In this video, I’m going to walk you through a process that will help you choose the right camera for your needs; it’s the same process I use myself as I choose new photo and video gear. Here are the decision-making steps I talk about in the video:
Love what you already have
Learn to use your equipment properly
Don’t stress out about resolution (megapixels)
Don’t get on a tech merry-go-round
You don’t need UHD (4k video) just yet
Be wary of “filler resolution”
Separate the “nice to have” from the “must have”
Get separate photo and video gear in order to obtain the best quality images and video
I hope this helps you!
It may seem like what I say in this video about camera resolution and about separating the equipment you purchase for photograph and video is contradicting what I say in this post, or in this post, but it isn’t that. I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, and I’ve simply become more nuanced in my understanding of many aspects of digital cameras and when I sat down and thought about what kind of advice I wanted to give in this video, the statements I made above rang truest.
I have been doing research lately, because I want to purchase a new camera (maybe a couple of them, not sure yet), so I thought I’d put together my thoughts on full-frame cameras available these days. Before we get started, I need to make it clear from the get-go that there is no absolute best camera out there anywhere. There are however, best cameras for various needs. What I’m going to be talking about in this article is full frame cameras available right now, best suited for my needs as a professional photographer and videographer, and I will detail those needs below. Should you not have the patience or the time to read through this entire review, skip to the end for my recommendation.
What I can tell you about me is that I’ve been keenly interested in photography since college (that’s more than 20 years ago). I’ve shot on 35mm film and APS film and when digital cameras arrived on the market, I started buying them and shooting with them, even back when they only offered 3 megapixels and an ISO range of 100-400. If I look in my Lightroom catalogs under the camera metadata, I see over 70 of them listed there (it’s over 100 models actually but there’s some overlap plus some scanners are listed as well, so I’ll say 60-70 cameras just to be on the safe side). Also, my photographs have been published in 10 printed books (recipe books, health books and other literature) and have also been purchased as prints and licensed for commercial use. I am known commercially as a food photographer 😯. Yeah, go figure! Do you see any food photography in my photo streams or on my social media? Nope. It’s in the printed books though.
If this preface makes what I’m about to write here relevant to you, good, read on. If not, by all means, look elsewhere, there are a ton of websites that review cameras out there, and the market for this kind of subject has grown tremendously in the last several years. As a matter of fact, I feel that there are a little too many websites and people giving their mostly unqualified opinions on cameras these days and they’re muddying the waters.
From 2008 onward, I have used (mostly) Canon cameras. I have three Canon DSLRs (a 5D, a 7D and a 60D) plus a PowerShot G10. I have other cameras (Olympus, Minolta, Kodak), but so far, I’ve shot most of my photographs with Canon. In 2007, I fell in love with the original EOS 5D. It may sound strange to fall in love with a camera, but the 5D was (and still is) a combination of beautiful design and features that made it irresistible to me. I thought this camera was the cream of the crop and it truly was, in its time.
I wasn’t the only one to think so, seeing as how Canon has not changed the exterior design of the camera through 4 subsequent generations (Mark II, Mark III, 5DS/5DSr and Mark IV). Why mess with a good thing, right? The design is gorgeous, even after all these years. Have a look at a few photos of my 5D taken last night. Isn’t it a beauty? 😍
I still actively use my 5D. I take it out of my equipment cabinet every once in a while to take photos with it, and then I don’t want to put it back. I want to keep it on my desk so I can look at it as I work. It has performed just as I expected it to perform all these years: superbly. I only had to send it in for service twice: once to replace the shutter (I had taken somewhere between 75,000 – 100,000 photographs with it at the time) and on another occasion, to fix the hotshoe, because the rails had become loose and my speedlites weren’t making proper contact.
Here’s a photo I took yesterday. I love this camera!
While I’m talking about my love for the 5D, I was once invited to the launch party for the Olympus E-3 flagship DSLR and I brought my 5D along to take photos of the event. The 5D was my best camera at the time and I wanted to make sure I could take quality photographs of the event.
As I was talking with some of the Olympus folks, they asked me what I thought of the E-3. My answer was: “It looked great so far and that I looked forward to reviewing it in the field, given that it was up against some tough competition from my 5D, which I loved.” Yeah, that was a smart thing to say… 😬 To my credit, I had just bought the 5D a few months back and I really did love it. Guess how many more invites to Olympus launch parties I got afterwards? ⛔ When I requested the E-3 for my hands-on review, repeatedly, after I’d already published a preview post, their polite answer was that “there were a limited number of review units and they were all out on loan”. Ouch! 🚪 As the Soup Nazi would say, “No camera for you!” 🙅🏻♂️
However… and I think you expected this “however” after the long setup… after 10 years with my 5D and several years with my other DSLRs, I am now at an impass. I need a new professional digital camera that meets the following two criteria:
Takes high-quality, high-resolution images and
Shoots 4K video (proper, high-quality 4K video)
I’m looking at cameras with sensor sizes up to full frame. I don’t want to move to a medium format sensor just yet, for reasons I can perhaps detail in another post. So I have some tough choices to make. If you’re in the same boat, maybe this post can help you decide.
This impass is also partly caused by Canon. Just this past week, I tried sending my 5D in for a professional sensor cleaning, because it’s got some dust spots that I just can’t clean off with sensor swabs, only to be told that the 5D is no longer being serviced as of September 2015. Canon no longer provides parts for it and has apparently instructed Canon authorized service centers not to service it, not even to clean the sensors 😡. I’m willing to pay to service my camera but Canon doesn’t want to service it! The camera still works great, but according to Canon, I can just chuck it away. Should something go wrong with it, it becomes e-waste. Thanks a bunch, Canon! 😠
Given that I love my Canon 5D and I like (not love) my 7D and 60D, which are my workhorses these days, and that I’m heavily invested in Canon gear (EF and EF-S lenses, speedlites and transmitters, extra batteries, extra chargers, cable releases, etc.), I naturally would like to get a Canon camera. The more research I do though, the more I realize that it would not be the best option for me right now.
