On Camera Reviews

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 2.12.03 PM

The “For Sale” Library

I was going to open with a statement about how I feel as though I have aged a lot mentally over the past few months… but wouldn’t that be a pompous, immature statement to make? : )  Hi, I’m Mark, and today I’d like to talk about how I became a gear nut and what I am doing to stop it.  “Hi, Mark…”

That image above is a screenshot of my eBay folder of images of stuff I have sold.  I should really rename that folder Amazon because, frankly, Amazon blows eBay out of the water when it comes to speed of sales, ease and cost.  I’m not kidding when I say some very expensive gear has sold in under an hour on there.  The key?  Submit a product image and list it lower than the lowest price on there.  I don’t care about profit margins- this is not my business.  My purpose is to sell gear.  If I wanted to keep it on the shelf, sure, I could list it at a higher price and try to argue my piece of the mass-produced item I was selling was somehow special or unique.  Anyway… that’s all besides the point.

*Note:  You can scroll to the bottom for the camera review, but the real therapy comes from reading this post.

image

Fuji X100S & Pentax Spotomatic

My Dad taught me how to use a camera at a young age, and I started with a Pentax Spotomatic camera (to the right, above).  With this I learnt the fundamentals of ISO, aperture, shutter speed and their corresponding relationships.  He built a B&W lab in his basement so I was excited to learn the process from capture to process to print, right in our own home.  Looking at those photos now, I can say they were not half bad!

From there he gave me one of his Nikon N8008 bodies.  This was a film camera but very similar to the modern dSLR cameras:  LCD top plate, auto focus, auto metering, the familiar PSAM metering modes…  Loved that camera and used it for a long time.  The only trouble was/is film is dying and no matter what the few die hards say…  it simply is not that easy or convenient to get 35mm rolls of film or to have them properly processed.  Also, regardless of what die hards say, 35mm print film has nowhere near the resolution of modern digital cameras- not without an incredibly difficult workflow process, at least.

Somewhere around 2005 I decided to try a digital camera and bought the Nikon D80.  At just 10 megapixels on an old APS-C sensor, it really blew me away at what could be done with digital cameras!

Nikon D80 + 80-200mm f2.8

Nikon D80 + 80-200mm f2.8

Like this image-  which hangs on my wall at 12×18 and 300dpi.  I am certainly not a sports photographer and this camera was never said to be a sport photographer’s camera… but LOOK!  Maybe I am the biggest idiot in the world, but I want to say it anyway:  Those who spend their days reviewing cameras are not doing it for free or for charity.  They have Google AdSense to look after and buyer’s links to promote through actual sales.  Have you ever seen the “Please buy anything from this link below!  You pay nothing extra but I get a small commission!”  Seems harmless, but they are still promoting pressure sales techniques and that won’t happen by telling you your camera is good enough.  Additionally, the internet is very quiet on this but I am SURE the larger review bloggers are getting sponsorships from the manufacturers and whether or not the manufacturer tells them what to/not to say about the camera, getting free stuff in the mail will affect the review.

D700 with Olympus OM-D in foreground

Nikon D700 with Olympus OM-D in foreground

This shot is one of the only pictures of my Nikon D700, which was overshadowed by it’s replacement, the Olympus OM-D EM-5.  The D700… Wow.  Should have stopped right there.  I used that camera from 2010 to 2014 and it never failed me.  Used the heck out of it, too.  It’s been dropped, banged, thoroughly travelled, and never showed its wear.  The pictures are beautiful.

Nikon D700, 300mm f4

Nikon D700, 300mm f4

The camera worked just like a film camera.  Everything was the same.  Most important to me: focal length was focal length.  No equivalences, no math, no factors…  300mm was 300mm.  24mm was 24mm.  f2.8 was f2.8!

