Written by ILya Koshkin in August, 2017
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It has been a few months since I talked about cameras and, honestly, while there were a lot of camera introductions, my recommendations have not changed a whole lot.
As far as cameras go, I am not an early adopter. We live in a world where basic camera capabilities are so good across the board that except for some rather specific use cases, it makes almost no difference which camera within each segment you go with.
Ultimately, the photographer makes the most difference. Between a camera and a lens, in the modern world, the camera bodies are so good, that they almost do not matter. Get the best lens you can afford and make sure you have some quality primes for when it really matters. As good as the modern zoom lenses are, for ultimate image quality, you should still go with primes. If you want some more specific reading on the subject, the best discussion I have seen lately was in the Lens Rentals blog. I do not agree with everything they say there, but they have a lot of experience and their arguments are well reasoned and well thought out. Definitely worth considering.
Since I wrote my previous pieces on camera suggestions, I have divested most of my cameras as I look for deals on the stuff I want to get. The most painful part of that process was selling my Leica Q (compact camera with a FF sensor and 28mm F/1.7 Leica lens). That camera had an absolutely stunning lens, but my photography needs changed and a fixed 28mm was simply not enough. If Leica ever makes a “Q Duo” that gives me 28mm and 50mm in one camera, I’ll buy one again.
The only camera I currently have left is a rather beat up Panasonic GX-1 that I have had for a few years. I retained most of my Micro-4/3 lenses, although in normal use, I only use a few of them.
Before I go through my reasoning and specific recommendations on interchangeable lens cameras, here is a brief rundown of other categories.
If you are planning to buy a cellphone and image quality is a consideration, last several months have changed absolutely nothing for you. A bunch of new tech is coming out with dual camera phones and all that. All of that is interesting and none of that is ready for prime time. Most implementations I have seen are a bit gimmicky. I would wait. In terms of basic image quality, My Google Pixel is still at or near the top of the list.
Compact Point-and-Shoot Cameras
If you are looking to get an inexpensive point and shoot camera… don’t. Just don’t. There are a couple of exceptions to that. If you need something that is rugged and go underwater, skiing, etc, get Olympus TG-5 or one of the excellent action cams from Go Pro or YI, depending on what exactly you like doing. If you are serious about underwater, SeaLife DC2000 is interesting. I will likely get something along the lines of the DC2000 before I go on my next vacation.
Aside from rugged cameras, the only other viable use case for a point-and-shoot is a situation where you want the most image quality possible in a pocketable camera. There, your options are either a compact camera with a zoom lens and a 1″ sensor or a camera with a primer lens and a larger APS-C size sensor. For the former, I like Panasonic LX10 and for the latter the aging Ricoh GR II is still the way to go.
Bridge Style Point-and-Shoot Cameras
The landscape there has also remained largely constant. I think the aging Panasonic FZ-1000 is a good deal. Sony RX-10 Mark III is still a technological tour-de-force and I still do not like the user interface.
Generally, with the advent of high zoom ratio DSLR lenses, the need for bridge style point and shoot cameras is going the way of the dodo.
Now, let’s move onto Interchangeable Lens Cameras.
I have spent the last few months trying different cameras My photography needs are as follows: I take pictures when I travel and I take pictures of my kids. With my daughter becoming more involved in gymnastics, I am looking for something pretty fast in terms of operation and that I can put a long and bright lens on for indoor sports. On the other hand, the system has to have excellent quality compact lenses for when I travel. At the moment, I travel with a Panasonic GX-1 Micro 4/3 body, 14-140mm F/3.5-5.6, SLR Magic 25mm F/0.95 manual focus prime and 14mm F/2.5 pancake lens. If I think I will need something a touch longer, I also take the absolutely diminutive (and optically excellent) 45mm F/1.8 lens with me. This basic kit covers almost everything I may need during my travels except for extreme telephoto.
Moving forward, I fully intend to add Olympus E-M1 Mark II which also uses Micro-4/3 mount. While not ideal for low light, E-M1 Mark II excels in high speed stuff and in terms of image quality the lens assortment is extremely well fleshed out. One thing that is important is that Olympus makes pretty much the only superzoom lens on the market (for any system) that truly delivers top notch image quality: 12-100mm F/4. It is not a small lens by Micro 4/3 standards, but it is optically excellent, superbly stabilized, and weather-sealed. Going forward, I expect my travel kit to consist of E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm F/4 zoom lens and 15mm F/1.7 prime. Together with the Olympus’ stunning image stabilization, the 12-100mm can satisfy most of what I need and the brighter 15mm prime would work well for indoor and street photography.
That is not an inexpensive combination, but my requirements are fairly specific. I can not get anywhere near this capability in a package of remotely similar size with any other camera system on the market right now.
However, in principle, if your requirements are a little different, you can get better image quality for similar money. Some other requirements that I have will not be met, but those may not be important to you.
First step up in image quality, is to go up to an APS-C image sensor size and there, the system I like the most is Fuji’s X-mount. It will not do well for sports, but it does everything else very nicely and if I did not need to photograph indoor sports and did not need the focal length range for travel, I would likely go for this one. Both X-T2 and X-Pro2 are excellent cameras with low light performance almost a full stop better than the best of Micro 4/3 bodies. More importantly, Fuji has a pretty good set of excellent prime lenses and an inexpensive, but compact and optically good 18-55 zoom that you can get as a kit with the camera. For street photography, architectural, portrait, etc, the Fuji system works beautifully. Autofocus has gotten much better as well, so for anything other than sports it works well.
If you are after even more image quality at the expense of compactness (but this gets you back into the world class autofocus capability) you should be looking at a full frame camera and it looks like Nikon is on the verge of introducing some new designs. That means that existing cameras are steadily going down in price. At the moment, in terms of what you get for your money, Nikon D750 is probably the best option going, ispecially in a kit with Nikon’s very respectable 24-120mm lens.
That is a very respectable zoom range for a travel camera and, naturally, Nikon system is not lacking good primes. These lenses are appreciably larger than Micro-4/3 and Fuji X, but that is the price to pay.