For a TOP poll record turnout, the 93 per cent response rate (650 out of 703 comments) generated by the "Your Favorite Digital Camera" post on March 13th is also a record. The remaining 53 comments that were not tallied were from TOP readers who either had no favorite camera, or were ambivalent or ambiguous about their (multiple) choices. (There were also rare instances of "re-votes" of which only the first vote was tallied if the commenter didn't indicate that he was revising his vote. It was not my brief to filter the tally rigorously. This was an informal, fun and inclusive poll after all. But we had to stick to the "one-person, one vote" rule.)
Although the poll asked readers to submit their (single) favorite digital camera, film photographers were not excluded from the conversation. All 65 film shooters who participated submitted only their all-time favorite film camera and mentioned no other. On the other hand, a majority of the poll "respondents" who mainly shoot digital also mentioned their favorite film camera. Where a reader mentioned both a favorite digital and favorite film camera, only the digital camera was tallied.
The total number of camera models (including variants) that were voted in by 650 poll participants is 209, of which 156 are digital (including four iPhone variants) and 53 film. There were 120 unique camera models (78 digital and 42 film cameras) that got one mention each by an equal number of poll participants.
Here is the Master Tally, consisting of several spreadsheets. It's the source of all the basic data I used in the charts and tables below. What is being measured in the value axis (vertical or y-axis), or the data series labels of the charts, is the frequency (count) of votes or mentions. When percentage values are used, the base is the "sample" size (N) indicated in the chart.
Figure 1: TOP Readers' Favorite Digital Camera Models, Top Ten ("Top 13")
The "Top 10" list was revised for internal consistency, mindful of the pushback by thoughtful TOP readers and Ctein's admonition. The previous list [i.e., Sarge's initial report, published back on March 25th —Ed.] included model variants that were lumped together, i.e.: D3/, D800/E, Leica M (which included two M-P's). "M" retained its hold on sixth place but E-M1 caught up with it. D800 remains in the Top Ten but fell by three ranks. (Six D800E's were lumped together with D800 in the earlier version.) The D3/, consisting of three variants, was eased out of the Top Ten with the Pentax K-5 taking its place. Although not commanding, the D700's lead is unassailable. There was no movement among the top five place ranks.
Tied for 11th place with eight votes apiece are: Sigma DP2 Merrill, Ricoh GR, Panasonic GX7 and Leica M8. Note that these models are all mirrorless. In 12th place with seven votes each are five DSLR classics, namely: Nikon D300, Olympus E-1, Konica-Minolta 7D, Pentax K20D, and Sony R1. Also placing 12th is the just released X-T1 and the legacy rangefinder Epson RD1.
There's an equal number of DSLR and Mirrorless models (six each) in the Top Ten place ranks. (Thirteen camera models vie for the Top Ten place ranks because of tied scores at 6th, 8th and 9th places). Mirrorless (108) leads DSLR (92) in the Top Ten tally. The lead widens then narrows as the count goes down the ranks. By the time all the votes are tallied (N=585), DSLR takes the lead with 267 votes (46%) to Mirrorless' 204 (34%). (See Fig. 3 and Table 1 below). The explanation for this is that Mirrorless is a latecomer competing with DSLRs only relatively lately. But the competition is getting stiffer the later it gets.
Figure 1/B: TOP Readers' Favorite Digital Cameras, Top Twelve ("Top 24")
In Figure 1/B above, 11 more digital cameras join the "Top 13" listed in Figure 1. The vertical axis of Fig. 1/B measures the vote count garnered by the models ("bubbles") comprising the "Top 24." The horizontal axis indicates the year the cameras were released (announced). The size of the bubbles represents sensor size (not drawn to scale). There are four models with Four Thirds sensors (E-1, E-M5, E-M1, and GX7); 13 with APS-C; the M8 with an APS-H; and six with Full Frame. The bubbles are also color-coded by brand.
The combined vote count of the "Top 24" is 295 which accounts for already one-half of the total for digital (N=585). The 10 Mirrorless cameras in the "Top 24" outvoted the 11 DSLR models, 139 to 127. More than half of the bubbles are clustered in later years (2010 and onward) indicating a preference for late models. (See also Figure 7, below.) This makes the top-ranked D700, which will be six years old come July, an outlier indeed.
