I think that as time goes by, I'm getting to be less a camera reviewer and more of a typical camera user.
When you're a typical camera user ("TCU," just so I don't have to type it out each time), you have all sorts of luxuries that a reviewer doesn't have. The one I have long envied the most is this: the TCU only has to master one camera. One and done. What a luxury!
Back when I wrote reviews for magazines as part of making a living, my self-imposed standard was pretty steep: I forced myself to use the camera under review for "real" work—the stuff I was doing for myself, and as art—for a full three months. I reasoned that that was the only way I was really going to give every camera I reviewed a truly fair shake.
I don't do that any more. And the practice had one big obvious disadvantage: it tended to fracture and fragment my work into "this camera, that camera" categories. Even now, I look back on old pictures and the first thing I remember is the camera I shot it with. When you're young and gung-ho, reviewing is a formalized species of fun. Now I'm getting to be a graybeard, and the ins and outs of digital devices don't delight me. It's merely a chore to learn a new interface and get up to speed on all the features of cameras that have way too many features.
Another luxury of the TCU is dismissiveness. And it's a luxury, make no mistake. If you invest in a Leica and get all into the lore and the history and the technical minutiae of Leicas—a hobby in and of itself—you can dismiss all other cameras entirely if you want to. Many TCUs do this, not just Leicaphiles.
A reviewer, on the other hand, has to remember that the audience consists of Canon people and Leica people and Nikon people—and Samsung and Ricoh users and film users and so on. Every camera and every brand has its owners who are on board with it, its fans who are involved with it, its aficionados who care about it. It's difficult to dismiss any brand or camera type without offending somebody, somewhere.
There are a couple of brands I actively dislike—twice burned, and all that—but I know people who love each of them. And who do good work with them. So even if, as a reviewer, I'm going to quietly ignore an odd brand or two I don't happen to like, I still have to tread carefully and be respectful about it. Not so the TCU, who can diss everything he doesn't use with a wave of the hand if he wants to.
Finally, a TCU gets to stop shopping. Another wonderful luxury. You shop a while, make your decision, buy something, and then that's it for three years, or five, or whatever. It's like the way most people buy a car: the average duration of the shopping period is eight months to a year, but once you've got the shiny car you chose in your driveway or garage, you don't keep taking test drives. A reviewer's job, by contrast, never reaches a natural end-point.
All about the glass
So here's why I'm feeling more like a TCU than a reviewer when it comes to the EOS-M: the center of the equipment side of the hobby of photography for me is lenses. I love lenses.
And, like many others, I'm very pleased and approving of Canon's decision to build a 22mm ƒ/2 lens to provide as the basic lens for its mirrorless system. I've lamented the dearth of 35mm-equivalent medium-speed lenses literally for years, and I think this was a splendid decision on Canon's part. It gives the whole system a basic lens of the perfect spec. Really, if I had to—the old desert island paradigm—I could get along OK with this lens alone. (I really need a short tele too, but I could wait. It'll be along.)
The 22mm increases my admiration of Canon, which has provided some exciting new options lately for prime lens fans: the IS WAs and especially the 40mm pancake for full frame. Big pat on the back to Canon.
But—and it's a big "but"—it's this same love of lenses that makes me feel like a TCU who's done with his shopping and is ready to dismiss the also-rans: all things considered, I have to say that Micro 4/3 has scratched the itch of my lens enthusiasm in a very satisfying way. I count 32 lenses currently available for Micro 4/3, from no fewer than four different manufacturers (Olympus, Panasonic/Leica, Sigma, and Voigtländer/Cosina). This includes some really tasty optics, including a generous selection of primes as well as some legitimately exotic optics: I have in the house at the moment both the manual-focus Voigtländer 25mm ƒ/0.95 and the Leica 25mm ƒ/1.4 DG Summilux. There are budget options and deluxe options, primes and zooms, a macro, a variety of focal lengths—just lots to play with.
Like others, I'm not excited by the EOS-M body. It's neither beautiful like the Fujis, nor retro like the Olympus OM-D, nor sleek like the Pens, nor stoutly no-nonsense like the GX1. It doesn't have an eye-level viewfinder option or IBIS or an articulated viewing screen. It recreates NEX's disadvantage in having a somewhat overly large sensor that will necessitate somewhat awkwardly large lenses (the lovely 22mm is excused from this charge of course). If I had to depart from the 4/3 sensor size, I'd rather go down to a 1" sensor than up to APS-C for my compact camera.
But I can't hold an inaugural body offering against Canon—if the system proves viable at all, there will be more bodies to come.
No, what I can't imagine is simply being without the Micro 4/3 lensmount. It would amount to intolerable deprivation. I just enjoy the lenses of that system too much.
Imagine a set of balance scales. Now place the EOS-M's two lenses on one side and the Micro 4/3 consortium's 32 lenses on the other side. Canon might catch up eventually, but for now it's as unbalanced as that.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "U.S. Camera magazine cover, May, 1962. And the beat goes on...."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "Mike J. said: 'But I can't hold an inaugural body offering against Canon—if the system proves viable at all, there will be more bodies to come.' Yeah, but...the general tenor of the complaints is that this isn't a viable body. You've really made it hard to work toward a viable system if you start with a really crippled body. It makes no sense. It starts the whole project off on the wrong foot.
