Talkin’ About Cameras.

I’m not a pro when it comes to cameras, lets get that straight now. But, as anyone who reads here regularly knows, I do my research before I buy anything. I also know HOW to buy things. And cameras are like cars.

Why am I looking at cameras, and talking about them again?

Well, I’m not looking for myself. Ok, I’m looking a little bit for myself. Mostly though, that’s because I like cameras, and horde them when I can. However, I had two conversations this week. On Friday night, hanging out with the gencoupe crew at NextMod Ottawa, I met a guy who is a MUCH better photographer than me; far more educated on a photographic level; AND just as into cars. And that’s saying something. I got to talk lighting, and a mutual interest in Strobist, and about micro four-thirds. This will become relevant later. I got a message from a good friend the other night about them wanting to buy a good camera, and if I could help: Specifically, did I think a particular used camera was a good deal (IMO, it wasn’t).

So, I talked to him for a while on chat, and asked my usual quesions:

“Why do you want an SLR?”
“Are you prepared to spend money on lenses?”
“Are you going to take it off automatic?”
“what do you want to shoot, what do you need it to do for you?”

And he gave thoughtful answers, which REALLY helps. Once upon a time (probably about two years ago) I wrote a “how to buy a camera” for one of the car forums I’m on, because every two days someone was posting a new thread “I Want to take good pictures, so I need a dSLR which one should I get?” which inevitably devolved into “Nikon vs Canon vs Pentax vs Sony” and avoided the question of “why do you need a dSLR?”

I suddenly realized, because I sent him that link and told him to read it, and think about it (it’s a REALLY long read, I’ll admit that). At the same time, I re-read it myself. And it’s badly out of date now: especially after the conversation I had Friday night about Micro four-thirds Which, for me, is another good reason to revisit the subject.

So, the majority of the photography questions are going to remain valid indefinitely. However, the tech side of things, the breakdown into “point’n’shoot”, “nearSLR/ultra-zoom”, and “dSLR” isn’t accurate anymore. There actually needs to be two more fields.

This is where people get mad at me.

“Micro four-thirds” and “cellular camears”.

For those who don’t know, I currently subscribe to several schools.

1] I have a Nikon D70s: I bought it in 2005, new, and it’s been a beast. It’s starting to show signs of decay, and, honestly, just it’s age. But it’s still good, and I’ll likely buy another Nikon body eventually, and keep my lenses (18-70mm f/3.5-5.6, 50mm f/1.8, and 55mm f/3.5 macro w/3x extension: I shoot close and wide, apparently), and flashes.

2] Canon G12. that’s my go-to carry around. Great for conventions and events when you want quality shots, but not carry a big rig around. It shoots raw and full-manual. It’s a GREAT camera. It also does 720p video, which the Nikon does not. And it gets Unexpectedly good pics

3] Mobile. My phone (Galaxy Nexus) goes everywhere, and I shoot with it and edit in Snapseed. My GoPro is a recent addition, and I’m learning how to use that effectively, too.

So, I’m not a camera snob. I firmly believe that the best camera is the one you have with you. But you can also plan to have one with you that will do the job you want it to.

This brings me full circle to what I want to look at.

Micro four-thirds.

I said, in that article I wrote for the forum, way up there, that (and I’ll quote myself here, how gauche!):

“There’s also the newly emerging CIL market: compact-interchangeable-lens cameras. They’re super retro, and quite powerful, but the lens support is definitely not there yet. In my mind, they’re mostly for hipsters. For the moment. I’ve a feeling that’ll change.”

That market is no longer “newly emerging”. It’s fully developed and roaring ahead. And, it’s not for hipsters. These are powerful, full-function cameras for real photographers. You can call ’em “micro four-thirds”, “mirrorless”, or “Compact interchangeable lens (CIL)”. But the reality is, these are some phenomenal cameras. They are, in fact, more powerful than my D70s (shhhh, it’s ok baby, I still love you). There’s new companies making them, as well as the names you’d expect.

The biggest issue is lenses. They’re set up differently, and the numbers don’t necessarily mean what you’d expect them to, if you’re used to normal lenses. UNLESS they do. Depends on the manufacturer. And, from what I’ve seen, there are no compact micro four-thirds lenses other than from the manufacturers of the cameras.

These are not as powerful as dSLR’s that have been properly kitted out: they don’t have quite the potential, from what I’m seeing. But, at the same time, they’re a quarter to a third of the weight of a similarly featured dSLR, and easily get the same picture quality. Pentax is, I think, the only company making an actual compact dSLR with a micro four-thirds sensor, the rest look like the above picture, in some way or another. And that’s a really cool thing. They remind me an awful lot of my dads (and now mine, remember how I said I horde and collect cameras?) Pentax 110.

