Archives For Buying Cameras

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This is a US$2,000 camera, body only. I’m going to get a copy.

I’m going to purchase a copy because it does everything that a professional body does, especially in the critical features of auto focus and focus following. And it does it in a body that doesn’t need a friggin’ oversized, and overpriced, 35mm sized sensor (what is euphemistically referred to as “full frame”, for a film size that was originally called miniature because of its size compared to medium format).

I’m heavily invested in the µ4:3rds system, including the 12-40mm zoom shown on the body. I have a number of primes, and look to invest in a few more, such as the 1.2/25mm. I’ll concede I already have the Lumix 1.4/25mm, but I want that lens with the extra half stop. And the incredible performance. I might even break down and get the 4/12-100mm. You’ll note the pattern here. These are all PRO lenses. Am I going pro at the tender age of 63? I doubt that, but I’m a stickler for the technical side, and before I’m forced to retire and can’t afford these any more I want to finish out my system. I’ll still have the three E-M5’s I’ve picked up over the last four years (one at full price, the other two heavily discounted, including an Elite Black body for $400).

Folks will tell you that you can get a better deal by buying the Nikon D500 or the Canon 7D Mark II. The problem with this is replacing all that glass I have with equivalent Nikkors or Canon EOS lenses. No thanks. The E-M1 .2 is a highly refined Olympus camera, both for the brand and the camera system in general. It’s overall operability is second to none. With the very fast glass and the enhanced IBIS good up to at least six stops I don’t have to worry about having astronomically high ISO requirements. I’ve seen photos hand held up to 15 seconds that’ve come out sharp and high quality, and in the sizes I like to view and print, they’re indistinguishable from any other camera, including the much more expensive “full-frame” DSLRs.

I’ve waited a long time for this camera. I’m ready to purchase my copy.

two of a kind

Older E-M5 with 14-150mm II zoom on the left, and newish E-M5 Elite with 12-40mm PRO zoom on the right.

About a month ago I wrote a glowing post about the as-yet-to-be-released Fuji X-Pro2. Looking at the photos of the X-Pro2 with the Fujinon 2/35mm, I couldn’t help myself being drawn into the system by the overall look of the camera and lens combination. And then Olympus released it’s new Pen F to great acclaim on the various camera web sites, such as Andy on ATMTX (here and here) and Steve Huff (here). And then I did something that I always do when new gear comes out that strikes my fancy; I pull out my trusty old calculator and start adding up how much it would cost to replace what I already have in Olympus Micro Four Thirds gear. Most of the time I stop at that point, but not this time

This time I was inspired to go out and purchase, from B&H Photo and Amazon, another Olympus E-M5 Elite body and a 12-40mm Pro lens, respectively. The E-M5 was on clearance and the 12-40mm was on sale. Their combined price was less than what I would have paid for just the Pen F if it were available, and considerably less than what I would have paid for the X-Pro2 body plus 2/35mm lens if the X-Pro2 where available. And therein lies the tale of modern digital photography: the great expense divide.

I now have in my possession three E-M5 bodies of varying vintage (January 2013, mid-2015, and February 2016). I also have an E-M10 body. All of those bodies were purchased at heavy discount, the E-M5 Elite at considerable discount (roughly 1/3 the cost of the E-M5’s initial release price). I’ve now got four bodies, three of which are identical, the other nearly so, and various Micro Four Third lenses.

Last November I also picked up the 14-150mm II zoom lens when it went on sale. With the 2.8/12-40mm Pro zoom I’ve now rebuilt the Four Thirds system I had stolen in August 2012. This includes grips for two of the E-M5 bodies. The focal lengths of the M.Zuiko lenses don’t match the older 50-200mm and 12-60mm Digital Zuikos, but they don’t have to. The M.Zuikos are considerably lighter, the image quality is noticeably better, and the cost through prudent shopping allowed me to build the system I really want to own going forward, a system that travels around the world a lot lighter than in 2012. That’s what happens when new gear is released; gear from one to two generations back gets heavily discounted in an effort to clear the shelves. And I have learned to be ready for the deals.

There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with the new stuff, just like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the older stuff. All of it is far better than I am as a photographer. My ego isn’t tied up in the kind of camera I use, and i hope it never is. With my style of photography the older stuff is more than sufficient.

