Some comments from the Dark Side.

Started Nov 27, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Some comments from the Dark Side.
Nov 27, 2013

First, a full disclosure:  I am a Mod for the M43 forum board.  (I hope you will keep reading, though )

I've been a photographic devotee since I was about 10, which means I have been working with cameras (sometimes more, sometimes less) for about 45 years.  My very first camera was an old Argus box camera, followed by a few Instamatics and a loaned Exacta.  My first SLR was a Pentax MX, which I still have (and which I still use the lenses from, on occasion.)  I let my interest slip for a number of years, when I was very busy doing other life things, using only a Nikon 35mm P&S.  In the 90's I got a new SLR (a Nikon) that actually had autofocus (!), but still was only casually using it at that time.

In 2001, I was given an early digital camera (a Toshiba, of all things)...2MP, very basic, slowwwww, (and it got about 30 shots from four AA rechargables !)Terrible as it was, it completely inspired me to restart my old hobby in earnest.   A succession of digicams followed, as I chased the technology on my quest for a more film-like IQ.  I had a couple of nice Sonys (anyone remember the DSC-F717?), and finally, in 2005 I was able to get my first DSLR.  It was a Nikon D200, and it was a tank, but I was never totally happy with its output, and found it heavy enough that it gave me wrist pain to carry it around.  I moved to a D90, next, which was a VERY nice camera, but I didn't use it all that much as the kit was just too heavy to take everywhere.  I did have a little Canon Elph that was my carry with camera, and it was fine for snapshots (I still use it, but for shooting things for Ebay now ), but I really wanted a better sensored small camera for taking with me.

This led me to look at what was out there for small cameras with high IQ...and the first ones that caught my eye were the M43s.  They were out of my budget at the time, but I kept my eye on the market, and in 2010 there were suddenly a few options to look at.  I looked at the NEX, Samsung, and M43, and the one that seemed to have the best combo of size and features was the Oly EPL1.  I wanted to keep the lens size down, which was a factor, since this was going to be my portable to supplement the "real" camera I had, and it had everything I wanted and the price was I got one.

That camera was a revelation.  It was slow, had a terrible LCD, and the fiddliest controls on the planet, BUT I was getting wonderful images from it, and, more importantly, it went with me everywhere and brought JOY back to taking pictures.  I still had the Nikon, but it never got used anymore...and after a little bit of upgrading in the M43 realm, I ended up with a GH2 in mid-2011.  The Nikon kit got sold shortly after that (no regrets whatsoever, either), and I used the GH2 as my primary camera for a year and a half after that (stills only).

I really enjoyed the GH2, except it had some IQ flaws, mostly in terms of native color rendition and high ISO performance, so I was keeping an eye out for an upgrade.  I tried the GH3, but it was a bit too large in hand for me (and I did not like its EVF).  The Olympus EM5 was missing a couple of features that I found essential, so I did not get one of those, either. I did pick up an EPM2, which is a terrific little camera, but not really ergonomically wonderful for more than casual work (although the IQ is quite good).  Along the way, I was still following the NEXes, as the 6 and 7 were very intriguing cameras in terms of IQ...but I still could not get past the native lens size and selection (I have a few legacy lenses, but I like being able to use AF when I can).

SO....this Fall, when the OMD EM1 was announced, it just ticked ALL the boxes for me.  All of the things that I wanted as improvements to prior M43 models were there, it was the right size, it had the right features, and the IQ looked I pre-ordered one.  THEN the A7 and A7r were announced, and I went WAIT A MINUTE!

The A7 and A7r are total game-changers for the photo industry.  They are a shot across the bow of CaNikon, and a real wakeup call for everyone.  I cancelled my EM1 preorder and decided to wait and see what the test results were for the Sonys before I bought anything.

The image tests were excellent, so I really started thinking about my options, and what I prefer to shoot.  Portraits?  Never.  Macro?  Frequently.  Architecture/city? Frequently.  Landscape? Frequently.  Wildlife? Occasionally.....hmmm.  Do I shoot routinely at very high ISO's?  No.  What lenses do I use the most?  Wide for in town (M43 12mm and 14mm), a 55mm adapted Nikon Macro, and for outdoors, 100-300mm, with occasional use of the 40-150mm in between.  Whoa, Nellie!  This means that on a FF camera, I would need a 24 or 28mm wide angle lens, an 110mm macro, and a 200-600mm zoom (or some combo of shorter zoom and TC to get there).

This stopped me short.  The native mount wide angle lenses I would need are not yet made, although I assume they will be in future.  There is no macro yet; and the long zoom is going to be large when it comes out, and I will need a TC to get anywhere near the range I would like.

After much consideration of my own personal shooting preferences and needs, I decided to reorder the EM1. Very simply, it's a fantastic camera. I am not going to sit here and say that it is going to trump the A7 or A7r in absolute IQ, because it's not.  However, after using the EM1 and doing a lot of comparisons of RAWs from assorted image review sites (and downsizing the Sony output to match that of the EM1 sensor), I was really surprised at how good the EM1 output actually is. (Do this test yourself...go to Imaging Resource and download the RAWS (at base ISO or just above), and try, it's not going to be the same at ISO 3200, but that is not the point of the exercise.)

So, what is the point of this LONG post?  Very simply, it's that Sony has a whale of an innovative product here that is extremely interesting for lots of people who want a smaller body with FF capabilities.  It's not mature yet, though, and I think that that is a particularly convenient source of vitriole between the M43 and NEX forums.

People posting here seem to want to take diametrically oppositional stances about the EM1 (and M43 in general) vs the A7 and A7r.  It's just not that simple.  The EM1 output is nothing to sneeze at.  While the A7/7r output is outstanding, it is not, in most situations, a world apart from what you can get with the best M43 sensor. Where the FF output shines is in difficult lighting conditions; and if you routinely shoot at high ISO the FF is going to be a much better choice. If you shoot macro, the extra DOF of the M43s is going to be a bonus.  If you like great background blur, there are lens choices you can make in both formats to optimize it.

So, long and short of this....These are very, very competent cameras, all of them.  They are a bright spot in camera technology that is poking the big guns out of a their complacency and getting people really excited to keep shooting and exploring the medium.  Nobody does anybody any favors by vilifying the other product, as their strengths and weaknesses are simply NOT black and white.  Each product has a different niche in the photographic universe, and both are high level photographic tools that provide different options to users, and everybody would do themselves a favor if they would keep that in mind when they are about to start a diatribe about sensor size or AF speed, or any of the myriad nits that people choose to pick when they want to stake out some territory.

And, yes, I posted some similar comments about this on the M43 boards when the A7/7r was case you were wondering .


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