Figure 2: TOP Readers' Favorite Cameras (Digital and Film) by Brand Share
The main difference between the revised brand-share chart and its earlier version is that the Ricoh-Pentax wedge of the pie has been split. Like the Top Ten chart, the Brand Share chart was revised for the sake of internal consistency. Also, the Pentax and Ricoh cameras voted in as favorites were already made (or were in development) before the two merged. Any difference in the count of cameras by brand in the updated Figure 3 is nominal, leaving the percentage shares of the brands unaltered.
Ten per cent (65) of the total sample (N=650) are film cameras. Nikon, Leica, Fuji, and Pentax cameras did just as well in the Film category. There are 20 film and digital camera brands in all, including defunct ones (Kodak, Konica, Minolta, Contax), "latecomers" (Samsung, Sigma, Shen Hao, Apple), and "niche" brands (Cosina, Hasselblad, Linhof).
DSLRs lead all other body types among the TOP readers' favorite digital cameras with a share of 46% of the total. Mirrorless follows next with 34% (M-IL + M-FL) . Taking into account the total sample (N=585), the gap between Digital and Mirrorless is not as close as that in the Top Ten (Fig. 1) tally where Mirrorless leads. But then again, Mirrorless didn't even exist as a digital camera category before 2008*. The 267 DSLR mentions include three Medium Format DSLRs (two Leica S2s and a Pentax 654D). The DSLRs in the sample all have interchangeable lens mounts (except for the early Sony fixed-lens R1 and F-xxx series and a few other early models).
Mirrorless are of two types: interchangeable lens (M-IL) and fixed lens (M-FL). The rule-of-thumb I used to differentiate Mirrorless from Compact was sensor size. For the purposes of this tally, Mirrorless cameras are those with Four Thirds sensors or larger. In Figure 3, Fuji's X 100 and X100s account for 43 of the 67 M-FLs counted. The Compacts are likewise classified into fixed and interchangeable lens types. There are only two CILC system camera series in the market: Nikon 1 and Pentax Q. Eight of them were voted in (7 N1s and a Pentax Q).
Digital rangefinders (DRF) and Mobile cameras (iPhones) round out the classification.
Table 1. TOP Readers' Favorite Digital Camera by Type and Brand, N=585
Table 1, upon which Figure 3 is based, shows the brand shares for each camera body type. Nikon is dominant in the DSLR category, followed by Canon and Pentax. The D700 accounts for only 32 of the 101 Nikon DSLRs voted in by TOP readers consisting of more than a dozen models and variants from the venerable D1 up to the Df (1 vote). In fact, Nikon hardly sold anything else besides DSLRs, although it also dominates the small CILC market. In the case of Canon, a significant number of its CFLCs turned up and only two EOS Ms, its only Mirrorless entry to date. (Nikon's Coolpix A didn't show.)
Olympus leads as the favorite brand for mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras at 39 per cent, followed by Fuji (22%) at second, and Sony (23%) at third. The E-M5 and its successor, E-M1, secured the lead for Olympus. Fuji, on the other hand, is the runaway leader in the mirrorless fixed-lens category on account of the stellar performance of the X100 and X100s. Ricoh ran (a distant) second to Fuji in the M-FL category due to the good showing of the GR. The strong showing of "Other Brands" in the M-FL category is attributable to Sigma's DP2 Merrill (8) and DP1 (2).
The DRF category is Leica territory, its only competition being the late and lamented Epson RD1.
The compact fixed lens category is a crowded place. Canon leads (21%), with Fuji (18%) and Ricoh (16%) hot on its heels. Canon may not be able to sustain its early lead, secured by the popularity of the S95 and the G series, because later models didn't get any mention. Sony is at fourth (14%) mainly because of the RX100 whose popularity is waning. Sony is all over the place, with its cameras getting mentions in four (out of 6) categories. But its only podium finish is third place in the M-IL category, thanks to the NEX-7. Sony's latest full frame offerings didn't get as much traction as the other brands' flagship models.
