All cameras are great, but that doesn't make choosing one any easier
It's often said all modern cameras are good. And it’s true: That's the reason most of the cameras we review get some kind of award. But it's also close to meaningless. It seems to imply that it doesn't matter which camera you buy, yet that's as far from the truth today as it's ever been.
The thing that stood out to me as we selected our recommendations in our recent roundups was that, no matter how much technology improves and cameras converge, there's still a huge difference in terms of what each camera does well and what it falls down on. Which means there’s still a right and a wrong camera for you.
Not just any camera will do
It is also true of course that it's your own skills, rather than the limitations of technology, that are most likely to hold you back. But again, this doesn’t mean that just any camera will do.
One of the most witless arguments I regularly see is: ‘it won’t improve your photography – Ansel Adams would get better photos using an iPhone.’ (And it’s always Ansel Adams, isn’t it?).
Follow that logic to its conclusion and none of us would ever use a proper camera. Sure, a great photographer will be able to take better photographs using any old camera, but they’ll probably take an even better photo if you give them a better camera - especially if it's a better camera for them. And, while it’s obvious that a better camera won’t instantly make me a better photographer, it could result in me enjoying photography more.
There is no ‘best’ camera
Predictably enough, there were howls of outrage at the cameras we recommended, with owners of other brands passionately advocating for the camera they've chosen. And it's easy to see how this comes about: along with a healthy dose of post-purchase justification I'd like to think that a lot of these people have bought cameras that are well suited to their needs. But this doesn't mean they'd be well suited to everybody else's.
|We recommended the Sony a6000 in our roundups because it's probably the best all-rounder in its class: it's got a viewfinder, really good video, excellent autofocus and competitive image quality (despite its age). Yet it's not the camera I'd buy for myself, in this category.|
Just look at the mid-range interchangeable lens camera category. There is no camera that's best at everything so in the end we selected the Sony a6000. It no longer offers the very best image quality or the very best specs, nor is it the stand-out leader for video at this point. However, without knowing more about the person we're recommending it to, it stands out as the best all-rounder because it's consistently competitive in every respect. By this same logic, we didn't end up recommending a couple of cameras that we as a team really like.
The Fujifilm X-T10, for instance, is a cracking little camera, it borrows most of its technology from the much more expensive X-T1 and retains just about everything we like about that camera (the JPEGs, the controls, the choice of lenses...). However, its continuous autofocus simply isn't a match for the likes of the a6000, NX500 or D5500 and its video is a significant weak spot, meaning it was never going to be one of our overall recommendations. And yet, for a certain type of photographer, it's the best camera in its class.
Know your needs and be willing to grow
One of the key lessons, then, is that it's important to think hard about what you want to use a camera for and what your priorities are. And just as a good camera can encourage you, a limited camera can limit you.
|The Nikon D5500 offers some of the best image quality in its class, a well worked-out user interface, great autofocus and excellent battery life. But it's also one of the bulkiest cameras in its class, one of the least video-friendly and one of the few not to include twin control dials for the price.|
I regularly see comments saying 'I don't care that my camera isn't very good at Movie shooting/Dynamic Range/Autofocus tracking, I never use it.' Which increasingly prompts me to wonder whether that person might use the feature more it their camera was better at it. As I review cameras it's occasionally frustrating to have to continue to use a feature that doesn't work very well. I know I'd just stop using it if it wasn't my job to persevere. So, before you consider your next upgrade, think carefully: might you use a feature more if it was easier to use or gave better results?
Likewise, give some thought to which lenses you might want to use. Don't assume that a system has the lenses you might want, just because it offers a lot of lenses - the existence of several tilt-shifts is small comfort when you discover there's no sensible portrait lens option or affordable wide-angle. Equally, the availability of third-party lenses might be a deciding factor if it provides the lenses you want.
It still matters
This is why I think saying 'all cameras are great' is such an unhelpful statement: because they're not equally great at everything and the differences still matter.
|The Fujifilm X-T10 is the last camera I'd choose for video work and its continuous autofocus isn't a match for the best of its peers. Yet there are plenty of people I'd recommend this camera to. Or the Olympus E-M10 II, for that matter.|
The difference between the best and worst autofocus performance is the difference between it being easy to get the shot and there being a high chance you'll miss the moment. The difference between the best sensor and the weakest is the difference between you having the latitude you need when you get to Lightroom and having to work out how to hide the noise. The difference between the best movie shooting camera and the worst is the difference between being able to easily capture great-looking footage and finding yourself thinking ‘can I really be bothered with this?’
So yes, most modern cameras are amazing, but not all of them will encourage, support and inspire you in your photography. And that’s got to matter, hasn't it?