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Tuesday, 05 April 2011


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Well said!

I think the first 'real' 35mm camera I owned was a Pentax Spotmatic. It's amazing how fondly I (and others!) remember that camera. It is still regularly suggested as a great beginner's camera. To be honest, I don't think that there is much that I've shot in the last 20 years, I couldn't have done with that first camera.

I think it's time to grab some film, and go shooting with my old friend.

No doubt. They're all probably more similar than they are different. Maybe the menus are set up differently, and buttons are in different places, so what.

This post is wrong. My Nikon FE2, which until 2009 was the only camera that I used or owned for twelve years, is objectively the most greatest camera ever made by anyone.

I will prove my point.

(1) Manual controls slow you down a bit and make you conceptualize your shots in advance. This leads to better technique and more 'hits' per roll.

(2) Aperture priority is the only automatic feature that you really need - for when the things you're photographing are not necessarily fixed to the ground. To prove this point, I still use nothing but Manual or AP mode on my E-P1. With manual lenses! Better still,

(3) Analog Aperture priority mode will meter any length of exposure, for example eight minutes for a moonlit landscape. Nonetheless,

(4) It will work fine without a battery. Also,

(5) The form factor is great. It leaves out all that electronic mumbojumbo and a huge battery compartment to power it. Finally,

(6) It has a higher max shutter speed than the FE.


So familiarity doesn't breed contempt, it breeds love? At least until a minor update is released and your lover's hands feel a little clammy and old all of a sudden...

Another cliche in camera land, "absence makes the heart grow fonder...." It's true--put down your camera of choice for a month, use something else, and then go back to that lost love and notice how much you enjoy it, how its exposure is so spot on, even the white balance is better than you remembered. Very much like flying home after that wonderful vacation, feeling quietly relieved and noticing the quiet beauty of your bland suburban neighborhood, savoring that first bowl of stale Captain Crunch (after you stop for fresh milk of course).

When do we get to find out in detail just how much you love your K5? (Seriously: I have yet to find a really useful experience-based review of the K5 on the net, and those f2.8 zooms and metal primes with sensor stabilisation _almost_ sound like a reason to switch from what I have got now.)

Nail hit soundly on the head. It is hard to understand sometimes the emotional intensity that underpins internet discussions of gear.

Three friends and I have our mini photography group; Pentax (me), Canon, Nikon and Panasonic, and the best shots from all of us are on par.

Somehow we have never gotten into any discussions, ever, as to which camera is best (probably because the others already accept that my Pentax is best :).

Well, I got a K5 a couple of weeks ago and it seems to be working that way. I'm using it with a 60s 35/3.5 m42 mount multicoated Takumar and I love it too. It works in Av!! (hah, like a Spotmatic, I guess). The metal lens with a metal black hood on the k5 looks gorgeous. One thing I'm coming to appreciate is older Pentax f/3.5 lenses are extremely sharp and have far less CAs than even several new lenses (I guess those are inherent big aperture design limitations}. Not good for night street shooting or shallow DOF, but it's excelent for landscapes. It's something like a 52mm on the k5, but I seem to like that more than before as a "normal" lens.

I completely agree. When I was 16 years old I had the amazing good fortune to be hired as a "photographer apprentice" by my local daily newspaper which happened to be very interested in good photography and had a couple really fine photographers on staff. They handed me a Nikon F. I've been a Nikon guy ever since. Never saw a reason to change. My main camera for something like 25 years was the FE which I maintain was the best all-around 35mm camera ever made. Now I'm learning to use a D7000 and beginning to feel that it may be the "Digital FE" that I've been wanting to find.

But, if they had handed me a Leica, a Canon, a Rollie, or even a Speed Graphic, who knows what direction I would have gone? I have an M2 and a Speed Graphic and still bring them out to shoot with now and then, but I'm a Nikon guy because that's the system I started with and learned on. Not because Nikons are better than any other well-made camera. Oh, and those lenses I bought back in the 60s will work on my D7000...that has to count for something.

Well said, Mike. I get to shoot with a bunch of different cameras each year, most for maybe a month or so. Takes me a week or two to get comfortable with them, and by the end of that month I've learned to love almost all of them.

