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Thursday, 30 May 2019


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My second system is the diminutive Sony RX100 III, a camera capable of professional results with a 1" sensor and 24-70 equivalent lens. Should my full frame A7R's give out for any reason, the RX100 is a backup that happens to fit into a pocket. (Backup to my backup is the Ricoh GRII).

APS-C only makes sense to me within the Fuji system, because if you want to shoot Fuji, that's what you get, and there are good arguments for the lenses and the color rendition, I'm told.

But APS-C doesn't make sense to me from any of the other manufacturers, because you get a smaller sensor with fewer lens choices in a body and lens system that is just as large as FF, and not a heck of a lot cheaper anymore. (Nikon Z6 less than $2k.)

I really like m4/3 (the standard bodies, not the big Oly) because it's very much smaller and cheaper than most FF and APS-C systems, with a great selection of lenses from several different makers, and for almost all purposes, it is good enough, and I actually like the aspect ratio much better than the FF or APS-C aspect ratios.

I think the Sony RX100 is a terrific little pocket camera. Cell phones are fine for note-taking.

But APS-C? Only in the olden days, pre-2007.

For me, back issues have resulted in making my two systems the APS-C and M43. the latter having fewer lenses, but covering some of the focal lengths of the APS-C. Hedgeing my bets that as time goes on, even the Fuji Kit may be too much to hike with, the M43 kit will allow me to still have the range I prefer, with moderately light weight.

I have on order the Voigtlander 21mm/f1.4 Nokton (Sony E mount) to go with the 40mm/f1.2 Nokton and the 110/f2.5 Apo-Lanthar. Some might think 21-40-110 is a wide stretch; but consider with my Sony A7R3 I can press one Custom button and get 18MP APS-C crop; so I really have 21-30-40-60-110-165 at a pinch. (Not going to argue which is better - crop in post or use crop mode in-camera).

BTW is "mildly obsessed" an oxymoron?

Interesting idea. For me it brings a quandry. I have the 16mm, 23mm, 27mm, 50mm, all Fujifilm lenses.

If I use your idea about lenses I really don't need either the 23mm or the 27mm. I think the 27mm fits your idea about lens selection but we all know how good the 23mm f2.0 is. But if you ask me which lens I use the most, the 23mm or the 27mm, I would tell you the 27mm.

So after several moments of thought I've made my decision - I can't make up my mind. Typical of me.

Also my back-up or second camera is the Oly TG-4. Enough said about that camera.

I agree on the lenses. I prefer 24-50-105. However, regarding sensor size, its that lack of differentiation that, for me, makes FF and APS-C the best complementary systems. FF is the sweet spot. I can get near FF image quality with little compromise in a lighter, carry everywhere APS-C package. m43 has lost the size factor battle - either too close in size to APS-C or too small as an ILC. My pocketable 1" Sony comes close enough in image quality. MF is just too large and expensive. It will always remain niche.

I make my Fuji system do double duty and use the XPro2 as my main camera and the XE3 as the pocket version. After a lifetime of working with only one or two lenses, I have now allowed myself to get the full spectrum of focal lenses, from 16mm (24 eq) to 90 (135 eq), all covered by primes. But strangely, I find myself using primarily the pair 27/40 (40eq/60eq), effectively a wide standard and a long standard. Not quite the two step gap you suggest. This just happens to get my eyes into the right frame. I even have two lenses for the 40 eq, the lovely little Fuji 27mm and an old Leica 28/f2.8. For the 40mm I have the magical Voigtlaender 40/f1.4, which lives permanently on the XE3. When out with the kids, I take the 16mm/f1.4 and get those crazy close ups with them. Life is good. The system is it's own backup.

Conversely, this also means you can mix adjacent sensor sizes pretty easily. For example, for my dance photography, I use the DX-sensored Nikon D500 and full-frame D850 side by side, and the D500 keeps up surprisingly well. Combined with the Sigma 50-100/1.8, the D500 has a nice mix of capabilities you can't really find anywhere else near this price: good usability, responsiveness, and good autofocus with serviceable image quality.

