Olympus PEN-F
Reviews

What camera do I use these days?

Back in 2018, as I was researching new cameras with a view to buying new camera gear, I wrote a detailed article and also made a video guide:

I thought it’d be interesting to share with you what I’ve done since then. What camera and lenses did I buy and why? Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense. My gear page is a clear list of what I’m using these days. I thought I’d also take you into my photo catalog, so you can see exactly what cameras and lenses I’ve been using.

A tally of the photos taken with various cameras

That partial list of cameras you see above is only part of the picture. There are over 92 cameras and scanners listed in my catalog, but that screenshot is important because you can see that most of the action is happening with Olympus cameras: there’s the E-3, E-330, E-500, E-510, E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-P5, and the E-PL1.

When we look at lists of the cameras used in each of the years since 2018, the picture becomes even clearer.

Cameras used in 2018
Cameras used in 2019
Cameras used in 2020

When you look at 2020, you’ll see a new camera: an Olympus PEN-F. I bought it this year, less than a month ago, and it is now my main camera. Not that it should come as a surprise, because you can clearly see that PEN cameras have been my main cameras during these past couple of years.

Olympus PEN-F
Olympus PEN-F

My new secondary camera is the Olympus E-3, a flagship camera launched in 2007. That’s right, it’s a 13-year old camera, but it’s so good! It’s designed so well, and it feels so comfortable to hold and use. The images are wonderful as well: clear, sharp, colorful. It’s also splashproof and dustproof. I couldn’t ask for more.

Olympus EVOLT E-3
Olympus EVOLT E-3

I used to worry about megapixels, but not anymore. I have no complaints about the 10 megapixel images from the E-3, and the 20 megapixel images from the PEN-F are a wonderful luxury. When I need a lot of resolution, I can always stick my PEN-F on a tripod, put it in High Res mode and get 80 megapixel images!

If you’re still worrying about resolution, please realize that 10 megapixel images are more than plenty for A4 prints (that’s roughly 8×10 prints). Even 8 megapixel images print just fine on A4 sheets, which is more than the size you’d need for a book of photographs. As for online uses, even a 2 megapixel image will do great. You don’t need a lot of megapixels! The extra resolution is nice, but it complicates storage and processing needs and it’s simply too much for most uses.

Back in 2018, when I wrote my article, I may have concluded that the best full-frame camera was the Sony A7RIII, but I also concluded in the video guide, that the best camera for me is the camera that fits my needs best. And when I sat down to think about the cameras I’d enjoyed using and taking with me (that’s the important part, the willingness to carry the camera along so I can take photos with it), I had to conclude that I enjoyed using Olympus cameras, and that I really liked the PEN line of cameras.

Using the PEN E-P2 back in 2010 was a photographic revelation. It was a new way of taking photos for me. It was such a joy to hold that camera, to frame an image in the viewfinder and to press the shutter button. The images were so good for such a tiny camera. To this day I regret not switching over right there and then, but I was so invested in Canon gear at the time.

Olympus PEN E-P2
Olympus PEN E-P2

So the natural thing for me to do, once I admitted this to myself, was to begin purchasing PEN cameras and MFT lenses. I had a couple of concerns as detailed below, so I proceeded slowly:

One way I love using my cameras is to shoot wide-open, to get proper separation between my subject and the background, and this was a concern as I began purchasing Micro Four Thirds gear: would I be able to get a shallow depth of field from cameras known for their high depth of field? The answer turned out to be a resounding yes, and it was the 45mm f1.8 lens that made me go “wow”.

Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens
Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens

Here is one sample photograph.

Olympus PEN E-P5 | 45mm | f1.8 | 1/4000 sec | ISO 200

Another way I love using my cameras is in low light, particularly at dusk. With previous Olympus cameras that I’d reviewed, I knew I couldn’t go above ISO 800. I wanted to see if things improved with the newer PEN cameras. When I reviewed the PEN E-P2 in 2010, I went to ISO 1600 and 3200 and the results were usable, but not ideal. I also knew I hadn’t really tested the E-P2 fairly, because the widest lens I’d used on it was f3.5 at its max (it was the kit 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens), while for my other cameras, I had f1.4 lenses which obviously helped them gather much more light and perform much better in low light. Also, what had improved a lot over the years was the ability of software like Lightroom and Olympus Workspace (formerly known as Olympus Viewer) to apply good noise reduction to high-ISO images.

