Thoughts on system choices, part one

Not so long ago, there used to be only two real choices for the amateur or beginning pro – I’m going to exclude the high end medium format systems and specialized large format systems because if you need that, you generally already know it – Nikon and Canon, Nikon and Canon, and that was about it. The last year or so has seen both smaller systems breach the limits of sufficiency, and larger systems possibly become overkill for most applications. From the general chatter online, in the comments and in my inbox, it seems that a lot of people are in the process of rethinking their gear: lighter and smaller is a definite trend. There’s a lot less thought given to switching than previously; the image quality differential these days is pretty much nil at the low to mid levels, and with the exception of the D800E, also true at the high end.

The confusion now comes from the fact that mirrorless is not only disruptive, it’s mature, alluring and possibly also cheaper – but more importantly, the promise of small and easy seems to have put the fun back into photography for a lot of people. Perhaps it’s because of the weight facilitating portability (and thus having the camera with you all the time), but I think it’s actually because psychologically, the smaller cameras aren’t seen as being quite so serious – thus encouraging experimentation and perhaps unexpected, but welcome, results.

Before we start, however, I’d like to note a few things:

  • If your current system does everything you need it to, then you don’t need to read this article. Whatever you think you may gain from the grass being greener on the other side of the fence will be outweighed by the fact that you’ve got to learn everything all over again and retrain your muscle memory. Ignorance is bliss, and all that. Only think about switching if there’s something very specific and very critical that you are lacking.
  • There’s nothing wrong with running two systems, if that’s the only solution you can find to multiple problems. I do – in fact, I’ve got four and a half – Nikon AF, Nikon MF, Micro Four Thirds, Leica M and Hasselblad V.
  • If the quantitative differences between choices are small, prioritize the qualitative ones. Small irritants can be rapidly magnified if you’ve got to use the camera for twelve hours a day, and little things you like about it can motivate you to go out and use it – which in itself will help improve your skills.
  • If you’re thinking of buying into any mirrorless system with the intention of using your old lenses, think again: it’s not really worth it because operation is clunky, balance is unwieldy, the wides usually don’t play nice with the sensor, and it’s generally more hassle than it’s worth. The sole exception is if you need reach and don’t mind focusing manually.
  • Ask yourself if you really need the DSLR. Carrying around more camera than you need isn’t fun. You’ll be surprised just how many of the lower end options these days do far more than you expect them to – even compared to the ‘pro’ cameras from not so long ago. It’s the manufacturers’ way of convincing you that you need an upgrade…
  • If you’re not doing this for a living, then the idea of need is relative: sometimes quirky and fun might just be better.

What follows is a subjective assessment of the various options currently available. Yes, I am somewhat biased because I know the systems I own better than the ones I don’t; that said, I’ve shot with most of them at one point or another, either as loaners or while I wore a magazine editor’s hat.

Nikon
A mature and complete system with high back-compatibility – to the early 60s – but to maximize image quality and utility from the modern cameras, you’ll really need to be using the latest generation lenses anyway. D800E leads the entire 35mm format DSLR pack for image quality by some margin, challenges medium format. Compact pro bodies (D300s, D600, D800/E) all have built in flashes for triggering remotes, which are lacking on Canon’s 6D and 5DIII. Amazingly, the other cameras in the range aren’t that far off, either. Excellent flash system – that goes for operation, control, and most importantly, metering consistency. Providing you shoot FX, has special purpose lenses to cover just about every possible situation; the only weaknesses I can find are the inability of the PCE lenses to rotate tilt and shift axes independently; the lack of a superwide PCE, a long macro, a macro that gives greater than 1:1 reproduction. If you shoot DX, you’re going to have issues with fast primes – especially anything wider than 35mm equivalent. Personally, I find the overall ergonomics of the system to suit me best out of any of the other options; however, what does drive me crazy is how Nikon seems to make annoying and unnecessary little changes between successive body iterations – why do the buttons need to move, or swap places, or seemingly acquire/ lose abilities at will? Not doing anything really innovative in the DSLR space.

Canon
Similar comments to Nikon: there’s no back compatibility, but it does mean that every single lens that mounts will give you full functionality (if not perhaps be entirely up to par with the latest sensors for image quality). More flexible and higher quality for video output than Nikon, though it seems this might be changing with the D600 and D800E. Canon actually does have the ‘missing lenses’ – the TS-E’s rotate independently, there’s a 17mm TS-E, a 180 macro, and the MPE – the 1-5x lens. Flash exposure isn’t as consistent as Nikon, but the newer flashes gain RF triggers, which is an enormous improvement over the unreliable infrared triggering – and allows for use beyond line-of-sight. The sensors no longer hold the enormous lead in noise as they did in 2005-7; in fact, if anything, it’s the other way round – Nikon may perhaps have leapfrogged them by degrees, but the fact is that Canon isn’t doing anything innovative in the DSLR sector either. Like Nikon though, Canon bodies and lenses have strong secondary market demand, which means that upgrading is quite painless – and their incredibly frequent upgrade cycles mean the older bodies are still a viable option because they really aren’t that different performance-wise.

Sony Alpha
Despite the lens catalog inherited from Minolta and the relationship with Carl Zeiss, Sony has a lot of holes left in the lens lineup – macro options are mediocre; telephotos nearly non-existant, and tilt shifts completely absent. There are a lot of consumer-grade zooms, though, which perhaps says a lot about this company’s target market: note also that it means you’re stuck if and when you decide you need a bit more from your gear. However, credit must be given for innovation – they tried to solve the live view/ AF problem with their translucent mirror technology; what I don’t understand is why they didn’t just use a Pellicle mirror and call it a day – you’d be able to retain the optical finder and perform full time continuous AF, without much penalty in light collection. The use of a secondary sensor (at first) and EVF (still) seems unnecessarily complicated. Granted, it allows high frame rates with ease, but EVF technology still isn’t up to a good optical finder. And Sony’s AF coverage and continuous AF performance leaves a lot to be desired; it still isn’t as good as the best of Nikon or Canon’s systems. Image quality somehow doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the other companies even though they use the same sensor; there’s some disparity in the processing algorithms, it seems. The only reason I can see to consider Alpha is if a) there are some lenses you absolutely must have, like the Zeiss 135/1.8; b) you shoot video and need AF while filming. Otherwise, this doesn’t strike me as a long term system option.

Pentax
Another niche system – you get a lot of things you get nowhere else (small, high quality AF primes in metal and strange focal lengths; weather sealing on all bodies; great manual controls) – but at the same time, the system is very limited indeed. Still, I could see it working for the travel or street photographer on a weight diet; or even the documentary photographer. The bodies are very configurable, have great ergonomics, and image quality on par with the equivalent Nikons – they share the same sensors, at any rate. Like Sony, however, I don’t see this as a full or primary system unless you have a very specific set of needs.

Four thirds – Olympus
At this point, Olympus desperately needs a new body for the system. The trouble is, the OM-D spanks the pants off the E-5 in every way but continuous autofocus performance. With the exception of some of the smaller consumer bodies (E-400 and derivatives), Four thirds never really delivered what it promised – lighter and smaller. The lenses, however, are superlative. Even the cheap plastic kit zooms are surprisingly good; the super high grade, all-metal, weather-sealed pro lenses are outstandingly good – and priced accordingly. It would really be a shame to see these lenses put out to pasture; they can be used on a M4/3 body, but they’re slow to focus and enormously out of balance. I think there’s no need to say that this isn’t really a viable system choice at the moment.

