Camera Decision Time

Over the years, I have been fortunate to use many cameras (even before the days of Digital). This started with a Praktica MTL5B, moving on to the BC1 before changing to the Contax / Yashica brand; I remember having a Contax with me during a skiing trip to Andorra.

I also played with various Olympus cameras include the classic OM-10 as well as the curios OM-101 which tried to capture some of the gestalt from the OM-10 and meld that with something that never took off called power-focus (same design as their awful autofocus SLR’s but without the AF sensor). That said, something similar is used in Compact System Cameras today when employing manual focus.

OM10

My first foray into Autofocus SLR’s was the Minolta 5000i which used the “Creative Expansion Card” System to add new features to cameras as long as the card is in the slot. This is similar to the Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6 that will allow apps to be downloaded as well as the Nikon Coolpix S800c compact camera which has an antiquated version of Android installed upon it. After this I switched to the Canon system first with their ill-fated APS SLR and then onto the Canon EOS 300 which was the last Film SLR purchased.

After a number of compact cameras including the original Canon Powershot G1, Canon released the EOS D30 – a 3 MP digital SLR (1.6x crop factor). This was the first realistically priced digital SLR released and I managed to scrimp and save to purchase the camera. I even managed to get the 550EX flash for free (which I still have) as one of the offers that Canon was using to sell the camera. Over time I went through various models as they were released, I skipped the D60 (6MP) as well as the 10D (this is the time that Canon decided to move the “D” to the other side of the number so that they wouldn’t get confused with Nikon digital SLR’s). I then upgraded to the 20D which for its day was an amazing camera; to this I added a 1D MkIIN pro body – this was another ground-breaking camera at the time. I was happy in Canon land until that day when I “played” with a Nikon D3 in the local LCE, this changed everything so I purchased this camera and a 50mm f1.4 lens (before the G version was released) and fell in love with the camera. I sold the Canon gear to finance the switch and managed to acquire some of the excellent Nikon glass.

Nikon_D3S

Since then I have tried other Canon and Nikon camera’s such as the still current Canon EOS 7D (fantastic APS camera that can still hold its own against Nikon’s current APS flagship the D7100), newer Nikons (D3S, D300S and the D7000) and I have even played with the Sony SLT-A77 with a few lenses too.

On the Compact System Camera (CSC) front I have used the Panasonic G1, GF1 and GX1 – I like some aspects but these always felt cheap to me and Panasonic don’t seem to know who they are aiming the cameras at, look at the G1 to G3 change followed by the change back in the G3 to G5 change. The GF1 (which was clearly a pro camera) has been dumbed down over time to a clearly consumer focused camera the GF5.

Panasonic GX1

The other CSC system I have played with is the Sony NEX system. To start with it was truly awful, the NEX-5 and NEX-3 were clearly aimed at consumers who wanted a big(ger?) sensor, interchangeable lenses and a “toy” interface. However, after some creative professionals started to use them Sony decided to grow the system with some new lenses and bodies. It is said that they didn’t expect the camera to be as popular as it has become as the camera system at the time was a “me-too” product. I started with the NEX-5 twin lens kit (16mm pancake and 18-55mm lens); which didn’t last long and after a brief foray with the GF-1 I purchased the NEX-5N which started to show what the system could offer. The NEX-5N this was purchased as a stop-gap camera to keep me going until the announced NEX-7 camera was released. I pre-ordered this form the local (Lincoln) LCE and the pre-order offer was better than the ones offered by the web-based stores. Whilst I had the 5N I added a few lenses to the kit.

Sony Alpha NEX-7 and 18-55 Lens

Once the NEX-7 arrived (over a 2 month wait from the pre-order), I sold the 5N to a friend who loves the camera and has taken some really nice photos with it. Because of (lack of) funds and the need for a telephoto zoom lens I had to sell the NEX and get the Panasonic GX1 and 3x lenses – see post here about this.

After trying to utilise only CSC cameras for a few months (Sony NEX-7, Panasonic G5 and the Fuji X-Pro1) I came to a startling realisation; as good as they are in certain areas, they are not geared towards taking pictures of wildlife (particularly if the wildlife is some distance away and/or moving about a lot). I have created a post about this here.

