I'm currently shooting with a 450D using mainly a 50mm f/1.8 and sometimes the kit lens, but am gonna buy a 85mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/2. Thing is I want to upgrade my body as well as I found some rather good deals for a used 40D ($550) and a used 5D ($850). The types of photos I usually take are:

  1. Portraits
  2. Street
  3. Random objects here and there
  4. Occasional landscape when on vacation

So the question is, which is better in terms of costs to value?

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    Is it time to close this question? These models are now both several generations old and I can't see anyone else needing to make the same decision. (We have several other questions which ask about camera model tiers in more general terms.)
    – mattdm
    Nov 15 '12 at 12:56
  • 1
    Well, I got a 40D few weeks back and considered strongly if I should get 5D instead :) Nov 15 '12 at 15:07
  • @MichaelNielsen. Huh. Well, okay then. :)
    – mattdm
    Nov 15 '12 at 15:50
  • @MichaelNielsen - But you got the 40! And almost every answer here strongly suggests getting the 5D!! mattdm - Does closing hide this question from low rep users?
    – dpollitt
    Nov 15 '12 at 18:46
  • Its two years old, talking about cameras that were non-current even back then. Both cameras have been replaced twice. Close it. Nov 15 '12 at 18:51

Jump on the 5D for that price. The 40D is a good camera too but the 5D is a huge notch above due to its full-frame sensor, particularly for your applications:

  • Portrait: Shallower depth-of-field which translates to more background blur.
  • Street: Higher ISO sensitivity lets you shoot at faster shutter-speeds to freeze street action, which is valuable since street photography is not usually posed.
  • Random objects here and there: Better image quality
  • Occasional landscape: Better image quality ;)

The usual time when people prefer the cropped sensor (as in the 40D), is for telephoto work since you get more reach for the same lens. This is great for wildlife and bird photography as you'll save on big lenses.

  • 1
    I'm with Itai on this one, I'd be going after the 5D, it's still an excellent camera and that price makes it an even better one.
    – John Cavan
    Nov 27 '10 at 16:07
  • Hmmm so there is no technological issues that I should be worried about like what mattdm said? Would the significantly older processor be a problem? Nov 28 '10 at 0:28
  • @jon2512chua - Sorry, I can't quantify any 'technological issues' there, it is rather abstract. Within one line, newer is often (not always though) better but at this point you are comparing the evolution of small-sensor cameras with that of full-frame ones. One day we could reach the point where the newest small-sensor cameras is better than a full-frame camera of several years before, but that is not the case here.
    – Itai
    Nov 28 '10 at 2:44
  • The Space Shuttle uses a processor from 1991, which is an updated version of a chip from 1975 - now that's a "significantly older processor" yet we all know what it's capable of. The concept of a 5 year old camera processor being any sort of problem is nonsense.
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 28 '10 at 9:26
  • Marked true because of the simple and succinct answer that addresses each of my concerns. However thanks to Matt Grum as well for showing sample images as examples. I'm planning to go the 5D route, partly because I've used it for extended time before and am really impressed by what it can do. Nov 28 '10 at 15:35

Definitely get the 5D - the 40D will give you a more robust body your current 450D, slightly better AF etc. but you will effectively be taking the same photos.

Due to the shallower depth of field and lack of a crop you can take photos that are literally impossible with the other two cameras.

edit: To qualify the above, in the studio the detail and tonal range you get from the 5D is awesome, the files are great to work with:

As an example of the detail you can extract from the Raw files, here is an extreme crop (1:1 scaled down to 60% to fit the div width):

click for 100% (actual pixels)

It's also great for street shots and candids thanks to the extremely shallow depth of field:

Don't let the age of the 5D put you off, it produces the best images of any DSLR I've ever used, including the 1D/1Ds series, per pixel sharpness, colour and contrast are simply top notch.

  • I am in the consideration myself now and strongly consider 5D vs 40D. weighing towards 40D is that I can spend the 200$ difference in a new lens to go with my 40D, and I have 2 crop lenses that are useless on 5D, and even my EF lenses may not be good enough for full frame (crop cameras use the good part of a lens), and it will be many years till I can buy L lenses, and sometimes I shoot above my head and from the ground up where the 40D's live view will be helpful. With this in mind, do you still think 5D would be better than 40D? Nov 7 '12 at 9:34
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    @MichaelNielsen Full frame demands less resolution from lenses to deliver sharp images, so if your EF lenses are good enough for a crop camera then they are more than good enough for full frame. The argument about using the "good part of the lens" is mostly nonsense (due to my first point above) except in the extreme corners of some wide angle lenses. At longer focal lengths the full frame image will be sharper everywhere. There are plenty of advantages to smaller sensors so I can't tell you which camera is best for you without some information about what type of photography you do most.
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 7 '12 at 12:06

Both of those models are older than your current camera, the 5D significantly so. Since they're higher-line cameras, there's still going to be steps up, but in some ways they'll also be steps sideways and even backwards. The physics of photography haven't changed, but Moore's law suggests that today's computer chips are roughly 10x more powerful than those in the 5D, and the processing parts of a digital camera are certainly affected by that, as well as by refinements in algorithms and firmware/software.

