Jan 062012

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest camera of them all?”

If the various photography fora and photography pundits are to be believed then it is the mirrorless Sony NEX camera, either the NEX-5 or NEX-7 versions.

But wait, Fujifilm is believed to be about to announce a follow up to its retro-styled X100 with the X1 Pro that features interchangeable lenses to give the 35 mm equivalent of 28mm, 52.5mm and 90mm. Already it is being compared to the Contax G2 film rangefinder but without Zeiss lenses.

One thing is clear even after just a few days into the New Year, 2012 seems likely to be an interesting year in terms of new cameras.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The year 2012 may also mark a sea change. I know of two photography enthusiasts who are contemplating ditching their high-end Nikon and Canon DSLRs for the Sony NEX. I too have been giving serious thought to making the Ricoh GXR with the A12 M-mount my main camera.

The main sticking point for me is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). They may well be the viewfinder of choice in cameras to come but I am an optical viewfinder (OVF) person. To me a camera isn’t really a camera unless it has an OVF. I know I am living in the past and fearful of embracing the brave new world of EVF mirrorless cameras.

If EVFs are the way of the future, why have Canon and Nikon announced new flagship cameras, the 1DX and D4 respectively, featuring OVFs? Do professional photographers have different demands than those of photography enthusiasts?

I tend to regard the equipment used by press photographers as a yardstick for the kind of camera I would want to use. I worked in newspaper journalism for 14 years, including a spell as a sports/news photographer, and that probably influences my judgment with regard to cameras and lenses.

Back in November, Reuters posted its 100 top pictures of 2011. Each picture was accompanied by a statement by the photographer including the camera and lens used for the shot, as well as the exposure.

Earlier this week, I went through all 100 photographs, noting down the camera and lens used. The list I compiled contained quite a surprise.

Back in my journalism days, the press photographer’s camera of choice was always a Nikon – F3, F4 and F5. Imagine my surprise when Nikon cameras accounted for only eight of the Reuters Top 100 photographs.

Canon DSLR cameras accounted for 84 of the photographs, with the Canon 5D Mk II used in 38 of the shots; the Canon 1D Mk IV accounting for another 16 and the Canon 1D Mk III a further nine, the same number as the Canon 5D. So these four Canon cameras accounted for 72 of the photographs.

For all the talk of the advantages of Micro Four-Thirds and Mirrorless cameras, these types of cameras did not feature, save for the one shot taken with a Leica M9.

I think the camera market is likely to divide into three distinct sectors – professionals, enthusiasts and consumers. The former will continue with the high-end DSLRS, as will many of the enthusiasts but the consumer may well give up on DSLRS in favour of the more compact and convenient mirrorless cameras.

The DSLR has a tremendous hold over me and I will likely wait and see what Canon offers in the shape of its replacement for the Canon 5D Mark II. Rumour has it that the Canon 5D Mark III will be announced in March. However, I recall a similar forecast being made this time last year and nothing materialized.

If I am considered a technological dinosaur then so be it. For me photography is all about lining up a shot by gazing through an OVF. It is what I have been used to for more than 30 years and I am reaching the age where I like my comfort zone.

But at the end of the day, the type of camera matters little in the great scheme of photography. It is what lies behind the camera that is the most important factor in creating photographs of merit and impact.

I can never understand why some people get terribly upset when their camera of choice is criticized – Leica users are notorious for going on the defensive in this regard. And the battle of supremacy between Canon and Nikon will rage for eternity among some of their respective users just as long as photographic fora exist on the Internet. What would these people do if Canon and Nikon ever merged as companies or one took over the other? Methinks lots of tears before bedtime.

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  4 Responses to “DSLR cameras still dominate press photography”

  1. First off, I like your ‘Seeds’ shot. Second, I like your writing. I agree with you on the OVF. I think we’re the same age, so we both grew up using the same type of cameras. I also like looking through that viewfinder instead of the electronic VF. Old school, old dogs, etc. My camera has both options. I have used the EVF only a few times and with not much satisfaction. It’s much easier for me to compose a shot ‘the old way’. Also, what lies behind the camera is important, but don’t you think subject matter has a lot to do with it too?

