The one photography question people ask me more than any other…

My Favorite Camera Gear 2018

(spoiler – it’s named after a mountain in Japan)

Why are you writing about camera recommendations?

No matter where I am at, no matter the folks I’m with…once someone knows I’m a professional photographer shooting for commercial and editorial clients, the conversation almost always steers towards gear…

The question I’m most often asked…summarized…is “Which camera?”  The question comes in many forms…

  • What is your favorite camera?
  • I want a great camera that takes great photos, what should I get?
  • My daughter is thinking of getting into photography, what kind of camera should I get her?
  • I’m going on a trip to Europe for two weeks and want to make sure I have great photos, what camera should I buy?
  • I have $650, what kind of camera would be best to get within my budget but still takes great photos like yours?

And so on…

Taking better photos is not necessarily about the camera or the gear…

Here’s the deal…it’s not really about the camera…it’s about knowing how to use the camera you have.  So my first piece of advice is to get familiar with the capabilities of your current camera (be it your Canon point and shoot, your iPhone or otherwise) before immediately jumping to “I need a DSLR” or other conclusion.  Surprisingly, some people don’t know that the iPhone can take some amazing photographs by simply using the exposure, focus, exposure lock and focus lock options built right into it.  As well, you don’t always want to have your flash on to get the best exposure.   I could probably build out a small course on how to get great shots in difficult situations with your iPhone or other pseudo smart camera.

Short story, get to know ALL the features your current camera has.  You might be saving yourself some serious $$ by simply figuring out what it CAN do.

I can tell you that we all geek out on new gear, myself included.  New cars, new computers, new cameras…etc etc.  Boy the money I would’ve saved over the years if I’d only have taken the time to get to know my needs, whether my current gear would work for it, and whether or not that latest piece of tech really was necessary for my day to day needs.  But that’s all for another blog post.

You came here for the gear run-down. Let me get to it then…

So if you’ve figured out that your current get up won’t serve you and you NEED a new kit, I’m here to give you my advise.  Knowing full well you’ll probably not take my word for it and go onto 5 other sites that tell you what you think you wanted to hear.  (Just kidding…mostly…but read on anyway)

My Camera Picks

Fair notice…many of these cameras are Amazon affiliate links.  If you make a purchase, I get a very small percentage and you get the best price.

 Fujifilm X100 Fujifilm X100

I love the Fujifilm X Series Cameras.  I cut my teeth all the way back in the early 90’s with Canon gear, briefly using a Mamiya medium format camera.  I stuck with Canon all the way through 2013, when I purchased my first Fujifilm X Series Camera, the X100.  Shortly thereafter I jumped to the X100S for several have to have additional features and a much snappier autofocus system.  You can read about the X Series and it’s history and future here.

For a light and easy camera to travel with, my “go to” small camera has been and continues to be the Fujifilm X100S… it’s what I have taken a number of times to Europe and accounts for about half of the photography that I have done there between in 2014 to today.  Many of the posts tagged #photosfromabroad were taken with this camera and can be seen in blog posts here and in galleries.

The nice thing about the Fuji X100S is it’s two generations older than the newest model the X100F so you can pick one up relatively inexpensive brand new…or if you are looking to save even more $$ on buying a camera, you can pick one up ridiculously cheap used on Amazon.  Check to see if there are any used here.  It’s also a fixed lens so you don’t have to worry about sensor dust etc when removing lenses, additional cost of lenses, what lens to use etc etc.

“This is not the camera you’re looking for…”

Pardon the attempt at a Star Wars / Obi Wan joke, but seriously, DSLR cameras are not the answer to immediate step changes in the level of your photography.  I can try to count on my fingers and toes how many people have come to me asking why, after they bought a DSLR, that their photographs got worse, but I’ve only got 10 and 10…so I’d need at least 8 more limbs to even get close.

One thing I despise about many DSLR’s is that the real quality in any photo comes down to the quality of the lens you have on the camera…not the sensor.  This doesn’t go for the early digital cameras of the 90’s and early 00’s, those cameras had really bad sensors.  Today, most manufacturers, of any level camera have got the sensor thing down.

“It’s not about the megapixels.”

 It It’s not about the megapixels.

So when you buy a cheap yet “teched-out” new Nikon or Canon…the glass is usually crap that you get in the kit.  You’re going to get better photos than a cheap o Nikon or Canon point and shoot…but only slightly better…and ONLY if you know how to use it.   It’s not about the megapixels.  Even all the bells and whistles…well to be honest they’re what scares the bejesus out of people when they go to actually “shoot”.  There is just so much there to learn and set up on DSLR’s that people eventually give up.  A brand new DSLR is not the answer to great photos folks, no matter what the budding 19 year old photographer at Best Buy tells you.  Don’t get me wrong, these X Series cameras from Fujifilm have those settings too…but you only use them when you need them.