Figure 4. Tree Map of TOP Readers' Favorite Digital Camera Models. This is a manually enhanced image of the original PNG file generated by the Google app, which was tiny and barely legible. The original Google chart and the source spreadsheet is available here.
The Digital Tree Map (Fig. 4) covers the 62 digital camera models and variants which garnered 3 mentions or more. These cameras were voted in by 451 readers or 77 per cent of those who chose a digital camera as their favorite (N=585). The camera models are grouped by body type (blue labels). The smallest "boxes" are occupied by models that garnered three votes. The area of the boxes is proportionate to the number of votes for its occupants, increasing in size accordingly.
The color coding represents sensor size from the smallest (red) to the largest (green). The sensor sizes of the Top 62 cameras range from 15.50 sq mm (1/3.2") like that found in the iPhone to 864 sq mm for full frame cameras. In-between sizes are 329-370 sq mm for APS-C cameras (light rose), 225 sq mm for Four Thirds (dark rose), and 116 sq mm for 1" sensors (light red) such as that of the RX100. (Note that the 20D and 10D boxes are colored a slightly darker shade than other APS-C cameras because Canon sensors are smaller than APS-C sensors used by other brands (329 vs. 370 sq mm).
The Digital Tree Map is a graphic representation of Table 1 but offers more information than a pie chart because it reaches down to the level of the camera models. We can now compare the showing of competing model series of a given sensor size across brands. (Something which we couldn't do in the Top Ten chart.) For example, in the upper half of the DSLR area map, the combined area of the D700 and D800 is larger than that of the 5D series but only just (42 vs. 41 combined votes). If we add the D800E and the 6D to the mix, Nikon's lead increases to four. Comparing across body type and sensor size, Fuji's fixed lens compact champions, the X100 and X100s, and Olympus' MFT interchangeable lens flagships, the E-M5 and E-M1, seem to occupy areas of the same size. Actually, the Fujis lead by a nose (43 vs. 41).
The tree map doesn't have a time dimension though. (Older models whose sales have already peaked have a lead time advantage over newer models.) The tree map also shows at a glance that Mirrorless cameras (M-IL + M-FL) are closing the gap between them and DSLRs. It also shows that the DRF area is larger than that covered by CFLC, CILC, and Mobiles combined.
Favorite film cameras
Figure 5: Tree Map: TOP Readers' Favorite Film Camera Models. This is a manually generated chart created with Windows Excel and Paint. Its source spreadsheet is available at the same link cited for the Digital tree map above.
The Tree Map for Film covers all 53 film camera models voted in by 65 TOP readers in the poll. The difference between the Digital and Film tree maps is that for film, the "principal" and "secondary" values are reversed. (In the Digital Tree Map, the principal value is vote count; secondary is sensor size.) The area of the "boxes" occupied by film camera model(s) represents film image size ("contact print"), whose aspect ratios have been drawn to scale (well, almost but not quite). The gray-scale coding represents the vote count. The count ranges from 1 (5% gray) to 4 (35% gray). (In the boxes occupied by two or more models each model garnered 1 vote, except for the Bronicas where the ETRSi got 2.)
Here's my layman's take on the Film Tree Map (Fig. 5): Apart from the robustness of their build quality, there are three reasons why film cameras (and their native lenses) have endured to this day: image size, image size, image size. In film, full frame is small.
Figure 6. TOP readers' favorite film cameras by format and body type
Sixty-five TOP readers voted in 53 film camera models as their all-time favorites. In terms of film format, 35mm cameras were the most popular, SLRs mainly (40%) but also rangefinders. Medium format film cameras came in three body types: SLRs, TLRs, and rangefinders (RF). Three Large Format cameras were voted in. There could have been four view cameras in the sample but one (a Cambo) was withdrawn by a reader who voted in his favorite digital camera instead.
Table 1/F is a cross-tabulation of film cameras by body type and format across popular brands. Nikon leads in the 35mm SLR category with 12 votes, all of which were for Nikon Fs, from the original F to the latest F6, including the F100. Olympus placed second with 5 OM cameras voted in. Pentax was third with two MZ-S and an MX. There were more choices across brands in medium format SLRs of which Bronica, Fuji, Mamiya, and Pentax were the leaders.
