I Stood on the Brink

After coming back from a very wet holiday in North Wales with one drowned camera and one misbehaving camera, who could blame me for re-evaluating my gear and thinking of a major change?

I spend a fair bit of time reading various camera blogs and find Kirk Tuck’s blog very intriguing. Kirk has a hair trigger when it comes to equipment. He’ll wake up in the morning, look at his Canon equipment (bodies, lenses, the whole schmiel) and decide to put them up for sale on Craigslist. Then, he’ll take the money and go out and buy the most interesting equipment he can find. He went on a micro-four-thirds kick and waxed endlessly about how his shoots (he’s a pro portrait shooter in Texas) with various Olympus cameras matched full frame. Then, just as suddenly, he sold all his micro-four-thirds gear and stocked up on Sony. He’s still on the Sony bandwagon, but has been teetering on the brink of buying some Fuji gear. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Kirk and find his book on LED lighting to be very readable. However, I don’t have the money or the chutzpah to do what he does. I like to settle on a system and get to know it for a few years.

I took stock of my situation. I had a Canon 5d mkII that was kaput. I took it into the repair shop and it was a no go. All the insides were ruined. I had a Fuji X100 that had the “sticky blades” issue. I was also a bit fed up with it because it took forever to focus and had a fixed 35 mm lens. I’m not a 35 mm guy. People tend to look too fat when taken with a slightly wide angle lens and I like people to feel good about their photos when I take them.

Based on my reading of Kirk Tuck, one minute I was on the brink of deciding to sell all my Canon lenses and make a commitment to either the Sony e-series or the Olympus OMD. Then, I’d look at the test results in DP Review and see that full frame cameras still enjoyed a considerable lead when it came to noise control. Plus, I had all those lovely Canon lenses. Then, I’d start thinking about the Canon 5d mk III, but the disappointment over Canon introducing a new generation camera without upping the resolution took over and I’d consider changing over to the Nikon D800 even though it would mean admitting I was wrong to my Nikon obsessed son-in-law.  I was in a quandary.

I’m a very down to earth, realistic guy who feels guilty about spending too much money. Here’s what I concluded:

  • The Nikon route was too expensive. Selling all my Canon lenses used would not get me to the point where I could afford the Nikon lenses for the D800. There would be a considerable investment for the D800 body and a set of zooms or primes that covered the waterfront. Nikon’s lead in resolution and low noise is impressive, but not insurmountable. Sony makes their sensors, so presumably, Sony can match them when they want to.
  • The Canon 5d Mk III was really a disappointment. Sure, the autofocus was improved, but all the comparisons showed that the sensor was really no better than the 5d mk II. I could buy a used 5d mk II for less than $1,500 on Craigslist, less than half of the mk III after taxes.
  • The Fuji had to go. I loved the quality of the images it generated, but the flakiness of the camera and the fixed 35 mm lens was a showstopper.

I went into the local camera store fully intending to buy the Olympus OMD to replace the Fuji, but I ended up with a Nex-7! The Sony just felt so right, while the OMD was too small for my hands. I liked the additional resolution of the 24 megapixel APS-C sensor versus the small Oly sensor.

I sold the X100 after fixing it and upgrading the firmware. Sometimes I get pangs for its retro feel and the image quality, but not often. I got $800 for it. This was disappointing given that I’d paid double for the camera when new, but there are a lot of people dumping the X100, so I was lucky to find a buyer.

I bought a used Canon 5d Mk II for $1,350 with a grip extension. I sold the grip for $150, bringing the total price down to $1,200 for the body. Shhh, I didn’t pay any sales tax… This was a decision that felt right in my gut. I really liked my 5d. It takes great photos and I’ve got lots of favorite images from this body. I can preserve my lens collection and it is well-suited to the camera.

I’m very pleased with my choices. The Sony Nex-7 is brilliant. It is small, but still fits my hand. There are now some very good e-mount lenses for the camera. The kit lenses are a waste of space, but I’ve managed to accumulate three very good primes, the Sigma 19 mm f2.8 (28 mm full-frame equivalent), the Sigma 30 mm f2.8 (45 mm equivalent) and the Sony 50 mm F1.8 (75 mm equivalent). These lenses are all razor sharp and relatively inexpensive, especially compared to Zeiss, Nikon and Canon lenses.

Will I sell my Canon gear and go exclusively with the Sony Nex-7? No. The 5d is a true friend and takes marvelous photos. It is my go-to camera when I need to capture the image that is in my mind. I don’t have to worry about the camera or the lens. I know it will do the job.

The Nex-7 is a brilliant walk-about camera. The three primes can be put in your pocket so you can grab the right lens for the job. The picture quality at ISO 800 or lower is terrific. At higher ISO’s, the Canon is noticeably better, although Lightroom takes care of the difference. The Sony has such a nice electronic viewfinder that you can pre-chimp (camera speak for looking at the histogram in the viewfinder and adjusting the exposure before taking the shot) as opposed to post-chimp with the Canon. I take fewer shots with the Sony and get the exposure correct more often. The “Tri-Navi” control set-up with the Sony is very user-friendly. If I shoot manually, the three key settings (f-stop, shutter speed and ISO) are all available to your right thumb and you just find the right combination for the shot by looking at the depth of field and the histogram. It is magical.

The other thing that is terrific about the Sony is focus peaking. With the EVF, you can see all the elements of the photo that are in focus. This is great for selecting the right f-stop for the depth of field that you’re seeking.

However, the true test comes on those mornings at the cottage where the sun is just rising, there is mist on the lake and a heron is paddling around in the shallows. The Canon is still the camera I reach for to make sure I get the shot. Part of the attraction is the Ef 24-105 zoom that I know will capture a sharp image over a wide range. Instead of fumbling with prime lenses, I can just turn the barrel and get the shot I want.

Heron Stalks at Daybreak

So, I stood on the brink and contemplated a new future. A future with a Nikon system, an Olympus four-thirds system or a Sony Nex-7 system. But, I couldn’t bring myself to part with a Canon system that has produced some lovely shots in the past. I did add the Sony Nex-7 to replace the Fuji as my carry-around camera and I’m very glad I did. The snick of the shutter is so nice that I like to press the trigger just to hear the sound. However, the Canon 5d mk II soldiers on for the foreseeable future.

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