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Roger Buys a Camera System: Finally

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OK, I've taken a long route, but narrowed things down to a Nikon D800e based system, a Canon full-frame system, or a Pentax K-5 IIs system. All of them met my needs just fine, although the D800e system gave me better image quality and the Pentax a bit less.

Let's Begin With: Don't Do What I Did

Sometimes the main purpose of my life is simply to serve as a warning to others. By now it should be apparent that I made some major mistakes.

Foremost was that I overreacted. Following my lifelong philosophy of 'Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess' I decided to exit Micro 4/3 when I found it didn't fit all of my needs. Despite the fact that I said, very clearly, when starting this that I knew there was no perfect camera system, even for one individual. The grass will always be greener in some area on the other side of the fence.

In retrospect, it would have made more sense to buy a new camera and lens to fill my major need at 400mm and then decide if I wanted to move entirely. I used a shotgun to kill the fly that was irritating me.

Several people have suggested 400mm options for micro 4/3, though, and I do want to mention that so far there hasn't been a suggestion I haven't tried. They just didn't work for me, But in retrospect, at this point I should be buying a body and couple of lenses, and not have gotten rid of all my Micro 4/3 stuff. Then I could have decided if I wanted to completely migrate or continue with both systems.

Show Me the Money

I spent some time looking at lens combinations I would likely buy, to reevaluate expenses. Camera, macro lens, at least one fast prime, standard zoom, at least one wide aperture prime, a wide-angle zoom, and 400mm equivalent lens were absolute necessities. I had decided to keep my system under $9,000 so a little modification of my initial lists was in order.

The first modification knocked roughly $1,500 from my Canon and Nikon purchase prices. I had initially planned on the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 because it's the world's best wide zoom and the Canon 16-35 f/2.8 as the closest match. During my evaluation time I had decided I preferred the Canon 14mm f/2.8 to the 16-35mm f/2.8 because it was sharper and because when looking at what I actually shoot it became obvious I use my wide zooms at the widest end almost all of the time.

After realizing I rarely shoot architecture this wide I decided I'd save $1,500 either way and pick up a RokiBowYang 14mm f/2.8 lens. It has more barrel distortion (5.2%) compared to the Nikon (3.9% at 14mm) and the Canon (1.7%) but it has resolution every bit as good as the brand-name lenses. I don't mind manually focusing at this wide angle (truth is I usually set this kind of lens at it's hyperfocal distance and then shoot away). I know, because I've taken them apart, that they aren't going to hold up well, and I know they are about impossible to get repaired. But buying a replacement RokiBowYang costs less than a standard repair on a Nikon 14-24mm, so i almost consider it a disposable lens. This choice, very obviously, might not work for you.

The second modification had to do with camera bodies. On the Canon side I truly waffled about whether I preferred the 5D Mk III's extra pixels and better autofocus or the 6D's built in Wi-Fi, which I really found useful. So I saved $1,100 and went with the 6D. The Nikon decision was tougher. I could save the same $1,100 choosing a D600 instead of a D800. For me, the major attraction, even though I don't absolutely need it, was the big megapixel images. It gives me some flexibility in cropping and even lens selection. So on the Nikon side I decided I'd pay the difference.

Finally, I decided to leave off a 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I don't shoot action sports, and would be fine with the f/4 versions for either Canon or Nikon. The 70-200s tend to be travel / vacation lenses for me, and for right now I'll just rent one for vacation. I may add one in a few months, but might rather prefer 85mm and 135mm primes instead.

When the dust had settled, it was pretty easy to meet my $9,000 budget with any system and I can probably save a few hundred off of the list prices below with some smart shopping.

