Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Camera Recommendations

This post will be continually updated in the future. (Updated 10/20/2013)

Best System: None
I had Canon up here for the longest time, but that time has come to an end. I qualified my choice of Canon on multiple counts but eventually came the conclusion that, as a system, Canon was best.

When I choose a system, I look to all levels. Are the top-level pros satisfied? Are the entry-level soccer parents satisfied? This may seem to be an extreme and maybe even unattainable requirement, but I don't think so. I think that these companies ask for a lot of money and should provide expansive value for that money.

That said, no system can satisfy everyone. Phase One is amazing, but soccer parents would find little to love. Making things more difficult is that almost all of the companies in the industry are run by idiots, meaning that cameras are either crappy, overpriced, or both. With that in mind, I'm looking to which system is best able to offer something to as many groups as possible, and at a fair price.

So, instead of offering a best/runner up sort of thing, I will offer a standing.

First Place: Nikon
Last year, I had Micro 4/3 here. The growing popularity of the system in the world of video was a big reason for that. Sadly for the Micro 4/3 crowd, Panasonic and Olympus included, is that other companies are upping their game with video in a big way. When I say this, I'm looking primarily at Sony, but also Nikon. If Sony's system was more mature, it would win first place, but the lens selection is just too lean. Coupled with the large selection of lenses from Tamron and Sigma, Nikon is the system to beat.

Nikon's full-frame cameras are the best on the market. Nikon's APS-C cameras are among the best. They have a few lenses, like the 14-24mm, that are unparalleled. Their video is even getting better! For me, Nikon represents the pinnacle of the old school of photographic thought. It also represents how stupid that old school can be, with laughable pieces of garbage like the Df. Half-baked retro shit notwithstanding, Nikon is a great system to buy into.
Second Place: Micro 4/3
4/3 hasn't fallen too far. The support of video companies weighs heavily in this recommendation, since the GH4 combined with the Voitlander lenses makes for a cinematic creative package that cannot be matched. And combined with adapters like the Metabones Speed Booster, you lose little in the way of bokeh when using full-frame Canon or Leica glass on it.

Third Place: Tie- Sony & Canon
Canon was on the list last year purely because of Magic Lantern. Now with Sony's stunning video in the A&s and the Panasonic GH4, if you are interested in video, avoid Canon. They have nothing to offer you.

That said, Sigma and Tamron are increasing their lens quality in ways that they have never done. Both companies are releasing world-class lenses for prices that are, at times, a fraction the cost of Canon, Nikon, and Zeiss. And these lenses are usually only available for Nikon and Canon mounts, making Canon a system with lots of value and potential.

Sony's system, with adapter-based inter-compatibility between the E-mount mirrorless and the A-mount SLR cameras, is much smaller. Unlike Canon, though, Sony has shown a willingness to innovate and grow, meaning that the sky is the limit. Once Sigma and Tamron begin to support the mount more, the situation will be a lot brighter. Sony's Zeiss-branded lenses aren't very good and good lord are they overpriced.

Fifth Place: Fuji
Again, considering all of the love that I throw at Fuji, it seems odd to find them way back here. Fuji is a new system. They have garnered immediately excitement, attention, and support, so their system is growing quickly, but it is still new. They need more lenses, more accessories, more software support, really, more everything before they are in the running for the best system. A rumored full-frame system — and current proof that unlike Sony, Nikon, and Canon, Fuji would not abandon its APS-C system — would make Fuji a much stronger candidate.

Sixth Place: Pentax
Pentax is unique. They are the only company on this list who manufacture a medium-format camera. They also make, in my opinion, the best APS-C SLR camera on the market in the form of the K3. But their SLR lens selection is horrible. And strangely, it has been horrible for years. There's very little support from other companies, with many of Sigma and Tamron's best lenses not even available in the mount.

Special Mention: Sigma
Yes, technically, Sigma is a system. The SD1, rocking the Foveon sensor, is one of the quirkiest, most unique cameras on the market. Now that it costs below $2,000, I love it. I can't bring myself to own it, but I love it. If Sigma released more lenses like the 18-35mm, this could become a serious contender for those who want to photograph outside of the norm. Until then, you can buy the Sigma DP1, DP2, or DP3 to enjoy an utterly unique sensor for under $1,000.


Best Entry-Level SLR Camera: Nikon D5300

Nikon has packed the image quality of the D7100 in a smaller, lighter body. The D5300 is the obvious choice for this position since it's nothing more than a warmed over D5200, which had previously been here. The functional limitations of the D5300 obviously make the D7100 still very much worth its premium price, but the D5200 is quite a bit smaller and lighter, so it's not as clear-cut a choice as it would appear.

