System thinking

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Choices, choices, choices. From the ultimate image quality shootout.

We have a rather strange hardware problem: on casual observation, simultaneously too much choice, but at the same time, when all things are taken into account, a lack of it. It isn’t the problem of the perfect camera not existing, but rather that we have to jump through a lot of hoops for a complete solution. There are digital systems with sensor sizes ranging from 2/3” (Pentax Q) to 645 (Phase One, Hasselblad) – and to make things more confusing, surprising amounts of interchangeability*. So what is a serious photographer to do?

*Practically, this is nothing more than an illusion and a bunch of empty promises: even if you can do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

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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.

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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.
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