If you search through all of the reviews online looking for the ideal perfect camera then one thing is certain. YOU WONT FIND IT. Not in any technical sense.
And if you do find one and claim that it is perfect you will be crushed under the voices of people who totally disagree with you. We all have at least slightly different needs when it comes to photography.
Why It Isn’t In The Specs
It’s not out there. Why not? Because all cameras are different and they are as different in many ways as the people who use them.
We all see the world differently and are looking for different things. Some need it to be a light system while others don’t mind a heavier one. Some want higher megapixels and others have decided on enough. Some shoot at night, some need to shoot in daylight. Some need detail and others need softness and atmosphere. Some want macro and others want to stand back. Some tell a story while others just don’t. Some want to covey a sense of space while others want to focus on an expression. Some don’t mind complex menus and others don’t want menus.. We are different.
Additionally on one day we might be shooting one thing and then on another one thing else. For some tourism work for example I have used Leica gear with excellent results. But give me a wedding and I prefer a mix of Lumix, Canon and Sony gear. Depending on location and lens preferences.
And as a friend of mine said. “But your camera can’t fly!” And you can guess what was coming next… “you NEED a drone.” He said…. when will this end.
So is there no point in looking?
Yes Reviews Are Important
But first you must define what you are looking for. Only then can you define your perfect camera.
Years ago I read some comments regarding lenses that were sharp without being the sharpest and at the same time were very heavy. One of these was the Canon 28-300 which in one heavy lens. Are there sharper lenses? Yes. Is it a sharp lens though? Yes.
I used one for several years on a Canon 1DS3 and then a Canon 1DX body. I used it at gatherings and ceremonies and I used it for travel and documentary and tourism shoots. It never let me down. The colours were beautiful. Focus was lovely and when I paired it with a Canon 5Ds at one point the detail just amazed me. But today its not for me. Why not? It’s too heavy for me. It was back then but I put up with the weight. Today I get excellent [better] results using a Nikon D850 with a Nikon 28-300 lens.
The Canon system was around 3000grams and the Nikon system is around 1800grams. I gave up the speed of the Canon focus and the [in my view] brighter optics for a convenient system which I feel is well balanced. And if I need to do a people shoot I can swap over to the incredibly sharp Sigma 50mm 1.4 prime on the D850 and pretty much count the specs of dust in the detail…
So is the Nikon a perfect camera? For some it may well be but for others it won’t be. For me it isn’t. But it is a good go-to kit for many types of shooting.
So What Is Important?
1. How does the camera feel in the hand?
This is such an important tip.
How the camera balances in the hand [your hand that is] is just so important. Don’t just trust what you read in a review. Get a hold of the camera and feel its weight and balance. If you can do this with both the camera and the lens that you will use principally then you are well placed to decide whether this is for you.
You should be able to quickly find the controls that you will use all day long without adjusting the comfortable grip too much. [Sometimes you achieve this by programming custom buttons – which should also be comfortably placed.] This is seriously important. We all develop techniques with light and balance and critical focus that suit what we do. So it’s important to access the features that we need easily.
Just because a camera can give you a feature doesn’t mean that it will be easy to find. It’s little use to you when the feature is buried behind ten layers of badly named menu choices..
2. How effectively and accurately does it focus?
Auto focus means one thing on one camera and something else on another. From glacially slow to blisteringly fast. From locked on and fixed on the eye to ….’maybe that’s the face… I think…’ Ponderous and hesitant focus is more common that some might imagine but so is fast and reliable.
If its not in focus its rarely going to be a keeper. So think about this feature carefully. Some cameras are really good at focus speed and accuracy. Some cameras aren’t so quick but when you grab hold of manual focus in an important situation they throw tools at you to help you get critical focus regardless. [IE The Lumix S1R after a firmware update does this and I love this feature.]
So never discount focus speed and accuracy. And remember that some cameras focus well when a lens is wide open aperture wise but not so quick stopped down. And some will focus well in low light whereas many won’t. In fact I find it surprising just how many cameras tend to ‘hunt’ for focus when not in ideal focus conditions. Well lit rooms and good contrast aren’t always available for focus so be prepared to have to assist but hopefully not too often.