My iPhones rule. The Xs for 12MP stills and QHD video. The SE for recording sound with Sennheiser microphones.

I'm totally obsessed with minimalism!

I have two systems, although not entirely by choice because John Camp is correct about Nikon not having a complete lens family for their DX (APS-C) cameras. Otherwise I'd have only a DX system as I am in agreement that APS-C is the sweet spot for sensor size, and I prefer the DX camera bodies.

I consider my DX camera to be a "zoom system" and my FX camera to be a "prime system." I have two primes for the FX. I have several zooms for DX.

And of course, an iPhone.

This can make a lot of sense. I have m4/3s but I was tempted at one point to get a medium format film camera with only one wider lens strictly for "slow" landscape photography. I never did it though but haven't ruled it out of my future.

"...two lenses adjacent on the list will not be quite different enough from each other to make them fully differentiated."

Not entirely true imo. 35mm and 50mm are pretty distinct. Perhaps because they're both normal. One os for 'seeing', the other for 'looking'.

I have both and use them for different things. Shooting closeups with 35mm isn't flattering, shooting landscapes with 50mm feels constrained. One is an environmental lens, the other a closeup lens. Totally different applications.

On the other hand, the jump from 35mm to 85mm always feels too large to me. You're constantly either too far or too close. This split personality drives me crazy. When I'm heading out, I take 35mm. At home, I use 50mm.

For me the natural progression is:
20mm or 24mm - 35mm - 50mm - tele zoom.

If I had to keep only two lenses, it would be 35mm and 50mm for sure. It doesn't matter they're close. What matters is that they're the most normal, most useful and most used lenses on a day to day basis.

[Well, as I said, it's not a law. It's actually good to have strong feelings about focal lengths. It means you've really gotten to know them. --Mike]

"[APS-C's] major shortcoming is that it's not glamorous."

That's a feature, not a flaw. Lower priced equipment, less pretense, and less chance of being mistaken by the general public for a professional.

My Pentax K1 and my Olympus EM1 II complement each other well. I tend to use a similar field of view for each, the 43 limited and the Panasonic 20mm. When I get bored with the Olympus, I enjoy the viewfinder and the rich files of the K1. Eventually I’ll be ready for a smallish, more modern EVF mirrorless camera and start using the Olympus again. The phone is a back-up camera and a note taker.

I had a 35mm - 105mm system for a while (my first Nikon) and it was too big a gap. I somehow missed knowing about the 85mm, which would have been a much better choice for me (I like that angle of view better than 105 anyway). Instead I filled in the 50mm later (1982; ancient history now).

But I had 35 - 50 - 90 on my Leica and it was wonderful.

High ISOs have made the "normal zoom" more useful than it used to be. For moderate telephotos, the 80-200/2.8 took over quite some time ago. For anything outdoors I just take two Micro Four Thirds bodies with the 12-40/2.8 and the 40-150/2.8 these days.

Wait, 180? I never heard of a 180 until the Nikon AF 180/2.8, which struck me as a weird duck.

[Wait, how old are you? The Zeiss Olympia Sonnar (180mm f/2.8) was developed for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, with Adolph Hitler presiding and Jesse Owens winning his gold medals. Leica had a number of 180mms going back to the famous compact R-mount APO-Telyt 180mm ƒ/3.4. And Philip Reeve called the 180mm Nikkor AIS "one of the most famous manual focus Nikkors." Generally 200mms were cheaper and perhaps more common. Fixed 180mms went somewhat out of favor when 70-210mm and 80-200mm zooms essentially replaced them in popularity. --Mike]

Back in the film days, I used my Olympus OM-1 with a 24-50-105 mm lens set, i.e., roughly doubling the focal length at each step. It would have been nice to add a 200 mm to the set.

