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Monday, 20 April 2009


Didn't you leave a gap in you recommendations here?

You jumped from entry-level DSLR to full format (A900/D3X/5D2) - what about all the stuff in between?

Ah, how can anyone say the pentaprism housing looks ugly? It's a classic design; very 1950s.

I remember Minolta's attempt at technological advances. There was the sounds-good-on-paper but not-so-useful-after-all Eye Start AF. The funniest one were the special "program" cards you could insert into the camera. Up till now I never did any research on what they actually were. Maybe I should go off and find out now...

What wasn't so funny, were when Minolta managed to get the mix of technology and old-school usability right. I remember looking at the Dynax 7 and going "Wow!" with just about every feature I discovered. From the huge LCD display that could show where your exposure was at over its 13 honeycomb segments and DOF distances, to simple things like having exposure compensation over a nice huge honkin' dial. Buttons, dials all over in mostly the right places.

Alas that they got bought over by Sony. As the company behind the CD rootkit affair, as well as pushing way too much proprietary (and overpriced) crap to the market, I'm personally boycotting as many Sony products as I can. That means no Sony cameras for me!

This is my first post to T.O.P from my
BlackBerry, so forgive me if I screw it up.

Yes, the urge to respond to #5 is so strong
that I'm actually attempting to do it while
travelling at close to 300 kph on the
Shinkansen (the Bullet train).

Anyway ... the Sony is #5?!
This is a real surprise, and it makes the
remainder of the list that much more
tantalizing! I fully expected the Sony to
be #1 or #2.

Now I'm really confused.

*Great* camera though. This one really
deserves to be here, even though it's not in
precisely the expected position.

You mischievous devil, you!

Great fun.

Hi Mike
I use 2 A900s professionally and I think they are under rated, by the way the A900 is approximately $300 cheaper in the UK


Mike, I'm thoroughly enjoying this countdown!
How about doing the same sort of thing for lenses someday?

I suppose after you work out where the controls are you could put it in a paper bag with a hole for the lens.

...halfway down (or up) the list and still the only one I'd part with my diminishing dollars for is the Zeiss.
Actually, I very much want to.

I find it interesting that, in my mind anyway, if the Sony was given as much credit by a photography/art/industry/blogging, I would dismiss the notion as "I'm gonna endorse anything but Nikon or Canon just cuz and I run this sweet blog and everybody hangs on my words" but in this context I find myself thinking "I really ought to go find one of those and hold it and fire off a few frames just to see what the hype is about".
That's what I need, really.
...yet ONE MORE brand of fast primes to lust after.

"That part of the old Minolta heritage might have been transferred to Sony a little too much intact."

The curse of the reverse hot shoe strikes again!

"Ah, how can anyone say the pentaprism housing looks ugly? It's a classic design; very 1950s."

The aluminum Christmas tree was introduced in the 50's. I don't think "very 1950's" argues your point very well !

"At their best, they can be quite beautiful as objects."

Now yer talking! If reaching into the past Minolta offerings the XE-7 I think would most closely epitomize the functional yet beautiful criterion. Going to the other extreme the Contarex bullseye would define butt-ugly even though built with typical German precision.

I have to admit, this countdown is waking the gearhead in me… My 5d is nice and all, but it’s big-ish and has no tactile quality, as you put it, to speak of. Not like my old Pentax ME super or the Epson R-D1 rangefinder I used to own.
You make me feel like buying a new tactile joybringer!
How will that DP2 turn out? And the Olympus micro 4/3? A 20mm 1.7 lens to go with it? What’s that rumour of a new all metal ‘limited’ Pentax about? The Olympus E420 is really cheap isn’t it, and I could go out and get it tonight! Wish I could afford an M8 with 28mm lens. Could the small sensor in the D-Lux4 be good enough for indoor shooting? Or the one in the G10? When will Zeiss get around to releasing the ZE 35/2?
None of these questions are mend to be answered Mike, just daydreaming a bit, best get back to work now.

Caution-Curmudgeonly comment follows:
Form may follow function as a rule of thumb but that old canard is more often rolled out as an excuse for bad design. (I'm not saying that this applies necessarily to the A900). Also there's nothing wrong with relishing form for it's own sake.

