Thoughts on system choices, part two

In part 1, we dealt with SLR systems. Today, we’ll look at what will probably be a secondary system for most serious photographers, or as primary system for less serious ones.

Nikon 1
On paper, the system makes sense for consumers – it definitely doesn’t have the image quality required for commercial work – however, Nikon shot themselves in the foot twice: firstly with the obscene pricing, then by dropping it to laughable levels. And then they dropped an anvil on the same foot by crippling it with a whole slew of slow consumer zooms. I think it would have had a much stronger response with a series of fast pancake primes – two isn’t enough – because the sensor itself is actually quite good, and the camera’s AF performance is unparalleled in the mirrorless world, and rivals that of DSLRs. I can’t recommend this system at the original asking price, but at the last closeout prices of $350 or so, it’s a very interesting option against a premium point and shoot – especially given the larger sensor, built in EVF and interchangeable lenses. But I just can’t recommend it otherwise, unless you want to put your F mount glass on it via adaptor and use it for birding (then, it makes sense: 300/2.8 turning into an 810/2.8 with AF and VR, anybody?) It’s surprising how a company that makes DSLRs that are so ergonomically and functionally right can make both compacts and mirrorless cameras that are so bad.

Canon EOS-M
My last comment about the Nikon 1 applies here, too: the EOS-M is both an ergonomic disaster, and terribly slow to use. At least they had the sense to offer an interesting fast prime in the initial lineup. Whilst the Nikon 1′s 28/2.8 equivalent would appeal to documentary shooters, most people upgrade from compacts – in this segment of the market – for nothing more than bokeh. Canon understands that much. Again: terrible lens lineup, slow AF performance and limited feature set mean that this isn’t really a system to buy now; given Canon’s usual tiered feature and pricing strategy, I don’t see them letting it acquire any of the higher end features either – this means it’s not really of any interest to serious photographers. It doesn’t even have the crop factor and AF speed benefits of the Nikon 1 that would make it appeal to nature photographers.

Leica M
The granddaddy of all mirrorless systems: lens choices coming out the wazoo, each with its own religiously-defended strengths. Hell, there are seven major variants of the 35/1.4 Summilux alone. Let’s not even talk about the 50mms. It’s also the only full-frame mirrorless system, though until the M Typ 240 becomes widely available, none of them will have live view. The weaknesses of M rangefinders are manifold: limited choices of lens without external finders (28-90mm); no zooms, macros or telephotos; parallax errors; potential focusing errors if your rangefinder drifts out of calibration; etc. But it does have some great strengths, too: an enormous, bright finder; the ability to focus fast wides accurately; size and discretion. You can also interchange your lenses and accessories with the film Leica Ms, if you fancy a change of medium. I think the M 240 is perhaps the most interesting of the lot – live view and EVF capability mean that you can actually use it as a supplementary body for another system, providing you get the right adaptor – this isn’t something that was previously the case with the M8 and M9. There are also no end of third party lens choices too, in case Leica doesn’t make what you need (or you can’t afford it).

Micro four thirds
By far the most mature of all of the mirrorless systems; the lens lineup is nearly complete with the exception of tilt shifts and fast telephotos. You even get multiple options at most key focal lengths, and there are plenty of fast primes to choose from. I don’t personally like the ergonomics and UI of the Panasonic cameras, but the lower end ones are good value for money; the current Olympus set is the one to have – either the OM-D or E-PM2; don’t bother with the E-PL5 unless you really need the tilt screen and can’t afford the OM-D. Actually, for the vast majority of photographers – even some professional ones – you don’t really need any more system than this; high ISO is comparable to the full frame cameras of a few years ago; responsiveness is good, there are plenty of lens choices, and the bodies are incredibly customizable and very ergonomically friendly. (The exceptions would of course be if you need continuous AF or shoot sport or make huge prints.) Even the flash system is mature and sufficiently fully-featured to compete with the big boys. I think what makes this perhaps your best mirrorless option is the fact that the user base has now developed critical mass; there are plenty of other companies in the Micro Four Thirds group that are offering lenses, accessories, etc. that it will be around for some time to come. I do wonder what’s going to happen to Olympus now that Sony appears to be their biggest shareholder…

Sony NEX
The other contender for mirrorless; large sensors, small bodies. Leading with image quality and body features like built in EVFs. Lens lineup is still limited, however; fast primes are sorely lacking, as are fast zooms. As usual, no end of consumer options. Good option for video – both because of the sensors and the emphasis that Sony puts on it. Despite owning one of these for some time, and modifying several to be multispectral, I still see this as a single-camera rather than a system – the lens options just aren’t there. Users are probably going to buy the base kit and stick with it, or buy one of the fast primes – probably the Zeiss 24/1.8 – and stick with that.

Fuji X
I was originally quite curious about this system because of the lenses selected for launch: they actually made sense, like a photographer was doing the product planning. All of them were high quality, fast, small primes; there was even a macro in there. The body was reasonably sized, and had the handy hybrid viewfinder. It could even accept Leica M lenses with an official mount adaptor. But it fell on its face in the same place as the X100: ergonomics/ usability and speed. The camera is simply too sluggish; I had too many missed moments with the X100 and the borrowed X-Pro. The XE1 seems a bit faster, but still not fast enough – and the optical finder is gone. I might as well just continue using the OM-D, because it’s both faster and the image quality is known and not that far behind. Perhaps things will be different if Fuji uses the X100S’ phase-detect sensor on subsequent iterations. This system still remains an interesting option, however: it’s the lenses that make it worthy of serious attention. But wait until there’s a body suitably equipped to deal with them.

Samsung NX
I’d never really given this system serious consideration until doing the research for this article. Firstly, there are interesting lens choices. Secondly, it seems like Samsung is willing to keep throwing money at the problem until they create something that takes off; too bad they don’t seem to have a photographer on board in their UI/ product testing department. At the discounted prices being offered for some combinations, it’s worth a look. Image quality isn’t bad, but isn’t quite as good as the latest OM-D or NEX cameras. I would consider this system on the assumption that sooner, rather than later, Samsung will stop pouring money down a black hole; base the decision on the lenses that are currently available rather than what might come. That said, the roadmap looks healthy.

