. But yeah, this is a camera from 2016, and notably, some of the internals do feel dated. There’s no focus peaking, which I find incredibly useful when hunting for the hyperfocal distance on landscape shots.

Image Quality Doesn’t Move That Much In 2021

However, regardless of some features that may be missing, which I’ve become accustomed to, say from when I was using the Sony A7RIV, the image quality is still world-class. It’s Canon at their best. And this is the critical element I want to hit home on; it’s important to note that when you’re purchasing a newly released model over an older camera or older variant of the line; it’s the functionality of the camera and the elements that boost the efficiency of being able to take your photo that has dramatically increased. The likes of using autofocus in low light, better low light performance, more focus points, better in-camera stabilization, more color accuracy on the LCD screen, and so forth. This is usually what you’re paying extra for.

Of course, from upgrade to upgrade, there will be a slight boost to the quality of the image quality with new processors or a redesigned sensor. I think if we use the 5D Mk III compared to the 5D Mk IV, the Mark IV has more megapixels resulting in larger photos and better color rendering because of course, the manufacturer needs to entice you to buy the next model, but still, at some point, the older model was the current top version of the camera available that many pros would be shooting with. The images that the camera produces suddenly don’t become worse.

I would argue that since 2013, possibly earlier, if you’re paying over £2500 for a camera, and you know the basics of taking a photograph, the images are going to be fantastic. Whether or not they will be visually interesting or composed with motivation is at the discretion of the photographer skill, but regarding image quality, it’s going to be fine. There’s only so much, here in 2021, you can advance the quality of photographic images within that price bracket.

I would say the rate that technology advances say with mobile phones, GPUs, and video games has influenced how we see technology regarding its age.  An iPhone from 2016 may feel act sluggish and be devoid of features compared to the latest model, but while a camera from 2016 may not have the functionality of a 2021 model, the image quality will still exist. There’s a reason why some photographers are still getting film images published on cameras from the 80 and 90s. Likely earlier.

Now there is a caveat, nothing I said today equates to the video functionality of a camera. A camera from 2016 that has video is going to be vastly dated from a camera in 2020. I would say in 2020, it got to the point where pretty much every £2,500 to £5000 camera is producing exceptional video, and in 2025, I would imagine someone could create the same video.

For more on film and photo technology, check out the articles below.

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