I recently wrote that I resisted temptation at the camera store because a potential purchase didn't match my game plan. Readers were stunned to know I might have a game plan for camera and lens purchases.

Noellia helped me test medium format digital cameras a few years ago.

What!? Kirk has a "game plan" for camera purchases? We would never have guessed...

So, what is it?

Some people like consistency and routine; others don't. I have photographer colleagues who bring the same lights, the same cameras and the same lenses to the same kinds of jobs for years on end. They upgrade cameras only when there is a significant leap forward in the performance of new camera that comes from the same brand they've invested in. And for many of them it's tough to change even this one small part of their working routine. It's disruptive for them and means having to figure out where the maker moved the switch they used all the time on their previous camera from the same company. They decry having to learn slightly different adaptations to their working metholodogies in PhotoShop or Lightroom (and they absolutely hate it when things change around in the software...). 

These same photographers only replace lenses when they've succeeded in scraping every last photon's worth of value in the lens. You've probably seen these lenses sitting forlornly on used shelves looking as though someone had alternately, and repeatedly, pounded on the barrels with jagged hammers and then dragged them along through harsh mud. These users would laugh at you if you told them you were trading a lens you bought two years ago because a new one came out that was sharper in the corners and didn't focus breathe (as much). 

In the same way that they look at their gear (consistency, consistency, consistency) the also look to their work. The same softbox goes on the same stand which goes exactly this far from the subject. The camera is set at the tested parameters they decided they liked when they first used the camera.  Color, looks and style are consistent and the same. Overlaying the same structure to every kind of job. 

Yeah. I get it. It's efficient. It's cost effective. It's logical. And if I had to work this way I think I'd check out and never touch a camera again. 

Last year's game plan was to go all in on the Panasonic GH cameras. They are pretty remarkable and the available lenses (and the lenses I've bought for the system) are very, very good. As the guy behind ODL Designs often writes, there is very little you can't do with this format. I mostly agree.  

But there is something about the lure of bigger formats that drives me back each time into a full frame camera system. In the past I made the mistake of believing that one set of cameras (the holy grail) would be able to handle everything I could throw at them and I've searched high and low for that ultimate system. But, for me, I've come to a realization that it doesn't work like that. One company doesn't have the overarching magic sauce or brilliant feature mix that works for everything.

While the Panasonic GH5s are the best video cameras I can imagine (for the price) I have to say that compared to my older Nikon D810, and to the Sony A7Rii I also used for months and months, the smaller format can't compete with the lower noise of the recent full frame cameras. There is something addicting about the noise profile difference that gets me when I compare the cameras for certain uses. 

In the past I would struggle with whether or not to just sell the Panasonic cameras and go "all in" with a full frame system from Nikon, Sony or Canon. But now I'm just giving up taking responsibility entirely. I'm keeping my collection of Panasonic and Olympus m4:3 gear for all those times when I want more depth of field in a still life shot, want incredible video performance, want/need a smaller, lighter solution for day long shooting situations and fast breaking, hybrid jobs. 

But I do want a couple of full frame cameras with high megapixel counts for those times when I'm trying to deliver an "ultimate" file to a client or when I'll need to do a lot of post production and want to start with really big, 14 bit uncompressed raw files. 

I've lately been using the Nikon D800 series cameras and, over time, I'm learning the differences between what might be fun to own and what might be the most advantageous gear for the business. And where to draw the lines. 

With my kid out of college and my expenses much less "expense-y" than they have been for the last four years I am also interested in buying a quality level in the full frame system that I didn't need exactly for the business but want just for the hell of it. 

So, I'm sitting here with the Panasonic system and I'm making a stand against trading it for anything else. I'm also sitting here with three interesting Nikon cameras (D800, D800e and D700) as well as a hodgepodge of lenses; including two that recently died....

What's the plan? By the end of the year I want to winnow down cameras bodies and end up with two D850s. They seem to be on back order everywhere so I'm not in a hurry. The D800e and D800 vanilla are doing their jobs just fine. Mostly I am looking at moving up to get a much quieter shutter (even in the regular drive modes) better autofocusing and enough improvement in video to make each of them a viable "B" camera in situations where we need lots of coverage. 

The lens I use for so much fast moving work is one I'm pretty happy with. It's a 24-120mm f4.0 VR that is sharp, contrasty and wide ranging enough to be used for lots of applications. Most of the other lenses I have are less convenient or offer less performance. 

I'd like to end up with four lenses, in addition to the 24-120mm. These would include: The Sigma ART 24-35mm f2.0. I owned one three years ago when I was shooting with the D810 and I've regretted selling it ever since. If I need to go wider than 24mm I'll borrow or rent. But this lens is amazing within its limited focal length range. I currently have the Sigma ART 50mm f1.4 and it's perfect. No changes there. 

Next up would be the Sigma 85mm f1.4 ART lens for those times when I want skimpy, skimpy depth of field but want it coupled to high sharpness. I'll keep the Nikon 85mm f1.8D lens around for those times when I want more mobility....

Finally, I want to get a new copy of the Nikon 70-200mm f4.0 for all those times when I can't get closer to the stage in the theater but want to crop tightly. I found it to be a better lens than the previous generations of f2.8 Nikon zoom, as long as you don't need the extra stop (most of us don't...). 

