Switching Gear: The Long Way Around

04th July 2015
The last year has been very strange and in a weird way exciting for me. Like many other photographers I have been changing equipment on a more or less regular basis and over the years I have been working with Minolta, Hasselblad, Bronica, Techikardan and Sigma cameras and lenses. Since Canon introduced the original EOS 5D some 10 years ago I have been a more or less loyal Canon user and built up an extensive outfit. About two years ago however I started to question if I am with the right company. Photography has become a very fast changing market and Canon seemed to have fallen behind quite a bit. New Canon cameras and lenses didn't feel as new and innovative as what other companies put on offer but came with a premium price tag. To me it felt I was mainly paying for a name. In addition the CPS (Canon Professional Service) let me down on a regular basis.
Unfortunately I had invested heavily in Canon and a switch seemed financially difficult if not impossible. Then in late 2014 I got myself a Pansonic GH4 which I planned to mainly use for video and time lapse work. Until then I had never really considered a mirrorless system but the GH4 changed my mind and I started to look into what is available and what would suit my needs. To cut a long story short I invested in an Olympus OMD E-M1 outfit soon after, added a Sony 7R with a Metabones adapter for my Canon lenses and started to sell off much of my Canon stuff.

Nikon D810 & 85mm/1.8

Here was where it all became a bit weird. Switching systems is never easy but this system change wasn't really planned and over several months I was selling off stuff while at the same time buying new stuff, driving my camera dealer mental and risking a divorce. At the same time I had to fullfill my work commitments using gear I wasn't all that familier with.
The advantages of mirrorless systems over traditional SLRs are obvious: Smaller, lighter and less expensive. This means hill walking and photographing off the beaten track is now more enjoyable and waiting for the next big camera update and figuring out how to pay for it less nervewrecking. On the downside are only two things: First there is the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). The EVF has come a long way and most of the time you don't notice you're looking at a screen. You can add all kinds of usefull bells and whistles to it like zebras and focus assistance. The trouble starts when it gets either very bright or very dark. On both occassions it gets rather difficult seeing anything and it is here where a traditional OVF has an advantage. Secondly there is the battery life. Mirrorless systems are very energy hungry and a set of spare batteries is a must. For some the lack of native lenses with some systems is also a problem. Most of the systems I tried have a good enough selection and you can always use other lenses via adapter.
The Pansonic GH4 was the camera that got the ball rolling for me. It's a nice little camera but built with the video shooter in mind and I never felt really comfortable shooting stills with it.
The Olympus OMD E-M1 on the other hand is a photographer's camera and a pure joy to use especially in combination with the Olympus Pro lenses. I rarely enjoyed using a camara that much! Ergonomics and layout makes the E-M1 almost to an extention of the photographer's hand and eye. The IQ the small Micro 4/3 sensor delivers is also surprisingly good up to ISO 3200 and in combination with the 12-40/2.8 and 40-150/2.8 the E-M1 can master a wide array of shooting scenarios.
One of the first jobs I used the E-M1 on was an outdoor night shoot where the Olympus outfit very much exceeded my expectations: The EVF worked fine and the AF in almost complete darkness was spot on. The Canon EOS 6D I had also brought along only came out towards the end when the batteries of the Olympus had run out.
After a few months with the E-M1 however I decided to part with Micro 4/3 system. At that time my Canon bodies had been part exchanged for the Sony 7R and 7II and I never have liked working with 2 systems. I also preferred full frame cameras and therefor wanted to invest more into Sony.
The Sony 7R was supposed to be my landscape camera. Image quality is as good as it gets with impressive dynamic range and detail. The 7R has few quircks however: Light leaks, especially when used with adapters, that show up at long exposure times, a LCD that shuts down and freezes on occassion and the whole design and layout takes time getting used to.
Despite these drawbacks the 7R is in many ways the perfect landscape camera: Small and light but with unrivalled image quality when you put the right lenses in front of it. My favourites were the Canon 24mm TS-E (which is my all time favourite lens anyway) and the Sony/Zeiss 50mm.