I want a full frame camera. I love the dimensionality and quality of the photos that I get with it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I love about the photographs from a full-frame camera, but they’re good. I know, I’d probably love a medium-frame sensor even more… Maybe at some point in the future…
Let me offer a quick explanation of resolution and sensor size, because it’ll set the stage for some of the choices I have to make. A camera with a full frame sensor can offer more resolution because there’s more surface on the sensor for the pixels. It can also offer a higher ISO range, but there is a trade-off between higher ISO and higher resolution. At the current time, there are limits to both values and it has to do with the surface area of the sensor. If you take a 35mm (full frame) sensor, you can get more resolution from it, but you’ll have to squeeze more pixels in there (hence the term “mega-pixels”). The smaller the area for each pixel, the less light it can see, so that means that you’ll run into limits on the ISO range, because collectively, all those tiny pixels won’t be able to see very well in the dark. You can push the ISO up, but you’ll only get more noise. The algorithms baked into camera processors get better every year and consequently, they can better interpret the signal received from the sensor and you can thus push the ISO range higher, but only so far before you get digital garble. That’s why the Canon 5DS has a 50 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 6400, while the Sony a7S II has a 12 megapixel resolution and an ISO limit of 102400.
The Sony can literally see in the dark, that’s how good it is. You can sit out in pitch darkness, put it on manual focus, hold it in your hand, take a photo, and the camera will actually see what’s around you! Both are full frame cameras, but since the Sony a7S gives me the same resolution as my current Canon 5D, it’s not my optimal choice. Now, the frame rate also plays into why the a7S and some other cameras offer lower resolution (and higher frame rates), but let’s not complicate matters. I don’t need a camera with an incredibly fast frame rate, because I have no interest in sports photography.
When the Canon 5DS came out, I was speechless. Here was a camera that offered 50 megapixels from a full frame sensor and the quality of the photographs was not questionable. 50 megapixels is medium-frame territory! But did it shoot 4K video? No. It did not meet my second criteria. So if I got it, I would also have to get a separate camera (or cameras) in order to shoot 4K video for our web shows. I don’t know about you, but not only do I not want to have a large inventory of equipment that needs to be mastered, operated and maintained, I also don’t want to spend a small fortune equipping my studio, given how ephemeral digital equipment can be (see what Canon did to my 5D above, it discontinued support even though a LOT of original 5D cameras are still working). Also, different brands require different lenses (this is an aspect that I’ll address a bit further down the page), so not only would I have to get more cameras, but more lenses and accessories for them, and that means an even greater budget.
Then the 5D Mark IV came out. Here was the answer to my dilemma, or so I thought… But Canon decided to give it 30 megapixels (after they had successfully shown that they could offer 50 megapixels two years prior). I am fully aware that 30 megapixels is quite a lot in and of itself, but there are other full-frame cameras on the market which offer significantly more resolution at the same price and same (and some would say better) image quality. And while the camera offers 4K video, it is encoded in Motion JPEG, which is not an ideal video codec. There’s been a lot of discussion online about this (here’s one example). Remember when Nikon first started to offer HD video on their DSLRs, what seems like ages ago? It was also Motion JPEG and people were groaning and complaining about that to no end, while others were saying we should be happy they’re offering it at all. Well, now it’s my turn to groan and complain about this thing, while others are just happy it’s UHD (4K) video instead of FHD (1080p)…
Also, if someone wants a professional flat color option in video (for proper color grading in post), it is a paid extra. Adding the Canon Log gamma is $100 and if you didn’t buy your camera with it, you have to send it to an authorized Canon service center to get it upgraded. Most camera stores offer you the option of buying it either with Canon Log or without Canon Log. Granted the $100 video upgrade is pocket change when we’re talking about a camera that costs $3,300, but why is it an add-on when other camera manufacturers offer different gamma logs built right into the camera?
And that my dear reader, the price, is the final rub. I get that the DSLR market is shrinking and companies making sophisticated, higher-end cameras end up selling less of them and making less money. It’s logical, isn’t it? Most people now rely on their phones to take photos; they’re sufficient, and in the case of some phones like the iPhone 8, iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 and Samsung S8, the cameras are more than sufficient, they’re outstanding given their tiny sensors and lenses. Most people don’t need a complicated DSLR or mirrorless camera because they don’t need all those myriad options, they’re intimidated by them, they don’t appreciate the quality of a large-surface sensor and they think they’re heavy and expensive. If you’ve just shelled out $700-800 for a new phone, it’d better take good photos, right?
Well… those of us who take photos professionally need more than a mobile phone when we take photos (although I’ll tell you a secret, I managed to sneak in a photo taken with my iPhone into a book 😏) and we also need decent pricing, durability, reliability and top-notch features on the expensive equipment that we we purchase.
We’re also affected by this market crunch, aren’t we? I’ll give you just one example: Adobe Stock. Adobe has been marketing their new stock image service heavily in recent months. I submitted several photos to it last year and sold a few. Do you know how much I made per photo? Around 40-60 cents! Those are microstock profits and they mandate a ridiculously high volume of sales. You can only submit RF (royalty free) and at those payouts it’s not worth my time. I’ve been with Alamy for years and their payouts are much better, plus they offer the option of RM (rights managed) licensing, but they’re killing me with their keywording requirements (¡Ay, caramba!), so I haven’t submitted a lot of photos to them.
I wonder how many of you have sat down to do the math and get a grand total for what it takes to be able to take high-quality photographs. It’s not just the initial costs, it’s the upkeep: the ever-increasing storage needs, the backups, the software, the work involved in managing, editing and keywording the photos and videos, the upgrades to the computers, the displays, the cameras, etc. By the way, if you want to put me in hell, make me keyword photos for a stock photography website. Or make me take wedding and birthday party photos. That’s true torture for me! I’d rather be horse whipped. But the dirty truth is that wedding photography is how a lot of photographers make their money and buy their gear… I digress…
If I’m going to plunk down $3,400 for a brand new camera and maybe $1,000-3,000 more for lenses and speedlites and such, that camera had better be amazing. It had better give me what I need. Actually, since I live in Romania (which is in Eastern Europe), I’m going to pay much more for the camera. Instead of $3,400, I get to pay $4,460 (16.999 lei). Yeah, that’s how things are when you’re not in the US…
That’s what Canon and the other camera manufacturers out there need to understand. Now that the market for their mid to high-end products is shrinking, they need to offer more value to their customers.
