4.04.2015

They laughed when I said I was downsizing the inventory of cameras, until I sat down to play the piano...

Contax RTS III. 50mm f1.4.

I have a well deserved reputation as a person who changes cameras as often as most people change the filters in their coffee machines. I've owned a lot of different systems, cameras and lenses and at one point could probably count twenty four different digital camera bodies in the studio environs at one time. But I seem to have turned over a new leaf. Right now (not counting old film cameras that are not worth selling) I have the fewest number of cameras (and systems) that I've owned in at least two decades.

Occasionally a camera will float in from a manufacturer for review but we can't really count these because they are temporary and have to be returned at the end of a specified trial time.

Since the beginning of this year I've been on a camera purge of sorts. I decided to only keep the camera around that I want to use, like to use and enjoy the images from. I stopped letting nostalgia push me to keep older, more unusual and large numbers of duplicate camera bodies around.

In just the past two weeks I've sold two Nikon D7000s, one Nikon D7100, all the Nikon APS-C lenses and four Olympus EM-5 bodies. Lots of accessories left along with the bigger ticket items. All the small, compact, fixed lens cameras that I imagined I'd love to carry everywhere and shoot with are gone. That includes some that I love in theory and in the quality of the files but just felt awkward with.

Some I got rid of stuff out of superstition. Once a camera develops a fault, no matter how minor, I seem to no longer trust it and it either gets sidelined or I get rid of it. The Sony RX10 is a case in point. I loved that camera until the little switch that enables clickless aperture setting broke. The camera would only stay in the "click" mode if I taped the switch in place. Within a few weeks the camera was gone (yes, the switch was fully disclosed...).

So what's left? What am I shooting my jobs with? Which cameras have made the latest cut? And why?

Starting at the top is the Nikon D810. It's hard to argue with this choice for a working professional photographer on two levels. First, it is arguably the best image producing (affordable) camera in the world. I can't image there are many situations in which 36 very, very good megapixels are not enough. And the camera handles very, very well for day in and day out photography. Couple that with  sheer number of great manual focus and recent model used AF lenses that are available at very economical prices and it's easy to wrap a very workable system around this body.

On a different level the Nikon D810 is rapidly distinguishing itself at a very, very good 2K video camera with really good color science and a nicely detailed image on the screen. As I get more serious about video it's nice to know that the camera will output clean, uncompressed video files to digital video recorders. The first two jobs I did with the camera paid for it and it works with no "gotchas" that I've encountered. Can't ask for more than that in a professional tool.

Since no good photographer goes on assignment without a same system back up camera I have to say that I am very happy with the Nikon D610 that I picked up last December. The video isn't in the same ballpark but the image files are just as good (though a bit smaller) and the camera comes closer to remind my (with pleasure) of the film SLRs from my early days in the business. It's a no nonsense tool without too many bells and whistles that was cheap to buy, easy to use and nicely robust.

The one area where it actually bests the D810 is in high ISO/Low illumination environments. It's got a sensor that's nice and clean up to at least 6400 ISO and at ISO 100 the dynamic range just goes on and on.

I've got a drawer full of Nikon lenses that covers focal lengths from 14mm to 300mm and I rarely have ever wanted anything outside this range. If I get the hankering to use a long, fast telephoto lens with either of the two bodies I'll be happy to rent.

My Nikon working system all fits nicely into a Think Tank Airport Security roller case (original model) and with it I feel as though I can shoot just about anything.

Those two cameras are the only digital Nikons I own right now. Eventually I will replace the D610 with a D750 but only because the D750 is a much more capable video production camera and works almost identically in video modes as the D810. The faster I move through jobs the more I appreciate cameras that have similar or almost identical methods of operation and menus.

I have one lens of the system on my wish list but I really don't need it. It's the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens. But every time I shoot with the new 50mm f1.8 G lens I stick my credit card back in my wallet because I end up being so happy with the $229 alternative...

Two cameras. That's hardly overkill for a business that revolves around the almost daily use of cameras.

The second system is the Olympus OMD family. Until last week I had four of the original EM5 cameras. I like using the for personal work because they are small and light and capable. The image quality is really good for the size and price of the camera bodies and they worked well with the manual focus Pen F len collection (1970's vintage) I've amassed over the years. They also work very well with the Sigma Art Lens trio, the 19mm, the 30mm and the (amazing) 60mm (all f2.8).  I have the same Micro Four Thirds lenses as most people which include the 17mm f1.8, the 25mm Summilux, the 45mm f1.8 and the Panasonic 12-35mm X lens.

