Another Way?

As 2019 draws to a close I’ve arrived at a crossroads in my photography efforts, failing to produce any satisfactory images despite owning two interchangeable lens systems, a high-end compact, and living in one of the most picturesque locations in the world. So what exactly is the problem?

Tools of Today

Though I still love my Nikon D800E it’s just too bulky for travel use, especially now that 90% of my trips are restricted to a single carry-on bag, sometimes staying away for weeks at a time. That full-frame metal bulk is increased by the camera’s propensity for shutter-shock, which means I’m faced with towing a set of fast primes and / or a hefty tripod. Not appealing.

This originally led me to dip a toe into the micro four-thirds format with the Olympus E-M5, which was so good that I replaced it in a heartbeat when one was stolen from a hire car in Italy. Eminently more portable than the D800E, it accompanied me almost everywhere, though having to carry a separate charger, mains lead, and international power adapter was starting to lose its appeal in an age when absolutely everything charges via USB. Sure, image quality was way behind the full-frame Nikon, but portability so much better that the trade-off made sense.

Then there’s the compacts. My LUMIX LX-15 was originally purchased for when I needed to shoot RAW during ultra-light travel such as hiking or cycle touring, but it’s fiddly to use and delivers questionable corner sharpness. Then the iPhone XS came along and damn if those pictures aren’t sharp as a button. Even the synthetic bokeh does a good job under the right conditions, and you know that saying about the best camera being the one you’ve got with you? The LUMIX hasn’t been out much since.

So, to recap. D800E is too big. E-M5 fits in my bag but there’s a significant drop in image quality. LX-15 fits everywhere but feels like a toy.

Where to next?

Not another DSLR, they’re just too big and these days I appreciate a viewfinder that shows an actual image preview. Nikon’s Z mount mirrorless effort looks attractive and would let me re-use some of my fast glass, albeit with an adapter, but I’m also not keen on the brand these days. Apart from Nikon being way too late to the mirrorless party, I still have the D700 that died of a broken shutter after less than 10k actuations. Nikon’s response: sorry, but we no longer make the parts to fix it. Screw you, Nikon.

The A7R turned my head on more than one occasion and I’ve narrowly avoided defecting to Sony through a combination of weary hatred for the fickle brand (guess who owned a Vaio, before it a Clie?) and the realisation that it’s not the shutter technology that makes the camera big. It’s the sensor size. A 70-200mm F2.8 is the same size on a Sony as it is on my Nikon, and I don’t see the point in trading one set of dumbbells for another. Not to mention Sony’s atrocious menu system and terrible ergonomics. And the frequency with which they refresh their products. Does Sony actually hate their customers?

Or how about the new E-M5 mark III? Now that Olympus have realised USB charging is a thing, I can roughly halve my travelling outfit by leaving the charging brick at home. But you know what? The E-M5 is expensive for a micro four-thirds camera, and although I’d want to love it I’m scared of missing the resolution of a larger sensor on those once-in-a-lifetime shoots.

It’s a question of elimination then; no more full-frame, no more MFT, no more compacts. Which pretty much leaves APS-C.

Can you guess what I went for?