You know who’s innovating and who’s trying their hardest? It’s the companies with smaller market shares: Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm. Canon’s sitting on top of the heap with the largest market share and it doesn’t have a fire burning under its derrière, so to speak. It can afford to slow down the whole production cycle. Nikon was in the same situation and it chose to turn things around. People are very excited about the D850 right now, but they were angry with Nikon for some time because it wasn’t innovating.
While I’m on the subject of the Nikon D850, wouldn’t it be the best option for me right now? After all, it’s got a high-resolution sensor that offers 45 megapixels and wonderful 4K video encoded in H.264. I love its design. I have to say, I’ve been tempted to switch to Nikon every now and then, but that lull in their product development cycle that lasted years, while other companies like Sony and Olympus and Panasonic were busy creating amazing cameras, dissuaded me from it. There’s also the not-insurmountable but large obstacle of having to buy all-new glass, speedlites and other such accessories. There are no adapters on the market for Canon EF lenses to Nikon FX lens mounts. Metabones makes the best full-featured adapters for this sort of application (using different brands of lenses on different brands of camera bodies) and if they don’t make one, it’s not available and not worth getting (no, they’re not paying me to say that).
We’re coming to the reveal now, aren’t we? What camera is best for my stated needs right now and why? Here it is, it’s the Sony a7R III.
It’s got a full-frame sensor that offers a resolution of 42 megapixels and beautiful 4K video encoded in one of two formats, XAVC S or AVCHD, with a choice of two professional ready-to-use gamma profiles, S-Log3 and HLG (at no extra cost) and best of all, Super 35mm 4K oversampled from 5K, which means it’s higher quality video than regular 4K video. It’s also got pixel shift multi shooting, an interesting technique that offers much higher detail at 1:1 view (see this video).
An important feature that sets it apart is its 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization. The Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D850 don’t have it; they rely instead of the optical IS (or in the case of Nikon, optical VR) built into the lenses themselves. In-body IS doesn’t preclude optical IS built into the lenses either, so that’s another plus.
This is important because you have to remember this is a full frame sensor. There’s a lot of data that gets captured with it, every single second, and that data needs to be processed. Camera sensors suffered from something called rolling shutter not so long ago when they recorded video. When Canon first offered 1080p video on its 5D (it was the Mark II), there was pronounced rolling shutter. People called it jellocam and was a lot of discussion online about how to minimize it if you wanted to shoot professional video. You see, the larger the sensor, the more data that needs to be processed when the camera is moving and the more prone the camera is to show the rolling shutter effect. When you stabilize the sensor optically, in-camera, you provide a tremendous amount of help in reducing video shake and rolling shutter from the get-go. You don’t have to fix it so much in post-production.
And there’s another feature that sets it apart: 399 phase-detection AF points covering approx. 68% of image area width and height plus 425 densely positioned contrast-detection AF points, plus something that Sony calls 4D Focus. Compare the sheer number of AF points with the cameras from Nikon and Canon and once again the a7R III stands out.
Another good little thing the Sony a7R III offers (that may be important to some) is a USB 3.1 Gen 1 compatible USB Type-C port. This is good for charging or various accessories that need that sort of connection.
Finally, here’s the deal clincher: I can use my Canon glass on the a7R III! Remember Metabones, the company I mentioned above? They make an adapter that will let me use most of Canon’s EF and EF-S lenses on the Sony camera. It’s called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V). It supports all of the functions of Canon’s lenses, such as full aperture control, full AF, and IS for both photos and videos (see this for the details).
I can buy the Sony a7R III and the Metabones adapter and get right to work using my Canon lenses. I can always buy Sony lenses later.
There are things that the a7R III could do better:
There is no built-in GPS. This is a pet peeve of mine. Tons of cheaper cameras have built-in GPS. Most cameras made nowadays offer it standard, as a matter of fact. It’s an amazingly useful feature. Canon offers it on the 5D Mark IV. Nikon offers it on the D850.
Another useful feature that’s missing is the built-in intervalometer which lets you shoot timelapses. The 5D Mark IV has it and so does the D850. On the a7R III, you’ll need to purchase an external intervalometer.
Also, it seems that its video quality could improve (see this post) although from what I’ve seen so far online and I’ve looked plenty, the a7R III video is pretty great, with sharp focus, definition and color, even at long focal lengths. Ideally, it could offer interla 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video at 60 fps, although I haven’t seen that feature on the other full frame contenders.
So there you have it, the Sony a7R III may not be the best camera out there, but it’s the best camera for my stated needs, right now.
There are also some additional things I’d like to submit for your consideration. One is the aesthetic of the mirrorless camera sporting a long, bulky lens. It looks something like this.
Mirrorless cameras have their own aesthetic, which has evolved for particular reasons: they’re smaller, lighter, easier to carry, but those very advantages that make them great for travel or simply great for lugging around also make them look prety funny when they’ve got a big lens attached. Imagine a large, full frame, 400mm or 600mm lens attached to a small mirrorless camera and things get even funnier.
While it was Epson who invented mirrorless cameras when they introduced the RD1 (see this post), it was Olympus who made us go, “Oh yeah, I get it now!” when they started making them. A mirrorless camera with a micro four-thirds (MFT) sensor is a tiny thing that takes tiny lenses: they’re smaller in diameter and thus much lighter and they look in proportion when mounted to those cameras.
