Your Complete Guide to Capturing Wedding Details

Wedding Photography DSLR Camera Bodies – The Complete Guide

By Matthew Saville on September 15th 2013

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Overview of Wedding Photography DSLR Bodies & Equipment

With so many different styles of photography out there, wedding photography equipment can vastly differ from one photographer to another. For example a natural light photographer would require a very different set of lenses and accessories than a photographer with more fashion and studio lighting influences.  Even more different might be a fine art film wedding photographer, compared to a digital SLR wedding photographer.

Regardless, we still can narrow our list down to what we think the majority of Wedding Photographers should own.  For this particular article we will focus on DSLR bodies only, and other articles will get into lenses, lighting, and accessories that a wedding (or “lifestyle portrait” type) photographer might need.

Top Recommendations: Full-Frame DSLR Bodies

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Sheer Performance Champion: Canon 5D Mk3

This is quite possibly the ultimate wedding photography camera, with it’s flagship quality cross-type focus points that work amazingly well in low light.  That plus a great frame rate, dual card slots for image safety, and of course mRAW mode for those high-volume shooters who do a lot of general candid journalism.

These are the main features (if you’re not a videographer) that make the 5D mk3 stand out against its closest competition, the Nikon D800, Nikon D700, and of course its predecessor the Canon 5D Mk2.  Throw in the gorgeous image quality up to ISO 6400, and the selection of Canon bokeh-licious lenses, and you definitely have a champion of a wedding / portrait camera body.  The only shortcoming of the 5D mk3 is that it has less dynamic range than it’s Nikon competition, but this isn’t worth “jumping ship” over for 99% of photographers.

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Sheer Performance Runner Up: Nikon D800

Make no mistake, The Nikon D800 is just as good of a camera as the Canon 5D Mk3, or better in some respects.  However in our opinion for wedding photography in particular, the 5D mk3 is better suited.  Mainly, the 5D mk3 is slightly faster and has off-center cross-type AF points.  Is it worth jumping ship for?  No, and that’s the bottom line.  The D800 is a killer camera, and decently suited for weddings.

Of course shooting weddings with the D800 will triple your memory card / hard drive storage costs compared to our next recommendation, the Nikon D700, and if you are a high-volume wedding photographer that can costs you many thousands of dollars per year.  But for the average full-time / part-time pro, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal.  Personally for example as a high-volume Nikon wedding photographer, I would still prefer to have both a Nikon D800 and a D700, simply so that I can shoot general candids and whatnot at “only” 12 megapixels.

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All-Around Value Winner: Nikon D700

As far as bang-for-the-buck is concerned, without compromising any amount of professional reliability and performance of course, you just cannot beat a (used) Nikon D700. Currently going for $1300-$1600 in great condition, no other full-frame camera comes close to matching the combination of amazing low-light performance, both high ISO image quality AND autofocus reliability, that is.  The Canon 5D Mk2 does have amazing image quality, but has poor autofocus performance in low-light.

The Canon 6D and Nikon D600 are great value choices too, however after reviewing both of these cameras (HERE and HERE) …we feel that the Nikon D700 is a more professional investment.

Additional Full-Frame Recommendations

First and foremost, you might ask, …what about Sony?  Until recently we felt it was difficult to recommend Sony DSLR bodies for wedding photography in particular because while they do provide exceptional value and lots of professional grade features that many photographers will love, we felt that their original 24 megapixel full-frame sensor suffered from poor low-light performance beyond ISO 800-1600.  Capable? Yes.  Highly recommended?  Not when Nikon and Canon were both achieving incredible performance at ISO 3200 and 6400 even.  The Canon and Nikon competition also have historically had slightly better autofocus in low light which is equally important to a wedding photographer.

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However the Sony A99 has indeed bucked this trend.  Sharing an incredible new 24 megapixel sensor with the Nikon D600, it has fantastic low light performance and good solid autofocus even in low light.  (Check out our full review HERE.)  There are also a good number of fantastic Zeiss and Sony lenses available exclusively in this mount, including the bokeh-licious 135mm f/1.8.  (Fun fact-  Sony’s Zeiss lenses are some of the ONLY Zeiss lenses to have autofocus; most / all of the Zeiss glass available for Canon and Nikon is all manual-focus!)