Incidentally, even with the aid of f1.4 lenses, I was thoroughly disappointed with the high-ISO performance of my Canon 7D over the years, to the point where I took to reusing my old Canon 5D in low light, so I wouldn’t end up muttering curses under my breath when I developed the images.

So once I bought the E-P2 in 2018, I took photos with it in low light once again, this time with proper wide-open lenses like the 17mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8 and I was thoroughly surprised at how well the camera performed. Here are a couple of samples.

Olympus PEN E-P2 | 45mm | f1.8 | 1/8 sec | ISO 1600
Olympus PEN E-P2 | 17mm | f1.8 | 1/40 sec | ISO 1600

These were developed in Adobe Lightroom, but I will say this: Olympus Workspace is much, much better at reducing noise in high-ISO images from Olympus cameras than Lightroom. If you’re disappointed with how your final images look after you put them through Lightroom, put those same images through Olympus Workspace and you’ll be surprised at the results. I know I was! Granted, it is slower to work with and it doesn’t offer all of the file management, presets and collections options that make it so convenient to use Lightroom, but it has no competition when it comes to getting the best image quality from your developed photos.

Seeing how well the E-P2 performed with proper lenses, I went ahead and purchased the E-P3 and the E-P5. I was also lucky to find an E-P1 in very good condition, so I bought that as well.

Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P3
Olympus PEN E-P5
Olympus PEN E-P5
Olympus PEN E-P1
Olympus PEN E-P1

As I used them, I saw that things got better with each model, from the E-P1 to the E-P2, from E-P2 to the E-P3, and from the E-P3 to the E-P5, in terms of high-ISO noise management and many other things, to the point where photos taken in dim indoor lighting turn out like this:

Olympus PEN E-P5 | 45mm | f1.8 | 1/80 sec | ISO 1600

I have absolutely no complaints about images like these, so naturally my concerns about the performance of Olympus cameras in low light went up in smoke, so to speak.

Once these two concerns — shallow depth of field and low light performance — were nullified, I could truly begin to use my PEN cameras as my primary cameras, and I began purchasing more lenses. I now have nine MFT lenses and two converters (macro and ultra-wide), covering a focal range of 9-300mm (equivalent to 18-600mm in 35mm format), so my needs are pretty well met. More importantly, I’ve proven to myself that I can use PEN cameras professionally, and that I can use Olympus cameras full-time for my photographic needs, which is what I’ve done since 2018.

I have had a soft spot for Olympus cameras for some time. My first proper digital camera was the Olympus C3000Z, which I used from 2004-2007.

Olympus Camedia C3000Z
Olympus Camedia C3000Z

The C770UZ was next, and I used it from 2005-2010.

Olympus Camedia C770UZ
Olympus Camedia C770UZ

I then got the PEN E-PL1, which I used from 2012-2018 as my primary travel camera and as my backup camera at home. I got it from Costco as a kit with the 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses, and loved taking it along on trips, because it was so tiny and light and with those two lenses, I was covering a focal range of 14-150mm (equivalent to 28-300mm in 35mm terms).

Olympus PEN E-PL1
Olympus PEN E-PL1

From 2018 onward, I’ve used my various PEN cameras as my primary cameras, with my PEN E-P5 racking up the most shots at over 65K. Now of course the PEN-F is my primary camera and I’m very happy. When I sit at my desk, I keep it there in front of me and I admire its design as I work on my various projects. I love it!

Olympus PEN-F | 300mm | f7.1 | 1/500 sec | ISO 250

So there you have it! I hope this was helpful in some way. Thanks for reading!

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Thoughts

In-camera, optical tilt shift is now achievable

I’m not sure when it clicked for you that tilt shift could be had easily and practically, in camera with some recent models, but that time was today for me.

Tilt–shift photography is the use of camera movements that change the orientation and/or position of the lens with respect to the film or image sensor on cameras.

Sometimes the term is used when the large depth of field is simulated with digital post-processing; the name may derive from a perspective control lens (or tilt–shift lens) normally required when the effect is produced optically.