Years ago, when I heard that Sony had introduced a mirrorless camera with a full frame sensor, my first reaction was, “Huh?” In my mind, it defeated the purpose of a small, easy to carry camera and lens kit. A full frame sensor requires larger diameter glass and even though the camera is small, the lenses are going to be big. In that sense, the a7R III is a strange animal, sort of like a giraffe with a normal head and neck, but a tiny little body. You’re not really holding onto the camera when you use a bigger lens, you’re holding onto the lens and the camera is just sort of there like a lens attachment. Now, be that as it may, I’m not going to argue with results. The a7R III is a fantastic camera and that’s that.
I’d also like to take a step back, put the budgetary concerns aside and talk hypothetically about the ideal equipment for those two stated needs of mine (high resolution and great 4K video), because it’s worth talking about. Clearly, it’d be better to separate the two tasks and then focus on the equipment that does each of those two things best. If I were to have a much larger budget to play with, what would I do?
For photography, I’d separate the cameras even further into studio photography (or let’s call it local photography) and travel photography, particularly hikes through nature, for sheer weight considerations.
For studio or local photography, I’d probably go with the Canon EOS 5DSr or the Nikon D850. The 5DSr offers 50 megapixels of resolution while the D850 offers 46 megapixels. It’s the same ballpark and it is medium-format territory (in terms of resolution). Under controlled lighting situations or on a tripod, where I don’t have to push the ISO range to its limits, I would get crisp and clear high-resolution images (the highest resolutions available from full frame sensors today).
If I did a lot of hiking and travel photography, I’d probably go with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or the OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Even though the E-M1’s regular resolution is 20 megapixels, it has a high resolution shot mode where it takes eight consecutive photos while shifting the sensor and stitches them together in camera to give you a 50 megapixel photograph. You’ll have to use a tripod, but this is great for studio, architectural or landscape photography. It’s the same with the E-M5: it offers 16 megapixels but using the same high res shot mode, it can give you a 40 megapixel photograph.
An even lighter alternative is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III. It offers 16 megapixel photos, it has no high res shot mode but instead gives us the unexpected gift of 4K video at 30p. And it is adorably small. You can’t realize how cute and lovable that little camera is until you see it in person! 😍 Put it together with a few light MFT lenses and you’re good to go just about anywhere! ✈
Now let’s talk about video. I’ll point out a couple of cameras that offer amazing 4K video, and they are (no surprise here) the Panasonic Lumix GH5 and its newer brother the Lumix GH5s, which is better suited for recording video in low light situations.
The differences between the two cameras are eloquently explained in this video put together by the great staff at B&H Photo.
Of course, the best video you can get comes from professional video equipment and one company whose products I like is Blackmagic Design. Check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised by their product offering and their prices.
Well, there you have it! I hope this post of mine has been enlightening 😇, I hope I’ve explained my thought process in a way that helped you understand the challenges involved in choosing the best camera suited for the two needs stated at the start and if you liked this, please share it with your friends who are trying to decide what camera to get. Cheers! 👋
As I announced back in June of 2010, Canon has been at work on a mirrorless camera and they’ve finally launched it. It’s called the EOS M. It uses a new EF-M lens mount and its specs are pretty much what we expect mirrorless DSLRs to have these days. It ships in four colors: black (see above), white (see below), red and dark silver. Suggested MSRP is $799.
I’m going to be blunt, because the late arrival of this camera is frustrating. The only innovative feature I can see on it is its Hybrid CMOS AF System, which is located right on the sensor. Other than that, this is another mirrorless DSLR in an already mature market, albeit a highly anticipated model from a large manufacturer.
Canon took their time to take the plunge. My guess is they wanted the other manufacturers to “work out the bugs” in terms of the feature set and pricing, then they matched what the market wanted to see. They didn’t stick their neck out there to try something new. They let others do the hard work while they kept fiddling with the EOS Rebel line and tested the waters (partially) with the PowerShot G1 X and its large sensor.
Design-wise, the EOS M is pleasing. It’s thin, it’s got a nice profile, it’s not cluttered and it’s simple to use.
Back to the features:
Full HD movie mode with Movie Servo AF: this means accurate and noiseless focus tracking of subjects when using the EF-M lenses with the new STM (Stepping Motor) technology.
18 megapixels: this was predictable given that all of Canon’s lower-priced DSLRs are also at the same resolution.
DIGIC 5 image processor
ISO 100-6400 in movie mode and 100-12800 in photo mode; they’re both expandable to 12800 and 25600, respectively.
Hybrid CMOS AF: innovative, but let’s wait and see how it performs in real world conditions; Canon DSLRs have had plenty of focus issues lately, this being just one example.
Compatible with full line of EF and EF-S lenses via adapter which preserves all AF and IS functions.
1,040,000 dot, 3-inch LCD with touch AF
Scene Intelligent Auto, Creative Filters, Multi Shot Noise Reduction
Total recording time per scene goes up to 22 minutes
Watch out for the following:
A notable MIA among the accessories is a viewfinder, like on the Olympus OM-D EM-5 or their PEN line of mirrorless DSLRs, like the E-P3. That means using the EOS M in glaring sunlight is going to be somewhat frustrating.
Stills frame rate is 4.3 fps.
Video frame rate at 1080p goes up to 30 fps. I want to see a Canon camera go up to 1080p/60 fps.
Computer connectivity is still USB 2.0. This is one area where Canon could have pulled ahead of the pack and gone with USB 3.0.
Battery life is average for a mirrorless (about 230 shots or 1.5 hours of video). Given my experience with Canon HDSLRs, I’d say real world battery life when shooting video is more like 30-45 minutes.
Let’s have a look at the accessories. The camera ships with an EF-M 22m pancake lens.
And here’s a diminutive speedlite designed for it, the 90EX.
Here’s how the camera looks with the speedlite mounted in the hotshoe.
So, should you get this camera? If you’re already heavily invested in Canon gear and want a small, easy-to-carry camera, the decision is simple. If you aren’t, then there are many models on the market with various differences in design, feature sets and price that may make them more appealing to you than this particular camera. The decision is yours after you look at all of them, and I do encourage you to look at all of them.