Now, in the digital era, my "best" camera is a Pentax K-5 with three Limited lenses: 15-35-70 mm (23-54-107 mm-e) approximating that same range. To that, I've added two secondhand Pentax-A manual-focus lenses: 135 and 200 mm (207 and 306 mm-e). I also have a Helios-44-K-4 58 mm (89 mm-e) and a just-acquired Jupiter-9 in M42 mount at 85 mm (130 mm-e) for the wonderful rendering that these Soviet/Zeiss lenses produce.

My other two cameras have zooms: Sony RX10iii with a Sony/Zeiss 24-600 mm-e lens and a Panasonic with a Pana/Leica 25-250 mm-e lens.

I have always thought that a "Sony RX trio" could make a lot of sense - The RX10 as the "most flexible"/covers all focal lengths from 24-200 or 24-600 equiv. depending on which of the series you go with and an ideal travel cam/no lens swapping needed, a companion RX100 for when you just want to carry a "pocketcam", and then the RX1rII for when you want the FF goodness of a larger format and restriction of working with just one focal length (as long as "35mm" is the focal length that works for you...). The added bonus is that the RX10 also does really nice video if needed and all three cameras support multiple aspect ratios, including a very desirable 1:1 square, which is otherwise not available on the A7 series or APS-C models...

...RE: Sony RX Trio - Then again, it's easy to get side-tracked along the way with something like a Leica CL with the 11-23mm (16 - 35mm Eq) if you're a real wide-angle person, a 35mm f1.4 (50mm Eq) for the shallow DOF look, and a 60mm (90mm Eq./macro) as a dual-purpose lens and a tiny 18mm pancake (28mm Eq.) could be added for when just "traveling light"/one focal length but then you're carrying around ~$10k of gear which is not all that desirable, often... Which might ultimately mean that you're back to mostly making images with your iPhone, *sigh*...

I'm a boring guy. Most of my photos are done within the "normal" range of lenses. To that end, I mainly use the 23mm and 35mm focal lengths with my Fuji cameras (35mm and 50mm equivalents). I consider both focal lengths to be normal. I seldom use long lenses. When I do, I usually only take a small step to the 50mm f/2 Fuji (75mm equivalent). To me, that's still in the normal range.
But when I go wide, I always go very wide. With Fuji, I use the 14mm (21mm equivalent) or the new 16mm 2.8 (24mm equivalent). When I take pictures, I try not to depend on lens effects although I really like the look of wide angle photographs.

As for formats, I shot film in 35mm, 6x6, 6x4.5 and 4x5 over the years. But with digital, I've always used smaller formats. I've managed to avoid the full frame format totally. At first it was too expensive for my budget. As it became more affordable, I realized full frame digital really didn't offer much to the type of photography I was doing. Although I adopted Micro 4/3 early on, I've mainly used APS-C format cameras since I began shooting digital and I still prefer it. For my money, it's perfect. The cameras can be small but the image quality can be incredible...much better than 35mm film ever was. And the Fuji XPro is a logical digital evolution of the Leica rangefinder I used to love using when Tri-X ruled my world.

Medium format digital? I dunno. It's not really for me. My photography is twitchy, nervous, candid. Planning a photograph doesn't compute with me. I kinda depend on wandering around aimlessly and depending on serendipity for my best pictures. I never thought my large format photography was very successful when I was using film and my best medium format photos were done with a Pentax 645 that I used like a big 35mm SLR.