Sigma
What Sigma does have is a surprisingly strong range of lenses – everything that’s available as an OEM for other brands is also available in their own SA mount. The problem is the cameras: they’re expensive, slow, and image quality is an issue at everything but the lowest ISOs. The Foveon sensor is great if used in a narrow window – perhaps for studio and landscape work – but it really doens’t deliver a true 3x15MP performance; it’s probably closer to about 2x. Combine this with the price, abysmal resale value, difficult-to-obtain accessories and support, and if you need resolution, you’re better off with a D800E.

Part 2 – dealing with mirrorless camera options and left-field choices – continues tomorrow. MT

____________

Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!

appstorebadge

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. My system, although two systems is actually one system.

    Pentax K-3 + Sony A7r + Novoflex PK and M42 adapters.

    Pentax FA Limited’s 31, 43, 77. Revuenon 55/1.2 in K-mount, Sony FE 55/1.8, Samyang 14/2.8 in E-mount, Tair-11A in M42, Pentax D-FA 100/2.8 WR Macro.

    Loads of other lenses, all of which can be used on either camera, but this gets it down to something you can travel with. Have high resolution, really from both and the K-3 gives you that extra focal length and fast(ish) AF.

    • I’ve always wanted to try the Pentax limiteds – not just because they look and feel fantastic, but I cannot believe they’d choose such odd focal lengths and then make them lousy optically…

    • The adapter route is one way to get more out of the Sony A7 series. I would still prefer to see more native lenses, than to use adapters. The other thing is that more native lens releases would confirm Sony’s commitment to the system. We may see more after Photokina, though that puts us into early next year on availability. I’ve heard one more body to be released, supposedly a slightly faster performing version. We may see another “pancake” lens, though I’m not too excited about that. Fuji is still very tempting, as a comparison product line.

      • Still some issues with planarity, filter stack thickness and micro lens interactions…

        I’m all for pancake lenses if the quality is there. Reality is that even if the lenses like the Otus delivers at f1.4, most of the time you use it at other (smaller) apertures – f4 or less for me – I’d love to have something that delivered the same quality at much slower apertures but with also much smaller physical size…

        • My RF645 maxed out wide open at f4, though often I’m closer to f8 when using it. On 35mm sizes I’m happy with f2 and rarely shoot at f1,4. I like the Nikon 85mm on my D3 and an old 105mm f2,5, so some form of Sony lenses near that (not zoom) would be useful to me. At least with dedicated lenses, I would hope some of the issues are resolved, and hopefully some quickness in auto-focusing.

  2. I started out as a videographer working with broadcast gear, so I am accustomed to on screen displays (OSDs) and dealing with Sony products. So I am comfortable with Sony’s EVF, which I have on my SLT-A99. It is winning over some converts, but has limits as you mention. The biggest limitation I am unhappy with is that Sony used the AF sensor array from the A77 which fails to sufficiently cover the FF area.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, knowledge, and experience!

    • Sony’s weakness has always been AF on their SLRs. Odd, seeing as their compacts are lightning-fast (except the RX1, and I suspect that’s because the lens physically has to move through a much larger distance, which takes time). I can’t actually think of any large sensor DSLRs that have focus points near the edges; if I’m not mistaken it’s something to do with parallax/ field curvature issues that make it very difficult to determine critical focus in the periphery of the field.

      • I’ve not experienced any problems with AF speed with the A99, just accuracy that I believe is due to sensor matrix size that limits tracking. I shoot a lot of live performances so continuous AF is a necessity. Keeping performer’s faces dead center in the frame for the AF matrix is not a good way to frame shots.

        You make an interesting point about placing focus points near the frame edges. My thought was that Sony cut cost/development time by using the A77 19-point AF sensor matrix in the A99. Your point has me wondering if Alpha lens performance is best suited for APS-C sensors and would not perform well enough with a larger dedicated AF sensor matrix. However, Sony does provide a larger coverage area with the 102-point phase-detect matrix that is on the A99 sensor.

        • Anything that works off the sensor is fine, but if it needs a separate array, then we run into many possible issues – submirror size and alignment, for one. None of the FX cameras from other manufacturers have solved this problem; medium format is even worse to the point that Hasselblad decided it would be easier to just use a gyro and some fancy math to do edge focusing rather than put in additional AF points…

  3. When I compare the DXO scores of Sony sensors to Canon I see a huge gap in favor of Sony. Comparing Sony to Nikon I see a much smaller disparity. The A99 and D4 have the same score with the A99 besting the D4 in several IQ related specs.

    The statement you make…. “Image quality somehow doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the other companies even though they use the same sensor; there’s some disparity in the processing algorithms, it seems. ” is a bit puzzling to me since only some of the Nikon camera’s best the Sony. Otherwise Sony leads all other comers in total IQ.

    Also keep in mind that some photographers will prefer the EVF approach of the alphas as it allows one to get perfect exposure quickly without chimping and constantly looking at the back LCD. To be perfectly honest the future of DSLR’s will most likely look like a variation of the Sony A99. The benefits are simply to great and their is not much more that can be done in OVF technology.

    • You can compare numbers or use your eyeball. The problem with some Sony cameras is noise and color response; it simply isn’t pleasing or requires a lot of work afterwards to make accurate. I’m a product photographer, so this is something I pay particular attention to (as do my clients). DXO compares things at the pixel level, and doesn’t take into account the total number of pixels.

  4. It is surprising, Ming, that you do not see the tremendous merits of the SLT implementation by SONY in the Alpha line. Of course, there are benefits to optical viewfinders, and always will be. Yet, as you are suggesting, making a pellix mirror-based DSLR with an optical viewfinder would have been a true half-ass approach – one that would capitalize on only one benefit of semi-transparent mirror – phase detection AF. Instead, SONY did the right thing – they delivered a nearly vibration-free body with perfectly implemented manual focus support. The latter being a far greater benefit for many, than a dim optical viewfinder. Besides, per your approach, the camera would have to have a movable opaque baffle, in addition to its shutter, to remove the stray light reaching in from the eyepiece – a far more complex mechanical system, than what they ended up with. Of course, Alpha line suffers from limited choice of lenses, namely TS lenses. This is being partially addressed by aftermarket offerings. In my view, the ultimate future SONY SLT camera should have a new mount, with wider “throat” and shorter flange-to-FP distance. Better still – with some metal bottom plate with ample mounting and registering options. This would allow attaching lenses bypassing the camera’s native mount, with infinite ability to tilt and shift any telecentric (SLR) lens, from any maker, including legacy medium format optics. To top this off, SONY could offer an open-protocol control port on such camera, to facilitate electronic aperture (and maybe even AF) control of other brand lenses, say NIKON and CANON. Of course, the later would be possible via after-marker solutions. But SONY can play “dumb” and offer such port for external control of the camera with an “accidental” provision for extra flexibility vie opening their lens control protocol. Something similar to what they did with NEX. Basically, Ming – you’ve badly underestimated potential offered by A77/99 cameras. They are truly revolutionary.
    Dmitri Serdukoff, Boston, USA

    • Don’t get me wrong, I think there IS potential here: the problem is in the details. I’d much rather have an optical finder with a pellicle mirror than an EVF if I’m carrying the bulk of a DSLR around; if not, then we might as well have mirrorless with a sensor that carries PDAF photosites across the entire sensor to permit focusing anywhere in the frame, rather than limited points clustered around the middle. Likewise, the lens selection needs some work. The problem with Sony is that they have great ideas…but never quite see them through, or do so from a marketing/ engineering standpoint rather than an end-user one.

  5. Maybe it was pointed out in the above comments, if so I missed it, but Nikon has a long macro, a 200mm f/4. I have one and it is great. It is 1:1, but longer of course, with extension tubes.

