Short blog post to discuss my experiences and thoughts with some Canon DSLRs that I have used for wildlife and nature photography over the past 8 years or so.
First off, I'm currently using the Canon 1DX2 for most of my wildlife photography. I also, use the 1DX1, 7D2, and 5DSR. I use the 5DSR mainly for landscape photos. In the past I've also owned the 1D4, and 5D2. I used the 5D2 for landscapes and was somewhat happy with it, but its focusing was very limited. The 1D4 was an excellent camera, but I decided to sell it while I could still get a decent amount of money for it. I generally use two cameras on a trip and I was using the 1DX when light was bad, and the 7D2 in good light, so the 1D4 wasn't getting much use, although it was still an excellent camera.
I was very happy with the 1D4 for the almost 3 years it served as my main camera for wildlife. With my wife's help calling B&H daily, I got the camera the first week they were out and loved it immediately. However, when I got the 1DX I was shocked by how significant of an upgrade it was. The 1DX was better across the board and in some areas the difference was significant. The focusing speed was so much faster, I loved having two Compact Flash cards, easy to customize focusing settings, much better high ISO performance, and the list goes. When they added F8 auto focusing to the 1DX, the 1D4 became almost a full-time backup unless extra reach was needed.
In 2016 I got the 1DX2. The jump over the 1DX was much smaller than the 1D4 to 1DX upgrade. I did like the extra mega pixels for a little added reach, while maintaining the same ISO performance. The additional autofocus points at F8 is also a very useful upgrade, and I like having the built in GPS. The controls and menus between the two cameras are very similar, so I can switch back and forth seamlessly. While, at first I didn't think the auto focusing speed was that much better, I think the improvement was a little bigger than I first thought, especially in low light situations. Overall I love this set of cameras, and feel I can use them in any situation.
The three areas I notice the improvements of the 1DX2 the most are low light focusing speed, F8 focusing, and the extra reach. When I'm out shooting sometimes I'm switching lenses back and forth and lose track of which camera I'm using since the controls between the 1DXs are so similar. A few times I've thought I was shooting with the 1DX2 and had trouble getting a flying bird in low light to lock on focus. When I looked I realized that I was using the 1DX version 1. It wasn't until I did this a few times that I really appreciated the upgrades made in autofocusing. The second point, when shooting with a maximum aperture of F8, there is a big difference between the two versions. Version 2 hardly misses a beat, while version one of the 1DX is much more limited in focus points and speed. Finally, even though the mega pixel increase was somewhat small, I do crop a fair number of pictures. I believe the extra pixels have made a difference in quite a few wildlife pictures, where I needed to crop in.
The 3rd camera that I use for wildlife is the 7D2. I got this camera after it had been out for about a year as part of a package deal, which included several rebates. In the end the camera was basically less than half price, and I got a printer and few other things. The low price was a good thing, because I wasn't too happy with the camera the first year I had it. I had not used a crop body too often and I was disappointed by the results I was getting. At first I tried to pair this camera up with the 800MM lens and it was OK in good light, but with an extender added the quality dropped substantially. I know the effects of a long focus distance plays a part in this, but my plans for getting an extreme amount of reach were foiled.
What I've learned is the camera does well in certain niches, and since it cost me a faction of a 1 series body I'm OK, with that. First I try to keep it under 1600 ISO if possible and don't go above 3200. This is a good stop, to stop and a half, slower than the 1DX cameras. What made the camera become much more useful for me is the 100-400mm V2 lens. When I purchased that lens and put it on the 7D2, I immediately got great results. The 160-640 effective focal range is great for walking around wildlife photography, and the weight of the combination allows me to hike for miles handholding. I use the 100-400 lens on the 1DX cameras as well, but it seems the 7D2 was made for that lens. The 100-400MM greatly increased my use of the 7D2.
Finally, I use the 5DSR primarily for landscape photography. The 50 megapixels combine with the low pass filter cancellation makes for some stunning photos. Focusing speed is a bit better than the 5D2, but its still best suited for static photography. I wish it had a built in GPS, but I use the Canon GPS add-on and it works well.
At this point I'm very happy with my group of cameras. Down the road I don't think I'll upgrade the 7D2, but perhaps add an Olympus micro 4/3 camera into the mix. With airline restrictions making it more of a hassle to take heavy camera gear, I'm starting to think I need to consider a light weight kit. I would also use this for longer hikes.