Some very interesting cameras have appeared recently, and due to all that web site fuzz I have not yet commented on that.
It’s interesting, digital photography seems to get to a point where it’s more than good enough. When i bought my Nikon D200, I knew that, short of the high-end pro models, I had probably the best camera one could buy, with only one exception: the sensor was a little bit too noisy at high ISOs. It was still at least as good as film, but the Canons were better.
With the D300 that all changed. Suddenly Nikon had a first league sensor, and the camera itself had become ergonomically and feature-wise more or less perfect.
Sure, the D700 brought even less noise and full-frame, but in the end I decided to save the money. Full-frame would have sky-rocketed my lens costs, I would have lost the 100% viewfinder that I loved so much from the first moment, and the D300’s high ISO image quality is just good enough.
Additionally I would have lost the long reach without gaining anything on the short end. The point is this: the wide-angle problem for APS-C sensors is solved, there are plenty fine ultra-wide lenses. They may be not as good as the Nikon 14-24/2.8, but they take filters, cost half of it and ultimately they are again good enough. On the long end though, switching to full-frame would have had enormous impact. On the D300, my Nikon 70-300 VR has enormous reach. It’s equivalent to a 450mm lens. Ok, Nikon’s 400 and 500mm lenses are faster and of higher quality, but apart from the fact that they cost between 10 and 20 times as much, you can’t even carry them. Oh, and need I say that for my application, mostly street photography, the 70-300 is good enough?
With the new D300s (that’s a suffix, not a plural, thanks Nikon), the decision was even easier. I don’t need or even desire video, and apart from that, the D300s has nothing relevant to offer.
How about other brands? Not that I have any desire to change, but we have seen some interesting cameras in the last month. With the 7D, Canon finally have their answer to the Nikon D300. It has a much improved autofocus module (in this respect toppling the more expensive 5DMkII), has higher resolution, at least on paper it seems to offer excellent high-ISO noise, it has 18 megapixels, thus a whole lot more than the D300, they have even given it the 100% viewfinder. There are no reviews yet, but when they have not fumbled badly, this camera is bound to sell and give Nikon a headache. If I would begin today, I’d strongly consider the Canon 7D. As things are, it is just another excellent camera that’s more than good enough.
What else? Of course, the new Leica M9. This beast is totally and utterly out of reach, but I suppose if I had enough money to burn, I would buy one. Finally and after a long odyssey, Leica has arrived in the digital age. I am impressed.
And then? What about the Leicas for the poor man? What about those big sensor / non DSLR cameras that have appeared recently? It’s strange, they all have their strengths, but none of them is really interesting yet. The Sigma DP2 has improved upon the DP1, nevertheless it’s still much too slow. The Olympus Pen E-P1 is a nice camera, good looking, charming even, but its autofocus is much inferior to any DSLR and even to Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds offerings. On the other hand, Panasonic has brought a too big, too DSLR-ish first offering with the G1, followed by a much nicer GF1, a camera of about the same type as the Olympus, but why on earth have they decided to set on stabilized lenses instead of a stabilized sensor?? That’s stupid! About the only argument in favor of lens stabilization is, that it stabilizes the image in an optical viewfinder. Apart from that it is only more expensive and adds complex elements that can fail. On a camera that does not even have an optical viewfinder, lens stabilization is pure folly.
Leaves the new Leica X1. Oh well, no need to salivate about this. Leica’s appeal are the M lenses. A fixed-lens Leica X1 is just another overprized camera soon to be obsolete.
All in all it seems that the category is not yet there. The cameras are either not good enough, or if they are, they are irrelevantly expensive.
Let’s look into the other direction, let’s look at medium format and the new Leica S2 system. This is even more out of reach than the M9, but again, if I had the money to burn, I would probably lust for a Leica S2. It’s not bigger than a pro DSLR (which most people would already consider too big to carry around at all times), but it should give us much better image quality. Indeed, the 100% crop shown on The Luminous Landscape hints at probably the best image quality ever seen in a digital camera. Impressive again.
In a way even the big medium format backs from Phase One and Hasselblad impress me, although those cameras are completely unusable for my type of photography. And then there is it again: my 12 megapixels are just good enough for me. They suffice even in those cases where I don’t invent half of my pixels with tools like Alien Skin Snap Art. And there is more to it: with 12 megapixels and the corresponding file sizes, my storage problem is solved. Hard drive space increases faster than I can make images, even though I save all my multi-layer Photoshop files, with some of the bigger of them being around half a gigabyte. I can still keep all my images so far on one single inexpensive drive, and I will be able to do so forever. Going medium format would set me back not only financially. Find a laptop that can edit a 60 megapixel image with ease. Well, you may find some extremely expensive MacBook Pro to come near, but then show me one of them that weighs 1.5 kg. No chance.
So do I care? Heaven, no! Times have changed. This is not the early digital age. Cameras keep their value now. Mind it, I don’t mean monetary value, that one goes down as it used to, but they keep their inherent usage value. I have no idea when I will change cameras. Should the D300 fail or get destroyed, I would of course buy a newer camera, but other than that I see no reason to change one good enough camera with all features that I could ever need, against another good enough camera with the same or similar features. Fact is, the D300 is already more than I need.