I bought my first Canon SLR in 1971, and have owned Canons ever since. But, I agree with your points 100%. The brand doesn't matter.

As someone who is still using a Canon 350D because they can't decide on what to replace it with, this post seems to be written specially for me.

Thanks Mike.

So... When can I start? :-)

I am a little disappointed you didn't make fun of the new Nikon night shot mode. ISO one million or whatever.

My biggest worry would be that the `three lens kit' would mean `three kit lenses', meaning slow, variable aperture zoom lenses.

That thought alone would make me hope for the Pentax set, even though I have never shot with them...

So, what your saying is, buy a

Oh, I'd probably take the job, yeah. But what I'd bitch about wouldn't be the cameras; it'd be the darned slow lenses in the basic kit.

I can imagine people with a long professional life spent with a narrow range of tools who actually wouldn't take the job because of the camera constraints.

Your article really got my goat this morning. Nothing frustrates me more than somebody being reasonable. Next you'll be telling me that I don't need an exotic Italian sports car to get me from point A to point B.

Quit it, wouldja?

I would also be happy because, regardless of if I picked first or fifth, that E-5 would still be sitting there.

Is it wrong to enjoy your choice of camera BECAUSE it’s uncommon?

O Wise One,

Thank you for your sage words. Can you now turn your considerable intellect towards the problem of peace in the Middle East?


Which is a roundabout way of saying, "Right on!" Wait. Do people still say that? Am I dating myself? Argh. Additional advice is, it seems, needed on a wide variety of topics. Carry on.

You do realise that if everyone took this very sensible view half the photography forums on the web would have to close down.

How could you be so irresponsible at this time of economic uncertainty!

Great post ... and one note. I got tires of waiting and deplacer my Sony A700 with the A55. Must say that it is a netter camera on almost any front. I lack a few features (most importantly they havent included bracketing with more than 2/3 f-stops STUPID). But it is really a nice camera I must admit. I might sell it when the A77 comes out - but a least the waiting is tolerable now.

So yes ... i love that camera too

Sign me up! ;)

Well said, regarding the craftsman and the tool.

I've actually used just about every major system in the past couple of years, and I totally agree with Mike's post. I've been shooting restaurants for a local food magazine, and just branched out into doing some in situ product photography. Very different kinds of photography; the former is pretty much documentary work, trying to capture the bustle of a restaurant's entire operation, from the host to the back of the house. Lots of action, sometimes cramped and hot conditions, and odd perils like flying molten sugar. The latter, product work, is static, posed, and very planned, though it's not studio work. I've shot major assignments with: Canon 40D, Nikon D70s, D700 and D300, Pentax K7, Olympus E5, E-p1 and most recently, a Sony A850. It's been a mission of curiosity for me, a kind of experiment. My conclusion: Mike is right. My work seems to be me to remarkably consistent. It does improve, but with experience, not with the camera. Each camera did some things well and others, not so much. The Olympus models were notable for seriously reducing my post processing work...the jpeg engine is really to my liking. I was frustrated however by the lack of shallow depth of field (because of the sensor format). The K7 was small and hardy and had some wonderful primes, but I found the AF frustrating in a dark restaurant. The D700/D300 had the best AF I've experienced, spooky good. The Canon...I can barely remember. That's a good thing. It did the job. The A850...so happy to have shallow depth of field of full frame back in my quiver (after the E5/E-P1) but wow, it's heavy. What has impressed me is just how good all these cameras are. And how the two big things that have driven camera competition, megapixels and high iso noise, have really not played the quality of work I can deliver. One thing that has become increasingly important as I realize the physicality of photography is how a camera feels in the hand, and, in-hand, how it feels on the shoulder. I don't mind big cameras, but heavy ones are weighing me down.

Good post, good conclusion. And you know which feature I couldn't live without on the new Nikon? The swivel screen. I have a variety of cameras, including the Panasonics (GH1 and GH2), which have a swivel screen, and the K5, which doesn't. The K5 is such an excellent camera that I would probably use it all the time, if it did. I don't know why it doesn't. This is apparently a fairly easy-to-implement and not particularly expensive feature -- Canon P&Ss had them six or seven years ago -- and when you start working with them, you find that they are extremely useful. I shoot mostly stuff on the street, but I think they'd be great for tripod-based landscape work, as well.


