1.14.2015

Photographic Tools and Toys that have my rapt attention in 2015. For better or worse.

I want one more of these at the same price I paid in December. $1249.

Every once in a while I get into the mood to go shopping. It usually happens during the slow periods for the business. Like right after major holidays when the business world is trying to get some traction and rev back up into action. I start looking at what I've been shooting with and I look over the fence to see if the grass is greener in the other yards. Sometimes I think it is and sometimes I wonder why we don't just all xeriscape and get it over with. But shopping doesn't mean looking. It means touching, fondling and usually rejecting the final purchase of new stuff because: a. We don't need it. b. We can't afford it. or c. The merchandise is not as pretty and magical in person as we thought it was when we read the breathy reviews on the web. So, here is a list of stuff that I'm ogling in 2015. It doesn't mean some or all of it will end up in some corporate board room, pressed into the service of commerce and it doesn't even mean it will end up in my bag. But it's stuff that's whetted my appetite for sure.

First off, every store in the USA is selling the Nikon D610 for about $1499. When you consider that the sensor inside this camera is one of the top three or four sensors for the 35mm and smaller format cameras at DXO and that the body is pretty utilitarian and straight forward it really is a good deal. Well, it's a good deal if you have a drawer full of Nikon lenses and a few older DX (APS-C) cameras and you want to be shooting with full frame cameras. If you don't mind the size and weight of the body and lenses it's a pretty convincing argument. I bought one on December 27th and, as I believe that cameras are always happiest (and jobs safest) when they travel in pairs I would like to add a second one before the rebates expire at the end of January.
But to be honest, if I weren't cheap, hadn't just bought a really nice couch and paid for another semester of college at a nice school, and put money into my "pay the IRS" account the camera that I am really interested in is the Nikon D810. What can I say? Even though I know that in most of my hand-held shooting there will be no discernible imaging advantage between the 36 megapixels of the D810 and the 24 megapixels of the D610 my irrational mind is trying to convince me that I will spend more time with my cameras on the big, stout Gitzo tripod this year, carefully fine focusing miraculous lenses in live view and using some sort of esoteric remote to trigger it all with. I know this is a fantasy and that I'll continue to hand hold, use cheap lenses and generally have more fun then technical virtuosity will allow. But, it is an aspirational camera for someone who has grown up with every generation of digital, professional camera. I keep dropping by the dealership and test driving. We'll see, we'll see.
But every time I buy a new camera body from one of the big makers there's always the lens penalty. I may have a treasure trove of interesting lenses for a system but when I make bigger moves there's always one that's missing. One that really works well for my type of photography business. While I have enough wide, semi-wide and somewhat wide lenses for Nikon bodies the one lens I don't have anymore is the fast telephoto zoom. I've owned several variations of Nikon 80-200mm zooms and I've shot a lot with the 70-200mm f2.8 zoom but every time I play with those lenses I have three complaints. The first is that they are never as sharp as I'd like wide open, at the long end. Getting f 2.8 and 200mm and sharp at the same time always seems like too much to ask. Then, the lenses are heavy. Really heavy to carry around all day in concert with a big camera body. I'm in good shape but I'm not into photo-masochism. Finally, the long, fast glass is too expensive. When did every good, fast zoom spring up into the $2500 price point? Who do these manufacturers think they are? Leica?

No, the lens I'd pair with the newer generation of full frame Nikons would be the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. Sharp wide open, half the weight and almost half the price. Given the sharper performance (f4 v f2.8) and the amazingly good high ISO performance of the newest, biggest cameras I think the f4.0 is the perfect compromise. I made the same choices when shooting full frame with Canon cameras and I  always felt it was the right combination of features, performance and price for me.
It's interesting when one system gets under your skin again (I have good nostalgia for Nikon's flash system and general performance from the old days...) but it's more complicated when several types of cameras capture your attention. For me, and for a lot of other long time shooters, Pentax creating a tipping point medium format camera in the 645Z. All of a sudden the sensor performance leapfrogged everything in the MF arena (soon fixed by Phase One but not at a similar price point) and did so at what passes for a bargain price in the medium format realm. Now, for around $12,000 we can have a monster good sensor in a very well designed and constructed body, with lots of modern bells and whistles. along with two good lenses. Pretty amazing. 