I’ll use what I have and enjoy using it. Just like I’ll enjoy what everyone who owns an X-Pro2 or a Pen F does with their cameras. I’ll always keep in mind that every time I see good photography using the newer gear, it’s that a talented photographer just happened to be using a certain brand and model when they took that photograph.

fujifilm x-pro2 thoughts

January 17, 2016

I’m a staunch Olympus user. I’ve used both film OM cameras (OM-4T) as well as any number of Olympus digital cameras (E-300, E-1, E-3, EP-2, E-M5 and E-M10, just to list a few). Everything I post in my blog is either taken with an Olympus mirrorless camera or my iPhone 6s+. In spite of this obvious bias I do pay attention to the rest of the market. In particular, I pay attention to Fuji.

Fuji has been making this series of rangefinder-style cameras for the past five years, starting with the fixed lens X100 and its 23mm f/2 Fujinon. With its APS-C sized sensor, that’s equivalent to 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Fuji continued to evolve the X100 series, to the X100S and finally the X100T. Starting with the original release of the X100, you’d have thought that the X100 was the second coming of digital photography (and many users still feel that way). For me the hype built up so far, so fast, that my hype alarm tripped and I steered clear of the camera. Its introduction at a rather lofty $1,300 also gave me considerable pause.

To Fuji’s credit they didn’t rest on their laurels. Not only did they continue to evolve the X100 series, but they introduced an equivalent, mirrorless, interchangeable lens version called the X-Pro1. At an even greater MSRP it introduced the world to a digital rangefinder design that Leica itself could have taken notes from. Still, I waited, content with my Olympus Pens. Along the way Fuji introduced several more lower priced bodies in the X-Pro1 design, then they introduced their version of the mirrorless SLR, the X-T1. Every time they put out a new camera the social networks went into a frothing frenzy of hype.

Now Fuji’s introduced their update to the X-Pro1, named rather obviously the X-Pro2. Based on the X-Pro2’s specifications (24MP sensor, weather sealing on the body, improved auto focusing, etc), it looks like the latest is very interesting indeed. Interesting enough, in spite of its introductory price, to get me to finally break down and contemplate purchasing one.

Truth be told I like the design of the X-Pro series because I like the rangefinder design. I always have. It’s just that the only rangefinder left in existence up until Fuji’s entries were the Leica (yes, I know about the Voigtlander Bessa, but nothing digital). Leica is just totally unaffordable for me. Fuji is certainly cheaper by comparison, but it’s still expensive enough that it’s not something I would consider an impulse purchase.

What makes the X-Pro2 interesting now is the Fujinon 35mm f/2 weather resistant (WR) lens that Fuji released last year. The X-Pro2 body is also weather resistant. The body and lens thus make a reasonably weather resistant package I wouldn’t worry taking out into the Florida heat, humidity, and rain. Weather resistance is one key reason I own a pair of Olympus E-M5 bodies and equivalent WR Zuiko lenses. Oh, and that 35mm lens is an equivalent 52.5mm on a 35mm film camera. I like the physical design, I like the sloped design of the lens. I just like the way the whole system fits together.

It’s obvious that I need to hold the camera and give it a try. To that end I’m toying with the idea of renting a body and that lens to try out. Renting for a week is a whole lot cheaper than buying that body and lens and then having buyer’s remorse if, for whatever reason, the purchase doesn’t work out. I’ve a lot more interest in this camera than, say, the newly released Nikon D500 or anything from Canon.

My camera needs are shifting as I get older. If anything I’m going back to my roots, the kind of 35mm film equipment I owned and used back in my 20s, which consisted primarily of several Minolta bodies and three prime lenses. Those lenses were 28mm, 50mm, and 135mm. With Fuji they’ve got the equivalent to 50mm covered. I’m hoping they’ll introduce equivalents to 28mm/35mm, such as a WR 18mm or WR 23mm, and at the long end a WR 90mm. With the latest sensor in the X-Pro2 they can all be f/2 or even f/2.8 maximum aperture. I’m not a speed freak, and wide apertures at f/1.4 or faster add inordinate cost to a lens that for the most part can’t be justified except as a bragging point. I also have no use for exotic focal lengths or zooms. All I want are the solid basics.