    • Ming, see that you already replied about the Nikon 200mm macro, but you reply is incorrect. The lens is not discontinued, just hard to get. I had to wait 6 months for mine. B&H has it on backorder, but it is still listed as available on the Nikon website. The website also says is goes to 1:1 without additional accessories.

    • Yes, there is one, but not easily available (and I was told it was in fact discontinued.)

  6. It’s a really interesting discussion, and I agree on what a couple people have touched on, that the smaller options provide a different means to photography. If the system is more fun, less serious, the results will be different. I just feel like I’ve fooled myself into this direction for the past couple of years, having switched from Nikon a couple years back to a GF1, then DP1, NEX 5n and an X100 recently, and while all the systems have their strengths, I’m now switching back to Nikon FF and a couple lenses because size is suddenly comparable, and I feel like the fixed lens systems are worse investments over time. Sony can’t get their lens roadmap right, but they’ve been excused from it because they have had focus peaking, which has been a blast for lenses like nikon’s 50mm 1.2. The old Voightlander Super-Wide 15mm and Leica 50mm summicron are great on the NEX, but I still find myself wondering if the newer lenses with a bit less prestige (like the samyang offerings, and even the new Nikon 85 1.8G) are ultimately better options. The trend in photography is to exalt the old legendary systems, the old aesthetics. Sometimes I just wonder if it’s the right direction.

    • I think the less serious the system, the more experimentation it encourages. I get shots with the smaller equipment I’d never bother with if I’d brought the D800E.

      History got some things right, others could use a rethink in light of new tech…metering, for one.

      • I just wonder whether the brand has as large an effect on people as the pretension of the system. I can definitely see the difference between a compact and a dslr, but between a mirrorless with a decent-sized lens and a smaller dslr, the difference seems negligible. I was suprised to see how poorly the Leica’s fared in the DxO ratings, but at the same time, Leica’s direction, as well as Hasselblad with their new Lunar mirrorless, seems really to propogate an idea, an image. Does brand affect the picture? Definitely, it instills a certain confidence, but is it contribute more towards a picture than optics and sensor quality?

        • It shouldn’t. I tape over my cameras both to avoid reflections in macrophotography, but also because of brand prevention…

          • Agreed, it shouldn’t, and good idea with the tape, but I know that I feel slightly different with a Leica than I do with, say, a canon. I feel like I’m wearing a beautiful suit, and I can’t help but imagine that this affects what I capture.

  7. Extremely interesting article, Mr Thein. As someone who switched systems from Sony Alpha to Micro Four Thirds, I’m really looking forward to reading the next part.

  8. To be honest all this article does is set the scene for all the discussions on mirrorless and no doubt film options…..roll on part 2 :)

  9. Hi Ming!
    Do you have more photos to post with OM-D and Leica 50 1.4? I will really appreciate!

  10. Charlie Z says:

    Characteristics of the best system cameras:
    - Durability/reliability – tough build
    - Performance – high fps, quick/accurate focus, wide DR, exposure accuracy
    - Speed in operation: clean, clear, fast operation (dial/buttonology)
    - Breadth and quality of lenses & accessories (macro-super tele)
    - IQ is least important: same or only marginally better than other higher-end cameras
    Generally, the great cameras are about speed, durability and breadth of application – getting the shot.

    I don’t believe that the manufacturers have completely embraced these attributes in mirrorless, and I don’t think they will live to their potential until they do. It seems that they are very measured in providing professional-grade capabilities – and, it’s not a technology issue anymore, but one of packaging & marketing.

    • Agreed: I have no doubt that if Olympus sold a higher end OM-D tomorrow with better build and durability but the same size, a good number of existing owners would buy one (myself included). If they’d gone straight to this product, they might not have – think of all the extra cameras sold…

  11. A very thorough analysis of the main camera systems. I’m eagerly waiting for the Fuji X system analysis!
    I would only add that while SIgma system is struggling with the bodies, the lenses in Canon-Nikon-m4/3 mounts are nothing to sneeze at.

    • They’re a mixed bag (and not part of the Sigma system per se, but rather the options available to Nikon/ Canon users). Some of the primes are excellent and rival the main brands; the zooms are so-so, and the consumer stuff is quite bad. The trouble I’ve found is that sample variation plagues them all to a seemingly larger extent than normal, and if you get a good one, you’re fine, if not you’ll wonder why you bothered. Furthermore, the few good examples I’ve had have drifted in various ways over time – they had all sorts of issues with astigmatism, AF etc. This put me off enough that I didn’t really want to go through the trouble again. I can only hope that QC has improved by now.

  12. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    You are forgetting The nikon d3200 is a great small camera to complet The nikon system !! This is a Bittner opción than a micro 4/3

    Greg

  13. Enjoyed the article,
    kudos for making a good photography article without photos

  14. Enjoyed the article.
    kudos for making photography article without photos!

  15. Interesting article, although I think you are a bit too critical about the Sigma (DP Merrills?).
    You mention the are great for a (small) section of photography. However, if you are a “slow” photographer, and shoot landscapes or still settings this camera is not just great but blows the competition away… As far as I’m concerned :-)
    My personal setup is the Sigma DP2 Merrill and a Ricoh GXR M with 4 Voigtlander lenses, which I love for it’s build quality, customizability, compatibility with many (fast) lenses, no color shift or other problems that appear with mirrorless M adapter systems, and also (b&w) image quality. I use my setup like this:

    Sigma DP2M (45mm equivalent): Landscapes and still settings (prints/pro work).
    Ricoh GXR M – VC 15mm 4.5 (22mm equivalent: Landscapes, architecture and street.
    Ricoh GXR M – VC 28mm 2.0 (42mm equivalent: Indoor, street, documentary, landscape and low light.
    Ricoh GXR M – VC 50mm 1.5 (75mm equivalent: Portret (has creamy/dreamy look)
    Ricoh GXR M – VC 90mm 1.8 (135mm equivalent: Indoor, portret, low light, tele.

    Looking forward to part 2, as I have this feeling you will be mentioning the GXR too :-)

    Regards,
    ydeh

    • It does, but that’s a pretty small section of photography still – most people have to shoot some moving objects at some point in their lives; for most it’s kids or people that don’t stay still. Not arguing about base-ISO image quality; what I’ve seen rivals the D800E on resolution and color, if not dynamic range.

  16. Hi, like your style and writing…just wondering how the hell are you able to work write and answered all the comments?
    Cheers petr

  17. hans-joachim Benndorf says:

    I came across Your website a short while ago and I enjoy reading Your articles. My main system is Nikon (D300s) and I am quite happy with it because I am just an amateur enjoying the process of taking interesting photographs. A couple of weeks ago I bought a Pentax K5-IIs with 3 ‘Limited’ primes (21mm, 40mm, 70mm) for travel and street shooting. It’s interesting to shoot with two different systems for different purposes. The D300s is an ageing camera but paired with quality lenses it still does a great job in reasonable light (sports & action). For low light photography and walk around stuff I grab the Pentax and get brilliant IQ with those primes. At the moment I am a very happy camper enjoying my hobby. Cheers and good luck, Hans

  18. ahh… Too many systems. Too many choices. The ‘girl’ sterotype dictates that they struggle to choose which dress or shoes to wear, I struggle which system to bring. I’m trying to consoldate my ‘systems’ with a Hasselblad with a polaroid back.
    - Mamiya C220 system – for portraits and personal work. And my second system is a – Polaroid land camera that I use with pack film. The pack film allows me to give a picture to the subject in the moment. … … I hope to consoldate these systems into one, saving my back!
    Thanks for giving us more to think about!