Ricoh GXR
I bought one of these back in the early days – I like the GR Digital III so much that I thought it would be a no-brainer. Turns out, I was wrong. Buying modules with lenses tied to sensors meant that it would get expensive fast; what Ricoh should have done is separate things even more: sensor module, lens module. That way, we get the best of both worlds: multiple mounts, upgradeable sensors, and retention of glass. I get the impression that the system is mostly dead today except for the M-mount APS-C module, which is a shame, because the ergonomics and built quality are great, and customizeablity is outstanding – as with every Ricoh product. It feels solid and tactile in the hand, and that makes you want to use it – even if the larger sensor modules are painfully slow to focus. The long term future of this system is in question after the Pentax acquisition, I think: having that many different options for mirrorless – Q, GXR, K01 (now discontinued) – doesn’t make any sense at all, especially given that none of them are really complete, viable options in their own right. Sad, but I’m going to have to say give this one a miss – unless you really want to use Leica M glass and can’t afford say, a used M8 – which would be a much better option.

Pentax Q
This is a fun toy, but really nothing more than that. It’s simply far too limited by the sensor size; let’s not even talk about the non-existent lens choices. That said, the very fast telephoto that was recently released and small body may make it an interesting option for voyeurs.

Unexpected options
The two subcategories below are thrown in as wildcards, in case you hadn’t considered those options. Who knows, they might suit your shooting style better.

Compacts
Truth be told, most people don’t need a mirrorless camera, let alone a DSLR. There are a lot of very competent compacts – covered here – that would fit the bill for the majority of situations. Granted, there’s some enjoyment to be had in the operation and handling of a nice device, but think of the amount of angst you’ll save your back by not lugging around 10kg of cameras and lenses on holiday – not to mention marital issues. Sensor performance has improved considerably, and coupled with some very fast lenses – the LX7′s f1.4-2.3 optic, for instance – might be on par with a mirrorless camera and f5.6 kit zoom, and not far behind a DSLR. Cheaper, too – that leaves you a bit more in your pocket to go to places to actually use the camera.

Film
I was thinking the other day that perhaps there’s no reason for some people to make the jump to digital after all – if you’ve been shooting film for 20 years and are comfortable with it, why make the leap to trying to understand photoshop, data management, raw conversion etc? If anything, it might be better to stay with it since the used prices of previously unobtainable equipment have likely dropped to surprisingly low prices. Or, you could just be part of the Lomography crowd…

Whatever you buy though, don’t underestimate the importance of having friends who shoot the same system – both as a source of advice and expertise, and to be able to tap their experience (and if they’re generous, raid their lens cupboards). At the same time, a system choice isn’t a religion – even if it seems we’re only a few lines away from starting a holy war on most forums – some things will work for some, others for others. This is why we have choices. Seek information to make an informed one, but don’t be a zealot about it. Make the right choice for you. MT

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Comments

  1. No friends willing to shoot film with me (excluding lomo, but I’m not into lomo)…

  2. As always great thoughts Ming, regarding about Olympus and Sony most likely these next generation Olympus cameras (wink 24 MP OM-D E-M6) Sony supplied sensor or even XZ-3 from the RX100 sensor who knows :D .

    Totally nailed it again on the NEX system even though I totally despise the menu system it’s the lack of glass, glass, glass that’s hindering the system from maturing further.

    • The complaints about NEX’s menu is overrated, I’d think the menu on NEX is easier/straightforward compared to the one in Olympus ep3 (I have both). I totally agree on the lack of selection of glass in the NEX, however the new e mount 35mm 1.8 looks mighty interesting if not because of the price.

      • Zeiss seems to be picking up some of the slack here at least; however, the prices are bound to be stiff. The NEX menus are probably okay for non-photographers; the Olympus menus are incredibly deep because they have a huge number of options, but I don’t see how they could be laid out differently – Nikon takes almost the same approach, and it’s worked fine for years…

  3. NeutraL-GreY says:

    Fantastic article. I love seeing a logical comparison instead of arguing between the different options. I love this blog!

  4. I think you nailed it Mr. Thein. Great article as always! I miss the photos we’ve become accustomed to sprinkled throughout your articles though, hope they return.

  5. Well Done Ming! Great Article! Best Wishes – Eric

  6. Sascha Sorbo says:

    Thanks again for sharing your valuable thoughts, Ming!
    It seems as if companies could save quite a lot money if they’d consider your blog.
    Just thinking about what’s happening now to Pentax/Ricoh is giving me goose bumps. I once used FA Limited lenses on the Pentax K7. It’s best of both worlds, gorgeous mechanics WITH autofocus and wonderful IQ. The 77/1.8 literally smashed the K7′s sensor.
    These lenses, especially the “Japan” ones, are the SLR’s “Leica – lenses”. Now I dream about a Pentax K1 full frame DSLR with the 31 and the 77 limiteds and Ricoh GRD ergonomics. Certainly with a GRD V in my coat’s pocket for backup …
    But the company desperately needs different marketing! NOBODY knows Pentax DSLRs in Germany for instance. Instead people are buying entry level plastic Canonikons where they could do big deals with K-x or K-r bodies and really good kit-glass.
    Same to Ricoh. I bought my GRD III new for 220.- Euro.
    Did you ever try out the FA Limiteds? They just need the proper body.
    Thanks for your blog!

    • Common sense is uncommon, it seems. I love the the Pentax Limited lenses; they’re absolutely gorgeous. Now it just needs a full frame camera to take advantage of them – as you say. On APS-C, the focal lengths are very odd.

    • Entry-level Canonikons: that is all I see in USA, too. That is all that is featured in the Big Box stores, where most consumers go to buy a comfortable product. Sadly, I have never seen one of the GRXs or Samsungs, even in popular tourist places like Chicago or southern California.