I believe that 2016 is going to be a real watershed year for digital photography. There are truly no bad cameras anymore with regards to image quality. Now it’s all about usability and specific focal lengths, and how it all works in my hands with my mind and eye.

Olympus E-PL1 and 2.8/17mm

Olympus E-PL1 and 2.8/17mm

Spend enough time online at any of the photography forums and you’re going to run across stories, usually every quarter, about the declining sale of interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) that include DSLR and mirrorless. The reasons offered are numerous, but the two biggest reasons as I see them are cost, coupled with how quickly new iterations of the same camera are marketed.

Cameras shipped since 2012. Based on CIPA numbers.

Cameras shipped since 2012. Based on CIPA numbers.

The chart just above is from a website called Personal View and is derived from CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) data. The chart shows both the monthly volatility of the ILC market, as well as a long-term steady downward growth in units shiped. Even someone as stalwart as Thom Hogan uses the chart when he talks about the continuing decline of camera sales. Thom has an interesting article, published in May 2013 (How Steep Was the Decline?), comparing the equivalent rapid sales decline in film bodies with digital. A key fact from this article is that the peak year for digital sales was 2010.

It’s my personal opinion that the reason for the decline of ILCs is due to the very high cost if purchasing any of the cameras, specifically the bodies, coupled with the yearly introduction of ever newer models at the same or higher price point. Consumers, such as myself, pay the top dollar, only to read to their dismay when the next version is released before the new is even properly worn off the current model they own. And they’re told, subtly by the makers and bluntly on the forums, how your current model is immediately obsolete and oh so inferior. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

To a certain extent everyone is right. Your current body is inferior to what always comes next, especially where it truly counts; the sensor and the processor. Technology in those areas, especially the sensor, relentlessly moves forward. The way that the whole industry currently works is, if you want the latest imaging capabilities (more exposure latitude, higher ISO sensitivity without detail destroying noise, etc, etc) then you purchase an entirely new body, instead of just replacing the bits that really matter. Gone are the days of film when you changed film to get a different or better look (or both). When you bought that film body you had a good five or more years, or even longer (such as with Leica) of guaranteed solid use.

It doesn’t take long before a lot of people get tired of it. $1,000 cameras (body with a lens) are expensive discretionary items for lots of people. They justify the expense because they want to document some part of their lives. College kids and twenty-somethings want to document the wilder side of their lives. Marrieds, especially with children, want to document family life. When those kids are grown, then those older parents want to turn around and document their adult children. And therein lies a further complication of the sales problem with the camera industry.

It doesn’t take long before the “real” photographer shows his or her talent in the family. It’s that person who becomes the designated family photographer for the important photos, usually for a number of decades. Everybody else uses their smartphone. The family designated photographer spends the cash for the expensive ILC, along with any number of accessories. That cuts down considerably on the number of units that the camera industry can shift over time, resulting in the huge backlog of older models being sold at discount. The only problem is that marketing keeps saying how the older models are inferior to the current models, not matter how deeply discounted. And so a lot of potential customers who might have bought the older kit on discount wait and the old hardware grows older, increasingly clogging every seller’s inventory.

The camera at the top of this post is an example of introduce high and discount low 12-18 months later. It’s an Olympus E-PL1 with the older 17mm f/2.8 pancake prime. It’s a great camera and the lens does quite well. When the E-PL1 was introduced early 2010 it cost $600 and included the plastic-mount 14-42mm Zuiko kit zoom. When I got it 18 months later it had dropped to $140, body only. I got the prime when it was also discounted at $180, about half its introductory price. The combined camera plus 17mm cost me $320, a little more than half the introductory price. You can’t find the E-PL1 anymore, and the price of the 17mm pancake as actually risen since then. But with that purchase, I learned an important lesson: wait for the price to drop. A lesson taught by Nikon and Sony and Pentax, and even Canon. Wait long enough and the camera you want right now will be affordable. And that puts an even further brake on selling cameras and hurts the manufacturer’s bottom line. Nobody comes out a winner, not the manufacturer or the seller. As for the buyer, low prices like that are a short-term and short sighted gain. In the end manufacturers either stop making cameras because they’re out of business or close to it.

