Christmas Camera Guide

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What a time to buy a camera. The move to interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) also know as mirrorless cameras is happening at a rapid pace. A friend was asking what he should do and its a difficult question. Here’s an overview of what I’d be thinking and recommendations for this Christmas:

  • Incredibly, for most daytime photography, the Sony RX-100 is actually on par with professional quality lens systems. It is a smaller sensor (1″ nominal), but at F/5.6, it delivers about 11 MP effective resolution. And it works with very low noise to about ISO 1600. I have both the RX-100 and the RX-100 Mark II and while the RX-100 is slightly faster, (1/3 of a stop), it doesn’t make that much difference. The RX-100 is way cheaper ($600 vs $750), so it is the value leader. Also, the RX-100 Mark II is slightly thicker because its screen tilts and for me, ever millimeter of girth matters as I stuff it into my pocket. You should get it with the a grip. I used the Franiac grip ($35), although the Sony one is cheaper ($14), but hard to find. For most folks leave it in “P” mode and it just works. For people who care, if there is enough light, the maximum resolution is at F/5.6 at its widest end. Works pretty well through ISO 400 with ultra low noise. It makes lots of sense as the “every day carry” for someone who loves photos.
  • The most mature camera system today that is small and compact with high quality is the micro-4/3 system. I’ve tried the Olympus OM-D EM-5 with the very expensive but very good Panasonic Lumix 12-35 F/2.8 and 35-100 F/2.8 (these are the 24-70 and 70-200 equivalent that are the standards for 35mm SLRs) and the quality is amazing. It has a 16MP sensor and with this glass is getting an effective 12MP (which is pretty remarkable) as most consumer glass is way, way worse, despite the megapixel rating of the cameras, for most of today’s cameras, you are only as good as the glass. It is also incredibly tiny and light. Not pocketable, but probably 1/3-1/2 the volume and weight of say a full frame Canon 5D Mark II. The main caveat here is that it is a relatively “old” body, so there is a rumor that you can expect to see updates in early 2014. So wait if you can. Also Olympus has announced their own professional level F/2.8 lenses and these are just coming out. By the way if you like primes, then you can drop to F/1.8 and really get into shallow depth of field and available light. I used the Panasonic 25mm F/1.8 and for a week I never used the attachable flash.
  • If you are buying for Christmas, then the new Olympus OM-D EM-1 ($1500 vs the $100 for the EM-5) looks like the winner and a great splurge. It uses the same lenses as the EM-5 and I used to be worried about the longevity of the micro-4/3 system, but now that all the lenses are really here today, for about $6K, a semi-professional can get just about everything he or she needs. So it might be time to sell your Canon glass and get this. Right now my money would be on the EM-1 plus F/2.8 zoom either the new Olympus F/2.8 or the Panasonics that are available now.
  • But if you can wait. then there are lots more coming in 2014. The big news is the Sony A7 and A7R because they are full frame and very small. The main issue is that the high quality lenses haven’t come out yet, so it is hard to know how well they will do. The A7R body only is testing on par with the D800. And the A7 is 24MP and is great for video and more practical shooting. So this is the big thing to wait for.

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