3. Depending on the lenses available, is this right for what you do?
It may be tempting to buy lots of different lenses and to think that you’re going to carry them with you wherever you go. You might do it. But after a little while anyway you will soon realize how heavy they are and you will start to leave them behind. Really, do you want dust collecting lenses or image collecting lenses. Most people can get by in photography with two lenses. Or if they’ve got a good one on the original camera that they purchase they can get by with one. And you’d be surprised how many photographers prefer to use just one or two lenses most of the time. Of course there are plenty of articles that suggest you need to buy lots of lenses and at the end of the day it’s up to you. But it is your money and it’s not about gear it’s about taking photographs.
Most people will find that a 24 to 70 mm lens will do pretty much most of what they want to do. Especially if that lens is rated with an aperture of F2.8 and if the camera is equipped with image stabilization either in the lens or the body or in both. Alternatively a good walk around lens is a 24 to 105 mm lens with a fixed F4 maximum aperture. I know photographers who have used that lens for two years non-stop and have sold an awful lot of photographs from that lens. It simply depends on what you want to do with your camera.
You’d be surprised how many people travel through life taking photographs and eventually end up going back to a camera with a fixed lens of 28 mm or thereabouts.
If you are purchasing a camera with a fixed lens and you want to do a lot of travel photography then try to get something that falls in the range of an equivalent of 24 to 105 mm. Alternatively if you want a fixed focal length and it’s a fixed lens camera, you will likely be very happy with the 28 or 35 mm standard lens. You’d be surprised how many people travel through life taking photographs and eventually end up going back to a camera with a fixed lens of 28 mm or thereabouts. Check out a few feeds on Leica cameras and you will soon get the idea.
4. Reviews from long-term users
This is an extremely important point. If you read a review from a person who has just had the camera for a week or two and they are particularly excited about the camera it will likely be skewed differently to the way that that would write such a review after they had had it for several months. It takes time to discover both the strengths and weaknesses of the camera.
I remember once walking into a situation where I knew I had a proven camera with me to do the job but I had a second camera, a very highly regarded medium format camera, and I thought I would give it a try. In that commercial situation I’m very glad that I had the tried and tested with me because that was the one that took the shots. In that pressure situation the other camera just wasn’t good enough or fast enough. And you see this is where it really starts to tell. It is when a person is in the situation where they see the photographs that they want, and they come back from that shoot without it because the camera just didn’t get the shot, that they start to realize that the camera isn’t perfect or that there is no workaround that will get them to that shot.
A person who has had a camera for a while discovers its strengths and its weaknesses. If they have had it for a while and they still feel delighted to take that camera with them then it is suited to their style and they will write honestly in their reviews about the strengths and weaknesses. I personally have tremendous respect for sites that are willing to print both the pluses and minuses when they talk about cameras and for reviewers that will honestly highlight strengths and weaknesses. So look for long term reviews if possible.
5. Go to the shop with the intention of looking at 2 cameras but not making an immediate decision..
If you can hold it and even take a memory card with you and take a few shots to examine over a couple of days it’s a good idea. If you are genuinely interested in buying a camera you will probably have got your decision down to a choice of 2 to 3 different cameras. Tell the store that you are interested in making a decision between this model or that and invite their comment and then ask to take a couple of shots in each on a memory card that you have brought with you so that you can examine the differences. Most retailers who have demonstration models of the cameras will appreciate someone who is genuinely interested in finding their camera. They may also incidentally give you a slightly better deal when they realize that you are a thoughtful customer and not someone who is making its simple quick purchase.
There is no such thing as a perfect camera. But there are cameras that are more perfect for you as an individual. Most people in photography have at times got caught up in the hype regarding a certain piece of gear and have purchased it only to realize later that it really wasn’t something that they used. The classic example of this is the 70 to 200 mm lens when it comes to amateur photography; most professional wedding photographers use this lens pretty much all the time however, professionals are a different photographic group to amateurs. Most amateurs will buy the 70 to 200 mm lens and use it just a few times and then it will become a dust collecting item on a shelf. You don’t necessarily need the 70 to 200 mm lens even to be a wedding photographer and there are many photographers who are quite happy to shoot weddings with two prime lenses, the longest of which might be an 85 mm or a 135mm lens.
5 minutes of thought will get you going on the right track
Disregard the hype around Micro 4/3 cameras, APS-C and Full Frame. They are different. They all have advantages and disadvantages. Go in with an open mind and examine for yourself what sort of camera will work for you. How often will you use it? Do you take photographs every day? Every week? Every month? And what do you do with them? Are they ever printed All of these things need to be considered when thinking about a camera. Five minutes of thought about what suits you will get you going on the right track.