Mike: "*Disclosure: I don't own any of the cameras on this list. This should be obvious, so please pardon me for mentioning it, but, unlike some camera forum denizens, I don't write about cameras merely from a perspective of trying to justify or defend my own purchase choices."


But, now at the mid-point of your list, I feel compelled to ask on what basis you are constructing this list of recommendations. You admit to not owning any of these cameras, but have you used them all long enough to get a first-hand perspective on their relative merits and performance? Are you basing your opinions on Internet chatter and press releases? Of course since this is just your personal blog you have no mandate to anchor such preference lists on anything meaningful whatsoever. But, given that many people seem to be reading this list and some might take it seriously enough to use as a purchasing basis you might consider making such a disclosure.

Forgive me if I missed such an explanation earlier, as I've not followed this closely.

I agree with you. This is a camera I've owned for 3 months now, and can tell you it feels terrific in the the hand. A tool you can trust, and very likely a future classic.

As for megapixels, the question is not so much how many this camera has, but rather : does it have enough ? The answer is "yes". If you need more resolution, go large format, get a life !

One last nice bit about this product : the raw conversion software provided with the camera makes the best use ofn your multicore mac (see http://macperformanceguide.com/Optimizing-Grades.html), and comes for free ! Think about the $200 Nikon capture which performs poorly...

P.S. : I forgot to mention I use this camera a lot with manual focus lenses (m42), and it is perfectly usable without changing the focusing screen. This is the best digital camera ever for such usage. Older lenses shine on this body.

It varies. In this case I had the camera for only 8 days, but was able to do a lot of shooting with it in that time. In other cases (such as the Panasonic G1) I might have the camera for much longer but actually use it less.


The pentaprism rocks, it's the rest of the camera that's hard to look at- I guess that kinda changes once you look at those files though...

Chris -- the numbering of these recommendations in sequence has to be somewhat misleading; for some people, the A900 and all the rest of the full-frame cameras are simply not in play, for example (for financial reasons mostly). Each choice so far is for a particular niche, and looking at the overall set as a "sequence" doesn't really work for me.

Still, can't do "10 recommended cameras" without giving out numbers as you go along, or people will lose track of their place.

Speaking totally objectively, the Sony and its Minolta kin *are* ugly. I suppose you can get fond of them, but when I was first looking at an advanced camera a long time ago, a Minolta was an option, because of its functionality. I confess that I eliminated it from consideration on the basis of ugliness. Or, that's the way I remember it, anyway. And I remember paging through camera magazines, and every time a new Minolta model popped up, I'd think, "Still ugly." A news photographer friend who shot Minoltas tried to tell me that they were like Porsches -- sorta ugly, but really neat. No.

As to handling, and ergonomics, I would argue that Nikon is and always has been the leader here, but would admit that it probably has more to do with what you're used to, than anything else. When I picked up my D3, the first time, and got a battery into it, I didn't even have to look at it to use it. It was a Nikon. Nikon's problem now is that their cameras have become bloated. Still handle well, but they're too fat and heavy.

Won't be replaced with a Sony though, because they're still ugly.


... but what about lenses?
I have the feeling - but may be wrong - that Sony hardly has any, and those few are ridiculously priced. Or is this strictly for the "I-bought-a-24/1.2-Buliyakov-Kontotron-off-Ebay-supercheap-now-I'm waiting-for-the-adapter-that-is-being-shipped-from-this-guy-I-heard-of-in-the-Outer-Hebrides" crowd?

Generally it would be nice, if with (D)SLR you'd add a word or two about the lenses with which you formed your ranked opinion.

(Caveat:Don't go searching the bay for a Buliyakov Kontotron, I made that up)

Just for reference, the A900 in the UK at a respected internet reseller (indicative of typical "street" prices) is £1659.00 compared to the £2084 for the 5DII and £1748.99 for the D700.

I think part of the appeal of the A900 package are the Zeiss AF lenses available like the 24-70mm/2.8, 85mm/1.4 and 135mm/1.8 (this last one really appeals to me). Actually, this is something which is holding me back from upgrading from the A700 as I wouldn't be able to help myself with just getting the A900 but would have to get the Zeiss glass to go with it as well (leaving my home open in danger of repossession) :-) Now if Sony/Zeiss came out with worthy replacements for Minolta classics like the 100mm/2, 35mm/2 and 28mm/2, I'd definitely be going bankrupt...

