Each of us has our own personal equation, a complex mix of requirements, preferences and just plain opinions that colors our view of any product that we consider for purchase.  This is certainly true of camera gear, a product category that seems to evoke particularly strong sentiments.  Purchase considerations include financial situation, use cases, range of available system products and services (bodies, lenses, accessories, support) and other factors such as ergonomics, robustness, weight, size, etc. -- as well as our subjective expectations, reality-based or otherwise.

Personally, I divide photo gear (and pretty much every other) purchase into four categories, all based on cost/value assessment for my use cases.

  • Don't care -- and don't care what others may think; after all, it's not their $. . .  Most things fall into this category

  • Want but can't afford.  Example, street-qualified GT40!

  • Can afford and want, but below the cost/value threshold that would prompt purchase

  • Want, can afford, and sufficient value to lay out the cash

  • Bonus addendum:  Cost is straightforward; value is partly objective (specs, tests, reviews), partly subjective and very use case dependent

None of this relates to the "art" of photography, only to being able to capture more and/or technically better images of the types I like to pursue.  Any interest in enhancing artistic/creative ability will involve activities other than reading camera specs.

Chasing the Unicorn

While it would be ideal if a single manufacturer provided the exact products designed to match an individual’s wants -- figuratively speaking, a personal photography unicorn -- needs and financial ability, unfortunately each maker differs in various aspects.  One must eventually make a selection from among imperfect choices, and inevitably the chosen pick will involve compromises given that these products are manufactured on a large scale for a broad audience rather than custom built to one’s exact specifications.  (Of course, one can also buy into multiple brands.)

When I decided to concentrate on bird photography and moved on from Minolta a couple of decades ago, Canon was an easy choice over Nikon, at least in part because of their image stabilized supertelephotos.  Now, my investment in gear is such that I’m unlikely to switch again given that my habits and uses have long since stabilized.  Further, the quality and capability of the gear available today has risen to a level where the value gained is less often worth the cost of upgrade than it once was -- the "last camera" phenomenon.

But, if I were starting from scratch today the choice would be far less one-sided, as something closer to parity has evolved since the world went digital, especially in the last decade.  For me personally, I could make more than adequate use of any of the big three product lines, Canon, Nikon or Sony, adapting to differing compromises for each brand.

Technology Moves On

Given all that, one still can be disappointed that one’s chosen product line falls short of the mark in personally important areas.  Canon, the brand I have used for the past two decades, has an outstanding lens lineup, an important consideration.  But, viewing the situation from outside, they appear to have failed to devote adequate R&D to sensor technology and the image processing pipeline over the last decade.  Sony early on went to on-chip column parallel ADCs, and the first backside illuminated Exmor was announced in 2008.  Further, Sony has moved rapidly to ever smaller process sizes, enabling increased feature density and thus enhanced processing power.

Those offerings should have been a shot across Canon’s bow, but until very recently Canon’s R&D pace appears, once again viewed from the outside and in retrospect, to have been far too leisurely given the subsequent evolution of the market place.  The reason(s) remain murky to an outsider.  Lack of market foresight?  Lack of requisite technical acumen? Insufficient resources (Sony sells billions of smart phone sensors)?  Simple corporate greed and profit taking?  I don’t know.  (For a more detailed discussion, visit Sensor Wars.)

Whatever the explanation, the market impact was not immediately evident, but as time passed it became ever more so.  Now, Canon is attempting to “catching up" in a declining camera gear market, with diminished R&D resources.  Fortunately for Canon users, recent developments suggest that these perceived shortfalls are finally being addressed.  The newly delivered EOS 1DX Mark III exceeds anything Canon has ever delivered in the past.  And the announced but not fully speced EOS R5 follows that trend.  It will be interesting to see how it shakes out in the coming years -- and whether Canon will come closer to meeting all the parameters of my personal equation.

  © 2020 Michael W. Masters   Return to top