Looking for the best camera

What a title. This won’t be a post that will try to declare which camera brand or model is the best, of course. There is not such a thing to begin with. The post will be about what in my opinion defines the best camera. I don’t especially think this definition is needed but it is a good excuse for venturing into what makes a camera enjoyable, at least for me.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / Panasonic 14mm f2.5

I’ve to say I am a bit tired of reading “the best camera is the one with you”: I find this concept very trivial, one that is not even needed or useful to express. Of course a camera is better than no camera, do we need a saying for that? Do we need that saying to be so popular and repeated like a mantra? I would like to go deeper into the matter, if possible.

Olympus PEN-F / Panasonic 14mm f2.5
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

For me, the best camera is the one I like to shoot with. The one that makes me want to pick it up and bring it with me. Usually it is the Ricoh GR or the Olympus PEN-F, like in this early morning photowalk with Manjola. Other times it’ll be my beloved little Pentax Q or Q-S1. It could even be the iPhone, why not: in the end it is a 28mm equivalent, which I love, plus manual controls if needed.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / Panasonic 14mm f2.5

Best camera means a combination of ergonomics, build quality and user interface. A camera that is a pleasure to use, where controls are well thought, the tactile experience is pleasant and I can feel designers spent time trying to create a tool for photography, not a tech showcase. Cameras share a lot in common with every other electronic device, but I refuse to treat them like a computer, a gaming console, a tablet, a washing machine.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
I just could not pick one among them so I posted my fav 3 from this very original “lady into a bush” idea! Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

A little note: I am talking of a best camera for personal preference, not strictly for professional needs: in that case, the best camera is defined mostly by how its technical data satisfy what the job requires.

Here Manjola is laughing. She didn’t realise yet her hair are stuffed with flowers that will require quite a lot of work for being removed! Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Is there anybody in there? The door of the nicest old building in Olbia. Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

Wouldn’t it be nice if more camera brands show real interest in our photography? I think only few brands do that. Most of them are too busy trying to sell us the next thing we are supposed to have. And yet, what we need is not a slightly better sensor or some computational magic. We need tools that let us experiment, tools we feel fit our vision. Cameras built for photographers, not for people passionate about the latest tech. I am tired of the next big technology, as you may have guessed. There will always be a new better technology in a couple of months. Ergonomics, feeling, build quality: such details are far more important.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

I am rarely excited when they announce a new camera: it is usually the same stuff over and over again. The popular brands are going all in the same direction, trying to outclass each other in the same feature sets: new autofocus AI modes, better sensors, better EVF, and what else?

That’s why I find it so fascinating when a camera like the Ricoh GR III is announced: it stays faithful to its roots and its philosophy, it uses tech to solve a problem (vibration of the sensor for removing dust, because sealing the camera would have made it bigger and more expensive than what they want), it improves the sensor and the lens design together, again, for fitting their own vision.

Olympus PEN-F / Panasonic 14mm f2.5

But as I said, instead of new cameras with a vision we are mostly being sold the same tech showcase. Dynamic range is a cool thing, but if you need to recover 5 steps of shadows or highlights you have done a bad job in first place and you should blame yourself. If you rely on amazing dynamic range because you don’t want to learn using flashes, you should also consider what you are doing.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

We are taught cameras are magic tools that can take care of everything. I think they are not, nor they should be, because photography is problem solving, made by a human mind, applied to the surrounding. That’s my personal definition of photography at the moment!

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

Don’t take that as a negative attitude toward Auto modes though: I think even Auto modes have their place. Moriyama made a career out of Auto mode. What I am against is a camera that is using a combination of hardware and software for correcting our mistakes, so that a photographer doesn’t have to think anymore. I am against cameras that let us focus after taking the shot. Cameras that turn night into day. Cameras that are constantly on HDR mode and flatten exposures. I’ve to say it better though: I am not against these features per se, I am against them becoming accepted as the norm and taking away the chance to learn what photography is.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

They ask me why I shoot with Olympus Micro Four Thirds and Ricoh GR for my personal projects, while I own an expensive Nikon full frame system which I use for most of my job. The answer is that I need to be happy and to enjoy photography! Some tools are needed for specific job tasks, and that’s fine. But then again, when I am free to choose… some cameras talk to me, others don’t. I can’t enjoy shooting with a camera I don’t feel belongs to me.

Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8
Olympus PEN-F / M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8

So, in the end I am always looking for myself in photography, I guess. I believe we all are — when we try to freeze time, we are talking to ourselves, satisfying our needs — and I’m also trying to have fun in meantime if possible. Cameras are tools for this research. Some camera brands get this (like Ricoh, Pentax and partly Olympus), some others don’t get it or just ignore it.

Perfection is relative. No camera is perfect in general terms. We can just assume a camera design has a goal, and we can judge how close it comes to that goal.

