Is there a clear choice out there for us reef keepers when it comes to finding the best camera for a reef tank? Recently, I did some extensive research while in the market for a new camera and I believe the camera I settled on, a Sony A7 iii, is ideal for aquarium hobbyists, especially for video.
Granted, it is not a cheap solution but I do think it’s justifiable to spend decent $$ on camera equipment given how much we tend to invest in corals and tank equipment. Hey, if you have a bitchin’ tank then why not do your best to show it off to the rest of the world? Several years ago I ended up purchasing a Canon 5D Mark iii to take videos and photographs of my reef. I chose the Canon since it could take HD video and was also a popular choice among professional still photographers. The camera did a solid job on the video front but it lacked certain features, most importantly the ability to capture 4K video.
Mirrorless versus DSLRs
The Canon 5D Mark iii is a DSLR but what I quickly learned while investigating options is that mirrorless cameras are typically better for video. Why? Well, without a mirror they are lighter and more compact, making it easier to stabilize the camera. Mirrorless cameras also tend to have superior autofocus……plus an increasing number of mirrorless cameras capture 4K video, something only higher-end DSLRs can do
Focusing on mirrorless cameras, I narrowed my search down to three choices: the Canon EOS R, Panasonic’s Lumix GH5 and Sony’s A7 iii. The Canon EOS R is Canon’s brand new entry into the mirrorless camera market and I really wanted to stick with a Canon since I had invested a good chunk of change in Canon lenses. But there were several problems with the EOS R.
Issues with Canon EOS R
- It is brand new, a red flag since new products are more susceptible to problems versus established products.
- No image stabilization in the camera body. Canon lenses do have IS but the GH5 and Sony A7 iii both have in-body IS that can be paired with IS lenses. Stabilization is important to have for taking videos of a reef tank since it smooths out hand-held shots, especially when you are tracking fish.
- Cropped 4K Video – The image when shooting 4K video is cropped by a factor of 1.7x, meaning less field of view. You can shoot full frame 4K video with the GH5 and Sony A7 iii.
Ok, what about the GH5? By many accounts, the GH5 is one of the top cameras for taking 4K video. You can shoot 4K at 60 fps (frames per second) and 1080p at 180 fps, allowing the shooter to capture brilliant video in slow motion. The Sony A7 iii can only record slow motion video at 120 fps while shooting at 1080p. But as you can see from this video, the slo-mo coming out of the Sony at 1080p is not too shabby, especially when you use a gimbal.
For advanced shooters who like to do their own color grading/correction, the GH5 is capable of outputting 10-bit video (with a billion colors) versus a lower 8-bit output for the Sony. The big issue with the GH5 is auto-focus. By many accounts it stinks and for me that was a deal breaker since on the fly focus really helps when shooting moving critters in a reef tank.
Extra Reach with Sony A7 iii
Another benefit with the Sony A7 iii is the ability to zoom in further on a shot while shooting 4K video. In crop mode you can gain an extra 1.5x reach while the Clear Image Zoom mode provides an additional 1.5x reach (the GH5 only has 1.4x crop in 4K). Pair these features with a really good macro lens, such as the Sony FE 90mm F2.8 macro lens, and you will be blown away by the details you can capture. Use a set of extension tubes and get even closer!
In terms of cost, the Sony A7 iii body is priced at $2,000 while the Panasonic’s GH5 body costs a bit less at $1,700. The Canon EOS R is the most expensive at $2,300. Overall, the benefits of the Sony A7 iii motivated me to switch from Canon, even though I had to spend a bit more cash on new Sony glass, including the 90mm macro lens and a good all purpose lens.
Justifying Choice as Best Camera for a Reef Tank!
So how did my switch to the new camera work out? Well, the proof is in the pudding and after two months I am really diggin’ this new camera!
If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.
As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.
Need some frags…..I can help with that as well 🙂 Please visit my SPS Frag store to see what is available.