Long term there are no winners.

and now it’s here

January 28, 2014

The Fujifilm X-T1 officially arrived today, in much the same manner that Olympus’ OM-D E-M5 arrived back in 2012  – amid a lot of careful leaks stoking wild speculation on the enthusiast gear sites. Looks like Fuji stole a page from Olympus’ marketing playbook.

The one photo of the X-T1 that caught my eye was the one above. The camera is cradled in a pair of human hands. In an instant you gain an understanding of the camera’s overall size and placement of the controls. The camera isn’t “retro” by any stretch. It’s classic in the type of controls it provides on the top deck as well as their overall placement. If anything, that view of the X-T1 is more Olympus OM film body-like than Olympus’ own OM-D series. Especially that big, wide faux pentaprism hump.

This is the type of camera that Nikon should have made when they made their Df. The X-T1 has a clean, chiseled look like the OM-D E-M1. Not a single extraneous line or stamping anywhere. The Fujifilm X-T1 harkens back to classic times when primes were the rule, not overly expensive zooms. Just grab two or three primes (28mm, 50mm, and 85mm equivalents) and a body with a half dozen 36 exposure rolls and you’re off to experience the world. And I most certainly like the breadth of the X lens series.

Speaking of controls, one of my favorite features (so far) of the X-T1 are its dials: shutter speed and ISO on top, and with the right lenses, aperture on the lens barrel where it belongs. Want to go all auto on any setting? Simple. Just spin the dial to the ‘A’ setting (for automatic) and the camera just does it for you. That’s what film cameras had going back to the mid 1970s. I know this to be true because my Minolta XE-7 and XD-11 had this capability. And they weren’t the only ones. Having a PASM dial on today’s digital cameras is an acknowledgement by the camera makers that once upon a time photographers used a simpler way to tune automation on their cameras. As for all the other superfluous features on a camera, such as  scene modes or art filters, I can do without. One other superfluous feature I can do without is the top deck LCD. We have those on other cameras because we need visual feedback on how the camera is configured. With analogue dials you don’t need a top deck LCD. And if you reclaim that expensive real estate, you can afford to make your dials big and fat and a joy to handle, with easy to read numbers.

It won’t be here until sometime in February. When it does arrive it’ll come with a kit lens that’s a cut above every other kit lens of its type out there: an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens. A kit lens that’s a half stop to a full stop faster. Olympus and Panasonic equivalents (14-42mm) are f/3.5-5.6, and even the APS-C equivalents in those focal lengths aren’t as fast. Fujifilm understands that what photographer’s want (at least this photographer) is the fastest possible lenses we can reasonably afford. The only lens that comes even close to the Fujifilm 18-55mm is the Olympus FourThirds HG 12-60mm f/2.8-4 zoom. I loved that one lens and miss it still. I doubt the person or persons who stole it really appreciate what they got out of my car.

I’m at a cross roads of sorts in my photographic life. At $1,300, body only, this is an expensive camera. I’m thinking I’ll get one more camera before I give it all up and “retire.” But the cost puts it right in the competitive thick of it, against Olympus (E-M1), Pentax (K3), Samsung (NX-300), Canon (70D), and Nikon (D7100). I’ve held them all and have enough test shots to know that they’re all equivalent. Ergonomics are pretty much a non-issue with me. The real bargain in that group is the Samsung at around half the price of all the rest. Quality body, quality lenses, and surprising features. I didn’t include the Samsung Galaxy NX because I’ve held it and can’t stand it. The Samsung NX30 is something of  a dark horse that may be another competitor in that group, one that I would consider. And Sony I don’t consider because they’re all over the place with ergonomics and a paucity of native lenses for their E-mount cameras, both APS-C and 135mm.

I’m not rushing out to place a pre-order. I’m content with what I have. I’ll continue to use it until such time as the cameras all break or someone comes out with something truly revolutionary and reasonably affordable. My E-M5 is my “big gun” camera, while all my other µFourThird cameras are my artistic, carry around cameras. I’m set and don’t need to buy anything else for the time being.

Updates

[Darth Vader voice] The force is strong in this one…