One of the leitmotifs of my days is that people frequently contact me asking for my advice as to what camera they should buy. I'm not saying I mind hearing from them; I don't, and it's probably helpful for them to write out their thoughts about their own needs when they write to me. My problem is that I just don't think I can really help. I know the camera market pretty well, and I've been shooting since I was 12 (38 years), but it's really tough to know what another person will like best.
It's actually really tough to know what I will like best, too. A commenter with the handle "RC" wrote the following comment in response to our news item about Nikon overtaking Canon in Japan:
I'm looking to replace my five-year old D60 Canon. With only one Canon lens to my name I'm not that committed yet. I'm looking closely at the Nikon options (between the D80 and the D200), but I do have hopes that by sometime this fall, Canon could put out an updated 30D or 5D that I would find more attractive than the Nikon offerings, so I'm tempted to wait for the next Canons before deciding. I read that the 1D Mk III has some impressive high ISO and dynamic range performance that I'd hope might somehow filter down to a 40D. Or how about a 6D that's more in the price range of the Nikon D200? Both the 5D and the 30D are long overdue for updating. But then, Canon doesn't have any really appealing lenses like the Nikon 18-200VR. But I do already have a Canon 24-85 that seems good enough for now. Decisions. I also really like the Zeiss 16-80 for the Sony, both for it's wide-angle reach and it's reported good quality, but find the Sony camera itself underwhelming compared to the D80, although the built-in steady-shot is a plus.
Whew—that's an awful lot of conflicting considerations, isn't it? Yet what struck me about this is how similar his situation is to mine. I bought my current-and-only DSLR, a Konica-Minolta 7D with a standard zoom, several years ago, used, for $1600 or thereabouts. I've been happy with it—especially in terms of results, which are, after all the point—but I've never particularly warmed to the camera itself. I don't find it particularly appealing to handle and I never take it out "just for fun" like I often used to find myself doing with my film cameras. The 7D has lost about $800 in value (remember that lens) below what I paid for it, but I sell prints from time to time and do a few portraits here and there, and just counting direct sales I've earned roughly $6,000 with it, so I can't complain there either. It has earned its keep.
Now, it's beginning to show age and wear. A number of little glitches have made it even less appealing to use: sometimes it resets itself without provocation, sometimes it tries to autofocus when set on manual focus mode, and—most annoyingly—sometimes it decides it doesn't have a lens attached and refuses to work, even though it does have a lens attached (and, yes, I have cleaned the contacts). I consider this to be direct penance from the mocking gods, since I'm always gassing on about the importance of responsiveness in a camera. I'd have it fixed, but apparently that might not be possible: the only person I know who's tried to have a K-M camera fixed had his 5D replaced by Sony with an A100, apparently in line with Sony policy. Nice of them, but I don't want an A100. I just want my old 7D to be put right. I'm not sure whether Sony's taking on that sort of repair challenge with the old K-M legacy gear.
Before and After: Earlier this summer, Zander volunteered for a haircut for the first time in six months, an event I thought was worthy of documenting. He has very little patience for this sort of thing, so I clicked off six quick exposures before and after the event. Despite the fact that neither the scene nor the settings changed, there were exposure variations between the frames—and, as luck would have it, in both cases the best shots were a little overexposed, which you can best see in the skin of his neck above the collar.
But I'm entirely unclear about what my next move is going to be. K-M is out of the camera business, of course, the most prominent casualty of the digital evolution. Sony's picked up the fallen battle-standard, but I've got to be honest with you—I'm just not convinced yet of Sony's commitment to the DSLR business. (Hearing Sony's chairman on the cool new TV show "CEO Exchange" was not encouraging either.) And, like "RC" above, I only have one lens, so it's not like I'm so committed to the lensmount that I can't wander off and attach myself to another marque.
I also have a lifelong tendency to favor the underdog. In terms of consumerism, this translates to a tendency to shun the leading brands. But would life be simpler if I just went with one of the "Big Two"? As you can see from the numbers in that Nikon-Overtakes-Canon post, Nikon and Canon dominate the DSLR market. Perhaps it's high time to stop complicating my life unnecessarily where cameras are concerned and buy a 30D or D200.
