$5000 dollar camera vs. $500 camera

In 2001 Canon released the 1D professional Digital SLR camera.  It was far from the first DSLR, but it was the first that Canon had released as a flagship model indicating the slow death spiral of film photography.  This camera cost about 5500 dollars in 2001.  15 years later images sensor technology has come a long way, in fact most people are carrying around an image sensor in their pocket far more powerful then what only pros used not that long ago.


I happen to have a 1D mark i though I paid less than 5% of it’s original retail price.  Lets see how a 15 year old camera stacks up against some newer models.  A 5D mark i from 2006 and a Rebel t4i from 2012.  All images are taken under the same lighting with a 50mm 1.8

1d noise crop

The $5000 1d has a 1.3 crop factor 4 Mega Pixel sensor, but check out that low light performance.  It’s not that sharp though I’m certain its in focus, but it’s not that noisy either.  The lack of sharpness is from image processing to remove noise, at iso 200 the image is tack sharp.

5d noise crop

The $3000 5D mark i has a much larger full frame sensor with 12 mega pixels.  It’s image is both bigger and sharper, oddly though I think its noisier then the 1D just a tiny bit.

t4i noise crop

The $500 Rebel t4i has a 1.6 crop factor sensor with 18 mega pixels making the largest image.  This camera has a far wider range of ISO settings and at 800 it’s barely making a sweat.  Not much noise there.

Lets look at the entire image now.  All images are shot at f1.8 which gives an extremely shallow depth of field  and iso 800 to look at noise performance under low light conditions.

1d 800 iso

The 1D is noticeably less sharp when you view the image, but it’s still very usable. It’s lower dynamic range is easy to see in the tablecloth and it’s totally blown highlights.

5d 800iso

The 5D seemed to warm up the colors a bit, but also has more dynamic range than both the other cameras.  I can see faint details in the tablecloth. The image is very sharp, the full frame sensor allows for much more background in the image despite that I moved closer to the subject.  Can’t really make out much noise from here.

t4i 800iso

The T4i is the sharpest image and seems to have the most natural colors to me.  Close inspection of the tablecloth reveals more blown highlights.  The 1.6 crop factor required me to move farther back but the image shows far less background.

At 200 iso using an external flash the images were all noise free, and the only real difference was the sensor sizes and pixel count.  In terms of just image quality the T4i blows the expensive old cameras out of the water.  All of it’s images were sharper, but of course image quality isn’t the entire story.  The 1D is a professional camera, it is weather proof and extremely durable, it has a magnesium allow frame and can take 10 images per second.

The 5D has a full frame sensor meaning that the entire image your lens is producing is being recorded, it means that a wide angle is really a wide angle.  Besides that the camera is less cheap and plastic and has better controls

Finally the T4i just blows away the older cameras in it’s vast range of features.  It has live view, it can take 1080 video, the rotating touch screen is amazing.  It’s far smaller and lighter, and has a huge increase in usable ISO.

The advance in technology over the last 15 years is mind boggling.  Today’s beginning photographer can get a camera for a few hundred dollars that blows away anything that was available 15 years ago.

About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in photography, Reviews, technology (geek) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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