Photography Equipment Comparisons - Entry-Level Versus High-End Gear Does it Matter?

Photography Equipment Comparisons – Entry-Level Versus High-End Gear Does it Matter?


Photographers tend to get obsessed with having the latest, greatest toys. But does it matter which camera or bits of equipment you use? If so, how much? Or is it more about how you use it, and the skills you possess?

Let’s take a look at three video comparisons of some of the top level photography equipment available and some entry-level options.

Rich photographer – poor photographer

I like the play on words here, hinting at the concept of the “Rich Dad Poor Dad” series of books by Robert Kiyosaki. In the video, the guys over at f-stoppers do a portrait shoot with two different sets of lighting equipment. One which costs nearly $10,000, and the “poor man’s” version which will run you about $425.

Can you see a difference in the final portrait results? No, I can’t see much difference either.

$1100 versus $5499

In this second video, Peter McKinnon looks at the virtues of both the Canon 80D ($1099) and the Canon 1Dx Mark II (Note: at the time of writing, this camera is listed at $5499). Is the latter worth five times as much? You decide.

If you are a sports shooter, you may need the extra frames per second rate the 1DX offers. But if you’re a wildlife photographer you may prefer the extended reach of the crop sensor in the 80D. Portrait photography can be done with either, but you likely don’t need to spend the extra money on the 1DX if that’s what you shoot.

Note: when the video was made the 1DX was likely priced higher, so please note the difference in prices in the video to current pricing.

Camera shootout – it’s not about the gear

In this last video let’s see what happens if two professional photographers each pick up an entry-level Canon Rebel T3i and hand their Canon 5D Mark IV to an amateur. They do a little shootout with the same model, in the same lighting conditions and studio. Let’s see who comes out on top.

The Canon T3i is discontinued, the price for the current model, the T6 is $449 with the 18-55mm lens. The Canon 5D Mark IV  is $3299 + $1699 for the 35mm f/1.4 lens shown in the video = total $4998.

Your thoughts?

So what are your thoughts after watching the videos? Have you made the decision to invest in high-end lenses or a full frame camera body? If so, have you found it to fill your needs better – was it worth it? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • ShotbyJake

    I agree that you can get a lot of traction out of budget lighting gear and pro-sumer lever bodies. But when it comes to glass, the results are far from fungible. If there is one thing that you shouldn’t skimp on, it is quality lenses.

  • Ralph the Bus Driver

    Can you tell if a photo was shot with a professional lens or kit lens without looking at the EXIF data? Not many people can.

  • Raven

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  • Western

    On the one hand, my current 2004 Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ30 8MP with integral 35-420mm lens is adequate to me in my journey to learn the basics of photography. It really is a fantastic journey once you shift that ring to “M.”
    The functionality of this entry level camera frustrates me when each click of the shutter initiates about 8 seconds of the internal processor capturing the RAW image onto the max 128MB data card. As I heard the shutter firing away in the video I was getting pangs of jealousy.
    So, in my opinion, there is a “floor” or minimum specification that should at least be recommended to start if you are serious about the hobby. Just saying any camera will do is a disservice.

  • ShotbyJake

    There are plenty of photos you can tell were definitely not shot with kit lenses (without looking at EXIF). The most obvious ones (to me anyway) are those which have such shallow depth of field that no kit lens would have a large enough aperture to achieve.

  • Ralph the Bus Driver

    Seriously? You might think you know, but somehow I doubt it.

  • Raoul Duke

    This debate is stupid as you can do simple portraits on an iphone and good lighting. Try shooting fast images in low light at a distance with a Rebel and a kit lens as see how far you get.

  • ShotbyJake

    Cool man. Thanks for the amazing insight. Keep up the good fight for those kit lenses! Glad to know somebody’s got their back!

  • ShotbyJake


  • Margie

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  • Scott Flaherty

    I’m a wildlife photographer and I can tell you, one of those cheeper cameras is not going to hold up to what my camera bodies go though in the field. I’m not knocking them, they can capture excellent images. But there are more aspects to consider than just image quality. At least there is for what I do.

