The new Millennium Falcon of cameras. The EM-1.
I'm being silly this year and doing silly awards for cameras I think brought cool stuff to the table. I've already made a plug for my favorite economy priced camera, the Panasonic G6 but it's only going to appeal to the kind of practical people who make their own coffee at home and drive no nonsense cars for ten years at a time. It's a sensible choice. There are lots of other cameras this year that deserve some kind of mention for moving the game forward for their loyal band. In the Canon camp I think the full frame 6D camera is a great way to get into a professional system at a much lower cost than ever before. As a high ISO machine it's pretty much right there in the top ranks. And I'd say the same thing about the Nikon D610. It no longer seems to squirt industrial waste onto the sensor like the camera it replaces and that, coupled with great sensor performance, is a good thing. Even the Pentax K3 deserves some kudos for being a rock solid and very advanced last decade sort of camera.
But the reality is that there are two cameras that have captured the fascination of the camera cognoscenti and the battle between them for dominance is as unexpected as can be. After handling and researching both cameras I am even more fascinated by the logical results of an in-depth comparison. There is a clear winner if your objective is to find a camera that feels like a perfect artist's brush or a well broken in pair of running shoes. There is a different winner if you are in a race for bragging rights for maximum horsepower and maximum straight-line acceleration. But the Devil is in the hairpin turns...... (enough car analogies, it brings out the real car nuts and then things heat up quick....).
The two cameras I'm talking about are the two cameras that come from antithetical extremes of camera philosophies and yet the same company makes the sensors inside of both cameras. One is the highest res tool one can buy today in the FF format while the other is perceived as the lowest pixel count class of what might be considered as professional quality instruments. I mean cameras. I'm am, of course, writing about the Olympus OMD EM-1 and the Sony A7r.
On paper the Sony has everything but in reality it's all a compromise in terms of usability. The Olympus camera seems like a staid upgrade of a decent predecessor but one cobbled with a low pixel count, and much smaller, sensor. One is priced like a pro-tool while the other is priced just in the middle of the hobbyist-indulgence category. But in real world use the Olympus is a svelte, alluring seductive temptress that combines a tactile rightness with a wonderfully muted and understated shutter noise and action. It's EVF finder is probably the best in world and all in all the files are just what most photographers are looking for. Right and thick and ready to be used with little heroic effort. It's the charming kind of package that emulates what the introduction of the Leica M3 must have been like to image makers working in the 1950's. Quiet, quick and disciplined.
I first used one at a dinner with the president of Olympus USA while I was in New York and, like some insidious addictive drug once I got some on my skin I've been orbiting closer and closer to the camera with each passing cycle. In point of fact I had no interest in the camera before I used it in the flesh. None. And now I'm making lens buying decisions with the near certainty of that camera's acquisition in my overall plans.
My experience with the Sony A7r is quite the opposite. I learned about it ahead of the initial announcement and my excitement built by the day as my introduction to the camera at the Photo Expo show drew nearer. My first thoughts were that this camera would be a wonderful partner to the Sony a99 I already own while adding more resolution, sharpness and more lens flexibility at a much lower initial price. In fact, I had liquidated my cropped frame Sony cameras and lenses in anticipation. And then the day came. I was supposed to be in the Samsung booth but before the show started I walked over to the Sony pavilion and played with the product. It was then that my whole plan began to fall apart like wet cardboard box.