Nikon D700 with 16-35mm f4

Nikon D700 with 16-35mm f4

There was no photograph I could not take with the D700.  The camera has the same 51 point autofocus system with 3D tracking that the latest and greatest Nikons enjoy.  Now I am sure some bloggers will argue the new and improved and yadda yadda yadda…   But the fact is, it tracked beautifully.  Those same bloggers would have to concede that the D700 is FAR superior to the D80 in all ways, including it’s ability to track autofocus.  But you know what?  That motorcycle shot above was a bike coming towards me at over 100mph and it is clearly in focus…  so who is kidding who?  If the D700 is better than the D80 and the D80 is clearly able to track autofocus…  then yeah… why split hairs?  Even the N8008 could track autofocus!

What happened to the D700, then?  The camera was built like a tank and after returning from Canada I began to feel it weighed nearly as much…

…and that was my downfall.  Weight.

When we took our trip to Canada I knew that we would see scenery that I have never seen before and there was no guarantee I would have the pleasure of seeing again, so I had to pull out all the stops.  My camera backpack was its own carryon.  I am sure many of you know the feeling.  I was ready for anything!  Most of the time the pack would stay in the car and I would just take what I needed for any specific purpose- but I had it all!  And frankly, I should have just kept it that way and supplement that camera with a second camera- SPOILER ALERT:

The Sony RX100IV.

Yeah yeah the D700 is just 12 megapixel.  Ok..  well that image above is 30 inches wide on my living room wall and it looks glorious.  That print is the real point of photography, I think.  We are supposed to use cameras to help us remember important parts of our history and to share those moments with others.  That’s it.  (Ok, ok, abstract visual artists aside…  but that is a specific genre that doesn’t speak to the masses who are actually buying and using cameras)  As I said, I was not sure if I would ever see the Canadian Rockies again, so I ensured my memories would last by planting this massive print on the wall.  And the camera provided me with the result admirably!

Olympus OM-D EM-5

Olympus OM-D EM-5

But then I began to read review sites.  And read.  And read.  I settled on the Olympus and by comparison- This camera and all its lenses weighed less than the D700 with 50mm prime.  WOW.  I was stoked- couldn’t believe it.  It still had all the manual controls and raw files and external flash control…  it was everything I needed in a smaller form factor than events old Pentax Spotomatic!  And the lenses were fast.  The catch?  The sensor…  it’s one quarter the size of the sensor in full frame.  More megapixels than the D700…  but they are in a way smaller piece of real estate.

What does that mean?  It means that if you have yet to buy a dSLR, then buy an Olympus and never EVER try to compare it with anything else in the world!  It means it is a fantastic camera that will do everything you ask and is probably a hell of a lot smarter than you are!

Olympus E-M5 and 45mm (90mm)

Olympus E-M5 and 45mm (90mm)

But..   I continued to read reviews, you know, just to make sure I put my money in the best location.  Soon, the Olympus E-M1 came out.  Same image sensor… but the review sites convinced me that the camera was twice as good… for basically twice the price.  As I said, if you are scoping your first real camera, then stop here and do no more harm.  The E-M5 is an excellent camera system that is far more affordable than the rest and takes excellent pictures.  The E-M1 is not necessary!  The new E-M5 Mk. II is not necessary!  They all have the same sensor and the images are basically going to be the same!  Please save your money and buy a vacation instead!

IMG_0082-Web

Olympus OM-D E-M1

So as great as it was, it met the chopping block… cleverly disguised as a white table.  Why?  Because I kept reading reviews.  And then I would look at my images at 100% on screen.  I would compare with the D700 pictures and I would soon realize that technically, the older D700 is still a better camera.  There is something about a full frame sensor and it’s transitions in the photograph…  It is simply not as coarse as a smaller sensor is.  I’m not sure exactly how to describe it but look at strands of hair on portraits- you can always see it there.

I say this only to further discuss my illness.  The simple truth I wish I could go back and tell myself is nobody looks at the strands of hair.  They look at the portrait!

