On one of the DPR fora, a photographer was saying that amatuers should pick their cameras for their ergonomics, since all of today’s cameras are capable of making great images. He compared buying a camera to going to the shelter to choose a dog, and said you need to get the one that speaks to you.
For myself, I most emphatically disagree.
I am an amateur photographer, albeit a serious one who works on my photography every day. I have exhibitions, but make no money from them — in fact, printing for a recent show cost me several thousand dollars in materials. I sell prints, but gain no money from that, either; the “customer” makes a contribution to a charity of my choice.
When I pick a camera for a project, I pick the one that will allow me to make images that are the closest to my visions. I am currently using a GFX 100 for my main project. It is a long way from the most enjoyable camera to operate that I own, and even further from the most pleasant camera that I’ve ever used. I don’t like to use it nearly as much as the GFX 50S, which I also — for now, anyway — still have. The reason is that I like the images from the GFX 100 much more, and they will allow me to make finely detailed large prints with less aliasing than the GFX 50S would give. There are things I hate about the GFX 100 user interface. Yet I continue to use it. Why is that? It’s because I get better images — well, better for my uses. The pleasure of getting the result I want far outweighs the pleasure of using the camera.
For years, I made images with a Betterlight Super 6K and a Linhof Master Technika. Were they fun to use? No, they were thoroughly unpleasant to use. The back needed to be tethered to a laptop, and it was hard to see the screen outdoors. I had to bring along a separate stand for the laptop. Setting it up took forever. Yet I happily used it because nothing that was more convenient would allow me to get the images I wanted.
Yes, today’s cameras are great. But when it comes to shooting in a specific situation, they are far from fungible. The GFX 100 makes great images, but there are fluid situations where speed or quiet is important for which an a9 is a far better choice. I could shoot sports with a GFX 100, but I prefer to do so with a D5.
As to bonding with our gear, I have yet to find a camera that I couldn’t figure out how to use to make images that were within its wheelhouse, although there was one camera — the Sinar F — that made me the happiest when it was replaced by a Linhof.
The most enjoyable digital cameras in operation have, for me, all been M-mount Leicas. I’ve had an M8, a M9, and an M240. They all were tactile joys. The sound of the shutter was sublime (some more than others). The stripped-down menu system was easy to use. They were small, and with a Thumbs-Up, fit my hand well. The finish was superb. I sold them all long ago. Imprecise RF focusing and framing, parallax, and a few other things made them not as good at making the images that I wanted to make as the a7x cameras of the day, which could use the same lenses. The a7x menus were awful. The fit and finish was just passable. But they used the same lenses as the Mx cameras, so the transition was easy.
So I don’t want a camera that makes my heart sing (I still have one of those, a Nikon S2, but I never use it). I want a camera that will let me make the images I want to make.
I couldn’t agree with you more, in fact I followed your same path with Leica M cameras. It was a sad day when I sold them and all M lenses to buy a H6D 100- C. The larger format film days are something I don’t miss you know been there done that.
I now shoot Hasselblad and Fuji X I love my X T-4 for everything but landscapes because I know The wow factor I the 100mp image is possible in bigger prints or cropped images. I love the form factor of the X1Dii but it’s slowness, black out time, battery life and crippled innards in my opinion is a step backwards or at best sideways.
I’m on stand by for the next generation of intelligent sensors which will capture light in a completely different way. Just maybe some company will cram that into a decent body and offer up a few pieces of outstanding really fast glass before I’m too old to care!
Funniest camera I had and sold this century because the camera menus, dials and ease of use sucked not to mention pulling a decent image from the files was so challenging was the Nikon Coolpix P1000. With the piece of S on legs and the lens extended I was in a different world really that length of glass was incredible. And I had it in Hong Kong for two weeks 2018 during the monsums the light was breathtaking. I have some images shot thru glass windows from the 116th floor of the ICC building that just beg to have been shot with my H camera oh well.
Thanks for bring up this topic and stirring my mind in these wonderful times.
Eric Brody says
Thanks Jim. Finally, someone says what I have thought and said, though to a much smaller audience, for years. In a word, it’s the image! In the day, view cameras made the best images, though they were certainly not the easiest to use.I think it was Ted Orland who said one easily could make some huge number (well over 100) of errors before pushing the cable please with a view camera. There’s even a poster about it. But that’s what many of us used. I’d love to own a GFX100, warts and all, but instead I “compromise” with a mere Sony A7RIV. I agree with you, I’ve never understood those who prioritize anything other than image quality. I understand that there are often financial constraints but believe one should still strive for the best one can afford.
