Half of what makes a camera good is the camera. The other half of what makes a camera good is you.
No matter how great the camera, you will like it more, and it will be more valuable to you—and a better value, too!—if you get to grips with it. Buying the right camera is only half the battle; just as important is committing to it and using it a lot. The more you use it, the better it will be.
In that sense, the Sony A900 in my camera cabinet ended up being one of the worst cameras I ever bought. I had to have one at the time; it channeled the Contax RTSIII I also always wanted, and it was, when it came out, the biggest, mostest, bestest, meanest, and baddest.
Trouble was, I never used it much.
I keep it now as a sorrowful monument to a vanished $2,300 I foolishly turned from real cash into a memory. And it's not like that didn't matter—I've never had $2,300 to burn.
But it was my own fault, really.
Right around now is the tenth anniversary of the A900's first announcement. Can you believe that? It was a while before it shipped, and it wasn't discontinued until 2011, but we first heard of it early in March of 2007. The years they do get behind us, don't they, my brother, my sister?
Micro 4/3 has now caught up
Having used both quite recently, it's my judgement and opinion that the newest 20-MP chip in the latest top-o'-the-line Micro 4/3 cameras more or less equals the image quality of the Sony A900's full-frame, 24-MP sensor that was SOTA back in '07.
(As I wrote that, it occurred to me to check the DxOMark Sensor ratings...sure enough, they give the sensor in the A900 an overall score of 79 and the sensor in the new Olympus E-M1 Mark II an overall score of 80, nicely corroborating my purely subjective impression.)
There are differences, yes. The older camera still has slightly better resolution and enlargeability at base ISOs. But the newer, smaller sensor has better shadow noise and DR. (I'd take the sensor in the Olympus if I had to choose.)
Granted, development is unlikely to continue at the same pace for the next ten years as it did for the previous ten; growth in the industry is slowing. But small sensors are getting very good, and will surely get even better.
The popular push these days among hobbyists might be toward full-frame and medium-format sensors. But how smart is that? Go to Flickr and type "Olympus E-M1 Mark II" or "Panasonic GX8" into the search field and look at some of the pictures that come up. Look good to you? Great sensors are going to be getting smaller, not larger, in the long run.
It's not as much fun, I grant you, but the smart money might be to go against what's currently hot and settle on Micro 4/3 or APS-C, or even 1". All of those are good enough now, and they'll only be getting better in the future.
Back to the point...
In any event, if you do drop the bucks for the Hasselblad X1D-50c or the Fuji GFX-50s, the gleaming new medium-format mirrorless marvels, be very careful. Remember that the camera itself is only half of what makes a camera good. How dedicated you are, how hard you work, and how many good and great pictures you get out of it are the other half. How much you use it is just as important as whatever it is.
So go for it, my brother, my sister, if you really want to, and if you can. But be sure you go whole hog and really commit, too. Use that medium-format mirrorless marvel a lot, and it will be a good value. Get to grips with it, make it yours, take it everywhere, and you'll never regret the expense.
Otherwise...well, take it from me. You won't want that thing sitting there staring at you from the shelf ten years from now!
"Open Mike" is the editorial page of TOP. It appears only, but not always, on Wednesdays.
Link to this post: http://tinyurl.com/hwuz7tz
Original contents copyright 2017 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:
James Moule: "I have to agree. The sharpness that I am getting with my Olympus E-M1 Mark II and a high quality lens (such as an Olympus PRO or Panasonic Lumix/Leica) is simply stunning. A total surprise. And I usually shoot with a Sony Alpha 7RII and a Zeiss prime. As a point of reference, I always shoot raw, process in Adobe Camera Raw, and never sharpen (unless I am making a print)."
Moose (partial comment): "Re 'It's not as much fun, I grant you,' ohhh, but it IS more fun, really. The last several years since the E-M5 came out and I switched to Micro 4/3 have been the most fun in my photographic life—and the most productive of work I really like."
Hugh Crawford: "Re: 'Having used both quite recently, it's my judgement and opinion that the newest 20-MP chip in the latest top-o'-the-line Micro 4/3 cameras more or less equals the image quality of the Sony A900's full-frame, 24-MP sensor that was SOTA back in '07.' Not to nitpick, but isn't that sort of the same thing as 'Micro 4/3 is 10 years behind in quality'? I know what you mean, but I'm not so sure about what that bold subhead 'Micro 4/3 has now caught up' means."
Mike replies: Well, it speaks to another post I wrote, in 2009, "The Point of Sufficiency." That is, we won't have to keep chasing larger and larger sensors, because as time goes by, increasingly smaller sensors are going to be sufficient and more. Time is on the side of smaller sensors, not larger ones.