“Tilt–shift” encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.

Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.

Tilt-shift photography, Wikipedia

The only mainstream lens manufacturer I know of that sells tilt-shift lenses is Canon. While I like Canon cameras and love the capabilities of tilt-shift lenses, I would like to see if there are other ways to handle this issue. It’s somewhat of a niche problem, but it’s one that’s worth addressing.

And then it dawned on me. Some camera models have sophisticated 5-axis image stabilization. That means they effectively tilt and shift the sensor, along with “shake it all about” and so on, in order to keep a longer exposure clear. But what if we were to modify the firmare, to introduce a special section in the camera menus, where the vertical and horizontal angles at which the sensor is kept when facing a scene could be manually adjusted through that special section? We could effectively introduce optical tilt and shift capabilities by manipulating the sensor, while still using the same lenses.

Lightroom offers some options to tilt and shift the image after it’s been taken, but any good photographer will tell you it’s better to capture the image you need directly in camera. Introducing a special menu that lets us tilt and shift the sensor, perhaps using the buttons and dials already built on the camera, would provide this valuable niche capability to those who do not own Canon tilt-shift lenses and do not shoot with Canon cameras. It’d literally be a bonus firmware upgrade that could be pushed out and the new feature should just work. There would be some limitations in the amount of movement, since the IBIS engine wasn’t originally built for this, but it would work, and in future iterations of the IBIS, I’m sure it would work even better.

If you liked this idea and you work in product design and development, you may want to have a look at my consulting website.

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Thoughts

The flip side of digital photography

Should you be old enough, you’ll remember how different photography was before the arrival of digital cameras. Not only was it difficult to get great photos, the kind that were good enough for publication, but it was difficult to develop them and reproduce them. There were real barriers to entry and to success in the field. They weren’t insurmountable, but they were there.

Nowadays, digital cameras make it so easy for us. Even a novice can occasionally get a great photo simply by clicking the shutter button, because modern cameras can pretty much handle all situations. They don’t do everything, you still need to know what you’re doing in some scenarios, but they’ll get you pretty close to your desired result by themselves, most of the time. So not only is it easy to take photos, but it’s also easy to “develop” them using your computer, and you can reproduce them endlessly. The barriers to entry and success in the field are now almost gone.

However, one thing we all learn as we age is that everything comes with pluses and minuses. Just like film photography had certain minuses, digital photography comes with plenty of unpleasantries on its flip side.

Publications that used to hire photographers and pay them good wages are dwindling. How many do you know of that still have on-staff photographers, or hire photographers for their stories? And how do their salaries compare with those of photographers in the past if they’re adjusted for inflation?

Stock agencies are decreasing the payouts to photographers. There is a lot of competition in that market, paired with a real glut of photographs. And when the supply always outnumbers the demand, prices will fall. There are but a few stock agencies left. There are a ton of microstock agencies which sell photos for piddly sums and pay cents on the dollar to photographers, and they’re also getting bought out and merging with each other in order to survive. If it wasn’t clear a few years ago, it’s becoming painfully clear now that a photographer cannot make a living selling microstock. There are a few who manage to do it, but it’s clear that on average, microstock yields a non-livable income.

There are so many photographs being made that people don’t truly appreciate them anymore. Do you remember how we used to admire photographs in the past? We’d stare at them for 5-10 minutes at a time, taking in each detail. We’d cut them out of magazines and paste them in scrapbooks. We’d look at them and look at them and look at them… Now we’re lucky if a photo gets 5 seconds of someone’s time. There are so many of them that people just gloss right over a photo that took days or hundreds of tries to make. Perhaps you’ll understand this better if I compare it to a periodical cicada emergence. In just a few days, animals that would eagerly consume them as they came out, would become so glutted that they’d simply lay on the ground and watch them crawl around and over them, unable to eat a single morsel. That’s what’s going on with photographs now. Each of us has a rhythm, a rate of “ingesting” digital content and we’ve all reached our max, but the photographs just keep coming. They keep coming and their rate of production is actually increasing. We cannot keep up.