The lenses for this system were just as sharp as the Nikon, but they fit in my pocket!  They are tiny!  This was a more capable camera than I gave credit to, but I feel felt poisoned by the experience a full frame sensor gave me and decided I was somehow “above” this camera.  What a load of bullshit…

Canon 6D

Canon 6D

So then this Canon happened, at a tune of something like $5,500 later.  I am such an idiot, I know, that is why I am posting this.  And no I am not trying to gloat about buying power because I sold one for the next and the rest resided on MasterCard… sigh.  After reading review after review and then renting a 6D and 5D Mk III, I decided the 6D would be my “one, true” D700 replacement and I would be pleased forevermore.  I decided at that time that I was, in fact, a professional and as such, I must act (equip myself) accordingly.  Never again would I miss a shot, never again would anyone be able to usurp my authority in this photography realm! Vomit…

I went so overboard that I bought the 24mm Tilt Shift along with it because, hey, acting accordingly, right?  Oh, and that initial $5,500 did not include the 85mm I would need want, the 50mm prime, the TWO 600-series remote flash units and corresponding remote flash commander….  Oh.  My.  God.

Do you see how crazy I am?  All this because I had a feeling at the moment that this, THIS, could finally be my moment of rising into true “pro” status and open my own business and make millions as almost no other photographer has…  What was I thinking?

Well, I wasn’t thinking.  I was merely reading.  I was taking other people’s word for it.  And yeah, they were not lying to me because the camera does take fantastic images:

Canon 6D with 24-105mm

Canon 6D with 24-105mm

And…

Canon 6D with 24-105mm

Canon 6D with 24-105mm

And also…

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart - Newark, New Jersey

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart – Newark, New Jersey

And, of course in B&W:

Canon 6D, 24mm Tilt Shift

Canon 6D, 24mm Tilt Shift

Wait…  fooled you.  : )  See that color photo of the Basilica?  Yeah..  my Dad took that one, not me.  I mean, I showed him how to stitch about seven photographs together in Photoshop, but he took that photo with a Nikon D200 and old 24mm f2.8D lens.  Total investment when new:  About $1,400.  Total value now: about $400.  I took the photo with a single image using the tilt-shift lens on the Canon 6D for about $5,500.  Is there a $4,000 gain in the image?!?!

Now don’t get me wrong-  look at my Real Estate page to see how tilt-shift lenses can make your life a lot easier when doing professional work.  But that is the difference-  if I was being paid, then it is worth it.  But this Cathedral… well, I just wanted that picture.  Wanting that picture just doesn’t pay the bills.  And that little Olympus?  Or the even cheaper Nikon D3300 or Canon SL1…  they can take a similar/better shot of this building for a few hundred bucks and a subscription to Adobe CC.  I think that makes sense…   and it started to at the time because the Canon also met the chopping block shortly after I used an entire SUITCASE to lug my gear to a portrait shoot.

I can admit now that when I saw how comparably good my Dad’s old little 10 megapixel sensor stitched the images together in Photoshop…  I wanted to cry a little because my MasterCard balance was a constant thought in my mind.  He paid for his camera years ago…

Fuji X100s

Fuji X100s

So how’s that?!?! You know, this post is really starting to crack me up.  When a suit case is too large, how about something that almost fits in the pocket?  When the plethora of lens options exist and I cannot resist the urge to buy, then how about a single-lens, single-focal length option?  It is f2 with a 35mm worldview.  The specifications are fantastic and the reviewers all love the thing.  Hey, like I say, they don’t lie but they also cannot tell me what’s right for me.  Neither can I, evidently.

Like everything else- I went full-tilt:  Camera, leather case, three batteries, filter, hood, et cetera.  Surely this would be the end-all be-all of my camera searches, right?  Nope.

I loved it!  I became a little hooked on Fuji, but I missed that interchangeable lens option.  Even though I read about two-camera setups, I had to let this one go to buy the Fuji X-T1 because my MasterCard was bruised all over and didn’t want to strain it much further!  So… to the chopping block.

-Just as an aside, through all this I was also going nuts with expansions and contractions of software workflow processes!

