I get asked ( a lot ) about what camera a person should buy. If the person seems to be looking for an easy camera with which to document their family life, their kids and their vacations I generally always recommend whatever the cheapest Canon Rebel package currently available at Costco or someplace like that. I could tell most people until I'm blue in the face about mirror less or ultra high resolution or fancy rangefinder design but if they are looking for just a step up from their phone they are pretty much destined to buy the Rebel no matter what I tell them.
For most people a Rebel outfit with two kit zooms is just the right kit with just the right price. It's a big step up from a cellphone and a 55-200mm is a surprisingly good focal length range, coupled with an APS-C sensor, to cover most of the buyer's outdoor, kid sports needs. The big benefit is that it's a brand they've heard of and when they head out to the soccer field about 80% of the other parents also have Rebels and they can happily group source their panicky technical questions. And, optimistically, they can learn together. Those are easy camera questions to answer.
But in the last few weeks I've consulted with three other kinds of users and I've offered three different sets of advice. I got a call from a college student I know. Friend of the family. Against all advice he'd like to make a career as a photographer and video "artist." He's been through a bunch of classes, banged his way around with the family Canon Rebel and is now ready to get into the biz. He anticipates shooting stuff like products, portraits, landscapes and architecture and he wants to do it right. He's got some financial backing from his parents as well. I suggested that he get a Nikon D750 along with the 24-120mm VR lens and also a 14-24mm lens. This will get him started and the full frame camera with good video controls is pretty much a universal tool of the industry. I might be comfortable shooting with smaller formats but I can pretty much guarantee that he's going to need the psychological boost of bringing an "A" game camera system to all his early assignments. It's the old "talisman of power" thing where the "magic" of the camera conveys competence to its owner. I could have recommended the Canon 5D mk3 instead but the Nikon is more of a running start right now. Give Canon time to get the new sensors in play and then it would probably be a coin toss.
This person took my advice and I've heard back from him. He is happy as were his first three, real clients. But this would have been the wrong advice for another person who came to me to see what I would recommend for a good travel system. Now, I have travelled with big, medium format cameras on several personal, international shooting trips and I wouldn't trade the big negatives I got from those trips for anything but times have changed. Airplane seats are smaller, there are no longer porters everywhere and we're all moving a lot faster. Add to that the fact that no one wants to pay for film and processing anymore.
The person asking for advice is an accomplished amateur photographer whose last camera purchase was a Nikon D2Xs. She just didn't feel like she could handle the big body, the two enormous f2.8 zooms she'd been carrying any longer and she was ready to ditch the tripod too and get something that could be reasonably handheld. We talked about mirror-free cameras and she liked the idea. Then we narrowed it down to Fuji versus Olympus and we made a trip over to the camera store to handle them both. She loved the EM-5 and the EM-10 and she ended up with an EM-10 and a single 12-40mm f2.8 zoom lens. I counseled her to load up on some after market Wasabi Power batteries and now she's set. Early feedback is that after helping her make her first plunge into the (onerous) menu she's thrilled with what she is getting from the camera system and it fits in her purse. She was pretty amazed at how far the high ISO performance has come in cameras since the days of the D2X. She never went above ISO 400 with that camera and I wouldn't have advised it either. Now she's got the auto ISO set to cap at 1600 and she feels like she's rediscovering the joy of shooting. Also, after years of only taking the "boat anchor" out when she anticipated shooting seriously, the new camera and lens follow her everywhere. Like a puppy.
Finally I had a long, long telephone call with a fellow photographer and long time friend who shoots in NYC. He's doing portraits kind of the way I do them. He's been shooting there since the 1990's and he was complaining because the town has almost as many people constantly trying to break into the business in the city as NYC has rats. Everywhere he turns all his competitors are using one of the same two cameras: The Nikon D800 ( or some version thereof ) or a Canon 5Dmk3. They use the same 70-200mm zoom lenses and everyone seems to own or rent Profoto Strobes. He wanted my take on how he should differentiate. I told him about a mutual friend here who shoots only architecture. Very high end architecture. When his market got flooded with the same cameras and a whole raft of beginners who were shooting without lights and saving their images with desperate HDR he realized that he needed to rise above the pack and market himself as the top (and most expensive) of the photo artists in his field. Part of his branding was to cast off the ubiquitous camera choices (Nikon or Canon with 24mm TS lens) and take it all up an notch.
He dropped serious money into the Hasselblad system and then discovered the Leica medium format system and transitioned into that. Now he's shooting his platinum level, $20 million dollar residential projects and his high rise commercial projects with a couple of the Leica S2 bodies and a case full of very, very costly but incredibly good glass. Clients really can see the difference, especially when the photographer starts whipping out detailed 20 by 30 inch prints. I figured my portrait photographer friend in NYC could undertake the same basic strategy.
We talked about the Pentax 645Z and he jumped in. He only needs two lens, a normal for full length stuff and a 140 or 150mm for headshot style portraits. He's raised his rates and is busier than he's ever been. The camera was not much more money than the Canon 1DS Mk3 he bought nearly five years ago and he's been able to source some used lenses to soften the blow but to the clients the important message is that he's shooting bigger files on a bigger sensor than 90% of the competition and he can deliver images with less depth of field and more snap.
gratuitous image from Fall in Saratoga Springs to sparkle up the middle of the article.
In the end I gave out three totally different suggestions for three totally different kinds of artists. Too often I think the magazines and websites that shill for the camera makers assume that everyone needs the same stuff. That everyone is chasing the highest degree of weather proofing in their cameras bodies, that everyone craves being able to shoot at ISO 100,000, that everyone needs 12 frames per second frame rates and tracking focus that locks on like a demented badger and won't let go even if the hummingbird you are trying to track in continuous AF buzzes chaotically through an obstacle course. But really? Everyone does photography in a different way and they each are looking for a different solutions that aligns best with where they are in their imaging journey.
It would be sad if everyone shot with the same camera because in this art endeavor the tools really do nudge us in certain directions. When everyone uses the same kinds of tools everyone gets nudged in the same direction. When you make a truly universal camera I think you make a camera that really no one loves. Viva choice.
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