Our favorite cameras for April 2014

Q. What camera should I buy?
A. The Sony RX100 or Canon 1DX.

Ok, we’re being a bit facetious there.  You’re going to see a lot of debate on the internet about the best camera to get, but the “best” camera isn’t close to deciding between Chevy or Ford, or Ferrari or McLaren.  It’s closer to deciding between different flavors of ice cream, or iced vs. hot tea or coffee.

1. Ergonomics are important but should not be a deal breaker.

Professional photographers across the world are screaming at us right now.  Alright, maybe if you’re a photojournalist covering the war with a forward-deployed and forward-engaged unit where a split-second matters or being able to make changes on the fly while bullets fly over your head and debris kicked up from mortar pelts your back, ergonomics are critical.

In reality, while it’s important that your camera is comfortable, the human brain is capable of adapting and learning.  As foreign as a camera may feel the first time, or even second and third time you use it, the more you use the camera, the more you’ll be comfortable with it.  So look for a camera that feels nice in your hand, and don’t worry about the rest.  Don’t underestimate yourself.  You’re smart and you can be proficient with any camera system.

Besides, the easiest camera to use is the one you always have with you — your cell phone.

2. Photoshop can’t fix everything.

Modern photographic software does wonders.  Before long, we’ll get CSI-style “Enhance” filters. But at the end of the day, garbage in equals garbage out, and a high quality source still matters.  With photography that means a good lens and a good sensor.  Try taking a photo with the lens cap on — Photoshop can’t save you.

3. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Calling someone a “pixel peeper” is a derogatory term for someone who is focused on minute and esoteric differences of photography while missing the bigger picture.  While you shouldn’t accept poor quality photos, it’s important to realize that a good camera or lens is more than just the resolution on a test chart.

You should definitely pixel peep.  It separates mediocre equipment from great equipment and increases the flexibility and growth of your work. You just shouldn’t do it so much that you become a pixel peeper and lose sight of what it takes to create a great picture.

Sharpness and resolution are a small part of what makes a good camera.  You want the highest resolution and sharpness possible as it allows for the highest quality prints, but if you were just looking at photos on an iPad, it doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with an 6 megapixel camera or a 36 megapixel camera.

From a technical standpoint, the important characteristics to consider are color and the ability to capture the variations in tones/tints/shades.  Each lens and camera captures color and light differently and Photoshop and modern tools won’t change that.

4. You will never be able to afford the camera you want.

You have to get the best compromise whether it’s budget, size, or overall quality.

We were shooting digital when Kodak was still relevant in digital photography.  Having seen camera companies rise and fall, and having taken the Xrite Online Color Test Challenge with perfect scores, we’d summarize cameras in April 2014 with the following statement:

Canon offers the most pleasing skin tones.

Sony offers more accurate colors and better dynamic range.

You don’t have to take our word for it.  Our friends, Justin Lin and Pye Pirsa, who are some of the best wedding still photographers in Los Angeles/Orange County shoot on Canon equipment.  The team at Iris and Light, whose work you’ve probably seen in the Ritz Carlton’s marketing materials also shoot on Canon and Red Digital Cinema.

Part of the Canon color comes from the sensor, but an equally important part comes from the lenses. Even Shane Hurlbut, ASC the Director of Photography for movies like Act of Valor, Terminator Salvation, We Are Marshall, Into the Blue, and the Game of Thrones documentary You Win or You Die, talks about the look that Canon lenses produce.

That said, Sony sensors have found their way into Nikon cameras, Hasselblad medium format cameras, and Phase One medium format cameras.  This is due to Sony’s aggressive R&D into CMOS sensor technology, and from the pure metrics alone, Sony imaging sensors are the ones to beat.  In 2014, Sony’s current sensor technology appears the one to beat.

So, since you’ve taken the time to read through all of this, here is our recommendation for the best cameras in April 2014.

Sony RX100 and Sony RX100 II  :  Pocketable Performance

The best pocketable point-and-shoot camera on the market today.  This is where we start our recommendation.  If you’re going to spend less than what it takes to get an RX100, you’re better off stick with your smartphone for a few more months until you save enough for one of these two cameras.  Get a cheaper camera and you might have something better than your cellphone for a year or two, but then you’re going to want to upgrade again.  Get the RX100, and even if you grow into a bigger or better camera, you’ll still be holding onto the camera.  The “Mark II” version is a little bit larger but improves low-light performance a bit and adds Wi-Fi support.  The original version has slightly better skin tones and is just a bit thinner.

Sony RX10  :  Perfect for the Family Vacation

Although the RX10 has a small-sensor compared to the APS-C cameras like the Canon EOS-60D/70D or Sony NEX-6/A6000, we actually recommend it over lower-priced entry level DSLRs like the NEX-3N and Rebel T5i.  The 28-200mm f/2.8 lens is beautifully matched to the sensor and the finished output is just about on par with top-level APS-C cameras.  Many individuals just looking for a great family camera for vacations will find that this the camera that will last for an entire childhood and never need to upgrade again.

With the NEX-3N or Rebel T3i, you’ll get lower quality results with the basic lens.  Although there’s an opportunity to grow into the system, nearly everyone who starts off photography with one of those cameras and develops into a photographer that needs more than what the RX10 can deliver would have been better off saving up for something like an Canon EOS-70D in the first place rather than buying a temporary unit and then having to upgrade a year or two later.

Moving up into the interchangeable lens world,  we’re fans of Canon and Sony technology.

A7 and A7R : The ultimate travel cameras

Right now, Sony’s best cameras are the A7 and A7R.  At the moment, the A7 offers better value while the A7R offers the highest resolution image in landscape photography.  These are the best cameras for artistic photography and travel photography where have a moment to contemplate the image.  Their remarkable adaptability to both modern and classic lenses makes them a highly versatile camera.

Canon EOS-70D
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EOS 1Dx
The Three Musketeers : Proven Performance and Consistency

The Achilles heel of the Sony A7 and A7R comes with sports and long telephoto photography. Here, we continue to be fans of Canon EOS line.  The 70D offers a robust semi-pro level of performance, while the 5D Mark III is today’s Wedding workhorse.  The 1Dx is Canon’s best low-light camera and best sports camera on the market today. That said, if you’re in the market for a 1Dx, you’re probably the not the kind of reader that needs to read this post.  🙂

We know this isn’t comprehensive, and we’re not saying that fans of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 or Fuji X-T1 are going with the wrong choice. We like those cameras too.  Likewise, we know that an entry level APS-C camera like the NEX-3N and Rebel T3i offer great performance at a great price and can do things that the RX100 and RX10 cannot.

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