Last week all four EM5 bodies were liquidated. I had to make room for a couple of the newer EM-5.2 cameras. And why not? The EM-5.2s have much nicer EVFs, better image stabilization and improved (but hardly perfect) video features. The addition of a headphone jack on the accessory grip which allows me to monitor audio during video shooting alone makes the upgrade worthwhile.

I started with a black body but I loved the look of the knurled knobs on the silver version so I chose one in that color as a back up. I've been walking around shooting the black version with a wonderful, sharp, dense, solid Pen F 40mm f1.4 and I couldn't be happier with the results. The focus peaking works well and is a most welcome addition when shooting with the older Pen lenses and their "manual only" focusing systems.

My wish list of the Olympus system (besides a firmware upgrade for the video files) is to get my hands on the new 40-150mm f2.8 zoom lens. But we'll see how tax season treats me first...

By my count that's a total of four cameras. All of which have now been used on successful, paying projects. Narrowing down to two systems helps me cope with the different menus and gives me the ability to alternate between the two different styles of camera and attendant differences in shooting styles which keeps me from getting bored.

I'm actively decluttering the rest of the studio as well.  In the last two weeks we filtered out four tripods and five tripod heads. I tossed out all the "broken but still usable" light modifers (umbrellas and soft boxes) including two enormous beauty dishes that had been gathering dust. I guess I'm just not a beauty dish kind of guy.

Let's see if I can hold the line. The only things on my acceptable list at this point are new lenses. But that's not a bad thing. The lenses are the gateway to the vision. Everything else changes too often to be considered collectible.

And that's how the downsizing is going. Thanks for asking. Oh, you didn't ask? Well then, thank you for letting me share.

Contax RTS III, 85mm f1.4.



12 comments:

Tom Northenscold said...

What happened to the GH4s?

neopavlik said...

Good for you !

Nice to know that I'm not the only one that held onto broken but still useable items. I just replaced a cheap knockoff ~5 ft Octabox that had a rod go through the canvas and finally threw out a broken pop-up reflector -- rip Photoflex :( .

I've kept my recent gear lust at bay by calculating how often I'd actually use it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,

Did I miss something in an earlier post? You didn't mention your Panny GH4 and 3, nor the 35-702.8 lens. Have you liquidated these as well?
I'm currently shooting with the GH3 bodies (2) and a GX7 as a carry-around for stills, but am looking to pick up a GH4 whenever the prices come more in line with what I can justify. Don't 'need' one, but shamelessly 'want' one.
~ Ron

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, whatever happened to your GH3 and GH4? You seemed so enamored of them for video.
Regards,
Warren

Bat54 said...

Seeing the pictures taken with a Contax RTS, reminds me that back in the 70's, a local store carried a wide selection of all the major brands of SLR. I lusted after that camera (and the 85 f1.4) for the longest time, but could never seem to amass that kind of money, so I bought the Pentax MX instead. Decades later, I bought the Contax T2 as my walk around camera, so I at least got to dip my toe in the Contax pond.

Kirk Tuck said...

Warren, The GH4 is a superb video camera and we have three friends who own them. We decided to share/rent to each other when we need them. No longer owning the gear gives me the (mental) flexibility to rent just exactly what I want to use for each job. Might be renting an FS7 for the next project....

Moving into the mindset of renting instead of owning things like bodies which change all the time.

Brian Keairns said...

Interesting timing for this article. I just went through a similar process though I sold my Olympus bodies and standardized on Panasonic. I like the look of the Panasonic Leica lenses on Panasonic bodies for both video and stills. The 15mm f/1.7 is an underrated gem and the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lives up to it's reputation. Even though the choices were different the thought process around simplification was similar.

My odd piece of kit now is the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/.95. It provides unique features and a cinematic look for both video and stills but I'd like to be able to use the whole Nokton MFT family on a shoot. I have the same range with my PL lenses but it would be great to have an alternative look for certain projects.

Kirk Tuck said...

Looking seriously at the 10.5 Voitlander. Might be just what I need on the front of the new Olympus cameras.

Kitchen Riffs said...

That second picture is beyond gorgeous. Thanks for letting us see it.

— John Griffin

Gary said...

I have a bunch of cameras and lenses I want to and should sell but just too lazy and not enough time to sell them - my options would be eBay or Craigslist. Wish someone would just come over and buy everything.

Michael Reed said...

what tripods did you keep

Kirk Tuck said...

The wooden ones.