Could you deal with that?

Yes, I could!

Unless I got the Canon. Every man has his limits, Mike...

Mike I think you are right that the feature sets of most big-name cameras are comparable. To me, it's always ergonomics that make the final choice. You quite rightly point to the things you love about your K-5-- shutter sound, fit in the hand etc. I would add viewfinder comfort and brightness to that list as well. I think the K-5 does a nice job in that department. The other area of ergonomics though is peculiar to the digital age: User Interface (UI). I think it's an issue that is under-played in many camera reviews. After using personal computers now for 30 years I've learned that a difficult or quirky UI is a perpetual repellant for me.

On an expensive camera if I will need to use menu functions quickly, (say to go from single shot to continuous shooting mode) that menu system needs to be a snug fit with my own logic circuit. And for me at least, that User Interface issue (sadly) trumped preferred features and feel on my last DSLR purchase.
I'm just sayin'.

Statistics show that divorce rates for arranged marriages are lower than for marriages "out of love"...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage

It matters and it doesn't matter. As you ask: could you/would you do the job with any of those cameras, and I agree, most would with no problem. Yet as you also say, we all have our own personal preferences. Sometimes something like a quiet shutter is even important. Right now, it's one of the driving factors behind my desire to upgrade, for shooting indoor performances. Interestingly, I've always said that system considerations are more important that individual features or aspects of one model of one generation of camera bodies, but now I'm thinking the other way. For instance, I've been contemplating a new camera purchase, possibly a new brand, with 16-80ish and 70-200/2.8 lenses being the core of such a system, with more photography that I currently do with primes done using my Sony NEX. Canon offers better lenses than Nikon in those 2 ranges, but Nikon offers better quiet shutter options and better Auto ISO in M mode. (I shoot indoor hockey and setting my lens wide open and a fixed shutter speed lets me maximize my results as the light changes across the rink. Sony does not offer Auto ISO in M mode so I shoot at ISO 800 and boost in LR; Canon offers Auto ISO but without EV+/-; Nikon does that best).

So I agree - there's little to choose from between cameras. But on the other hand, because they're so similar, you have the freedom to prioritize the little things. And on the *other* other hand, there's little reason to consider changing brands for these minute differences. It should require something significant to make you think about that.

Good point, Mike. I buy it.

And so the millions of hours that nikon and canon fans, pentax etc have spent fighting the brand wars were all in vain, right ?

Wait, we can still salvage something in them: you didn't mention the choice of lenses available ... let the wars continue ! :-)

And you know what else? No matter what camera you drew in the lottery, you'd love it at the end of the year. Know why? Because craftsmen learn to love the tools they use the most.

I have to disagree with this. If this were true, you'd love your B9180, but you don't. Some tools will just drive you crazy, no matter how familiar you are with them. A couple of personal examples:

1) I bought a biscuit joiner last year. It seemed like a reasonably well made tool in the store, but in fact there was so much play in the fence that it was impossible to set it accurately. Using it for a week was all I could handle, there's no way it would have lasted a year.

2) After a year-and-a-half, I neither love nor hate my D5000. I find that it's just too difficult to get critical focus; the viewfinder is too small and dim, and the LCD doesn't have sufficient resolution to use live view. It works well enough for a lot of things, just not for what I'm trying to do, and I can't see how spending more time fighting it's limitations is going to get me to love it.

Of course, to your larger point, that obsessing about Nikon vs. Canon vs. the world is pointless, I couldn't agree more.

Please, to land a gig like that, I wouldn't care if you handed me a paper box disposable film camera and said "go to it". The camera matters on so far as it is a tool, ability, familiarity and reliability make a good tool. The heart, the soul, the creative force is what gives the tool value, not the name stamped on the front.

I'm reminded of the old saw about the difference between an artist and a photographer: "An artist can talk for several minutes about this work without mentioning what brand of brushes he uses."

