Jan 242021

January, 2021

Recommending a camera to people in the age of ever improving cellphones is kinda rough, especially since it really depends on what you are looking to do.  This is more of an explanation of what I use and why.

Before I begin:

1) do not buy a DSLR.  Their day is done. If you are looking for a system camera, mirrorless is the way to go

2) except for a few very specialized circumstances (underwater or action cam or ultralight travel or you are a crazy camera geek like me), do not buy an all-in-one camera or point and shoot camera

For general purpose picture and video taking, your best bet is to get a smartphone with the best camera available.  For years, I used Google Pixel phones, but a few months ago, after Google screwed up with Pixel5  I said screw it and got the new iPhone 12 Pro Max.  I despise everything about iOS, but it takes excellent picture an videos.  It also has good battery life and a superb screen.  I care more about that then about the rest of this phone put together.  It is expensive, but it is still cheaper than a camera that would give you appreciably better image and video quality.

I happened to have one of those too, so let’s go over that next.  For years, I stuck with the Micro-4/3 mount since it have me a good compromise of image quality and portability.  I was willing to sacrifice some low light performance to get that.  Well, after years of gross mismanagement by Olympus, I finally called it quits (for the most part) and switched systems.

I still have a couple of Micro-4/3 cameras, both are now discontinued, so I will not go into any detail on them.  One is a Z-cam E1 that I have set up to take “through the scope” videos.  Another is an old Panasonic GX-1 that I am using to teach my daughter to take pictures.  I sold off all of my lenses, keeping only four of the more compact ones:

Panasonic Lumix 15mm F/1.7 (excellent image quality and color)

Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 pancake (super compact and unfortunately discontinued)

Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm F/3.5-5.6 (strangely good collapsible kit lens)

Olympus Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 (90mm equivalent fast prime for portraits and telephoto use)

In terms of stills image quality, I do not think Micro-4/3 system is overall viable any more.  High end cell phones got too close and offer much better workflow.  One exception to that is telephoto.  You can get really impressive telephoto reach with a much smaller optic than you would otherwise be able to do with a larger sensor camera system.  I do not do a ton of telephoto, so I switched to a different system in order to get something that is more of a step up from my cell phone.

Micro-4/3 is a perfectly viable video system, however, and Panasonic makes a couple of excellent video-centric mirrorless cameras.

Once you go to larger image sensor size, there are three categories to choose from: APS-C, FullFrame (same size as old 35mm film) and medium frame.  The larger the image sensor, the larger the lenses.  Also, the larger the image sensor the more heat the sensor generates when filming video.

For me, both stills an video are important and, having used larger systems before, I was not comfortable with hernia inducing lenses.  Also, I do not have unlimited budget.  If I wanted ultimate image quality, I would probably just bite the bullet and ump to medium frame.  However, my camera has to be a general purpose system that does everything well.

I ended up going with an APS-C sensor system from Fuji.  More specifically, Fuji X-T4 that is probably the best hybrid still/video camera at the moment.  My brother has a few Fuji lenses including the 100-400mm telephoto that I occasionally use to look for bullet holes or to take pictures of the moon.  That saved me a ton of money.

The lenses I use the most are the 16-80mm F/4 that is my general purpose lens and 23mm F/2.  Both have very respectable optical quality and are weather resistant, just like the camera body.  I plan to acquire a 90mm F/2 at some point for portraits and low light telephoto, but that is largely it.  I try to keep the number of lenses I own to a minimum.  I want them to be reasonably compact AND weather resistant.

Finally, the camera I really wanted is a fixed lens Leica Q2.  I used to own the original Q and I took the best pictures of my life with that camera.  I finally sold it because it was not weather proof and with a fixed 28mm lens I needed a few more pixels to crop.  Q2 resolves nearly every complaint I had with the original Q, while keeping that spectacular lens and user interface.  I worked hard to convince myself to pony up the cash for a Q2, but could not make the leap.  I’ve played with it and it is glorious.  Maybe some day.

If you have some more exotic camera requirements, something else might be a better fit.  I used to develop image sensors and cameras, so this is sort of my field of expertise.  If you have specific requirements, let me know and I will do what I can to help.


 Posted by at 4:25 pm