Choosing gear - camera, lens etc.

Hi All,

I would like to learn about your approach when you are considering new gear.
Assuming that we all know the gear is just a tool and as such - regardless how good or bad it is - at the end - it is nothing more than a tool.

Most of us are likely not millionaires - so buying new equipment can be of a challenge - balancing between expense and needed or desired parts camera / lens / speed light etc.

Let me try to illustrate…
I have an older canon - 70D

with 2 lenses
https://www.dxomark.com/Lenses/Canon/Canon-EF-S-18-135mm-F35-56-IS-STM
and
https://www.dxomark.com/Lenses/Canon/EF50-mm-f-1.4-USM-mounted-on-Canon-EOS-70D__895

Overtime - noticed one of the lenses (the 50 1.4) is much sharper than the other (18-135 zoom).
It actually bothers me more than I expected.

While I can’t simply buy new gear - I am hoping one day I would be able to.

So - I want to ask you.
What is your approach when choosing such?

Are you first looking for the camera? Or are you first looking for the lens?
What motivates your decision?

There are thousands of reviews each claiming that one is better than another because of autofocus or speed etc. And the gear for portraits is not going to be the same as sports or wildlife or landscape.
Yet - each makes conscious decisions why they choose what they choose. And I want to learn about this process.

For quite a while I admired a camera like this

Mostly because of the incredible details in a photo like this (high dynamic range, ability to recover the shadows, incredible details in the eyes of the model)
View Sony a7R IV sample gallery (DPReview TV) from DPReview.

Easy to conclude - full frame and good lens.
I think however this is not the complete story.

Recently I checked

Specifically this picture


Panasonic DC-GH5
LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8II (zoom lens but apparently a very good one)

20MP Four Thirds sensor (no OLPF)
Yet - the details of the picture are very very good.

I compared further to

View Canon EOS R6 sample gallery (DPReview TV) from DPReview.
full frame with very expensive lens
https://shop.usa.canon.com/shop/en/catalog/rf-50mm-f-12-l-usm-lens

And this is where sadly I think I got lost.

What influences most the pictures that they are so incredibly sharp?
Is it the sensor (like a size)?
Is it the sensor (like manufacturer or year / generation)?
Is it the lens?

What I know is that my 50mm - mounted on my 70D is going to have extremely hard time competing with the above images in details and sharpness. The zoom is not in their class at all.
However - this very same 50 mm - mounted on a newer camera that is full frame maybe actually able to compete.

sharpness changes from 12 to 22
DXO score changes from 22 to 33
https://www.dxomark.com/Lenses/Canon/EF50-mm-f-1.4-USM-mounted-on-Canon-EOS-5DS-R__1009

Knowing that my type of photography is

  • landscapes
  • portraits
  • travel
  • family
    (in no particular order)

What would be your advice in approaching the dilemma when assessing equipment?

Thank you in advance.

I won’t offer advice, but I’ll tell you what was important for me doing a lot of your four types of photography…

I found that the dynamic range of a camera was the most important consideration, as I was wrestling with that the most in my early shooting. Pulling up shadows, then dealing with noise, a lot of work in software. A lot of the places I shot had bright lighting with significant deep shadows, and I wanted it all to be resolved. This web page became my primary tool:

https://www.photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm

And what it told me about cameras I was considering guided me from a Nikon D50 (like banging your thumb with a hammer, feels good when you stop :laughing: ) to a Nikon D7000 (not a lot better, but better) to a Nikon Z 6 (OMG). Not having to worry exposure so much has let me concentrate more on composition…

My considerations for lenses is a bit more prosaic, things like zooms so I don’t have to change lenses in dusty situations. Since my film days I’ve always had a wide-wide angle lens (or focal length) in my reach, not just for the coverage but for the perspective* - easier to get that Norman Rockwell “rest of the story” sort of look in family snaps in tight environs, stuff like that. I also like the compressed perspective* for some subjects, so a rather long telephoto is important to me. I think if you stick with the “big-three”, or as some put it, the “nik-can-ony” triumvirate, you’ll get a good lens for your choice.

For me, the choice of gear became much less a dilemma when I worked to understand the scenes I was shooting, and then mapping specific camera capabilities to what I wanted to get out of them.