As some of you may have noticed, entry-level SLR's this is not. This is more like a mid-range camera, with bodies that cost in the neighborhood of $700. That's because the cameras available from the big three below that price range are all awful. You would be better off looking in the mirrorless market.

As with all of my APS-C recommendations, buy the Sigma 18-35mm. Ignore Nikon's lenses unless you're willing to buy Full Frame.

Runner up: None. Just get the Nikon in this price range.

Best APS-C SLR Camera: Nikon D7100
As expected, the D7100 took the spot from the D7000. I am almost constantly bagging on Nikon and Canon for being conservative companies that spend all of their time trying to conceive of new ways to squeeze money from unsuspecting consumers, and that's true, but they also make some bad-ass cameras that do what a good camera should do: expand your artistic horizons. The D7100, combined with my top lens, the Sigma 18-35mm, is a tool that any pro, enthusiast, or family photobug would love. As I always say, it is a tool for making images, and in that regard, it's basically flawless.

Runner Up: Sony SLT A77 II
The A77 comes loaded to overflowing with goodies and significantly better video abilities than the D7100, but I dislike the SLT mirror. A significant amount of light and a small amount of sharpness is lost. For an anal-retentive freak like myself, that's just too much.

Two cameras worth consideration are the Pentax K3, and the Sigma SD-1. Both are very powerful and unique cameras that are otherwise undone by severe limitations. For the K3, Pentax's lens selection is garbage. For the Sigma, it is perhaps the quirkiest camera ever made. It is absolutely not a "walkaround" camera.


Best Full-Frame SLR Camera: Nikon D750
Even though I've worked with the top-end cameras from both Canon and Nikon, nothing I do, and nothing anyone else I know does, exceeds the abilities of the second-rung cameras. Truly, excepting the most hyper-demanding photogs in the world, I see no reason whatsoever to buy the likes of the top-end.

The D750 takes this spot from the D810 because of increased speed, significantly better video, cheaper price, and smaller body. It is an image-producing tool of the highest order and reminds me that, while I may mock Canon and Nikon for being conservative in their philosophy, that same conservative philosophy makes a lot of sense when executed as well as the D750.

Runner-Up: Nikon D810
The D810's resolution is beyond any other FF camera on the market. Its color and dynamic range are amazing. That is one hell of an achievement.

The only concern, and it seems funny since it almost sounds like a humble-brag, is that the resolution of this camera requires extreme care. Extreme care. Likewise, it requires expensive glass to be worth it. There are a few sub-$1,000 lenses that will be able to take advantage of this sensor, but not many. If you don't go through with all this, photos will look blurry and nasty at 100%, and that will drive you insane.


Best Medium Format Camera: I don't know! Do I look like I have the budget to buy MF gear?

Runner Up: Pentax 645D
It's the cheapest MF camera on the market, therefore, the best.


Best Mirrorless Camera: Panasonic GH4
I am so happy about the GH4. It is a true hybrid camera. Combined with a Speed Booster and some bright lenses, there is no other camera that produces video and photo of the same quality. It doesn't do as well as other cameras in low light, but that is to be expected. It's completely usable up to ISO-3200, though, and that gives it plenty of flexibility. It is a dynamite product for a competitive price.

The value of the GH4 has taken a huge hit the Sony A7 II and A7s, but its unique capabilities keep it here. Truly, there is no easier entrance to high-end, cinema-like video than the GH4.

Runner-Up: Sony A7 II
Cutting edge, full-frame camera for only $1,600. Uh, yes please.


Best Point & Shoot: Sony RX100M III
I think that the RX100M III is overpriced, but it's still a fantastic camera that gives you more in a compact package than any other company on the market.

Runner-Up: Sony RX10.The lack of wide angle and large size of this camera prevents it from being the winner, but it's nonetheless excellent.

The Sony RX1 is not here, and never will be, because it is too much of a specialized tool. I don't consider the price an issue, but the fixed lens limits the cameras abilities. Likewise, the new Fuji X100S's fixed lens limits its appeal.


Best Third Party Lens: Metabones Speed Booster
The market for lenses is infuriating. It's a mish-mash of closed systems, overpriced products, poor selection, and zero flexibility. It is for that reason that instead of a lens, my choice for this is a product that opens up the lens market. I am of course referring to the Metabones Speed Booster. Once this product is expanded to include the inevitable APS-C Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts, and the 4/3 and Micro 4/3 mount, every person, and I mean every person in a system should buy a Speed Booster.

Runner Up: Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art
Sigma. Is. Amazing.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting...seems Canon has been having continued problems of late.


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