      • I was surprised by how much of a photographic equipment desert SF was, actually. I suppose it’s just one more sign that online retailers have killed local stores…

  7. Wonderful thoughts and so accurate.

    Nikon 1
    However although I agree the Nikon V 1 & 2 are silly prices, I find that I am using the V2 more than my D800! Mainly due to is light weight and its excellent use for posting on the web. I have printed some good 16×20 prints, but that is certainly at its limit. The V2 is fun to use especially with the new lens 6.7-13 and 10-100, not forgetting the 18.5 f1.8

    Leica M (240)

    Had this on loan for a day and was quite surprised at its low light results. Sadly you cant buy one over the counter and many lens are unavailable like the 50 cron (new version) & the 21 Super Elmar. Leica replied ‘Delivery dates unknown’

    My hand held photos with the V2 and some D800 can be found @
    http://www.pbase.com/mjlamoon

    • Oh weight definitely matters; the less it costs your back, the more likely you are to use it and enjoy it. One of the many reasons the D800E is not my first choice for travel or personal work, and I’m perpetually on the search for a good compact. I regret not getting a V1 when the prices dropped significantly at clearout; perhaps sometime in the future. The 6.7-13, 10 pancake and 18.5 are all interesting options.

      • I have a 2 week old V1 + 10-30mm + SB-N5 Flash that i’m selling if you are interested. While the AF is blindingly quick, i just couldn’t get to grips with the ergonomics and image quality.

  8. Great articles – both part one and part two. Now my only problem is do I really need a DSLR? I find more joy in shooting with the mirrorless cameras. X-E1 and E-M5 in my case. I can’t quite chose one of them since I like them both. X-E1 for image quality and handling, and the E-M5 for its miniature SLR-feeling and functinality (faster AF). However, my Nikon D600 sort of wins always out on the IQ part when it comes to landscapes so I can’t get rid of it.

    I dislike it when others diss DSLRs because of their size – not all are large and heavy or with a pro zoom lens. I don’t mind carrying one around with a fast prime or normal zoom, but I find them more difficult to use in public where there are people and not typical tourists attraction. I get to be the attraction (or attract attention to me)…

    • Tom Liles says:

      Hello AskB

      but I find them more difficult to use in public where there are people and not typical tourists attraction

      I half agree, and half disagree with this. I don’t know about you, AskB, but every tourist I see these days has a massive canon of a camera [pun intended] swinging around their neck, over their shoulder, etc. Nothing says IS tourist / IS NOT professional photog more than the massive, pristine DSLR in a crowded area. If they are on their own, it’s a bit more grey. But in a group? Or with a lady, or kids, or both—of course they are tourists.
      Conversely, if you ever see someone with a slimline or quaint, or especially an antique looking camera, they are absolutely serious or professional photographers. Often “street photographer” types. There’s an endless deluge of them on the streets of Tokyo. I noticed this before I got into photos myself.

      I’m with you on disliking people dissing DSLRs generally, and particularly on size. And specifically, I refute the line that “people are much more open and less intimidated when you have a small antique looking camera” [copyright]. People are intimidated, or not, by the photographer. This seems a much more rational and realistic view, to me. As it happens, I think you blend in easier with a DSLR and a slightly aloof look, preferably have a friend with you, than being alone with a Leica or whatever and obviously sizing up things and people about the place. But the main thing is that the number of street photographers seems high and [looking at their pics] they tend to go for the same low hanging fruit, and the fruit is now savvy to it. Some people like having their pictures taken, unquestionably. A large chunk do not, and it’s not because the camera looks intimidating. I think it’s capture saturation. I doubt you could get a posed look into camera (a photo with permission) as HCB would get, these days. Not to say HCB himself still wouldn’t get it. But I think it’s true that the public [and their ideas about themselves] are products of a different time. Even someone who is a retiree now was born in the age of television and cameras and mass-media. We’re all used to it and fed up of it.

      When I go out with the express aim of trying to do street shooting [not often], I tend to take a Nikon D60 or DMC-L1 (not new cameras, but PLENTY for me); they’re old so you might not remember, but these are not Nikon D4 huge or anything. They are DSLRs though. The DMC-L1 with the D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 is my main combo and the lens hood on that is getting on for silly. But the main point: I find absolutely no difference [in people's attitude] whether it’s the above or my dinky Sigma DP1M, or my recent pride and joy—the Epson R-D1s [a 2002 sensor in a 2005 camera, it's quite good though]. That’s to say, friendly, quirky, antique looking Rangefinder or “aggressive” looking all black DSLR built like a tank—the photos are always rubbish and people always run in the opposite direction as soon as they get a sniff they might be what I’m shooting.
      [to be honest, I don't really go for people when I'm street shooting; I think it's a little cheap. I literally shoot streets; if people are there, OK.]

      True Story:

      Walked past a Chinese tourist with a D800 a week or so ago in Shinjuku. A D800! He was trying to figure out how to get it into “nighttime” mode. I know he was Chinese and it was a D800 and he was stuck because I walked back over and asked him [and whether I could help].
      I couldn’t figure it out either.

      I didn’t ask why he bought it. The answer is as old as the hills.
      [and I'm not immune, either]

      • Actually, I must be one of the few serious photographers who actively tries to look like a tourist. I want to be ignored so I can shoot people doing their thing while ignoring me; I want to be the invisible observer. It doesn’t matter so much what camera you carry. I just prefer a light one if you’re going to be carrying it around all day, but not something so plasticky that I’d hate to use it.

        There is no ‘nighttime mode’ on the D800.

        • Tom Liles says:

          explains why neither of us could find it!

        • No, looking like a tourist is what I try to do too; I actually feel more comfortable taking photos in other countries, even other cities in my own country, than I do in my hometown. Something to do with the psychology of not knowing anybody, and blending in with the many other snappers–who’s to know that your intentions are slightly different to theirs.