The 35mm rangefinder category was Leitz territory with 9 analog Ms voted in. But they had more competition in film than in digital. A Zeiss Ikon, a fixed-lens Canonet QL-17, a Kiev 4, and two Voigtlander Bessas vied with the Leicas. Two medium format rangefinders turned up: a Fujica and the Mamiya 7II. Four out of the five TLRs that were voted in were Rolleis (including a Rolleicord). A lone Mamiya C330 TLR offered the only competition to the Rolleiflexes.
Only three Large Format cameras turned out: a Linhof 4X5 Technika V metal field camera, a Shen Hao 8X10, and a classic Deardorff.
By year of introduction
What the horizontal axis of Figure 7 (and Fig. 8, below) indicates is the release year the camera models. The camera's announcement date accessed from dpreview's "Camera Hub" was used as proxy for "release date" (a slippery concept because new cameras are usually not available at the same time in different places). The vertical axis measures the vote count for camera favorites released during the year indicated.
What is immediately apparent from Figure 7 is that the age distribution of favorite digital cameras trends toward later models. The upticks in Figure 7 are in the years when hit models were released. The release dates of all 156 digital and 51 (out of 53) film (year only) camera models are listed in the Master Tally spreadsheets.
The age range of the 156 digital cameras voted in by TOP readers spans 16 years. But most of the leading favorite cameras are only four years old or newer. The weighted average age of favorite digital cameras is 4.8 years. The age of a digital camera mentioned in the poll was arrived at by deducting its announcement date from the cut-off date, 13 March 2014, when Your Favorite Digital Camera was posted.
The oldest digital camera favorites are two Maxxum 7's (circa 1985), a D1 (1989) and an early Coolpix (1998). These were the outliers which went off the chart (Fig. 7). The newest digital favorite (age = 0) is a Nikon1 V3 which was launched coincidentally on 13 March and voted in by a reader commenting days after the post. Among the nine favorite cameras tallied for 2014 are seven X-T1's. A TOP reader rented one and was loathe to let it go. But not enough of them are available (pre-ordered at BH) as of this writing. On the other hand, the E-M1 has been around long enough (six months) to get into readers' hands and be voted as one of the Top Ten favorites.
Figure 8. TOP Readers' Favorite Film Cameras by Year of introduction
The age range between the oldest (Rolleiflex 2.8C) and newest (Bessa R3A) film cameras favored by TOP readers spans 52 years. The average age of the film camera favorites comprising 51 models is 33.7 years. (An unspecified Deardorff and a Rolleiflex, both of which were available since the 1920s, were not included in the age calculation.) Stephen Gandy's cameraquest and Wikipedia were the sources used for the year of introduction of film cameras.
Figure 8 shows two spikes (modal years) in 2000 and 1970. Twenty readers (the cumulative sum of the vote count from 1995 to 2000 in Fig. 8) voted in film cameras made in 1995 or later. (Nineteen of the 53 film cameras in the sample were introduced in 1995 or later.) The red trend line in Fig. 8 indicates that the respondents' favorite film cameras trend toward later rather than earlier models. My hunch is that the film photographers among TOP readers who joined the poll are just as likely to upgrade as their digital counterparts. Up till 2005 (the latest year when film cameras showed up in Fig. 8) not many film and film camera manufacturers had closed shop, even as the digital camera industry was still in flux. Almost 10 years on, there is no clear upgrade path for film camera owners (which is probably why no film camera made later than 2005 showed up in Fig. 8).
Both nostalgia and "recency effects" seem to be equally potent influences on the choice of one's favorite camera among the TOP readers who participated in the poll. Note that a reader's favorite camera is not necessarily the one he or she is shooting right now. But it can't be all nostalgia, as Mike suggests in his exegesis on Nikon's post-D700 follow through, or lack of it. If this poll were replicated five years hence, which among the current flagship models will make it to the top of the heap? Will it even be a DSLR?