Unfortunately there is one slight caveat to the Sony system that is especially important to professional wedding photographers, and that is the current un-commonness of the system itself.  In other words, a Canon or Nikon pro has great access to a fellow photographer’s gear, for general team shooting or especially in an emergency situation.  If you are a Sony shooter however, you often must be totally self-sufficient, and you might want to know your way around uncle bob’s Canon / Nikon just in case something really terrible happens to your gear mid-wedding.  This isn’t really that high of a risk, but one we thought was worth mentioning.  In a few more years this will certainly no longer be the case, but for now you’re largely on your own.  All the more reason to have a highly capable backup camera!

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The Canon 5D Mk2 is also a real workhorse, almost every bit as capable as the 5D mk3.  If you are on a budget as a Canon shooter, we might recommend this camera over something like the 6D because it offers similar image quality, yet more professional functions such as CF card use and a PC sync port which is essential to photographing wedding receptions with wireless flashes.  (Unless you buy into Canon’s expensive 600EX flash system, and/or the similarly pricey Pocket Wizard TTL system)

Just know that the 5D mk2’s autofocus system is one of the least capable of any full-frame camera out there, ; more alike the Rebel series and ~60D really.  Therefore if you’re really concerned about low-light autofocus but are on a (Canon) budget, the 6D might be a better option.

The Canon 6D, “little brother” to the 5D mk3, is certainly capable of professional results despite it’s partly “prosumer” body design and interface.  It actually delivers some of the best low-light performance of any Canon DSLR, ever!  However the slightly less robust / functional body, the single SD card slot, and lack of a PC sync port make it a tough decision versus the 5D mk2, especially if you are heavily invested in a wireless flash system that requires a PC sync port on your camera.  (Certain Canon hotshoe flashes do have a PC sync port, though..)  Therefore, the 6D versus the 5D mk2 is a decision you have to make based on your own personal equipment system and preferences.  Me personally?  I’d rather have two 6Ds than a single mk2 or mk3, simply because I don’t mind SD cards and I highly value low-light focus performance.  Plus the built-in GPS and lightweight portability are great for my hobby, adventure photography!

The Nikon D600 receives a similar recommendation-  If you’re an aspiring professional or a hobbyist who only shoots weddings “on the side”, the D600 is great, however if you have very serious full-time professional aspirations, the D700 makes a better professional value.

Of course do keep in mind that if you’re a full-time professional, any “intermediate” or low-budget purchases don’t have to go to waste in the long run; they simply become your backup camera once you upgrade!  A responsible professional ought to have 2-3 fully capable camera bodies in their arsenal, so don’t panic if you can’t immediately afford the absolute best camera on the market.

Lastly, regarding full-size flagship cameras.  Why don’t we recommend the Canon 1DX, or the Nikon D4 for wedding photography? Simply because we believe that they aren’t necessary for weddings.  For the same ~$6,000 investment, you could buy TWO Canon 5D Mk3‘s or Nikon D800‘s.  And for wedding photography especially, having a backup camera is extremely important.  You might find a good deal on a used Nikon D3, or a Canon 1Ds Mk3.  However other than that, stick with our top recommendations.  :-)

 Top Recommendations: Crop-Sensor DSLR Bodies

As desirable as full-frame DSLR bodies are, crop sensor camera bodies are totally capable of getting the job done, and then some.  However because of the emphasis that wedding photography in particular places on low-light image quality, it is hard to recommend crop-sensor camera bodies as the best long-term investment.  With that in mind, we make these crop-sensor recommendations because they are totally capable, even though we do believe that a serious wedding professional should own at least one full-frame camera in the long run.

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 The Nikon D7100

This 24 megapixel 1.5x crop DSLR has better low-light image quality than a few of the earliest full-frame cameras, actually!  With the right set of f/2.8 zooms or fast primes, ISO 3200 and even 6400 on this camera can get the job done.  It also has a complete arsenal of semi-pro features and functions, including good solid autofocus performance, frame rate, and dual card slots.