          Nighttime mode on the D800 = Manual ;)

        • Tom Liles says:

          Your “tourist” strategy sounds exactly right Ming. Off -topic, so ignore at your pleasure, but I’d be interested to learn:

          I thought being an obvious foreigner here [for everyone: I'm caucasian, "here" is Tokyo], I’d have it made when it came to automatically looking like a tourist. It turns out, that wasn’t the case [speaks to how popular "street" is here and with who].
          But I figured out that I can do it. For a decent “hidden in plain view” factor, it just takes some extra thought and acting. In no particular order: 1) go out with a friend, Japanese one even better [his part is: your friend from Tokyo who is introducing you to the city], 2) have a new looking camera, a DSLR if it’s not Nikon or Canon it doesn’t matter, but be sure to use a Nikon or Canon strap, 3) don’t use the lens hood [though this is less and less a factor; sometimes the opposite is better], 4) definitely no speed lights [that is a giveaway], 5) likewise camera bag or camera style bag, you want a day pack sized ruck sack, a sports maker brand one is perfect, 6) conspicuously speak English [your friend must too, in his rusty way, usually no acting required!] and 7) of course, dress as though you weren’t going to be indoors until the evening and you have no sense whatsoever. Then anyone and anything becomes possible to capture. Even policemen in their police boxes from point blank.
          I’m not particularly enthusiastic about this style of shooting [pictures of people on the street for the sake of pictures of people on the street] and every time I try it I end up getting the typical “Tokyo street” frames of salary men or women in kimonos or busy pedestrian crossings… “you came to Japan and got a picture of a Ginza lady in a kimono, wow!” etc… So I stopped trying. I do get the feeling, too, that “street” generally is quite a predatory and presumptuous pursuit, if not done artfully or tastefully [stealth and choice, respectively]. I think this is just me, but I certainly feel like I’m stealing something that wasn’t mine to take [when the rationale is "getting that person" rather than "framing a picture"]. Your street pictures are artfully and tastefully done Ming.

          Anyway, I drifted, here’s what I’m interested to learn Ming: you’re an asian guy—how does this help or hinder you when you’re across the world taking documentary or “street” style images? Is it (the natives’ reaction to you) different by continent, culture or economic milieu? Is it even different? Do you find people in your own ethnic group are more comfortable with your presence [when they realize you're there], or actually are they more likely to say something? Same thing for when you’re obviously not one of the locals. The latter case obviously works with the “tourist” ploy; how about the former, can you still act a tourist in your own backyard? Be interesting to know [from someone who knows].

          • I think perhaps the difference is I’m trying to capture the scene with people as a contextual counterpoint rather than as the focus of the image.

            Me being Asian doesn’t make as much of a difference as much as me being stealthy…if you’re not known to them, then it really depends more on how they view outsiders than your ethnicity.

            • Tom Lile says:

              Interesting. Thanks for that Ming.

              Well, it’s reassuring and impressive in equal parts to know that ethnicity is not really a factor. Here here as regards your philosophy; I referred to it as “framing a picture” above and this is the kind of image, and method, I find most pleasurable. You’re not making anything happen, you may adjust your position, etc., but it just unfolds and “there!” you get a frame.
              This must be different to journalistic type images: journalists, by nature, are boundary crossers, nosy parkers, etc., so would just walk up on someone, or into some situation, and “take” the image. That’s the job. Personally I don’t find much artistic merit in these images [not to say there's none; or none of other kinds, e.g., documentary or historical merit]. As an aside, I read a piece by such a photog who recommended making your camera look as battered and cheap as is possible — literally taped together, he put brown removals tape around the lens barrel and grip — for the “street” and characters he dealt with, this was a must. Along with never declaring your profession as “photographer” on immigration/landing forms, etc. Serious stuff. He used a Canon system.

              OK then, I’ll bow out here. The Champions League will begin soon… watching them live, in Asia, is not easy—especially with work the next day. The same day! Later that morning, etc…

              • Actually, when I was a journalist I felt like I had a right to be there, so I acted like it and just went right in. I think it’s the lack of confidence more than anything that changes the way others perceive you.

                I put ‘photographer’ on my immigration/ customs forms, otherwise I sometimes have trouble explaining the quantity of equipment – especially if I’m on a job. In any case, what else would my occupation be? :)

                • Tom Liles says:

                  If you’re interested Ming…

                  Actually, when I was a journalist I felt like I had a right to be there, so I acted like it and just went right in.

                  As any good journalist would. This is why I mention that by nature journalists are boundary crossers. They have to be. Otherwise you’d never get us the story [or the image in a photojournalist's case]. There’s a great plank of trust between public and journo there, I think. We trust that you’re being a journalist rather than a brute paparazzo [in the case of image makers]; that you have the right sense about when to go in and when not to [you know when it's a boundary past "public interest"]. It’s very easy to abuse that trust. But this area can’t be — shouldn’t be — legislated for; we just have to leave it to journos and news organizations and trust that most of them will get it right, most of the time. Some won’t, and thems the breaks, as it were. A little bit of public trust, though, disappears with each instance of that.

                  But yeah, imagine if Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward weren’t nosy enough, or didn’t have the balls, or didn’t consider that they had a right to know about what happened with the break-in at the DNC HQs… had a right to get a story, etc…

                  The, tenuously related, flip side:

                  I won’t link to it, but I came across a video by the guys at DigitalRev, a few weeks ago when I was researching rangefinders, which featured a sort of pro “street” shooter (a Korean chap, forget his name) and the main Digital Rev guy out on the street [testing Leicas, I think]. Not having really known before how these images were generally made [I always assumed the shots were taken completely incognito, or as close to, like yours are Ming], I was horrified to see how he, the sort of pro guy, went about it: just rolling right up on people, flash photo in the face and then laugh and go “thank you thank you!” I think if a person is offended, they should say so and defend themselves… and true, none of this guy’s subjects — “victims” would, in my view, be a better word — spoke up or complained [in the footage shown, anyway]. So I won’t objectively knock what he was doing [plus I don't know him from Adam].

                  But subjectively—no way. Knowing that that was the way his images were made, I hate hate hate every single one of them. It is just a blunt exercise in egotism, on his part. Most things are an act of ego, let’s be frank; but this is bald egotism. Really, I can’t think of anything more self-important, and valueless, than what he was doing. Just my subjective opinion, let me say again.

