9.14.2015

The Uncomfortable Purgatory of being on the wrong side of new gear announcements.


Life in the trenches of visual content creation can be messy and uncomfortable. But few things are more uncomfortable than finally making the decision, after several months of research and exploration, to buy the state-of-the-art camera body only to have a newer, quicker, brighter and more appropriate, upgraded version announced while your acquisition is in transit to you.

It just happened to all the people who waited for a month or so to read all the reviews and actually handled the Sony A7R2. When that camera was delivered less than two months ago the internet was on fire with hyperbole. That camera currently sits on top of the DXO charts for best overall still image quality while the video sites waxed euphoric about its wonderful, 4K in camera, video quality. With a generous nod to both its improved usability and also its graceful handling of high ISO settings. The only issue was one for videographers to grapple with, and that is potential overheating while using the in-camera 4K video settings. Apparently the problem is easily resolved by writing files to an external digital recorder. So, in sum: The best image quality of any current (non-medium format) consumer camera on the market today coupled with what might be the best 4k video solution for under $4,000.

What's not to like?

Welllllll. Here's the flip side of deal. While the A7R2 may be the best thing since sliced bread for still photographers who work with discipline and determination (i.e.: Not a Sports Camera!!!) most video aficionados would have preferred a camera that uses the full format for 4K while the A7R2 does a bit of a crop in. It's at its best when used in the "Super 35" crop. It also lacks the latest Log profile for video. And just last week Sony dropped an anvil on the feet of the early adapting video guys (the ones who threw down for the A7R2...) by announcing the imminent arrival of the replacement to the video-drool-worthy, A7S. That was a camera that brought a full frame, 12 megapixel sensor to market that was totally optimized for video. And is still the current king of low noise, high quality performance video. The current model (the A7S) can't record 4K video internally and it lacks in-body image stabilization but it's still the one to beat in the Sony line-up. At least it was until just last week...

The newly announced A7S-2 delivered the same great 12 megapixel, large sensel size, low noise dominance but now it uses much faster processors, records uncropped 4K video in-body and has the new and highly improved, 5 axis, in body image stabilization as well as the latest Log profiles. And it's about $300 cheaper than the much higher resolution (perfect for still photographers who like big hard drives....) A7R2. And the A7R2 was only the reigning champ for all of two months in the video world....

Why should we at VSL care? Well, I guess we really don't care that much in this situation. It's not like we're entirely video centric but the same thing seems to happen all the time on our side of the fence as well. We just get comfy with the Nikon D800 and the D810 comes along. The dust and oil problem of the D600 gets fixed in the D610 and we buy a couple only to have the somewhat superior D750 arrive hot on the heels of our purchase.

The products become obsolete so quickly now, or at least that's the way we've been trained to think about the process. The reality is that the Olympus E1 in the image above is still a highly usable camera IF you are still using it as you did when you bought it a decade ago. Portraits for websites? Small prints? Street art? It's a wonderful camera for all of that.

And the A7R2 is still the best big image camera on the market (well, we'll see when we fire up the comparison with the D810--- processing might count for something...) and that didn't change with the new arrival of the A7S-2. While some of the video features might be nice to have the difference in ISO performance will be of only mild interest to people who use the cameras for commercial production and the difference in frame crops is really kind of marginal.

The shutter in the A7R2 is rated for 500,000 shots. That's years of useful life for even a heavy duty shooter. We ought to look at its productive life in that measure and not by the features that are introduced on other cameras, after the fact. I gauge the useful like of the A7R2 as about 3 to 4 years of working production. Emotionally its useful life might be measured in weeks IF you are only keeping score of the features.

Should be fun when the older stuff starts to hit the used market. Sony is currently constructing a market filled with slightly used bargains. Better to look with happiness on the plethora of cheaply available, and good, back up cameras rather than to curse being T-boned by inevitable progress. ..

Just a few thoughts. 

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"After having shot with the Nikon D810 for a good portion of the week, and with the Olympus EM5.2 for the remainder of the week I am happy with both systems and am having a rare period in which I have absolutely no camera "gear lust" of which to speak or write about."

Interesting post after yesterday's comment. Rare and fleeting? :)

Philip Storry said...

Ah, the Olympus E-1. Such fond memories!

