My original plan when I started this website was to also start doing camera reviews, but there is only so much time in a day. I ended up focusing more on sporting optics. I still follow what is happening in the camera world for professional reasons, so I’ll be happy to offer some suggestions on a case-by-case basis if you want.
In the meantime, rather than work through a broad range of recommendations, I figured it makes more sense to tell you what I use, why, and how it changed from last year. Last year’s post on this subject is here.
Since I wrote that, I sold my Fuji X-T4 together with all the lenses and accessories I had for it. Despite that, if someone were just looking to get a proper camera to do both photo and video, Fuji X-T4 would be at the top of my list. It provides good image quality and film simulation modes for both photo and video really help you cut down on post processing. Why did I not stick with it? Several reasons, but the largest is that I went and bought Leica Q2. It is an expensive camera and I had to sell the Fuji stuff to fund it.
More importantly, with the Q2 here, I really have no need for the X-T4. Combination of a full frame compact camera (Leica Q2) and interchangeable lens Micro-4/3 ecosystem (albeit with very old camera bodies for now), works better for my specific purposes.
Before I get into the why of that, I want to note a few peculiarities of Japanese camera designs. Their user interfaces suck. Royally. Almost all of them essentially combine a large number of mostly useless buttons with DOS-era layered menu system that was not created with English speaking people in mind. The only reason they persist with this lunacy is that there is no competition from other countries where all the capable UI designers work for cell phone and drone companies.
Fuji’s menu system is just as insane as the rest of them, but the presence of the external rotary control dials keeps from having to fight with the rest of the UI most of the time.
At this stage in the game, I will only buy a Japanese camera with the traditional user interface when I have no choice. I have tried them all. The worst is Sony, but they are all god-awful. In an interesting way, the sheer idiocy of camera user interfaces is probably what prevents many people from switching systems. Once you go through the mental yoga of contorting you brain into being able to use one of these, the prospect of having to do it all over is truly daunting. I am sure some people enjoy it, but that requires a rare combination of OCD and masochism that I do not possess.
Theoretically, cell phone apps to control these cameras wirelessly could help alleviate this problem, but that would only be true if they outsourced those apps to some Google rejects. Unfortunately, camera companies appear to prefer to develop these apps internally with predictable results: they work half the time at best and the UI is just as nuts.
Because of that and because of a really remarkable lens it comes with, the bulk of the photos and videos I take come from Leica Q2. It has a refreshingly simple user interface, superb image quality and preset 35mm, 50mm and 75mm crop modes in addition to the full FOV 28mm mode. Combination of a truly superb 28mm Summilux lens and a 47MP image sensor covers 90% of all of my photo and video recording needs.
Obviously, it does not cover telephoto use and that is where I usually use on of my older micro-4/3 cameras. Eventually, they will fall apart and I will upgrade. The reason I stick with micro-4/3 for this is that long telephoto lenses for it are significantly more compact than for systems with larger image sensors. Essentially, it is a 2x crop sensor, which means that a 300mm lens on a micro-4/3 gives me the same FOV as a 600mm lens on a full frame system. Since the image sensor is smaller, same focal length 300mm lens is generally going to be smaller than a 300mm lens for a full frame camera and MUCH smaller than a 600mm full frame lens.
In practical terms, instead of buying a new fancy telephoto micro-4/3 lens, I do two thing for telephoto, depending on the situation:
-I have an old Nikon 300mm f/4.5 lens. It is a lot smaller than modern complicated telephoto lenses from Nikon. It is a fully manual lens which fits my preferences better anyway. It gets me 600mm equivalent FOV with a simple adapter or about 430mm equivalent, but one stop brighter image if I use a speedbooster.
-Set up a modern cellphone behind a spotting scope. You can get really good image that way. I use adapters from PhoneSkope for that, but there are plenty of options. With a large high magnification spotter, you can get a LOT of magnification.
I used to worry about telephoto a lot more until I took a careful look and realized I use a telephoto lens about five times per year: for the Balloon Fiesta in October, full moon sitting right on top of Sandia in late of November and an occasional short video of a steel plate being shot at. That’s when I stopped worrying about it, but should I be so inclined there are several good quality telephoto options for the Micro-4/3 mount.