I'm with you on this one completely. Twenty-three years ago I bought a Canon EOS 620 AF-DSLR and instantly hated it. Why can't i have a nice simple dial to change shutter speeds? What's with the no f stop on the lens? Where the heck is that darn whazzit I need to change? I need to push how many buttons??? Seventeen years later I reluctantly parted with it for a digital body. Why would I keep a camera I hate for 17 years? I learned to love it and love it and love it.

A new camera is like any change we make in our life - sometimes it requires a little more patience to adapt, but once we do ... what was all the fuss about?

Mike, I am one of the silent majority that follows TOP (almost) every day and have to say, your opinion and those of your regular contributors are exceedingly valuable, to not only the well-versed, but also to those new to photography or still trying to deside how to dive in. It is the latter whom I hope will find this especially poignant and refreshing amidst all the fanboys contributing to the online rhetoric.

Well, yeah, I knew it was your daydream. But it sounded like the camera companies might be picking as well as providing the kits.

Glad to see you retained control on that part :-) .

You're right. I guess I should have specified that the tool has to WORK. That is indeed a mandatory minimum.


"To me, it's always ergonomics that make the final choice."

See, I think it's the other way around. How do you know what ergonomics you like? Because of your experience. Ergonomics = what you're used to. Use any good camera hard for a year, and its ergonomics will be the ergonomics you like.

I do admit there are exceptions to this, in cases where the ergonomics are really bad. I don't think I could use a Bullseye Contarex for a year. But maybe I could. (No, I'm not going to devote a year of my life to THAT experiment! [g])


"It's working with a camera that makes you like it, not picking just the right one to begin with. Whichever camera you drew from the hat, you'd remember fondly all your life."

That's it. Some tools feel better or seem to get the job done more effectively, but ultimately, it's the end result-the images that I've produced with a particular camera/lens combination, that creates the emotional bond to the photographic gear.

Great post.

I can see you herding a lot of worms here ;-)

I'd agree with you for any "normal" photography and 99% of photographers.
I think brand only becomes relevant when you are talking specialist photography. The ancillary products can make a big difference, long telephoto or zoom, flash systems, what a Pro can hire for a one-off shoot, etc.
I went digital 3 years ago to a K20D (from Nikon FE) as it was waterproof-I ride a motorbike- and the twin wheels so I normally use aperture on the front and exposure comp on the rear, I also find the menu system easy to use. (turns out the camera is more waterproof than I am!). I'd love it more if I could turn pre-flash off, rather than using an older lens to allow me to use my old flashes (but at least they all fit, and are cheap...).

I can see a flippy-out screen being useful for low-level macro or over-head news reportage scrums, so yeah, horses for courses.
all the best phil

Your latest writing is the product of a confused mind desperate to get a grip on what should be your measure of things in this new digital age.
Your indecisiveness now leeds you to suggest that every working camera will do.

While lost on your wonderful walk in the world of photo equipment you are constantly telling your readers what to do.
Might be better to keep your thoughts in first-person singular.

I enjoy reading your blog, But you are by no means my guide in these matters.

I think it is very simple. Do you love the old Nikkor lenses or not? Otherwise Canon is a lot cheaper deal for good quality ...

"I get to hire half a dozen photographers for a year to do nothing but go out in the world and shoot"

I'm ready when you are!

Sure I could, they are tools, to be learnt and understood so you can push them to the limits creating great images. Much of my best work is with cameras many would turn their nose up at, haha.

Great daydream Mike, thank you.

You ARE correct dear sir! I've had to do nearly just that due to a limited budget. I've used both Canon, Panasonic and Pentax DSLR's. I would use Oly, Nikon etc, etc if needed. MY Pentax Kx modified IR drives me nuts sometimes, but I've always found a solution to the problems...BTW you ever use the Super Tak 35/2.3? What a wonderful unique lens. Artistically soft @2.3. Very useful on the Gh2 & Kx.

Mike, I can't agree with you more!

"It's working with a camera that makes you like it, not picking just the right one to begin with. Whichever camera you drew from the hat, you'd remember fondly all your life."