Nikon D800e$3,097Canon 6D$2,099Pentax K5 IIs$1,197
Nikon 300mm f/4 with 1.4x TC$1,879Canon 400mm f/5.6$1,339Pentax 300mm f/4$1,370
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro$899Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L$1,049Pentax 100mm f/2.8 Macro$847
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC$1,299Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mk II$2,149Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 $1,470
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8$399Rokinon 14mm f/2.8$399Sigma 10-20 f/3.5$599
Sigma 35mm f/1.4$899Sigma 35mm f/1.4$899Pentax 31mm f/1.8$990
TOTAL $8.472 TOTAL $7,934 TOTAL $6,473

 

Other Things I Considered

Service and Support

I mentioned in the first post that I'm a fanatic about customer service and repairs. That's a big edge to Canon USA compare to Nikon USA right now (it's different in different countries), and right now is when I'm making my decision. Fanboys can go off as much as they want, but I handled several thousand repairs last year. Nikon takes, on average, three times as long at double the cost.  (Lensrentals insider joke: What do you call a D800 with a scratched sensor? Parts. Because at $1,800 for a sensor replacement . . . )

I haven't had many Pentax repairs so I looked into their service and got good news and bad. The good was a really nice customer support system with live chat and quick, knowledgeable phone support. The bad news was when I asked how long repair turnaround time would be the answer was 20 to 30 days. So I ranked them between Canon and Nikon.

My Personal Rant

This may not bother you at all, but it does me, at least a bit. If I buy Nikon right now, I'm in effect saying it's fine that you stopped selling parts, made most of the independent shops stop working on Nikon, upped your repair prices, slowed your repair service, and lowered quality control. You were right to do so, because here's my money.

I say one part of me because there's another part that shrugs and says 'if it's the best equipment, it's the best equipment'. So myself and I had a long talk and reached a compromise. When Nikon clearly has the best equipment (D800e, for example) or best value (28mm f/1.8) then I'll buy Nikon. But when things are close and there is an alternative, I'll buy non-Nikon. The Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC and Rokinon 14mm lens choices made me feel better. I might also go with a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS macro instead of the 105 VR Micro. On the other hand, I really did prefer the Nikon 300 f/4 and 1.4x to the Sigma 50-500 OS zoom.

Buying Used Equipment

I don't hesitate to buy used equipment if the price is right. There's lots of used Canon gear out there, but often the prices aren't that great. Nikon and Pentax are a bit less available, but often at more attractive prices. However, the repair part plays into this too. If I get a great deal on a Nikon lens but then pay $500-$800 for a repair (typical cost for a 24-70 f/2.8 or 14-24mm f/2.8 rebuild) I've probably paid more than I would have for a new lens. The end result is I would be more likely to buy used Canon lenses and might save a few bucks. Like repairs, though, this wasn't a major part of my decision, but something I considered a bit.

Cool Things

I've already mentioned the 6D's Wi Fi hit my cooness button pretty hard. So does Nikon's gazzillion megapixels. So did the Pentax menus and the ability to map out hot or dead pixels from the comfort of my recliner. Of course, it would be even worse if I had the opportunity to buy a Pentax K5 II in one of the 100 horrible color combinations the Q cameras come in. What a great anti-theft device. OK, that might be just a bit too cool for me.

 

copyright Pentax Japan

 

If the coolness thing affected me, it was in the 6D versus 5D Mk III decision, I think. I believe I overcame it elsewhere.

Lens Selection

I mentioned earlier there were lenses I would buy to keep in my kit, but there were other lenses I'd 'rent' too, on occasion. Pentax falls a bit behind here for things like tilt-shifts, supertelephotos, and to some degree even wide-aperture primes (there are lots and lots of them, but many have slow AF, buzzy little motors, and other leftovers from older designs). You can get most things you want, but there isn't an all-you-can-shoot buffet like there the other two have.

I found this an interesting contrast from mirrorless systems where the I consider Pentax to have the strongest lens selection. It's the exact same set of Pentax lenses, which gives a nice perspective about the gap between mirrorless and SLR lens selection. Yeah, I'm probably still trying to make myself feel better for my all-or-none attitude when I started this.

There are a couple of lenses on the Canon side that I will definitely use a few times a year like the MP-E 65mm and the 17mm TS-E that just aren't available in Nikon or Pentax. I also use a 500m f/4 or 300mm f/2.8 a couple of times a year, but they're available for both Canon and Nikon. Ditto Zeiss lenses, which I do use fairly often. There is a 560mm f/5.6 available for Pentax but it's not available for occasional rental.