Sony 7R & Canon 24mm TS-E

The Sony 7II was on my wanted list as soon as it got announced: 24MP full frame and In-Camera-Image-Stabilization sounded like the perfect allround camera. It turned out it almost is. For me it performs very similar to the Canon EOS 5DIII which makes it perfect for almost every job.
Unfortunately the 7II also has some drawbacks: The RAW files the camera produced were rather grainy which might be down to the file compression Sony uses. Why Sony forces its customers to work with compressed RAW files is a mystery to me anyway. It's one of those things that just doesn't make sense. Photographers thta shoot RAW need the best possible IQ, compressing these files compromises this IQ.
Over the weeks more and more minor problems showed up like the door of the card compartment that opened on the slightest touch or the main command dial that can't be locked and also moves rather easily.
Over time all these quircks and drawbacks made it very difficult for me to feel confident and happy with the Sony cameras especially on paid assignments.
Fuji I never really considered simply because, as already mentioned, I prefered working with full frame cameras and crop-sensor cameras always have been a compromise for me: Crop-sensor for me was equivalent with image noise and less than satisfactory image detail.
The Fuji XT-1 entered my life by total chance but left a lasting impression. This camera just feels right. There are 'old style' dials and an f-stop ring on the lenses instead of menus and sub-menus. It was never easier to change settings in an instant.
What won me over and surprised me however was the image quality. Fuji is using a unique sensor design and although the XT-1 "only" has 16MP and has an APS-C sensor (a combination I would have never even considered for landscape photography in the past) it neither feels like a low resolution or crop-sensor camera. The Fuji files have a special look which is hard to put in words, the images are more vibrant and 3-dimensional looking than the Bayer sensors used in most other cameras. The detail in the Fuji files also looks more like what a 20+ MP Bayer sensor would produce. The Fuji lenses are also among the best out there. Even the zooms are fantastic. Again it's difficult to put the finger on it, it just feels right.

Fuji XT-1 & 16mm/1.4

Eventually I only reached for the Sony 7R or 7II when I needed to use the Canon tilt & shift lenses, unfortunately there is no adapter to use those on the Fuji bodies. Then I found out that Nikon lenses can be adapted to Fuji bodies... and Nikon also has a range of perspective control lenses. Nikon also has the D810 that uses the same (or very similar) sensor as the Sony 7R.
A few weeks ago the Sony outfit moved out and the Nikon D810 with the 24mm PC and 45mm PC lenses moved in. The Nikon D810 is a DSLR, it's big, it's heavy but a truly stunning piece of equipment. I have never used Nikon before so it's a steep learning curve but I enjoy working with this brick and the results are amazing. I also enjoy looking through an OVF again. So it seesm to be Nikon and Fuji for me now.
Some might ask what about the Canon EOS 5Ds and Sony 7RII? I did consider the Canon EOS 5Ds for a while but the overall specs simply sound like another mediocre Canon announcement: A lot of resolution but nothing else. The Sony 7RII on the other hand sounds interesting but as long as Sony only offers compressed RAW files I probably will pass.


Photo comment By Richard: I've never been much of a gear freak but this is interesting enough. I got a 7D mk2 as soon as it came out but have started going back to the original model and much prefer it for most situations. The last image here is gorgeous too.
Photo comment By Eric: Dear Carsten Thanks for nice story. And to tell you truth, that's how i got to your story is that I am facing almost the same challenge, though I have not switched yet... I am an Underwater photographer for 25+ years whom has been "loyal" to its Minolta legacy lenses since the begining... For 4 years, and to cut a long story short, my UW photography story, I am shooting today with a Sony ALPHA 850 DSLR (full frame) using essentially only 4 lenses : 16mm Fisheye, 16-35mm, 12-24mm and 105 Macro, though I have also many other (most are "prime") lenses... I am considering to move to Sony A7ii or new launched last week A7 Rii... As I am getting older , and be tired of carrying some heavy stuff each time, in addition to be “annoyed” by airlines employees, I get to the point to moving to mirrorless… Here is my choice I am facing : selling all my legacy Minolta lenses (AF screw driven) plus my 2 DSLR850 bodies with VG grip and buy either the Alpha 7ii or the Alpha 7Rii with the 16-35 f/4. This is much more compact than a DSLR, and the housing for UW use (nauticam.com) is also much lighter and compact. I am facing a investment between 5 k€ (A7ii) to 7k€ (A7rii). I need to say that - AF speed is not the key factor but more AF performance in low light - I almost never shoot above 400 ISO, 95% being 100 ISO So what is your overall experince with the A7ii using non Sony FE native lenses (such as the Canon and the metabone adapter). What is the performance of AF in real life? Eric
Photo comment By Gilbert Lennox: Thank you for an interesting account of your journey with gear. And many congratulations on your superb photography. I have purchased three of your books and each one is both a delight and an inspiration.

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