How far should I go toward finding a camera that I really enjoy using? Historically I've preferred small carry-around cameras that I can wear all the time—Contax 139Q, Leica M6, Olympus OM-4T. The gestalt doesn't really transfer to digital, since digital cameras are so dependent on frequent pit stops at the computer and the battery charger—you can't just hang the camera on a peg by the door and grab it every time you leave the house; you have to prepare to go shoot digital. Moreover, the two small cameras that appeal to me most on paper, the Nikon D40x and the Olympus E-510, are both severely crippled in terms of the lenses they'll accept. Either one with a small, moderate-wide prime lens would make a great complement to the bigger 7D and its zoom, but alas, there ain't no such lenses.
Pentax has the lenses, all right. Canikon has the best selection of the big, dedicated pro lenses—the kind I never use—but Pentax laps the field when it comes to flexibility with a whole assortment of various kinds and vintages of primes. (By the way, in case you're unfamiliar with the term, a "prime" lens is a single-focal-length lens, the opposite of a zoom.) So maybe a Pentax. But then again, Sony has Zeiss in its corner now, and there are some mouth-watering Zeiss lenses trickling out in the K-M, now Sony, bayonet mount.
I think you can definitely look at the digital camera dilemma the other way around, too. There just isn't really that much difference between digital SLR results, at least until you reach the rarefied strata of the giant professional überkameras and the ultraexpensive medium-format backs. No one's going to look at a nice 10x15" inkjet print and say, "Oh, obviously you used a Canon/Nikon/Pentax/Olympus/Sony," or "Oh, obviously your camera has six/eight/ten/twelve megapixels." It's even less of an issue online. The picture file is really only the rawest of raw material for the print—even if you don't shoot RAW! So in some respects, the choice of a DSLR doesn't even really have to be any sort of contest. Just pick one, and use it. They're all the same anyway.
Then there's the Siren Song of film that still rings in my ears. I love black-and-white, and the idea of finding some workable method of creating high-quality black-and-white prints with some of the ease-of-use of digital still dogs my thoughts. I did just get a scanner that supposedly handles film well (the Epson V700), and the HP B9180 produces nice B&W prints, so, often enough, my thoughts turn to antiquated film cameras with big negatives that I could scan...augh, shake it off, Johnston, shake it off.
Also a temptation, believe it or not, is to spring for one of the aforementioned überkameras. Nikon's D2xs replacement is imminent—I think we'll see it by the fall. It will probably have an 18- or 22 -MP, 1.1x sensor. That means a nice big viewfinder. If it has an add-on battery pack instead of one that's built-in (the latter has, admittedly, been Nikon's tendency since the F5), it might even be small enough without the battery pack that I wouldn't hate carrying it. I'd have to take out a bank loan, but maybe that would make me work harder to earn money with the thing.
I have to admit, I feel like a dork when I use big, fancy cameras. They don't suit the modest situations in which I most often shoot. They make me feel like an overdressed and overequipped skier on the bunny hill.
The big Sony, the one with the funky pyramidal prism—which I like—will probably use the same sensor as the new Nikon flagship, and from what I hear Sony will allow Nikon to have the sensor for itself for some agreed-upon period of time before bringing out its own version. So waiting for the biggest Sony is going to be a long slog. I've put that out of my mind. Tried to, that is.
Anyway, in the meantime, here I sit, generally not wanting to take the 7D out for exercise, telling myself that I'm waiting for the Sony 7D replacement. Am I really? Dunno. If I were really, truly committed to Sony and the old K-M lensmount, I'd probably be planning to buy that delicious Zeiss 16-80mm. But I don't think about that very much.
So what's it gonna be? Switch to Nikon or Canon? Go with Pentax and collect lenses? Buy a tiny Olympus and hope a small, moderate-wide 4/3rds prime comes out before I end up in a wheelchair? (It could be that long, too.) Stick with my current lensmount and wait for the suspiciously vaporous Sonys? Embark on the odyssey of having the 7D restored?
And people come to me for camera-buying advice!