Serene Life

by garik

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I'm a gallery represented photographer and I'm contemplating a new camera. I currently shoot with a Canon 40D primarily with 2 pieces of Canon L glass, the 17-40mm and the 24-105mm. I am exceptionally happy with this setup with one exception.

The gear weighs so much I only carry it when I go out on a shoot. I am constantly seeing things I want to shoot but I don't have my gear with me.

I'd love to get a small camera that I would have with me at all times. The 4/3rds cameras, both compact Samsung NX10 and TL500, and the Sony NEX-5n (can't afford the 7) all seem to come close.

As you can tell by my current kit, I'm a firm believer in "buy glass," but the current crop of mirrorless cameras seem to be telling me "buy the sensor." None of the cameras stand out. The 4/3rds have the best lens selection, the Sony has the best sensor, and the Samsung falls in between. The good news is that the Leica M-mount lenses fit the Sony and the 4/3rds, but at cost of additional bulk and of course Leica pricing.

I know that none of these are small enough to be unnoticeable when packing, none of them is the Canon S95 for example. But its low light performance seems to suffer compared to the larger sensor cameras.

So, now for the question: Is it possible to have gallery quality work, printed no more than 20" across with any of the current crop of semi-compact mirrorless cameras?

Follow-up:

I just thought I'd update this old question of mine. I ended up waiting and not buying any of the mirrorless offerings out there and waiting was worth it. I now carry a Sony RX100 with my at all times. It isn't perfect, so my Canon gear is still in the bag and goes with me on "shoots" but I was very pleased to see that I sold a print I took with the Sony about a week after I got it, and of course, I could not have taken that same shot with the Canon since it would have been at home in the closet.

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I have never used a range finder, so I don't feel qualified to provide an actual answer, but I believe a digital range finder will give you the quality you want (and high quality glass) in a much smaller package. However, they are very expensive. Last I checked, a Leica M9 was in the US$9000 range. Something lower end may also be good enough for your needs... (one can hope, since they are so much cheaper!) –  Flimzy Dec 2 '11 at 22:28
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Oh I know! The M9 is exactly what I want, but that is so far out of the budget I can't even contemplate it... –  Paul Cezanne Dec 2 '11 at 22:41
    
20" is the largest you're targetting. What's the minimum size you can accept (or have accepted)? –  mattdm Dec 2 '11 at 22:57
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@Paul, do you follow Kirk Tuck's Visual Science Lab blog? He's a serious pro photographer contemplating these smaller cameras as the future. There's a series of recent posts you might find interesting. Not tagged in any way that I can link to the series, but here's one example: visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/11/… –  mattdm Dec 3 '11 at 14:43
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Yes, I did. My goal was to have a camera with my at all times, and the mirror less don't do that. They will not fit in the front pocket of my blue jeans. Check out the Sony, it is THAT good. –  Paul Cezanne Oct 10 '12 at 13:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Have you seen a gallery showing decades old photographs from 35mm film? All mirrorless cameras do better, much better. Do you think those pictures would get rejected today on the grounds of being to grainy, unsharp or lacking contrast?

Gallery quality has much more to do with with content of photographs than anything else. Light, color, gesture says Jay Maisel. No megapixels, S/N or color-depth there! Sure, it helps to have a better camera but no camera will keep your work out of a gallery if it deserves it.

Depending on your subject, there things to get concerned with when choosing the camera. You did not say about your subjects but if you shoot action, for example, autofocus will be a big issue on mirrorless cameras. Even the Nikon 1 V1 which employs phase-detection and does very well in good light, drops in performance when light levels get low.

For other subjects, the most limiting factor is the choice of lens and there you are rather limited. As you said, 4/3 has the best selection of native lenses. You can also get a NEX with adapter to use Alpha lenses or Nikon F-lenses on the V1 once the adapter becomes available (it was announced with no ship date). The one thing that happens there is that the size advantage drops quickly when you include adapters and bigger-than-necessary lenses. The NEX does have a neat trick up its adapter and that is Phase-Detect autofocus with Alpha lenses. Keep in mind that there is no way to have stabilization with that adapter because the body assumes the lens has it and lenses assume the body has it!

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I mostly shoot night architecture/landscapes. I know that switching to L glass from kit glass, and a tripod upgrade, and RAW processing in Lightroom from Photoshop made a huge difference in the sharpness of my work. I had stuff that I just couldn't sell from a sharpness standpoint. I rarely have that now. IS and auto focus aren't an issue for me, I'm almost always tripod mounted and doing manual focus. –  Paul Cezanne Dec 3 '11 at 4:36
    
Right now, very few native lenses will cut it for you. That is because the market is geared towards small and light which forces some design compromises. One exception is the M.Zuiko 12mm F/2 lens which is great for architecture and is very sharp. –  Itai Dec 3 '11 at 4:48
    
BTW, all but the first row (ISO 200 ones) of the E-P3 review sample gallery were taken with the 12mm F/2: neocamera.com/camera/olympus/ep3/samples –  Itai Dec 3 '11 at 4:53

Yes, it is. Back in 2012, Ctein, on the Online Photographer blog, actually made a point of creating a print run of one of his favorite m4/3 photographs (made with an E-P1 and m.Zuiko 45/1.8) as 17x22 fine art prints, and then selling 1000 of them at the ridiculously low price of $19.95 so readers could judge for themselves. And in the two years since this question was asked and Ctein did his print sale, mirrorless cameras have only gotten better.

I can't help thinking Fuji X might be what Paul was waiting for.

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