*For you pedantic souls who know how perspective works, I’m talking about “frame-filled” perspective, not the extreme crops some use to show that wide-angle lenses produce the same perspective as the equivalent full-frame tele shot…

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Oh, one more thing to consider: crazy-sharp lenses really don’t do much on lesser-sized sensors. And, you might want to read this for putting sensor size in perspective:

He just posted this today, timely…

Just to put a spin on it…you might hike to take photo’s and so you would perhaps still choose gear to maximize the quality of your shots and of course still get something weather sealed and lighter if possible…but it you on the other hand were vacationing and hiking quite a bit and just wanted the best keep sake photos what would you choose…

I am heading to Gros Morne in Newfoundland for a week. I would love to come back with some nice photos but it is not the prime reason for the trip as my wife will remind me. In the past I just got by with a robust Lumix all weather camera…no raw shooting only Jpgs but light, indestructible with a bit of zoom…

I did some reading recently and there are a range of recommendations but a common theme for this sort of things is the camera that you will take with you and use which often boiled down to a smartphone…the pixel 6 often being in the mix with many of the proposed options.

I have a pixel phone …not a 6 but I a wrestling with if I will rely on it to capture my vacation or try something better… I wonder if going an expensive route like a Sony Rx with a 1 inch sensor would be worth it in the end over the smartphone…

Better decide soon… I leave in a couple of months…

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Thank you!
There is quite a bit of reading and I intend to do it. Yes - dynamic range is important. I have a few shots where I didn’t have the flash and often the shot is ruined. And it matters - even if it is just a family picture.
It is good indeed to leave the technical a bit on a lesser importance (knowing that the format can handle) so focus more on composition, expressions etc.

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Thank you,
I see what you mean. Often it is a dilemma that I face myself. I did download some shots to see how they work. For a small one - few of the sony crops are not bad at all. And I did consider them too but yes - at some point in the future hopefully. For now I am still with my 70D

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Its to be expected a prime will be much sharper than a 7.5x zoom - the latter has a much more complex build. Typically I wouldn’t want any more than a 3x zoom for quality.

I think that a very important shift in camera/lens design happened some ten-or-so years ago: modern lenses and cameras have become universally good.

Back in the DSLR days, some lenses were visibly soft, and some cameras really struggled in low light. So the choice of camera and lens had to be done carefully, with a lot of research weighing options and applications. Nowadays however, all lenses are comparatively good, and all cameras are capable. There aren’t any bad choices any more. I attribute this mostly to cheaper asphericals, computer-aided design tools, and matured sensor tech.

Even the importance of sensor size has diminished in many ways. Good bright lenses and improved stability have done much to make smaller sensors (MFT, APS-C) very viable for most shooting situations.

As such, the choice of a modern camera and lens is mostly freed from technical considerations. Instead of carefully weighing your options based on spec sheets and measurements, you can nowadays simply walk into a camera store, and pick whichever camera feels best in your hands, or looks best, or inspires you in some way.

The same goes for lenses, you can essentially pick the sizes and focal lengths you like, without worrying much about resolution or aberrations. In fact, I extensively tested my lenses (here, here, here, here), and have found even my “worst” super-zoom essentially indistinguishable from my “best” prime lenses once stopped down a little.

The trick is to buy yesteryear’s model on the used market, to save you some money, and be able to sell/swap your gear without much loss should you need to. Buying and selling used gear has been a revelation to me. With the crazy abundance of choice available in photography gear, it took me quite a while and a ludicrous number of devices to figure out what kind of gear I actually like. As it turns out, I adore the optical viewfinder on a Fujifilm X-Pro camera, and immensely enjoy Fuji’s tactile retro dials. Another hard-learned lesson was that I can’t get along with compact cameras, except for the Ricoh GR. These realisations however have only been possible through endless trial and error, by buying whatever struck my fancy, and selling it a few months later once I’d learned my lessons. I did this slowly, over several years, generally without losing any money. It’s the only method I know of to actually hone in on the sort of gear you like.