The Bottom Line

It should be pretty obvious that I decided against going with the Pentax system. It met all of my needs, there were things I really liked about it, but in the end the flexibility of the other two systems really attracted me. It was close, though, and if I had decided to just add an SLR with 400mm equivalent lens to a mirrorless system, I might well have gone with the K-5 IIs and 300 f/4.

Despite the better image quality of the Nikon system, I decided to go with the Canon. I waffled back and forth for days on this decision. In the end the biggest reasons were minor things that would not apply to many of you: availability of used equipment at lower risk, availability of a few specialty lenses that appeal to me, and a strong preference for the Canon 100mm Macro's IS system. I have to admit the 6D's built-in Wi Fi pushed my buttons, too. It's not just a toy, I really do use it quite a bit. I'm actually in pictures now instead of just taking them.

The system I got was not the best for image quality. Heck, I didn't even get the best Canon camera from an image quality standpoint. This did surprise me a bit because I spend all day looking at minute differences in image quality. I think I got the best system for me -- a hobbyist who likes to shoot some macro and hand-held telephoto.

If I shot differently, I would have made a different choice. You do shoot differently and will certainly make different choices.

Uwe Steinmueller, who runs the Digital Outback Photo blog has been kind enough to look at the same issue from a photographer's (rather than a gearhead) point of view and has written a nice counterpoint article.  It's definitely worth a read (and the photographs certainly worth a look).

I'd love to say I'll not have any buyer's remorse, but I probably will. There are several D800 shooters working here that will show me images to make certain I do every chance they get. But overall I'm already happy with what I decided to get.

In retrospect, though, if I'd kept my Micro 4/3 system I probably would have bought the 6D, 400mm lens and 100mm macro, used both systems for a while, and then decided if I wanted to sell the Micro 4/3 system and add lenses. That would have been the more practical thing to do.

This long series is, at last, mercifully over. I appreciate the comments of those who enjoyed it and the patience of those who didn't. The simple reality is writing about it helped me organize my thoughts and my processes, and in this case I think helped me make a more informed decision.

 

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

Fevruary 2013

 

 

71 Responses to “Roger Buys a Camera System: Finally”

Zach Wagner said:

Hey Roger. I now stop by this website quite frequently, thanks in large part to your kick-ass blog. You're not only interesting, but you write well and you keep me hooked.
I also wanted to say that I really appreciate that you gave some love to Pentax. I JUST bought the K-5 IIs, and honestly find it the most intuitive camera (for stills) that I've ever used. It just works incredibly well and makes sense. The image quality is also stellar.
I get your reason for going with Canon; I love their lenses over any other brand. I can appreciate the images I see from the D800, but I owned a D600 for a bit and didn't like it from a UI standpoint. Not sure how much it shares with the D800.

Anyway, I was excited to see the K-5 IIs make it all the way to the end, even though the sad voice in the back of my mind knew you wouldn't choose it. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are making the same decision. Just like in politics, I hate to see 2 parties dominate everything. That said, it's a great time to be a photographer, and things are moving so quickly now that who knows where we'll be in 10 years (or even 5).

Cheers to another great read, and enjoy your awesome new camera and lenses!

Tim D said:

You can also consider some cheaper MFT variants such as the Olympus PEN series. I find both telephoto and UWA on MFT to not hold up as well to FF as the normal to portrait focal lengths. Having both enables you to use primes for both systems and swap focal lengths between the two like a total nerd! Silly? Perhaps but an Olympus PEN + portrait prime probably weighs less than many FF portrait lenses alone. I have a 5DMKII but would be curious to know if the 6D can use wi-fi to read MFT jpegs off the SD card...see no reason why not!

George said:

I just wonder..

Whats problem with Sony? A99 made it to my personal list. Pentax didnt, cause lens selection and sensor size. But mainly second.

Over 6D or 5DMK3 I would rather take second-hand 1DsMK3. Cause..

1) its 1Ds
2) it has same amount of pix
3) better colors, better AA

Obviously not for video guys. SNR leaves something to be desired, but Im glad to trade it for colors (just me tho).