So I decided to go back to an SLR and after some research (and the sale of the aforementioned CSC gear) I purchased the Canon EOS 5D Mark-III which was and is a fantastic camera. This camera is one of the best on the current market for shooting wildlife (with the exception of the very expensive Canon EOS 1DX and the Nikon D4). I did look to see if I could get a good quality second hand Nikon D3S – but none were available. I quickly grew the system by adding the battery grip, 24-105 f4 L IS and 70-200 f2.8 IS L Mark II Lenses. I also sourced a very nice backpack to hold the gear.

Canon EOS 5D3+24-105

OK, so why the long introduction? I am trying to point out that I have tried many cameras from many suppliers over the years and I’ve proved something again and again that many photographers know, that it’s all about compromise. You only have 2 options open to you:

  1. Buy lots of different cameras (and associated gear such as lenses, flash, tripods, etc) so that you can cover the various different types of photography that you like(need?) to cover.
  2. Live with the compromise and hope that the gear that you have enables you to take the pictures that you like.

Whilst the old adage states “It’s not the camera that makes the photograph it’s the photographer behind the camera” is true, different types of gear enable different types of photography, I’ll illustrate this with a few examples:

  • Macro Photography – there is a limit of how close you can get to a subject that you wish to photograph close up. At the most basic level you need a close-up filter, this expands into extension tubes, macro lenses, specialist flash gear, etc.
  • Wildlife Photography – you need as much focal length as possible beyond what a consumer level zoom lens will allow. Beyond this you need a good tripod with a Gimbal head. You need a camera with good autofocus, high frame rates with a good buffer.
  • Street Photography – This is better with anything that is not an SLR here, the SLR immediately creates a barrier or the perception of something insidious. The range-finder “style” (note that I used the word “style” here) are best so you will be looking at Leica or the Fuji X series of camera, or even some of the other mirror-less models out there such as the Panasonic G series, Olympus E series or even the NEX cameras.

I am not saying that the above 3 examples exempt certain types of camera, you can take them with any camera but having the right camera/lens combo makes the shot easier or possible.

Sometimes the compromise is forced by other factors.

Anyone who knows me knows that my knees are not in good condition so anything I can to reduce the weight they bear is a good thing. My first course of action was to loose some body weight and to that end I have now lost over 2 stone; I and now 2/3rds of the way to my target weight. However I didn’t loose all of this weight to add that back by wearing a heavy photo back pack loaded with camera gear.

Canon EF 17-40mm f4 L USM

I was on the verge of adding the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens , 17-40 f4 L lens and 1.4 Extender with a Speedlite 600RT flash, ST-E3 transmitter and the 400mm f5.6 L lens to follow. The 5D Mark III with grip and the 70-200 lens is quite heavy on its own; the bag with the limited gear that I have now is heavier, adding more lenses, a flash and transmitter will make this weigh too much.

To to spare my knees I am going to have to re-think this wildlife photography thing. After some research we are back to the Compact System Camera Gear; this is smaller and more importantly much lighter than the full-size full-frame DSLRs with the heavy L glass. Luckily since I exited this market some important changes have taken place and I feel much more comfortable going this route. If you have any doubts I recommend popping over to Will Crocket’s site – DiscoverMirrorless.com, Will is a pro-photographer and sees the next stage in photography is most likely going to be Mirror-less.

I have already picked a short-list of 2 different cameras, each has their pros and cons; I will just state that there is not a CSC on the planet that can replace a full featured SLR for stills photography when the subject is not static today; I have no illusions in this area. However, it’s still early days and the Mirror-less cameras have improved immeasurably since they were introduced; I suspect that within 2 years they will equal if not exceed the capabilities of the DSLR.

So the short list comprises of 2 cameras from different manufacturers:

Cue the Blind Date Music…

Behind door number 1: We have a camera with an APS sensor that loves to be with fantastic glass with which they can make exceptional image quality. Although this camera however has an AF system that is not the best out there and a Video function is an afterthought all is forgiven as hit is sometimes referred to the “new Leica”.

Behind door number 2: We have a camera with a (slightly) larger body a proper built-in hand grip to wrap your hands around. The camera has an extensive lens collection to pick including two f2.8 zoom lenses in the classic 12-35mm (24-70mm) and 35-100 (70-200mm) focal lengths (cue the oohhs here). The Video system is one of the best there is (only the 5D Mark III is better) and can be accessed as easily as the still functions. The only possible issues are not as good image quality as the other guy and he has expensive tastes (the 2x essential zoom lenses aren’t cheap).

