Most beginner photographers are often confused about equipment. Naturally, with so much choice, it is easy to get lost. However, you can replace all this confusion (and the high $$$ budget) with something simpler: an old but professional camera.
There is a lot to love about a new camera, don’t get me wrong—live-view, video specs, and perhaps even less weight. Naturally, there are great mirrorless cameras out there that make it all that easier to take pictures. An older DSLR may have a much more complex menu system and, for sure fewer features. Still, an old DSLR is a great companion and perhaps a fantastic way to dive into photography, especially on a budget.
There hasn’t been a bad pro camera since 2009. This goes for sensor, color depth, resolution, and so on. Of course, different cameras have different applications, but still, pretty much everything post-2009 can be used to create high-end professional results. Here are some cameras that are fantastic options despite their age:
1. Canon 5D Mark II
- $452 good condition, 62k shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
- Sensor 21.1MP full-frame CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 100-6400 (ISO 50-25,600 extended)
- Continuous shooting 3.9fps
- Video 1080p Full HD at 30fps
- Rear display fixed 3.0in/0.9m-dot LCD
- Viewfinder Pentaprism, 98% coverage
2. Canon 5D
The most affordable option is indeed the 5D. The sensor is full-frame, which means excellent depth of field as well as low light performance. Although the resolution may be low for modern shooters, it still is enough to print at 30x40cm with decent detail. In a way, the 5D original is the purest pursuit of a digital shooting experience you can have. Just the camera, the sensor, and a CF card. No video, no fast shooting, and so on. It is an excellent choice for beginner portrait, studio, and product photographers. Some eCommerce studios still rock the 5d original because of its simplicity.
However, this isn’t a perfect camera as there have been some issues with it in the past. In particular, autofocus and low-light performance. Compared to sports cameras of that era (Canon 1D Mark III, Nikon D4), this camera really sucks. The autofocus is sometimes unreliable, with only a handful of points to choose from. Moreover, ISO only goes up to ISO 1600, which isn’t enough in many low-light situations.
- $293 good condition, shutter count unavailable (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
- Sensor 12.8MP CMOS full-frame
- Sensitivity ISO 100-1600 (ISO 50-3200 extended)
- Continuous shooting 3fps (17 frames raw buffer depth)
- Video Not available
- Rear display 2.5in, 230k-dot fixed LCD screen
- Viewfinder Pentaprism, 96% coverage at 0.71x
3. Nikon D700
The Nikon shooters out there think of this camera as a legend. Some regard it as the best SLR Nikon ever made. Although it doesn’t champion some crazy resolution, low light performance, or frames per second, it is still loved by many. The reason for that love is how well combined the features are. There is not too much and not too little of anything- it’s just right. Nikon’s 51-point autofocus system makes this camera easy to use for action photography. However, compared to modern DSLRs, it lacks many chambers, such as the resolution of video features (of which it has none).
To some extent, this camera is similar to the Canon 5D. It’s pure, simple, and perfect for people on a budget. Although this wouldn’t be my first choice for any low-light event photography, it still could be a great studio, outdoors, or family camera. Pair it with affordable Nikkor glass, and you have yourself a professional combo for under $1179.
- $446 excellent condition, 65k shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
- Sensor 12.1MP full-frame CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 200-6400 (ISO 100-25,600 extended)
- Continuous shooting 5fps (8fps with MB-D10 battery pack)
- Video Not available
- Rear display 3in/921k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder Pentaprism, 95% coverage at 0.72x
4. Sony a7R
High resolution is something many landscapes and commercial photographers appreciate. It champions a whopping 36.4 MP full-frame CMOS sensor and has an ISO range of 100-25,600, which is more than enough to work in most situations. Moreover, you’re unlikely to shoot at high ISO if what you do is landscapes.
It is worth noting that the a7r is not an action camera. The AF system is only contrast-detect, which is relatively slow compared to hybrid AF. Another drawback is that this camera is rare to find nowadays, with more later models available but for a higher price.
- $749 good condition, shutter count unavailable (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
- Sensor 36.4MP full-frame CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 50-25,600
- Continuous shooting 4fps
- Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
- Rear display Tiltable 3in, 921k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder 2.35m-dot EVF
5. Canon 5D Mark III
The 5D Mark III will close this list, as it is perhaps a viable camera for most work in 2021. However, if the 5D Mark II isn’t quite enough for you, the Mark III can be just right. Released in 2012, it took the 5d Mark II and sort of amended it. It has dual card slots, which many photographers require for backup, improved ergonomics, and a much better autofocus system.
- $1030 good condition, 71K shutter count (MPB.com, Amazon – click the Used&New button)
- Sensor 22.3MP full-frame CMOS
- Sensitivity ISO 100-25,600 (ISO 50-102,400 extended)
- Continuous shooting 6fps
- Video 1080p Full HD at 60fps
- Rear display2in Clear View II TFT, approx. 1.04million dots
- Viewfinder Pentaprism, 100% coverage
Whether you are looking to upgrade to a full-frame camera or just starting in photography, these are some great options to consider. By far, one of the best ways to buy them would be through websites such as MPB, Adorama pre-owned, B&H used, and even Amazon has a small “buy used” link on most cameras. However, if you feel like you can spot a bargain on your local classifieds, by all means, go ahead! Personally, I try to negotiate the price down, which is why I buy mostly from local photographers.