When to upgrade your DSLR body

When to upgrade your DSLR

Gadget freaks and people that are generally more interested in technical side of photography, usually tend to buy better and more expensive equipment, but do they actually use that extra performance. We’ve tested it on 3 different DSLR cameras, with couple of lenses and same settings applied.

Even if you are not tech-savvy but you love photography, as amateur or professional photographer, you should know your gear limits.

Sometimes photographers try to achieve what is impossible with specific gear, like shooting in almost absolute dark environment without external light source, and trying to achieve shallow DOF with for example 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens and similar.

Knowing what and why limits your creativity, means that you found one of the reasons to upgrade.


Self criticism – good or bad?

This may sound silly, but it’s important in some cases to put it on the side. While you as photographer are concerned with IQ, technical stuff, occasionally you forget to look at the most important thing on a photograph, captured moment, story behind your photo. Don’t forget this when taking, making your photos.

For example, if you are in a dark environment and you can’t take photos with low ISO (less grain and noise on pictures), cause you have no external flash (you just drained your batteries or any reason), you could easily increase ISO values. Yes bigger the ISO number is, more noise you get into the picture you make, but answer me what is better? To make a little bit nosier picture or no picture at all ? Different cameras handle ISO differently, thus for example Canon EOS 40D at its highest ISO 3200 is not the same as Canon EOS 5D Mk III at that same ISO 3200. While you will see lots of dots and noise on 40D, there would be little to almost none on the 5D Mk III.

So if you have a photo gallery online or offline with lots of viewers, you will in most cases have comments about subjects in your pictures rather than comments like “Oh this image is not sharp enough, look at that grain on this one – I don’t think this image is sharp in the edges, etc”. What catches viewers eye is your composition, your story behind picture taken – don’t forget this and don’t make excuses for equipment that you have, because you will find yourself in position when somebody took an image with a smartphone or a  lousy camera and you ended up with none because you thought your camera or lens was not good enough to even try.

On other hand, don’t be stubborn, not every photographer has an eye for quality. There are some rules how to take a photo. Of course, you don’t have to follow them, but some rules make just that, difference between great and good photo. Putting the subject in the center of the image every single time is not always good. In most cases it will be dull and boring, while just a little bit different crop or recompose to place a subject on a side, could make a photo look more interesting. Rules are not here to make photos boring, they are here to make photos tell people more, they are here to improve impact of your photos. Learn rules, know what they mean, what you achieve if you follow or break them.


About Test

We made a test with few Camera bodies: Canon EOS 40D, Canon Rebel T2i (550D) and  Canon EOS 5D Mk II

Idea was to show IQ (Image Quality differences) between mentioned DSLRs.


Important spec. for DSLR cameras that we used for this test:

Canon EOS 40D – APS-C sensor, 10.1 mpx (3888 x 2592 px), max ISO – 3200

Canon Rebel T2i (550D) – APS-C sensor, 17.9 mpx (5184 x 3456 px), max ISO – 12.800

Canon EOS 5D Mark II – FF,  21 mpx (5616 x 3744 px), max ISO – 25.600


Beware if you go from APS-C to FF you will have the same frame ratio even on the FF (full frame) camera, but the frame size is different because of the sensor size. In other words, you could re-size image keeping the aspect ratio from higher resolution to lower with perfect match of the lower resolution image.


Crop vs Full frame and Megapixel difference between the cameras


upgrade your DSLR
5DMkII – Rebel T2i – 40D


On the above image you can see the difference between a full frame 5D Mark II image, bottom one, on top of the bottom one there is Rebel T2i (550D) and the last smallest from EOS 40D on the top.

Portrait (APS-C vs FF)

Portrait photography is great example to show differences between crop (APS-C) and Full Frame (FF) camera bodies.

I took 3 images of my self with Canon 50mm lens @ f3.5, 1/125, ISO 100.

40D APS-C – distance 65 inches (1.65m) from the camera
5D MkII - FF - 4 feet (1.22m) away from the camera
5D MkII – FF – 65 inches (1.65m) away from the camera
5D MkII - 4feet (1.22m) from the camera
5D MkII – 48 inches – 4feet (1.22m) from the camera

First image was taken with 40D, 65 inches away from the camera, that is “normal” head and shoulders portrait with APS-C camera with 50mm lens attached to it. 50mm is equivalent of 80mm on the FF, that is why we can see much more on second (FF) image, where I took image from same distance, same lens, but FF body, in that case 50mm is 50mm and we can see much more compared to 50mm which acts like 80mm on APS-C body. Third shot was made to compare distances between similar portrait shots between APS-C and FF cameras. As you can see, for approximately same framing, I should put camera much closer to me.