Lots will argue that the D810 is so close as to be interchangeable in performance but they miss the point. The overriding reason to own a camera with a bigger sensor is to get the benefit of the way longer lenses draw at the same angle of view as their smaller brethren. The 150mm f2.8 on a bigger sensor achieves a focus fall off that gives portraits a different signature. Is that different signature worth $5,000 more? For some, yes. For others, definitely not. But for an eternal optimist? I'm thinking probably so. Will I buy one? Well..... that's hitting a price point at which my business partner definitely gets a strong say and a veto vote. I'd have to convince here (with a signed contract in hand) that a client job would effectively cover the cost. Do I want one? What red-blooded photographer doesn't?  But I'll be frank, I don't have any clients clamoring for more than current 35mm sensor sized cameras can deliver. Just no demand in my niche.....yet.
It always makes me nervous to even think about dropping close to $10K on a camera and then more on lenses so let's look in the other direction at some of the more sensible cameras that have caught my attention and require more pondering and testing this year. First off, the mirror less stuff. If I dropped down onto the planet with no cameras to my name and I wanted to buy just one and a small handful of lenses, and I wanted that camera to make very good images while not physically impacting my travels much I'd immediately look at the Fuji XT-1. Great finder, great body and great controls, and even the sensor is fun and makes nice files. With a fast 35mm equivalent and a faster 85mm equivalent I'd be happy and ready to go. The one caveat would be the need for a pocket full of batteries but I really don't fear the generics so I think I'd be set. I used to think the price was pretty good until I realized what I could get in full frame sensors from Nikon but as a system the benefits of handling and light weight still make it a contender for the guy who dropped in from outer space with no system at all and intergalactic credit cards burning a hole in his pocket...
But if I were sniffing around the Fuji I'd probably be sniffing around the OMD EM-1 as well and it would be a hard choice to decide between the sexier looking XT-1 body and the feature set of the EM-1. Each has available lenses that are great so it really all comes down to things like 5 axis I.S. and handling. Hmm. I'm still resisting and they are both still a toss up in my mind...
I thought I'd be more interested in smaller, one inch sensor cameras by now but nothing seems to be getting my attention at the moment. I think the Sony RX10 pretty much is the final word in that arena and it's so bulletproof in its operation and image quality that it's almost boring. The perfect choice for someone who wants an all-in-one tool for great video and really good stills is one package for under $1000.  Again, get yourself a stack of batteries if you are the kind of shooter who goes out for all day romps through the urban landscape, shooting with reckless abandon...
There's one last thing that has me mulling over the checkbook balance. It's not a camera. It's not a lens. It's a more pedestrian piece of gear that will be as functional in two years as it would be right now and my interest is more piqued by my recent use than anything else. I want another Fiilex P360 variable color temperature LED light. While they don't put out a huge amount of lumens the ones they do deliver are pretty much flawless and the lights work just as I want them to. Wow. A product on my mental shopping list that's actually useful and functional as well as affordable. Zany. 

Of course, the cheapest and most entertaining photo accessory would be a great book. If you're spending a lot of time indoors because of the harsh weather I have a suggestion that will keep you amused and reading, for a few days at least: 


14 comments:

dario dasar said...

I remember when you stated the abosolute necessity of an EVF to be successful as a photographer ... Time passes by

Kirk Tuck said...

Desireability of the EVF? Yes! Always better! "The Absolute Necessity..." I can't remember ever writing that it was a necessity. Please show me that one.

I still predict that total EVF take over is inevitable. But I'm also smart enough to see great sensors in cameras that don't have EVFs and to want to use them.

Anonymous said...

You must have a MF film camera in a drawer somewhere?