  19. Carlo Santin says:

    You are right about older manual focus lenses on micro 4/3 bodies. It looks really cool slapping one of those lenses on the camera and it sounds like a great way to use some really good legacy glass…it just doesn’t work very well though. It is a huge pain in the ass manual focusing these lenses on these bodies. I went down that road and quickly realized it was a mistake. Nowhere near the same experience as the split prism manual focus of my Nikon FE or the wonderful huge glass focus screen of my Yashica TLR. Modern cameras are simply not made for manual focus, especially these tiny micro 4/3 cameras. Better off utilizing the AF of these modern cameras, which is getting lighting quick. The days of AF missing focus are long gone.

    I’ve been shooting a lot of film in 2013, 35mm…just my Nikon FE, some black and white film, and a 50mm 1.8 and off I go. Rarely am I left thinking I should have taken this lens or that lens, or put more stuff in my bag. I’ve been on this one camera, one lens mantra for a number of months now and I find it very liberating.

  20. Hmmm…. systems. Nikon AF (D700, F6), Nikon MF (FE, FM3a) and a bunch of prime MF Ai/Ai-s – that’s one system really – the F mount plus FF. Also a Leica M3 and one M lens (old 90mm Tele-Elmarit). So I guess that’s two systems. The D700 and F6 are heavy bricks (very nice bricks), the MF Nikons and the M3 much less so. Still all a lot heavier than today’s compacts but spoiled by FF, manual focus, film and big bright OVFs. So I’ll put up with the weight for those goodies. I think I got enough stuff now (famous last words) and just need to shoot, shoot, shoot!

    Muscle memory – good point. All a function of time with the camera of course – For me, it’s good on the Nikon MFs, fair on the F6 and D700, and “needs work” on the M3 – have already snapped a picture with the lens cap attached on the M3 – whoops. Plus no in viewfinder metering data and aperture/speed settings, so it’s a different flow, and one I’m not efficient with yet. But that quiet shutter is to die for….

    Excellent article as usual -thanks!

  21. Ming …thx god another great article…Right now your honest opinion…Steanded on a island and you could have only one camera…(only one)…not matter what size and one lense..what would it honestly be????

    • I think I might have priorities other than photography then…I’d probably pick the one built into a satellite phone :)

      • Steve Jones says:

        Good idea Ming! I’ve been to several remote islands in my time for real. The camera you want is not digital. You want a Leica M or manual SLR and a supply of film. No batteries or electronics to worry about. You’ll also want a wide lens ( about 24mm at least ) more than any other.Yes you WILL, even if you don’t like wide angle lenses now.Because when you back up you’ll be standing in the reef and you can’t imagine how tough it is to get tall coconut trees in the frame until you’ve tried it.
        And while you are stranded on that island you’ll slow down and re-discover the joy of taking pictures. Best of all you’ll forget all about whether you’re using the best camera system and you’ll start getting the very best out of what you have. You likely will not waste film so your framing and technique will improve. However, you will dream of eating ice-cream, fast food, chocolate and coca cola with ice
        when they are nowhere available. You may be able to create the best portfolio of banana and coconut images anywhere in the world.

  22. Gary Morris says:

    I try to keep it simple (which means I have way too much gear — lenses in particular) and have two camera “systems”. I use my trusty Canon 5DM2 for tele shooting (trips to the zoo, birds at the Bosque, etc.) usually with the excellent 300 L f4 IS and the 1.4 converter III so I’m shooting at 420mm. I also like taking the Canon out to parks and festivals with the Canon 135 f2 and shoot wide open (great for isolating people). Then, I have a Leica M9 which I use for everything else (landscape to grandchildren). I have a bunch of Leica glass but almost always just stick with my Noctilux .95 (and always contemplate selling some of my Leica lenses since I really don’t like changing lenses for what seems like every other shot) or 28 ‘Cron (the sharpest lens Leica makes in my opinion). Yes the Noct is big and heavy and makes the M9 body out of balance but it’s such a versatile lens (and I shot with a Pentax MX and 1.4 Pentax lens for 20 years and loved that combination). Finally I have a Leica X2 and D Lux 6 (a pocket camera with a 24-90 zoom and a 1.4 lens — now that’s versatility!). These last two cameras along with my MacBook Air mean when I travel I am carrying less than four pounds with me on a flight. That’s the weight of one Canon 5DM2 and the 16-35 lens. Who needs that weight (unless you’re shooting as a professional, which I am not)? Adding in my M9 and Noct and 28 ‘Cron only puts me at 7 pounds. Heavy but not back breaking. I gave a few minutes thought to a Fuji XE1 body with some Leica glass but the idea of mixing apples and oranges seems like much more work than the results will generate… An autofocus body should be used with autofocus lenses.

    Anyway, thanks for your post(s); they are always well thought out and very thorough.

  23. Poor Olympus 4/3. I have some really nice lenses and an aging E-3 with no replacement in sight. :( (I don’t think the E-5 is enough of an improvement to warrant the expense.) I guess eventually I’ll be changing to something else entirely, but for right now the equipment I have is good enough, although better low-light performance would be nice. Have considered micro 4/3, but using my lenses with an adapter looks like a really unbalanced combination as far as ergonomics.

    • They keep saying that 4/3 isn’t dead…I certainly hope not, it would be a shame for those excellent optics.

      • the guy who gotyour old slingshot says:

        i have a e620, small and handy, it is much loved, i just wished i could shoot more often and they made some more fast primes that weren’t so expensive and HUGE like the summilux f1.4.

  24. Roeland Selleslachs says:

    Dear Ming,

    I bought my OM-D a few weeks ago and so far I am very enthousiastic about it, having used FF DSLRs before. What do you expect will be improved on a new body you mention is desperately needed? I am planning to use m43 for landscapes as well as I believe proper technique can make up for a lot of technical limitations. Don’t get me wrong, I admire your knowledge and articles and I do certainly know that FF will deliver cleaner files than m43. For some reason however I feel more capable to get good let’s say street shots with the OM-D + SLR magic in my hands as with a 5D. I am sorry already for not being clear (my bad English) so here’s the question; is it a foolish idea to rely on m43 for both high quality landscapes and strong street photography? Do I need to invest in FF again for landscapes?

    Keep up the good work

    • Only one thing, really – continuous AF…

      Not necessary to have FF for landscapes so long as you have the right lenses for M4/3 – the Panasonic 7-14 has a good reputation, and the Olympus 12/2 isn’t bad either – I reviewed it here.

      • Roeland Selleslachs says:

        In order to use my Lee filters via an adapter ring, the only WA option having a proper front diameter was the SLR Magic 12mm f1.6. Turns out to be a fun lens for other shooting too. Pure steel, even the lens cap!