Digital photography gear is made to become obsolete, causing you to spend more money every few years. Remember how you could use the same film camera for 10-20 years, even a lifetime, if you took care of it? That’s not the case with digital cameras, which typically last about 4-5 years before something goes bad. Even if you’re willing to pay a repair shop to have it fixed, camera manufacturers stop stocking parts for older cameras after a certain number of years, because they want to force you to buy a new model. I wanted to send my Canon 5D in for repairs last year, but I couldn’t. The repair shop said I shouldn’t bother, because Canon actually doesn’t allow them to work on the 1st gen 5D anymore and they’ve stopped stocking parts. Not that Canon repair experiences were so great to begin with, but at least they got the job done. I also sent in my Olympus PEN E-P2 in for repairs last year, but it didn’t get repaired. It came back just as I sent it, with a message that offered apologies for the inconvenience and explained that they’d stopped stocking parts for that model just a few months back; support had been discontinued by Olympus. I don’t understand it: there’s money to be made with service and repairs, so why stop supporting a model? Why not keep servicing it for as long as the customer is willing to use it? That business model has been proven to work a long time ago by the car industry.

Cameras, lenses and flashes are getting more expensive each year. Manufacturers can call them inflation adjustments all they want, but price hikes still feel very much like price hikes. And when they’re coupled with no real way to make money from your photos anymore, what are you left with? Doing weddings? Yuck. I don’t know how photographers are coping with all of this. I have a nagging feeling that wedding photographers are pretty much the only ones making money from photography these days. They’re certainly the bulk of the paying customers for camera manufacturers. It’s them and the online “experts” that have sprouted like mushrooms after rain, offering “advice” about which camera model to buy on YouTube and other video sites. It’s a new model/brand each week of course, unless they’re getting paid by a manufacturer to promote a certain brand.

There are real costs associated with processing, storing and archiving digital photographs. We’re told that digital photographs are pretty much free and there’s never been a better time to take many, many photos in order to learn the craft, but there are significant costs that come into play when you add the price of a good computer and good software and the storage and backup solutions that you will absolutely need unless you want your photos and your hard work to go up in a puff of virtual smoke. I’d like to challenge you to add up the costs of your camera gear (camera, lenses, flashes, adapters, tripods, etc.) and computer equipment (laptop/desktop, external hard drives, backup equipment/services) and once you have a total, divide it by the number of photographs you’ve taken with your camera so far. That’ll give you a pretty good idea of the cost per image, and you’ll see that digital photographs are not free. Granted, that cost per image will go down the longer you keep your current equipment and the more photos you take with it, although the cost of storage and backup will still be there for your larger collection of photographs. Do you realize you’ll likely need to pay for a backup subscription for the rest of your life? It’s no wonder that more and more people choose to take photos with their smartphones and edit them directly on those devices, forgoing the cost of computer equipment. And when smartphone manufacturers also offer direct and almost instantaneous cloud backup of the images and videos taken with the phones (at somewhat reasonable prices) it becomes a very attractive offer.

It’s so easy to reproduce digital photographs that it’s actually a problem, because anyone can steal and plagiarize them. Theft of online photographs is rampant. It’s one thing for a fan to repost your photos on another site — I’d go so far as to say that’s fine… but it’s quite another thing for someone to download your photos, enlarge them in Photoshop and repost them on a stock site or use them in ad campaigns, and this is happening quite a lot.

There is no consistent way to attribute photographs online, which means a photographer’s name is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Sure, you can use a caption that lists the photographer’s name, but that only works if you’re the primary publication and you’ve worked with the photographer. Most software used to export and compress images for online publication generally strips EXIF and IPTC copyright information. And most online platforms also have no consistent way of keeping that information inside the photographs, instead offering excuses about file size and compression algorithms which sound very empty given how far we’ve come with computer technology. Have you ever tried to find a photographer’s name for a photo reposted on social media? Good luck… Unless they’ve got a tasteful watermark somewhere on the photo, the metadata’s been wiped clean by these sites. Even Flickr still does not keep a photographer’s name in the metadata of a photo. Should you be able to download a photo from a Flickr contact, you’ll get a link to the page where it was found and maybe a caption, but you will not get something as basic as the photographer’s name, much less the rest of the copyright information.

