4.29.2018

The color is always brighter on the other side of the fence.


I've watched with great interest as the internet gushes with praise for the Sony A7iii. The new high priests of video camera reviews on DPReview (Chris and Jordan previously of thecamerastoreTV on YouTube) created a delicious program about the new camera and "suggested" that this would be the camera that people who previously shopped for Nikons and Canons should be shopping for now...

I must say that I've been amazed at the speed at which Sony went from having two really crappy original A7's (the A7 and A7R) with jackhammer like shutter noise and pesky handling to becoming the pre-emminent selection of the world's biggest and loudest camera website.

It seems like digital cameras have always had a back and forth consumer movement, mostly driven by marketing, but sometimes by features, or the lack of them. Nikon's D1x was a very popular entry and probably the first pro camera that felt really usable in the way film cameras had been but Canon jumped ahead by offering a full frame pro camera (Canon 1DS) that moved a large number of photographers to switch systems. Soon, the white lenses were everywhere.

The introduction of the D2X, with it's APS-C sensor, was a decent parry to the Canon 1DS but Canon soon leapt ahead with a newer 16 megapixel, full frame 1DSmk2 and it seemed that Nikon's days as a camera makers for real pros were winding down. Many more people jumped ship until Nikon took the wraps off the original full frame, low light monster; the D3. Its four million fewer pixels (than the Canon 1DSmk2) were offset by the camera's ability to shoot in amazingly dark circumstances and still deliver really good results. The models continue to arrive with various new features and performance metrics but with enough differentiation to make an "apples to apples" comparison hard.

It's been a back and forth battle that continues to this day. I've shot with both systems and both are remarkably good if you just want to make photographs. If you are a professional camera tester I guess there is enough difference between the current offerings from the two brands to keep one typing daily.....

While I think the Nikon D850 is pretty cool, and armed to the teeth with features and performance, I also think that a basic Canon 5DmkIV hits a very good sweet spot for most photographers and brings it's own unique look and feel to the game. Along with excellent but more manageable files sizes.

To my mind, the only two things Sony got perfectly right, and the reason they seem to be gaining on Canon and Nikon, is that they opted to build their full frame system around the magic of the EVF and the low noise, high dynamic range of their own Sony sensors. The cameras themselves are fairly clunky to use and don't have the polished feel of their competitors. C&N products feel like the well finished iterations that are the result of decades of design trial and error while my Sony's felt more like prototypes. Good prototypes but unfinished products all the same.

Sony is a couple of body design iterations away from achieving what experienced photographers need/want from their production cameras. They had some great design advantages in the Minolta camera designs that came along with the purchase of that company but abandoned them for their A series mirrorless line designs; and I think it was a wrong turn.

People choose cameras for different reasons. I keep juggling my own calculus of what constitutes the perfect camera, and the leapfrogging of performance parameters has not been helpful in that regard. As far as the way the cameras feel in my hands I'd have to say that the Canon 5D2 was the most comfortable for me in the last ten years. The Nikon D800 is close but not quite as well done. My A7Rii needed to have the battery grip attached to make it a comfortable camera to use over time.

In the early days of the century things were changing so quickly that the switching back and forth between systems was amazing and almost non-stop. A doubling of resolution in another maker's new model seemed to be the clarion call to jump from your current system. When we all subconsciously decided that all cameras north of 30 megapixels were equally sufficient to most photographic tasks (where resolution is concerned) the inflection points for system change became more nuanced, the amplitude and frequency of the swings from system to system became less dramatic. It was harder to get people all excited about dynamic range but the camera makers have been working at it.

I'd like to say that I've given up chasing the changes but I'm nearly certain I'll change the tool kit a few times more before I switch careers and start working as a greeter at Walmart. Until then I'll try to ratchet up my skepticism and not lunge at every dangled specification change.

The colors always seem better on the camera systems you don't own. You chase them and discover that there's some other feature on the new system you just bought that lags behind the system you just sold. It goes that way all the time.

I bought the D800s recently because, in still photography, they seem like the financial analogy of buying certificates of deposit. The cameras are already depreciated, they'll hold some of their value for another cycle and they'll do what you need for the term. When they fully mature you can sell them and move on. I want to step off the System Exchange Cycle and catch my breath. I want to see what the next big thing is in the photo market (if there even is a next big thing) and then, when I have a higher degree of certainty, maybe I'll be ready to jump back in....

In the meantime we keep pumping out video after video with the GH5 cameras. I'm not system shopping them because so far no one can beat the quality and operational smoothness at anywhere near their price. They are swing-proof for the moment.

15 comments:

jiannazzone said...

Kirk, you have long extolled the benefits of an EVF. I recently picked up a Fuji X-T1 on closeout. I'm happy with the images and the ergonomics. But, in bright sunlight the EVF is just hard to see. I don't recall you ever mentioning this issue. No similar problem with my Nikons.

Kirk Tuck said...

That's interesting. I've shot with plenty of EVF cameras and have not had the same experience. The one brand I haven't played with much is Fuji (for no reason other than time) so maybe it's a Fuji thing. Would a bigger eyecup work to better isolate the finder from the available light?

Anonymous said...