                  To end on something a bit more positive and pull it back to street set-ups: one of the most popular street photographers on the internet [and now beyond] for some time has been “The Satorialist.” I’m sure you’re familiar Ming. Nearly all of his pics are posed, permission shots [and they work because it is obvious he loves clothing]. I think I recall correctly when I say he uses a Canon system. And I’m quite sure he has a great big speedlight on top of it too. This is what quite a few regular people think of when they think “street photographer” nowadays, I’m sure. I certainly did before I got into photos. The Satorialist didn’t change anything single handed, the internet has self-evidently been a driving force [look at us here!]; but he, and his regional copycats [we have one called Rei Shito (pronounced "sheeto"), here in Japan], has certainly had a huge impact on many young people—I see a number of youngsters (I’m 34, married with two kids, another one on the way now, so I feel warranted to call 20 year-olds “youngsters” :) ) around Harajuku with cameras. This is the first point. And it follows that: the cameras they have are generally not little compacts, but mid-range DSLRs (approaching Thom Hogan’s “N80 line”) with quite advanced sensor technology in them. The kids don’t care about the sensor’s horizontal drive frequency or transfer clock voltages; they’re probably bothered about the brand name and the look and feel of the thing, and of course, for the more unsure ones, the vaunted Mpix count! And fair enough too. What they really wish for is to be like The Satorialist? Or are trying their own version of it, etc. And good for them.

                  But after a little use of whatever we buy, I think we all prefer smaller and lighter [all things being equal]. This is the zeitgeist. And this is perhaps why the interchangeable mirrorless cameras are a fast growing market segment—it lets people, like the kids above, emulate their heroes without having to really emulate them.

                  Good time to be a consumer grade camera maker, I reckon.

      • Hi,

        Yeah, I agree about the tourist part. What I meant was that it is easier to disappear/hide in the masses using a DSLR on the streets in the Summertime, when there are tourists everywhere. DSLRs are common among tourists. Yes, also easier if you are with other people or a lady! Being a guy sneaking around in public with a DSLR or mirrorless draws attention. Maybe not really, but I feel like it does. Strangely it’s a lot easier in a foreign city! :-)

        I’m not a people photographer on the streets myself, but they are there and often some end up in the frame. I usually aim for the architecture or a widers street scene and hope for the best! :-)

        • Tom Liles says:

          Hey there AskB!

          I’m having a whale of time wasting company time to talk about cameras!
          [I'm a newbie so forgive my enthusiasm]

          I’m not a people photographer on the streets myself, but they are there and often some end up in the frame. I usually aim for the architecture or a widers street scene and hope for the best!

          We’re exactly the same:)
          It’s actually really disappointing for me at the moment, but all my favorite photos I’ve taken so far were complete luck. Unintentional—not aimed for. Sometimes even in terms of exposure setting, focus point, but most usually: the contents of the frame. It’s quite disconcerting how many times I don’t see what I saw until the picture is blown up on my computer screen. I mean, I find myself saying I hope that that was subconscious! If it wasn’t even subconscious then it really is just plain luck of the draw and I’ll never get better. At any rate, if something catches my eye I’ll take it—and try to do it somewhere between “snap” and “methodical.” The more methodical pictures are always more boring. The more snappy ones are always badly executed [I wish I'd have framed it like this! I should've exposed for that! etc] but have a sliver of interesting.

          I don’t know about you AskB, but the more I look at pro’s photos — like Ming’s — for hints on how to do it, I think they have like a “controlled luck.” They may purposefully wait for certain arrangements or things in the frame, and capture it, but often the most interesting details [which are small, like the cherry on a cake] have to have been raw chance. The sudden glance of a subject, a bird that flew into frame, and so on. I can see sense in Henri Cartier Bresson’s comment that you “have to be open to it.” Some people must just have a knack for seeing the WorId serve them up image after image. Part God given, part cultivated, surely. I think Carl Jung would have sympathized with what HCB said.
          [As an aside, I love this. Of course the pictures are lovely, but I honestly prefer listening to HCB talk. Smart man. I don't look at the video much any more, I just load it up every now and then, and listen to HCB as I do my work. I must've listened about ten times now. Obviously a guy who's more interested in life than photography.]

          Cheers then AskB, thanks for talking to me and see you around the way!

    • There will come a time when there is no IQ penalty to a DSLR, just the finder; what we’re waiting for is full frame mirrorless…

      The size is fine if you don’t have to carry it and a bunch of lenses all day on your back and on foot. I prefer the optimal ergonomics when I’m working in a static location, but not if I’m walking 10km a day.

  9. Ming – I am a bit of a beginner, and I am currently working my way through Light: The Science and Magic (so interesting!) and I own the OMD. What flash set up do you recommend with it? Thanks so much!

  10. splendid summary MT! you write so well!

  11. I think plenty of people shoot these systems ‘seriously.’ Especially if you are also including the people who shoot Leica’s. And serious photographers don’t ‘need’ to shoot DSLRS. I gave up my DSLR for a Fuji X system – which I agree whole heartedly; but at the same time I needed the sync speed of the X100. Which has now come full circle as I eagerly wait for a M240.

    Thank you for the article again – gives the photographer lots to think about. I’m hoping there might be a part three where you talk about insane larger format photographers / film photographers. Medium, Large, instant… … Very legitimate system choices that do particular things very very well – but often underappreciated in today’s digital age.

    • It depends very much on your needs. I can do commercial food and reportage with the OM-D, but not product (insufficient resolution). Similarly I can’t easily do watches with the M system (though I have). Nor could I do architecture with either (no PC lenses).

      No part three sadly, I don’t have enough experience with anything other than some 35mm and the Hasselblad system…I did make some comments on film options in an earlier post, though.

  12. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    Glad to see film mentioned although I think most won’t consider it. A shame that Ricoh has abandoned all their cameras, not just the GXR. I suspect they are the next brand to disappear.

    • It would be sad if the GRD series comes to an end. It’s been a while since the last one, and to the best of my knowledge they’re still in production, so perhaps not all hope is lost.

  13. Thanks for the interesting article.

    Good to see you mentioned the option of simply sticking with film. Having said that, do you think there will ever be the digital equivalent of the Contax T series? I’m very happy with my T3. It’s a terrific compact that can be carried comfortably all the time and it has a wonderful lens. I also appreciate it having a viewfinder I can raise my eye to. I am not a fan of holding a camera at arm’s length. I’ve got a Samsung NX 200, which is not bad, but would prefer holding a camera to my eye. This particular model does not allow for an EVF. Plus, digital’s greater flexibility, with changing ISO and colour temperature, makes me think, more and more, about switching formats for my personal snaps.

