Back in 1685, a man by the name of Johann Zahn created the first camera that was small and portable enough to be practical for photography. However, it would be another 150 years before technology caught up and it was actually possible for his vision to be built. Today, over 300 years later, not only is a hand-held camera an essential product in most households, but consumers have multiple options of brands and types to choose from. But how do people know what to pick?
In 2010, Sortable, a Waterloo-based startup company, launched Snapsort.com, devoted to helping consumers find the right camera for them. Sortable surveyed more than 275,000 people over a six month period and found that: In the ever-growing market for cameras, many brands have joined the war to become the best product. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus are among the many companies vying to come out on top. However, according to consumers, it is Canon that is winning the camera war. The survey shows that 33% of consumers favour Canon to the competition, among the favourite types being the Canon T2i, T3i, 7D, the new 5D Mark III the Powershot S95 and the SX40. Trailing close in second place is Nikon, favoured by 27% of consumers. Nikon has produced many popular brands such as the D5100, D7000 and D3100 DSLRs, the Coolpix P500 and S9100.
Today, not only do consumers have multiple camera brands that they can choose from, but they also have the option of choosing a type of camera that is right for them. During Sortable’s research, they found that consumers’ favourite types of cameras are DSLR’s and Point and Shoots. DSLRs are versatile cameras with interchangeable lenses that are traditionally used by professional photographers, but are becoming increasingly more popular among entry level users. In contrast, Point and Shoots allow the everyday person to quickly and easily capture the photos they want, without having to make many adjustments. It’s not surprising that these two types come out on top. What is really surprising is the surge in popularity of the Mirrorless cameras. A relatively new technology, Mirrorless cameras stuff a DSLR size sensor into a small portable package, with interchangeable lenses for greater flexibility. Canon has yet to enter the Mirrorless market, and Nikon has just entered, with the Nikon V1 and J1. As this type of camera becomes more popular, Canon and Nikon will have to step up their game in order to keep their market share in comparison to Sony, Panasonic and Olympus, who have grabbed the early lead in this Mirrorless market.
So, how do you know which camera is right for you? Well, you can take the advice of other consumers and of your family and friends, but ultimately, the choice is yours. Each brand of camera and each type all have their perks and flaws. It’s up to you to find your camera (and a little help from Snapsort and Sortable might be handy). Here, in 2012, our world has certainly come a long way since Zahn’s initial camera concepts.
Apparently Canon and Nikon think the photography world is ready to trade in their car for a new camera and set of lenses. That’s just about what a Nikon D4 or Canon 1-DX and a set of lenses will set you back. A camera or a car? Not a tough choice for most people.
It’s not at all certain these two particular cameras were aimed specifically at still photographers anyway. Both cameras boast impressive video specs and perhaps the real targets are filmmakers, to whom a $6,000 camera body is a relative bargain. Still, when you start with a $6K body and add lenses, rails, flags, follow focus, and a monitor it starts getting the price up near real digital film cameras like the Sony PMW-F3L.
“While you would still have to add the lenses, the price difference on a budget film production is not that significant compared to what you gain with features like Genlock, Timecode, and 10 bit 4:2:2 HD-SDI output,” says Bill Pryor, a Kansas City commercial video producer who shoots most of his footage on the Canon 5D MK II.
When shots from Canon 5D MK IIs can be seamlessly integrated with 35mm film in movies like Captain America, it begs the question of just how much more quality do filmmakers really require?
For years photographers were spoiled as technology and competition drove prices down and to see the trend reversed so abruptly on the flagship products of both lines will be an interesting trend to watch. The question it begs for photographers centers around the compelling value proposition that would make the EOS-1DX the definitive choice over a Canon 5D MK II?
Certainly the flagship cameras have better low light performance. If you’re a full-time professional sports photographer shooting in highly variable lighting conditions inside sports arenas, perhaps the price tag is worth it. I might argue the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D MK II are fairly capable low light shooters themselves, but the D4 and 1DX push low light performance to new levels.
I could also see a National Geographic photographer on assignment someplace near the end of the world needing both the superior weather sealing and low light performance, which cuts down on the amount of lighting gear they have to carry. In places where every slot in an equipment bag is a precious commodity, then the extra $4,000 for a camera body is outweighed by other factors.