What I love about the Fuji systems, whether it’s the X100S or another model with zoom, is that it can be a full auto “set it and forget it” or it can function as a simplistic manual camera or anything in between.  They are really awesome for “learning” the craft without a lot of BS.  Getting to know about photography by using cameras in a “manual” mode or semi manual mode really can help you jump leaps and bounds in the photographs you get.

The X100S is a pretty good sweet spot of file size at 16.3MP so it won’t take up a ton of storage on your machine, but will still be large enough to make really large prints.  Like 30″ x 40″ when you’re tack sharp on focus.  It fits pretty nicely in a jacket pocket or small pouch in a backpack. I keep mine on a small bit of paracord so that I can easily carry it and don’t have to put it around my neck.

These mirrorless X Series cameras are so compact and light, yet pack much the same punch that a good DSLR can, and you’re not carrying all of that weight around!

But what about a zoom?

Use your feet.  Seriously, use your feet…get up and get closer.

 Keep it simple with a fixed lens and use your feet to get closer to your subject. Keep it simple with a fixed lens and use your feet to get closer to your subject.

When possible, try not to complicate things by adding a zoom.  Two reasons.  The first is, the zoom’s that are mostly in the consumer affordable range are garbage.  Ok, maybe not garbage, but they are not great due to their makeup.  Usually they have plastic lens components.  Each zoom lens is not just one piece of glass, but many.  Sometimes there may be 5-8 separate elements that create the “zoom”.  The more elements (glass elements, plastic elements or otherwise) that you have in a lens, the more it’s going to degrade the final image that is exposed on your camera’s sensor.

Take this for example. If you wear glasses, sunglasses or reading, if you’re like me, you notice when there is a smudge or scratch.  If you look out a car window or window in your home sometimes you’ll notice that the glass isn’t perfect, it’s wavy or distorted somewhat.  Now imagine that you multiply the number of windshields and sunglasses that you’re looking through. Even the smallest distortion, smudge or other aberration is going to multiply itself. To the point where you’re not going to get a very clear image of what’s in front of you.

 Multiple elements in each lens add to the aberrations and image degradation in zooms.  Multiple elements in each lens add to the aberrations and image degradation in zooms.

Most cheap kit lenses or other consumer grade lenses suffer from this same phenomenon.

But I really WANT a zoom!

While I know that’s not always an option.  Jimmy is gonna get pretty wigged out if you are out near the pitchers mound while he’s starting his first High School baseball game. 😉

Ok fair enough, so you figured you really do need a zoom.

You have a couple options.  This will all be based on what your budget will allow.

Zoom Lens Route Options

While I don’t particularly like this option, some folks who really want a zoom won’t have the budget for an interchangeable lens setup, so there are a couple options that get you zoom without killing your budget…

The X10 & X20.  Both boast a robust camera that is similar to the X100 series but has zoom capabilities.

Interchageable Lens Options that won’t break the bank…

 An interchangeable camera body that won An interchangeable camera body that won’t break the bank… the Fujifilm X-T20

I have also begun to get familiar with the XT 10 and XT 20 models which have interchangeable lenses and are similar to the pro models I use (X-T2 and X-Pro2)

The XT 10 and XT 20 pack much the same punch of the other pricier interchangeable lens models, but in a more compact size. Add to that they I have an onboard flash which is great when you are in late evening sunset light or evening time when you need to fill with flash.

The zoom lenses I currently use are the Fujinon XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR and the Fujinon XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

But I really have to have a professional model camera…

Stay tuned…I’ll have a blog about the current gear I use soon. 😉

 Fujifilm X Series Professional travel gear bag setup... Fujifilm X Series Professional travel gear bag setup…

Comments 1

  1. Rick –

    Nice summary. Agree that most people don’t use the features available to them on thier smart phone. Just understanding the concept of fill flash (although very limited capability on a smart phone), would be helpful for most. It is quite amazing how far the technology has advanced. I recall our first film replacement camera at work was a Fuji digital camera (HC 1000 ?) with three CCDs – each image capture would take about 90 seconds to transfer from the camera to our Mac (and much longer when device conlicts would add flavor to the process!). So, yes, we have come a long way. Most cameras deliver great pictures, even when on the Auto setting. Great point that you made about lenses. For most of us, a decent quality fixed lens camera will do most of what we need. Low light and fast action conditions can be a bit of a test for some.

    On a related topic, what about video from DSLRs? I know that most offer video output, but has the quality improved to the point where image quality can compete with dedicated video cameras?

    Thanks,

    Tom

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