This is indeed a surprise , I was expecting the 900 to show up to this party fashionably late. As for "ugly", the shape is a lot prettier than anything from Canon, it sort of reminds me of my plain prism Nikon F2. That typography on the other hand really cries out for some black gaffers tape. The type makes it look like a walkman.

Every time I ever had enough cash to trade in my 1Ds for a 900 , B&H was out of stock on any of the lenses I would want to get.

It sure feels nice in the hands though.

Hi Mike
Just an added thought to my earlier reply.
Today your colleague at Luminous Landscape posted an article on the up coming Leica S2.
$25,000 for body and $5-10,000 for lenses A BARGAIN in these crisis times, I will be sticking with my A900s.

Your infectious enthusiasm for this camera is causing me grief already! - I'm hoping to buy a second hand one at some point in the future but then comes the problem of funding lenses to do it justice. A Minolta 35mm f2.0 that I was watching on eBay UK this weekend climbed past my optimistic snipe to £308 ($447).
Oh well, the best usually does cost more....

Cheers, Robin

Agree with Stan. Great hair doesn't make a chick hot.

Even though I'm a film guy, I love following these threads 'cause someday I'm going to buy something digital. My reluctance to consider any thing Sony is the same one I would have had considering anything Minolta and that is the available lenses. I could see myself attaching my 135 Canon f2 to a 5DMK2 body and imagining I'd have a great, sharp file to work with, but the Sony seems very limited. The 85 f1.4 used to have a good reputation and there are a couple of new Zeiss zooms. But unless a system offers enough of what someone might need, e.g., tilt-shift lenses or fast primes, it's always going to be a prosumer also ran.

The incremental system cost of choosing Sony is an issue, in my case. The difference between starting from scratch and using lenses and accessories already on hand is not trivial. It's much easier to replace a body than to replace a system, especially if a body technology is evolving rapidly. How much better is the A900 than the next cycle of C and N offerings?

I'd be curious to know how many photographers who complain about the lenses in the Minolta/Sony system, actually own the Canon/Nikon equivalents to those lenses that they point out as holes in the Minolta/Sony system.

Show of hands?


There are a ton of fast primes available for the Alphas. Here are just a few off the top of my head. . .

Current Lenses:

Sigma 20, 24, 28 1.8
Sony 35/1.4
Sony 50/1.4
Sony Carl Zeiss 85/1.4
Sony Carl Zeiss 135/1.8
Sony 300/2.8

Used Market:

Minolta 20/2.8
Minolta 28/2.0
Minolta 35/1.4
Minolta 50/1.7
Minolta 50/1.4
Minolta 85/1.4
Minolta 100/2
Minolta 200/2.8
Minolta 300/2.8
Minolta 500/4.5
Minolta 600/4

I have been enjoying your list (as I always have). Somehow I figured you'd place the A900 on it, but I also suspect the Nikon D700 will show up, too. I bought the D700 as my first dSLR largely based on your preview of it and the print you made and sold to me, and I'm loving it.

Or, for a third of the price, you can buy the camera the British Journal of Photography preferred, the Pentax K20D. Then spend the rest on K-mount lenses, of which there are all too many about. That's not being partisan; that's just common sense. ;-)

Mike, I'm really surprised the A900 isn't further up your list since it seems to be the digital camera you would most likely buy for yourself. Does that mean you omitted the Nikon D700 altogether, which would seem to be a serious omission, or have you finally come to your senses? ;) I can't imagine you'd use another slot for the Canon 5Dmk2 since the A900 fills the same niche. I have no idea where your list is headed next which makes it all the more intriquing.

Some thoughts about all this.
At first, I was so stoked about both this camera and the Pentax 645d [whenever it may come, that is], I could not believe myself holding my debit card and making some heavy arithmetic in order to buy something I´m not able to even remotely afford.

Then I got to think about all this stuff, the size, and the system.

Why are we trying to kill ourselves?
Why are we trying to hamper the smaller format development?
Why are we still thinking that bigger is better, and you see people and photo journalists or reporters lumbering around with cameras and systems which are actually BIGGER than the ones used on the mid forties?