All in all, if you’re going to rely on a crop-sensor DSLR as a wedding photographer, this camera is the top choice!

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The Canon 70D

This 20 megapixel 1.6x crop sensor DSLR from Canon is still relatively new, however again the ISO performance in-the-field seems to be on par with or better than early full-frame sensors.  Also capable up to ISO 3200 and maybe even 6400 depending on your personal standards, the only thing this camera lacks is dual card slots.  (It even has off-center cross-type AF points, something a 5D mk2 cannot tout!)

As we have already mentioned, these cameras are absolutely capable of professional results,  regardless of their sensor format.  It is far more important to know what you’re doing, and to have the right lenses for the job, than to have this or that pro-grade camera body.  Still, it is wise to keep long-term professional investments in mind when purchasing crop-sensor lenses or bodies.

Additional Crop Sensor Recommendations

There are plenty of other very capable camera bodies out there that didn’t make the cut, mainly just because there are so many out there to list them all!  For example the Nikon D7000 is almost as capable as the Nikon D7100, and the Canon 7D is roughly equal to the Canon 70D and even superior in many respects.

However keep in mind that this guide is intended to advise new buyers, NOT to validate whether or not you can accomplish wedding photography with whichever camera body you currently own.  Because you can photograph a wedding with pretty much any DSLR, ever.

So if you don’t see your camera listed here, don’t infer anything because of that.  However if you’re shopping for a camera and you plan to use it for wedding photography, then these recommendations apply.  If you already own a handful of good quality crop-sensor lenses, (Not counting the kit zooms that came with that bundle you got on Ebay!) …then indeed your best investment might be one of the current best APS-C DSLR bodies, or another recent model.

Using Beginner DSLRs For Wedding Photography

There is one very common debate that we wanted to address in this buying guide, and that is the viability of using the most basic, beginner-oriented DSLR cameras for wedding photography.  Some people argue that you simply shouldn’t even consider shooting a wedding unless you have a pro-grade camera, while others point out that any camera can get the job done as long as you know what you’re doing.  If wedding photographers could get the job done 10 years ago with the very first DSLRs, or 20 years ago on film cameras, then the image quality from all of today’s cameras is acceptable by a very long shot.

Can you accomplish pretty much anything these days with even the most affordable cameras?  Certainly.  Does that mean you should make a habit out of it, let alone consider it acceptable for long-term professional work?  Absolutely not.  Why?  Because even though beginner DSLRs these days have amazing sensors, that is only half the battle for a wedding photographer.  The other half is reliability and performance.  This is what a flagship camera body offers.

So while a very experienced photographer could pick up any camera and get the job done, that shouldn’t be confused with an in-experienced photographer telling themselves that it is an acceptable long-term working situation.  We have made our recommendations with this in mind.

Using Other Digital Format Cameras For Wedding Photography

What about Micro Four Thirds, or digital medium format, you might ask?  Again, all are fully capable, however we feel that they would deserve their own separate guide that encompasses more than just wedding photography.

Thank you all so much for reading, and take care!  If you have any questions about a specific camera, or a particular aspect of wedding photography, please feel free to leave a comment!

=Matthew Saville=

 PS: A Word Of Caution

Especially when shopping for camera bodies, look out for online retail scam companies.  Read our article about scam groups HERE.  We can only safely recommend shopping from three online retailers:  B&H, Adorama, and Amazon.  (And be careful of Amazon 3rd-party sellers, especially with respect to things like memory cards!)

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

25 Comments

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  1. Justin Eid

    Anyone used a D810 for weddings :P

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  2. Marlon Fortune

    Shooting weddings with the 5d mark3 is effortless, the controls are so ergonomic, i think i forgot how to use a camera without a joystick and all those quick controls. the 5d m3 will definitely speed things up a bit and increase your productivity, but that doesn’t mean that other cameras cant get the job done… its a matter of preference for me.

