What do I need but don't know I need?
March 26, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

What really cool photographs am I NOT taking by having a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, and what features do newer models have that I will love do I not know I'm missing?

I'm a hobbyist photographer. I took some photography classes in high school and college (back with real FILM, ahh the smell of the chemicals), learned my rule of thirds, etc. And after a trip to Spain I got really into photography. Most of my photographs end up looking like postcards, but that's more a problem with talent and artistry than equipment.

I would say my photography is split mostly between "product photography" (I run a web site devoted to toys, so I spend a lot of time photographing them in a set-up with studio lights) and "travel pics" (bridges, buildings, monuments, etc.)

Of course there are a few portraits here and there, some friends asked me to take their Christmas Card photo, etc. but this is perhaps 5% of all photos, the above comprising the other 95%.

A few years back for Christmas my wife gave me a Digital Rebel XTi (A huge upgrade from the Sony F707 I had been using). I got some Canon IS lenses, a 28-135mm and a 70-300mm IS lens.

My wife has now really gotten into using my XTi and wants us to get another DSLR camera so we're not sharing. We want to stick with Canon for lens compatibility...but we aren't sure what to get.

Some things I would like: The XTi's 10 megapixel size is limiting the size of prints I can get made (much of our house is decorated with photos we have taken).

Also it has been frustrating in the past that the XTi will not allow me to use the LCD as a viewfinder. There are rare occasions that I would want that, but sometimes there are objects very high or very low that I wish I could see on the LCD vs having to just point-and-hope.

I'm looking at the Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i but I wasn't sure if there were some mega-cool features in, say, a Canon’s EOS 50D or some other model that I need but don't know I need.

Tips and suggestions appreciated!
posted by arniec to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your gear isn't what's holding you back. Certainly not the camera body, which is actually one of the least important parts of creating a cool photograph. If you're not getting cool photographs, it's because you're not going out and making them. I have a Canon 10d, which is a generation or two older than your camera, and it's never been the factor holding me back from getting a shot. What holds me back is not having the imagination to know what shot I want, or being too lazy to go out and get it. It's never the camera.

If you can give examples of what kind of shots you think are cool, we can probably tell you what you need to do to get shots like that.

But hey, maybe you just want to be a gear nut. Here's some cool gear.
MPE-65 macro lens
Canon 50mm 1.8 for portraits
Canon 1200mm f/5.6
Lighting kit (go to Strobist to find out how to use it)
posted by echo target at 8:43 AM on March 26, 2010

Everybody's perception of what constitutes enough pixels for any given size of printed enlargement is different. I don't know where you personally feel the print size boundary is for the camera you currently own.

I have had any number of large prints, plus a couple of billboards, bus wrappers, and wall size murals produced from files from cameras with as few as 5.3 megapixel sensors, and with really good exposure and shooting technique, top of the line lenses, the right printer RIP, and attention to detail across the board, this is commonplace.

The lenses you own are not bad, but they're not the premier lenses in Canon's line in those focal length ranges. Great glass will give you more of an end product boost than more megapixels, at least unless you take a dramatic leap to a much higher resolution sensor.

At this point in time, a live view (LCD as viewfinder) mode on any DSLR I've ever seen leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the hit you take on autofocusing speed.

I don't get a vote, but if I did I'd say pick up another relatively inexpensive body, but also a couple of high quality lenses. In this respect, primes will set you back a lot less money than top of the line high speed zooms.
posted by imjustsaying at 8:48 AM on March 26, 2010

Speaking as someone who graduated from an old Canon point-and-shoot to a Rebel XT and then finally up to a 5D, my opinion is "You're not missing anything."

Yes, my 5D mkI has a full-frame sensor and a higher megapixel count than my XT, but when I look back at my photos it doesn't make them any better. Maybe this is too whimsical or zen a response, but I feel the camera doesn't make the photo. I'm just as happy with most of my XT shots (or even a handful of my point-and-shoot shots) as I am with my 5D shots. Any disappointment in my earlier photos is a result of poor photography, not equipment limitations.