D3s might be nice tool too. Maybe not that much mpix, but every bit as good as D4. And yea, there was D3X once, long time ago.. I would take that any day. Im not saying D800 is bad, its just not that good as either D3s or D3X in their respective territory. Ofc in case you value other things than just mpix.

m4/3 system is nice, but if someone wants long high quality lens its bit of problem. Which could in theory 4/3 system solve with big "if" and thats if it had good sensors in some body. And that it doesnt have, cause E-5 is terrible in image quality (and sadly, great in absolutely everything else).

What Im going to buy?

Probably D700 or 1DsMK2 or A900. Maybe, just maybe 1DMK3. Why?

All have very good colors. All have enough resolution (ok 1DMK3 not really). All have very decent build quality. And all have pretty good lens options. Plus obviously all except 1DMK3 are 35mm cams (or that so called "full-frame").

If I was rich I would add D3X and 1DsMK3, or brand new sparkling A99. But Im not so one of these previously mentioned must do.

Bob Bowker said:

A few years ago, I agonized over the same series of questions. I had been a Nikon shooter for 25 years, and the F2 was "my camera". But digital seemed here to stay - film stocks suddenly disappeared, several "new" companies were marketing digital products, and even the "big guys" were announcing their new systems. After much research and thought and hand-wringing, I had narrowed it down to three bodies: Nikon (I forget the model), the Sony A1, and the Canon 30D.

Here I must admit to something that I'm not particularly proud of -- I went into a big camera store and asked to see all 3 with a 35mm lens. I held and shot and played with all of them for probably half an hour - and the source of my embarrassment is that the salesman never once did more than answer my questions or show me "how to".

My decision that very day was Canon -- I bought it from an authorized dealer on the internet. It all boiled down to a rather simple reason - the Canon "system logic" was more intuitive to me than either of the others ...

Nine years later I still feel that I made the right decision, for me -- and my 2013 confidence is based on most of the arguments that Roger lays out so eloquently. I also feel that (in some ways) I got lucky - because I certainly didn't know enough back then to have even verbalized these arguments, let alone have answered them in Canon's favor.

Two web comments I have read over the years have stuck with me ... a shooter who made the Canon-to-Nikon transition bemoaned the fact that the Nikon logic and control placement was still a problem for him 18 months later -- and a different shooter who made the Nikon-to-Canon transition said how much simpler the Canon was for him to use. Apocryphal, unscientific, and definitely inflammatory - but the 2 comments resonated with me.

Thanks for the play-by-play, Roger ... enjoy!

Ralf C. Kohlrausch said:

Hi Roger,

as usual it was great fun to read your mind ;-) With the strong emphasis on 400mm Canon was a natural choice - sorry to say that as a Nikon-guy.
But I doubt the Samkinon 2.8/14 will be a good choice. I tried one after one of your earlier blopgposts and found the distortion to be extremely disturbing for indoor-shots. Walls, ceilings and doors that look like a tsunami has hit them just get a nuisance to correct in every shot. More important: Sharpness was way below the results of my Tokina 2.8/11-16mm. Not much of a zoomrange on DX-cameras, and even less so on FX, but it does work from 14.75mm onwards. No cornervignetting, way better sharpness both in the center and in the corners of the frame, and AF to boot.
Now I'm looking forward to the next series: Roger chooses a tripod system. What will it be? Carbon or aluminium? Or will wood be better suited as a stylish piece of furniture when mounted semi-permanently in the living room? RRS or Gitzo? Berlebach or Ries? How to test vibrationdampening of legs, feet, heads and clamps? Useful accessories like specific long lens supports?
Have lots of fun.

Greets
Ralf C.

F.M. said:

Ralf, I have just the opposite experience with the samyang 14 2.8. I find the sharpness amazing on a D800, and the distortion pretty non existent after applying PTLens. And I mean interiors. I'm a bit puzzled how can it be so good optically at that price (once distortion corrected, of course).

In fact, I bought it provisionally to fill my needs of an ultra wide, whilst waiting for an eventual 17 ts from nikon or some other solution. But now I'm so glad about the D800+samyang 14+crop, that I wonder if any other solution would worth the money for me. I note that I use to need A3 resolution at most (double page of a magazine) so there's no problem with the cropping on a D800. But this is just my needs and my opinion at this moment.

