Just like a good carpenter wants to have quality tools in his tool box, and the right tool for the right job.  So, the Pro wants to be in the same place, good equipment and the right lens  or lighting equipment for the situation.

Lenses that Sony markets.  There would be more lenses for a similar shot of Nikon or Canon lenses.

For the most part full frame cameras are used by the professional.  These cameras in my opinion can produce images comparable and probably better than the medium format camera of 30 years ago.  Some of the high end fashion and magazine cover shooters may use a medium format digital today.  But the expense can be very high, up to $45,000 just for the camera.  The lenses aren’t inexpensive either.  It should also be pointed out that the pro may use any other cameras from the advanced amateur in some situations.  The APS-C and micro 4/3rds is adequate for work that won’t get past the web and shallow or razor thin depth of field isn’t needed.  Many are also considering the 1″ sensor cameras for their non-paid work, for their family or similar situations.  It is a small camera, so they don’t have to carry around huge amounts of gear and in most situations it can produce a good picture.

Another feature that I didn’t hit in the last blog, is that most of the amateur and pro photographers want to shoot in ‘RAW’.  The reason that we say, that we want to do it, is to be able to use the increased dynamic range of the photo (usually 14 bit vs 8 bit in jpg).  That is true, but it can also save us from errors that we as humans make.  Such as setting the wrong color balance, or underexposing, or over exposing.  The ability to change, contrast, color balance, brightness can turn an average photo into something special.

In the full frame camera world, there are 4 companies today.  Nikon and Canon have dominated in the past.  Sony has made significant gains that the last few years.  And, Pentax is just now re-entering this market.  I say re-entering because in the past, they made very popular cameras for the 35mm film market.  They made one attempt to make a full frame digital camera a few years ago, but it was a flop.  Their new full frame K-1 is getting very good reviews and for the Pentax faithful, it will provide a good place to land.  Pentax, it should be noted, has a couple entries in the medium format category as well, which are reasonably well priced in their sector.

Nikon D810
Nikon D810, Nikon’s best general purpose Pro camera. $2800 for the body

The full frame camera can run from about $1500 to $6000.  So what are the differences?  One of the differences, is that the pro would like a camera that is reasonably weather proof or resistant and is sturdily built so that it can with stand the occasional hard bump or drop.  But, there are also other differences and I will try to explain by breaking photographers into 3 categories, Portrait, Landscape, and Sports.

The portrait photographer is looking for color depth on the top of his list.  Ability to shoot photos quickly is good, but he usually has to wait for his studio strobes (lighting) to recharge a half second or 2 seconds.  So shooting 5 or 15 photos in a second isn’t too important.

The landscape photographer is looking for dynamic range.  In other words to be able to catch detail in the shadows and in bright sunlight.  Again shooting 5 frames a second doesn’t matter.  A high resolution camera will probably be at the top of the list as well.

Canon EOS 1Dx II
Canon EOS 1Dx II, top of the line DSLR, A favorite among sports photographers, $5,999 for the body

The sports photographer is looking to be able to shoot a many frames per second and to have an excellent focusing mechanism to follow the action.  He also wants a camera that he can push to a high ISO, so that he can use a fast shutter speed and stop motion, also to reduce camera motion blur.  Resolution usually isn’t as important to a sports photographer, because lots of pixels will slow his camera down.

I would like to cover two more topics quickly.

The first is a short discussion of how these cameras are viewed in the market place.

Canon and Nikon are the old standbys and have a large installed base and due to the investment that people have in their lens systems, it is difficult or at least a well thought out decision to move to a different manufacturer.  They both make excellent lenses.  Sony has been the ‘other’ guy for a while.  Sony of course makes their own sensors and they also make all the Nikon FX and DX sensors.  Canon has fallen behind some in the last few years in their sensor quality, showing more noise in shadow areas and not being able to pull as much detail out of underexposed areas.  In fact an independent rating organization (dxoMark.com) rates the sensors in cameras and Sony and Nikon cameras completely dominate the top 16 places of the full frame cameras, with Canon finally coming in at number 17.  Canon’s last two releases show some progress in this area, these cameras haven’t been rated by DXO yet, but they will probably crack the top 10, probably not past that.