    • I think we’re getting there, slowly. Two years ago we didn’t have the X100/X100S, Coolpix A, RX1, X2, DP series etc equivalents; it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets the premium compact formula right again (though I suspect they’re drawing it out to make us rubes buy everything in between).

  14. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    I`m a Ricoh GXR user, which I bought because of m-unit for my collection of ltm and m-mount lenses. Thus I may seem a knight for the lost cause. Like others I feel enormously let down by RicohPentax for not making and undated m-module with Pentax 5IIs sensor plus microlens shift treatment found in old unit. This would make me happy for a long time. As my main interest is previsualized street photo and the focus peaking is quite effective on GRX, fast AF is not that big issue for me ( zone focusing ). However may I be a bit positive about 28 and 50 units. True, theirs AF is slow compared to others albeit a new body with external focus sensor like in GDRIV would speed up the things. True, you are stuck with sensor even should there be something wrong with it, you won`t loose whole body, just use another unit. But, which mirrorless and DSLR system gives us interchangeable lenses with leaf shutter, silent and synchronizing up to 1/3200sec ? If only Ricoh made two more lensors 12mm (18 mm eqv. ) and 50 or 70mm ( 75 or 105mm eqv ), we`d be happy. But as Ming writes having the impression that system is mostly dead, which I hope not but might be true, I`ll try to make the best out of it`s features.

  15. sergeylandesman says:

    Great article ! Everything you said here is make sense.
    Thank you Ming!

  16. David Babsky says:

    Micro four thirds
    By far the most mature of all of the mirrorless systems; the lens lineup is nearly complete with the exception of tilt shifts..”

    B-b-but with the huge variety of adaptors available, it’s easy to use a venerable Oly OM shift lens, or a Canon TS lens – though, of course, one may want the -w-i-d-e-s-t- of TS lenses because its use on micro4/3 “doubles” a lens’ focal length, making a 35mm behave as a 70mm.

    It’s true that without an expensive “wired” or “active” adaptor (with power going to the lens’ metal contacts) one can’t adjust the aperture of a Canon TS on an m4/3 camera, but with one of those “Kipon” – or other brand – (find them on eBay) – tilting OM-to-m4/3 adaptors you have the tilt versatility of the adaptor, plus the shift capability of the original (OM) lens, and with the original lens’ aperture control.

    Not ideal, but till Oly, or someone else, does offer an m4/3 t/s lens there certainly are (ungainly) ways to get around this lack.

    (And the programmable stabilisation of the OM-D (or E-M5, or whatever they call it) gives superb stability even when not using a tripod.)

    Ricoh GXR
    “..I get the impression that the system is mostly dead today except for the M-mount APS-C module..” ..yup; I bought a 28-300mm module in Germany the other month – heavily discounted ..it was only about 50 Euros more to get the camera body thrown in with it: effectively, a zoom lens with a free camera! But the results, of course, are nowhere near those of the M-mount APS module because the 28-300 unit has such a teeny sensor fixed to the back of the zoom lens ..a bit disorienting.

    Compared with “..a used M8 – which would be a much better option..” ..no: I prefer the GXR and M-mount;
    1 – NO infra-red problems with the GXR shooting under tungsten light
    2 – smaller, lighter and QUIETER than an M8
    3 – use of COMPLETELY silent ‘electronic’ shutter of the GXR M-mount (but not with flickering lights)
    4 – higher useful ISO range of GXR in dim light
    5 – use of wide lenses without guessing the field of view, nor needing auxiliary finders (e.g; 15mm Voigt = 22mm)

    • M4/3: Those adaptors do exist, and I tried them out in Japan, but a) you’ve got the FL doubling problem, and often they don’t move about the nodal point of the lens, meaning some very odd effects when tilted or shifted. For architecture/ landscape work – where you’d need a wide T/S – the legacy lens simply doesn’t exist most of the time. I can’t imagine using a T/S fisheye…

      GXR vs M8: I don’t disagree there, but we again have an issue finding the right wide angle lenses. Even on the M8 – your say 21mm equivalent options aren’t really that many. The M8 still renders nicer B&W images though – probably because of the IR problem; I found the 3/4 tones and deep shadows much more luminous than any other digital camera. By the way, I think your 28-300 module is the same as the CX4 or something. We haven’t even seen a new one of those for over a year, and they’re usually out every six months like clockwork.

      • David Babsky says:

        “..The M8 still renders nicer B&W images though – probably because of the IR problem..” ..mm, yes ..in black and white.

        But formal dinners, weddings, etc, indoors in the evening, under tungsten: dinner jackets, little black dresses, all those formal blacks: there was just no way of knowing WHICH would come out black and which would be magenta (or whatever that purple colour’s called)..! An absolute nightmare for formal events without a separate IR filter on each lens.

        • Easy – they’ll all be magenta :)

          • David Babsky says:

            No, that’s the problem! ..Somewhere I’ve got a picture of my bedside table: one black-bodied lens is purple, but its black lens cap is black; another black-bodied lens is black, but its black lens cap is purple! And a brown (nylon) cuddly toy is also purple.

            Wool wasn’t so bad, and sometimes black cotton’s OK, but artificial fabric almost always showed as purple ..a black DJ (dinner jacket) might come out black, but with purple piping on its collar! Black shoes; purple. Black dress; black. Black handbag; purple. Grrrr!

  17. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Ming,

    In your article
    “Deconstructed photography, part two: compact camera masterclass”
    the link at the beginning
    “In _part one_, we deconstructed…”
    is broken.

    And thank you for these new articles,
    much more informative than “laboratory” (dpreview etc.) reviews!
    Not to mention parts of the following discussion.

    By the way,
    The micro four thirds blog http://m43blog.com/
    links to your “Quick first thoughts – Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20″.

  18. As of late, there are a lot of new faces in the Leica Forum. Based on the comments, I suspect many of these folks are attracted to the M because of LiveView, Focus Peaking, EVF, and video. My M arrived three weeks ago, together with the EVF. My experience with rangefinders goes back three years to the M9, so I am hardly a longstanding traditionalist. I bought into Leica because I liked the high quality in a small package. It certainly has made travel a delight. I am finished lugging the large Canon with four lenses and an extra body around.