But, since you're going to be buying a new camera anyway, it appears, I say make a list of those things you absolutely have to have. From what I've read it appears to be 'more megapixels' and 'live preview'. Whatever the lowest-end Canon DSLR is that fits that bill - buy it. Don't get suckered in to thinking you also need bell X and whistle Y.

(in case you were wondering, the 5D was a graduation gift to myself, for the reasons 'better optical viewfinder' and 'full-frame sensor to take advantage of wide lenses'. I bought it when the 5D mkII was available but I avoided that model, because while it did have more bells and whistles they weren't on my must-have list, so I saved the cash and bought the older model.)

on preview: I should also add I have several 20x30s printed from my XT and they're gorgeous and pixelization is not visible, so don't sell your XT too short.
posted by komara at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2010

I truly love my 7D and I would definitely consider this as a next step. I upgraded from an XTi about 5 months ago. The three biggest differences I noticed almost immediately were:
1) The build quality of the 7D is amazing. This thing is built like a tank. I'm still very careful with it but I would be less worried about dropping this than my XTi.
2) Low light performance is the best I have ever used. ISO 1600 on the XTi was usable only with heavy post-processing. Now I can shoot at 6400 with less noise (and the noise that is there is less annoying.)
3) LCD viewfinder is there if I need it. Usually I shoot with the regular viewfinder (the viewfinder on the 7D is way better than the XTi - try one out). Sometimes, when I'm shooting above my head or down close to the ground, the LCD viewfinder helps immensely. It also shoots video which is nice sometimes, too.
posted by swhitt at 8:53 AM on March 26, 2010

If you do a lot of low-light photography, High-ISO performance has generally (gradually) improved over time with newer models.

The 50mm/1.8 lens is also fantastic for low-light situations, although I find the focal length to be awkward for an APS-C sensor's crop size. The AF motor in the 50/1.8 is also one of the worst I've ever seen in an AF lens... (However, it's cheap as dirt. If you can't afford something better, it's still sharp as a tack)

I've got a Rebel XT, and want to replace it with a 7D (but won't be able to afford to do so for quite some time).
posted by schmod at 8:56 AM on March 26, 2010

You're not missing anything by not moving up. I have several Canon dSLRs from an old 20D up to a newer 5D. I feel like I can shoot anything with any of my cameras. The 5D is a bit better for lowlight and landscape photos, but not so much so that I think it's necessarily worth the extra $1800 it cost.

I think the T2i will suit you just fine!
posted by MorningPerson at 8:58 AM on March 26, 2010

I shoot professionally, day-in and day-out. I have a 7D and find it to be a lot better camera than my 30D or 40D, especially the 40D which, in my experience, was prone to failure. The 7D is really nicely made, incredibly fast in its various responses and the UI and menu access is fairly good and certainly better than its predecessors.

I heartily recommend the body.
posted by bz at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2010

Response by poster: I'd like to add one thing...my strobe lights have a wired and wireless hookup but I have been totally unable to make those work with my XTi. I currently have the studio lights keyed to flash when my camera's on-hotshoe flash fires.

Am I right in understanding the 7D has a connector that will work better with the studio lighting?
posted by arniec at 9:30 AM on March 26, 2010

I would second schmod's recommendation of the 50mm/1.8 lens. It's dirt-cheap, can almost take pictures in the dark, and gives you the option to take very sharp and dramatic pictures with shallow depth of field. You will love it. The crop factor is an issue but for about $100 you absolutely can't do any better.

The larger megapixel count will make virtually no difference in the quality of the photos that you take or the maximum enlargement size. It's not as if any of these camera can take photos with 10mp of "real" picture information, and when you squeeze for pixels on the same-sized sensor, you can introduce noise and compromise low-light sensitivity. That's not to say that the lower MP cameras are better, but just that there's no much reason to get hung up on numbers.

All that you really get with the newer Rebels and other cameras in that entry level dSLR class are, 1) the ability to view through the LCD (which doesn't work particularly well on my XSI, but they have probably improved this), 2) Video capability and 3) better LCD screen.