I dunno about that, Mike. Although I've managed to produce good or even great photos with every camera I've ever owned, some I remember fondly while others still give me heartburn. The ones I liked best were the ones I felt an instant connection with. As a result, they were the ones I used the most. Besides, just because I can bend a cantankerous camera to my will doesn't mean I enjoy doing it or should have to.

This one is a turning point for me. I have: been little more than a new camera gear flunky; completely lost track of what is important in pursuing the photography hobby; finally realized the folly of my ways with this latest "New" offering from Nikon. I resolve to never buy equipment that is less than 4 years old.

No, wait a minute, this thing has an adjustable LCD? I new there was some reason I wasn't quite satisfied with my D3100.............What are the tax consequences of premature withdrawal from a 401K?

Maybe next they can come up with a feature that automatically brightens those dirty looks my wife and daughters give me when I sneak shots of them.

Hmmm - as much as I love my E-520, but three fast primes from Olympus? Well the 50/2 is wonderful for sure. So is the 150/2. And then? The 300/2.8? Wow, that would be an interesting set for wild life ;-)

Would I have to choose today, I'd go full frame. I do need a 35/1.4 which acts like and gives the angle of view of a 35mm...

Otherwise, great dream! Can I join the selected happy ones? ;-)

There are so many nice DSLR's out there now and the image quality between them @ ISO 800 and under is so small it hurts the eyeballs looking for differences on 100% crops.

Sure the expensive stuff shoots faster with a better build but if you are say a wedding, event or documentary photographer and can't do a good job with a 7D, 60D, D7000 or K5 then maybe it's you not the camera.

I picked up an open box D7000 a few weeks ago and while I'm still getting use to it my first impression is "who needs more than this?" Sure if I was a sports pro I'd want best body available but for anyone else who does not need to print over 13x19? Really?

@ Gordon. It all depends on the person then, in how they relate to a nightmarish tool. In 1998 after getting my CDL to haul dirt, sod or rocks for my brother-in-laws business, he had me hauling sod often in this 1973 Mack. From Reno to Winnemucca. No A/C and a worthless heater. A two stroke "Screamin' Jimmy" Detroit diesel engine that made you deaf. A 13 speed required perfect timing, and steering that followed every groove on I-80. I have fond memories of that truck. Although when it was retired I didn't complain...

Ok, so there is another solution. You've been chosen [you did say that this is a dream, right], your standing there about to receive the 'gift' camera set and it's one [from the duopoly] that you simply do not relate to. What do you do ? Be sensible, sell it.
Then go to the nearest photo store/shop and with the proceeds buy a K5 body, Sigma 8-16 w/a, 16-50 f2.8 DA*[yeees] and a 50-135 f2.8 DA*, wait, you sneak home and grab all your legacy Pentax lenses and do not tell Mike that you have done this because no-one can really tell [apart from looking at the Meta Data] what you shot your images on. Best of both worlds. The best body, stunning lens range, AND compact. What more can you ask for ? Well, a half decent car [let the games begin] to get to and from locations.
Adieu Mike B.

2011: "The year of shooting madly."


"You're right. I guess I should have specified that the tool has to WORK. That is indeed a mandatory minimum."

It is indeed. After going through 3 E-620s, I no longer take basic things like functional AF for granted!

I'm not convinced by your argument.

One the reasons I like Canon and put up with their quirks is that the images have the near-reality look that I desire. When I see shots made by a Sony they look unnatural and I doubt that I would ever grow to like such a camera.

Sony audio gear also sounds unnatural, apart from the analogue tuners, but let's not start World War III...

Sony seems to be similar to Apple: people have a tribal loyalty to the brand and buy the products despite their blindingly obvious flaws.

I did a Joe McNally workshop a couple of months ago. He showed the class how to use high speed sync with TTL off-camera flash and soft boxes on the off-camera speedlites.

It turns out that my Canon 5D MkII ETTL flash system is useless for that. The Nikons worked well, but my Canon flash system wouldn't function at all when softboxes were introduced between the flash and the subject.

So I hope I don't draw the Canon 7D from your set of kits if the assignment requires off camera diffused flash with high speed sync.