    • Thank you. I am glad you liked the shot.

      But isn’t it the person behind the camera who chooses the subject matter?

      What camera do you have that has both the EVF and OVF option — the Fujifilm X100? I thought you shot with a Canon 7D.

  2. Best current camera? Not the one in the shop, advert, on the website, in the review or at home, it’s the one you have with you. Most folk will have already decided what type of camera this will be, based on or determining, their type of photography and by, hopefully, trial rather than error. So it’s horses for courses. For example, a recent visit to the Take a View exhibition of prints at the National Theatre revealed, predictably, that the British landscape photographers tool of choice is a 5D MkII. After that it’s about previous experience, sentimentality and age. For some of us of a certain age (well, me anyway), a sad fact is that the continuing application of advances in technology to the digital SLR have now put my ideal camera beyond any real hope of production – manual exposure and focusing only, DoF preview, proper viewfinder and a mirror, ISO fixed at 100, 3 metering modes oh, and built like a brick sh*thouse. Not fussed about sensor size, 15 – 20 mp’ll do. That’ll be a digital Pentax LX or Nikon FM2 with a couple of extra metering options then. Unfortunately, and in complete contrast, the future seems set to dictate that a replacement camera will entail paying an inflated price for lots of stuff I really don’t want – a gazillion megapixels, HD video (!). 2012 – another year of ‘advances’ then? Can’t wait.

    • From time to time, I look at my old Minolta XD7 film camera and wonder how we got from that to to the present day top-end DSLRs. Was it not within the bounds of possibility to keep DSLRs the same size as SLR cameras? The only company that seems to have achieved continuity in form and size between film and digital is Leica with its M series. I have just checked and the M9 is 25g lighter than the M7; the physical dimensions are virtually identical. But who is going to pay the over-inflated asking price of a Leica M9, other than doctors, dentists, lawyers and CEOS?

      The boat anchor weight of many DSLRs is the reason I was drawn to the Ricoh GXR A12 M-mount but I just don’t think I could live with an EVF and to me photography isn’t about looking at an LCD screen held at arms length. I like looking through an optical viewfinder and I would like it even more if there was a split prism to aid focus.

      I think even more annoying in this day and age is the built-in obsolence of cameras. By that I mean a new camera is introduced and some feature is left out, only for it to appear 12 months later in the X2, EP2, GF2 or whatever version. The EP1 was a classic example with no hot-shoe to allow for a viewfinder. Surprise, surprise, a hot-shoe appeared on the EP2. More sales for Olympus.

      Fujifilm introduces the X100 with a fixed lens. Now the X1Pro is announced that has interchangeable lenses. Again more sales for Fujifilm. And Joe Public or should I say Harry Photoenthusiast falls for this bullshit time and time again. I guess it isn’t in the interest of camera manufacturers to get it right first time. The business model of film cameras does not apply to digital cameras.

      Given that cameras are now electronic products, I find it strange that cameras buck the trend of all other electronic goods. When DVDs first came out, they cost $250 to $300. These days you can pick one up, just as good in terms of features, for $50.

      The Canon 1DX has just been announced and it will cost virtually the same as Canon’s previous flagship camera. I think it might be $100 cheaper than the IDs Mark III. How about making it $2,000 cheaper than its predecessor. Ah but with the evolving technology, the 1DX has more bells and whistles and can do so much more than its predecessor. If I want a video camera I would buy a video camera, so there is $1,000 I would be paying for something I would never use.

      Of course, Bob, you have to remember that there is a generation of photographers who have never experienced film cameras or manual focus and to them, we are just a couple of grumpy old men. They might be right. 🙂

      A digital Minolta XD7 would do me nicely just as long as it wasn’t made by Sony. I like my cameras to be made by camera manufactures and not companies best known for television sets and crappy hi-fi gear. I wonder why Philips never got into making cameras? Perhaps they are working on one that also features a shaver. What a concept!

      Oh no! What have I gone and said!!! 🙂

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