I’m not saying we should go back to film and analog equipment. I love digital cameras and their ease of use. And I love the various advances being made in digital camera gear. Some of the minuses listed above can even be fixed. I’m just not enthusiastic about their flip side. When photographs were harder to make, we appreciated them more and good photographers stood a good chance of making good money with them. Now that photographs are easy to make, we don’t appreciate them and income from photographs has gone down to pennies on the dollar, if at all. Thank goodness I take photographs for the sake of it, as a creative endeavour that relaxes me after working on my various projects, but I wonder how others are coping with these changes. And it’s also not to say that I wouldn’t mind making money from my photographs on my own terms.

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Places

Late spring in our garden

Summer doesn’t officially start until the solstice on June 21, so even though it feels very much like summer outside, we can still call it spring. Here is a gallery of photographs taken recently in our garden (on the 9th) with my PEN E-P2 and the 12-50mm lens, which does double duty as a macro when you need it. I’m so glad I bought this camera. It came out in 2010 and even now, in 2018, I can’t call it outdated when I can take photographs like these with it. Look at the colors, at the details, at the clarity and the bokeh. It’s so good 😍. I know I shouldn’t praise my own photos and I’m not, I just really like this camera. I love all my PEN cameras, they’re awesome little beasts.

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A Guide To A Good Life, How To

How to choose a camera that’s right for you

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:

  1. Love what you already have
  2. Learn to use your equipment properly
  3. Don’t stress out about resolution (megapixels)
  4. Don’t get on a tech merry-go-round
  5. You don’t need UHD (4k video) just yet
  6. Be wary of “filler resolution”
  7. Separate the “nice to have” from the “must have”
  8. Get separate photo and video gear in order to obtain the best quality images and video

I hope this helps you!

Released 17-02-2018

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; 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.

Thanks for watching!

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Reviews

The best full-frame camera available in 2018

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 (in 2018), 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. 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 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 back then.

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?

My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!
My 5D after 10 years of use. I still love it!

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 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!

Indeed
Stefanel asleep on an armchair

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.

Olympus E-3 DSLR
The Olympus E-3 was dustproof and splashproof

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:

  1. Takes high-quality, high-resolution images and
  2. 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 has stopped providing 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.

Canon 5DS Front
The Canon 5DS
Sony a7S II Front
The Sony a7S II

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 (providing you’re using fast glass)! 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 the same (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)…

Canon 5D Mark IV Front
The Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR

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 4 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 the majority 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 $5,000-6,000 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 work 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.

Nikon D850 Front
The Nikon D850 DSLR

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 whyIt’s the Sony a7R III.

Sony a7R III Front
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.

In-body 5-axis image stabilization
In-body 5-axis image stabilization

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).

Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter
The Metabones Canon EF and EF-S Lens to Sony E Mount T Smart Adapter (Mark V)

And if that’s not enough, they also have something called the Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V), which does all of the above, increases the aperture by 1 stop and makes the lens 0.71x wider (see this for the details).

Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II
Canon EF Lens to Sony E Mount T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x II (Mark V)

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.

best-sony-a7r-iii-lenses.jpg
A lens line-up for the Sony a7R III

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 interlaced 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 full-frame 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.

This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera
This is the Canon EF 70-300 mm lens mounted to the body of an Olympus E-PL1 mirrorless camera

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.

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).

Canon EOS 5DS R
The Canon EOS 5DS R

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! ✈

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

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.

Panasonic Lumix GH5
The Panasonic Lumix GH5

The differences between the two cameras are eloquently explained in this video put together by the 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! 👋

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Reviews

Olympus OM-D E-M5

The award-winning Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a groundbreaking camera with a rugged, quality build and classic looks. Voted best camera of 2012. And this one comes bundled with the whisper-quiet 12-50mm zoom lens, great for filming in HD.

Buy it here: Olympus OM-D E-M5 16MP Live MOS Interchangeable Lens Camera with 3.0-Inch Tilting OLED Touchscreen (Silver)

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Camera preview: Canon EOS M

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
  • Stereo microphone, manual audio adjustment, wind noise filter
  • 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.

You can also get an EF-M 18-55mm lens for it.

Here’s the mount adapter I mentioned earlier.

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:

Images of EOS M courtesy of Canon. 

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