Camera Shopping Update

In this post, I will again be getting geeky about the technology of interchangeable lens cameras (ILC). Feel free to ignore it all and move on to something more interesting.

In a post from last summer, I wrote about my then-beginning research into buying a new camera. My seven-year-old DSLR1 was still working fine but was also becoming very out of date, especially compared to the relatively new mirrorless models. So I rented a Sony A7III (and the kit lens), one of the newest hot cameras (released only a few months before) and spent a week shooting with it.


After that experience, I thought I was ready to buy, not only moving to a mirrorless system but also stepping up from the crop sensor-type camera I had been using since getting relatively serious about photography somewhere late in the previous century. Although a very expensive purchase, I was going to get one of those nice full-frame sensor units with much improved auto focus and lots of computing power.

Then things got complicated. The major companies, the ones that make “real” cameras,2 (think Canon, Nikon, Olympus) started getting serious about mirrorless technology and announced some fancy new models. Which sent me back into research mode.

Butterfly Picture

I won’t go into the complicated details of that research in this post but, after eight months of reading and watching lots of videos, I finally jumped into the mirrorless pool and bought one of those new cameras, a FujiFilm X-T3. A mirrorless body with a crop sensor (instead of the more expensive full-frame in that Sony and others), along with the basic kit lens. From a company I hadn’t even considered last year.

A big part of the process of researching the new camera technology was also reflecting on what I wanted from my photography. Although the critics were raving about Sony’s cameras and, to a lesser extent, the new releases from Canon, Nikon, and others, most of them were looking at the systems from a professional point of view (or at least as very serious amateurs). Many also were videographers, something I am not, placing a big emphasis on the video capabilities of the equipment.


What I learned from the research and reflection is that my primary goal when going out to make images is to have fun. I’m not interested in selling photos or being paid to do photo shoots.3 Any new camera would require some effort to learn the new system, but I was also looking for one that would be somewhat less work than higher-end units might require.

In almost every review of the Fuji cameras, the word “fun” stuck out. The reviewers noted how much they enjoyed the camera, as well as how flexible the system was to use.


Anyway, I’ve been using the new camera for about five months and, so far, I’m very happy with my choice. I’m not sure the quality of my images has substantially improved, and I certainly still have much to learn. But starting with new equipment does offer some substantial inspiration to work at getting better.

If you’re interested in more details about my research and eventual decision, contact me. I would be happy to share what I learned in the process.

The photos scattered in this post are some of my favorites taken in the past few months. Click each image to see a larger version and to read the relevant information about each shot. More of my photography, going back several cameras, can be seen in my Flickr feed.

1. Trying explain all the jargon necessary to understand this stuff would probably make this post even more unreadable. If you’re interested in getting the basic idea, this Glossary of Digital Photography Terms is a good place to start.

2. I am not at all disparaging smartphone cameras or the people who use them exclusively. Photography is a hobby for me and, like other hobbies, can involve a substantial investment in equipment. But I still regularly take pictures with my iPhone. It’s all about which camera is more appropriate at the time.

3. From very limited experience, I know I would make a very bad wedding photographer.

Camera Shopping

Photo of two cameras

This post is long and rather geeky. If you have no interest in interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) and/or my process of buying a new one, it’s time to move to the next item in your RSS feed.

As you may have noticed from the photo-related posts around here, and especially if you have followed the link to my photo site, I make a lot of pictures. If you dug a little deeper, you would find that most of them were taken with a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. I also use a smartphone camera, of course, but most often those wind up on Twitter, Flickr, and other sharing sites with no processing.

My current camera1 is now more than six years old, which, considering it’s been well-used on a dozen major trips, lots of shorter ones, and plenty of local photowalks, is getting up there in age. When I bought it, this model was considered “entry-level” in the world of ILC cameras, as was my previous DSLR and which I used for seven years.

So, I’m shopping for a new camera, a not-at-all simple process as well as a potentially expensive investment.

One complicating factor is that the technology has made some major advancements since I last did any serious camera research. Another is that I’m ready to move up a category, to something that might be considered “intermediate”. And that means more complex options.

However, the biggest issue I’m dealing with are the titanic developments in mirrorless technology coming from camera companies. Mirrorless will almost certainly become the standard for ILCs in the future, but we are currently near the beginning of that shift. Although the basics of shooting with a mirrorless camera aren’t really different, there are still some key differences between them and traditional DSLRs. And some important features still lag behind.2

All of this is why I rented a mirrorless camera last week and did a lot of shooting with it.3 Renting gave me a relatively inexpensive opportunity to play with the new technology, along with experience with the new operating system of a different camera brand.4 Plus a whole lot of buttons, dials, and joystick, all of which I couldn’t possibly learn in just a few days. But it was fun trying.

Of course, everything above is just about the camera. Buying an ILC system also means there are new lenses to consider, lenses that can also be very expensive. Although, I have friends who are really into camera equipment and own four or five different pieces of glass, in addition to a couple of bodies, my needs and wants are simpler. I will start with just one general purpose “travel” zoom lens and maybe add a second “prime” lens later.

Anyway, the bottom line to this long rambling post is that I won’t be buying anything right away. My current camera still has some good life in it, and budgeting for a whole new system will require some additional savings.

But the big unknown in my decision-making process is that the industry has not heard from the two big guys in ILCs. Canon and Nikon have not yet released “serious” mirrorless camera systems. They seem to be close. Both are expected to make some big announcements about their new equipment very soon, possibly at Photokina, the huge international photography show in September. The new systems aren’t expected to be widely available until next year, but knowing something about their plans will be good.

In the meantime, I’ll do more research, keep adding to my piggy bank, and continue making many more pictures with the cameras I have.

The common wisdom, of course, is that the best camera is the one you have with you. And that it’s not the equipment that makes great images, it’s the photographer.

However, advanced technology and understanding how to make the best use of it can make even better photographs possible.

Thanks for reading to the end of this rant. If you have any thoughts or experience to contribute to my search for a new ILC, I’d love to hear them. Or if you could benefit from what I’ve learned, I’m happy to help. Either way, please leave a comment or tweet at me.

1. The one on the left in the photo is my Canon Digital Rebel T4i. It was released in June, 2012 and I bought it not long after in advance of a big trip. The camera was unique at the time for having a touch screen, something that is now common on most ILC, but was by no means state of the art. BTW, no irony in the fact the picture was taken with an iPhone.

2. If you’re interested in digging deeper into the differences, this post from Tom’s Guide is a good place to start.

3. The one on the right is the rental, a Sony A7 III. That model was released in April of this year and is considered one of the best intermediate mirrorless cameras available right now. A few photos from experimenting with this camera are here. More to come.

4. Unlike computers, every camera company has their own OS. Like computers, all of them are very similar but just different enough to add another layer of difficulty when moving to a new camera.

The Store is Tracking You

Screen Shot 2018 01 23 at 8 30 25 PM

Irony is not dead.

This week Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of online merchants, opened an actual physical store. From the pictures, it looks like what Whole Foods (which Amazon bought last year) might have come up with if they were designing a Wawa.

However, the unique part of Amazon Go is that there are no checkout lines, cash registers, or cashiers, and the tech press went wild.

On arrival, you launch the Go app, which comes out today for iPhones and Android phones and connects to your Amazon account. It displays a 2D code that you scan at one of several glass security gates. The code identifies you to the store and opens the gate. (You can also check in other people—a spouse, a kid, a friend—whose purchases will be added to your tab.) Once you’re in, AI algorithms start to track you and everything you pick up and keep. You can bag your items as you go if you so choose, and need interact with an employee only if you’re buying alcohol, in which case an associate standing in the liquor area will check your ID.

The article talks about the store using a lot of AI, although I’m not sure this system is all that smart (yet). Really it’s only a couple of steps beyond how I already shop.

At the supermarket I go to most often, I pick up a hand-held device after scanning a loyalty card. As I select the items I want, I scan the bar code and stick it in my bag. At check out, I scan a code on the device, wave my Apple Pay at the register, and leave. Amazon engineers take that semi-manual process and incorporate the scanner into the building itself.

This is only one store, in downtown Seattle, and it’s not clear where Amazon plans to take this concept. But it’s not hard to predict where this general technology is going.

Between the general lust for data by corporations and governments, and the paranoia-fueled push for more “security”, this kind of tracking system will become more powerful. And likely be spread far and wide.

Watch for AI-powered cameras and sensors at your local mall, airport, convention center, wherever lots of people come and go. At your school?

Ok, that’s enough ranting on this topic for now. I have to go work on my sensor-blocking tin foil hat. :)

Tweet by @typesfast, posted January 22.


Out On The Streets

On the last day of this tour, having had little time for shopping over the past two weeks, some of us (meaning my wife and her friends) decided to skip the scheduled tour and hit the streets. We wound up at the Ladies Market, two blocks of stalls full of interesting items, most of somewhat questionable origin and prices that are only a starting point for haggling. I just wish they offered free wifi.

Later in the day I made my way to the tram that takes passengers to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island and a trip all the guide books say every visitor to the area should make. So, what do you find at the top? A shopping center, of course, one that includes the very American Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. However, you also get this incredible view of the city.

In a few hours we start the long journey home. At least it’s not on Air China this time.