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.