I think so many ardent amateurs and unimaginative professional photographers have been looking at the Sony and Panasonic one inch sensor cameras all wrong. From my conversations with so many photographers I find that most feel that the "bridge" cameras, like the Sony RX10 series and the Panasonic FZ series are "step down" cameras or "convenience" cameras designed to be dragged along during assignments or travel opportunities where a big, fat, awkward bag of lenses and traditional interchangeable lens cameras would be too big a burden. They see the bridge cameras as a compromise, thinking that everything in "real" imaging should revolve around traditional cameras. But I think they are misguided.
I went out and used my Sony RX10ii today. I had almost forgotten what a solid and proficient tool it is for all kinds of photography. But more importantly I became reacquainted with the many ways in which these cameras really are the best suited options for nearly all the image making people do these days. There are exceptions to the general rule but for the most part these cameras run circles around traditional DSLRs in handling, feature sets, and yes----even a certain set of quality parameters.
The biggest hit the cameras get from naysayers is that the sensor is too small and this won't allow for images where the backgrounds go quickly out of focus behind the main subject. This is true and it's the one limitation I'll grant to DSLR users. There is little out there that can match the look of an 85mm or 135mm f1.4 or f1.8, focused at six to eight feet from a main subject, with the background another 10 to infinity feet away. That's it. That's the one advantage of the bigger sensor from an artistic point of view.
But the one inch sensor brigade does so many things so well. I spent time walking around shooting in full sun today with the ISO of my RX10ii set at 64. The detail I was able to get in the images I took easy rivals the image quality (sharpness, color saturation, detail, even dynamic range) that I get when I shoot the same things with my Sony A7ii and my little collection of modern Zeisslenses.
The thing that makes the RX10 series and the FZ series wonderful shooting tools (as opposed to wonderful academic arguments) is their sheer flexibility, combined with their overall image quality. Here's what I love about the RX10ii (and by extension, its close siblings):
It has a compact form factor when you consider the range of focal lengths you get in one package. Even without looking at the RX10iii with it's 24-600mm equivalent zoom the RX10ii's 24-200mm delivers an incredibly wide range and does it with a constant f2.8 aperture. The lens is sharp wide open. It's extremely sharp at f5.6.
The mechanical lens has a leaf shutter and so one can synchronize any flash at any of the mechanical shutter speeds which means the camera is usable with flash under any condition. Fill flash in full sun becomes almost fool proof.
Whether you use the totally silent electronic shutter or the mechanical shutter operational noise is minimal. The camera can be used in full silent mode, in a packed theater, and the person sitting right next to you will not hear the camera shoot. Totally silent. Amazingly silent.
Since the lens is custom configured and designed for the system and is built into the body there is never a worry about getting dust on the camera sensor. A huge benefit of the tight integration of lens and sensor is that the lens is formulated to squeeze the very last drop of performance out of the system. Every interchangeable lens based system is a compromise; mechanically and optically.
While the last decade's imaging trends revolved around super limited depth of field any "one trick pony" technique gets old after a while and clients come to realize that having lots of their product in sharp focus can be even more beneficial. The deeper depth of field for equivalent angles of view becomes a wonderful feature. (In the FZ2500 you can combine this increased depth of field with in-camera focus stacking for perfect product shots and still life images).
The RX10ii has a built in, three stop neutral density filter which comes in handy not just for video projects but also when shooting in bright light or in still shooting situations when you just need to be able to always shoot at the widest possible aperture.
Both the Sony cameras and the Panasonic camera under discussion here have image stabilization that rivals every camera on the market with the exception of the two newest Olympus m4:3 cameras. Handholding at slow shutter speeds becomes very reliable and effective.
This genre of cameras, with their totally mechanical symmetrical leaf shutters are mostly immune to shutter shock and also banding. Add in the flash synchronization capabilities and you have three major attributes that are superior to any focal plane shutter camera system on the market. For many artists these shutter features alone are reason enough to choose cameras like these.
The capper for me is that when I shoot any one of these three cameras correctly, and stay at reasonable ISO, I am able to get images that, in print and on screen, match the quality of much more expensive DSLR systems with their much bigger sensors. To use Ming Thein's terminology these sensors represent ample sufficiency for most imaging needs. They have a fat "use envelope." The images I shot today (not included here) are stunning and comparable to just about any camera on the market when created in their native 20 megapixel settings. Shoot in Raw for the most flexibility but even shooting in the highest quality Jpeg settings will deliver results that are more limited by photographer competence than camera limitation.
And we have not even considered the built-in video capabilities of these cameras, which are highly impressive. Shoot a Panasonic FZ2500 into an Atomos Ninja Flame and you get amazingly accurate color with bit depth that shames Nikon, Canon and Sony camera at multiples of its price. In my experience the 4K and 1080p performance of that camera far exceeds the performance of anything coming out of the Nikon D810 or the Canon 5Dmk3 or 4.
And the FZ2500 does it while giving one unlimited recording times. Even if you are shooting to the card in your camera instead of into the external recorder.
While the Sonys don't scratch out 10 bit color with an external video recorder they do get a bump up to 4:2:2 color and the files are much less compressed when sent to the Atomos. When shot in this way they are stunning and compete (especially in 4K) with the A7Rii and the A6500. The RX10s sample at 6K and downsample to 4k for exquisite detail and sharpness. Very few other consumer cameras are even capable of doing this.