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  3. Troy Barboza

    No doubt all of those cameras are awesome, but my love for Nikon shows and I have to say that the D800, and now D810 are the Wedding Beats, if you shoot your weddings the right way, and focus on capturing the moment and not spraying and praying, then frames per second shouldn’t be a justification. And the ISO and resolution outperforms the 5D Mark-lll.

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  4. Derek Grant

    Totally go with the 5DMK III as a first option if you can stretch the cost, if not then the MK II can be had at great prices these days although I agree that its low light autofocus is no where close to the MK III also the ISO performance does not match either – that said, before the MK III the MK II was a class leading body – dont let technology hang you up – the 5D MK II is also a superb body.

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  5. Jae Hammond

    Hi M.Saville,

    As always great to ready your informative articles.
    Way to lay it out. When you mention Prosumer Cameras do you refer to 1Ds etc or does the 5D considered as prosumer as well or they fall in a different category.
    Great work.

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  6. Jeff Lopez

    I am about to purchase a Canon 6d, one of the things I really like is the low noise at high ISO. How comparable would you say the 70d is in that category? I also really want to get into full frame shooting but the 70d is a whole lot cheaper. Thanks!

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  7. Taylor Wellborn

    I am curious as to what you and your team’s thoughts on the d3/d4/1d tag for wedding photography? I currently have a d700 and I am looking for another camera. Either going for another d700 or d3 and making e d700 the backup. thoughts?

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  8. ACook

    Good article, Matthew. Thank you. I came across this article as a result of my wife and I having photographed our first wedding together recently (april 2014). so I was was doing a little research. Let me assure you and the readers, first and foremost, that we did this for a dear friend on a budget. Okay? My wife has a Nikon D5200 and I have a D80. The pictures came out great, BTW. And, no, we do not call claim nor desire to become bona fide wedding photographers. Yet this experience proves the point made in the article that if you know what you’re doing, yes, it can be done. My photographic training was real world as an assistant to commercial shooters for many years, thus I taught my wife, and we had success for this event. Certainly serious gear upgrades would be considered if we were to do this full time, whether crop sensor and/or FF. For now, what we have works for what we do. And it’s not weddings! So a word of encouragement for those with less than “perfect” or desirable gear – learn the language of photography first, keep practicing and fine-tuning. Having your “chops” honed will help you make a better choice for your needs, regardless of name brand (I don’t get into name brand wars…they all work-it’s not the camera but the one using it). Be well!

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  12. Erik

    Hello, and thank you for the article, I’ve re-read it 5 times to make my decision. I’m currently shooting with Canon 600d, but after doing first wedding seriously understood that it has it’s limitations where shutter speed and loudness puts me off, and of course ISO performance.

    Can you please advise which route should I go, Nikon D700 with 35,50,85 mil nikkor lenses, or Canon 6d with 24-105 L lens… both options seems valid, but as I cannot test them in real life I would highly appreciate any recommendations.

    Thank you!
    — Erik

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  13. Valter

    What about nikonu D600 or D610 ?

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  14. rika

    Hello. i love this article. Thanks for the write up. I am an aspiring photographer and i own a D7000. Do you have any recommendations on the lenses that are good for wedding photography or perhaps outdoor shoot? Please advise. Thank you!

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  15. Mark

    Hi M.Saville / SLR lounge fans. I really enjoyed this article. I started shooting at weddings two months ago, with my 60D, because when i bought the camera all my friends were canon shooters, but i worked as a second shooter with 2 nikon photographers, maybe some of the best from my country (schimbator.com with d700 and d800 and wedding.iordache.md D700 ), and i really saw the difference between nikon and canon. In natural light it depends what lense you use, but in dark light with flash light nikon was a lot higher. (than my 60D :D and even 5DmIII). Plus red skin tones, and flash compensation.

    What i was thinking about was to sell my canon equip and buy nikon, i have a flash and 3 cheap lenses(2 EF and 1 EFS), and to buy a used d700. How do you think, is that the correct decision? Or just to work with this, and to buy a new canon body and just some new lenses ? I would really love to read another article about nikon/canon lenses, price-quality.

    Thanks a lot.
    You are great!!!