Mine is on long-term loan to a friend. I saw him on Saturday, and asked about it - he reported that he does still use it. In fact, he mentioned that on a recent day's wandering, he'd encountered something new with it! Unfortunately, it was that it had run out of batteries. No mean feat, given he's also got the battery grip attached to it...

I'm simply very happy that it's still being used by someone. He's also got the 25mm pancake lens on it and the 14-45mm kit lens it came with. Somehow, in a fit of kindness, I found myself reaching into my kit bag and pulling out the x1.4 teleconverter that I always forget to use. He'll now be using that too.

No old camera should go unused, unless it's broken or is a spare for a pro. I'd place the lower limit for that statement at "around 5 megapixels", as that will provide decent A3 prints. I'm unsure why people chase new cameras, whilst there are so many superb old ones around. I've never actually sold an old camera - my E-1, E-330 and E-500 were all handed on to others as long term loans, often sparking or rekindling an interest in photography for them. (I'd moved on to an E-3, and now an E-5 with the E-3 as a spare.)

If anyone reading this has an old camera that they consider to be "not worth selling", consider donating it and lens or two you're not using to a friend who's interested in photography. It can be very rewarding for both the soul and the artistic spirit...

Kirk Tuck said...

Dear Anonymous, I know what I wrote a week ago must have already fled your memory but I am not buying either Sony camera. I don't really want either one. My friends are buying them and one friend who is a videographer is right in the midst of the emotional crunch described above. I am allowed to write about new cameras without having to own them. The continuity is as important as comprehension here. I think I'll make it through the month without having to buy another camera (barring damage or loss) but that doesn't mean we won't buy another light or stand.......

My statement yesterday supports rather than undermines what I wrote today.

Max Rottersman said...

You peaked too early with Sony and now we're all paying the price ;)

Carlo Santin said...

I took my 6mp Nikon D50 to the beach with me last week. I was curious to see how the older camera would compare to my more current gear, and I have a bunch of good Nikon glass that I was happy to take out. The files look great and for my intended use they are just fine. I also forgot just how simple and easy that camera is to use. I love simplicity in almost all things. So I am now wondering why I ever bothered spending so much money upgrading. I should have put my time and resources into lighting, travelling, and practice rather than chasing image quality. I may not go back to shooting the D50 full time, but that little experiment has me scratching my head a bit.

My issue with Sony is that they seem to develop and then abandon new technology just as quickly. The RX1, the Alpha SLT camera line, the Nex line etc. Sony will not get any more of my money.

Kirk Tuck said...

Max, I'm not sure if it was a case of peaking to early or not getting my money's worth out of the systems. The two Nex cameras I owned were pretty good, except at any ISO over 400. The SLT cameras gave me headaches with exposure issues and a very ambiguous roadmap forward. The a99 could be so good as a still camera except for a plethora of dark frames. As a still camera it had such promise but a weak and less than perfectly sharp codec. The first gen of the A7 cameras felt like crap, focused slowly (if at all) and had shutters that were louder than any modern camera should have been for any reason. Add to all that the need to either re-tool, lens wise to switch to the new cameras or invest in sets of lens adapters to make the leap. Using the Alpha lenses on the A7 series meant dealing with big, traditional lenses which obviated and size and weight advantage of the system. Even now I question the professional credentials of the A7 cameras for things like battery life and continuous focus. If everything you shoot is locked down and still then I'm sure the A7R-2 is great but.........

I've had no surprises with the Nikon gear. No radical changes of direction. No abandonment of an entire lens line. No need to use adapters. No trouble focusing people at a dead run. And batteries that last days instead of minutes.

Did I peak to early or maybe Sony has yet to peak and become a slam dunk choice for some kinds of heavy users?

James Eisele said...

Still working with my old Fuji S5 in the studio and last time I checked DxO it still has better dynamic range than the current top of the line from Nikon or Canon, but they are getting close. No gear lust at all.

TMJ said...

I still use my E-1, with an Olympus ringflash and macro lens, for clinical shots. It has made me more useful images than any other camera, which have appeared in presentations, lectures and publications. Beautifully made and 5.5Mp is no hindrance in image quality.

Andrea said...

"I'm unsure why people chase new cameras, whilst there are so many superb old ones around."

Because is easier toting around a shiny new camera that actually learn to make photos...