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.
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(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 '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.' 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 headline 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.