  25. Dirk De Paepe says:

    When Sony launched its NEX-5, I immediately bought it. I wanted it for its ultra compact size, since my job is not photography in the first place, but it’s still part of it. A DSLR was just terribly “in my way”. We (at our office) used a Canon EOS 1D in our (modest) studio for “home work”. But on the road I already used small camera’s in the film days, like the Contex T. My dream was the Leica M(9), but I found this too expensive and something “for later”. Still I welcomed the NEX for its abillity to use M-mount lenses with adapter. In the meanwhile I switched to an NEX-7, because of its EVF and tri-navi dials. I programmed the body to be used as a “classic” camera: aperture and focus on the lens, shutter speed on the left top-plate dial, exposure compensation on the right, ISO and the back dial. Everything I need is only one click away (or two at the most). Although there are camera’s with undoubtably better IQ, I found the NEX-7 IQ to be very good and the files to be very processable. I’m sure, Ming, that you see things that I don’t see, but I’m very pleased with its IQ, EVF, usability, size and weight. And also with the available lenses. I have no objections at all against using a (perfect Novoflex) adapter and using M-mount lenses. As a matter of fact, I use 3 Zeiss ZMs, 1 Voigtländer, 5 Canon FDs which I transferred to M-mount with adapter (I still have my Canon A1 from years ago – hense the FDs) and 3 vintage Jupiters – again with M-adapters. Having all my lenses on M-mount, I can use my system as if there were no adapter involved, having the NEX/M adapter permanently on the body. And with Novoflex the adaptation is perfect, IMO. So I see no reason why to switch to any other system untill probably sometime next year (I expect), when Sony will launch its full frame IC mirrorless body. I will just buy the Novoflex M-adapter to it and will use both the NEX-7 and the FF in the same manner, the more since I expect the design of both bodies to be quite similar. I find the IQ of the Sony RX-1 to be extraordinary – at least it offers all the IQ that I’ll ever want and need, so I have high expectations for their IC FF to come. Yes, there still and always will be better systems, but I know I will be perfectly happy with this (and already am with the 7). Oh yeah, I plan on keeping the NEX-7, because for some applications, I find the cropped APSC sensor to have advantages on a full frame (regarding its larger DOF with the same framing). Anyway, the Leica is off the table, since there will be more suitable choices for me in the near future. And yes, since the NEX-7 I also shoot A LOT MORE just for fun, thanks to its ultra-compact size and full “classic manual” capabilities.

    • Jim Yount says:

      Thanks, Dirk, for writing this; well said. We are pretty much in the same place. I really admire Ming’s work, and the effort he puts into this site, but my photo needs appear quite different from his. My background is technical (robotics and remote systems), and for five decades I’ve used my photo skills to complement the technical work I’ve done and also as a travel camera on business trips mostly in the US. I’ve used mostly medium format rangefinder cameras, plus Hasselblad for studio work. Most favorite all around camera is a Plaubel Makina 67, and recently I’ve sorted through about 2500 images from that camera and am scanning the best, looking for a digital camera system that captures the fun of photography in a light and easy to use package. Like you, I’ve settled on a NEX 7, and mostly use the Zeiss 24, since the FOV is similar to the 80 on the Makina. Comparing side by side, I’ve been quite pleased with the image quality, and delighted with Lightroom as a replacement for the wet darkroom.

  26. “what I don’t understand is why they didn’t just use a Pellicle mirror and call it a day – you’d be able to retain the optical finder and perform full time continuous AF, without much penalty in light collection”

    The Sony SLT mirror IS a pellicle mirror — they just don’t call it that, probably because they didn’t want to use a term that Canon used in the 1960s and 1990s and thus seem like they were not being innovative (though to be fair, they weren’t). And of course, you don’t get something for nothing — with a translucent/pellicle mirror and an OVF, if you want to minimize light loss to the sensor you end up with a dark viewfinder; conversely if you want a bright viewfinder, you end up with a lot of light loss to the sensor. An EVF is actually a pretty clever solution to that problem.

    • Yes, but today’s viewfinders are so dark anyway that if they’d bothered giving us a good focusing screen, then the lost half stop wouldn’t be such a big deal – I’ve shot a 1N RS and it wasn’t that dark. The Sony system uses LV off the main sensor or a secondary sensor – this is just unnecessary complexity and will never beat an optical finder, even a darkish one. In practice, the implementation is rather unsatisfactory and gives the feeling of using a really large bridge camera rather than an SLR. It doesn’t help that continuous AF performance is pretty lousy, too. I just can’t help shake the feeling that it’s change for the sake of change and marketing rather than any actual improvement.

  27. I’m currently reflecting on the fact that Sigma is offering a unique compact body system of DP Merrill cameras with three different focal lengths and wether this could mark an upcoming trend?! I’ve just sold some lenses and a point and shoot camera and bought a used Sigma DP2 Merrill and a used Fuji x100 instead. I kept my E-PL5 with the 45mm and 20mm. They all fit into my small crumpler bag and I don’t need to change lenses when on the way. This might be not ideal but it suffices my current needs of a compact solution. I’m dreaming of a Ricoh with a GRD V, VI and VII equivalent to the GRD IV and unchanged with the Nikon Coolpix A Sensor and the same Image Quality and three different focal lengths from 28 – 85mm. Instead of one body and three quality lenses you would have three compact cameras in your bag with lenses which are optimized and adapted to body and sensor. All with identical haptic, tactility and functionality. You could also put two of them in your jacket pouches while photographing with the third one!? I wouldn’t need anything else!

    • It’s not a bad idea, except for cost and weight. I don’t like changing lenses either, which is why I usually carry something set up for street and something set up for cinematic, or one thing which I use to shoot more natural, still-life type images.

      Ricoh never made anything other than 28mm and 21mm in the GR series compacts, so I doubt you’ll see longer focal lengths…

      • Todd Lawton says:

        And another vote for not enjoying changing lenses here. I find having several focal lengths at my disposal simply brings with it a different kind of anxiety to having just one: the stressful, tiring, pathological need to try to shoot everything that I see that you described in ‘the anxiety of infinite composition’.

      • The original GRD had a Ricoh adapter accessory that could take 21mm and 40mm lenses. Quite useful, that 40mm, but it gave the GRD a big “nose”.

        • Yes, and I think they worked on the GRDII also. But since the lens on the III and IV changed, there was only a wide adaptor. Like all Ricoh bits, it was pretty tough to find, so I never got a chance to try one at the time. (I’ve actually owned GRDI, II and III at one point or another, and now have a GR1v. Waiting for the next iteration with hopefully a much larger sensor.)

  28. This is a timely article for me: recently, a friend offered to buy my D700 for a good price, prompting the usual existential crisis. As you know, the D700′s a great camera: decent build quality, ergonomically excellent, and just so easy to get good photos out of on account of its modest (by today’s standards) MP count. The two biggest drawbacks for me are the poor live view implementation (on the drive mode dial; doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in practice I find this puts me off using it) and the ACR profile, which I simply don’t find to be as good as most other cameras that I’ve tried (getting accurate colours/tones requires some work; no biggie, but I’m certainly open to having something that gets me closer out of the box).

    Looking at the two alternatives currently available, as you said in your review of the D600, the line has bifurcated into more- and less-serious options. The 800/800E produce files that are way too large for my needs, and way too unforgiving on lens and technique (I’ve got the 24mm f/1.4G and the 85mm f/1.4G, neither of which seem to be stellar performers at such high resolutions, and do mostly street/walkabout photography where a tripod/optimal shutter speeds aren’t always possible); the D600 has comparatively hamstrung usability (ergonomics, and especially autofocus: it seems stingy that it got the D7000′s 39-point DX-sized module, not the newer 51-point one from the D7100), but the bigger reservation I have is that it just seems a bit joyless. “Full frame for the masses” can only be a good thing, but £1450 is still a lot of money for a camera that’s slightly perfunctory. I feel the same about the latest f/1.8G lenses that are theoretically the best match for the current crop of very high-res cameras: they perform brilliantly on paper, but compared to the film gear that’s my personal benchmark in terms of user experience, they’re rather cheaply made and surprisingly bulky (not view camera bulky, of course, but certainly big enough to make you think twice about taking more than one lens on holiday with you, for example).

    Going back to what you wrote above: I don’t do this for a living, so I have been asking myself “do I need the DSLR?” and mulling over the current quirky/fun crop: Coolpix A (essentially replacing my GR1V with something more flexible), OM-D (I have the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 from a fling with the GF1 a few years ago, and it’s probably closest in form factor to my favourite/most-used combo: FM3a + 45 pancake), even M240 (sell the lot, get a Leica and a 50 prime, and perhaps learn a few things along the way). Haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer yet. I think I’ve been spoiled by the usability of modern DSLRs, and the quality of full-frame and film.

