Camera envy

In the last few weeks, with the warmer weather, I’ve been encountering other photographers while I’ve been out and about. More often than not, they have enormous cameras with enormous lenses. And for what it’s worth, they’re usually male and somewhere in my age range (or older). Without going too far into sociology or demographics, I’d venture a guess that they have some more disposable income than average.

Given that the places that I go tend to be attractive to nature and bird photographers, the long lenses aren’t surprising. But since my camera is the least expensive of the entire Canon DSLR line, I’m a little sensitive about its size. I have no idea whether these other guys are getting better shots than I am. It may be that they just spent more money on their camera because they could – and that they have no idea what they’re doing.

The difference in camera size is even more pronounced – and funnier – when I’ve got the S90. It’s pocket-sized so it looks like an average point-and-shoot (when in fact it’s an above-average point and shoot!)… yet I’ve taken some of my best shots with that little guy.

Bee on flower

Bzzzzzz with an S90

So the question I have is: if I were to spend more $$ on a bigger camera, what would it really buy me? To answer this question, I spent a little time researching the available options.

To simplify my comparison here, I’ve created a chart with one camera from each of the categories of cameras in the Canon line: entry level, midrange, high end. (I’ll skip the “flagship” 1D line, since it’s unlikely I’ll ever go that route.) There are many differences within each line that aren’t explored well in the chart below, such as the massive ISO values (102400!) found in some of the cameras not listed – allowing shots in extremely low light. It’s also worth noting that there’s very little difference between the T3i, which is considered part of the entry level offerings, and the 60D (midrange) – only price and sturdiness. There’s a full chart available on Wikipedia for people who want the big picture.

Entry Level:
XS 1000D
Midrange: 60D High end:
5D mark ii
Price (B&H) $479 $999 $2499
Sensor APS-C APS-C Full Frame
Megapixels 10.1 18 21.1
ISO 100-1600 100-12800 50-25600
Frames per Second 3 (jpeg), 1.5 (RAW) 5.3 3.9

There are other items that I didn’t include in the chart because they’re less likely to factor into my personal camera choice:

  • video. I’m not especially interested in video now. My XS doesn’t have it (the s90 does).
  • how sturdy is the build? More expensive = sturdier
  • amount of exposure compensation — how much can I overexpose / underexpose on purpose?
  • shutter speed – important for sports and fast-moving things
  • type of viewfinder
  • metering options – important to me only because the XS doesn’t have spot metering
  • endless numbers of white balance options (can be adjusted in RAW)
  • endless numbers of focus points
  • weight. The more expensive the camera, the more it weighs!
  • etc. etc.

The big jump between the midrange and high-end cameras is in going to the full frame sensor. The differences between the APS-C and full frame sensors is explained here and here; the gist of it is that the full-frame sensor is especially good in wide-angle shots and low light (high ISO) situations. However, both of these sites point out that with a long zoom, the APS-C sensor can be better.

So now that I know what I’m missing, I feel a lot more confident that under normal conditions, and for what I’m looking to achieve now, my little XS is able to compete with the big guys. Replacing it is not immediately necessary (unless it breaks, or I find an outrageously good deal on Craigslist.) No doubt when replacement time comes, there will be a whole new set of available options.

Bees on Sunflower

Bees on a Sunflower (also taken with the S90)



  1. Nothing at all wrong with an S90, and your wonderful photos are more proof that it’s not just the camera that creates great photos! I enjoyed my digital Rebel for years. What I gained when I got my 50D was:

    * faster startup time

    * more frames per sec for sports photography (I use this mostly for “children at play” photography, which is nearly identical to sports action!)

    * wider range of ISO choices

    * the ability to lock up the mirror and view macro shots through the rear screen – magnified so I can get exactly the right spot in focus

    * a bigger and faster preview of the shots (larger screen, faster scroll time)

    Of course many of the smaller cameras are evolving faster than the prosumer DSLR’s, so some of the advantages are converging. The one BIG advantage of the larger DSLR’s is the ability to go to a local professional camera store and rent amazing lenses for special events/projects that are fun to use but WAY past my budget.

    In the meantime, enjoy what you have – after all, it apparently isn’t slowing down your creative talents!

    – JV

  2. Barb..Your chart with the many different options — or choices– brings back memories of my first camera — a 4 or 5 inch cube called a Brownie (circa 1936 or ’38) which I was given for Christmas …and Christmas morning I marched about five blocks down the street to where the Skidmore library was still smoldering from an overnight fire …and there I took my first pictures.

    They were my first except for those I had taken with a self constructed cardboard camera with a pin hole in the front and blue litmus paper. I can’t remember just how it worked but it was my fist photographic effort…

    So go for it… Looks like you latched onto something that could bring you years of enjoyment… Carpe Diem..and…
    Lottsa love… Dad

  3. You helped answer a lot of questions that I had for myself. As I mentioned earlier, I am avidly looking to take up photography as a serious hobby. Obviously, I would start out with an entry level model and in fact, Canon was going to be my choice. I feel better in that decision after seeing what you’ve accomplished with yours. Now to save, save, save…!

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