Sony A7

Sony has taken a progressive approach and is making their cameras without a mirror.  All 4/3rds cameras and many APS-C camera are mirrorless.  These cameras are gaining strength in the market place.  Native Sony lens selection has been very limited until recently, but the design allows Canon, Sony A mount, Nikon and other lenses to be used by using an adapter.  People like the idea of not having a mirror that is causing vibrations and the view finder showing exactly what will be in the picture.  The EVF has improved enough in the last few years that many consider it better.  There is also some size savings that many consider an advantage.  Speed of focusing isn’t up to the level of the best DSLRs, but the last camera released by Sony in APS-C format has made the focusing debate a close call.  Better in some situations, not as good in others.

The second one is the concept of the ‘bridge’ camera.  Basically, a bridge camera is a long zoom fixed lens camera.  It will probably zoom out to 200mm and some cameras up 2,000mm effective focal length.  These exist in the 1/2.3″ format as well as the 1″ format.

Customers in this category will have a very broad range of choices and desires.  But, remember they are interested in controlling most every part of photography.  This includes Field Of View (FOV) and Depth of Field (DOF).

Cameras with 3 different sensor sizes fall into this discussion.  1″, 4/3″, and APS-C.  There are interchangeable lens cameras and fixed lens cameras available in all three categories.  I put the 1″ sensor in this category, because you can start to do a good job in controlling depth of field with this sensor and low light shooting starts to improve significantly.  But you will also see that costs start to escalate significantly in this category.

Nikon One
Nikon J5, 1″ sensor, 27-270mm f4.0 – 5.6 MILC

Nikon was the first company to attack this segment with their One series.  Just to put a line in the sand, the camera sell for about $900 today.  Lots of good features, but my problem with this camera is the f4.0 lens.  Since it is a smaller camera, I would have liked to see a f2.8 lens.  For an ILC, switching lenses and other hassles of this type of camera, there needs to be more reward.  Faster Prime lenses can be purchased.  Lenses run about $150 to $900 for this camera.

Recently Nikon added fixed lens cameras to their 1″ or CX line.  Actually these are called DL cameras for $650 to $900 depending on the lens attached.  These cameras begin with a f-stop of 1.8 and the longest zoom has wide angle f-stop of 2.8.  The Camera with the longest zoom 24-500mm has an f-stop range of 2.8 to 5.6.  The least expensive camera has a 24-85mm zoom and an f-stop range of 1.8 to 2.8 for $650.  The mid-range has a 18-50mm zoom and the same 1.8 to 2.8 f-stop range for $850 (wide angles are generally more expensive).

Sony RX100-IV, 1″ BSI sensor, 24-70 zoom, f1.8-2.8

While Sony wasn’t the first to market with a 1″ sensor, they do make all the 1″ sensors for Nikon and of course for themselves.  But, Sony, is about the only camera maker that is seeing profits go up, and I think to a large degree it is because of cameras in this category.  Sony was the first to offer the 1″ sensor in a fixed lens camera.  They offer 7 different cameras in this segment.  Prices range from $500 to $1,500 for these cameras.  The $500 model, RX-100, doesn’t have the BSI, but it has a good 28-100mm lens which is very functional and a maximum f-stop of 1.8.  The most expensive (RX10-III) has the BSI sensor, 24-600mm lens, and a 2.4 to 4.0 f-stop range on the zoom.  Not to mention 4k video with 960 fps video at 4k for slow motion effects.  While these cameras are expensive, they are loaded with features that make them very capable.