If you do end up getting the camera or some of its accessories, I’d appreciate it if you’d use one of the links below:
A few years ago, there were two companies which had some interesting opportunities ahead of them: Sigma with its revolutionary Foveon sensor and lens-making know-how, and FujiFilm with its remarkable Super CCD SR sensor and long-term experience with professional lens-making.
They didn’t stay on course. Sigma’s continued development of the sensor has been much too slow to keep up with the market, and FujiFilm seems to have dropped out of the DSLR game altogether.
Back in January of 2007, I wrote about the Sigma SD14, a camera I thought was revolutionary because of its capability of capturing every color (Red, Green or Blue) at every pixel, due to its layered Foveon sensor. This was something no other camera on the market had.
The megapixel game isn’t everything and I was willing to believe so in the case of the SD14. Its advertised resolution was 14 megapixels, but its true resolution was about 5 megapixels. That’s because each layer of its Foveon sensor (there are three layers, one for each color) only captured 5 megapixels. When you looked up the photos resolution in the EXIF data, it came out to 5 megapixels. When you zoomed in at 1:1, the photo still only covered a 5 megapixel area. People pointed out that you could safely increase the resolution of processed images to 12 or 14 megapixels and they would still have the quality you need but in my book, 5 megapixels is still 5 megapixels even if you can multiply it by 3 and get 14 megapixels.
Regardless of my disappointment with the camera’s real resolution, I still thought Sigma had a gorgeous sensor on their hands. The ability to capture color accurately at every pixel is something other sensor manufacturers only dream about. Their sensors don’t do that. Instead, they spread Red, Green and Blue pixels around the entire sensor area using a mathematical algorithm called Bayer interpolation, then they do some very serious calculations to de-mosaic the resulting image, make out the right colors, and give you as accurate a color reproduction as they can give you. The Foveon sensor didn’t have to do all that complicated stuff. Supposedly, it already knew which color belonged at each pixel, because it captured said color from the get-go. Wasn’t that an amazing capability?
Look what’s happened in the 3½ years since I wrote about the SD14… Sigma launched the SD15 only a few months ago, and guess what its resolution is? It’s the same 14 megapixels if you play their multiplication game or 5 megapixels if you go by the book. Sure, they upped the ISO sensitivity to 1600 from 800 (3200 in extended mode), which is okay, but the AF is slow and the max shutter speed is still only 1/4000 sec when other cameras in the same category offer 1/8000 sec. And there’s no video, HD or otherwise.
In case you aren’t already thinking it, let me sum it up for you: Sigma’s product offerings have fallen behind the times by at least a couple of years, if not more. Some might say they came out with the DP1 and the DP2, and those cameras are interesting in their niches of the market, but they still offer subpar performance in low light and they still don’t record video (unless you count tiny 320×240 video as real video).
I’d like to ask the folks at Sigma this question: What have you been doing these last few years? You had an amazing sensor in your hands, but you didn’t develop it while others took their Bayer pattern sensors to incredible heights of performance. Your Foveon sensor ought to develop 14 or 16 real megapixels now, on each of its three layers. It should go to 6400 ISO or 12800 ISO natively. Then it’d be competitive in today’s marketplace. Instead, it’s the same sensor I saw more than three years ago, installed in a new camera body.
In early 2007, FujiFilm also launched a new DSLR. That camera was pretty amazing in its own right, like the SD14, except the FujiFilm FinePix S5 Pro actually met the demands of the marketplace of its time.
It had a wonderful resolution of 12.34 megapixels, an 11-point, 7-area AF system, a 14-bit A/D converter (most DSLRs at the time were still at 12-bit), ISO sensitivity that went all the way up to 3200 ISO natively, and 1/8000 sec max shutter speed.
Most of all, it had a revolutionary sensor developed in-house by FujiFilm. Here’s what they said about it in the S5 Pro press release:
“Fujifilm’s Super CCD SR II will be updated to the new Super CCD SR Pro. Using a unique layout of twelve million paired photodiodes (6.17 million larger ‘S’ photodiodes for main image information, combined with 6.17 million smaller ‘R’ photodiodes for bright area information), the S5 Pro will deliver improvements in noise, dynamic range, colour and tonality. Further improving the capability of the sensor, a new, improved low-pass filter will ensure that moiré and noise are kept to an absolute minimum. Fujifilm believes improvements in these key areas will be of more true value to professional photographers – the challenge is quality of information, not quantity of information.”
In layman’s terms, it had both large and small photodiodes, clustered together in a beautiful geometric pattern, to capture as much image information as a single-layer sensor could capture, and a powerful engine to analyze that information and turn it into beautiful photographs.
People who used the S5 Pro loved its image quality. And even now (in 2010) when you look on Flickr you see that people are using it and the quality of the images they post very good.
So what has happened since 2007? It looks like FujiFilm dropped out of the DSLR market altogether. The S5 Pro is listed as discontinued on their website and there’s no other model to take its place. None. Instead, FujiFilm is focusing on regular digicams, and seems to be leaning toward cameras that exploit the higher end of the focal range (15-30x zooms).That’s a losing battle as far as I’m concerned. High zooms suffer by default of aberration and other artifacts as one gets above 15x. And in order to get the proper magnification in a smaller camera body, the sensor needs to be made really small — so small that you run into significant noise issues and photo quality suffers even at low ISO and at close range.
What FujiFilm did makes no sense to me. They have incredible know-how in the production of professional, high quality lenses. Their Fujinon lenses are used in satellites, in high end telescopes and in broadcast-quality TV cameras and camcorders. They have the know-how to design really nice camera bodies. I used the FinePix S9100 and I loved its body design. And you only need to look at their current digicam models (S200EXR or HS10), at they way the controls are positioned and the grips are designed, to realize that Fuji knows a lot about camera body design.
When it came to digicam design, they also had what was a big plus over other camera manufacturers. Most of their zoom cameras had manual zoom and focus, and the ability to use regular AA batteries. A manual zoom is just nicer than a servo zoom. It’s more responsive, more controllable, doesn’t eat into the battery life, and it’s more reliable over time. And isn’t it nice when you’re in the field and your camera runs out of juice, that you can just pop in a couple of AA batteries and keep on going? That’s such a practical design aspect, but people tend to forget it when they focus purely on battery life.