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  16. Ujwal

    The only thing missing in 6D ( and that includes 60D and 70d) is the lack of the direct flash exposure compensation button and are primary deisgned with the video user in mind.

    I’d rather shoot with my 5D classic than a 6d despite its amazing high ISO and ability to focus down to -3EV equalled only by the K5II ( which would be my camera of choice only if it had a decent flash system).
    I am a heavy on-camera flash user( yes both bounce and direct when shot when required) and inability to do it directly is a dealbreaker for me.

    Currently I shoot with a 5DMkIII and the only real difference between my old MkII and MkIII is the new AF system, but the center AF system of 5dMkII and 5d Classic are also not bad at all if you can live with one AF point.

    But I do agree, D700 still has the best bang for the buck. But I also love my 5D classic which i bought for around 600 bucks in mint condition! still half the price of D700! talk about bang for buck!
    Its slow as anything but gotta love the old classic 5d sensor! The photos still look amazing even when compared to the MkIII images.

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  17. Benjamin Balisky

    I love reading controversy from the professional passion of dslr body selections from pro photographers. I think Matt broke the system down in the best way possible to give us small fish a chance to make an informed decision. I would have to agree- as a sheer performance workhorse, MkIII is top dog… where as the 6D and D700 are “overall” value winners, and I’d still choose the D700 over the 6D. However, I do recognize how nice the 6D is.

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  18. Astrid Baloun

    Love the article. Thanks for the info. I have been trying to decide on upgrading from a Nikon d700 to a D600 or D800. It’s been a hard one. I love the d700 and can’t seem to find a reason to replace it.

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  19. Thomas Kristensen

    Hi Matt
    I wrote my reply before I saw your comment.

    I’m sorry for calling it whack. I can be a bitch some times. Of course it’s not. It’s good and the quality of your work is great.
    I had read the article and I had difficulty understanding the general praise of 5D3 in regards to bang for the buck and wedding photography, I have not read the 6D review on this site.

    I agree that whack was uncalled for.
    So let’s just leave it at that then.

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    • M. Saville

      Thomas,

      Keep in mind that the 5D mk3 is actually still “middle of the road” in the grand scheme of things. You used to have to pay $8,000 if you wanted the most capable full-frame cameras, and even now there are flagships that sell for $6,000. The $3,000 investment into a mk3 or a D800 may indeed be 2X that of a 6D or Nikon D700, however anyone who has professional aspirations shouuld budget for such an expense in our opinion. Just be glad that you’re not trying to start a different type of small business that requires a quarter-million dollar equipment / vehicle etc. expense!

      In the grand sccheme of things, maybe the 6D deserves an equal recommendation with the Nikon D700 as a value winner. But that is why I broke down the recommendations into two categories – sheer performance champions, and value winners. Any serious wedding photographer should at least consider a “performance champion” as their main workhorse camera. It may not be the right decision for everybody, (I myself opted for dual D700’s, instead of a D700 + D800 combo) …but the recommendations are made with our thousands of of readers in mind…

      =Mat=

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  20. Thomas Kristensen

    Actually I own a 5D2 and a 5D.
    I was thinking about getting 5D3 but as I primarily shoot weddings with my d-slrs I think that the 6D is a better choice.
    As I said the 5D3, and the D800 are better cameras – but are they the wedding photographers choice based on specs and capabilities?
    I haven’t shot weddings with the 5D3 or the 6D or the D800/D600 but I’ve shot with them.

    and btw it was not my intention to try and pick anyone apart – I just think that it was weird reading that 5D3 came out as a better wedding photographers choice than the 6D – even more so the 5D2.
    5D3 is the choice if you want a better spec’ed FF camera than the 5D2 or 6D.
    6D is cheap, better than 5D2, lighter, smaller, has lock buttons, silent mode, IQ as 5D3 – everything that really matters in weddings.

    Anyway thanks for replying.

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  21. Thomas Kristensen

    Hi Mr. Saville

    I love you guys and all.
    Been reading for years and the quality of your articles are typically great.

    But this article is in my opinion whack.