These cameras will provide much better low light capability than cell phones and much better zoom performance than the 1/2.3″ sensors.  Plus, what they can do with video makes them very attractive.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, MFT, 28-84 zoom, f3.5-5.6 about $600

Then there are the micro 4/3rds format.  This is a larger sensor, and I think all cameras made in this format are ILCs.  Panasonic and Olympus sell this format.  There is a large installed base and lots of lenses that can be purchased to custom fit your needs.  If a person wants an ILC system, this sensor size is the smallest that I would recommend.  Bodies without lenses start at about $400 and go up to about $1300.  Lenses cost about $150 to $2500, although the vast majority are $200 to $600.  But, it is a huge selection which is nice.

Sony Alpha a6000.png
Sony Alpha a6000, APS-C, 24-75mm, f 3.5- 5.6, about $600

The next sensor size is the APS-C.  About every major camera maker is in this category.  Although there is a divide between Mirrorless and DSLR.  I won’t touch that controversy today, but I do have my opinion.  But, ultimately they are capable of producing the same quality pictures.  Body only packages begin at around $300 and basic lens kit packages start at around $400.  A high end body will be around $1600. Lenses start at around $150 and go up to a little over $2000.  So due to the fact they are a little larger they are a bit more expensive than the 4/3rds lenses.  These camera lens combinations can provide excellent results in a variety of situations.  They will generally provide better low light capability than their 4/3rds brethren.

Remember I talked about some advantages to being small to level the playing field.  One of them is that the 1″ cameras are capable to doing faster frame bursts than the APS-C cameras.  They also might be able to provide better FPS in the video mode as well, which will result in better slow motion effects.  Basically, since the sensors are smaller and usually a few less pixels, they can read the data off the sensor faster, and move on to the next frame or picture quicker.

As you can see there is a big range with what you can do here and spend.  $500 can get you into a good system.  If, being small and taking very good pictures in a variety of situations, the 1″ sensor with a fixed lens is the way to go.  If you want more flexibility and don’t mind carrying around a little more weight, the MFT and APS-C are good choices.


I want to start out this blog on why today’s camera phones actually do a pretty good job.  If you go by the ‘size matters’ analogy, quality should be poor at best since a full frame camera is about 50 times larger.  The better cell phones have sensors that are just a little smaller than the green 1/2.5″ rectangle below at 1/3″.  I should point out that this diagram is not to scale.  Depending on your screen, maybe 3x larger than life.

Relative sensor sizes.


One of the smaller negative films, disc camera, had an image size of about the 2/3″ rectangle, but image quality was less than what a modern cell phone can do today.

To keep things a bit simpler, let me wave a hand and describe the factors that level the playing field between a large sensor and the smaller sensors.  Basically picture quality relates to a signal to noise ratio.  In general, a larger sensor will create more noise.  The relationship isn’t linear, but it levels the playing field some.  Also, another development in the last few years is BSI, back side illumination.  This has improved low light performance greatly in the cell phone world.

As we are talking about leveling the playing field, it should also be noted that the cost of making a fast lens for a small sensor is cheaper.  It is also easier to design a zoom lens with a smaller sensor.

Ok, so we have the basics down, right?  Let’s talk about the person who would like a camera with a better zoom, Type 1.

A point and shoot camera with a 1/2.3″ (6.17 x 4.55 mm) BSI sensor (just a little bigger than the 1/2.5″ sensor) and a 30x zoom can be bought for around $350.  In other words, it covers a 24-700mm full frame equivalent focal length.  It has a minimum f-stop of f3.5 to 6.4.  It will take good pictures in sunlight when zoomed in for your kids ball games… but it will struggle for an indoor shot at graduation or something like that.  Most of these cameras have a minimum f-stop around 3.5, so while the sensor is larger the f-stop doesn’t let in as much light… so shooting a group picture in a dimly lighted restaurant won’t be any better than your cell phone.  Your cell phone does well because it has an f-stop of about f2.2 or f2.4.