Now you look at their line-up, and only two cameras still offer manual zoom: the S200EXR which B&H Photo says was discontinued by the manufacturer even though it’s still listed as an active camera on the FujiFilm website, and the HS10. The rest all offer electronic zooms, which I don’t like.
Keep in mind all the good things I told you about FujiFilm’s know-how, and let’s look at the S5 Pro again. The sensor and the engine was clearly Fuji’s. But the body design was similar to Nikon’s body design. The camera was made to work with Nikon’s lenses. It’s as if FujiFilm didn’t want to own the very camera it made, the camera which contained its revolutionary sensor. This makes no sense to me. They knew how to make fantastic lenses, but didn’t make them for their own flagship DSLR. They knew how to make fantastic camera bodies, but didn’t make one for their own flagship DSLR. Does that make sense to you?
I wrote to FujiFilm PR in January and March of 2007, asking for a review unit. They were willing to send me one, but they didn’t have any lenses to loan me. I needed to supply my own Nikon lenses for the camera, and since all my equipment was Canon, that was no good. I gave up on reviewing the camera. And I bet you I wasn’t the only reviewer who would have liked to write about the S5 Pro but was turned off by the lens issue.
I’m really sorry to see that today, FujiFilm isn’t even developing their revolutionary sensor any more. Sure, they’re using a variant of it in some of their point-and-shoots, but that’s like saying your lawnmower has a Lamborghini engine inside. You can’t get the performance of a true Lamborghini engine from a tiny, cramped 2-cycle engine made to cut grass, and in much the same way, one can’t expect to get the true performance of the large sensor found in the S5 Pro from a tiny 1/1.6-inch sensor.
Don’t tell me CCD sensors are inferior to CMOS. They each have their pluses and minuses. CMOS sensors were thought to be inferior to CCD just a few years ago, but there was a real R&D push to make them better, and look at them today — they’re incredibly good. Don’t tell me you can’t get great video from CCD sensors. Professional camcorders use either CMOS or CCD sensors to record full HD video, depending on the model and brand, so I know that’s possible.
I know that with continued R&D effort, both the Super CCD SR Pro sensor and the Foveon X3 sensor could have been improved greatly, making them competitive and even dominant by today’s standards.
I feel bad for FujiFilm and for Sigma. Perhaps FujiFilm feels the market is already too competitive and has enough business from its other sectors. And it could be that Sigma is focused on its lenses and is satisfied with only a niche of the DSLR market. I don’t know, but I would like to find out more. If anyone has any additional information, please chime in.
Another hint of the upcoming launch is the restlessness in the Rebel line of cameras. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve never seen so many new models launched in such a short span of time. It’s probable that Canon wanted to see what features consumers really want in an entry-level DSLR now that video and small size are the new must-haves, what cameras their competitors come up with, then take their time designing an entirely new body for the camera. Keep in mind they’re very entrenched in the classic SLR design, as their EOS line shows. A mirrorless DSLR without a viewfinder, or with a significantly different viewfinder, and a much smaller body, can be a serious challenge for any company.
Here’s what I think (and hope) will be in the new Canon EOS “Elph” (I made the name up, I don’t know what it’ll be called):
A 14 or 16-megapixel APS-C sensor — they’re going to choose less noise at high ISO, and that will mean less resolution, but that’s okay by me. I’m not too happy with the noise levels in the 7D. They might even downgrade the resolution to 12 megapixels, who knows…
High ISO capabilities — up to 12,800 natively, and possibly even up to 102,400 via ISO expansion. They’ll need to do this, because the Sony NEX line has raised the bar.
Fast frame rate — 5 fps, possibly even 7 fps. Again, this is because the NEX cameras have raised the bar. They can go up to 7 fps in burst mode. The mirrorless cameras can do about 3 fps.
14-bit image bit depth — pretty much all DSLRs are either there or going there.
Full HD Video Recording, with AF — it’s going to have to be full 1080p video, because Sony has raised the bar for all cameras in this category. I do hope though that Canon will make it 1080p, not 1080i, at selectable frame rates. AF is going to be tricky but will need to be implemented. Canon will have a choice of using the current USM AF built into its lenses, which can be slow, or build a new line of lenses, like Sony did for its NEX line, with fast, quiet AF that can’t be picked up by the microphone. I do hope we won’t have to invest in new lenses.
New lenses? This is possible, in which case they’ll be smaller and lighter, but my guess is Canon will either modify the mount or put out an adapter that will allow us to fully use existing EF or EF-S lenses.
Same 19-point AF system as in the 7D — I honestly hope it’s not the same old 9-point AF system used in the Rebel line and in my 1st gen 5D and the 5D Mark II, because it seems to be troublesome in cameras with higher resolutions.
In-camera panorama stitching — Canon, please put this in! I was blown away by Sony’s Sweep Panorama feature.
In-camera HDR — yes, HDR is overrated and I can’t stand most HDR photographs, but when used judiciously and for the right scenes, HDR can help you can get a properly exposed photograph without blown areas.
Optical viewfinder — I know I just said a mirrorless DSLR won’t have an optical viewfinder, but think how cool it would be if Canon could somehow fit a great pentaprism inside a mirrorless body!
Better dust reduction — some people seem to be having trouble with the dust reduction system in the 5D Mark II. Perhaps this warrants a closer look from Canon. I’m sure there are ways to improve things, especially in a camera that will have no mirror, and where the sensor will be exposed to the open air during every lens change.
SDHC, not CF cards — I would have loved to see Canon adopt SDHC cards for the 7D. SDHC cards are smaller and less expensive than CF cards, so why keep using CF cards?
Tiltable LCD — the Sony NEX line has them, the Canon G11 has it, so why shouldn’t this new camera have it as well?
External microphone input — this is a must, as the in-camera microphone is never enough for quality video sound.