Personally, this lead me to realize that my priorities do not require the latest gear. A crop sensor with 24ish megapixels is plenty for me. In fact, I find modern camera developments actively absurd. It’s nowadays all about subject tracking and IBIS and eye detection, and similar frivoloties that I have very little use for. Any five-to-ten year old camera focuses fast enough for my needs. The last camera I had that actually missed shots due to its autofocus was a Nikon D3000, of many years ago.

But while I personally ended up with Fujifilm, I strongly believe that one could build an equally effective system with any modern manufacturer. All but the very earliest mirrorless* cameras and lenses are easily good enough and fast enough for most types of photography. There really aren’t any bad choices any more.

* Mirrorless is generally preferable to DSLRs only because it’s newer. DSLRs can be just as good of course, but you have to do more research to separate the modern stuff from obsolete designs.

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How many times have we heard this, but in other fields as well, computers and hi-fi come to mind.

It is the wrong place to start, think of what you want to do (portraiture, landscape, wildlife or street photography for example) and only then look at the kit you need to fulfil your aims.

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I don’t think going with a 1" sensor makes much sense over a phone nowadays, rather pick up an aps-c compact like the ricoh gr (pretty cheap second hand). The phone processing will out resolve the 1" sensor camera, and leave you with less work in the end.

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I second that. When friends ask me what I would recommend, my first and most important question is:

What do you want to archieve?

In case of cameras: What do you like to photograph? Is it a hobby or a profession? Do you work in studio or outside? How do you get to your subjects? Etc.
→ Those are the needs.

From those needs you can compile criteria for cameras and lenses. Since you (probably) buy more lenses than cameras, I would look for a flexible mount.

Example: I like to photograph while traveling by bike, hence a looked for a small yet capable camera with interchangeble lenses - and bought a used Sony Alpha a6000 with a few manual lenses, to try and find out which focal lengths I like. I prefer the haptic feeling of “real” focus and “real” aperture over the electronic “by wire”-solutions.
That’s a few years ago, today I would probably take an a6400. Except for low light performance, even the 6000 is still more than enough for me.
Better yet: If I decide to go full frame, I have the option for a still somewhat small camera which can take the lenses I already have.

Of course, it can be any other brand as well. If you mainly shoot in studio, size is of no concern. If you shoot some video, there are some amazing hybrids.

Regarding reviews: I tend to watch reviews of gear that I feel can fulfil my needs and choose channels that I feel are well balanced - Gerald Undone, DPReview, Dustin Abbott, (german) Krolop & Gerst, for example.

Most important: your gear needs to be good enough for you, not the best in everything :wink:

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  • What are the limitations I face using my current gear?
  • Are they real or can I compensate by learning something new?
  • Can it be solved with currently available gear?
  • What new problems will the new gear bring?
  • Is the upgrade worth the hassle?
  • Can I afford it?

But the first point being the strongest factor.
So let’s elaborate on some of those factors:

  • Weight & size - do you take the camera and the lenses where you want to take pictures? See what @priort said above.
  • Speed of handling - e.g. I swapped my Canon G11 for a Panasonic G2 back in the days because the latter had a mechanical zoom which was faster and easier to operate. It wasn’t as pocketable, but that was not the problem.
  • Simplicity - I shot the last job of 4 days mountainbike race reportage with only a D500 and the 24-120 attached to it, meaning I had a 35-180mm-equiv zoom. No extra gear to haul around made moving through the fields and woods a breeze.
  • Speciality - everything that falls outside the things a phone or regular compact camera can handle. Macro, flash, super-Tele, adapters, filters, underwater, etc etc pp.

Now … you might have noticed that I have not mentioned sensor sizes or other image stuff yet. Why? Because in almost all cases it does not matter.

If you are among the large gallery print photographers, you already have a camera with the most megapixels and best lenses for your topic.

For everyone else … 24mp is good, 36mp is nice, anything more is cool. But we all could work with 16mp and the pix we take wouldn’t be worse. Again … if you need the resolution, you already have that camera. If you really need low-light capapbility … you already have that camera.

Yes there are differences in image quality between a µ43 and a 44x33mm sensor. But there are other factors, too. And in my opinion the other factors determine way more if you will get the pictures you want, the way you want it.

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@vbs

I am using a system, without any future (A-Mount), so this makes me consider to get new material soon, even if the actually given quality of the pics fits to me.