"I think everybody agrees that the 22mm lens could be quite good (though there seems to be markedly less enthusiasm about the zoom.) But what is it that really attracts people to the 22mm? It's not that it's especially fast, or that it has brilliant construction (though it may.) It's that Canon showed a spark of creativity in making it—exactly what they didn't show with the body. You could not think of a more mundane, run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf-with-spare-parts body than this one. That does not give me a lot of confidence that the next camera will be a lot better...which means that I wouldn't buy this one. IMHO, you'd really have to be a Cool-Aid sipping Canon fanboy to go for this. Aside from the 22mm, it's got nothin.' (All right, I went too far with the last two lines, but they have a certain resonance, so I'm leaving them.)"
Ken Tanaka Adds: "One more thought here, Mike. You might consider yourself a 'TCU' but I doubt that Canon, Nikon, Sony, et.al. agree. In fact I doubt that any of these companies consider any guys in the over-50 (or perhaps even over 40) check-box group to be TCUs. In fact, I suspect that they consider us already dead. Rather, their 'TCU' is a male in his mid-20s to early 30s entering the acquisitive stage of life. He has 30+ years of brand loyalty ahead of him. Perhaps he travels frequently (+++) or he's newly married and expecting his first child (++++++++).
"Us old guys who can't see the damn high-res LCD screens, who keep insisting on looking through holes in cameras, who seem to spend more time crabbing than snapping and, most importantly, who don't represent any company's future...we're in the peripheral field and fading fast. Sorry for the downer, but that's probably the way it is and probably the way it's been for a long time."
Mike replies: Far be it from me to argue with a friend in public, but I don't quite agree, Ken. That might be the conventional superficial view within marketing departments generally, but in photography the "old guys" (hobbyists/enthusiasts/pros) are a big part of the tail who help wag the dog. Who first asserted that digital could equal film in quality? Who first brought attention to the need for good high ISOs in digital? Who raised a fuss about things like noise in the shadows, and file write speed, and shutter lag, and inkjet print permanence? Who raised public awareness about digicam sensor sizes, and also eventually drove Nikon, for example, into full frame when it had already decided to stick with APS-C? Who were agitating for something like mirrorless years before it got here? Who are driving the push toward better sensor DR right now?
Furthermore, let me just ask you, what's the total value of all the cameras you own? I would be loathe to tote up that number for my own self, but I know I more than offset a heck of a lot of TCUs who own a single cheap digicam.
Granted, I'm prejudiced here, and I myself do have a bit more influence than the average hobbyist. And I'm not saying hobbyists/enthusiasts/pros are all-important or anything like that. But we have our place, and our influence, and the companies respect that, I think. Just because they also go after other promising categories of consumers doesn't mean they have contempt for us.
Featured Comment by Edwin: "My two cents opinion: I am a Sony Alpha user with quite a number of lenses—primes and zooms and reflex covering most sane focal lengths. I jumped on the NEX-5 because there was an adapter to use all Alpha lenses—what a miracle!! You had the best of both worlds! I had the 16mm prime lens kit, and I had mounted the Alpha lenses on the NEX-5. But then realized that the adapter was simply a joke. I have never taken a serious picture with any normal Alpha lens mounted to the NEX-5 via the adapter; it just doesn't make sense at all. First, I lost the IBIS; that rules out any handheld use of any lens longer than 80mm, not to mention the peculiar difficult way of holding a camera without an EVF. Even with the NEX-7, with the more stable way of handholding the camera at eye level and all the focus assistance, it is still very awkward to use any Alpha lens with the adapter. Right now, my NEX system is working as a separate system, with its own stabilized lenses. I could have jumped into any other mirrorless system and started with all the lens collection—it really didn't make any difference.
"On the other hand, I once seriously considered getting the Panasonic GH2, its size and weight the foremost considerations. I took an A55 instead. The frontal dimensions are almost exactly the same, the only difference being the depth, because of the flange distance. Now, that's a sensible way of using all the Alpha glass while enjoying the benefits of mirrorless. The A55 is really a mirrorless using regular DSLR lenses. My advice to any Canon user thinking of using the Canon M with all the big DSLR lenses: just don't."
Featured Comment by Eamon Hickey: "I think the main problem with the EOS-M body is that it's expensive for what it offers. The same camera for $200/$300 less looks perfectly viable to me. (Many others have made this same point.)
"This is pretty common. Micro 4/3 has seen some pretty uninspired bodies (Olympus E-PL1/PL2 and Panasonic GF2/GF3) that were intro'd at relatively high prices then rapidly discounted. They do fine when the price gets low enough.
"This segment (CSC's or MILC's or whatever you want to call them) is a relatively new category, and each manufacturer, in paint-by-numbers fashion, is applying classic Harvard Business School (or maybe Apple Wannabe) theory to pricing them—they are trying to extract very high profit margins from early adopters. (Samsung's pricing on its NX products appears to be an exception to this, but, ironically, the NX lineup is selling like, well, whatever the opposite of hotcakes is. Cold broccoli?)
"And Canon has plenty of time to round their game into shape (the first step will be substantial price cuts on the EOS-M sometime next year). They stumbled like drunken sailors into digital, trailing Sony and Olympus by four years and Nikon by two, but when they sobered up and got serious it was lights out. I don't think one kinda ho-hum, initially overpriced entry-level CSC is going to hurt them much in the long run."