How would picture look if resolutions would be same on both cameras?

APS-C vs FF - 65 inches - 1.65 meters
APS-C vs FF – 65 inches – 1.65 meters – 50mm

Image Quality and Sharpness

As expected if you switch from 40D to a newer body (Rebel T2i, more MPX, better CPU), you can expect some image quality improvement as well, not to mention if you upgrade to a FF body 5D Mk II or 5D Mk III. Stepping up to a better camera body, you improve image quality, but before you step up to a better dslr, you should reach the limit of your present one. Learn how to use and appreciate all the new features and quality of better ranked cameras to figure out what’s it all really about.

Canon 40D with 100mm @ 2.8 (whole image) – ISO 100
Cropped image: Left Canon 40D – Right Canon 5D MKII
(shoot from the same spot)


Although this test proves that newer bodies improve IQ, it also means that camera bodies can’t reproduce maximum lens quality. When you would see no image quality, sharpness difference between two different DSLRs with same lens attached to both, it would mean that limit of that lens is reached. So far we proved that even regular kit lens like EF-S 18-55mm or cheap EF 50mm f1.8 II can perform better on a better camera body.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm @ 50mm f5.6 ISO 100 mounted on the Canon 40D
Left 40D – Right T2i (550D)
(18-55mm @ 50mm f5.6 ISO 100)

On the above image we can see the difference between 40D and T2i (focus was on word “Grazie”). Rebel T2i with kit lens EF-S 18-55mm has sharper images with more details compared to 40D with the same lens.

This basically proves that it is better to invest into Lenses than bodies, as you will when you find your best ratio of image quality and other important factors for your lens. Bodies come and go, lenses stick around at least this is the case with DSLR mirror cameras.

We made a complete test, for each body, for 18-55mm, 50mm, at f5.6, f9, f13 and f13 at ISO 3200. Results are completely as expected. Images are exported to JPEG (with max quality), we couldn’t notice any major change on output files, but if you want original (RAW) images, please let us know, here is compressed file with all images:

40DvsT2ivs5DMKII.rar (172 MB)


Conditions to upgrade your camera body?

Having Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 II on Canon EOS 40D would be a shame. Yes you can make amazing shots but the image quality and size would be lower than one that EF 16-35mm lens can produce on better (especially FF cameras).

Sometimes there is more to just image quality factor to upgrade or change camera body. If you shoot action/sport, you might want your burst rate to be as fast as possible. While Rebel T2i (550D) has burst rate of 3.7 fps (frames per second), 7D for example has 8fps, which is more than double the speed of the Rebel T2i.


16-35mm f2.8 II at 16mm : Left on 5D Mk III vs Right on 40D

Above image shows framing difference between two different DSLR bodies, Canon EOS 5D MkIII and Canon EOS 40D. Same lens was mounted, image was shot from same position, settings were: AWB (Auto White Balance), f5.6, 1/250 at 16mm. Obvious differences are: framing – crop body is more zoomed in. Vignetting – more visible on FF 5D Mk III camera and barrel distortion that is more highlighted on Left, FF image. Reason why framing is different is because of the crop factor of APS-C 40D camera, which “transforms” 16-35mm to 25.6-56mm range. If we put our lens on the 5D MK III at 25.6mm we would get approximately same framing as that on the 40D at 16mm.


Which body to chose?

You decided that you outgrowth your toy. Great. What next? Buying expensive camera doesn’t have to be solution for your problems. I will again use example of action and sports in photography. Buying 5D Mark II might not solve your issues if you previously had 40D. 40D has great 6.5 fps, but better camera like 5D Mark II has lower burst ratio 3.9 fps. So yes, you improved image quality, got a FF camera, and yet you can’t shoot action and sports as fast as you could with 40D. In case mentioned, better body upgrade would be EOS 7D (or EOS 1Dx of course). It is very important to know what you need and which gear can accomplish it.


Conclusion – Upgrade your DSLR when you have to

Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro is a middle class Lens, we could say a good lens, better than 18-55mm and 50mm. 40D and 100mm produces great results, but Rebel T2i (550D) got out better IQ and off course 5D Mark II with 100mm f2.8 mounted has even more IQ.

Proving what we mentioned before, when you get a good quality lens, you keep that lens and upgrade your DSLR bodies as they come along to improve your image quality.

To prove what we wrote here, you can check internet for great images taken by EOS 350D, EOS 40D, Rebel T2i …

About Tommy

Photography allows me to be what I want to be, to be where I want to be, and to do what I want to do ... I'm not professional photographer and I don't need a title, I love to take photographs and that is what I do, I love to learn and I always try to do it better ...

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