As far as I´m concerned, we should pay the same tax we pay every year to Adobe to Olympus, so they can make smaller but better cameras [actually, the E3 trounces the old D2h in High ISO quality with no so much time gap between them].

By the way, Hendrik, Buliyakov Kontotron is a well known and totally respected kryptonite seller on ebay. He and his brother Sandojlev Kontotron were the sourceres behind the mythical Takumar 50 1.4 and FA 31.

So does Trikypedia say.

[geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez, that was nerdy, wasn´t it?]

Someone asked about lenses, a full list of alpha mount lenses can be found at http://www.mhohner.de/sony-minolta/lenses.php?ov=1

Lenses that I'd consider for the A900 include

16-35mm/2.8 SSM *
24-70mm/2.8 SSM

16mm Fisheye
35mm/1.4 G
50mm/2.8 Macro
100mm/2.8 Macro
135mm/2.8 [T4.5] STF (bokeh!)
70-200mm/2.8 G SSM
70-300mm/4.5-5.6 G SSM
70-400mm/4.5-5.6 G SSM (TIPA award 2009)
300mm/2.8 G
500mm/8 Reflex (unique AF mirror lens)
The upcoming Super-telephoto (500mm/4?)

Minolta (some more available than others, YMMV):
3x-1x/1.7-2.8 Macro
17-35mm/3.5 G
28mm/2 **
35mm/2 **
100mm/2 **
100mm/2.8 Soft Focus
200mm/4 Macro G
200mm/2.8 G
300mm/4 G
400mm/4.5 G
600mm/4 G

Of course there are some good lenses from Sigma and Tamron e.g. the Sigma 50mm/1.4 reportedly is quite good. If you need tilt-shift, then Arca Swiss makes just the thing http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEWS/1240256005.html, that's if you're really serious about your tilts, shifts and swings :-).

Personally, if I had to start again with an A900, I'd go for the 16-35mm/2.8 (great at 16mm, not so great at 35mm), 24-70mm/2.8, 135mm/1.8 (I'm especially tempted by this one), 100mm/2.8 Macro, 70-200mm/2.8, and maybe the 50mm/1.4 (I hope a Zeiss update is in the works, not that the current one is bad but the latest Nikon and Sigma designs show what can be done now with such a classic focal length/aperture). These six lenses would do me for practically all my photographic needs. If I still had some kidneys to sell, I'd add the 135mm STF, 16mm Fisheye, and 70-400mm. Additionally, all of these lenses would be stabilised on the A900***.

* You can see the superb corner performance at 16mm here http://artaphot.ch/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=161&Itemid=43

** These f/2 lenses were real gems of the the Minolta range. The 100mm/2 is a marvel of compact design yet is remarkably sharp wide open http://artaphot.ch/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=35&Itemid=59 (look at the corner performance at f/2!), it's one of those lenses you'd have to "pry from my cold, dead hands". I heard that they can't be resurrected due to ROHS (restriction of hazardous substances) rules preventing some of the glasses used in their designs.

*** It's funny looking back on the chorus of cries declaring anti-shake on "full frame" impossible. Argue all you like about how in-lens stabilisation is supposedly better, then show me a 35mm/1.4 or 50mm/1.4 with IS :-)


I was intrigued by your mention of the 24mm f/1.2 Buliyakov-Kontotron, but the only ones I could find on eBay were far from "supercheap"*. I don't know what they cost new, but the prices for the used ones I saw were practically stratospheric, let alone the cost of the adapters (I didn't bother checking what those cost. If I can't afford the lens, I can't afford the lens AND the adapters). I can only assume that your comment here sparked interest in these lenses, such that their used prices are now grossly overinflated.

I always seem to be one of the last ones to hear about these deals and wind up missing out...


*Unless, of course, you're independently wealthy. I'm not. Are you?

John Camp, there's no such thing as speaking totally objectively when it comes to aesthetics, which is a subjective issue. And in my highly subjective opinion, the A900 prism is ugly from the outside, but as Mike says, it's meant to be looked through, not at, and from what I gather, looking through it, it's a beauty.