Louis Foubare says
It’s the scene or location that makes my heart sing as I can use any camera once my create juices are flowing.
Erik Kaffehr says
I would be able to agree with both views…
In the old time, there was a saying, 1/125, f/8 and be there. That may be a photojournalistic approach. Guess it was about camera format. Many great images were taken with that kind of recipe. I would also guess that the photographer used zone focusing or hyperfocal focusing.
The images were often shown in small size. My understanding is that DoF tables used to be based on a CoC of 1/1500 of the diagonal. For a square image that would be around 1.1 MP.
But, we now live in an era we often see images at around 10 MP, that is filling a 4K display, perhaps 32″, something like 18.5″x28″ in 2×3 aspect ratio.
We may even print large, with say 28″x40″ being my largest normal print size. Assuming 180 PPI for a very good print, that would need 36 MP.
Nothing hinders us printing larger, except wall space and we may also print at 360 PPI or even 720 PPI to allow really close scrutiny.
So, in our time, 10, 24, 50 and even 100 MP makes some sense. So a workflow that was perfectly good enough in the sixties may need some refinement in the digital era.
Early in the digital era, one of my friends noted: ‘For each year of our exhibition, the prints get larger’.
Printing large, it may a lot of sense not just acquire the best available gear, but also to make best use of it.
That said, fine art is not simultaneous with great pixels.
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Jeffrey Horton says
I agree with you, but you are not the average user and the advice given may be ok for a majority of users.
Erik Kaffehr says
It may be a good point. Almost any gear is capable of delivering good image quality. But, needs are different. I don’t think average users have average needs.
Portrait shooters may need fast lenses, at least some of them…
Some photographers can use ‘zone focusing’ but some photographers may need accurate and efficient autofocus.
Some photographers may need telephoto lenses, while some others may need zooms.
All those needs can be quite average, but they can be very different.
Dennis Watts says
I couldn’t disagree with you more! Just kidding, it really is about the final image.
However, I do think that we’re talking about photographers at different points in there hobby/career. Beginner photographers should find a camera that is comfortable AND meets the requirements for the type of photography.
Some photographers just moving from a phone to a better camera don’t even really understand what genre they want to focus on. “I just want better pictures”.
Others have a specific task in mind. “I want to take pictures of my kid’s soccer game”. That Mom or Dad will probably want something a little faster, but not so expensive that they can’t afford longer glass.
My recommendation has and will always be, the first time buyer should go to a real camera store. Not Best Buy or Costco or God forbid Amazon. The camera salesman, if they’re any good, will ask the important questions.
What do you want to photograph?
What type of computer do you have?
Where do you want to show the pictures,?
Do you think you will ever print the pictures? (if they say no…Come back after your first shoot so he can talk you into printing)
Do you have any friends that are photographers? What brand do they have?
What is your budget?
Once he has gathered the information layout the suitable options and THEN picks the one that fits best in your hand.
eBay is littered with great gear that someone got and then didn’t like or couldn’t figure out. I got a 24mm Summilux because a “pro” talked my dentist into buying an a7r with the adapter.
NOPE! I just changed my mind, please keep buying your Sony, Leica and GFX gear on Amazon, and we will keep our eye on eBay:)
Tord S. Eriksson says
I have wondered abound the world of cameras a long time, over 60 years now, and as you write, some cameras are a joy to use, and others are horrid, although the images they produce are impressive. My Sony NEX-5N was one of those horrid ones, and almost all Sony’s lenses were horrid as well, but they made a Zeiss 24 that was a pure delight to use, and the images with that were stunning.
Sinars, classic Hasselblads, and old DSLRs had their place, I guess, but I do not miss them at all.
I had a lot of Pentax gear for some years, and I still think the Pentax menu system is one of the better, and some of the lenses delightful, but the AF system depressing, and the AF-C mode a cruel joke, even with the top of the range cameras.
Then a Nikon1 V1 ended up in my possession (my wife decided she preferred an E-M5 instead of the V1).
That camera, now soon 10 years old, still performs effortlessly, with an excellent AF, OK menus, and a nice size. The lenses were optically good, but mechanically crap (except the 70-300 CX), so now I mainly use F Mount Sigma, and Nikon, lenses.