So, given all that: since the 5D is full-frame and has pro-level controls and features, it's going to give you the more interesting changes, even though it's older. So if this is the route you really want to take, that's my recommendation. But I'd consider instead either 1) saving up for a more-current model (even used, but not 5 years old) or 2) investing in better lenses or lighting. (Do you have a nice flash you can use off-camera? That's the number-one gear improvement you can make for taking portraits.)

  • 1
    Can you please clarify on how the 40D and the 5D would be steps sideways or backwards please? Thanks. :) Nov 28 '10 at 0:29
  • The "10x more powerful" processor in the 60D is capable of shooting 1.7 times faster with a 1.5x size image. If you shoot Raw then any refinements in algorithms are irrelevant (besides, the 5D's JPEG files look great IMO). Also the questioner mentions he's already planning to upgrade lenses - in any case there is no lens you can buy (especially for $850) that can replicate the look of the 50 f/1.8 or 85 f/1.8 on a FF camera!
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 28 '10 at 9:36
  • @Matt Grum: not strictly true. Those improvements apply to autofocus and metering, and also to the silicon used for the sensor itself -- less read noise, for example. As for the "look" of a very, very narrow DoF, it's true, but the style is mostly a fad (perhaps reinforced because it's used to self-justify the expense of a higher-end camera?). There's only so many portraits with the eyes in focus but the ears and nose blurry that one needs.
    – mattdm
    Nov 28 '10 at 13:33
  • I didn't mention noise on purpose as it's a complicated issue, I'm not sure what improvements have been made in the field of metering. As for the shallow depth of field look - it's that same as people got for decades with 35mm (full frame!) film, I'd hardly describe it as a fad... it's not just ultra-shallow either, getting any sort of background blur in a wide angle shot is hard with APS-c due to the lack of wide primes. My final question to you would be have you ever used a full frame camera for any length of time?
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 28 '10 at 13:58
  • @Matt Grum: Feel free to read my answer above again -- I actually recommend 5D. I haven't used a full-frame dSLR for more than a few minutes, but I've got a "full frame" film SLR I use often. The viewfinder alone is a reason to go to a full-frame camera. But there's a reason more than just higher resolution that there's a 5D Mk II -- technology changes!
    – mattdm
    Nov 28 '10 at 14:01

Itai pretty much answered your question, and Matt Grum and mattdm gave even more good arguments, so not much to add there.

However, I'd like to respond to chuqui's remark that the 50D is a better camera than the 40D. It's not. It's not necessarily a worse camera either. In the Quest For More Megapixels, the 50D sensor pushed beyond what's a physically sensible pixel density, and because of that it's not that much of an improvement. I'll copy the "cons" from the DPReview summary:

  • High ISO performance worse than 40D
  • Reduced dynamic range in the shadow areas compared to EOS 40D
  • Per-pixel detail not as good as on good 10 or 12 megapixel cameras
  • High-end lenses required to get the most out of the camera
  • Live view not as accurate as on 40D (framing very slightly off-center, in contrast detect AF mode not possible to magnify right out to the extreme corners)

A low-light photographer like me, who prefers a high dynamic range, good high ISO performance and good Live View (it's a great way to reduce camera shake and focus manually in the dark), prefers the 40D over the 50D. If you're more of a studio photographer it's a different story.

However, the 50D has another thing working against it: because of the ridiculously high pixel density, you need really, really good lenses to actually take good advantage of the 50D's extra megapixels (the linked summary explains it rather nicely). If you don't have good glass, it's not really worth the upgrade.

In the same sense the 5D's age can actually be an advantage: because it has relatively few megapixels (12.8) on a full frame sensor it has a very low pixel density. That's the main reason it has such great tonal range, contrast, etc. It also means you don't require lenses with insane optical sharpness to make good use of the camera. Oh, and the RAW files aren't as huge.

So given the kind of photography you do, and the fact that you don't have any L-lenses, I think the 5D has the advantage in this aspect as well.


Although the 5D is a hell of a camera but and it could be a huge leap (and do you need a full-frame camera?); but on the other hand the 40D is a bit on the lower end.

Have you tried to find an used 7D, it seems it's a better compromise for you, specially in street photography.

Disclaimer: I'm a nikonian, so I might be wrong in a few things


If you can find a used 7d I'd jump on it, but chances are, you won't at a price oyu'll like. that body is still too new and too in demand.

but instead of a 40d, look around for a used 50d. It's a generation later and a much better body, adn the new 60d has put the 50d into the used market in some numbers. My wife just bought on to upgrade her 30d and loves it. It'll be a little bit more than the 40d, but worth it.

I honestly don't find the 5d interesting at that price, given how far technology has come since it came out.

  • 2
    Have you ever shot one? Honestly the 5D produces the best images of any DSLR I've ever used, including the 1D and 1Ds series. Digital seems to have spoilt people, new bodies come out so frequently people are convinced they need the latest one...
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 27 '10 at 22:45

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