Honestly I don't think you'll see a dramatic increase in the quality of the pictures unless you move to a full-frame camera. Those are really expensive so just focus on improving your technique and getting the right lenses.
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:40 AM on March 26, 2010

I would like to return to this thread to put my vote in for the Canon 50mm f/1.8 just as so many other people have done. They don't call it the Nifty Fifty or Plastic Fantastic for nothing. It totally changed my photography back when I had my Rebel XT, and for under $100. I still carry it in my bag to this day. Get the fifty.
posted by komara at 9:50 AM on March 26, 2010

You know how many cool photographs you're missing when you don't have your XTi with you? All of them. Seriously; f/8 and be there now, as Weegee Ram Dass might have said.
posted by scruss at 10:08 AM on March 26, 2010

As far as the strobe thing goes - buy something like this for your camera and you'll be away: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/89982-REG/Hama_HA_6952_Hot_Shoe_Adapter_2.html

I have a 5D which I use professionally. I upgraded to it from a 400D/XTi. The full-frame sensor makes low-light photography far superior, and there's a general smoothness to the tone and colour that is better than the 400D. I tend to use a 50mm f/1.4 for a lot of my photography, which is an extremely good piece of glass. This combination can yield some extremely high-quality imagery.

With all the said, the 400D in combination with my 28mm f/1.8 lens is a very nice combination. It's a light and quick solution that I can run around with unobtrusively. It's still a great camera. I'd mainly be concerned that the 28-135 doesn't give you much width. I'd consider the Tamron 17-50mm lens if you're happy sticking with a crop sensor, or the Canon 17-40 f/4 if you think you might move to full-frame at some point. That will give you significant extra width for landscapes, urban vistas, environmental portraits etc.

The 50mm 1.8 is a great little lens, and it's cheap enough to pick up. You'll probably find it very useful for head & shoulders or three-quarter length portraits.

The 7D is great if you're into video, but you can almost certainly find a 5D MK I for the same price, and it shoots much better stills. If not, a 5D MK II is only a bit more, and is an amazing camera that produces enormous stills with tons of fine detail.
posted by Magnakai at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yet another voice telling you the body is not holding you back. (I have a 5D and love it, but my pictures are just as good [or not] when I use a P&S.) Have you looked on Craigslist in your area to see what Canon DSLRs people are selling?

For awkward positions, the flip-out viewfinder makes my ancient G-1 my choice.

For portraits, the EF 85/1.8 is considered the best, although I prefer the 100/2. And the 50/1.4 is a fantastic lens, even better than the really good 50/1.8.
posted by phliar at 12:44 PM on March 26, 2010

I'll repeat what everyone said: it's not gear that's holding you back. However, if your goal is to make great prints, i'd also suggest it's not your sensor that's holding you back, it might be your glass. If you're looking for sharpness, you may want to go with the 50mm 1.8 like some other people mentioned, or the 50mm 1.4. compare them here. Are you shooting studio work with a tripod (ISO 100)?

I recently went from the Rebel XTi to a (used) 5D. It is a great camera, and I love it. It has some significant advantages over the Rebel, namely:
-better colors (creamy skin tones!)
-better high ISO performance
-sync port (no more hotshoe adaptors)
-easier to shoot full manual (this may not matter to you)
-easier on the hands when spending lots of time shooting (my Rebel killed my hands after just a few hours)
Just be warned, if you do decide to go for a full frame camera like the 5D, you cannot use Canon's EF-S lenses with them.

I don't have a 50D, so I can't say from personal experience, but here's a really detailed review of it that says the overall image quality is not that much improved from the 40D (and is in some cases, worse!), so you may want to save your money and get a 40D instead.

Is it inspiration you are lacking? Whenever I see a photo I like I save it to a folder on my computer. It's a good way to look at what sort of photos you like, but aren't shooting. Strobist is a great website to read about lighting or get ideas for new projects. You could even do his Lighting 101 and Lighting 102 "Boot Camp" to try some new things out!.
posted by inertia at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2010

I disagree with everyone saying the camera body doesn't matter. The metering and especially the low light performance are much better on newer cameras.

That said, the 550D is getting great reviews and I can't see spending the extra money for a 7D unless you are really going to be abusing the body a lot and need the "pro" build quality.
posted by afu at 11:11 PM on April 25, 2010

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