This poll, informal though it is, is more than just a fun poll as it yields insights with implications beyond TOP's readership. I wish though I had one more informational metric that would have shed more light on the DSLR vs. Mirrorless question. That is, whether or not the preference for DSLR over Mirrorless is a North American thing. The demographics of TOP's readership seem to suggest that this is so. But it would be fun to know this for a fact.
Disclaimer: I didn't participate in the poll. I have no experience whatsoever using a film camera. If I were to choose a favorite film camera, it would probably be a view camera or a TLR like the ones our town pro used in my primary school days. (My mother still has the prints.) My favorite digital camera is the GRD IV. What I'm using now is a GXR/M. Bought new a year apart, both went back for warranty repairs. Only the GXR has returned. But I'm sticking with Ricoh, having been spoiled for good by its UI. I'll probably pass on the GR, while awaiting an upgrade with IBIS. I use the GXR mated with: a Distagon 18mm ƒ/4 (27mm-e) for wide shots and well-lit interiors; a Heliar Classic 75mm ƒ/1.8 for portraits, the Apo Lanthar 90mm ƒ/3.5 for landscapes, C Color Skopar 35mm ƒ/2.5 for walkabouts; and an adapted M42 screwmount Pentax 200mm ƒ/5.6 Tele-Takumar preset in pristine condition. Sorry for this long-winded "vote."
And no, I'm not yet ready to tabulate a poll about Your Favorite Lens! :-)
*The year the much anticipated Sigma DP1 was released two years after it was announced in 2006. The DP1 was the first small-form camera model to use an APS-C (Foveon) sensor.
Editor's note: "Sarge" is a TOP reader from the Philippines (he prefers his real name not be used) who obviously has a gift for crunching and presenting information. Originally he volunteered to do this, but the post went through so many edits and editions that I decided to pay him for his work. The amount was more than I've ever paid for any TOP content or research before, but it was probably much less than this amount of work would have cost on the open market—so, a big thanks to Sarge, not only for doing this, but for the extent to which his work on this post was a labor of friendly participation and interest.
And by the way, I paid him out of the Subscription fund—those people who send me $6 every month or some number of times every year. So thanks to all of you for making such things possible. And thanks to everyone who commented on the original post back in March. —Mike
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
David Dyer-Bennet: "I really appreciate Sarge spending the time to analyze the data to this depth!
"For once in my life, I seem to be in the mainstream; my current cameras are a Nikon D700 and an Olympus E-M5.
"I remember my shock when the D700 came out. From my viewpoint, they had taken all the important good things from the D3 professional flagship camera, added two important things that the D3 didn't have (built-in flash with CLS commander capability, sensor cleaning), and sold the package for half the price of the D3. I had decided that APS-C was going to progress fast enough that I'd have a good life there, and that I wasn't going to need to invest in the 'modern medium format' of full-frame digital. And then the D700 came out and ruined everything. I think the price/performance was utterly unbeatable for the time for a photojournalist or events camera, so I'm not surprised it has a big following still. (The D700 has less than full-frame viewfinder, and has less powerful batteries; the first I don't care about, the second is a minor inconvenience for me.)
"Also, there's no true successor to it even yet; nothing below the single-digit flagship models is clearly better for the things the D700 is king at. The D800 and the D600 are both good cameras (the D800 a truly spectacular one—for a completely different kind of task than the D700), but they don't surpass the D700 in all areas I care about."
Steve Rosenblum: "I think what this poll really shows is the Fujifilm X100(s) is the runaway winner—if you combine the numbers for the X100 and the X100s the total is 43, much greater than the D700 in second place. I would argue that the X100s is only a slight refinement of the X100, it is an X100 with the bugs worked out, but it really is the same camera in terms of design and use. I have owned and used both. They should be considered together in the poll.
"Does this surprise me? Not at all. The X100(s) is the mythical DMD that Mike has written about for years—finally a reality. And, Mike was right, it's a killer app camera. It's not for everyone nor every purpose, but it nails the DMD concept (superb fixed focal length lens, basic controls available as dials, fast response) great image quality even in JPEGs, great ergonomics) and throws in a brilliantly executed new concept—the hybrid autofocus window finder. You either love this kind of camera or you don't, but for those who do it is hard to wipe the smile off of your face while it's in hand."