    First World problems…

    • Indeed. I have the same issues as you – the D800E is my work camera. It’s too big and heavy to use for personal shooting or travel (I exclude the Hasselblad from this category as it offers something none of the others can). I have been evaluating the Fuji X20 and Coolpix A for the last few days…the A has stayed in my pocket and is definitely growing on me. The OM-D is almost a given on any trip; I’ve changed the loadout slightly though; the 45/1.8 has been replaced with the much more cinematic Leica 50/1.4 ASPH-M; and I’m also testing out a Panasonic 14-42 X panacake today to replace the compact walk-around zoom requirement. We’ll see…

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Your Coolpix A output so far certainly looks the part. The GR1V has filled that slot for me for the past year or so; love it for the build quality, size and top-quality pictures when the going is good, but the slow lens, slow shutter speed and fixed ISO (a property of whatever film you’ve chosen, obviously) mean it’s a bit limited–almost like a posh iPhone. The A/X20/RX100 offer the flexibility of digital whilst being, perhaps for the first time, close enough in terms of ultimate image quality; shame they’re not full-frame yet. Granted, the extra depth of field that would offer in a 28mm f/2.8 compact is hardly critical, but it’s always nice to have (and, in the Nikon’s case, would be a further step towards justifying the premium price).

        I’m a big fan of the cinematic look to the Leica lenses that you’re referring to, even on the OM-D. With the exception of the 60mm f/2.8, I just can’t get excited about the M43 lens selection: I simply don’t like focus-by-wire, and I was lead to believe elsewhere that they all utilise embedded distortion correction to get around suboptimal optics; do you know if this is true? Obviously the results speak for themselves, so that’s not the issue, but sloppy design bugs the perfectionist in me…

        I read your review of the Leica M240, but would like to get some more thoughts. What do you think of the Leica M240? :) Joking, I promise! Reading about how your experiences with the M8 and a single prime changed your approach was inspiring, but like you I’d have to get rid of everything to fund a similar excursion, which is a slightly terrifying prospect; with a DSLR and a couple of primes comes the reassuring feeling (however fallacious) that you /could/ go pro one day, whereas the Ms seem to have more in common with my film cameras in terms of shooting experience. With hindsight, is it something you’d do again, or would you go down a different path?

        • The GR1V has a f1.9 lens – that’s not particularly slow. The A is f2.8, which is worse…I suppose the tradeoff was size vs. quality vs. price and that extra stop…

          No, there’s still distortion in the m4/3 lenses if you shoot RAW and ACR; I don’t know why you’d implement this but not do it properly. Actually, the system has a few great lenses – the 25, 45, 60 and 75 are in this category; the 12 somewhat less so.

          I don’t think I’d do single prime again – at the time, I needed that experience to grow creatively; I wasn’t visualizing my perspectives well. Now I’m happier with a lightweight zoom – I actually bought the 14-42 X for my OM-D the other day and am rather enjoying it…

          • You mean the RX100 has an f/1.9 lens, right, not the GR1V? :) The Sony stuff I’ve tried has felt too gadgety for my taste; Panasonic cameras also fall into that camp. Something about the UI, maybe…

            Maybe I’ll grab an OM-D before I get rid of that old Panny prime. The pictures you’ve taken with it seem similar in feel to your D700 stuff, even taking into account the homogeneity of your processing style. M43 is obviously a lot more mature than when I had a GF1 back in ’10 (and the lack of a viewfinder was one of my biggest issues with that camera).

            I know what you mean about the single prime experience; I’ve enjoyed that with the FM3a, so perhaps that’s been my version of your M8. I suppose creative limitations have a lifespan: initially they stimulate growth, but eventually they become inhibitive. Does Leica M gear give you the warm feeling of shooting with a beautifully made camera that’s the product of years of perfection, or do issues like handling quirks, price and reliability take away from that somewhat? I feel like the less rarified CMOS sensor and increases in size and complexity of the M240 might have made it slightly less desirable to my eyes, even if it’s a more capable camera. But perhaps that’s the increasing realisation that gear doesn’t matter (haptics do, though, I think).

            • The GRD III and IV (which I thought we were referring to) has an f1.9 lens. The RX100 is f1.8-4.5, and the GR1V is f2.8. The Coolpix A is f2.8.

              As for the M gear, I think it’s a mix of both – they’re really nice tactile items to handle, but the bits they don’t get right drive me mad – especially at the price, and for any critical applications. Haptics definitely matter, at least once you’ve passed the point of sufficiency.

              • Silly numerals, causing confusion :) I should probably try a digital Ricoh sometime…

                • The experience is remarkably similar except for the lack of a viewfinder (and one with shooting info display).

                  • Compact viewfinders are funny: I don’t like shooting using the rear screen or being unable to brace the camera against my face, but pokey, afterthought finders are even worse. My parents got a mid-range Canon compact in the late 2000s based on the fact that they wanted a finder and it was one of the last ones that had one; horrible!

                  • David Babsky says:

                    There’s a (digital) viewfinder available for the Ricoh GXR ..works great, too!

                    • Yes, but I found it rather fragile – the hinge point especially. It also doesn’t firmly click shut. In fact, I broke mine within a couple of weeks…and I’m pretty careful with my equipment.

          • Here’s an article on M43 distortion (it’s also written about elsewhere): http://www.lenstip.com/269.6-Lens_review-Panasonic_LUMIX_G_20_mm_f_1.7_ASPH._Distortion.html
            It seems that Camera Raw reads and applies a certain amount of correction data automatically–i.e. before one gets to the usual Lens Corrections panel–just to make the results useful.

            Of course, if the end result looks great, it doesn’t matter. It’s more the prospect of bad design that annoys me.

            • I heard Panasonic were doing it, but unclear if that extended to Olympus too. I do know that the results from the 20mm are different on Oly/Pana cameras. Why would ACR selectively apply things for one brand but not another? This doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense since Oly and Panasonic lenses don’t appear to be options for distortion correction.

              • Todd Lawton says:

                Yeah, it’s weird. A more comprehensive write-up can be found here (the example images appear to be broken at the moment, however): http://www.dpreview.com/articles/5653763779/a-distorted-view-in-camera-distortion-correction
                The seeming lack of transparent information on the subject from the manufacturers annoys me (though you can see why they might not shout about it!); you end up gleaning information from sources that you don’t necessarily trust. The seemingly arbitrary nature of parts of the camera industry exasperating sometimes (holding back features to force people to upgrade; Nikon’s pointless rejigging of buttons etc with each generation; crazy UIs; Leica in general…). I’m with you: the search for gear that just does what I want it do drives me bonkers. I just want to take photos! :’(

    • Bradley Cooper says:

      You wrote: “the poor live view implementation (on the drive mode dial; doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in practice I find this puts me off using it)”

      You can assign the Nikon D700 live view on/off toggle to the Fn button on the bottom front of the camera. Works great for me.

  29. gs68100 says:

    the best = PAANSONIC GH3 + 7-14mm + 12-35mm + 35-100mm + 25mm1,4 LEICA = the top!

  30. Doesn’t Nikon have a 200mm f4 Micro? Unless you’re purposely excluding it for one reason or another (not mentioned)?

    • Yes, but it’s discontinued and didn’t go to 1:1, either.

      • I personally don’t own one but according to the Nikon website its both still in production (listed in the line up) and does 1:1. Are we both referring to the same 200 f4?

        • I would have thought so – AF-D version? I was told recently that it was discontinued when I tried to buy one in Malaysia.