Try shooting video with the traditional DSLRs, or even a bigger Sony, and you'll need to add expensive lenses in order to equal the performance of the super bridge, one inch sensor cameras right out of the box. And you'll also need to add high quality ($$$) screw in neutral density filters to control exposure at wider apertures. To get the convenience, performance and optical range I can get out of a stock Panasonic FZ2500 in a Sony A7Rii I would need to add three high quality zoom lenses and a good ND filter. My quick math makes it $1100 versus about $7500. And the Panasonic has much better battery life while color straight out of camera that is easier for me to grade.
So, why is there so much prejudice against the best of the one inch cameras? Why are they relegated to being "convenience" cameras? Why aren't more professionals embracing these camera as all purpose, high quality imaging tools? Primary tools instead of adjuncts?
I think the answers lie in consumer mentality, advertising and profit, and ego. First, consumers in mass are slow adopters of new technology. There are always people on the cutting edge who grab new tech first but the huge part of the Bell Curve of adapters lies in the very middle of the curve. They trail the people who first have the epiphany that a product, or type of product, will out deliver a combination of quality and features. Once their assumptions are well proven in the marketplace the rest of the market starts to move.
The second impediment to meaningful engagement with new tech and new ways of doing things is the effectiveness of the stories market leaders tell to their customers. Canon and Nikon are the dominant makers and sellers of cameras and they are telling the story that the traditional cameras (in the form factor we've know for decades now) are the most reliable, desirable and professional. They are selling a feature set and a performance target that was relevant for a whole different set of industries ten to fifteen years ago. The real final market for most images is profoundly different today, as are the skills of the practitioners. Ten to fifteen years ago wedding photographers lived and died by the expensive, large printed albums they created and delivered. Now most couples want the digital images and are willing to pay for retouched and enhanced digital images. The primary use is to share them across social media on the web. The album is an afterthought and, a few years from now as the people who grew up in the film age exit the market (parents, aunts, uncles) I think couples will yawn at the very concept of prints.
The bulk of output from commercial photographers has long since moved from anything printed or delivered as a transparency to pure digital delivery. And the target for most of the delivered files (60-80%, depending on the industry) is the web. There's still print being done but given the paper stock and the web printing technologies any 20 megapixel image is perfectly adequate as long as it was created with best practices. Exceptions are at the high end, offset printing for premium catalogs and point of purchase, but these niches are smaller than they've ever been. Our work with the first generation of Sony one inch cameras has been in many printed pieces including an eight page feature in a classic shelter magazine.
The final impediment to using these cameras to do professional work is purely ego. Or looked at another way, fear. The online community keeps pounding out the message that there is something about the old, cumbersome tech that adds some intrinsic value to the work that can't be found in cameras without interchangeable lenses. Or cameras with smaller than APS-C sensors. The individual tends to choose cameras much as a uniform of his or her professional status. Having the "right" cameras emboldens them in their pursuit of business or in their self-acceptance as a professional. The neophyte professional photographer seems to live in fear that they will be unmasked as unworthy if clients catch them using cameras that aren't on the mainstream radar as professional cameras.
But if this is the case then why do Sony and Panasonic go to such great lengths to create these gems? They cannot be inexpensive to make and seem to provide cutting edge features and performance. My take is that Sony's R&D points to this format, and the features made possible by the format, as the way of the future. They see tight lens and sensor integration as a means of raising overall imaging quality. The RX10iii was the first of the Sonys to do 6K video capture downscaled to 4K for highest quality. It was the test bed for truly professional BSI sensor integration. The two latest RX10 units were testing platforms for consumer XAVCs codecs. The lenses on all three of these cameras are stunningly good.
In short, the camera makers understand that the quality of the mechanisms and output can be optimized in this format for the vast majority of professionals, high level amateurs and industrial users but---- they need to wait for the big, slow moving, slow to learn, hump of the Bell Curve of Buyers to finally realize the enhanced value proposition represented by this new tool set and, until they do, the makers will continue to supply comfortably traditional products. Canon and Nikon are dragging their feet because they own the mindshare of the medium and the vast market of slow adapters. Sony is constantly bringing their product lines into a convergence that will lead to sensor neutrality and general acceptance of the benefits of the all-in-one cameras. It's a long timeline game.
But consider for a second what's actually happened in the market in the last five years. Almost unbelievably millions of photographers and people in business who need images for their web advertising have come to the conclusion that advanced smart phones have hit the mark of sufficiency and enable them to create work that fills a need conveniently, and with at least acceptable quality. The one inch sensor cameras are as big a step up in quality from the cellphones as full frame digital SLRs were just five years ago from the then ubiquitous point and shoot cameras. Is it any wonder that the one inch sensor cameras seem destined to be the aspirational, professional imaging tools of the next generation? Just wait until something like an RX10IV or FZ3500 hits the market with continuous tracking auto focus that's as fast and sure as the AF in the Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX. The technology is already past proof of concept and in general use in the Sony A9; it's only a matter of time until it rolls down to their (secret) future, pro, all-in-one camera. At that point what will the justification of the big, expensive full frame behemoth cameras be? If it's just about the idea of narrow depth of field rest assured that Apple has already rolled out proof of concept on software tech that can deliver exactly the depth of field you want from whatever camera and lens happens to be in your hands.
My experiences today reminded my why I have three different iterations of the super one inch sensor cameras. They each deliver features unavailable in traditional, old school cameras and they do so at a fraction of the price.
With video as a component of my commercial business I can say that this class of cameras has already generated over half of my overall income for 2017. That's a powerful reason to keep our eyes on future tech, even if it doesn't resemble the cameras we used to use. Reject familiarity in favor of results. You might be surprised.
A crop from the photo below.