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I've been taking photographs for a while, and have started to think about moving to full-frame. I'm on a very limited budget, but I currently have a good macro lens and am quite willing to buy something like a EF 50mm f/1.8 to start off with. I could possibly stretch my budget as far as a 70-200 f/4 L or 24-105 f/4 L.

Primarily, I'm interested in taking photos of small wildlife like reptiles, amphibians and insects, but I have a healthy interest in landscapes, birds and street photography.

I currently have an EOS 30D, and I love the way the camera handles, especially with the dual control dials. For this reason, I think shooting with a Rebel would be a significant step down.

However, I have seen 5Ds and occasionally 1Ds Mark IIs on ebay for roughly the same price as an EOS 650D. I'm sure these cameras have better IQ than my 30D, since they are pro-level bodies from around the same time, and full-frame besides. The question is, are these cameras now so old that the image quality from them is a substantial step down from current Rebels?

I realise I'll be giving up continuous shooting speed and some amount of low-light performance, and that I'd also need to get an external flash, but besides these, are there any substantial caveats I need to be aware of before I go ahead and take the plunge?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I have a 1Ds mkII and an original 5D. The fact I still have them is mainly due to the fact that they're worth a lot more to me that I would get from selling them. In other words I think they're probably undervalued on the second hand market.

The main reason I say this is that the look you get from a full frame sensor is in many ways unobtainable with a smaller sensor. I'm not just talking about noise / dynamic range. Dynamic range in good light is pretty much the same as newer bodies, noise is generally better with the older full frames but extreme low noise shooting will be better on the current rebels as the analogue ISO amplification goes up to 12,800 whereas the 5D/1DsII only go up to ISO 1,600.

Instead I'm talking about depth of field, and sharpness. A really sharp image with shallow depth of field really makes the subject pop. You can't get the same effect on a crop as there simply aren't any fast wide lenses available, a 24 f/1.4 lens on full frame is equivalent to a 15mm f/0.9 lens on APS-C, the closest you can get is a 14mm f/2.8, which is over three stops slower (for about the same price). A cheap 50mm f/1.8 is equivalent to a 31 f/1.1!

The advantage in subject separation remains until 135 (well into telephoto) where you can match it with a crop, albeit with a much more expensive lens (85mm f/1.2L as compared to 135mm f/2.0L). Sharpness is better as you're not enlarging the image as much when you view a full frame photograph at a certain size compared to APS-C.

Having said that these advantages go away as soon as you start cropping your full frame images. If you are predominately chasing small lizards you may well find little advantage with a full frame camera.

With the 1Ds you also gain a top of the range 45 point AF system and weather sealing, but this comes with increased weight, confusing menu controls (you have to hold down different buttons while using the control wheels to change settings or navigate photos).

You have to consider what you're giving up, live view is certainty very useful for certain types of shooting. Rear LCD screens have improved a lot especially compared to the 1DsII, which has a tiny screen with very poor contrast. Speed of shooting and writing to memory cards in particular has improved a lot.

My gut feeling is this wont matter as you're used to not having these things with the 30D -- you will feel very at home with the 5D as it shares almost exactly the same control layout. You'll have to learn the 1Ds controls but it will reward you with much better AF.

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Professionally, I run a 1D MkI (Classic) for sports / action photography and a 1Ds MkI for portraiture. The colour / contrast on my 1D classic is stunning and is the only Eos that allows 1/500th X-sync (a 1Dx can't manage that!). I have only three lenses: 16-35mm 2.8L, 50mm 1.4 prime, 70-200mm 2.8L. The x1.3 crop factor on the 1D gives me options on my lenses, so I can honestly say I've never felt the need to buy another lens. Since I seldom need fast shutter speeds for low light photography and never print larger than A4, I feel no need yet to change my set up. Far better to concentrate on composition. If I were pushed, I'd change my 1Ds for a 5D MkIII for: High ISO, silent running, and 1080p video. For my current usage - no need. My 1D MkI Classic is a keeper. I haven't seen a DSLR yet that gives the tones that it produces.

Given that you can pick up a low mileage 8fps 1D Classic for £200, it has to be the biggest bargain in photography.

For personal use, I've moved to 35mm film on an Olympus OM-2n with a Zuiko 50mm 1.8 lens and a digital Panasonic LX3 with Leica lens for when I want pocket sized. I also use the little LX3 as a Polaroid equivalent before engaging with the Eos since it can be fully manual and has a great LCD screen. The most beautifully engineered of my cameras? The 30 year old Olympus by a cool country mile. It cost me £32... and all you 5D owners can use its lenses for video!

