Changing systems: a big decision

Canon 1Ds3 and Fuji X-T1 basic outfit

I have only changed camera systems twice in my 45 years in photography and one of those was from Canon FD mount to the Canon EOS system with autofocus. Previously it was from Pentax screw mount and at that time I did not have a significant investment in lenses. I do now so it is a big deal to be thinking of a change and it will possibly be the most profound.

Why change?

It has come about because increasingly I was finding my professional Canon DSLR system (1Ds3 & 1D2) too heavy and bulky especially for general stock shooting, the bulk of my photography. For sport it was different question, but I have been doing less action photography as the market for professional sport is largely sewn up by big, specialist agencies. I had long given up hope of high-end full-frame (35mm) digital single lens reflex (dslr) cameras and lenses ever getting back anywhere near the size of the manual focus systems. I would been first in the queue if a maker had produced a professional full frame camera the size of the Olympus OM-1, or my favourite the Canon T90.

The time for waiting was over, I was no longer enjoying my photography because of lugging a 2.2kg (5lb) basic "walkaround" outfit, and my shoulders were protesting more and more. So I started looking at alternatives.

The obvious starting point was to consider switching from full frame to APS-C, or smaller. As I already had a comprehensive range of top-end Canon EF lenses my starting point had to be the Canon APS-C EOS range (without the lenses I would also have considered Nikon)and the 7D in particular. It is a capable camera but it is not much lighter than the full frame Canon 5D. The other big stumbling block is the lenses are still the same; big and bulky to cover the larger 35mm frame and Canon did not have professional "L series" wide angle lenses suitable for the smaller format.

So I looked at the other options for camera systems suited to an enthusiast or professional photographer. There is a much wider choice of technology than previously. Especially if one is prepared to consider formats other  than full frame 35mm and forgo an optical viewfinder for an electronic viewfinder (evf). For me that was not an issue, evfs are so much better than they used to be, video and broadcast tv camera men and women have been using them for decades. Anyway, as a long time sport shooter I often work with both eyes open. That way I can see the view directly as well as through the viewfinder—try it, it takes practice but is a useful skill for sports and other action photography. That is a discussion for another time and place, I will muse more on the pros and cons of evf versus optical viewfinders in a separate article. So I had to look more widely across the changing camera landscape.

Olympus OM-D and micro four-thirds

My starting point was the Olympus OM-D. Long ago I considered switching to the Olympus OM-1 film camera from my much larger Canon Ftb (I still have it, it works even though it is a bit battered, but it was my first serious camera) but Canon released the smaller AE-1, so I stayed. In the spring of 2013 when I was considering my options there were not really any high-end micro 4/3 lenses for the OM-D. All the professional lenses were for the full 4/3 mount and need an adapter to be used on the OM-D. Apart from the extra cost I do not like adapters, they add more opportunity for misalignment so it seems daft to put expensive lenses on a potentially wobbly (even slightly) mount. That has changed now that micro 4/3 is the principal 4/3 mount. A bigger issue for me was that the much smaller 4/3 sensor (than APS-C)  was too much of a step down from the familiar full-frame. It meant there was more noise and also of course it meant it would need faster, and more expensive lenses, to get the differential focus options that I wanted. That was a general consideration for all the smaller systems I was considering and nearly stopped me making the change.

Sony compact system cameras

Sony were probably the leaders in mirrorless system cameras and had introduced the NEX-3 and NEX-5 in the spring of 2010. Even so their native E-mount lens range was still limited in 2013, and expensive. When I was looking, in early 2013, Sony had not yet announced the A7 full frame mirrorless cameras. If the A7 had been available when I was making my decision I may well have been tempted, limited lens choices notwithstanding. That said I was very confused by Sony's strategy, and still I am, as they seemed to be chopping and changing direction every few months. With their frequent new model releases they seemed to be behaving like a consumer electronics company, which I guess they are. Indeed many early adopters have expressed discontent at being testers for new camera only to see their expensive purchase superseded by an improved version barely a year later.

Fuji X series mirrorless cameras

X-E1 Silver & Black XF lenses - image courtesy FujifilmFuji has consistently got good press and positive reviews for its X compact system camera. They had started with a retro looking rangefinder style camera with modern technology, the X-Pro, as the top of the range. Fuji havea long track record of successful innovation in sensor technology so their X-Trans (rather than Bayer) filtered sensor seemed to be worth exploring. Fuji claim that it has a more random pattern and so eliminates (actually reduces considerably) moiré affects even without an anti-aliasing filter. The theory is that dropping the AA filter produces a sharper image. The key for me was that Fuji seemed to have a clear, still photography oriented strategy, with a clear roadmap for future lenses. They already had some high specification prime lenses with a roadmap and schedule for more along with some  useful zoom lenses. The lenses are generally compact and although autofocus they look and the build feels like classic manual focus lenses of old.

Fuji are not newcomers to professional still photography. While they had been out of it for many years although they had partnered with Hasselblad to manufacture the XPan (very similar Fuji TX-1 in Japan) panoramic format 35mm film camera and manufacture lenses for their medium format cameras. Previously they also made and sold the highly regarded GX680 professional medium format camera and lenses—I hung my nose over both the GX680 and the Xpan but could never afford or justify buying one.

They were also early pioneers of digital photography with their innovative sensors in Nikon bodies. So it eventually came down to a choice between Sony and Fuji. I felt that Sony was a consumer electronics company that happened to make cameras whereas I felt that Fuji's strategy showed it to understand still photography. Like Canon and Nikon (and a few low key others) Fuji seemed to understand what still photographers need from a camera system, with the emphasis on the system aspect. The final clincher was that Fuji had a published lens roadmap and timetable with the sort of lenses that serious photographer would want. As time has passed I am pleased not have gone with Sony, they have many satisfied users of course, but even a long time Minolta/Sony user whose opinion I respect has expressed frustration with Sony's strategy.  It appears Sony users are still waiting for important lenses. Finally I decided I just did not like the feel of the cameras or lenses, not so much the ergonomics but the general tactile quality and sense of solidity.

The decision

The Fuji cameras and lenses on the other hand felt solid. I was tempted by the Fuji X-Pro1 but as I knew I would eventually be using long lenses and zooms the optical viewfinder would  get little use. So, as the purpose was to evaluate the Fuji  X system I went for the cheaper X-E1 and the 18-55mm f2.8-4 kit lens. The first few pictures I shot surprised me with how technically good they were. They seemed to have something extra, rather like the experience many claim for Leica cameras and lenses. I do not know whether it was high micro-contrast or the extra sharpness because the Trans-X sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter but it had a striking impact. I appreciate what reviewers mean when they say the 18-55mm stands out from the usual "kit" lens.

I had made a promising start in my search for a lighter camera system that would satisfy my quality demands. Only time will tell whether it was the right one. My next article will provide an update on my First year with a Fuji X system.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Have a tip for a story or news event you think we should cover?
Email news at m-dash.com

Support M-dash

You can help support M-dash, at no cost to you, by buying from:
We get a small commision on purchases to help pay for this site


Thank You

Tags