Fuji X-T1 with 23mm f1.4

Fuji X-T1 with 23mm f1.4

This is a beautiful camera!  Really, I needed to do the interchangeable lens option because we were planning a trip to Scotland and there was simply no way I would go to the highlands with only a 35mm worldview!  So I picked up the 55-200mm, the 10-24mm, and 18-55mm.  I was fairly well prepared for anything, I thought.  In hindsight, I will say I was overly-prepared and should have considered taking that X100s and the Nikon D700 I sold two years prior for anything wall-worthy.

Speaking of wall-worthy-  I always thought something had to be really special in order to hang on the wall.  But now we have a few selfies hanging on our wall (blasphemous, I know…), and you know what?

You got to try this if you haven’t already because while the Canadian Rockies print still makes me say “Wow,” the selfies make me smile.  And something really needs to be understood about that very distinct difference.

Ok… so I don’t have pictures of this next bit but I wasn’t happy while editing the Fuji raw files because of this whole “watercolor” effect thing in the landscapes.  The small problem that is not noticeable in the final prints became this huge issue in my mind!  So…  chopping block time!

I went nuts again!  Just bought the Nikon D750 and D810, simultaneously.  After just one walk in Central Park on a beautiful day I surmised that the D810 is a truly stellar camera.

Nikon D810 with 50mm f1.8g

Nikon D810 with 50mm f1.8g

The details in the yellows when viewed 100% on my screen are truly remarkable!  But you can’t see that because this is a wordpress site and the free theme I am using is limiting the 7360-pixel wide original photo into a mere 660 pixels on your screen.  And If I was going to print this at 11×14, then you would not see all those details either because the 14 inch with is only 4200 pixels at 300dpi.  Since my printer won’t print tighter than 300dpi, and since the human eye will not register anywhere near 300dpi at normal viewing distances, WHAT DOES IT MATTER?!?!

Well, review sights say it is great because you can heavily crop images if you need to and still have enough resolution left to print high quality prints.  Boy, is that an amateur statement if I ever heard one….  Take the photo right in the first place and crops will be minimal, if any.  Secondly, don’t use the jaws of life when scissors work to open your electric bill.

Oh, and this camera is not just a camera solution.  None of these high megapixel beasts are.  Your old 2.8D lenses?  They can’t resolve the full amount of detail.  Your old MacBook?  These raw files start around 45mb and are several hundred megabytes while processing through Photoshop.  So, enter the Mac Pro at thousands upon thousands of dollars…

So yeah, I liked the camera but she had to go.

Both of them.

I tried something completely different:  Sony.  I bought the a6000 with a bunch of lenses and ended up making a little bit on the sale of the Fuji system.  The Sony is a pretty good camera.

Sony a6000 with kit 16-50mm f3.5-5.6

Sony a6000 with kit 16-50mm f3.5-5.6

Excellent camera, really.

Sony a6000 with kit 16-50mm f3.5-5.6

Sony a6000 with kit 16-50mm f3.5-5.6

The pictures are sharp, vibrant, detailed and the camera had all the functions and features I needed to enjoy the hobby.  The cost of the lenses felt a little prohibitive, though.  Here is the answer to that problem:  use the kit lenses and buy a manual focus Samyang for ultra wide shots and never look back!  I had the Sony 10-18mm and the Zeiss 16-70mm f4 and there were no real-life differences between them and the kit lenses.

So now what?!?  I missed the Fuji.  I couldn’t quite explain it, but I guess I really life the feel of a classy camera more than the image output.  Yep- sold all this and bought the Fuji X-T1 on refurb with the 18-135mm lens.

That love affair was really short lived because the 18-135mm has a very hard time focussing on wildlife amongst the trees.  There are plenty of discussions about this over the net, but when I took a picture of a hawk in my back yard and the camera focused on tree limbs in front of it even though the green focus confirmation was on the hawk’s eyeball, in AF-S mode, I knew suddenly that this camera had to go.

Oh, and all those reviews that say the algorithms with Fuji raw and Lightroom have improved are total bullshit.  I don’t care about improvements… it either has to work as well as the rest of the brands out there, or it simply does not work at all.  Do not try to suggest to me that I need yet another program to pre-edit my raw files before running them through the normal Lightroom/Photoshop workflow.  That is stupid.  I’m one step away from just jamming the SD card into an iPad and they want me to use three separate (not free) editing programs.  Ludicrous.  For.  Sale.