Micro-4/3 is really a very respectable option for hybrid photo/video use, but it suffers from the same problem as the rest of the Japanese cameras out there: the user interfaces are made by Japanese UI designers, i.e. they come with 26 re-programmable buttons that you press all at once every time you grab the camera and a menu system that requires a 600 page hyperlinked user manual.
Thankfully, with Micro-4/3, when it comes to video, there are a few options from Blackmagic that have modern user interfaces. Z-Cam and Panasonic also make very usable box-type cameras with the same mount. https://adorama.rfvk.net/do3aM3
I would have picked up something like Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera by now if it wasn’t for an interesting crowdfunding campaign I stumbled onto.
I need an additional camera for two reasons. The first one really zeros in on the only downside of Leica Q2: it does not have any connectors. Literally none. When Leica decided to provide this camera with a minimalist user interface, they were not joking around. There is no external power, no video out and no microphone in.
When I record my videos, I record sound separately using Zoom F2 floating point audio recorder.
My old Panasonic GX-1 camera that I use for telephoto photography does not have those functions either.
The two cameras I use for my home livecasting setup are Z-Cam E1 (which is beginning to glitch, so it is likely on its last breath) and Sony Rx0 Mark 2. Sony user interface is stunningly bad and the cell phone app is even worse. However, it is ruggedized and waterproof, so that I can take it into inclement conditions and it does have external power, mic in and HDMI out if I open up the cover plate. I use it as a webcam when I travel and as a backup camera for livecasting. With a 1″ sensor and 24mm equivalent F/4 lens, it does not give me any background separation, so it really has very limited use, but it is a perfectly viable back up and bad weather camera.
That’s where that crowdfunded camera project I mentioned comes in: Alice Camera. I stumbled onto it on Indiegogo and, despite crowdfunded camera projects usually being abject failures, decided to back it. It is essentially another attempt to take a normal camera body and couple it with a cellphone for a user interface. A cellphone being the user interface offers a ton of advantages for me. For general purpose photography, it gives me a lot of freedom in terms of setting up different angles and perspectives. I can set up the camera in any way I want with seamless control from the cell phone in my hand. It comes in really usefuls for gun photography and content creation. For recording videos without anyone’s help, it makes all the difference in the world and the Alice camera does run off of external power and does have microphone input. If it ends up being a flop, I’ll go with one of the options I mentioned above, but in the meantime, I am very hopeful. It should be here around April, so there is a little more waiting to do.
As far as lenses go, I sold most of my micro-4/3 lenses a while back, but as I keep on trying to organize my office I discover more lenses that I forgot I had. Still, I use two lenses more than all the others together: Lumix 15mm F/1.7 and Zuiko 45mm F/1.8. For telephoto I use that old Nikon 300mm prime I mentioned above.
Generally, with all this content creation business, one of the more important lessons I had to learn was to have two of everything: two means to record video and two means to record high quality audio. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, since I am stubborn, but I learned it. Batteries die and recharging them takes time. If I made the effort to guy somewhere and set up to record a scope video, I better have backup A/V equipment or I am wasting my time. Having back-up video is the simpler thing, of course, since my cell phone is always on me and it is capable of really decent photo and video quality. If I have a dedicated camera, a cell phone and appropriate tripod adapter to use either, I am in good shape.
Audio problems have been plaguing me for years, but I think I finally got the handle on it. It sure wasn’t cheap. I ended up with a ton of microphones and recording devices that do not do what I need. I have all sorts of personal recorders, A-B mics, X-Y mics, shotgun mics, etc. All of that is collecting dust. For the things that I do, I need two things:
-a portable recorder (Zoom F2 I mentioned above) with a cardioid lavalier microphone from Audio-Technica
-a dual channel wireless microphone with local recording and wireless transmission. This one is still coming, since I preordered the new DJI Dual-channel microphone.
If you ever see a new video from me that has terrible sound, I have nothing to blame but my own incompetence.
With all that, the nerdy camera-geek side of me is reasonably satisfied. The next frontier is learning how to properly do video editing and I do not think I can buy my way out of this one. It will take time and effort.