If I had the money, the A900 with the CZ 24-70 would be my choice. Unfortunately, finances puts me several tiers below it. (Oh well, I can always get better-than-most-DSLRs quality if I buy a medium format film system and learn how to use it properly.)

Oh, wait.

You were joking.

Sheesh, I sure wish I had read your postscript before I spent hours researching that lens!

There's just one thing I don't get: if you made it up, then what's the deal with all those lenses for sale on eBay?



I can't believe Iñaki beat me to it...

I don't want to come across as anti Sony. For 35 years, my primary camera was a Leicaflex SL and I considered the camera's best feature the bright, microprism viewfinder. For the sensor size, relative to body size, the Sony might be the best full frame camera available. If I wanted a digital camera, I could get very comfortable with a A900.

In terms of your point about how many people actually own the more esoteric focal lengths, I'm not the one to ask (my excesses are in terms too many formats, not lenses) all my lenses are in the 35mm to 180mm equivalent range. I'd use a view camera for tilt shift capability or landscape in general.

My point is that for someone considering a system investment, the list of new Sony lenses is very short, Taking Canon's or Nikon's offerings as an example, I can see a comprehensive list of offerings, whatever your tastes in photography. If I thought that someday I might want a 24mm T/S lens I could by a Canon or a Nikon today and be comfortable that there is a growth path.

I think a lot of people would be hesitant to buy into this system for this reason.

Take care,

Funny that more people are concerned with Sony's lack of lenses than anything. The one that gets me the most is "...or fast primes". The thing most people IN the system want is more slower primes (35/2, 85/2, 100/2, 300/4). The fast primes are what people either have and love, or can't afford... Go figure.

a900 is definitely a beautiful piece of engineering - beautiful in many ways. Too bad mine spends way more time on the road than it does at home.

Strangely, I find myself looking at this camera more than any other I've owned. I think it's beautiful in person.

Mike, do yourself a favour already and buy one, willya?!?

Dear folks,

I don't understand this "how many lenses the system has" business.

If I can get the lenses I want to have for the camera, I don't care how many others they make.

If I can't get the ones I want, I don't care how many they make, period. And I never, ever assume that they'll make the one I want in the future, whether said system currently has 10 lenses or 1000. That's a fool's game.

I'm not at all the kind of person to say "I don't see why anyone would care about X" based on my own disinterest in X, as I hope most people realize. But this one truly has me stumped. Why would more than a miniscule fraction of the potential market care about this?

pax / puzzled Ctein

Nice to see someone appreciate publicly good old Minolta. They were not only leading technologists for a long time, they cared about customers [until the late 1980s], good design and quality.

The SRT-series came with something similar to matrix metering and the best coupled manual mode I ever encountered. The XM/XK was a really interesting system with a semi-automated switch-on. The XD-7/XD-11 was small, beautiful, officially came with both A and S but could be used in a full Program mode with manual override. The XE was the basis of the Leica R3, thus for many a Leica R to follow. The X-700 was marketed as a system, not just a camera [beside being a brilliant piece of equipment]. Minolta brought usable AF to the mass market with the 9000 [the original development model though released a bit after the 7000].

And then there's the Leica-Minolta CL and the much, much better Minolta CLE, rangefinder cameras with Leica M-mount. Smaller, better equipped, cheaper than the Leica M.

Unfortunately Minolta lost it in the late 1980s, technologically they looked a lot like runners-up, design became a marketing point more than an engineering feat, customer care was too expensive ... the annual Minolta Mirror, the photo clubs, workshops and so on and so on ... lost.

It is really interesting to read up on Minolta camera history, going back to the 1920s.

PS: I am not a Minolta user anymore [except for the Dimage Scan Elite 5400], I switched to Nikon after Minolta decided to change their mount again for the Dynax-series. My first SLR, BTW, was a Zenit E, the Moscow Olympia edition.

I played with a 5DmkII, a D700 and an A900 at the store for an afternoon, and it felt like of the three, the Canon was the smallest and lightest. To me, that was not the only consideration, but it does matter. I also don't see the beauty of any of these cameras, so that didn't influence my decision. Basically it came down to my familiarity with Canon products and online reviews. I do a lot of wide-angle night shots, and the 5D fits the bill for me more than the others.

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