I want to start out by saying happy holidays, best wishes for the coming new year, and thank you to all my readers who follow my blog on a regular basis. Even though my posts have been much less frequent in 2015 than in past years, one of my new year’s resolutions for 2016 is to post more articles again, show more of the projects and assignments I have been working on, and write more “How To” tutorials as I did back in 2013 and 2014. In this article though I want to talk about frame rates when shooting in a continuous mode (also known as burst mode) on a full frame DSLR camera. At this point, despite all the high megapixel DSLR bodies that have come out recently from Canon, Nikon, and Sony, there still aren’t any full frame DSLR cameras out there with at least 20 million pixels that can shoot at a speed of 10 frames per second (fps) or more. Surprising right?
Believe it or not, the closest thing we have right now is an older Sony Alpha a99, which was released in 2012, and can shoot 10fps with 24MP. It is also a full frame sensor camera, which is pretty impressive because all full frame DSLR bodies from both Canon and Nikon above 20MP are still stuck well below the 10fps threshold. The main issue though with this Sony body is that it isn’t a DSLR camera. It has a SLT (single lens translucent) system which means it has only an electronic viewfinder. It isn’t a mirrorless camera either though as it has a semi transparent mirror, which allows light to pass through to the sensor, but yet no optical viewfinder even though it has a mirror of sorts. It is basically an odd type of hybrid design in my opinion. What does impress me is that Sony has overcome the limits of other high pixels count DLSR cameras, all of which have much lower frame rates.
As a comparison and point of reference, 35mm film cameras were capable of only a maximum of 10fps. So we have come a long way already on DSLR frame rates on the few bodies that can exceed 10fps at all. 15 years ago, I used to shoot with a 35mm Canon EOS 3 film body, but it was only capable of 4fps and I had to put a heavy weighted power drive booster on it in order to increase the frame rate. And back then the speed added by a power drive booster felt like light speed. But truth behold, my EOS 3 could still only shoot a maximum of 7fps at the high speed burst setting with the power drive. It also required 8 AA batteries just to run the power drive, which added even more weight to the body. At 7fps it took about 5 seconds to shoot a whole roll of 135mm film, which seemed amazing back then. Canon had a slightly faster EOS-1v for sports shooters, and with the power drive, it could do up to 10fps. Back then that was the bees knees!
But now you can buy a relatively inexpensive Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR for around $1,400, which weighs a lot less than a film camera with a power drive attached to it, and the 7D MK II can shoot an equivalent 10fps with 20MP, but sadly it has an APS-C sensor which means it isn’t a full frame camera. Or you can buy Canon’s top of the range Canon 1D X full frame flagship body, which will shoot a stellar 14fps and, in film terms, means it could shoot a whole roll of 36 exposures in about 2.5 seconds, or a roll of 24 frames in less than 2 seconds. The downside though on the 1D X is that it is only an 18MP camera, but as I said, we have already come a long way in terms of speed and technology since the days of film bodies.
The real trouble with full frame DSLR bodies these days that are over 20MP is they average only about 5-6fps, which then takes us back to the days of the slower speeds of 35mm film cameras. Canon’s newest EOS 5DS and 5DS R, which is a 50MP camera, does only 5fps and the older 5D Mark III, which is 22MP does only 6fps.
Nikon isn’t any better. Nikon’s flagship 36MP D810 full frame DSLR does only 5fps. Nikon’s fastest full frame DSLR body is their D4S which can do 11fps, but it is only 16MP, which is less pixels and slower than Canon’s 1D X.
One possible conclusion we can draw here on high megapixel Canon and Nikon full frame DSLR bodies is that the speed issue may be based partly upon limitations in both processor and buffer technology thus, preventing any of their full frame DSLR bodies above 20MP from shooting bursts above 10fps. But Sony again comes the closest to solving this problem in technology as they have a truly high megapixel DSLR called the Alpha a77 Mark II which is 24MP and which can shoot a whopping speed of 12fps, but the missing link is it doesn’t offer a full frame sensor. The other problem with both the Alpha a77 Mark II and the older Alpha a99 in my opinion is that they both employ Sony’s older A-Mount lens mount. Recently Sony is more focused on developing lenses for their newer E-Mount used on their A7 series range of mirrorless bodies. So investing in an A-Mount series body seems risky at this point.
What we can conclude from all this is that high frame rates on full frame cameras is still one area of DSLR camera development that has a ways to go. Sports and other photographers who shoot a lot of action and high speed moving subjects, and who require these 10-14 frame per second frame rates, are still stuck with shooting images at a maximum of 18MP. This is acceptable for most high speed photographers who are only shooting for editorial purposes, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get closer to 30MP with those 14-15fps frame rates? Then you could print a series of really big, beautiful, mural sized action photos with lots of crisp sharp detail from a high speed burst. Something that we still can’t do yet with current full frame DSLR camera technology.
Canon’s rumored 1D X Mark II might give us 24MP or more with 14-15fps in the near future and this would be truly revolutionary in the sense that it would break through the current 20MP and 10fps speed barrier on a full frame DSLR. It would also be the first time Canon would be releasing a top of the range DSLR body with more than 20 million pixels since the announcement of the Canon 1DS Mark III in 2007.
Let’s see where the technology goes on this in the near to midterm. But I think in the not so distant future we are going to see full frame DSLR bodies packed with much beefier processors so they can shoot huge megapixel files at mega fast frame rates. And hopefully within 5-7 years (or less) we will be seeing full frame DSLR bodies coming out with at least 30MP and 15fps frame rates combined as standard.