So what now, then?

Sony RX100IV

Sony RX100IV

Yeah… here is some therapy…  : )  Truly fits in the pocket, tiny little point and shoot with a heck of a punch!  It has a one inch sensor with image stabilization on a 24-70mm f1.8-2.8 lens.  Viewfinder and pop-up flash to boot.  It’s JPG files are typically better than the raw, which I now only use on photos like the lighthouse below where I knew I would be pushing the dynamic range.  I say they are better because if they are good enough to go without having to carefully process files, then that works for me!  Beyond that…  it takes fantastic pictures with no effort and the screen even flips 180 for the perfect selfie- and the camera will even snap the shutter whenever it sees me smile!  Holy crap!

You can click on these pictures for enlargements.  The camera is excellent and the image is far superior to those of the D810 because this is a camera I have with me, and not in the car.  36 megapixels does me nothing when it sits in the trunk, at the house, or loses 75 percent of those pixels as soon as I process it for web use and half when I process to print.

I printed pictures from the RX100IV at 11×14 wide and it appeared slightly more appealing than the a6000.  I don’t know why that is, but hey, who cares.  It works swell.  I don’t know if I can print larger but I do know this:

Nikon D80 with 18-135mm

Nikon D80 with 18-135mm

This picture from the beautiful land of a thousand sunsets was taken with the D80 and the junky $150 18-135mm kit lens.  10 megapixels and it hangs 30 inches wide on my bedroom wall.  Yeah, it’s not perfect but never have I had a complaint.  I have, however, received a number of “Wow!” from friends and family.

Do I need 42megapixels?  No.  Do you?  Probably not.  Does a photographer working for a major firm with nearly unlimited budget making massive prints?  Yeah, sure, whatever.  I’m not him, nor will I ever be.  And if that doesn’t describe you than the sooner you comes to terms with that, the easier you will sleep.

If I had not bought and sold all these cameras, I could have had a larger and better photo collection because they would have been taken in new, exotic places that I presently cannot afford to travel to- simply because I am too busy buying the gear I might need to remember those places.

Memories are always past tense.  You cannot have a beautiful memory without first having a beautiful experience.

No longer will I just say “Take my money!” as soon as the latest, greatest comes out.  Instead, I will try to live by the motto that less is more.  Instead of the dedicated carryon, my camera now fits in a hip pouch.  Neat.

So here is my camera review:

If it is a digital camera produced after, say, 2006, then it is probably just great!  Make sure you see a PASM dial on there if you want to get creative, and try to get yourself a couple fast lenses if you want to have a range of options.  And whatever you buy- try to use it until you break the thing.  And further- do -not- start reading review sites.  They are not intentionally poison, but dammit poison is poison no matter if there is malice aforethought or not.

Where am I going from here?

Well, for me I love this RX100IV.  On my most recent venture to B&H to buy the D750 again (yeah…), I couldn’t even find it in me to pick up the display model.  I am lucky for that because normally I’d just buy it.  When we go back to Europe next year, I know I will need an interchangeable lens camera and I might pick up an Olympus again for that because they are still pretty small- or I may just rent a dSLR for the couple weeks.  I haven’t made up my mind yet but one thing is for sure:  The plane tickets are going to be secured first, even if it means I just carry the RX100IV.  There are far worse things in the world than being stuck with a small, capable camera that is already paid for…

Cheers.

3 thoughts on “On Camera Reviews

  1. Once again, awesome post. I was lost on many of the terms but Dad is reading it now. You know he will enjoy this. Awesome pictures!! Love, Mom

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    1. Thanks… In part, I wrote this to help him understand why I got rid of everything except just one small camera. I really think I developed a bit of a sickness that I’m trying to work through. Have been for awhile, really, but now trying the “public embarrassment” route or something like that.

      Like

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s