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.
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.
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.
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 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.