Roger, why do you think it won't last for long and is not very reparable?

Thank you and greetings.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

F.M.,

Inside there is mostly plastic and glue where other lenses have screws, clips, etc. Like Voigtlander, there is no real repair network and few parts. We see them break pretty regularly. It's a fair trade-off for the price, though.

F.M. said:

Many thanks for that info, Roger. I'll try to be a step more careful than usual with that lens.

Terence said:

Interesting series of articles, and much appreciated.

I must confess that as a longtime - and lapsed - film photographer who stuck his toe in the digital waters in 2009, my own priorities were different from yours, my mistakes were different, and what I learned sent me in a different direction. I was looking for a camera for all-day carrying, for diaristic photography and street photography, and I was looking for small size, lightness, image quality, and good autofocus (which I was new to having always used manual focus film cameras).

My first choice was the Nikon D90 (despite being a Canon FD user for many years in the 80s). Image quality was great up to ISO 1200, AF was pretty usable too, once I configured a back button to do the focusing and left the shutter button for actually taking the photos. But it was simply too big/heavy for me to carry around all day, just too bulky compared to my beloved old film cameras. I came to loathe carrying the camera around in its case for 5 hours/day.

So I migrated to the Panasonic G1 and GF1, whose image quality was only good (for me) up to ISO 800, and whose AF was slower. But I learned to prefocus for fast moving situations, and the size of the body & lenses were a definite step up. But for all-day carry (and quick retrieval) it was still too bulky.

I've ultimately decided to give up on DSLRs for my own needs, and am looking at even smaller cameras with better AF and image quality (technology has really improved things in the last 3 years). My next camera may well be one of the Fujis, either the X20 or the X100s. Lighter, faster, better IQ, with (acceptable?) tradeoffs in lens choices and some other things. I'd rather have a tiny, light camera with me than a heavier, more bloated camera I either left at home or hated lugging around.

Ralf C. Kohlrausch said:

F.M. said:

"Ralf, I have just the opposite experience with the samyang 14 2.8. I find the sharpness amazing on a D800, and the distortion pretty non existent after applying PTLens. And I mean interiors. I’m a bit puzzled how can it be so good optically at that price (once distortion corrected, of course)."

Hi FM,

I don't doubt this at all. I just think the Tok is even better. And I had 'em both for a direct comparison. BTW, I have had amazing pictures with the Sammy 8mm. And it's mostly plastics inside too - well, except for the lenses ;-)

Greets Ralf C.

Gordon said:

As a bit of a gear geek I'm kinda pleased to see Roger go for the Canon 100L macro (superb lens), the 24-70 f2.8L II (also amazing), and even the Rokinon 14mm (got all three).

Other comments on here match what I've seen regarding the Samyang/Rokinon 14mm - a majority of reviewers indicate "it's great", with a number saying "I can't see what the fuss is about", and a small number of those who had bad ones noting that they got a replacement, and could then see what the fuss is about!

The first one I had delivered was great on one side of the frame, and terrible on the other. A second copy is pretty impressive on both sides, so, in short, if you get one and you're not that impressed, get it replaced. The shame of course is that if it is indeed pretty badly built inside then I guess I might be playing the Samyang lottery again if it fails...

As for the Nikon-to-Canon/Canon-to-Nikon comments; I'd love to get a D800 to escape the nasty shadow banding problems on Canon sensors, but just can't get on with the ergonomics of Nikon gear (large hands == cramp within minutes). In the end I went with the 5D3, and apart from cursing the (lack of) shadow detail on the odd shot, it's a stunning camera (and easy to hold all day).

Donald said:

Hi Roger! I just registered in this website and it was all because of your earlier blogs about the accuracy analysis of Canon 5DIII and a bunch of new lenses.
I believe in reality and truth, and your conclusion in those blogs happened to seem real and true, haha.
Glad to see your choice about Canon 6D is the same as mine, I bought one on Jan 4th 2013.
Hope to read more of your blogs like those before, some accurate, deep and based-on-fact analysis of new techs of cameras and lenses!

