Kirk's favorite camera of the year. And the camera Kirk would actually recommend for people who just want to make great photographs (and video).


It's Christmas Eve and I'm wrapping presents. I'm giving away a lot of cookbooks this year. And I'm such a bad wrapper. At least the book is great....

I was in the middle of wrapping stuff up and I started thinking about cameras (big surprise, right?). I was noodling about all the cameras I'd bought this year and wondering why my favorite of the whole collection is a six year old, heavy, used model with weird controls and a battery that costs more than many of the smaller cameras I've owned. Yep. Of all the cameras I purchased this year hands down winner, the one I like to shoot with the best, is far and away the Leica SL. 

It's a little hard to explain but the camera just feels so right for me. It's beyond solid and stout but those are some of its qualities I like. I've never been in the market for a camera just because it's small and light. The Leica SL is the first camera design that I find to be industrial grade. But that construction and design would be nothing more than a curiosity if its toughness and form follows function wasn't supported by really great image files. And in this case the output matches the strength of the packaging. 

The SL, together with a great lens like the Leica 24-90mm is the first camera and lens package I reach for when I head out of the studio to do assignments for clients, and serious projects for myself. Even the video is beautiful; it's a pity it's such a pain in the butt to get a microphone and a set of headphones hooked into it.... (the workaround is to use an Atomos Ninja V for video recording. It has headphone and mic inputs/outputs).  

So, if my cameras all mysteriously vanished on January 1 of 2022 and I had to replace them this particular model would be the first one I'd snag. Then....I'd find a second one. And maybe stop there for a while and soak up the (for me) perfection of the system. Sure, I have the newest flagship model (SL2) but it seems tamed and somehow less capable than that first generation. Nothing I can really put my finger on; just a feeling. Or maybe just a nostalgic appraisal between no compromise versus refined...

But this would never be a camera I'd recommend to someone who just needed a good, all around, camera in order to do professional and top ART work with. (yes. sad. I ended the sentence with a preposition). For anyone working with a budget, and in need of a camera that's a superb video and still camera, my current, all the time recommendation is the Lumix S5. There is no competition in its price range where I am concerned.

People who've never bothered to read the owner's manuals or experiment with all of the focus settings available on the Panasonic S5 rail on and on about how the camera is incapable of continuous auto focusing in video. They are not wise men. They are not fountains of actual knowledge. They just don't get it. 

I just reviewed an hour and 28 minutes of video that I shot with this camera in a dark theater, from far away, and with a long lens. I used the "people and face" AF detection and slowed down the acquisition time and decreased the camera's sensitivity to movement via the menu. It was absolutely perfect for video (which requires different AF parameters than sport photography!!!). 

But not only does this under $2,000, full frame, 24 megapixel camera nail focus (and run without overheating for an hour and twenty eight minutes, or longer...) but the video it creates is color rich and wonderful to work with. A bonus is that the audio was spotless. Any complaints about the quality of the audio pre-amps should be saved for other brands. 

There's a flip out screen, the body is extremely well made and weather resistant, and best of all it takes the L mount lens lines from Sigma, Panasonic and Leica. From tight budget to recent lottery win; you are restricted only by which parameters in a lens are important to you. The only two "meh" points on the entire S5 are the mid-res EVF and the inclusion of a micro-HDMI port instead of a full sized HDMI port. That's it. 

The batteries are affordable and will run the camera shooting video for at least two hours. They are good for well over 400 CIPA rated photo exposures; but you are certain to get many more frames than that. 

If I were new to the full frame market my strategy would be to buy this camera and pair it with the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 lens. Done. Ready to go forth and make images. Or videos. Or movies. 

And all for far less than the price of just the Leica 24-90mm zoom lens alone. Bargain. 

That's my wrap up for the year. Kirk's favorite camera of 2021 is the ancient Leica SL with a Really Right Stuff (RSS) baseplate on the bottom. That and just about any 50mm lens and you've hit my sweet spot for taking photographs. Nothing else compares.

My favorite camera to recommend (which is the only Panasonic camera I still own....) is the S5. The L mount systems are actual work cameras. And they are close to perfect for most uses.

Holiday Errata. 

We're totally chilled out here. Just wrapping presents and going for long walks. No jobs. No swim practice until next Tuesday. No bills. No stress. It's going to be 80° here on Christmas tomorrow. Shorts and T-shirt weather. No big travel. No airports. No train stations. Nada. 

Just cinnamon rolls, endless coffee, tamales, beans and rice, crazy desserts, flowing champagne and overarching relaxation. 

I hope your holidays are richly laden with your favorite foods and drinks, and lots of time to relax and enjoy all the gifts of life you've got. It is best to appreciate the gifts that are not physical objects but are instead based on love, happiness, family and friends. 

Happy Christmas. Happy other holidays. Happy just being alive.