  • Janet

    G?ogle is giving now $98 per hour to do job with a computer … Do job for few peroid of time in a day and stay more time together with your relatives . Any person can join this online job!last Friday I purchased a brand new Lotus Elise just after making $7919 this past four weeks .it is truly my favourite-job but you could no longer forgive yourself if you don’t look it.!sh61w:??? http://GoogleGuruHomeBasedJobs/more/cash ???q?s??h?x???h???t??n?a???a???b??j?y???l?l???w??a??h??k???v?c???w?j?j???a???z:::::!df592a:py

  • Kevin Moloney

    whats the band playin the music in your video

  • Rodney Marchant

    The trouble is that the lenses are being compared too. An entry level camera with a really good lens will kill an entry level camera and kit lens. The thing is the learner starts with an entry level camera and doesn’t really need to change until they become frustrated with the image quality. Most entry level camera buyers never get to that level.

  • I’m in agreement here. My old Canon 1Ds once took a tumble to an asphalt street. It had a scuff on it. I used it for a couple of years after that without a problem. Try that with a 5D.

    I’ve also noticed that the 1Dx does not tire after a long day in the hot sun. I’ve shot events in 90 degree heat all day, 1100 shots, and battery left to spare.

    Then there’s the incredible throughput. I can shoot 30 frames at full speed before the buffer pauses. There is a really good reason these cameras cost what they do, and final picture quality is not always it. It’s the entire package, and as Rodney noted, the lens is VERY important.

  • waynewerner

    Funny you should say this. My T5 dropped out of my car to the driveway and all it has is a ding on the corner. I haven’t shot in 90 degree heat all day, but I’ve shot for several days on one charge. If I’m not using the built-in flash I can take *well* over 500 pictures – it’s probably in the 1000’s range. As a matter of fact, if I’m not using the flash I’ve taken so many pictures that the problem is me having the time to process them!

    I started with a Nikon D70s, then my kids knocked that over on the tripod and I went to a D100. Then when my son was going to be born I knew I needed something with *way* better low-light performance, so I bought the Canon T5 with a 35mm f/2.8 lens. It actually came with an 18-55mm and a 70-300mm, but I practically never use either of them.

    The *biggest* drawback I’ve found, having shot with the Nikons before is the lack of a front jog wheel and not having the top LCD show you settings. Hitting Q or DISP to get the settings isn’t quite the same.

    Most of the time, paired with a decent SD card (microsd with adapter, actually), I don’t run into the buffer issue – though if I was shooting sports, or shooting my kids in action, I’d love to be able to get that higher frame rate.

    An articulating screen (or the ability to use my phone as a viewfinder) would actually be a nice thing to have as well, because I often find myself wanting to get up higher (and I’m 6’2″!), and depending on what I’m wearing and what’s on the ground, laying down isn’t a great option.

    All that being said, I *am* saving up for a 5D, probably. Or whatever Canon churns out by the time I get there 🙂

  • pete guaron

    One point in issue here is, how are you going to share/show the photo? If it stays in a digital medium, there’s far less likelihood that the quality of the gear used will matter. Pixel counts of 36MP, 42MP or even higher are quite meaningless, if the photos are passed on by SMS to be viewed on someone’s smartphone. And in those circumstances, much the same applies to the lenses used to capture the image.

    When does all of this matter? Well really, it only matters when the issue that’s important IS image quality. I regularly shoot with a variety of cameras – and a variety of lenses. The Otus’s are awesome – but I don’t need them for mucking about, and I have a Canon PowerShot which takes perfectly good photos of all sorts of stuff – with a smaller sensor, a lower pixel count, and a built in zoom which undoubtedly rates as a kit lense equivalent. Some have image stabilisation – some have AF (but of course the Otus’s don’t).

    Oh – and I DO print my photos. So for me, the quality of the image IS important. Anyone else can disagree with my final comment – but for what it’s worth, till you get the photo off computers, tablets, smartphones etc altogether, I don’t think there’s much point in discussing these issues.

  • Goipinath

    The man behind the camera counts the most. You may have good camera, lenses etc. but you should know how to freeze the movement. Of course some good camera and add some extra plus to the photo. But you should know how to use your own camera.

  • Good points on your camera choices. I started taking shots with a 40D, but I craved a higher resolution for larger prints and better images on a display. So I found a well cared for used 1Ds Mk III and was smitten. It could handle a better frame rate and was a huge jump in pixel count.

    When I found a 1Dx I lost resolution, but the vastly increased frame rate and incredible ISO capability made up for it. I have shot everything from soccer to jousting and even a wedding (remarkable similarities there). Rather than a 5D, I suggest you try a used 1Dx Mk I to capture the kids’ sporting events. No articulating screen, but tougher than nails, so low tripod tip-over risk.

  • Trend Shark

    dear god how many times can this be debated?

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