I really like these. In fact, had they been up to this level three years ago, I wouldn’t have bought my G12, I’d have probably bought a Nikon One or Sony Alpha

And, then we get to the blasphemy.

Like I said, I believe firmly the worst camera is the one you don’t have with you. By that extension, the best cameras is the one you DO have with you. And this is why cellular photography has become a real thing. Between the quality of the iPhone through various iterations (still, despite my dislike of Apple, the single best mobilephone camera on the market) and the surge of android phones with quality sensors. Still, they’re limited by being what they are: cellphones.

Which is why my next phone will probably be ….

A camera.

Samsung has just released the galaxy camera. I played with one in Futureshop a few weeks ago. And it is COOL. It is, in fact, a real camera, with an always-on connection for instant connectivity and uploads, and running Android so you acn do REAL things with it, including (I would assume) edit your pics in your editor of choice, and upload to your storage site of choice on the fly. AWESOME. BUT, not perfect. Because it’s still a camera with a phone operating system. It’s got all the hardware, but it’s still just another lump to carry around with your phone. It’s also not the BEST point’n’shoot.

Except.

Except the galaxy S4 zoom is coming. And it is, apparently, the same as above, with a full phone system (dialer, SIM card, etc) as part of it. Now. Now, we’re talking. Very likely, THAT’S my next phone. My guess is, it’ll hit Canada sometime in the spring, but it might be earlier (they’re currently saying fall for general release, but it always takes ages to get to us here).

We got a little tangental, but bear with me, I have a point.

The cellphone camera will continue, for the next few years, to be a toy, or weapon of last resort. It’s the camera you HAVE, not the camera you want. It’s Batman, basically. Given time, they are going to replace the point’n’shoots. No doubt in my mind at all. I think it’s a stretch to think they’ll replace the Ultra-zooms (like the Lumix FX series) just because there will continue to be a limit to the quality of the sensor you can have in a phone, and the quality of lense for same.

Micro Four-Thirds, however, that’s a really interesting place to be right now.

I have a feeling I’m going to recommend these as systems for people who’s first reaction is “I MUST HAVE A DSLR! TO TAKE THE AWESOME PICTURES!” Because probably, they don’t need a dSLR. I maintain what I said in my linked post: 95% of people who want a dSLR don’t need one (or really, even want one! they just think they do). 75% of that 95%? They don’t really even need an Ultra-zoom. What they really need is a really good quality point’n’shoot, possibly with some manual features. Like the G-series Canon’s. But for those who are definitely ahead of the curve, have some ability, and real interest in actual PHOTOGRAPHY (as opposed to taking pictures, because there’s a difference) Then the micro four-thirds become very attractive. They have dSLR quality sensors. They offer a range, if not an unlimited range, of lenses. A number of them provide hotshoe accessories, and all shoot in a format of RAW, and with full-manual settings.

The same general knowledge caveats apply to these cameras though, too. If you’re not going to learn about photography: about f/stop, about shutter speed, about ISO, about exposure compensation: if you’re not going to learn technique, what the controls DO? There’s no point getting a dSLR and the accompanying lenses, or even a micro four-thirds.

Still, I’ve got new areas to delve into, and maybe some to drop off the bottom. My old list looked a lot like this:

a] point’n’shoot
b] NearSLR/ultra-zoom
c] dSLR

Now, it’s more like:

a] Cellular/mobile/point’n’shoot
b] NearSLR/ultra-zoom
c] mirrorless/micro four-thirds
d] dSLR

And having another range to work inside is not bad. Again, the micro four-thirds cameras are powerful, and, especially when compared to a dSLR, afforable. They’re a great way to get a feel for whether or not you want to carry those things, like lenses and tripods and flashes (oh my!) around with you all the time. If you get frustrated with a micro four-thirds system: if you find yourself leaving it at home because you find it cumbersome? Yeah, you’re definitely not upgrading to a dSLR. Even myself, recently, in aid of cutting down what I’m carrying, I’ve started picking ONE lens to bring out on my D70s and forcing myself to shoot with that: it makes me think about process again, but it also takes 5-10lbs out of my gear, which REALLY counts. And unless I know I’m going out to shoot specfic, planned things? I leave the D70s at home, bring the G12 and cellphone and call it good enough. The dSLR has INTENT. The other two? they’re for snapshots and have just enough power to do a little more than that, if I need it.

I stand by my statements: most people the most they need is a NearSLR/Ultra-zoom. the ones who are maybe looking for something more specific? mirrorless/micro four-thirds. I know I’M looking for micro four-thirds. They’re looking damn good.

And now I get to do some research on the actual cameras: both micro four-thirds, and cellular/mobile. Because I don’t know much about them yet, but I wanna.

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