Canon Elph 190
Canon Elph 190 IS, f3.0 to 6.9, 10x zoom, about $150

Or a Canon with the same size BSI sensor and a 12x zoom (25-300mm) for about $200.  This camera has an f-stop of 3.6 to 7.0, so it has considerably less zoom, and on average it will probably perform less well in low-light situations compared to your cell phone.  But, the low light performance difference may not be noticeable by most people.  The picture above is of a another Canon that was released at the same time, 10x instead of 12x zoom, f-stop of 3.0 to 6.9, and not BSI sensor for $50 less.

These cameras are small enough to put in a large pocket or purse, so they are easy to take with you.  Pretty much every brand has a camera or two in this range.  But, due to the quality of the cell phones today, the market for these simple point and shoot cameras has decreased in the last few years.  But, if you are Type 1 and want some real zoom on your camera, this is the least expensive way of doing it.

Questions?  Please feel free to ask in the comments or e-mail me.

Kodak DCS 620x, Kodak electronics in a Nikon F5 body.  2MP for a mere $10,000 in the year 2000.

I am amazed at the changes in the photography world in the last 20 years.  Yes, cameras have become little computers that gather images to last forever.  I bought my first digital camera in June of 2000.  I wasn’t on the bleeding edge at this point, but I was on the leading edge.

In 2000, I will put photographers in 4 categories:

  1. Casual shooter, probably owned an instamatic or a smaller film size that had limited capabilities, but it was inexpensive to buy.
  2. Intermediate photographer.  They probably owned an inexpensive 35mm camera with a fixed or zoom lens that was easy to carry around and could provide nice pictures.
  3. Advanced Amateur or professional.  They owned an SLR camera that used 35mm film, but with a large lens selection and better lenses, they were able to create better pictures
  4. The Professional, They probably used a 35mm camera and also a medium format camera and maybe large 4×5 cameras.

One characteristic that was true then and is still true today, bigger is better (in most situations).  It makes sense, a bigger camera/lens/film/sensor will catch more light which makes it easier to capture a better detailed picture.  This is true today with digital cameras, but there are some factors that level the playing field some.

My first Digital Camera, Sony Cybershop DSC-S50.  2MP camera for MSRP $700

When I bought my first digital camera in 2000, the technology had advanced enough that a digital camera could be bought to satisfy the needs of all four categories.  Although they didn’t satisfy all the needs of the advanced amateur or Professional.  But most professionals saw that technology was changing and digital was the future, so they adapted and learned the technology along the way.  Ok, one of the best Professional cameras in the 2000, was a joint effort between Kodak and Nikon, that cost about $10,000 and had 2MPixels (MP).  It did take good pictures though.

Fast forward to today. A quality Professional full frame (35mm) will cost $2,000 to $6,000.  These Cameras will have anywhere from 25MP to 50MP.  Plus expensive lenses to go with it.  Times have changed.

Let’s look at our 4 photography categories.

  1. The Casual shooter is happy with their cell phone.  And, they should be, the modern cell phone can take better pictures than what the film cameras they were buying in 2000 were capable of doing.
  2. The intermediate photographer is using their cell phone, but they may be buying a digital camera that has a significant zoom.  Since their cell phone doesn’t really zoom.  But, they aren’t overly concerned with low light shooting and depth of field.
  3. The advanced amateur is concerned with low light shooting and depth of field control in their pictures.  They probably have an interchangeable lens camera (ILC)
  4. The Professional will of course have several cameras.  But their best camera will most likely be a Full Frame capable of shooting 20MP and up pictures.  They may also go up a step to a Medium Format digital camera (costing $8,000 to $45000).  Some still shoot film in the medium and large format categories.  Yes, some still shoot film in the 35mm format, but they are becoming a rare breed, and I don’t expect to see a revival as we are seeing with albums/records in the music world.
Sony A7 II, a Full Frame 25MP camera

In the next 3 blogs, I’ll look at what cameras make sense in categories 2, 3, and 4.