If you had 6K to spend and didn't own any lenses, what would you buy?

A friend facebooked me this multiple-choice question this morning: If you had 6K to spend and didn’t own any lenses, what would you buy?

A) Canon 5d mk3 and used lenses from craigslist
B) Used Canon 5d mk2 and more lenses
C) 2 used canon 5d mk2 and less lenses
D) 1 canon 5d mk2 and 1 7D and lenses
E) Blackmagic Cinema Camera
F) Something else

I run everything at Visual Contact with a pair of Canon 60Ds, and quite a bit of used Nikon glass. In practice, I actually just use two things for probably 85 percent of my shooting: one Canon 60D and one Canon Zoom lens, the EF 18-55mm f/2.8. Having the second 60D body is great, and I do sometimes use it. But more often than not, it’s there just in case something breaks on my A camera. Which hasn’t ever happened. Yet.

So my snap answer, based on my experience and shooting style: I’d pick one camera and one sweet zoom that covers (in 35mm equivalent terms) the 24-70mm range (which is good for everything from establishing shots to interviews). I’d buy that lens new, because great used glass holds it resale so well, so you’re not saving much, and you’ll be able to sell it for most of what you paid for it.

Which camera to buy is a tougher question.

I’ve used the Canon 5dmkiii twice, and I really like it. In addition to being exquisitely sensitive to low light, it gives me the option to go really wide with my 20mm Nikor lens, the widest prime lens I own, which on my 60D equates to just a 32mm lens. But my favorite thing about the 5dmkiii is that Canon has fixed the moire issues that plague all first-generation DSLRs. Is it worth $3,500 just for that? Maybe.

Ever since their big announcement at NAB, I’ve been trying to figure out how to justify spending $3,000k on the Black Magic Design Cinema Camera. It’s not very much money for what you get, of course, but it’s a lot for me. I’m going to start out by renting it. It looks like an amazing camera. But with a 2.4 crop factor, finding wide glass for this camera could be a bitch. And after shooting on APS-C, I’ve got reservations about the Super 16 sensor size that I look forward to exploring when I get my hands on the camera. What’s most promising about this camera to me is the purported 13-stops of dynamic range. That’s very attractive to my style of shooting, which depends on doing a lot with minimally augmented lighting.

I quite like the APS-C sensor size of my 60Ds. It’s very close to Super 35 film size, and it gives all my glass extra reach, turning my 300mm Nikor into a far-seeing 480mm lens. And in the two and a half years that I’ve been shooting on my 60D, I’ve never once had a client complain about the image. When I compare the 5D image next to the 60D image, however, I do love the extra smoothness, color fidelity and shallow depth of field that I see. It also produces a slightly sharper image. The one Achilles heel of this camera is moire. I have to deal with it all the time and it drives me nuts.

I’m curious to see what Canon has up its sleeve with the next generation of the 60d, which some people are referring to as the 70d. Canon didn’t fix moire in the T4i, so it’s possible they won’t fix it in the new version of the 60D. If that’s the case, I won’t buy it and I’ll lean more heavily toward the BMDCC. There’s also rumors that Canon will make an entry-level full-frame camera soon, possibly in September. If they could bring the price of that down to something closer to 60D territory, and still fix the moire issues, I’ll probably buy one and use it a lot.

So there you have it. I’d spend about half of the money on a camera, and half on the best zoom lens you can afford in the 24-70mm range. And any money I had left over I’d spend on renting the specialty lenses you need only when you actually need to use them.

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