Overall, I’m really working to find justification for the added expense and just can’t see it. You can buy two D700’s for the price of a D4 and carry a spare body. Instead of a 1DX tricked out for filmmaking, get two 5D MK IIs and use one for covering shots.
It’ll be interesting to see if the photography world proves me wrong and demonstrates there’s a serious market for $6,000 cameras, but I’m not holding my breath.
Phase One A/S announced today that Mamiya Imaging and Leaf Imaging would be merged into Mamiya Leaf Imaging. The merged company will enter into a licensing agreement with Kodak, which likely means their sensors and image processing will be under the hood of the merged brand.
Whether medium format is merging to optimize service and support as the company claims in their press release, or if the companies are clinging together for survival in the face of rapidly improving DSLR competitors, remains to be seen. Right now it’s all sunshine and lollipops from Phase One. From the press release:
“We’re pleased to be part of this effort. The combination of products brings together the best in medium format photography delivered with service and options to expand the capabilities of professional photographers,” says Henrik Hakonsson, President of Phase One.
The real question is will photographers feel compelled to purchase an 80-megapixel Mamiya Phase One combination which, at over $40,000, is more than the cost of a shiny new BMW sedan. Compare that to Nikon’s new D4, which is just under $6,000.
This is where I have to remind people that comparing cameras by their megapixel rating is like my wife picking a new car because she likes the color. The number of megapixels has very little to do with the quality of the final image. Color, tone and sharpness will have far more sway over the quality of the final image, one of the reasons the highest rated cameras are all over the road when it comes to the megapixel rating of the sensor.
The difference in megapixels does effect the resolution of the final image, but even that is a geometric comparison and not a linear scale. In order to really notice a difference in resolution, you have to nearly double the chip size. Doubling the chip size quadruples the number of megapixels.
That’s why comparing the Canon T3i to the Nikon D5100 just on megapixels would be a mistake. While the T3i boasts a 17.9-megapixel chip and the D5100 a 16.1-megapixel chip, the difference is meaningless. Overall the D5100 is generally considered the superior camera.
Which brings us back to megapixels in the digital age and the continued quest of medium format to stay relevant in a camera market where DSLRs are producing incredible quality at a price point that’s a fraction of what you’d pay for a medium format camera.
Another factor impacting the debate is the march of software. In the old days of digital photography, like five or ten years ago, trying to scale low-resolution bitmap images, like JPEGs, was quite hard and most often the blow ups looked like doody.
Today software is much better at scaling JPEG images and you can, for all intents and purposes, scale them indefinitely with little loss in quality.
It should be interesting to see if medium format can find a way to stay relevant in the digital market, or we’ll see the medium format camera go the way of Kodak.
The big names in the photography business are there for a reason and that reason is because they have consistently produced some of the best cameras in the history of photography. All the same, the question I get a surprising number of times is, “What is the best camera on the market?” That’s not a question anyone can answer. Best in what terms? Best for studio work? Best in a combat zone? Best family camera? Best value for the money? Best for a professional? Best for a beginner? There are different answers for all of those questions and sometimes a different answer between one person and the next.
A quick look around at 10 camera web sites will yield 10 different rankings with a bit of overlap. With so much variation in the rankings, how do you figure out which camera is right for you?
Canon and Nikon Are The Big Kids On The Block
The data taken together supports the perhaps obvious conclusion that Canon and Nikon are the big two, though the reasons for their popularity are quite different and challengers are evolving. Canon cameras are rated as being more reliable, with Nikon coming in 5th in the reliability survey, behind Canon, GE, Panasonic and Casio. Seriously, if you’re losing to Casio in reliability, maybe you need take a hard look at your QA/QC methodology.
Nikon ranks number one when it comes to owner satisfaction with their camera features, just edging out Canon for the number one spot. Yet Casio and Panasonic both score high marks and end up in the top five in both categories.
With their domination of the video market, it’s likely Canon will stay on top. Nikon was slow to react to the DSLR video trend and Canon carved out a nearly exclusive domain in the video space. Nikon has since improved their support for features like 24p, but with so many wedded to Canon glass and shaping their work flow around Canon, making headway into the video market is going to be slow going for any of the challengers. If Nikon has an edge to elbow into the video market it’s their lenses.
One thing to keep in mind is that one of the reasons it may be so hard to pick a “best” camera is that there are so many good contenders out there these days. If you have the talent, you can take almost any camera and take fantastic photos. Truly it’s little things that will make the biggest difference.