On the other hand, if the assignment requires slow sync long exposure photography at night in the outdoors, I hope I don't draw the Nikon kit because that camera won't even tell me the actual shutter speed when the exposure time is longer than one second. It'll just show an inane "Lo" warning where the exposure time should be indicated.

So there are some situations where a camera kit can be quite unlovable - and other situations where you might love it to death.

So Mike, you should specify the type of assignment before you suggest a blanket conclusion that we'll all love our kit, regardless of the brand. I hated my Canon kit by the end of the one day Joe Mcnally workshop. It was embarrassing the way the Canon off-camera flash system just didn't work when I needed it to.

But there are other times I just love my Canon kit, such as every time use an adapter to attach one of my old C/Y Zeiss lenses to it and it works.

Preston - I'd say that anyone who says that has only heard an artist talking to non-artists, and hasn't heard an artist talking to another artist. I don't talk to my "normal" friends about cameras, but get me with another photographer and watch out.

I will agree with the ergonomics comment as the ultimate decider, at a point. IF a given tool is physically painful to use (and in various pursuits, I've used a few like that) no amount of regular use will suffice: it'll just give you pain.
I'm sure I recall you talking of camera straps & heavy equipment in a similar vein some time ago.

"I'm sure I recall you talking of camera straps & heavy equipment in a similar vein some time ago."

Everything comes back to haunt me. [g]


While craftsmen often end up loving the tools they use, I think this is true only of the tools they choose personally and not so true of those that were chosen for them.

For example, my employer requires me to use Word as my wordprocessor. It's been more than eight years now and I still don't like it, let alone love it...

"Sony seems to be similar to Apple: people have a tribal loyalty to the brand and buy the products despite their blindingly obvious flaws."

(A) That kind of loyalty exists among other brands.
(B) Sony desperately wants to be Apple (they were Apple before Apple was Apple, but times have changed) and are trying to get the Sony faithful buying DSLRs, but in the meantime, are endlessly frustrated by us former Minolta users who stink up (other) forums with talk about their obvious flaws. But it's getting better for them ... they're attracting more and more of the former and driving away more and more of the latter over time.

I really wanted to like the Voigtlander Bessa II. I had one with a very desirable Heliar lens and used it for a year or so. It was very compact for a 6x9 camera, so I could take it anywhere and still have big negatives, and it had an accurate coupled rangefinder.

The ergonomics, though, just didn't work for me. It was too left handed. I tried holding the camera all different ways, but I found it hard to keep it steady in the horizontal position - verticals were fine. It was okay on a tripod, but if I needed a tripod I might as well have been shooting 4x5 or larger. The whole point of a compact folder is hand held use.

I also decided that even with the best 1950s folders, the design was too light for adequate film flatness at 6x9.

So I sold it and went back to my 6x6 Perkeo II. The lens is a Color Skopar - a Tessar-type that isn't as good as a Heliar, and it has scale focusing, so I use an uncoupled she mount rangefinder. I can tolerate those deficiencies, because the camera is really small, gives me 6x6 negs, I can hold it steadily, and it holds the film flat.

If it meant using "Kit" lenses then i'd go for the Olympus in a flash.

But i'd sneak in my 50mm F2 Macro. It virtually lives on my E620. I only ever change it for the kit 14-45mm for landscapes.

I agree with John Camp re: articulated screens (my churches/architecture fetish might have something to do with this): the one reason I miss my old Sony R1 and feel a tiny bit frustrated about my current K7. How movie mode became ubiquitous and this form of screen didn't is truly beyond me.

Mmm...Just bought 2 cameras - a new Panasonic GH1 and a second hand Exakta Varex IIb. I used an Exakta just like the one I bought for over 10 years - it was my first SLR (thanks, Dad!) and gave me faithful service. After using it again, I remembered all the things I loved about its quirky style, and all of the memories about the places I went to and the photos I took.
Now the GH1 is in the house, and I love that as well, but for different reasons. I can't go back, but who would want to, and there are no doubt some things I would like to change when I get out there with the GH1. In the end, it is the photos we take that tell the stories and as long as the tools are reliable and usable, that is enough. Oh well, even nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

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