I got a bit of amusement from Mike's #1 choice for "Most Desirable Camera on the Planet" a few weeks ago because only two days previously I had been thinking about that very same camera and...well....
I was out taking an afternoon walk on a lovely sunny Daly City day (we don't get many of those) with my Olympus Pen and my beloved 45mm ƒ/1.8 lens, our Lens of the Year for 2011. No agenda in mind, just walking and photographing for the idle joy of it. My mind, being free to wheel, was thinking about the review I'd just read in Pop Photo of the Sony NEX-7 and the test results I had just read at DxOMark. Not to put too fine a point on it, I found myself desirous.
And why not? Forty percent more resolution than my Olympus (very nice), three stops more exposure range (very, very nice), a good stop more low light sensitivity (very...you get the idea), and a substantially better rear screen and a good eye level viewfinder. All at no special penalty in size and weight.
What's not to like! Oh, okay, I lose in-body stabilization. The world is not a perfect place. But, damn, in every other way that NEX-7 sounds like a lovely upgrade from my Olympus.
Six months ago, I'd have jumped. The only especially noteworthy lens in my kit was the Panasonic 20mm ƒ/1.7 that Mike likes so much. The Sony ZA 24mm ƒ/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar-E lens would be an entirely satisfactory replacement for that. The other two lenses I owned then were nothing so special that I couldn't find comparably good ones for any camera system.
In between, though, I went on a modest buying spree and partnered up with the aforementioned 45mm. That is the lens I have a hard time imagining living without, more than the 20mm. I was torn: stick with the system I have and the lens I really like, or move to a system that is in almost every other respect substantially superior?
By the time this camera and lens become readily available, perhaps there will be other optical offerings that will resolve my dilemma. But what if there aren't?
As I've asserted in "The Lens is Not More Important Than the Camera," cameras matter as much as lenses. (No, we don't need to rehash that argument: please read the previous column and the comments there to see if you have something truly new to say on the subject. Otherwise, please consider it all said and read.) Now I was having to apply that thinking to myself, and I came to a realization: the title to this column.
If I may elaborate:
When someone asks me if they should buy a new computer, one question I ask them is what software will they have to replace on their new system. Rarely have they considered that switching operating systems definitely means acquiring a bunch of new software. Even a major system upgrade can break older programs.
Most applications have close cousins on every imaginable platform. Maybe not the same make and brand, but something else that will serve equally well. Maybe even better. There's a good chance they can get the same functionality on their new machine they did on their old—they just have to remember to budget for it.
But, what about that unique program, the one that won't run on the new machine and doesn't have a close equivalent? I've got more than a few of those that I don't want to give up. There's not always a satisfactory answer. Compelling reasons for moving to a new platform vs. loss of unique functionality.
Doesn't that sound awful lot like the kind of decisions and cost/benefit analyses one has to make around changing cameras? At least the money situation with cameras is somewhat easier. I don't have to worry about licenses, activation codes, and other nonsense with lenses. They'll fetch a decent price on the market; should I decide to sell my Micro 4/3 kit, I'll easily get enough money to pay for an NEX-7 with the 24mm lens.
Does this answer my question for me? Absolutely not. It does give me a more sophisticated and nuanced way of thinking about the problem than simply "which do I care more about, my lens or my camera?"
Given my schedule and the lack of availability of gear, I'm not likely to settle my Micro 4/3 vs. NEX-7 question for some months. Maybe by then there will be a really sweet 50–60mm NEX lens in the ƒ/2 range that will resolve my dilemma.
That would be so much better than having to make a hard decision. He whined.
Ctein, whose weekly column appears on Wednesdays, has been choosing, buying and using cameras for 48 years.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Benjamin Marks: "I am not really sure that there is a decision to be made. Yet.
"The choice you posit is a version of the generic problem faced by all of us who are susceptible to the latest-and-greatest photo-thing. You haven't really identified any shortcoming of the tool you have; you just like the published specs of a tool that may become available. Don't get me wrong, I use the NEX cameras and the Olympus Pens (E-P2 and NEX-5 for me). But, until I started using it, I didn't realize how much I hate the NEX-5's arm's length focusing and the software driven menus/adjustments. I went out and bought a contraption called a Hoodman that I strapped to the back of the NEX-5 with a big red rubber band. Focusing problem solved, but the Oly is such a much better thought-out device, from a photographer's point of view. My point is not that the NEX-7 won't be the bee's knees in some way, but that you are caught in a 'choice' between a well-thought-out camera that you own and...a published feature set. Until you get your hands on one (and your eye to the VF), you won't really know—can't really know—whether it works for you. By the way, the NEX-5 is a living, humming example of the fact that cameras matter. Sheesh, exposure compensation can't be accomplished on the fly with the camera at your eye. The 'feel in the hand' of this tool practically killed the concept for me."
Featured Comment by David Jacobs: "Sorry to say, but...
Featured Comment by Peter: "I am also lusting after a nice 60mm lens for that system. I'm mildly annoyed that they have a 50/1.8 planned, but nothing on the horizon for an 85/90 equivalent. Seventy-five millimeter equivalent is most definitely not the same as 90mm-e, although I could live with 85mm-e. Basically, I just want a digital CLE kit. The search goes on."