Of all the stuff mentioned above, I'm most interested in seeing you try the Pentax. But if finances don't allow that, why not run through a few rolls with the old kit.

The rendering you mentioned is still good :-)

Mark

Dave Jenkins said...

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. . .

Frank Grygier said...

Get the D800 and the 70-200. Use them for 12 months. They may not wear out but the novelty will wear off. I believe in my heart that this will make you a better photographer for the next 12 months. Your files will be bigger. Bigger files equal better photographer. The only way up from there is the Pentax. Now you have an equipment acquisition plan for the next 24 months.

Scott Kirkpatrick said...

Haven't your fingers itched to try out the Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 Pro zoom on your collection of M5's and potentially on an M1 -- it fills the role of the Nikon 70-200 and more. All purpose event and stage lens, with incredible resolution and contrast, 5-axis IBIS. I bet it would be great for capturing absurd graffiti placed too high to climb to.


I've got one and it can only be beat at 2.8 and 75 mm by the really awesome Olympus 75 mm prime. It takes some pixel peeping and a careful, well lit shot to tell the difference there, and it's gone by f/5.6.

scott

hbernstein said...

Oh go ahead already, rent the Pentax and start drooling.

Kirk Tuck said...

Just kickin tires guys. Really. But I have to do it every so often, right?

G Gudmundsson said...

usually my attention is 'rapt' (when reading your blog),

now, this blog, my eyes glazed over ...

probably 'cause' I'm in temporary 'GAS' remission ...

Rory OT said...

I like your choices. They echo mine pretty much precisely. Especially the 70-200 f4!

C. Kurt Holter said...

I shoot a lot of jobs with two identical bodies, with a different lens on each.

After well over 20 years with either an 80-200/2.8 or a 70-200/2.8 living one one of them, this past spring I bought the Nikon 70-200/4. Within about a week, that lens immediately became my first choice, and my 70-200/2.8 became relegated to backup status.

My current favorite bodies are D750's (solely for their advantage at extremely high ISO settings), with the 70-200/4 on one and the 24-120/4 on the other. The latter lens relegated my 24-70/2.8 to backup status.

This outfit far and away gives me the most picture taking capability I've ever had in the smallest, lightest combination for the majority of the journalistic and non-wedding event work that I do.

neopavlik said...

:) <- This is me smiling.
I'm in the same situation with the zoom. My longest FX lens is the 105 DC + Ai-S right now.

70-200/2.8 or 80-200/2.8 - All considerably heavy, most ridiculously expensive, and used a lot.

70-200/4 VR - looks nice but I want it at the non-IS Canon price :)

70-300mm VR - I will probably get this for ~$300 used to satisfy that longer range.

180mm 2.8 AF - Older design, I don't shoot at this range a lot and I think I'd rather have the flexibility.

Thanks for putting the LED on my radar.

I might be making a big move soon so I've got to wait and sit on that money to see how it turns out. If I move I'll have a new environment, if I stay I can buy more photo stuff/work on projects...win/win.

Ted Phillips said...

I didn't want to spent the money for the Olympus 40-150 2.8 but did want a faster & longer lens than I had. I started looking at the Olympus 4/3 50-200 2.8-3.5 & even though the net has slammed it for not auto focusing on an EM5 I decided that for the used price it was worth a try. When I received the lens I used auto focus but had to agree that it is not the best.I started out with manual focus lenses so I gave it a try. I am impressed with the sharpness of the lens & how easy it is to manually focus. While not small it it has an amazing range & speed for its size. For theater work it might be worth a try.

Hugh said...

I have just part exchanged my Pentax 67 kit - after 30 years - for an OM-D EM-5 and 17 and 45mm primes (35mm and 90mm equivalent).

Couldn't be more pleased. First EVF camera. Wouldn't have made the change if not for your blog - and I don't usually read equipment blogs. Thanks.

Have to admit I'm not a film photographer if I have only used it three times in the last 5 years.

Doesn't replace the 5D3 setup - but that's now doing what Medium Format did in the old film days.