Having shot professionally for years with various iterations of the D3 and then D800 series I was inclined to agree with your sentiments...until last year when I tried the A9. Now that is a fully matured camera.Loving the evf and focus system. From a commercial shooting standpoint it plays so much nicer tethered to capture one on set. No comparison to my experience with Nikon. Oh and the ability to put my R lenses on it when the client needs a little more flare :) priceless.

Craig said...

Kirk,

If you switch careers in the future, I hope you give serious consideration to becoming the official greater at Precision Camera instead of Walmart...

ODL Designs said...

The fact that globally more people are viewing web content on cellphones and tablets, and that the vast bulk of print is hand-holdable there isn't a format today that cannot cope with the bulk of commercial applications.

Add to that the ability to rent a leading body for a few hundred dollars and I can't see the need to switch formats simply to chase IQ.

Is it any surprise in the last 10 years that we got caught up in chasing IQ specs? It all moved so fast and was so easy... I have always liked the colour of the E3, and yet it was considered DOA by a lot of users. Could it be that camera companies were trying to make cameras that took beautiful images, but got pushed into making cameras that competed on specs or solved problems (iso, dr).

Who knows, but we can always have a little fun and dig through used camera bins.

You know, the Pentax 645d goes for a steal these days.

Anonymous said...

So far, I have owned 12 Nikon, 10 Canon, 3 Fuji, 1 Leica, 1 Minolta, 1 Pentax, 1 Sony, and 4 Olympus cameras. I guess I have two hobbies: photography and camera testing.

Michael Matthews said...

I watched only the first few minutes of Chris and Jordan’s Sony review (all I could justify for a camera I’ll never buy) but must say that it’s really a supurb testimonial to the capabilities of the GH5 on which it was shot. Yes, my iPad screen makes everything look just a little better, but jeez — the clarity and color of the GH5 video is just superb.

interested observer said...

Kirk, I have a different take on Canon and Nikon and why you saw so many switch from Nikon to Canon in the Pro ranks in the early days of Autofocus cameras.
I saw it on the sidelines of sporting events more than anything. I was photographing sports and news work for some time and Canon had the Big, Fast AutoFocus glass while Nikon stuck with manual focus lenses.
Canon had 300 and 400 f/2.8 as well as the 600 f/4 glass, all with AutoFocus. Nikon was more than four years behind coming out with the big guns to compete. As a result many Nikon shooters who tried the Canon AF glass quickly switched even as it cost a boatload of money. The success rate for keepers in fast moving sports drove the change. Fewer out of focus frames going to an editor meant less work all the way around.

Want an example? Best I know is a friend shooting for the US Ski team. A dedicated Nikon shooter she was bugged by a friend with Canon AF big glass on the ski hill. Finally took his AF and shot three rolls of competitors coming through the gates full speed. Just laid on AutoFocus for one roll, Shot in bursts the next roll and picked and choose the frames the last roll. Had the runner get the film to the Kodak booth at the bottom of the hill and at the end of the days skiing the E6 chromes were ready.
She went to the pro camera store nearby the next day and plunked down for a whole Canon system. The AF was that much better than her manual focus skills. And - her manual focus skills were very good. US Ski team, Olympic Games and the like good.

Nikon lost a lot of photographers and it was, in my estimation - that Big, Fast AF Glass was the driving force. That is why we all saw the proliferation of Big White Lenses at sporting events almost overnight. Nikon has been struggling ever since to catch up. They have excellent glass now and lead Canon in many ways but that major shift due to Nikon being so slow to match Canon really hurt them.

Roger Jones said...

I don't like Sony. Never have never will. I don't need video, and I believe the older gear is still very very usable. Although after watching Kodachrome, I do believe I'll be shooting more film. It brought back a ton of memories, of great very talented people. People who used Leica's, Nikon's, Minolta's, Olympus did just fine. They did so well their still being copied today. I love the old days and the old ways to a large degree. As far as cameras go, we've reached the law of diminishing returns, what I spent isn't worth what I get in return. I could shoot any job with my D700 and my F2AS. Even my D1x would do a get job for most work. The D1x and the D2H will flash sink at any shutter speed with any strobe/flash, ya go figure.

Sony's the new favor right now, more bells and whistles, where's the talent? Just wait it will change.

Regards
Roger

alexander solla said...

Kirk... when you shoot video with the GH5, what lenses do you find indispensable? Is the video that much better than Sony or Nikon?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
was´nt the Sony R1 the camera You kept in service for the absolutely longest time?I think it was from 2005 to 2013, more or less 8 years. We all know the camera was sluggish in the storing process but had abilities that were unique.

Martin said...

I found the X-T1 EVF to work just fine in bright sunlight, but the stock eyecup doesn't close the light out enough. There is a bigger one available that does the job rather well though. It made quite the difference for me anyway.

jiannazzone said...

Martin, thanks for your suggestions. I just added the larger eye cup and will work with it. I probably just need to give the new system more time after over 50 years of OVF use. Do you adjust the finder brightness when outdoors?

Mitch said...

The best thing about the A7-3 from Sony? It's made the A7-2 very attractively priced on the used market. (despite the clearly [cough] superior specifications of the "3" that were pointed out to me at Mega NYC Camera Store on Monday ...) The Camera Specification Owners out there seem to be, uh, "upgrading".

I just might be getting me a new cheap walkin' around camera ...

Martin said...

No, I just leave it at the default setting. I live in the north though, so too much ambient light is seldom a problem...