After College I went to NY Institute of Photography which at the time offered 12 week (I think) intensive modules in "Commercial Photography' , Portrait Photography, Dye Transfer Printing etc.
This was not Art School but more of a trade school for people who wanted to work in the studios in NY. I took several of them, then took a job as a Junior Instructor there. At the time only large format was really taught. Then Got a job in a commercial studio. We had Nikons & Leicas but relatively little was shot on them. (we did do Kodachrome jobs. If it was 'people' , it was usually Hasselblad. If it was a product and B&W it was usually 4x5 which I processed and printed, if it was product and color, that would be shot on 8x10 Ektachrome and processed by Duggal who was around the corner.
This was a mid-range studio with some very good national account work.
This stuck with me and even for personal work. For many years I shot with Nikons and Hasselblad (with some 4x5 & 8x10)
I had 2 Hasselblad bodies the 50,80,150, but also a Superwide with the 38mm Zeiss Biogon. When I travelled abroad my kit was 1 Nikon F3, 2 zooms, a tiny flash, and The Hassy Superwide with 2 magazines, 1 for TriX and one with Fujichrome Velvia.
I switched seamlessly between the two cameras and I worked that way with film until I took up digital.
While I still have all those cameras & lenses , I truly miss the ability to have a digital version of the superwide
I'm taking a hard look at the new Fujifilm camera, and I would shoot FF Canon (5D4 &1Ds3) and am excited by the prospect of being able to use Canon's T/S lenses on the GFX. (I'd probably buy the 23,45, & 110 native lenses.
While resolution is certainly part of the attraction, I have found that I see differently with each. I make different pictures, and I really like that.

I agree with you but have adopted a bit of a different system. I am now shooting with Sony after 25 years of Nikon. But over the last 10 years I settle on having one FF body and one APS-C body (1.5x). I do this because it has the effect of giving me some lens versatility. I will often shoot with the 28mm F2 on the A9 and the 85mm 1.8 or 55mm 1.8 on the A6500 - giving me a nice wide camera and a mid-tele camera. The cropped sensor is also nice when shooting some sports where the 400mm is nice, but the effective 600mm with all of the pixels helps.

My walkabout prime kit for m43 is 17 and 45 (1.8, not 1.2). Both tiny and far enough apart (~2.6). A more complete set is 12/17/45/75 (24/35/90/150-E). I have the 25/1.4, but it doesn’t grab me the way the others do. The ratios then are 1.4/2.6/1.7. Personally I think 1.5-1.6 would be an idea set of ratios: 12/18/27/40/75.

If I take a backup, it’s another m43 body. Sadly none of my bodies have USB charging built-in, so any other body also implies additional batteries and charger. But I don’t need another set of lenses.

So I used to have the RX100 III and a A6000. I found the ergonomics of the RX100 are such that I would generally pull out the A6000 or not bring a camera at all - which was the purposed of the RX100 in the first place.

Times have changed. Now I have moved to a A6400 and a iPhone XS shooting RAW - which is the first phone camera that I now take seriously. The combination is more than good enough for me.

Just as a minor point of interest my largest selling print in the last 10 years was taken with a ~10MP Samsung small sensor camera so I've long opted out of the more mega pixels war.

Sold my Nikon D800 because it became just too heavy for my cranking bones. Loving the D7500 paired with my Apple iPhone XS Max. The only problem is a good many of my photos on the XS Max are just freaking awesome.

My feeling with film formats was that the aspect ratio and general concept of the camera were not important than the size of the film. I used all of these at the same time:
4x5 Graflex RB slr - always vertical usually with Polaroid negative b&w , usually portraits. Usually with an 800 watt strobe,

6x9 47mm superangulon “frankenwide” unknown focusing mount and shimmed to a Super 23 back with a Nikon 21mm viewfinder and on camera flash always , horizontal always.

6x7 combat graphic spring motorized 70mm rangefinder, eye level always horizontal. Never flash

6x6 a variety of slr and tlr, always waist level, always fast leaf shutter fill flash. (Like Diane you know)

35mm Nikon slr, usually pretty compositionally loose, fast film, everything looked like chaos, often with flash and blur. Usually with a 24mm

I never really thought about the film size so much as what each camera seemed to naturally want to do.

Having rapidly moved from 35mm to medium format and finally settling with an RB67 for all my landscape and portraiture, I've become accustomed to the 6/7 ratio and find it harder to compose in the 3/2 ratio of aps-C and full frame. I'd like a beefed up version of a micro four thirds camera, with a sensor the height of full frame but 4/3 ratio in width. Then I could keep the ratio I like and have the added benefits of full frame quality. It would certainly be a worthwhile upgrade from my Lumix DMC-LX100, as suggested by Mike above.