Which date will you pick? The choice is yours……
Pick one if you can
End Blind Date music

Anyone who knows the current camera market will know that I am taking about the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and the Panasonic Lumix GH3 respectively. And this is where I am today. The Canon gear has been sold to a second-hand firm that I have used (too) many times: MPB Photographic. They are easy to deal with, sort out all of the shipping costs and their payment goes straight into your bank account. So I just need to pick one system (I cannot afford to fund two).

X-Pro-Front

From my earlier verbose introduction you can see that I have owned the X-Pro1 before and loved the direct manual controls. The Out-Of-Camera (OOC) JPEGS are fantastic and the overall feel of the camera (the grip is needed) is wonderful. Since I sold the camera, Fuji have announced a 55-200mm lens that will be available in June and this will be accompanied by another firmware update that will provide a new focusing algorithm that should speed up the auto-focus system. Some pre-production versions of the 55-200mm lens have been reviewed and they are as good as the first zoom and prime lenses – i.e. very good. Further lenses are being released this year and next too. I like the way that Fuji are more concerned in getting the lens collection up to strength as opposed to a certain competitor who has an equal number of camera bodies as they do lenses. All of the Fuji lenses are fantastic quality and there isn’t a dud amongst them, the aforementioned competitor has only 1 very expensive (twice the cost of the Fuji equivalent) prime lens, a couple of cheaper OK lenses and a host of consumer rubbish. Both Apple and Adobe have also released updates to fully support the X-Trans sensor RAW files too.

Lumix GH3-Front

The Panasonic Lumix GH3 was dismissed by yours truly as I thought it was too big; you can even fit a battery grip to it. But, it is still much lighter and smaller than the Canon EOS 5D-MarkIII; when you bring the lenses into the equation the weight and size savings exponentially increase

Although I have never owned a Lumix GH3, I have owned more than a few other models (G1, GF1, GX1 and G5). The most recent the G5 (which is soon to be replaced by the G6) was a lovely camera to use and I have to admit I was quite smitten with it. This was a camera I wanted to keep as I loved its ergonomics and that was something about it I liked. I have never owned a G series Lumix that I didn’t like and they have always been sold to finance something else. The GH3 is the top-of-the-line Lumix model at the moment and “might” be able to do some wildlife photography, the video functions are far superior to the X-Pro1 and the lens selection is greater (although not necessarily better optically). The GH3 will be more like a mini DSLR which will be good for handling.

Lumix GH3-Grip-Iso

Really Right Stuff make Arca-Swiss tripod brackets for both cameras, they even have options for grips and/or l-brackets for the X-Pro1. They have just released brackets for the GH3 too but these are only designed to fit the body and not the body + battery-grip

So it will come down to whether I want exceptional stills photographs with the support of excellent glass or whether I prefer something that is not quite as good in the image quality department with better Autofocus, fantastic video and access to more lenses (the 12-35, 35-100, 7-14 and the 25mm Leica are all good though).

Fortunately for me, Panasonic have a “try before you buy scheme” in the UK so that we can have the camera over a weekend to try out and see if it is any good. I have arranged to try out the GH3 over the next weekend (they drop it off on the Friday and pick it up on the following Monday), there is a £15 P&P charge and they “reserve” a deposit figure on your credit card in case you fail to deliver the camera back but there are no other costs.

So once I have had a go with the GH3 I will need to make a decision, as ever I will report back on what I decide – I might even decide to get something else like and OM-D or a X-E1 instead:) .

3 thoughts on “Camera Decision Time

  1. Richard

    If I gave up macro, wildlife and Wedding shoots then I could dump all my gear and just manage with the Leica. In fact with a second Leica Body I could use that for Weddings too. A single system is refreshing but sometimes too limiting. One of the original reasons 35mm SLR’s became so successful was that they were so much smaller and lighter then Large and Medium Format Cameras. Today that is no longer the case and my Digital SLR is heavier then both my Large and Medium Format Cameras. The recent Canon EOS 100 is a step in the right direction but the lens are still big and heavy. Why cannot camera manufactures produce small, light and high quality lens like the Leica M glass. I suppose price is the issue.

  2. Pingback: Camera Choice – Part 2 | Chris Bennett's Photo Blog

  3. Pingback: Camera Choice – Part 3 | Chris Bennett's Photo Blog

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