          • Yep thats the one. Nikon USA still has it listed though and I would imagine if Nikon discontinued a lens of that range there would be a replacement available soon after. However as I have not look for this lens out personally at retail (in Australia) I can’t say for sure if its been discontinued but a google search doesn’t suggest anything was formally announced either.

  31. As an ex-E-M5 owner I would say that the last straw for me was the price difference between the silver and black versions of the lenses, and in some cases total lack of a black alternative. Currently on Amazon UK it’s £899 (was £949) for the limited edition black 12mm vs £552 for the silver. OK so you get the hood with the black one. I presume this approach works for them with many people, for me it was a warning to close my wallet, cut my losses and walk away. I ended up getting an RX100 and am really enjoying it.

    Not particularly relevant but I had to laugh at myself when I saw this Sony DSLR No Idea ad, worth a look if you haven’t seen it -

    • Many Sony users are just like the people in the ads…

      Olympus’ pricing is definitely out of whack on some things. But I did have a student in my last workshop who actually landed up getting the black 12mm set for the same price as the silver as nobody wanted it – so it landed up being cheaper for just the lens, and included the hood!

  32. What do you feel is missing with Pentax? The lens situation is vastly different from Sony’s, and the only things that are missing compared to Nikon and Canon are TS lenses (which are available through Hartblei, Schneider, or 645 lenses with adapters), a proper flash lineup, and maybe a few more f/1.4 lenses. When you say “I don’t see this as a full or primary system unless you have a very specific set of needs”, I believe it’s the other way around: unless you have very specific needs, Pentax has you completely covered.

    (Of course, one might say Pentax still lacks in the image quality department by not having a full frame camera. But that’s (a) irrelevant for most uses – just as it is with any other manufacturer, full frame hype notwithstanding – and (b) you do consider MFT an attractive system, and that’s even farther from being full frame. Actually, Pentax has both more lenses and/i> and at least the same image quality to offer compared to MFT (the latter being dependent on where you look, sensor or lens quality).)

    • I think you answered the question yourself: given that I mostly use TS lenses, fast primes and flashes, Pentax really isn’t an option. Or perhaps it’s just me who has these needs, but judging from the other non-event pros I know, I think they have the same problem. It isn’t the full frame thing, either; I use the OM-D quite happily for most things where I don’t need the D800E’s resolution. The sensor being smaller helps with DOF to the extent that I don’t require T/S lenses; wouldn’t use it for architectural work, though – but that’s pretty specialized.

      • I own a pentax 31/1.8, 43/1.9, 50/1.4 and 77/1.8, all are still available brand new, these count as fast I assume? Agree on flash and T/S lenses though.

      • > given that I mostly use TS lenses, fast primes and flashes, Pentax really isn’t an option.

        Well, fair enough that it isn’t an option for you. But as you present it, the article is informing the reader about the general feasibility of the system, not about your needs. (I did notice the “subjective” disclaimer, but that’s about familiarity.) Readers get the impression that Pentax just needn’t be considered in the first place because you can’t do much with it. You describe it as “niche”. At the same time, you describe MFT as “nearly complete”, while in truth, the Pentax lens lineup is probably more complete than MFT (think telephoto options).

        Don’t get me wrong, I really like MFT, and I would heartily recommend both systems to any photographer with serious ambitions. I’m just puzzled by how very knowledgeable writers can be so quick to dismiss a highly competent and versatile camera system. (And if you were really just talking about what makes sense for you personally, you should write that in big letters at the beginning, because people tend to jump to conclusions.)

        • Here’s another problem: how much of this stuff have you seen at retail? Beyond the basic kit lenses, it’s nearly impossible to get most of the other options…not so with M4/3. Also worth considering. There’s no point in saying “oh, but there’s the XYZ Klepogon-6″ when you can only find them on Ebay under a blue moon.

  33. Kevin Dharmawan says:

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that Sony’s Alpha series are pretty dead in the water. But you might be overlooking the stronger system they have to offer in the form of the NEX and RX ranges. I think it was you (correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t really bother with other photo blogs ;)) who said that Sony have a lot of latitude in terms of experimenting given that they populate the market for camera sensors. So going those lines, maybe the Sony will simply relegate the Alpha series as a cheaper option to either Canon or Nikon.

    • That’s precisely how they gained market share in the early days – you could get an entry level Alpha for RM1,300 including a lens; a comparable Nikon (at least on spec) would be RM2,000 or more. Never mind the poor ergonomics, lousy image quality and horrible build…entry level buyers wouldn’t appreciate that anyway, and from here on in they’d be somewhat biased towards an upgrade within the same system.

  34. Tom Liles says:

    Re: Sigma. I’m a big fan of this brand. But you’re spot on about the SD1 Ming. The mirrorless Merrill compacts, though, — you might mention them tomorrow — the DP1M, the DP2M and the DP3M are superlative. Just excellent. If a little… well no, really quite… what shall we say, idiosyncratic?

    [I own a DP1M and DP2M. If money were no object to me, I'd certainly buy a DP3M]

    • The DP3M looks pretty interesting, at least IQ-wise. The problem is size, weight, ergonomics, cost, slowness…the list goes on. What I do find really impressive is just how close the thing focuses, though. Almost close enough for me to do watch work with.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Well, we all saw your M9 rig for the watch work Ming :)

        I wonder what you’d cook up with a DP3M.
        [if inclined to try]

        P/S re: the slowness, terrible ISO latitude, etc., of the DPMs, the machines are defenseless against these charges. They SUCK big time in this respect. You can either stomach it or you can’t, I suppose. What do I know, but I can’t see that’d be a problem for macro work. I always pictured you doing it at quite a sedate pace; maybe some classical music on in the back ground. Like a dentists office, etc… But, a corollary point: I work in an advertising company so I get to meet a lot of professional photographers; they all HATE my DPMs. I’ve only met one who actually liked them (and wasn’t just being complementary). So, that in mind, and as you well know, absolute IQ must not be the raison-d’etre of photography. If it were, these marks against the DPMs would be trivial. So your criticism is realistic and fair.

        Except for this one: cost. I didn’t get that.
        Does everyone else feel the compact Merrills are a bit pricey?

        I’m not sure I can agree… I think that’s being a little unfair to the DPMs [and without mentioning how well they retain value; used prices here in Japan are unreal]. Perhaps Sigma Malaysia aggressively marking them up? But in Japan, you can get a brand new DP2M for 76,000 JPY. If you liked that and decided you’d like more: say, a DP1M to go with it, you pay 79,000 JPY and get a 30,000 JPY rebate for having bought another Merrill camera. 30,000 JPY! With the current Japanese government’s “Abenomics,” (Prime minister Abe) the yen is nearly at parity with the USD again [and all is well with the world!] so just call it 300 USD. You could buy another camera with that, or it’d be a third of what you need for a DP3M to complete the set, or… what am I thinking… with 300 USD, you could buy your wife a lovely meal, or stay a night at a fairly good hotel, or get her those shoes she’s after, or that bag, or both :)
        In all seriousness though, the retail price for a brand new Merrill is competitive. My little DP2M murders my boss’s bling cameras [that he never goes out and shoots, but refuses to lend to me!]: his Fuji X-E1, his M-E and his RX1. My DP1M would give him a run too, if judging on the center 2/3. I’m not talking about I win on DxO scores or anything [I don't know]; just we sit in the office at lunchtime and have a “snap off” at random office objects, people, what have you. Drop the files into Lightroom [with a preamble in Sigma Photo Pro for me] and judge. As long as I don’t have to go above ISO 400, I win all the time. If we use tripods at base ISO, it’s a battering for him. This is completely unscientific and utterly subjective and limited. And so what. I kill him every time. Post ISO-400 it’s not so clear cut. After 640 I lose all the time, and not in a good way. But my camera didn’t cost 220,000 JPY, before accessories [eye wateringly expensive accessories]; and my camera, while its X3F raw format is esoteric, to say the least, does not have a raw format that’s all out mysterious [to the point you can only shoot jpegs]. And my camera doesn’t have a magic value adding red dot on it and have to be ordered in a boutique in Ginza and cost quarter of what most regular humans take home in a year, before you spend a similar amount on a lens for said camera [as you know Ming, I really really really would like a Leica, though]. So, yeah, I’d put the 76,000 JPY DP2M or the 79,000 JPY DP1M against most stuff with supreme confidence in the IQ:unit price ratio.