My Leica kit is now (due to having to pay bills) down to 35 'lux ASPH, 50 'lux ASPH, and a 90/2.8 Elmarit-M. The choice between 35 and 50 is simple. The default is 35, unless I will be mostly outdoor, then the 50.

What a sensible article, congratulations. After many years, I have settled in Fuji X APSC format, enough goodness for what I do. If anything, I really would like (one day, who knows) to shoot my favourite subject (landscapes) with the GF50R and the 23-64mm zoom.

I have to ask, what was the hated focal length?

[28mm. He hated them, thought they were "in between," but one of the regular art directors used to like to say, "let's see that with a 28." --Mike]

The traditional line of 35mm lenses is full of irregularities:
20/ 24/ 28/ 35/ 50/ 85/ 105/ 135/ 180
That’s +4 +4 +7 +15 +35 + 30 +30 +45mm. Completely bonkers.

For comparison, using a constant multiplying factor of √2 (aka 1,41) would double or halve the covered area in your viewfinder when using the next lens in the line.
With 50mm as the standard lens the line would be like this:
17/ 25/ 35/ 50/ 70/ 100/ 140/ 200

The 50mm does not have a perfect neutral perspective. That would be 43mm. Multiplying that focal length with √2 would give this alternatieve line-up:
15/ 21/ 30/ 43/ 60/ 90/ 120/ 180

Looks good on paper, but what if the factor √2 does not feel comfortable, as in your case with the combination of a 35mm and a 50mm? Is 1,5 better?
15/ 22/ 33/ 50/ 75/ 112,5/ 150/ 225?

Yes, life can be tough for prime lens fundies.

[Except you get no credit for regularity of this sort. Reminds me of the amateur game of "covering every focal length" with zooms--people used to anguish about the fact that short zooms ended at 70mm and longer ones started at 80mm, like they were going to somehow be left bereft by those missing 10 millimeters.

The argument gets very distorted by pros, who must be "at the service" of clients and need to be able to handle anything that comes up. But really, all amateurs needed to do (with primes) was a.) figure out the main normal that was most comfortable, b.) figure out if they wanted to augment that with a wide angle, and, if so, which, and c.) ditto with a short tele. The last step was to decide if they wanted a longer tele. --Mike]

I'm also in for pairing a modern phone any of the smaller form factor digital camera systems.

I like the Olympus cameras with their 12-40 or 12-100 zooms. An iPhone plus one of those lenses covers 90% of regular shooting. Throw in a long telephoto for the times you need it.

That said, for really exotic telephotos (for your next safari or eclipse trip) a Nikon DX/APS-C body and their 200-500 zoom is tempting.

I'm one of those that use an iPhone and M4/3, it's enough for me. Now I really think that the iPhone can do pretty serious work if you consider it a serious camera one and not a toy, and if you have enough light. Recently, walking my dogs on the mountains close to my home, I got this photo of a grazing black horse with my iPhone Xs


I made a 12x16" inch print of it on Canson Rag Photographique that really look quite impressive especially considering that it comes from a phone camera.

I think an even better solution is just to find one format that does all you need and fully build upon it :) To me that system, as you said, is APS-C but it could also be MFF if I had the resources.
You do bring up a good point though, and I think differentiation is why Canon has a smaller APS-C format, to make it still good and versatile enough, but give it more distinction from 35mm (also because in the beginning they had APS-H instead of 35mm).
It is also why for many years Pentax had APS-C as its bread and butter system, making it more complete than any other systems, and had the 645 digital format for those who wanted bigger. Only after many years of hearing "we want FF!" did they release the K-1 and while it is a great camera, it might be what ends up killing the brand. It caused them to switch focus away from APS-C when their 16-50mm and 50-135mm desperately needed (and still need) upgrades. They could have also worked on their AF system and in having better video capabilities. In the end, the K-1 made them release a new format in digital and then not have the resources to release a full line of lenses to support it. On top of that, it might have taken away market from their own 645 digital system. Time will tell.
Nikon and Canon might be having similar issues now with the need to continue supporting their DSLR market which they need for revenue, and their new mirrorless products. Canon seems to be doing better with being able to release enough lenses to satisfy the market, as it has the resources to do so, but for Nikon, it might be the beginning of the end. Time, again, will tell.