    The 6D is the wedding photographers choice.
    All of the below mentioned is only in relation to wedding photography.
    Is the 5D3 and D800 better than 6D – of course.

    Canon EOS 6D:
    It has got the IQ of the 5D3.
    It has got the low light ISO noise as 5D3.
    It has better low light focusing capability than both 5D2 and 5D3.
    It has superior dynamic range, ISO noise and over all image quality than the 5D2.
    It is lighter than both the 5D2 and 5D3.
    There’s a lock on the dial of 6D where there’s not on 5D2.
    There’s a lock for quick control on 6D where there’s not on 5D2.
    It has got better auto focus capabilities than 5D2 and better than 5D3 in low light. (like inside churches)
    With a little overhead you can buy two 6D’s for the price of a 5D3.
    It has got continuous silent shoot mode where as the 5D2 has not.

    It sounds to me like you’re rating camera’s overall performance and not wedding photographers choice.

    PC sync cord – who cares?
    Dual memory card slot – who cares? When was the last time you lost your only CF card from the 5D2?
    CF cards? Who cares?

    So I wonder why the 5D2 would come before 6D? Also why the D800 or D600 would?
    Why would you want 1000+ huge RAW files, when 20mpx is more than enough?`

    I don’t get it.
    But I’m still a fan :)

    Cheers

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    • Trevor

      You simply don’t “get it” because you have never shot a wedding with all the above cameras. I have only shot a wedding with the 5dm2, 5dm3, 6d and the d800 and I can tell you that yes the 6D does slightly come above the 5dm2 but in no way does it come above the d800 or 5dm3, and the secondary card slot not only for back up, I use it for raw to my CF card and jpeg to the secondary so I can run a same day slideshow for my clients very quickly.

      As for you low light auto focusing with the 6d, it is better than the 5dm2 but certainly no where near the d800 or 5dm3, shit my 1dm4 actually auto focuses slightly better in low light and that camera has known to suck for auto focusing in low light.

      As for the HUGE raw files the d800 pumps out, yes we may not need 36mp but when you compare the sheer dynamic range of those disgustingly large files to any camera anywhere……its enough to make me a little angry sometimes on how amazing it is.

      I don’t mean to pick you apart like you did with these guys but clearly you own a 6D and are a little frustrated that your camera was reviewed lower than you wanted but thats ok because as long as your wedding clients are happy with your photos and they keep referring you and you keep progressing no matter the camera you shoot with………then whooooo fucking cares!

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    • M. Saville

      Dear Thomas,

      Way to flip out over a missing paragraph, dude! Read the review again, I pasted a missing blurb about the 6D in between the 5D 2 and D600.

      Are you calling the entire article “whack” simply because of the 5D mk2 vs 6D recommendation? I actually highly recommend the 6D, if you’re on a budget, and although many shooters may prefer the 5D mk2 I would personally opt for the 6D any day.

      Even without the missing section about the 6D, I believe the article made things clear about the 6D- It’s a personal decision you have to make, and both have their advantages, though for long-term professional aspirations I still must recommend the 5D mk3, D800, and D700 before the 6D.

      By the way, regarding the D800 and D600 – Nikon has 12-bit and RAW compression options, so D600 files are probably SMALLER than 6D / 5D 3 files, and the D800 files are probably only a small % bigger. And the Nikon files are leaps and bounds better WRT dynamic range, which is very important to wedding photographers.

      As I wrote in the article, don’t get offended if you own one of these cameras but it didn’t receive a higher recommendation. I’m not here to validate a past purchase, I’m only here to advise future buyers.

      Also, keep in mind what Trevor mentioned above- Have you actually shot a wedding with all of these cameras? I have shot many weddings with every camera I recommended, excluding the Sony, and I make these recommendations based on that ~10 years of experience with DSLRs and weddings. :-)

      =Matt=

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    • Sourav Suman

      Thank you sir for your suggestions. But i have a doubt regarding canon 6d. Well canon 6d provides 4.7 frame rate per sec which is less as compare to canon 70d nd others.

      So my question is ,does it affect during wedding shoots ? if possible please suggest me between 6D and 70D.

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