    My observations on the M: It is a vast improvement over the M9–frame lines, menu system, and file quality–including ability to shoot at higher ISO (I got very usable files at ISO 2000 this past weekend). Having said that, I think a lot of these new folks will be disappointed withe LiveView, EVF, and focus peaking. I experimented with the EVF for an afternoon and went right back to the traditional rangefinder focusing mechanism. It is faster and more accurate. A recent review on the Leica Forum confirms my observation. One user has and apparently continues to do extensive tests comparing rangefinder focusing with EVF and focus peaking. He concludes that the traditional mechanism is more accurate than focus peaking. Based on comments from others, this seems to be an evolving consensus view. So a word of warning to potential new Leica users who are attracted by these new features: Buy into the system for its strengths, but focus peaking and live view are not autofocus and zoom lenses. Moreover, why anyone who is serious about video would buy an M to is beyond me.

    As for using other lenses–Leica R–for example. The lenses that are outside the range of existing Lecia M lenses have shot up in price. Moreover, unless you are shooting off a tripod, I don’t think (no actual experience) the ergonomics work–putting a gigantic lenses on a little body. As is almost always the case, buying the right tool for the job makes more sense than retro-fitting something that was never designed for the particular job.

  19. Words from the heart
    derived from vast practical experiences
    made things a little clearer to end-users
    made roadmap a little fine tune to manufacturers
    weighty & profound information that a photog may need $$$ & time to arrived at this juncture
    ponderous a newbie photog from compact thinking of migration, in dilemma, answer -in -blog
    but alas, only truthful friend in the circle generous, kind, compassionate enough to share
    count our blessing to arrive here
    hey manufacturers, agree/disagree not important
    avoid silence
    instruct your financial executive to read and do something, engineers will pick ‘hint’, ‘hint’, actual variable market needs unfold
    better that someone say something than quiet, too quiet demand and supply may not be oneness
    free-fall is painful, revisit and adjust accordingly, and no one aware no face at stake, many combination you flower seed it
    you always win, if only the $$$ bank into your account
    we benefited from realistic photo machine at a reasonable price point and availability
    all won then. Cheerio!

  20. How do I unsubscribe from recieving all the follow up comments and new posts? My inbox has just been destroyed!

  21. Thank you for the nice summary of the mirrorless landscape.

    I like that you mentioned the Olympus E-PM2, my micro 4/3 of choice. The OM-D seems to get the bulk of the consideration but I really like the smaller Olympus, which has the same image quality.

  22. As always great insight. To drill down into film for a moment, do you see a slight resurgence for film? I kind of get that thought with Lomography, younger/newer film interest, M film shooters continuing etc. Do you see a future for film? I would enjoy to see a new version special edition of like a M3 (unless thats already here called the M7)? Your thoughts?…. thank Ming.

    • I don’t know. On one hand, there’s that pop culture interest, on the other, I see the companies who actually make the film going under or increasing prices…

  23. As a longtime record collector (vinyl, CD, and files), I suspect you are going to see the same debate and trends in the film world as we have seen in the record world. There will be the hard core folks who simply refuse to switch from film and there will be young folks who like the retro aspects of film. The hard core folks will claim that analogue is better than digital even now that there is little debate that color digital surpasses color film–the jury is still out on black and white. Film will be with us for a long-time, but the cost will go up and the available options will decrease. But you will see one familiar post on forums that have catered to the film crowd–”I have shot film for the last forty years, but I am throwing in the towel.”

    • Jack: I agree with most of your thoughts while my question to Ming isn’t the over debated digital versus film question. While I shoot with both, and believe there are merits of both (my choice is M6 + Fuji100 for mostly art photo content), I do believe there is a stronger market for film today than a few years ago and getting stronger. BUT what do I know-i’m a painter…… (:—–>0)

    • Sounds about right – it’s a bit of a shame, because I think there’s a lot to be learned from shooting film (even if perhaps you might not want to use it all the time, or for commercial work etc). I just hope it will remain accessible enough for those new to it and curious.

  24. Just curious, why EPM-2 over EPL-5…? Are they about 1 stop better than the RX100?

    I agree with you on Micro Four Thirds. They seem to have hit the sweet spot in the market. Not too big… not too small. Reasonably large print sizes… Just the right amount of high ISO performance. Reasonably priced lenses…!

    I’m surprised that Nikon and Canon haven’t really caught on. People want a D700 in an OMD (or NEX-6) “like” package. I expect that the next generation after the EM-5 will probably be close to perfect.

    • Yes, and I’d rather have something smaller and cheaper. If I need tilt, I’ve got the OM-D. About a stop and a half, I’d say.

      • I know you’re really busy but no one has been able to give me a definite yes or no. On my OM-D, because I’m unlucky enough to be left eyed, my cheek keeps on shifting the focusing square to some other box except the center box which I always want. Is there any way to lock that central box??? I’m an old rangefinder split image focusing kind of guy and the central box is all I’m interested in.
        Take care,
        Christian

        • I think there’s a way to turn off the touch LCD in the menus, or certainly on the LCD by pressing the icon on the left that toggles touch shutter/ touch focus.

        • David Babsky says:

          “..Is there any way to lock that central box???..” ..Press ‘Menu’, go down to ‘cog wheels’, choose ‘B – Button/Dial’, press right arrow, choose Button Function, and I then set ‘Fn 1′ (function button 1) to “[...] Home HP” (Home Position), and then exit from the Menu.

          That sets Function Button 1 to set the focus area to the Home (central) position.

          The manual is so tricky to read and understand, I know..

  25. Ming, you left out the RX1 which those of us who value FF IQ and world class Zeiss lens rendering is an excellent option.
    I know you don’t like it cause it is expensive and is fixed 35mm focal length and not your beloved 28mm focal length, but it is the only compact FF 35mm option besides the much more expensive FF Leica M. The Sony sensor (same as in D600) is the top sensor tech out there with excellent DR and high ISO noise performance which is even better than new Leica M. The lens is sharp wide open across the frame and renders very nice smooth bokeh. Much smoother than your nervous, double-edge bokeh rendering OM-D with M 50 Lux combination. ;) The EVF is excellent too and makes the camera complete. Yes, the AF is slower than the OM-D but it is good enough unless you are shooting fast action subjects. For street photography etc. it is fine for me. The price is what limits the popularity of this camera, and people don’t seem to account for the difference in cost between FF and cropped sensors and the cost of a FF lens. The silent leaf shutter is in a class by its own, making it nice and stealthy. Not even Leica can come close.
    Sensor size and good glass still matter! While everyone goes crazy over their cropper’s like DP1/2/3M and Fuji X and OM-D, I still prefer the FF look/rendering and am happy that my RX1 gives me that in spades! Too bad you didn’t try one out at B&H.