A thoughtful and insightful post Mike!

I would only add that re. megapixels, one might say that 4x the megapixels is the significant step.

Going from 24mpx to 50mpx is only a 50% increase in pixel density. I think one really needs to double the pixel density, ie. going from 24mpx to 100 mpx for a significant visual difference in the final photograph.

I shoot two formats often, but in my case it's Fuji APS-C and either 6x6 or 6x7(sometimes 6x9)...so there's very little confusion betwixt formats.

The Fuji GFX family and Hasselblad look like a great size and jump in quality, but I like being able to cover the mortgage and staying married and such so I'll never know - but if it were my job, they'd be a heckuva option. The Hasselblad with 21/4 would be a pretty good follow on to the SWC, dangit.

I have a large camera (16 MPixel APS-C DSLR) and a small camera (m4/3 Olympus, with tiny pancake kit lens, also 16 mp). Image quality is about the same but both are plenty good enough. I find I use both about equally, the differences being the size (the Olympus is very conveniently small and light), the viewfinder (optical vs. electronic - sometimes I like one, sometimes the other) and I can use my graduated filters on the DSLR but can't (for various reasons) on the Olympus. So quite different systems but quality didn't really enter into it.

I'd like to see FujiFilm extend their "every other sensor size" lineup at the low end. Make one model with a 1" sensor, 24-360 or so zoom range, about the size of a Sony RX10 or Panasonic FZ1000.

Mike - Here's an indirectly related comment. I am using a Sony A7Riii. I have a number of primes including the 55mm f1.8. I've always "seen" well with the 50mm focal length, but never before owned a 55mm. I find it a bit uncomfortable thus far to use. I'll keep using it for another year or two to see if it grows on me, but in the meantime the 5mm or so seems to make a difference (assuming that the actual fl is 55mm, rather than, say, 53mm, or 58mm) . . . .

Well, this really spoke to me. I used to feel almost exactly as you do. But lately I've become more keenly aware of the---initially subtle, then really not---differences between focal lengths AND formats. It started a while ago, but got cemented during digital times as I move up in sensor sizes, and had to do the mental calculations about what equivalent FL I was in.

But something that honed that to a finer edge was also working between aspect ratios. A 28mm equivalent lens looks different between different aspect ratios.

So, now I am firmly in 2 different sensor sizes and aspect ratios: FF with my Pentax K1U2 and a 3:2 aspect ratio, and "645" Pentax Z with a 4:3 aspect ratio. And because Pentax makes its own adapters to move between formats, I can use all of my 645 lenses on my FF camera (and could use the 6x7 lenses on either if I wanted to...). This has allowed me to really flesh out a lens collection.

One additional note: I think Fuji's usage of "super FF" is very canny, starting with this new camera that has a form factor like pro level FF DSLR's. They avoid the "but it's not really medium format" nonsense; and at the same time distance themselves a bit from the other budget DMF manufacturer, Pentax; and fleshes out their jump from APSC over FF to a "super FF", with its nice psychological twist appealing to a bunch of folks who have come up completely in the digital age for whom FF was the grail, and never used medium or large formats. Clever.

Everything has its particular strengths, so if you’re looking for some capability, go for it regardless of what else you have. Want a 40mm when you already have a 50mm or 35mm? Fine! Want to shoot 6x6 and 6x7, or Micro 4/3 and APS-C, just for the different aspect ratio? Ok! It’s all good, assuming you have the money and storage space. Having one more comprehensive system tends to happen because of the 80/20 rule, but don’t feel bad if you end up with more fairly comprehensive systems. There’s no arguing with technical requirements.

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