How not to choose a new camera

©Neil Turner

Please accept my apologies. This post starts with a short rant.

Every time I read an opinion about which of the many utterly superb cameras that are on the market produces the best colours, my heart sinks. When the writer gives their opinion on the colours or the contrast that this or that model produces I know that I can safely ignore them but I also know that others listen. They often sound convincing because what they say has some small foothold in reality. I find it unbelievable but some people actually base their selection of equipment on how they perceive a camera model to render colours using the factory settings and often under conditions over which they have little control. Even worse; others actually allow the opinions of these short-sighted and wildly ill-informed folks to influence their purchasing decisions.

Rant over.

That’s as sad as it is wrong. Regular readers of this blog will know that I often work as an editor with teams of photographers. In that role I work with files from a very wide variety of cameras and I reckon that I am as well placed as anyone to give an informed opinion about which of those cameras render the best colours, tonal ranges and sharpness. Those regular readers will also know that I have commented on this before. Most of the time we shoot and edit RAW files but the quality of the JPEGs that the latest cameras can produce when properly set up to allow the images to be edited is getting better and better too. If you are shooting JPEG then how you set the cameras up becomes even more important because the amount of latitude you have with those files is still a lot less than with RAW. Your ability to work with files that are too contrasty, over-exposed or have the wrong white-balance is severely compromised if the camera isn’t set up to produce easily-editable JPEGs.

So far this year I have edited pictures from at least five different Canon models, four different Nikons and five different Sonys. Add in the odd Fujifilm and Lumix image here and there and you start to see the picture and you may have already guessed what I’m going to say.

As long as Adobe Camera RAW can handle the files, I can pretty much get what I need from them.

Set-up is important, even with RAW files. A lot of the teams that I work with are heavily leaning towards Sonys. Images from A1, A9 A9II and a variety of A7 models come my way and, if the photographer has set up those cameras properly I need to look at the EXIF (or the file size) to know what I am working with. Different models have their tiny quirks but it’s really easy to get a set of pictures looking like a set. Historically I have worked with Canons way more than any other brand but even I don’t care which of the manufacturer’s proprietary file formats I get presented with.

What feels like half a lifetime ago I wrote about getting three Canon camera bodies to render colours almost identically. Off of the back of that I was challenged to match a six year old Nikon with a brand new Canon and have repeated the task many times over ever since. The not-very-secret secret is that the combination of in-camera adjustments that you can make before pressing the shutter and the huge range of options that you have in post-production make life easier than it ever has been.

Put simply, those who do their own edits with a single camera or maybe a couple of different cameras probably don’t get how good all of the top bodies are. Back in the days of film it was the ergonomics and the choice of lenses that we all concentrated on because what film we shot and how it was processed had a huge effect on what the photographs looked like. Cameras that handled well and were tough was what you wanted. I believe that’s the question we have returned to. I don’t shoot with a Nikon D6 and I’ve never owned a Sony A1 but I’ve handled tens of thousands of images from each (shot by the some of the best photographers in the business) and I know that I wouldn’t choose between them based on image quality (and yes, I know that there’s a substantial difference between them when it comes to the megapixel count).

So if you are in the market for some new gear and read a review of a camera that says that they ‘just don’t like the skin tones on brand A compared to brand B’, I’d advise that you stop reading straight away. What other information you use to make your decisions is up to you but the one word I’ll finish with is ergonomics.

6 comments

    1. Most cameras allow you to adjust the contrast, tone and sharpness parameters so that when you shoot pictures the files will be processed at capture to make the JPEG and JPEG preview look how you would like them to. It’s called picture style or something similar in most.

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    1. From what I know, I’d take a Canon EOS R3, R5, 1dX MkIII or even my ageing 5D MkIVs over either of them to shoot with. I have never shot with either a D6 or an A1 so all I can go on his how easy the files are to work with and there’s nothing to choose between them when the cameras are properly set up – and that includes any of the Canons. That’s my point really. It isn’t about the files any more.

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  1. Thanks for your earlier reply.

    I chose a Picture Control and then altered some settings ‘to taste’ on my camera (D500) – and shot off some photos. They look different one from another in the back of the camera but they all come out the same in Photoshop because Photoshop does not read the info from Picture Control. CaptureOne allows one to choose a PictureControl (you have to manually choose the ‘replicated’ NPC from the profile list. but it doesn’t read the manual settings I put into the Picture Control. I think Nikon’s own NX-D does read the fine adjustments but having used their software once up a time, I am not keen to dive in again.

    I like being presented with a flatter, less contrasty RAW file in CaptureOne, but am I missing something or is there some extra step I can take to include the adjustments I made to the PictureProfile?

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    1. I am definitely not an expert on the Nikon Picture Control process. Picture Control is mostly about JPEG rather than RAW. That having been said, I believe that you should be able to replicate the adjustments using the Camera Faithful profile in ACR.

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