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Welcome to Photography. Thanks for sharing. I do think the sync speed makes sense since the full frame versions have to move a significantly further distance, but it is a bit odd they haven't managed to achieve the same speed yet. It'd also be interesting if you could post a sample of what you mean by the tone being better than more modern cameras. I'd love to see what you mean visually since my 5D Mark iii produces beautiful tones for color and the D800 does amazing black and white work. I wasn't really following the pro market when the 1D MkI came out though. –  AJ Henderson Oct 31 '13 at 14:04
    
I believe the sync speed is linked to the use of CCD sensor on the 1D MkI. CMOS still can't yet match it. There are quite a few samples of 1DMkI tone available on-line via Google. Definitely worth a search but of course limited by the quality of any computer display. –  Dave Gale Oct 31 '13 at 14:10
    
I ask about the samples because when I look at samples I find online, I don't see anything that modern DSLRs can't easily replicate. The only thing that might be the case would be dynamic range since I can't find any numbers on it, but modern CMOS will hit 14+ EVs. –  AJ Henderson Oct 31 '13 at 14:23
    
Also, someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that sync speed is a purely physical problem related to the speed at which the first and second curtain can move. The sync speed is the speed at which the second curtain must begin closing prior to the full opening of the first curtain (thus there is no moment for the flash to be able to expose the whole image). The reasons for the lack of faster sync speed may be technical (bigger sensor) or simply a matter of cost now that there are things like High Speed Sync. –  AJ Henderson Oct 31 '13 at 14:28
    
I created a question specifically about sync speed limitations here. –  AJ Henderson Oct 31 '13 at 14:38

I will also say that the older full-frame cameras usually gives you sharper images when used with older FF lenses. I have both an old 1Ds and a new T3i (18mp crop), and the problem is that a 18mp crop sensor lens out-resolves most of the FF lenses on the market. However newer cameras give you much better high ISO noise handling and video.

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2  
What do you mean by "18mp crop sensor lens?" –  Michael Clark Apr 7 '13 at 11:18
    
Also, this would only be true if you were pixel-peeping. At worst, with a sensor that out-resolves a given lens, you'd be capped at the resolution of the lens, so a newer camera wouldn't give you worse images given a fixed viewing/print size. –  Chinmay Kanchi Nov 2 '13 at 20:56

I've had a 5D, and currently have a 1DsII. If you can get a DsII for the price of a 5D, I'd say that is the one to prefer. The autofocus on any 1D is top notch, and far better than the one on the 5D (the 5D was basically a 30D with a full-frame image sensor). 5D is a little bit better on high ISO (1600, 3200) on the pixel level, on the other hand the 1Ds2 has more pixels so I have always felt that this is a bit of a wash all things considered. The 5D is smaller and lighter, a 1-series is an absolute beast to carry around all day. Then again, if you add the battery grip to the 5D, this is again a wash weight- and size-wise versus the 1D and the 1D has a better shape for holding. The viewfinder on both is very good, better on the 1D. Quite a step up from a Rebel in either case.

The only real downside to the 5D/1D is the size and weight versus the entry-level cameras. Plus you don't get a built-in flash but they are not good for much anyway, so no great loss. If you have small hands, they may be too big, if you have large hands they may feel better to hold than a Rebel; your call.

Image quality is quite good, I feel that the soon decade-old 1Ds2 keeps pace with my brand spanking new Fuji X-E1 until it runs out of ISO at 1600 (3200 is simply 1600 pushed one stop, so it doesn't really count - the Fuji has two more stops of "real" ISO than the 1Ds, typical of current cameras). The 1DsII was noticeably better at high ISOs than my year-old Fuji X100.

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These were great cameras then and they are still great cameras today. Actually the age factor makes them great values because people flock to newer things too quickly!

A 1Ds Mark II remains superior to the latest APS-C Canon DSLRs when it comes to image quality. It shows less noise, greater dynamic-range and better low-light performance. Plus, you will finally be able to see what you are shooting properly with a 100% coverage viewfinder and the 1Ds handles very well in a very sturdy weather-sealed body. The bright viewfinder will also help focus manually.

The only downgrade compared to yours or a newer Rebel is that the larger sensor will work against you when you try to reach for wildlife. Getting longer lenses solves the problem but is costly.

Both F/4 lenses you suggest are great are highly suitable. The 24-105mm F/4 would be better suited for landscape and the 70-200mm F/4 for street photography. For wildlife, normally something longer is used unless you are talking about the kind of subjects that let you get close which you shoot with a macro lens.

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As I said, I'm mostly looking to shoot small wildlife. I've gotten some excellent shots with a borrowed 70-200, so I'm quite confident in that lens's ability to give me the shots I want when coupled with the macro that I already have. –  Chinmay Kanchi Mar 3 '13 at 19:58
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On your 30D the 70-200mm is equivalent to 112-320mm on the 1Ds Mark II (or any full-fame). You will NOT have the same reach but there is an overlap. It all depends if you were shooting towards the end of the zoom or not. You can obviously crop if you do not need the extra resolution or get a tele-converter if needed. –  Itai Mar 3 '13 at 20:09
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The brighter OVF does make it much easier but compared to Live-View it depends how well implemented it is. If you have magnification available in Live-View, some cameras make focusing much more precise than with even the best OVF. –  Itai Mar 3 '13 at 21:13
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@MatGrum - Maybe, I no longer have any of these cameras with me but at least until ISO 1600 this is not the case, at least according to DxOMark. Their measurement do not fully represent image quality but the measurable quantities (S/N, D-R, etc) are quite reliable. –  Itai Mar 4 '13 at 14:42
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@ChinmayKanchi the crop factor applies in both directions as the 30D sensor is both narrower and shorter, so you have to divide by the crop factor twice. Think about building a full frame sensor out of 12 megapixel micro-four-thirds sensors, which have a 2x crop factor. You'd have to use four of them, so the full frame sensor would have 48, not 24 megapixels. –  Matt Grum Mar 4 '13 at 15:50

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