-1

In the age of cheap plastics and planned obsolescence, I find it a bit scary to go out there and spend a few thousand bucks on a camera whilst not knowing how long it's gonna last me. I bet I'm the only one who feels this way.

From what I've heard and read, Canon and Nikon would be at the bottom of the list, whilst Leica and Pentax would be at the top. For the other brands (Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic, Sony, etc.), I've found it more difficult to figure it out.

How would you rank camera brands/makes in terms of build quality, robustness and durability?

  • 7
    What makes you believe the Canon 1DX Mark II and the Nikon D5, the workhorse cameras of the world's photojournalists, are not built like a tank? Sure, Canon and Nikon's entry level models are on the cheap side, but the same is true for every other brand. – Philip Kendall Jan 12 at 8:44
  • 4
    OK, could you link to where you've read these things? – Philip Kendall Jan 12 at 9:17
  • 2
    Camera bodies get technically obsolete pretty fast, much faster than lenses, so they will usually outlast their technical pertinence. If you think you don't care how obsolete your camera is, there are plenty available on the second hand market, and if buying new you will have bargains on models just before they are replaced by a more up-to-date successor. – xenoid Jan 12 at 10:30
  • 2
    I've taken the liberty of changing the title so we don't get a bunch of ranked lists each with little or no explanation or justification. I'd vote to close but I think Michael's answer is great. – mattdm Jan 12 at 17:22
  • 2
    @Hueco I already dropped my Fujifilm XT-2 from about 18 inches onto a wood floor. It's a very solid-feeling camera and by all accounts it is built robustly — but it needed a trip to the repair center. I highly recommend not dropping your camera, no matter how sturdy its reputation. – mattdm Jan 12 at 19:16
11

Who makes the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to durability?

Canon and Nikon probably do. I can't imagine anyone making a DSLR or mirrorless more "disposable" than the newly introduced Canon 4000D (not even offered in the U.S.). It also has the lowest MSRP of just about any interchangeable lens camera on the planet with an APS-C size sensor. But you won't spend a few thousand bucks on one of these cameras, you'll spend a few hundred, even with a couple or three starter lenses. You get what you pay for.

Who makes the top of the pecking order when it comes to durability?

Canon and Nikon do. The Canon 1D series and the Nikon D3/4/5 series are legendary for the amount of use and abuse they can take and keep doing the job. You will spend several thousand dollars on just the body. You have to pay for what you get.

How can this be?

Simple: Canon and Nikon offer a far broader range of camera bodies than other camera companies do. They also offer a far broader range of lenses than other camera companies do. Not only with regards to durability, but also with regards to capabilities, features, and performance.

If you want a lower end camera that is tougher than the average entry level body, look to Pentax. They tend to make their entry level bodies aiming at similar durability standards that Canon/Nikon put in their enthusiast bodies.

If you want a higher end camera body that is all about making a spec sheet (including very good sensor performance) look good but can't stand up to the most punishing conditions, buy a Sony. Just don't use it around water, sand, or, heaven forbid, salt water.

Olympus, Panasonic, and Fuji are mostly bunched up in the middle. They don't make any bargain basement entry level models, but they also don't make any top end professional "flagship" models built like tanks to take the kind of abuse photojournalists, war correspondents, wildlife and nature photographers traveling to exotic and remote destinations all over the globe, etc., put their gear through, either.

Leica is a very low volume brand that prides itself in being a status symbol. At one time their bodies were all hand built and individually assembled. They may still be made that way. But in terms of performance and reliability, they're nothing extraordinary. They're just marketed at folks who will buy something, anything, because it is too expensive for most other folks to afford.

I'm sure there are some folks that will staunchly defend "their" brand as the best ever and argue the merits of their camera based on "data" they've found from any source imaginable containing every metric ever devised. There are those who will call the above statements biased and nothing but blatant "fanboyism."

But the above generalities are gleaned from years of personal experience, the personal experience of other photographers with whom I'm acquainted, and by reading a lot of reports from folks such as Roger Cicala, the founder of lensrentals.com. Roger's company not only rents lenses, they rent cameras too. Lots of cameras. Cameras from most of the major brands along with a few "minor" brands. Roger likes to blog about what he finds taking cameras and lenses apart when he "needs" to repair one of them.¹

Having said all of the above, it there's one thing anyone who has read Roger's blog for very long should have picked up by now it is this:

Every camera model from every manufacturer can break. All of them. Some may break more often than others.² Some may break under conditions that others would most likely survive. But no camera from any manufacturer is indestructible. None.Of.Them. Not.A.Single.One.

As we've already stated, with most cameras you get what you pay for, and you have to pay for what you get. Sometimes what you are paying for is more features or higher image quality. Sometimes what you are paying for is better handling with more controls and faster autofocus and frame rates. Sometimes it is good build quality and a reputation for durability. Sometimes it is for a network of service centers that have a reputation for taking care of their customers. Occasionally it is for the cachet of being the only person around with a specific logo on the front. For most cameras, it is a unique combination of all of these.

When you buy a camera it is just like buying a car or a boat. You make your choice, you pay your money, and you take your chance.

¹ Sometimes Roger and his sidekick, Aaron, will take the earliest opportunity possible to disassemble the newest, hottest, camera model on the market. It's something they would need to do eventually anyway, since they write the repair manuals for the technicians at their company who do the routine day in and day out repairs that can't be sent off to a service center (or come back from a service center still not right).
² Roger used to publish a semi-annual list of various cameras and lenses and their failure rates at his company. The advantage of someone like Roger publishing such a list is that the sample size of cameras owned by any company that are actually used on a regular basis, rather than stockpiled in warehouses waiting to be sold, is probably larger at his company than just about any other single entity anywhere.

3

Any list here is likely to be subjective and anecdotal - the costs of an objective experiment (failures recorded on a representative sample of production for every major manufacturer over a period of years) are going to be prohibitive, possibly inconclusive, and likely to be out of date the moment they're completed. You may be able to find Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) data for each of the major manufacturers, but that won't tell you whether the camera you buy will last a week or ten years.

It sounds like you're already experiencing the tribalism camera brands invoke - and since the question has started by poking the two biggest gangs (putting up the backs of both the Nikon and Canon crew simultaneously), I don't see this ending well. The view of The Bloke On The Internet tends towards who's loudest rather than who's right.

There's no substitute for physically handling a camera before you buy. If you like the feel of it, that's your camera. If you don't, what anyone else thinks is irrelevant.

  • @PhilipKendall - Thanks for explaining. Edit done, and another thought added about how long term tests won't be on anyone's current range. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jan 14 at 8:10
0

Camera bodies are made out of a variety of materials, and I think all major brands have models with magnesium alloy bodies within their ranges. Some have weather-proofing or weather-sealing, too. The price range you mention is beyond the cheap-and-light build that some manufacturers offer (along with more solid cameras). I certainly would not recommend judging the entire range of a manufacturer in a single sweep.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.