        But the main thing is, they look cool.

        • That was only because Leica was sponsoring the exhibition! In hindsight, not really a smart move.

          Actually, you’re spot on – classical music at a measured, calm pace. The camera’s speed doesn’t matter in the slightest, but then again I usually use the cameras for more than one purpose. A bigger problem with the DPs is the workflow – no ACR support…

          As for the special offer in Japan – if that was the case here, I might well have a DP1M and DP3M. Sadly, it isn’t, and they’re still the better part of $1k apiece.

          • Tom Liles says:

            For your next tea break…

            I’m just joking with you Ming.
            [1:3 isn't even in your ballpark, as I understand it.]

            No ACR support for X3F is massive (massively bad) if you’re a pro, I can imagine.
            But, you do get a leaf (type) shutter: v.quiet, flash sync unto 1/2000…
            Did I mention they look cool?

            OK no more of the Sigma sock puppetry.
            [and no need to reply to it Ming!]

            • It’s not too bad for whole watch shots given the sensor is APS-C, but no, not quite enough for me. Sync speed and shutter doesn’t matter since flash at 1/250 is more than sufficient.

              I just wish the ergonomics were less…bricklike. They’re well-built, though.

  35. Many clients still expect large cameras when you arrive on location. I bounced around the idea of switching to a Fuji X-E1 system, but decided to wait until more lenses arrive, or perhaps a second generation body comes out. Ideally someone would make a large grip for the X Pro 1 or X-E1 to make them look more “pro”. ;)

    • That’s the hell of it; if your doing this for a living, you gotta show up with the big ass brick of camera or they won’t think they’re getting their money’s worth. The exception of course is if your last name is Thein :)

      • Nope, I still show up at clients’ places with a big-ass brick. Workshops give me a bit more latitude, though. I taught a good chunk of the SF #2 workshop with a Canon 530 :)

      • The other thought, whenever an X Pro 2 arrives, would be that Fuji place the “Pro” on the front of the camera so the client can notice it. This was done on the medium format rangefinders from Fuji. This is aside from other issues, like the autofocus and the fly by wire manual focus, which could be improved. Fuji make some fantastic optics, but they lack the recognition of Nikon and Canon.

    • Sad, but very true. The OM-D occasionally gave me issues for this reason.

  36. “unexpected, but welcome, results”….. Well, you hit it on the head. Again. A traffic snarl prevented me from getting back to my offices in time to pick up the cameras I had planned on using before an intimate event. My wife’s Pentax K-01 with a fast prime was quickly pressed into service. You know where this is going. The colored bodies never fail to engage people’s curiosity, as well as their willingness to participate in something they anticipate to be fun. Gear can be a barrier; serious gear, even more so. But absolutely no one is intimidated by a daffodil yellow or candy apple red camera. And it showed in the final images.

  37. icecream says:

    i think you are exaggerating a bit with the mirrorless & legacy glass comment. yes, it’s not perfect, but what system is? i do 90% of my shooting with this setup (nex 5r) and couldn’t be happier. as for the wides, again, ‘some’ have issues with senors, but plenty work just fine.

    each to their own i suppose, but I think there are plenty of advantages to this system and it shouldn’t be discounted.

    • You can see the purpose designed lenses are significantly better, especially in the corners. The teles are comparable; rendering is different for some. I’m using the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH on my OM-D now quite happily; wouldn’t have used the 35/1.4 FLE, though.

      • icecream says:

        i would hope purposely designed lenses would work well, but i wouldn’t agree that they work categorically better always.

        in my experience, most lenses >35mm work fine, and for those <35mm it's best to check with user experiences. generally, all slr lenses work great, but some rangefinder lenses have difficulties. for instance, the 21mm contax g exhibits pretty bad colour banding, while the voigtlander ultron 21mm gives excellent results. my friend uses the 35/1.4 FLE on his nex 5n and it I don't believe he has any colour banding or corner problems.

        the speedbooster also opens some interesting possibilities for this system, including greater low light performance, and the flexibility of two effective focal lengths for one prime lens.

        • This is because the DSLR lenses tend to use telecentric optical designs to clear the mirror. The RF designs have no such requirement, and are usually symmetric with rear elements close to the film plane – e.g. Zeiss Biogons (symmetric) vs Distagons (telecentric).

          My 35FLE was exceptionally good on the M9, but utterly lousy on the OM-D til f4, which really defeats the point of this lens…

          I’m curious about the speedbooster too – I think it might be something handy to have in a pocket to turn my 50/1.4 ASPH from a 100/1.4 equivalent into a 75/1.0 equivalent…

          • As far as now, speedbooster only works with lens which has enough clearance from the sensor plane, for instance Nikon F, Canon EOS or Leica R lens. Leica M adapter did not have space to put optic in it..

            • Phooey! Well, I suppose my 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor could become an 85/0.75?

              • Yes, at least that is the explanation. With the mirrorless APS-C crop factor, the angle is back to around 62 mm/ f 0.7. I am studying this option too, in particular Sony NEX-6. Good ergonomics, articulated display, enough resolution and latest tech sensor/ EVF

                • One thing to bear in mind about the Speedbooster is that the maximum aperture supported is f/1.2 for a final f/0.9 aperture in the EF-E-mount version. This was due to physical constraints in the Sony E-mount and other physical packaging issues. The whitepaper from Metabones written by the lens’s designer (Brian Caldwell of Coast Optics fame) is really informative on these and other issues, and fairly technical as well: http://www.metabones.com/images/metabones/Speed%20Booster%20White%20Paper.pdf

                  • I had no idea that was designed by the Coastal Optics folks – that makes the product a lot more interesting…so my 58 Noct will become f0.9 then. Good enough…

                    • icecream says:

                      actually, this is exactly the setup my friend is using. Precisely:

                      58/1.2 Nikkor -> Nikkor/Alpa Adaptor -> Alpa/Nex Speedbooster -> Nex 5n.

                      works great. very sharp in the centre wide open, though corners a little soft. most importantly, using the speedbooster gives legacy lenses a generally more useful (effective) focal length on aps-c sensors.

  38. Nice Article Ming!

    Best Wishes – Eric

Trackbacks

  1. [...] then pass it on to your grand kids. Lenses are one place where you can really do that. His post on dSLR lenses is right on (IMHO) where he basically says validates all the [...]

  2. [...] then pass it on to your grand kids. Lenses are one place where you can really do that. His post on dSLR lenses is right on (IMHO) where he basically [...]

  3. [...] Is it just me, or is the entire photographic community in the midst of a collective angst about whether to switch camera systems? It seems to me that many of us are seriously reconsidering which camera system we should buy. Which system would really serve our personal and professional requirements? Ming Thein has just posted a two-part blog about this very subject here. [...]

  4. [...] Thoughts on system choices, part one – Ming Thein | Photographer Thoughts on system choices, part two – Ming Thein | Photographer Reply With Quote [...]

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,999 other followers

%d bloggers like this: