Camera Dilemmas and Predictions

I'm having a personal dilemma! This is probably just me trying to convince myself I need/want something new... but it's also a look into my progression of cameras over the years with a view of where I'll go next plus some predictions at the end of where I think the mirrorless camera market is about to get hot very soon! I've been shooting on micro 4/3 cameras since my return to photography a number of years ago... primarily with the GH4 from Panasonic. It was the very compact nature of the micro 4/3 system that got me back into photography (and in turn cinemagraph photography), but a few things have changed and I now find myself tempted to step up to something bigger again! I mean ask my wife... I'm spending an unhealthy amount of time on YouTube and rumour sites researching this lately.

Just bear in mind if you're new here and don't know me... while I used to shoot professionally for documentary film & TV, I'm not a full time 'working' photographer, it's now just a hobby from which I still earn a sideline income from assignments but my focus is more on the hybrid of video and stills photography... both in terms of cameras as well as my specialisation in cinemagraph photography. So what made me fall out with digital photography as a hobby back in 2005 was a DSLR that was too big to have in my man-bag at all times. But it was the LUMIX GX7 that got me excited in 2014, the quality of the photos it could produce compared to what I was capturing in 2005 on a huge dslr was mind blowing, not to mention video. Suddenly here were these compact digital cameras shooting really good HD... which I remember being such big deal when I first used a Panasonic Varicam in 2005!

Then I started using a GH4... to which I soon added a Metabones Speedbooster XL adapter and a Sigma 18-35mm APS-C lens (a magic combo on the GH4). Suddenly I had a kit that was pretty much as big as my old dslr... oops!

The difference is I've kept at it... the quality of this combo still blows me away. So I now have a bigger man bag, a lopsided shoulder and a misaligned spine. The old dslr simply didn't live up to my expectations having come from 35mm film photography a few years before that, that was the real crux of it.

So that brings me to my current dilemma. I still love what the GH4 does well but what it doesn't do well has me considering a move to full frame... low light and noise. I use lighting for some shots but I'm also a documentary, natural light guy and I love that magic hour light or the atmosphere of a dimly lit room and the GH4 with it's smaller sensor falls short in this area. I'm tempted to move to the GH5 but it's still the smaller micro 4/3 sensor so that won't change. The Metabones/Sigma combo has made it more workable because it gives you an extra stop of light (essentially magnifying light from the large image circle into a smaller circle for the smaller sensor). But it's not enough on some occasions. It's a trade off though... the convenience of a smaller camera and lens system is fantastic... the Sigma aside I've got a LUMIX 200-400mm which is equivalent to 400-800mm superzoom in traditional photography where the lens would be a huge beast... mine is so small in comparison you would hardly know it's a zoom at all when it's not extended to 400mm. The other aspect which I can't forget from my days of shooting slide film on an old Nikon FM2 is the 'look' of a larger format. The wider field of view and the fall off in depth of field that can be achieved is simply not the same from a smaller sensor due to pure physics. My Metabones and Sigma take my images closer to the APS-C field of view but I don't know if that's enough any more... I want more.

Above shows the sensor size differences... while not the 'true' field of view difference on this particular image (which was shot on micro 4/3) it does show how much the smaller sensors crop the image if you theoretically mounted the same larger format lens.

I still have my original vintage Nikkor 85mm F2 and I would just love to see that mounted on a full frame mirrorless camera, it's a sought after little portrait lens with genuine magic going on in it's glass. Sure it won't be as sharp adapted to a Sony full frame as some good Sony/Zeiss glass but it will have that Nikkor magic and some nostalgia for me.

So now I hear rumours of Nikon developing a full frame mirrorless camera! Rumours... groan, I know. But if that became reality oh boy. However there are a number of other boxes which need to be ticked, particularly in the area of video... I'm getting quite particular in my old age.

  • 4K 60p

  • 4K non-cropped

  • 10bit 422 in camera

  • Decent data rate.

  • Log profile

That's it! I could live without in camera stabilization but it would be a nice to have. I might be asking too much with my video requirements because being Nikon I suspect it will be a photography focused camera... but I can dream. HOW ABOUT SONY? So why not go with Sony who have been ticking most of these boxes for a while now? To be honest I've just never liked the Sony look, it's really picky but it's a hangup from back when I shot on a Panasonic DVX100 for television productions, everyone else was shooting Sony PD100 and I just hated the image... it somehow looked too digital where the DVX100 has a more 16mm feel to it's colour science (remember these were still only shooting 720x576!)

It might be just that though because I see plenty of absolutely stunning work shot by people I know on the Sony full frame cameras... it's a hang up which I could get over, but I swear I still see that difference between Sony and Panasonic even now. If... and it's a highly unlikely 'if', Panasonic could really answer my prayers? It would be a full frame hybrid stills camera to compete with the Sony A7RIII but able to shoot 4K 60p.

More rumours but could this be it? Panasonic entering the larger format space? A recent post from the Mirrorless Rumours website... or is this just more rumours stirring hope!

It would have to include the ability to adapt other brand full frame lenses but Panasonic would no doubt launch full frame lenses in partnership with Leica too. It would need the option to shoot cropped for both APS-C or Micro 4/3 lenses as well... that way I could still mount my 200-400mm because in truth the difference in image 'look' between full frame and micro 4/3 is much less noticeable on a superzoom compared to the wider lenses anyway. If I was a serious sports of wildlife shooter then 200-400mm F4-6.3 might be too slow but for many occasions it's perfectly fine and a camera that allows me to use both systems would be killer.

There are already cinema cameras which are doing this, producing different mount/adapter options to shoot on various crop modes of a larger sensor. The Kinefinity cameras for example. More of what I want is becoming available in the digital cinema cameras, such as the new Panasonic EVA-1, the Canon C200 or the Kinefinity Terra 4K within a realistic price range for me... RED, Arri or Varicam being far from reach. I dream of shooting raw video for my cinemagraphs so I have the shear data to push and pull in post like you can with raw stills. But those cameras are just too big for me... even though the Kinefinity is incredibly compact. I still want some ability to blend into a crown when I'm shooting.

COST and CONCERNS! All this aside, my other dilemma is cost. While I do make some sideline income from my cinemagraph work it's not my full time job, so investing in high end expensive gear is a big deal... and as far as my wife is concerned, a real concern! I wouldn't want to spend any more than US$7k (NZ$10k) to move into full frame... even that's a bit hopeful and would require selling most of my existing lenses along with my my soul to make up probably less than half that amount. I could live with just 1 or two good lenses to start and I'd happily just go with the Sigma Art series again for full frame to save costs.

DO I NEED TO & WHAT FOR? Well no... I pride myself on creating images that are not reliant on the format and technology, that for all you know are shot on a higher end camera. But that just makes me think... imagine what could I do with a higher end camera then?! I'm also looking to focus more on stock footage with my cinemagraphs and even regular clips. I've been looking at the standard of images of sites like the Adobe Premium Stock collection or Stocksy... where the video stock is of a really high standard... it looks like it's mostly from expensive digital cinema cameras or at least full frame! That's the standard I'm aiming for with my best work. Could I pay this kind of gear off with stock sales alone... unlikely, but 5 good custom assignment gigs on top of that a year and I could. That's not unrealistic outside of my full time office job.

FINAL PREDICTIONS Coming back to the rumours flying around I'm going to add my own speculation and predictions. I suspect that announcement before Christmas from Panasonic will be just to say "We're working on a new Full Frame hybrid camera that will be the big brother to the GH5. I think it will be like when they announced the GH5... very few specs and a very long lead time. For the GH5 that worked wonders to get everyone excited and frustrated all at the same time... they'll do it again. I also think they've picked their moment before Christmas because they have got wind of Nikon getting ready to announce their Full Frame mirrorless camera in January. I think Nikon are a step ahead and will likely release the final camera earlier than Panasonic only because I think Nikon have been working on it longer... but then again Panasonic could move faster.

So I'm picking that 2018 is going to be the year of Mirrorless full frame and I think that Panasonic and Nikon will be head to head, eventually against Sony in that space. Canon too are expected to develop a pro mirrorless offering but I actually wonder if they'll do what Fujifilm have done and skip full frame and develop Medium Format. While that would seem crazy because so many professionals already use DSLR lenses that could be used on equivalent full frame mirrorless... those people are less likely to shift over, they're mostly photographers who are quite happy to stick with what they've got, can't teach an old dog new tricks etc. Besides that would just be cannibalizing their DSLR market too much. Like Fujifilm they may however do something in APS-C mirrorless as well. Sony will do Medium format too but that would be less of a surprise. Both Sony and Canon could also include a crop mode in the Medium format cameras much like the DX mode on a Nikon full frame DSLR which allows you to use an APS-C lens on it too. You then have more incentive for photographers who would use both formats, more reason to move up to medium format, selling off some of your lenses to buy Medium Format versions but keeping a few favourites that would be useful in crop mode. So there it is... my predictions set in stone, right or wrong. I'll try not to edit this later if I'm way off... I'll happily stand corrected! Let me know what you think.

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