This is not a lightweight package by any means. It's not cheap either but it represents the focal lengths and speeds I want to shoot with  coupled with a high definition camera. Most times when I work on annual reports and in industrial sites everything is in a Think Tank roller case and we're also dragging around a lot of grip and lighting gear. Seems like we'll be able to pull this off and change gears again. 

Anyway I look at it the two systems give me more options, more choices, more chances to screw up and learn more. At any rate, that's the plan (today). Always subject to change. 


  1. If your photo had a like button, I'd be clicking on it. I should think resisting temptation in the camera store is the least of your problems.

  2. Glad you're having fun, Kirk. I didn't change 35mm cameras much--switched from Nikon to Olympus (my all-time favorite system) in 1978 and stayed with them until 1992, when aging eyes dictated a change to autofocus and it became obvious that Olympus was not going to produce a professional-level AF camera. At that point, I switched to Canon and stayed with them until 2017.

    With medium format, on the other hand, I had a record that would have done you proud. I started my business with a Mamiya TLR and a few lenses, switched to Bronica ECs and built a complete system, then sold it all for Hasselblads. After that, it was Mamiya RB67s, my money camera for studio work and a Pentax 6x7 for field work, then back to Hasselblads, then the monster Fuji 6X680, which I sold to fund my first digital camera, a Canon 10D. Along the way, I had 4x5 and 8x10 cameras in the studio to use when needed.

    I began digital photography in 2003, just before my 66th birthday, and began teaching myself Photoshop. It seems that all I have done since that time is learn new software, and I'm most heartily sick and tired of it!

    In 2017, I made my final system switch, to the Fuji X-system. I can't tell you what a relief and blessing it is to get luscious jpegs straight out of the camera that require little or no post-processing. I do shoot RAW files along with the jpegs, for those few situations that require a little extra work, but there aren't many of those.

  3. If your going to go big, I think you should go bigger and try the Fuji GFX. It does seem interesting.

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  5. David, As flippant and spend-y as I may seem on the blog I would be one of the last people to pay enormous amounts for an underperforming camera, limited lens line and a sensor that is barely bigger than one I already have in two of my cameras. The Fuji and small Hasselblad cameras are jokes, and fashion items for the photographically inclined bourgoise...

    1. I know your right. Fuji was shocked to learn there main GFX user base are hobbyists. I am not.
      Too be honest though I am surprised you are going back to Nikon and not to a Sony. But then Sony seems like the Panasonic and Nikon is more refined. So it does make sense.
      Maybe now that Canon is in the business of selling sensors, you might find something different by years end.

  6. I don't think your blog would have been half as interesting or readable over the years if you were just a "CaNikon" guy, wedded to one system and harping on about it all the time. I've really enjoyed reading about your different purchases over the years, and your reasons for changing are always sound. I like to think if it as vicarious GAS!

  7. Many thanks for reminding us about this beautiful photograph. As for cameras, it is good to see you coming back to Nikons, even if for a fleeting moment. You mention 24-35 and 85/1.4, but shouldn't you, of all people, be tempted by 105/1.4? Such a perfect lens and such a perfect focal length.

  8. Ahhh, no camera company can keep your free spirit Kirk, you need to roam, explore...

    As usual I will live through your purchases :)

    You should try the pro primes before you buy into the bigger system (assuming you haven't yet) they really are special!!

  9. Since there are rumors about both Nikon and Canon maybe introducing new cameras with EVF's, possibly around Photokina, you could possibly end up with an 850 with a little movie screen in it by the end of the year if you pre-order now :-).

  10. Re the GFX...with all due respect. You have no idea what you're missing.and yes I shot those d800s for years before switching to Sony and Fuji for my commercial work.

  11. I'm waiting to see what Nikon's mirrorless is; depending on how that looks it'll be that or a D850 or a A73.

    Last time I actually got down to use my equipment I realized I could do eye autofocus when I really needed to.

  12. Anonymous, I guess you imagine I've never touched the GFX, much less shot with it. Hmmmm. With all due respect right back to you --- it's not appreciably better for commercial work than a Nikon D850 or a Sony A7Riii but is twice the price and half the working speed. I'll wait until they grow the sensors into at least 645 territory. I want to see bigger differences than what I saw in a long test day.

  13. I have been quite happy with my Olympus kit but would love to add a Nikon 850 and a couple of nice primes to my gear closet. I may not be able to afford it and can’t say I have the skill set to justify owning one. I would if I could, though.

    I will look forward to hearing about your experiences with your future kit.

  14. I, too, own the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4.0G lens. This lens is sometimes maligned at various spots around the internet. I come to the lens skeptical of a 5:1 zoom. Still, as I look at my files in LR, I'm almost always pleasantly surprised at the results. Like any 5:1 range zoom, its performance is softer at the longer end. I try to stay at 105mm or shorter, try to maintain excellent shot discipline and continue to be happy with its performance.

  15. Regarding your test shot of Noellia: how did you light it? Some pals of mine and myself tried very hard to get that perfect outline shadow - we couldn't afford the ring lights, so we built a lot of foam-core reflectors. What did you use?


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