    • I left it out not because it’s 35mm, but because it isn’t really a system. There are lots of great fixed-lens cameras, but they’re obviously extremely limited photographically. Same reason the Coolpix A, X100s etc aren’t in there either.

  26. Andrew S says:

    I’ve found the NEX to be an amazingly flexible system despite the lack of pro native lenses. I shoot 90% using an M-mount lens manually, and the NEX is the best manual focus system I’ve found for fine focus adjustment. The focus peaking, magnification, and excellent viewfinders make it possible. Furthermore, I can do unusual things with Leica lenses–shoot video and shoot macro (using a lens adapter which includes a close focusing ring)! Video on it feels more natural than on DSLRs. It’s quite powerful and when I switch to my DSLR I sometimes get frustrated by waiting for autofocus or not being able to use my viewfinder for review.

    I found the NEX-native Zeiss lens to be unusable for manual focus, unusable for autofocus at less than f/2.8 (though not the fault of the lens), and only okay with the DMF manual/auto mix. On the other hand, I really enjoy the ultra-cheap Sigma primes.

    Recently I’ve seen firesale pricing for the samsung, olympus, and nikon mirrorless cameras. $199 for an NX210 with kit lens? Beginners have it good these days. I am not at all surprised that the point-and-shoot market is dead.

    I’ve only tried the nikon mirrorless in stores, bu the autofocus felt as good as a dslr with a pro lens—really impressed.

    Next time you’re around SF drop me a line and I’ll give you a tour of the many panoramas and other impressive photos in our office. We’re a couple miles from google.

    • Thanks Andrew!

    • Dirk De Paepe says:

      I fully agree with you on the manual focus capabilities of the NEX, Andrew (I use the 7). Extra advantage of the focus peeking is, that one can focus on any point in the viewfinder, without having to reframe – so that makes it very fast. And another advantage of the NEXs, IMO, is the tiltable LCD screen, which allows extreme viewpoints: as high as possible above your head or really close to the ground. And at belly height it allows really discrete candid/street shooting – enhanced by the super compact camera size. I really don’t read much about the advantages of a tiltable LCD screen, like if it’s something for debutants. Personally I concider it incomprehensible that a manufacturer ignores its possibilities and just leaves it omitted…

  27. Damn. I so wanted you to say the Fuji X were a workable option, but your findings are exactly what I experienced.
    There is something about the “rangefinder” type packaging I find really attractive
    :)Tim

  28. Nikon 1 — not for commercial work? Maybe generally speaking, but I’d guess the closest most of us readers will get to getting paid for their photos is a service like Alamy, and the Nikon 1 is one of the Alamy’s recommended cameras.

    (I also bet that CX is going to look a very sensible choice of sensor-size in 2 year’s time, given the progress in sensor technology; i.e. the advantage in terms of lens size — which is huge for telephotos — will become increasingly important.)

    • Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got photos from my iPhone 4 in the Getty library, but I don’t think any client commissioning work would be willing to pay full rates if you turned up with one of those. Could it do the job file-quality wise? I don’t doubt it, since it’s probably better than some DSLRs from not that long ago. Unfortunately, it’s very much an image/ face thing…as stupid as it sounds, I’ve started bringing the Hasselblad along (even if I don’t use it for the main shots) and it seems to impress the clients…

  29. Dirk De Paepe says:

    I guess I must be an exceptional NEX user. I have a NEX/M adapter permanently on my NEX-7 body and use 12 prime lenses. My favourite focus lengths are 20, 28, 50 and 85mm. Besides M-mount lenses, I also use Canon FDs (converted to M-mount). I also tried an FD Zoom which works fine but I don’t really use it because I always shoot with primes. Great system to me. Nice IQ and from the moment I let go the prejudices against adapter-use, I feel like everything is possible and the lens choice all of a sudden became immense. Since all my lense are M-mount or converted to M-mount, the use is like there is no adapter involved at all. Very convenient indeed. Oh yeah, IMO it IS important to use adapters of excellent quality, like the Novoflex’s I use.

    • Andrew S says:

      Dirk, you and me both (as I mentioned above :). I strongly recommend the close-focusing NEX to M-mount adapters, to overcome the poor close-focus ability of most Leica lenses. You can find them on ebay, “Hawks” is the high-quality original and there are a bunch of cheap knock-offs. They give you an extra focusing ring on the adapter that essentially acts like an adjustable macro tube.

      • Do they still go to infinity?

        • Andrew S says:

          Yes–when fully retracted, the adapter is the same length as a standard adapter.

          • No issues with planarity/ corner softness due to play in the extension? This is an interesting bit of equipment indeed…

            • Andrew S says:

              The Hawk’s adapter seems to be quite high quality. There’s no play when fully retracted, and only a tiny bit in the forward-backward direction when fully extended (which isn’t very far…maybe half a cm). I haven’t seen any softness with it extended, though I’ll admit that I don’t generally view at 100% and I rarely have concerns about corners. The adapters are quite popular, so there’s plenty of better information out there about them.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Thanks for the tip, Andrew. I’ll look into it when I get back from my business trip… in a few days.

  30. Dennis Ng says:

    It is not the system.

    It was a joke in arguing that instead of aperture or shutter priority, many opt for pretty girl priority. But that is not news. Instead a system, another total different perspective but it tell a more important priorit (not the girl) as the subject. That is why your sorting sequence is bad, may I say. If one concentrate by system instead of subject, gem like nikon v1 may be missed (sort of as nikon player just bought it during fire sell). The saying that be there and f8 also said this in a roundabout way.

    • And what if you shoot more than one type of subject? What if you shoot one type of subject in various ways, e.g. people may be posed in studio or photojournalism-run-and-gun? This isn’t a very practical approach.

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