Do We Really Need $6,000 Cameras?

canon 1dx
Canon and Nikon think we need $6,000 cameras but do we really? - by Canon

Apparently Canon and Nikon think the photography world is ready to trade in their car for a new camera and set of lenses. That’s just about what a Nikon D4 or Canon 1-DX and a set of lenses will set you back. A camera or a car? Not a tough choice for most people.

It’s not at all certain these two particular cameras were aimed specifically at still photographers anyway. Both cameras boast impressive video specs and perhaps the real targets are filmmakers, to whom a $6,000 camera body is a relative bargain. Still, when you start with a $6K body and add lenses, rails, flags, follow focus, and a monitor it starts getting the price up near real digital film cameras like the Sony PMW-F3L.

“While you would still have to add the lenses, the price difference on a budget film production is not that significant compared to what you gain with features like Genlock, Timecode, and 10 bit 4:2:2 HD-SDI output,” says Bill Pryor, a Kansas City commercial video producer who shoots most of his footage on the Canon 5D MK II.

captain america frame
Footage from Canon 5D MK IIs integrates seamlessly with 35mm film in Captain America - via Canon

When shots from Canon 5D MK IIs can be seamlessly integrated with 35mm film in movies like Captain America, it begs the question of just how much more quality do filmmakers really require?

For years photographers were spoiled as technology and competition drove prices down and to see the trend reversed so abruptly on the flagship products of both lines will be an interesting trend to watch. The question it begs for photographers centers around the compelling value proposition that would make the EOS-1DX the definitive choice over a Canon 5D MK II?

Certainly the flagship cameras have better low light performance. If you’re a full-time professional sports photographer shooting in highly variable lighting conditions inside sports arenas, perhaps the price tag is worth it. I might argue the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D MK II are fairly capable low light shooters themselves, but the D4 and 1DX push low light performance to new levels.

I could also see a National Geographic photographer on assignment someplace near the end of the world needing both the superior weather sealing and low light performance, which cuts down on the amount of lighting gear they have to carry. In places where every slot in an equipment bag is a precious commodity, then the extra $4,000 for a camera body is outweighed by other factors.

nikon D4 skeleton
Is what's inside a Nikon D4 really justify the price tag?

Overall, I’m really working to find justification for the added expense and just can’t see it. You can buy two D700’s for the price of a D4 and carry a spare body. Instead of a 1DX tricked out for filmmaking, get two 5D MK IIs and use one for covering shots.

It’ll be interesting to see if the photography world proves me wrong and demonstrates there’s a serious market for $6,000 cameras, but I’m not holding my breath.


Nikon D700 vs D4

Nikon D700 vs Canon 5D MK II

Nikon D700 vs Canon 1DX

Canon 5D MK II vs 1D x

Nikon Flexes Video Muscle With New D4

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The Nikon D4 boasts improved video specs and a high capacity battery

It looks like Nikon is finally fully on board with video with the introduction of the new powerhouse Nikon D4. For many video shooters it was a mystery why Nikon ceded the video market to Canon for so long, but they have been steadily improving their video offerings and finally brought it all together in the new D4.  The D4 replaces the Nikon D3s and Nikon D3, see our comparison of the Nikon D4 vs D3s.

Built around a 16-megapixel full frame sensor Nikon really pushed the low light performance with an extended ISO range out to a nearly unbelievable ISO 204,800. The D4 delivers 1080 video at 24 or 30p, and 720 HD at 60p, with 20-level audio meters. Though the D4 delivers uncompressed video via HDMI, the output is limited to 720p.  there is some question whether it’s full 1080p or limited to 720p.

Nikon also included a low pass video filter which should help prevent moire and aliasing, a constant problem for DSLR video shooters. How they did it without impacting the quality of still images remains a mystery, details that I’m sure will emerge when the D4 hits the streets.

Other than the video features the differences between the D4 and D3 are incremental rather than generational. The D4 can pop through 10 frames a second with AF and AE and 11 fps with focus and exposure locked.

Nikon managed to squeeze in a 91,000 pixel sensor for metering white balance, flash exposure, and face detection, which also functions through the viewfinder.

d4 sensor image
The 16-megapixel full frame sensor. Thankfully they didn't choose the Sony sensor for this model

The ergonomics of the Nikon D4 have also been improved for portrait orientation, a feature Canon included on the 1DX. Nikon added an additional rubberized lump and an additional function button next to the vertical shutter release.

With the new high cap battery Nikon is claiming you can get up to 2,600 images on a single charge, so no worries about your battery dying in the middle of a shoot.

The Nikon D4 includes a new carbon fiber shutter that’s rated for an eye-popping 400,000 snaps, so you can look forward to getting a lot of years out of your D4, which will help ease the sting of the $6,000 price tag. The D4 is already sold out on Amazon, but I am sure more will be available soon.

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