Cameras today are needlessly complicated. It seems like it is a war between brands to produce the next big model that adds just a few more bells and whistles than the last model, or the competition's new model for that matter. Sometimes it's easier to understand a camera's glaring issues or omissions to help make the elimination process easier. This applies to both dSLR's and mirrorless systems. It also applies to all brands too: Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, etc. You get the idea!

So let's simplify things a bit and skip looking at all the specifications and not bother with the pixel-peeping. Let's assume that most of the current cameras take excellent photos. It comes down to how we work WITH our gear. So what are the 3 things that I look for after I have got the choices narrowed down to several models?

  1. Mode Control Inconsistencies
  2. No AF-Assist Lamp
  3. Battery Grip Moisture Issues

So let's get started, shall we?

1) Mode Control Inconsistencies: Personally, I don't shoot any camera in automatic mode. I primarily live in the Manual (M) world where you use off-camera flash using radio transmitters and cables. Even the strobes and lights are in Manual most of the time. I do this because it makes my photos more consistent across the board and stretches the envelope of my lighting creativity. Excluding the complication of the flash, a good photographer is constantly thinking about the delicate balance between Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. So sometimes there may be a need for me to switch from Manual (M) to Shutter-Priority (Tv) or Aperture-Priority (Av).

I'm not going to explain why you would use Manual (M), Shutter-Priority (Tv), or Aperture-Priority (Av) modes, as my point is to explain what the control inconsistencies are. First, lets look at Nikon's controls in each of these modes. On Nikon's (Nikon D800 and D4 are two examples) Aperture is always controlled by the Sub-Command Dial (on camera grip near shutter release button), Shutter Speed is always controlled by the Main Command Dial (near your right thumb), ISO is always adjusted by pressing the ISO Button then moving the Main Command Dial (near your right thumb), and finally, Exposure Compensation is always controlled by hitting the Exposure Compensation button then moving the Main Command Dial (near your right thumb). Simple huh?! The controls are consistent through Manual (M), Shutter-Priority (Tv), or Aperture-Priority (Av) modes.

Now lets look at Canon. Rather than have me point out each of these inconsistencies, let me summarize the Canon 5D MKII manual from pages 90 to 94 below. Then to make it easier for you, notice that I underlined each use of  the Quick Control Dial (big round wheel on the back of the camera body). Notice that I also bolded the Main Dial (the adjustment on top of the camera body). Notice that the controls are inconsistent depending on which mode you are in...

Manual Mode (M):

  • Aperture: Controlled by Quick Control Dial
  • Shutter Speed: Controlled by Main Dial
  • ISO: Controlled by first hitting the ISO/Exposure compensation button, then adjusting the Main Dial
  • Exposure Compensation: Controlled by first hitting the ISO/Exposure compensation button, then adjusting the Quick Control Dial

Aperture-Priority (Av):

  • Aperture: Controlled by Main Dial
  • Shutter Speed: (camera controlled)
  • ISO: Controlled by first hitting the ISO/Exposure compensation button, then adjusting the Main Dial
  • Exposure Compensation: Controlled by Quick Control Dial

Shutter-Priority (Tv):

  • Aperture: (camera controlled)
  • Shutter Speed: Controlled by Main Dial
  • ISO: Controlled by first hitting the ISO/Exposure compensation button, then adjusting the Main Dial
  • Exposure Compensation: Controlled by Quick Control Dial

So in summary, let's look at the brands that are consistent in this manner. I find that Nikon and Fujifilm are to my liking and consistent. Canon, Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony are a bit frustratingly inconsistent between modes. Now this is a general statement for the sake of making things simple. Pull out a PDF or two and test it out. Perhaps I'm complicating this a bit. I mean, if you just shoot in one mode like me, I guess it doesn't really matter if the camera brand is consistent between modes or not. But if you want to better your skills and easily transition between modes without getting confused, then you need to understand how your camera, or new camera to works.

2) No AF-Assist Lamp: When you are shooting an event in low-light conditions, you will find that the Canon Lenses (I'm talking about their best professional L-series lenses) start to hunt back and forth trying to find something to focus on. If you click your shots while it is endlessly hunting, you will find many of your images will be out of focus. The camera looks for contrast in order to focus, so if the camera can't see, then it can't focus. So when the lights go dim, this is where the photographer earns their income.

The way to compensate if you are shooting landscapes with a Canon is to manually focus, which is not an option when you are shooting people at an event. Now you have to hand-hold a flashlight to assist the auto-focus of the Canon 5D Mark II. That looks really professional (sarcasm) and creates white balance issues because the flashlight casts it's own tone on your subjects. The only other option is to get the flash mounted on the camera body and shoot TTL. In other words, you have to use the flash to AF-Assist for the camera body. I called Canon's tech support and eventually got their chief tech who told me that they were aware of the issue and that you have to use the two method I already suggested (manually focus or use a flashlight) or he suggested that I buy a $350 Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. Now why would I do that? This is even more equipment to haul-around.

This isn't a deal breaker as I am good at improvising, but it is a known issue on the Web. It comes down to this, if the camera has a flash built into the camera body, it will have a AF-Assist Lamp which is extremely handy as it frees up your hand of the flashlight in low-light conditions. Of the high-end professional camera bodies, the Canon 5D, 1D and Nikon D4 do not have built-in flashes, so no AF-Assist lamp. So if you are a wedding or event photographer and you want a small camera body and a full-frame sensor then a Nikon D700 or D800 is your cup-of-tea!

3) Battery Grip Moisture Issues: I have the proper rain covers for my gear because when it rains, the show must go on! Unfortunately, photographers need extra battery life when in the field, so a battery grip is a common purchase. The serious negative is that a lot of people aren't aware that a battery grip is a source for water damage to a camera body. Not good when you consider how much a lot of gear costs, not to mention the cost of traveling. Let's look at a Canon (BG-E6) product first. To attach the grip, you have to remove the battery door. You know, the one with the moisture-resistant gasket around it.

This battery grip does not have any gaskets of it's own so now you have just reduced your camera from weather resistant to moisture sensitive gadget. What happens when your camera gets wet inside? Well it shuts down or quits all-together. After I noticed some moisture collecting in between the grip and the base of my covered camera (Florida humidity), I decided to rechecked in the manual to see if I may have missed something. Of course the manual said absolutely nothing about my concerns, and to be fair, Nikon appears to not address this too, but all I can say is I took off the Battery Grip ASAP! Now I don't use battery grips anymore, and just carry extra batteries instead. Here are some interesting observations made by expert photographers and their experiences in Antarctica with the Canon Battery Grips.

Now on my Fujifilm cameras (X-T1) I have battery grips for them too. It's exactly the same problem. You remove a ruubber gasket from the bottom of the camera body and attach the Fujifilm battery grip. No there are no rubber gaskets on the battery grip. Same problem. Nikon works the same way. So be careful outdoors in light rain with a camera with a battery grip attached!

So there you have it; 3 things to watch out for when buying a new camera. At least those are a few of my subjective concerns. What are some of the things that you find are important to you with your camera equipment?

About David Aronson

Photography & Videography For Real Estate, Interior Designers, Architects & Commercial Buildings - Fort Lauderdale - PhotoGuy.Com