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Camera Choice

Canon EOS D60

Canon EOS D60 body, my first digital SLR camera.

October 2013

When I started out, cameras took film.  Although there was a huge difference in potential image quality between the largest & smallest formats, the main criteria for camera choice were the practicalities of each system.  For motorsport for example, 35mm was considered the ideal solution, being the smallest practical format with the fastest, most manoeuvrable bodies & lenses.  For landscape work, the options opened up somewhat.  Since the subject is usually static, the need for speed diminishes & much larger formats become practical, such as medium or large format, with correspondingly larger cameras & lenses, although portability is still a potential issue.

I exclusively used 35mm for many years until I became interested in portraiture, which led me to investigate ways to produce the images I desired, namely head & shoulders shots with blurry backgrounds.  There are several factors that have an effect on how blurry the background becomes & using a larger film format seemed to me to be the most promising. I didn't fully consider the maths at the time & bought into 6x7cm medium format, believing that was what was required.  It turned out I could've achieved similar results with 35mm & some different live & learn.  However, once I'd started using medium format & saw the (relatively) huge 6x7cm transparencies on the lightbox, I quickly became obsessed by image quality, which led to me researching even larger formats, such as 4"x5", 4"x10" & 8"x10".  This was where my enthusiasm started to falter, as I experienced the difficulties involved in carrying & using such equipment.  I managed a handful of exposures on 4"x5", but they were mostly taken indoors or in my own back yard & I made even less with 4"x10" & 8"x10".  As I got more into landscape photography I settled on 6x7 medium format for it's relative portability.  It was at that time I'd started sending images in to photo libraries, so the improved quality was a significant advantage over 35mm, since it offered more potential sales opportunities.

In 2003, I bought my first digital SLR, the Canon D60.  This is where using film ended for me, since the files it produced were detailed enough for A3 prints, which was my maximum print size at the time & also produced enough resolution to be accepted commercially, albeit with some interpolation in order to reach the minimum file sizes required by the photo library.  Medium format transparency film was still far better with regards to image quality, but digital was simply easier & quicker to work with & the image quality was good enough for my purposes.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon EOS 5DII body fitted with a Voigtländer 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar lens.

By 2008, I was taking the type of photos that regularly involved climbing mountains.  Added to all the necessary clothing, food & water I was carrying for my walks, I found the weight of my camera, lenses, tripod & accessories were making life hard work.  After suffering for a while, it dawned on me that I wasn't using the full capabilities of what I was carrying, for example, the long end of my 24-105mm lens.  Most of my images were taken at 24mm so I figured I could save a substantial amount of weight by switching to a prime lens around that focal length.  So, I bought the Voigtlander 20mm lens & never looked back...until recently.

I've now discovered the advantages of mirrorless cameras & in particular, the Canon EOS-M.  I'd briefly looked at it when it was originally announced in July 2012, but the widest lens available for it was the 18-55mm kit lens (equivalent to 29-88mm on full frame), so although big weight savings were possible, there wasn't anything to replace my 20mm lens' field of view.  Then, in June 2013, Canon announced the 11-22mm lens for the M (18-35mm equivalent on full frame), so I looked again.  This is now the camera I use for all my landscape photography, although I'm still not 100% convinced it'll be the best option in winter, when I'll be wearing gloves while trying to operate the very small & sensitive command dial & touch screen controls.

I'm currently looking at the new Sony A7 & A7R which have just been announced, which appear to be a much better compromise of usability & portability, as well as hopefuly producing image quality in excess of my requirements.