Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Some Thoughts on System Selection in 2020

Youth and Age
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

I've long been a proponent of the idea that Full Frame was largely cost-ineffective for the photographer with any sort of mild budgetary constraint. However I'm rapidly changing my mind on this for a few reasons.

1. Crop DSLR's are basically abandoned by their manufacturers. Seriously, when was the last serious lens introduction for APS-C DSLR's from Nikon, Canon or Pentax?

2. Chinese lens manufacturers are making dirt cheap lenses for FF DSLR & mirrorless mounts that range from adequate to excellent. They're doing very little for APS-C DSLR's. The cost advantage for APS-C was always mostly in the lenses, that's rapidly fading.

3. Only Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic take crop mirrorless seriously. Of those 3 only Panasonic even sells FF and the L mount is the least cost-effective FF mount out there (even M is cheaper to shoot for the budget-conscious and frankly GFX can be cheaper to shoot than L mount). Canon's system is a dead-end and consumer focused, Sony throws some spaghetti periodically on lenses (like the excellent 16-55 and 70-350 last years) but couldn't be bothered to make a serious body. 

So, if you're shooting on a budget, where should you look to get started.

1. Nikon 24MP bodies, or Canon 6D/6DII's. They're cheap on the used market, especially the D600 and original 6D. They're very good for most uses. They won't make cheap glass look bad unlike the higher-MP bodies (especially D8x0's). 

Don't be afraid to use manual focus lenses. There's now a wide selection of inexpensive and decent new manual focus lenses, ranging from high-end Zeiss to mid-range Irix and Venus/Laowa, to inexpensive Samyang/Rokinon and even dirt cheap stuff like Neewer and 7Artisans. Plus Samyang/Rokinon and Yongnuo are doing cheap AF glass too. The limitation here is that you're pretty much stuck with primes if you want cheap & decent. Nobody does good zooms in the same pricerange.

2. Fuji or m43. Great and not too expensive 1st party glass, lots of cheap 3rd party stuff. Nice bodies. You may find the RAW file quality limiting on m43 (I always seem to find it good, right until I need the advantages of RAW over JPEG, then I hit a wall) and may run into some RAW conversion challenges with Fuji. Lots of good used gear as well, and Fuji's 24MP bodies in particular are both reasonably priced on the used market and very good. Buy plenty of spare batteries though.

3. Sony A7 II/A7R II. Cheap on the used market, good IQ, even can be had new for surprisingly low money. Lots of cheap & decent glass. Adapts well and smart adapters for EF and Nikon F mounts exist (even can be cheap in the case of EF). 

Lots of cheap lenses are the real win here, and you can readily mix & match systems to adapt. I do recommend picking one or two systems max for adaptation though, otherwise you end up with a dozen random adapters on various lenses.  All the same players as F and EF mounts, plus a couple extra randoms. 

4. Canon EOS RP. It's cheap new, basically a mirrorless 6DII, and is very adaptable. Downside is there's basically two affordable 1st party AF lenses (the 24-105 STM and 35 IS macro) but unlike Z mount the DSLR adapter is cheap and there's actually 3rd party support starting to show up. This is a great solution for adapting if you want a better UI than the Sony mII bodies deliver. Downside is that the sensor is barely competitive with APS-C for Dynamic range, although it had FF high ISO performance. Skip the R though, the upcoming R5 and R6 will make it irrelevant and the R6 should be basically the same price.

To avoid:

1. Nikon Z. FX is expensive with zero 3rd party support, DX might as well not exist (1 body, 2 kit zooms). Nikon somehow made adapting even non-CPU F mount lenses a worse experience than their DSLR's despite adding IBIS. FX is a good system, just not for the budget-conscious, DX might as well not exist.

2. Canon EF-M. While this is the best-selling mirrorless mount in terms of units sold, it's purely a consumer mount with no growth potential. It does have 3rd party support, but not as good as Sony or Fuji. 

3. Pentax K, Sony/Minolta A mounts. Both are undead and have almost no actual support. A pity since the K-1 in particular would be a brilliant do-everything body for the budget-minded shooter if you had a better lens selection (That said, if you can get K mount lenses that work for you, the K-1 is a solid choice).

4. L mount. Expensive. Nice. Expensive. REALLY nice glass. With a side dose of Huge and Expensive. 

5. Nikon F DX, Canon EF-S. Unless you are a long-lens shooter on a real budget, there's no point to these mounts anymore. A good body isn't really much cheaper than a FF body, and lens selection is poor at best now. For wildlife/sports shooters on a budget only (and they shouldn't look at anything other than a D500, 90D or D7500 in that order)

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