Those are my thoughts. What do you think? Don’t ask me how it’ll look though. I don’t know, and I’d like to be pleasantly surprised when I see it. I’d like it to be flatter and smaller than a Rebel, but with a good grip, and a good selection of physical controls. It doesn’t have to be too light, but it should be light enough and sturdy enough so that it’s easily carried anywhere.
I thought it’d be fun to go through the meta-data for my photos in Lightroom and see what cameras and lenses I’ve been using since 2006, when photography became more than an occasional hobby for me — indeed, it became an obsession, and now it’s my daily occupation.
There are 30 cameras listed below, in reverse chronological order. I’ve provided a photo for each camera. If I’ve written reviews for them, they’re linked.
I’m doing this in order to share my experience with you. Perhaps you’ve used some of the same cameras, or are using one of these cameras now, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I also believe it’s important to use a variety of cameras, because that expands our photographic horizons and improves our craft.
Canon EOS 7D: this is my current field camera. It truly is a beast: fast frame rate, sturdy, rugged, heavy — a camera I can truly rely on. In addition to photographs, I also record video with it. It’s the secondary studio camera for our web shows.
Canon EOS 60D: this is my current studio camera. I use it as the main video camera for our award-winning web shows (Ligia’s Kitchen, Romania Through Their Eyes and Quilling). I also take photos with it, also mainly in the studio. I like it because it’s lightweight, has the same video quality as the 7D, has a flippable display and because it’s not weather-sealed, it doesn’t tend to overheat when shooting video for long periods of time.
Olympus PEN E-PL1: a very portable mirrorless camera from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels. I have two lenses for it, the 14-42mm and the 40-150mm. I carry it with me pretty much everywhere I go, because the whole kit (camera plus two lenses) is so light it’s cinch, even on long hikes in the mountains.
iPhone 4: my current phone. Not sure what I could say about it other than what you already know. It’s a great phone, so I take it everywhere and therefore I also use it to take photographs and record video. If you know its strengths, then you can get pretty good photos. And the key thing to remember about video with the iPhone 4 is that it should definitely be stabilized on a tripod and you should avoid panning with it so that you don’t get the “jellocam” effect.
Olympus PEN E-P2: a superb, small DSLR from Olympus with a resolution of 12.2 megapixels, which followed up on the company’s film PEN series of cameras. I loved using it, loved its small size, loved its low light performance. Reviewed it in March 2010. Took over 900 photos with it.
Canon EOS 5D: this used to be my main camera, a wonderful full frame, 12.8 megapixel DSLR, which I purchased in 2007. More than three years later, and after two repairs, it works. Being a full-frame DSLR, the depth of field and picture quality is amazing, but the downside is that the lenses cost a pretty penny. I’ve taken over 50,000 photos with it, and I still enjoy using it.
Minolta Hi-Matic 9: I got this as a gift from a distant relative (without an instruction book) sometime in 1991-92. It’s a classic rangefinder camera from Minolta that uses 35mm film. Sometime after 1998, I found an instruction book for it on the internet, figured out how to use it, and I love it. The photo quality is wonderful, and it’s got a ton of features for a classic camera, including a built-in self-timer.
Canon PowerShot G10: a prosumer digicam. Is resolution is 14 megapixels, picture quality is pretty good, but the lens is slower (f/2.8) than in the G3 and the bokeh isn’t as pretty. The movie quality (SD) is pretty nice though. I’ve taken over 1,200 photos with it.
Canon EOS 30D: this was the first semi-pro DSLR I used. I was blown away by its image quality — I compared it to digicams at the time — and by its low noise at high ISO settings. I reviewed it in April of 2007, and considered buying it instead of the EOS 5D, which was more than double its price, but settled on the 5D in the end. I don’t regret my decision. The 30D was a good DSLR, and were the market expectations the same today, I’d still recommend it to others. I took over 3,500 photos with it.
Nokia N95: my mobile phone for a few good years. I loved it. It had a 5 megapixel camera with flash, and it recorded SD video. It was small, versatile, I took it with me pretty much anywhere, and I depended on it when I didn’t have my main camera with me. The picture quality was pretty good, even in low light, provided you knew how to handle it. You could even do some in-camera photo and video editing. I’ve taken over 1,900 photos with it, and I must have recorded well over 50 hours of video with it.
Olympus C770UZ: even though it was made in 2004, and its resolution is only 4 megapixels, I still use this digicam because it has a 10x optical zoom, a fast lens (f/2.8), in-camera resolution doubling (turns a 4 megapixel photo into an 8 megapixel photo), quality SD video, and a superb macro mode, which allows me to get photos and video of minuscule things. And oh yeah, it has a microphone input, and a hot shoe. I’ve taken almost 2,500 photos with it.
Canon EOS Rebel XTi: a great beginner DSLR, which I reviewed in November of 2007. It had the same 1.6x crop as the 30D, the picture quality was about the same, but the noise at high ISO seemed to be a little higher than on the 30D. I took over 300 photos with it.
Fuji FinePix S6500fd: a 6.1 megapixel, 10x zoom prosumer digicam from Fuji. The “fd” stands for face detection, which was a new technology at the time. The camera would find a face (or faces) in a photo and focus primarily on them, to make sure the people were always in focus. A friend loaned it to me. I took about 30 photos with it.
Canon PowerShot G3: one of the first prosumer digicams from Canon’s PowerShot G line. It was slow, its resolution was somewhere between 3 and 4 megapixels, but it had a really nice, fast lens (f/2.0), which meant you could get really creamy bokeh if you focused just right. And it shot in RAW. I have over 100 photos taken with it in my photo library.
Fuji FinePix S9100: a similar camera to the S6500fd, but with a resolution of 9.1 megapixels and the same 10x zoom. When I tried it, I didn’t like it because of the high noise and poor performance in low light, but it is otherwise a wonderful and versatile camera. It used AA batteries, which was a plus, it had a manual zoom that didn’t eat into the battery life, a super macro mode, and neat physical controls on the camera body. Since then, I’ve found out that the noise would have been brought down significantly if I had used the Fuji software that came with it instead of using Lightroom to process the photos. I took over 50 photos with it.