Roger Roehr said:

Roger as usual you make me rethink again where I want to go. The Rokinon caught me by surprise and now has me seriously considering it. The 400mm 5.6 was another I thought you would chose the 100-400 but knowing that you are prime nut and I am getting that way I can see why you chose it. Why do you chose a macro len over extension ring?

Thanks for a great blog! Roger Roehr

T Carrig said:

I was all excited about the 6D until I noticed it didn't have a built in flash. That's probably not a deal breaker for most, but for me it is.

Jesse said:

I just got a 6D too. Love it! Curious, why did you choose the Canon's 24-70 on the Canon side, but the Tamron over on the Nikon side? Is the Nikon 24-70 not up to par? I thought that was a stellar lens, even resolution wise, which I know you love. And, no 50 1.4 prime for a mere $350? Portrait lens? You had quite a nice budget to work with!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Jesse, the Nikon is a good lens, but I wouldn't pay the difference. The Canon, although I think it's overpriced, is much better than the other two - it is to 24-70s what the Nikon 14-24 is to wide angles. Just better than anything else.

Janet said:

Loved the series, Roger. You write very well. I was a long-time Nikon shooter who moved to a Canon 7D and the 100-400mm L lens last year for wildlife photography. It was the right move for me since Nikon's offering in that range is not good or my copy wasn't good. Lately, I have been thinking about the 6D for landscape and macro. I recently bought a Panasonic G5 M4/3 camera to see if I could get the results I want for wide angle shots. Hope you enjoy your 6D and I think I will be renting a few M4/3 from your company soon.

james said:

Yes Roger tells it like not many can. This can upset those who make money selling and or reviewing camera gear. I have written on DPR for years and have over 5000 posts. I have written on the Pentax forum for some years with over 500 posts. Those are just replies not threads I started. most of my writings are to help others and I have no, none, zero connections with anything photo related or make a dime off anything I write. I like how Roger has done so himself and being in the business he is he can really take it to the "excess" :) he can take it to a level I could only dream of.

Its obvious he speaks with genuine passion. Sometimes you have to look at why the information is interesting and where its coming from. I know nothing is perfect in this world. But for dSLR beginners and enthusiasts and PROs I can't think of any other source so free of trying to promote ones own self interest. He just tells it like he sees it. His IMO; which carries a lot of scientific evidence to back it up with.

OK let me rap this up. After all my writings I for the first time get a flag (a warning) that linking (which I have done hundreds of times to many places) to Rogers site will get me kicked out. That really says something to me. There are some who would rather you not read the stuff here. And no its not from DPR.

Thanks Roger for giving us Pentax fans your thoughts. Thanks for the great info that would save a lot of people a lot of headaches if read. I really believe it. And I am a Pentax shooter a very rare person in the USA ;)

Bill said:

So now that you're going Canon are you considering complimenting your system with the tiny EOS M? I was wondering about the viability of an EOS M in place of a TC, any thoughts how that would work out?

Dan Lehman said:

Roger, I can't believe you said --but you did(!)-- "preferred the 5D Mk III’s extra pixels and better autofocus or the 6D’s built in Wi-Fi" : surely one does NOT distinguish 20-21-22 (even 18) mpx with any thought of "better"! 21 vs 12, 20 vs 12&16, okay; 22 vs 36, yeah. (If anything re the Canons, it might be the *later* sensor vs. earlier (so even 1Dx's 18new vs. 1DsIII's 21old).
(But waddyIno : one can read all sorts of assertions on the Net!)

(-;

Igor said:

So, Roger, you do not need fast and precise AF (the 6D does not offer one) and very good high ISO performance (considering the KII). Neither you need the IBIS, high pixel density (6D) or great OVF (KII). In that case, the choice is virtually unlimited, and perhaps at much lower price.

For macro and tele (not action) in good light ANY APS-C or MFT system would serve just fine IMO.

If the KII would suit your needs (particularly high ISO performance) then why not D7100, 7D or 7DII, all of which offer better AF? Why not simply a T3i at $500?

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