What to shoot with.

“What camera do you use?” is not a question I like to hear. First of all because it implies that one believes the camera takes the picture, which is deeply inaccurate. Also, it means that you might be looking in the wrong direction in order to improve your photography: your equipment matters a little, but it’s probably not where margin for improvement lays.
On the other hand, you don’t make omelettes with a chainsaw, and there is too much marketing induced misleading information being throw around, it sadly leads to many of you buying the wrong gear for what they want to do. I’ll give some basic advice that should help you get the right gear, not waste your money, and mostly empower you to create the images you want.

  1. There is hardly such thing as a camera that can do it all. You need to know what you want: portrait, landscapes, action etc.
  2. Picture quality comes from the lens, and where the light lands (sensor or film). Everything else is purely ergonomics and / or quite often, absolute marketing rubbish. Spend money on lenses, not camera bodies.
  3. The larger the sensor / film, the greater. But the larger the format, the bigger and more manual the camera.
  4. Expensive does not mean better. Many bad compacts full of useless gadgets now cost more than superb medium format cameras.
  5. Alway consider that better pictures means a better technique, that you can leverage with creativity. Most people use automation so much that they don’t master the basics, and never improve.
  6. Simpler cameras won’t get in the way of your learning and creativity. Unless you do need an advanced product, don’t get one.
  7. Don’t think film is the past and digital the future. Each have considerably different strengths and weaknesses. Considering that very premium film cameras now cost little, you might want to consider one instead of more digital equipment you don’t really need.
  8. A good photograph is about framing, composition, subject, use of light, creativity, emotion, etc. Sharpness, noise, pixels and all that stuff are concepts that manufacturers need to sell you more stuff.

This being said, here is what I use:

  • For portraits, I use medium format Mamiya cameras, an RZ67 Pro II and a 645E. From a sensor standpoint, they are to 4.6 times larger that a full frame camera, and 100 times larger than a basic compact. It allows to extract the subject from its environment, better bokeh and perception of depth in general. I also find that black and white film offer a much great range on tones and nicer noise that digital. They cost little used, because they are the strict essential: manual focus, aperture priority for the 645E, and nothing else. If you craft pictures like you would paint, you need a medium or large format camera. It means you will shoot film. Get over it, film is not dead.
  • For action and difficult situations, or when you want to do heavy post processing, you need an SLR; but not necessarily the most expensive ones. Top of range products cost so much because they offer function that professionals and reporters need. You probably don’t. I used a Nikon D600: it is full frame (24x36mm sensors), performs great in low light which is a strong advantage of digital over film. It is weather sealed and can shoot very fast. Also, Nikon offers the best sensor and metering technology.
  • For trekking, discret street shooting or situation requiring a lightweight package, I use Fuji products. The X-M1 does a good job: it’s small with a decent sized sensor. Fuji sensors are probably coming 2nd best after Nikon, and produce RAW files that are incredibly flexible for editing. It is slow to focus and to react, and sensor size don’t allow perfect quality images, but it’s light enough to carry during a 5 days trek in the mountains.
  • I rarely do landscapes, but when I do, I use the Mamiya RZ67 with the proper lens. When I can carry it and the necessary tripod.
Using Format