Let’s take the Ricoh GR: its goal is to be a compact tool for photography, with the most efficient interface possible, and it comes very close to this goal. It’s a camera that is quite close to its relative perfection. But what can we say about a Sony A7, a Nikon Z6, a Panasonic S1? What is their goal? To include every best tech on the market, to copy each other features, to have big numbers in the marketing blurb. I am not saying they are bad cameras of course, I just say I don’t find them exciting.

Let’s keep near the cameras that make us feel good when we shoot. They are the best cameras. Even if their sensor becomes obsolete, even if they have lots of noise at 800 ISO. Let’s keep them and let’s keep exploring the world with them. I will never get rid of my GR II or my Pentax QS1, I don’t care if the Sony A7Mark10 will offer 20 stops of DR and no noise at 25600. I care much more about the smile appearing on my face when I capture a photo with a camera I feel happy with. That is the best camera for me.

16 comments

  1. What you wrote speaks to me. I would love to hear your advices for the beginners. Taking pictures makes me happy, but at the same time I’m still struggling to control my camera. Take care!

    1. Hello, thank you for your comment! If you have some questions then feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer 🙂 I am planning to start a little YouTube or Vimeo channel, for doing a sort of vlog about photography, with advices and reviews too, but in summer I shoot a lot for work and I have few time for personal projects. I am collecting ideas though!

    1. Hi Pavel, I shot for years with Soviet rangefinders (various models Zorki, FED, Kiev) so I am quite familiar with this type of cameras. I also had the chance of shooting with a Leica M9 in the past. My feelings about rangefinders in general and the M system are mixed… I am nostalgic for the rangefinder experience I lived in the past, and Leica cameras are excellent at what they do, but I also think I would not like to abandon some innovations that I think are making my own photographic experience more pleasing, like a big screen for seeing a preview of the actual exposure or film simulation, the autofocus… beside that, Leica Ms are thought for shooting mostly with 28, 35 and 50 focal lengths: you can of course shoot wider or longer, but framing (in case of wider) and focusing (in case of longer) become more and more difficult as you reach for extremes. On a DSLR or mirrorless we don’t have such issues, we can pick any lens and see what we get. So in the end, I think it’s a matter of what’s more valuable for the photographers: if the M experience is covering what the photographer needs the most, then it could be a very good system to invest into! Are you a Leica shooter?

      1. Hi, I’m not. I am using CV Nokton 40 1.4 sc on Sony A7 II. Last week I had the Leica M10 and Leica M240 in my hand, I was taking pictures with my 40mm lens. The very process of photographing with a manual lens allows me to look at the photograph differently. The price of the Leica M10 or earlier, does not give me a reason to spend 5-6-7 K USD. I could have bought the M10 at a good price, but withdrew. A bit inspired by what you can do with Ricoh GR II 🙂
        So I’m staying with A7 II, we’ll see. Very nice blog, waiting for more pictures and content. Greetings.

        1. My problem with Leica pricing is not only that well, they do cost a lot 🙂 — but also the fact that their value would make me worry about them. I would worry about losing my camera, or that it gets stolen, that I break it, and so on. I much prefer something cheaper like the GR, because I can only focus on taking photos and not on how much I would cry if something bad happens to my camera 🙂

          I am glad you like the blog! I have a couple of new posts coming, I hope job will let me finish them and post them soon. See you around!

  2. I shoot mosty with 28-35-55 mm. What is the benefits of Leica: simplicity (only exposure traingle), build quality, large opitical viewfinder, the colour rendention, small lenses…:) Is it worth money? I really don’t know:)

    1. Have fun with it!!! Yes the GH3 and a filter are a good idea for preserving the sensor from dust and they will let you endjoy the GR II more freely! 🙂

  3. Dear Andrea. Today I wandered into your blog and very much enjoyed your yarns about the GRII and photography. I’m quite inspired with your words:
    “Let’s keep near the cameras that make us feel good when we shoot. They are the best cameras. Even if their sensor becomes obsolete, even if they have lots of noise at 800 ISO. Let’s keep them and let’s keep exploring the world with them.”
    I’m a sports shooter who uses two very obsolete Canon 1D MkIINs. I won’t part with them even though they weigh five pounds. They are an extension of my arms and eyes. But I’m also a proud user of a GRII (as well as a Ricoh 35FM Film Rangefinder) I consider both Ricohs delightful user-friendly machines. The pressure of moving onto the GRIII has been daunting yet I think maintaining my comfort is more important. Well stated!

    1. Hello Paul, it’s good you keep using the cameras that make you feel all right! In modern times we are constantly pushed to leave what we have and buy something new, no matter if we need it or if what we already have is good enough and we enjoy using it — that last concept is especially being lost: to enjoy using the tools. Have fun taking photos and thanks for reading my blog!

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