Hugh: "Time is on the side of smaller sensors thanks to Moore's law and the fact that the problems of small sensors are solvable in software. Time is on the side of large sensors because manufacturing keeps improving the yield of large sensors without flaws and there are some problems that are for the time being more easily solvable by brute force than finesse. It was much the same in the film era where 35mm started as a novelty format and became the de facto 'good enough' format thanks to advances in chemistry and the fact that the cost of optics cubes with size whereas the cost of sensors and film squares with size. Big cameras produce a different looking image than small cameras and the fashion for big camera artifacts will die soon I hope. I have a big interest in artifacts that say 'these are clues that explain how this image came to be.' I'm less of a fan of 'this image is full of signifiers of my equipment budget.' Of course the paradigm of one lens , one exposure , one image is a holdover from the chemical photography era and is about to be replaced whether we like it or not. I suspect that time is on the side of many tiny sensors."
Mike: I agree with that. It's always risky to extrapolate the future from current assumptions. But I do think the days of the single chip are probably numbered.
John: "Re 'Micro 4/3 has now caught up': I'm skeptical. I recently created a gallery wall in my home of many B&W prints from multiple cameras, including Micro 4/3. They confirm what I see in my other Micro 4/3 files: they have less depth compared to APS-C and FF. Granted, my Micro 4/3 body was a few years old and that technology certainly has advanced. But bigger sensors have advanced, too. Is Micro 4/3 sufficient? Probably. But only if you don't display side-by-side. Physics is on my side. I spent several years with Panasonic cameras, pursuing cheaper, smaller, lighter, and have many photos I like very much. But I now can't help but wish I had stuck with FF and had larger sensor version of all of those images."
Mike replies: I don't think we're really arguing. All I said was that the very latest, most up-to-date Olympus more or less equals the 2007 A900, not that an older Micro 4/3 won't be weaker in comparison to a more recent FF.
bencr: "The Olympus E-M5 reached the point of sufficiency for me. I bought it when it first came out and it is still my only (non-cellphone) camera. I use it 75% of the time with the 20mm ƒ/1.7 and the other 25% of time with the Panasonic 100–300mm for birding. For both scenarios I have my favorite settings and techniques and mostly don't notice the camera at all anymore—just the pictures."
Martin: "Re 'The more you use it, the better it will be': I agree wholeheartedly. How do I know that I don't use my camera enough? I get recurring episodes of temptation to buy new gear that evaporate whenever I spend more than a few consecutive days shooting with it. The best cure for GAS turns out to be 'getting to grips' with the great gear you've already got."
Steve Jacob: "The latest Micro 4/3 sensor is indeed very good. It falls almost exactly where you might expect. Slightly behind the latest 24-MP Sony APS-C, but not enough to matter. Equal to 2007 FF? Sure, but because 2007 is pre-EXMOR; it is antique in digital camera terms. I would be amazed and disappointed if it were not. But you only have to roll forward to late 2010 and the development of the Sony 16-MP APS-C EXMOR sensor (D7000, D5100, NEX-5N...) and you can see the beginning of a plateau. All the features of a modern 4T sensor were in that chip. Since that architecture emerged, improvements have been incremental. Sensors based on the same architecture included the one in your X-T1, so it is a venerable design, and still 'relevant' nearly seven years later. That's a long time in dog years. The D800 (2012) used an almost identical architecture, just expanded to FF, and the D810 (current) is a development of that with the dual-gain pixel architecture now also found in the A6500, X-T2 etc. This cuts read noise from about ISO800 and has improved high-ISO DR by a fair margin. Sony did very well with the A7RII 42-MP BSI sensor, but I shudder to think what it costs per unit, and all for a small improvement in SNR at higher ISO. Not surprised that camera is expensive. So yes, almost any modern sensor is a good step up from 2007, or even 2009. Since 2010, not so much. Its all a little bit predictable now."
Mike replies: You know more about this subject than I do.
Simon Miles: "For what it's worth I find my new E-M1 Mark II matches my Nikon D810 in print quality up to A2 (the E-M1 was close but was at its best at A3+). This is a big deal to me, as I don't print bigger than A2. In all other respects I prefer the smaller size, lighter weight, EVF viewing, native 4:3 aspect ratio and deeper DoF (I usually want more, not less) of the E-M1 Mark II. Of course, the D810 is better in absolute quality terms but, as Mike says, it all depends on your point of sufficiency. The E-M1 Mark II has now reached mine."