Small sensors are by default noisy, but with time one learns how to minimize the issue, and as I had a Nikon 1 camera with F Mount lenses it became natural to get an FX camera as well, and then to get reach and good tracking I eventually got myself a couple of DX cameras,
I would love to have a camera with four 1″ sensors, and four processors, that used F mount lenses, say the same Sony sensor you’ll find in a DX100 or a Nikon 1 J5. 80MP in total and extremely fast processing, That would shake the world, I’m sure!
Michael Klein says
It is a very well written “specialist” point of view, one where you have the expertise and resources needed to rent or buy specific equipment for very specific situations. At a much less sophisticated level, for me it matters how the camera/lens combination handles and feels. It makes me want to take the camera with me on trips and walks and for events. But then again I have yet to encounter a shooting situation in which specific gear is needed to do the job. In other words: Your point is valid, as is the point about the “feel” – depending on the user.
David Gurtcheff says
Nice article Jim. I am also an amateur, 83 years of age. The final print was always my goal. In 1959 I built my first darkroom with an Omega enlarger. By 1960 I was making 16″x20″ Kodak “Type C” color prints. I would buy two boxes of 50 sheets of color paper of the same emulsion number, and refrigerate one box and freeze the other, as each emulsion batch had to be balanced for my enlarger. Even though I was an amateur, by 1960 I used a Leica M2, Hasselblad 500 C and an Asahi Pentax SLR model K with “instant return mirror”, and semi-auto lenses. Quality of big prints was always my goal. Today I still do my own printing with an Epson 7890. I make 20″x30″ prints from my 35mm full frame camera (Sony A7RIV), and 24″x32″ prints from my GFX 50R. I do sell framed prints from time to time, which pays for the “habit”. I do prefer 4″x3″ format. During the Pandemic my wife and I went on motor trips to deserted places for me to photograph. here are some still images made recently during the lock down on this 4 minute slide show, if I am not breaking any rules here:
Thanks for your work put into this site
Beach Haven, NJ
Jan Kappetijn says
The comparison with choosing a dog is nonsense too. Real dogs are (were) bred for special purposes. In a dog shelter one finds frustrated animals, that are given away from their master or family. Sorry a little bit off topic here.
Comparing a camera with a dog and analogies like that will never be credible because they’re incomparable. It might sound poetic but that’s about all. You shouldn’t just pick a dog because it “speaks to you” either. Certain breeds need a lot of walking and if you work full time, you might not be able to give them the care they deserve.
In the case of cameras, they’re often very different from each other. The Canon R5 has some interesting lenses. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 RF is considerably lighter than Sony and if you’re a traveller who likes to take such a focal length with you, that’s noticeable (negated once you go to 100-400mm). Would I make an investment decision on it? It’s hard to say. Sony could easily come out with a comparable lens.
The Sony a7r IV with the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM lens is considerably lighter than what Canon currently offers. Moreover, Sony cameras are very roughly twice as efficient. I don’t know why that is. Maybe their CPU’s draw less current or what but for long trips where you might not face a power outlet, being able to charge your batteries from a big USB power bank is a big deal. I’m a bit of a niche photographer in that regard, so for many maybe it won’t make a difference and swapping out batteries more frequently might be okay.
Beginner photographers might not care about high resolution as much. Every professional retoucher I’ve spoken to agrees more megapixels (where all else is equal) is better. It’s more data for editing. A youtube/ig’er might not care, and the Sony a7s III is a considerable advantage over other cameras.
Personally, I wouldn’t waste your time reading the DPR forums. I used to, and it’s like banging your head against a wall. It feels great when you stop.
I remember writing a huge post saying the menu system should be separated for stills and video, and the menu system itself needs re-writing. I explained I was happy to re-write the code, for free. The summation of the posts was I was a troll, I wasn’t a photographer, I hadn’t used Sony camera equipment, I wasn’t used to Sony camera equipment and the menus were perfect. I wrote to Sony explaining how they should separate the menus. The menu is now different in the Sony a7s III and I don’t see a SINGLE post complaining that the video and stills options are now separated. Everyone loves it. That’s not logical though, because if it was perfect before, it can no longer be perfect in their eyes.
Find me two simple posts where someone says “I was wrong, you made some valid points” and I’d feel differently but until that time, I just think the forum culture is a bunch of people replying based on emotion and not logic. I think they can be logical, so it’s not a case they’re not capable of it. I just think they’re so mentally attached to a bit of metal, in most cases, the discussion is pointless.
I know this sounds bitter, but I just wish sometimes people could separate art and the objective, and discuss the two logically and emotionally where relevant.
I often see that.