The above question and its many variations are asked to me fairly regularly so I thought I would write a blog post explaining my view, only rather than looking at photography in general I am going to focus on portrait photography, as that is what I do.
The major differences between expensive and cheaper cameras are the build quality, materials used, sensor size and features. With some top end cameras you can get nice features such as Wifi and touch screens, however, these are not essential to taking good photographs. If you are a portrait photographer working mostly in the studio then build quality and materials will not matter as much as you will be less likely to be out in rain like a press photographer or wedding photographer might do. However, with that being said, a more expensive camera will, in theory, have parts break less frequently.
In this post I am not going to compare camera models specifically, as you can easily find out build quality and features by a simple google search. I am however going to compare sensor size.
Below are 2 images. One was taken on a £1,000 full frame Canon camera (6D), the other on a £450 crop sensor Canon Camera (7D – this camera is no longer made but a “like new” one on eBay costs around £450). I have edited them both differently so that the colours are similar. This makes for a better comparison as the vibrancy on both sensor differed.
Are you able to tell which is which? Before revealing the answer below, study the photographs and decide which you think is the more expensive camera – you may well be surprised!
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Reveal Which is Which
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Most people will not be able to see much difference in quality of the above images. This is because, generally, photography is down to how you use your equipment and less about what you actually use. You can take a good photo on a cheap camera; you just need to know what you’re doing. With that being said, the full frame camera has slightly more dynamic range and the face is less distorted (compare the images again and look at how the cheeks slightly puff out). Finally, the crop sensor camera, having a smaller sensor, means you have a “crop factor” – essentially a 70mm lens on a full frame is 112m on a crop sensor, so you have to be further away from your subject. Some photographers, myself included, find this makes for a less personal photoshoot. Full frame cameras generally also work better in low light than crop sensor cameras, so if you are working in a dark location then you would see a difference in image quality.
A lot of people think you need to own a good camera to take a good photograph. In my opinion, this is not the case. A more expensive camera can help, but certainly is not essential. To answer the question though, it is ‘no’ – the equipment really doesn’t make any difference to the end result, but does affect the process of getting there. There was less work to be done on editing the full frame camera, but that was not a significant enough amount to really matter.