Olympus SP560UZ: an 18x, 8 megapixel prosumer digicam from Olympus. While the picture quality suffers somewhat from the combination of the extra long zoom and small sensor, the camera is really well designed, the body has a nice, premium feel to it and as a plus, it uses AA batteries. As long as you stay away from the very long end of the focal range, you’ll get nice, usable photos, and low light performance is decent. I reviewed it in February of 2008, and took over 500 photos with it.
Kodak Z1015 IS: a 10 megapixel, 15x zoom prosumer digicam from Kodak which should have had better photo quality, but sadly, I got mostly soft and fuzzy photos and videos from it, particularly toward the long end of its focal range. It also had 720p HD video capabilities, but the video was not only fuzzy but full of compression artifacts. I had to return it to the store after a few days. I took over 300 photos with it.
Olympus EVOLT E-510: the follow-up prosumer DSLR to the E-500, it had a resolution of 10 megapixels, a smaller, lighter body, a nicer interface, better quality at higher ISO but still not clean enough for low light use. I took over 1,100 photos with it.
Kodak v610 Dual Lens: a neat camera from Kodak with 10x zoom, featuring two lenses, one for 1-5x and one for 5-10x, so to speak. The camera switched between them. Interesting, small, light and versatile, but with its limitations, such as poor low light performance and lack of IS, which made it really hard to get good shots at long focal distances. Battery life was also not so good. Still, I used this camera for quite some time and depended on it, though I’d end up deleting a lot of photos I took with it for the reasons mentioned above. I took over 4,200 photos with it.
Exakta EXA Ia: this beautiful analog camera was given to me by a close friend along with a full kit of viewfinders, lens extension tubes and filters. It’s a fully manual camera made in the 1960s. It was a pleasure to use, and there was a certain three dimensional quality to the photos I got with it that made it worthwhile to use. Still, after I got my 5D, the camera sat unused in the closet, so I gave it to someone who would use it more frequently.
Olympus EVOLT E-1: the first flagship DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 5 megapixels. A friend loaned it to me. Picture quality was wonderful, as was to be expected from a pro DSLR. I loved the shutter sound. The ruggedized body also felt great in my hand. The grip was nicely made. Good physical controls. I took 30 photos with it.
Olympus EVOLT E-500: a prosumer DSLR from Olympus, with a resolution of 8 megapixels. I reviewed it in February of 2007. Picture quality was wonderful, noise at high ISO not so wonderful, battery life was pretty nice, loved the self-cleaning sensor. I took over 1,500 photos with it.
Nikon CoolPix L12: a little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality for its diminutive size. The in-camera processing renders some pretty nice colors in the photographs. The resolution is 7.1 megapixels. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one.
Nikon CoolPix S210: another little digicam from Nikon with pretty good picture quality. Its resolution is 8 megapixels. It has a nice macro mode. I’ve taken less than 10 photos with this one, but I liked using it.
Panasonic DMC-FZ20: a wonderful 5 megapixel digicam from Panasonic with a 12x Leica zoom lens. Picture quality was superb, handling was great, lens was great, battery life not so great, noise at high ISO not so great. I really enjoyed using it, but sadly the zoom mechanism must have either gotten some dust in it or broken, because it stopped working properly, so I gave it up. I took over 1,800 photographs with it.
Gateway DC-M50: a 5 megapixel digicam from Gateway which I ended up returning. Poor interface, slow, poor picture quality. I’ve taken over 40 photographs with it.
Kodak CD33: I used this 3.1 megapixel camera for a short while before returning it to the store. It just didn’t suit my needs. The resolution was too low, the performance and controls too meager. I took over 70 photos with it.
Olympus C3000Z: this was the first quality digital camera I used. Its resolution was 3.3 megapixels, but compare to the stuff I’d used before (1 megapixel or lower) it was heaven. To this day, I’m amazed by the picture quality when I look at photos taken with it. I’ve taken over 2,500 photos with it.
Canon Elura 40MC: this was the first generation Elura camcorder made by Canon. It was diminutive in size, shot better-than-SD (720×540) video on DV cassettes, had a nice optical zoom and also took 1 megapixel stills, but the photo quality was fairly poor. I used it for years, mainly for video, and I loved it. It was incredibly portable and very useful at a time when all the other camcorders were much bigger and heavier. It still works, but I no longer use it, because the cassette mechanism fails sometimes. I’ve have over 200 photos taken with it in my photo library.
Canon Elph APS: the 1st generation APS film Elph camera from Canon, this little baby was my first real, modern camera. I got it sometime in 1996-97. I loved its diminutive size, its ease of use, the great photos I got with it, and its beautiful design. I used it for a good amount of time. I was still taking photos with it in 2003. Over time, the inside of the lens surface somehow got covered in dust, and this became more and more visible in the photos, so I had to stop using it. One of these days, I’ll open it up and clean it. And if I’ll still be able to buy APS film and find a place to develop it, I might just take some more photos with it.
I have no way of telling (short of approximating) how many photos I took with each of my analog cameras, so I’ll just say that I have about 3,300 scanned photos in my library. I’ve used a few other analog cameras, but I’ve forgotten the model names, so I haven’t listed them here.
The photo totals you saw listed next to each camera above don’t represent the total number of photographs taken with each camera, because I delete about 10-20% of the photographs I take.
Here’s a HD (720p) field video test I recently did with the PEN E-P2, the diminutive DSLR from Olympus. I shot it in South Florida, and it features tropical plants and flowers. No additional equipment beside the camera and the 14-42mm kit lens was used. The sound you hear is from the in-camera microphone. The DSLR was hand-held, and I had motion-stabilization turned off.
When I edited the video, I tweaked the colors just a little bit, but the images are pretty much right out of the camera. No software motion stabilization was used, either. You’ll see that the kit lens is quite capable of macro shots and it gives beautiful bokeh under the right conditions. There’s even a surprise shot at the end. Try to guess what it is.