When i heard about the Sony a7 IV i thought, its a musthave and went to the store, to check it out.

Ok, i will tell you, why i left the store, without having bought anything:
My hands are too big for such a tiny tool. I felt very uncomfortable to back-rotate my hand to reach the shutter.
And this is my answer from a very personal view to your question: I am checking out the camera (body) first.

add on:
I am taking photos, no film, no sport-reporting, i am not printing my pics in hires, so I am quite sure, the actual available cameras all will serve the quality i need, so i dont care about more and more features.

After reviewing these points i am still happy with the material i am using now.

I would propose, not to compare the sharpness between a fix-focus against a zoom, which are totally different lenses.

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Don’t choose a camera, choose a system.
Determine what you want to photograph and look for lenses and camera that best suit it.

I like to photograph the environment during hikes.
And I like to take macro photos of insects.

For me it is important that the camera and lenses are compact and lightweight.
Sharpness / details in my photos are very important to me.
To limit the costs, I prefer to choose a camera that is a bit older (at least 2 years old).
In practice, the differences between generations are small.

So my requirements are:

  • compact sharp prime lenses are the most important:
    • a compact ‘standard’ fast sharp prime lens (around 35mm FF)
    • a sharp macro lens (around 100-150mm FF)
  • I dont like tripods. IBIS or IOS are important.
  • No need for the fastest autofocus
  • No need for crazy high iso’s
  • No need for advanced video features

I researched the Fujifilm and the m43 systema because of the smaller size of the lenses.

The Fujifilm 23mm f2 was the most interesting lens for me. A very nice small sharp ‘standard’ lens.
But I didnt like the Fujifilm 80mm f2.8 macro. Very good quality but big, heavy and expensive.

I really liked the m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro. A very nice small sharp macro lens!
I chose the Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7 as my standard prime lens (It’s much better than the m.Zuiko 17mm f1.8).

So my kit is now:
Panasonic GX9 + Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.4 + m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro

Still very happy with it! This kit is very lightweight but the image quality is excellent! :grinning:

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Exactly and those Sony RX camera’s are not cheap…

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@vbs , yes, a difficult problem! I’ll just offer a few thoughts…

I have 2 Canon bodies and a mix of lenses. I would think there is plenty life in your 70D unless you want the modern eye-tracking etc. autofocus features and/or IBIS.

Lenses are very important for image quality, more than body I’d say. I’m not surprised by your comments on the zoom, I wouldn’t touch a zoom like that. But I’d say you should get pretty good results with the 50mm, I have that lens too. I couldn’t justify/afford most Canon lenses I would like, and of course the prices have jumped up this last year. I went for some Samyang primes. These were relatively cheap but are good image quality if adjusted properly, and that’s the issue, because they can arrive not adjusted well and you have to be prepared to send them back and make a fuss to get them set up correctly. And they are manual focus, so a no-go for many people, but I expect the 70D at least has the magnify facility for accurate focussing. The types of subject you list are somewhat compatible with a manual focus setup, I’d say. The lens mount on the “old style” Canons like you and I have is good for adapting other lenses onto, albeit manual focus probably.

I’ve never had image stabilization, I imagine it must be phenomenal for indoor shots.

I’d be careful about judging quality by pictures like you’ve posted, a lot can be done with sharpening!

Good luck!

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Even down to comparing a studio shot to a outdoor shot with crazy bounce light and the range of light say on the shoulder almost blown to dark shadows across the face…this coupled with lens choice could impact an assessment…I think you would really have to shoot or compare in very similar conditions with similar spec’d lens to gauge it and even then process the raws yourself to see how you felt about them… just my feeling on it…

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Thank you - very good advice and items to read. You really tried a lot of different gear. I am on my first and only DSLR and I appreciate the advice.

I always look at lenses. Bodies are good for a few years, but a lens you can easily have for a decade.

In addition, rent what you want to buy, or go to the store and hold it. Specs are great, but if it doesn’t feel good in your hands you won’t want to use it.

There’s of course also the budget you have available. And how to divide it between body and lenses. Depending on your habits and subjects, you may want to allocate more to the body or to the lenses