Don’t Choose a Camera by its Specs Today. Choose with your Heart…and Brain.

Don’t Choose a Camera by its Specs Today. Choose with your Heart and Brain.

Happy Saturday everyone. I woke up today and shot a few cameras this morning and realized something.

I see so many stress out over a new camera purchase today. I get e-mail after e-mail asking me “What Camera Should I Buy”, almost on a daily basis and sometimes several in a day. With so many amazing options out there from DSLR, to Mirrorless to even small capable pocket cameras (Sony RX100) and even hybrid superzoom (Sony RX10 series) cameras, the choices today are spectacular. In fact, if you are not a pro… (as in, you do not earn money for your photographs wether it is by shooting weddings, fashion, commercial or portraits) then almost ANY camera made today can satisfy your need for quality photography. For years, I have followed my heart when buying camera gear and my heart has never let me down. Instead of going by specs alone, I weigh in everything – features, usability, as well as feel and I listen to what my gut, my heart tells me. But sometimes I have to also use my brain as if a camera I love with my heart does not do what I need, then it will end up being sold later on. On the other end, if I buy a camera that only does what I need and I hate shooting it otherwise, it will also never make it. So for me, a camera has to strike a balance and do what I need but also be a camera that I love shooting.

When this website/blog started 9 years ago I was thrilled to own just a Leica M8 and a 50 Summilux lens. Back then, that combo delivered happiness to me from the results I would get with quality AND the joy of using that 1st digital RF from Leica. Although with issues, and some serious ones, that M8 delivered everything I needed at the time. I could have had a fully pro specced DSLR at the time but I passed on all of them for the M8, simply due to the shooting experience (I also owned the original Canon 1Ds long before the M8 and preferred my M8) and all I was doing at that time was documenting life and memories of my life. The Leica excels in this. I have fond memories of that Leica M8, but funny that the memories of when I owned a Canon 5d and then 5DII and a Nikon D700 have faded. That M8 delivered the goods in all ways back in 2008/2009. Back then we had choice but it was nothing like today. Today almost any camera on the market, from Mirrorless to DSLR are fantastic in quality, and output and it can be very hard to choose what is right and something we will not regret spending our hard earned cash on.  Because while all will deliver quality, not all will deliver, for everyone, that joy of use. It has to speak to your heart as well as your brain. That is how I choose what camera I actually buy and keep today. Heart and Brain.

Getting to try any camera I want makes it easier for me but each and every camera I have ever purchased was one I was more attracted to from an emotional standpoint, but it also had to do what I needed it to do.

My Mother photographed with my M8 and 90 Cron back in 2009, then me in 09 at 40 when I thought I was getting so old. 


Yes, buying a camera is and can be an emotional decision. These things are not cheap these days, so when I recently decided to plunk down $4500 on a Sony A9, I had to be sure it was worth $4500 to me, and that I loved it from top to bottom. The A9 went up against the Leica SL for me, an even more expensive model but the Sony won due to smaller size, better AF for video, and it was less expensive at the end of the day. To compete for video for what I do, that SL would have needed the 24-90 lens so around a $12k investment. The Sony was almost 1/3 of that investment as I own a slew of Sony lenses already. So the SL went and the A9 stayed. That stressed me out a little as I LOVE the Leica SL. I appreciate its build, feel, quality, output and design. That EVF the feeling that you are shooting with a solid gorgeous camera that delivers. So for me, the A9 had to really surpass the SL for what I used the camera for, and it did. (Video). What do I shoot? Well, here is a video I shot with my then A7RII, A DJI Mavic Pro and a GoPro 4 Black.  

Yes, it’s 100% real, and with 144k views over 5 weeks, these videos I make can get quite popular, so I need a camera that works well in all lighting scenarios with quick AF for video. For me the A9 excels over all in this and beats the A7RII for AF wth video, while remaining small in size. The SL could not do this for me.

Besides, I was using the SL as my M lens camera, using it with only M lenses. That system is designed for so much more and better with the new glass out for it, so I decided to let it go instead of invest thousands more into it. I now use M lenses with my A9. So the A9 works all the way around and then back again.

Me in the 2nd year after this website started, with a Leica M9

Me just last week with the Olympus EM1 MKII

My tip to those trying to decide on a new camera or even new system.

If you are an enthusiast choosing between Sony, Canon, Olympus, Fuji, Nikon, Leica or even Sigma then first ask yourself WHAT camera really gets your vends pumping. Your heart pumping. What camera makes you grin from ear to ear? Whatever THAT camera is, that is the one you want, and is the one that would make you the happiest over the long term. For me, it used to be the Leica M, and still is in reality though these days continually spending $12k+ for a new Leica body and lens is not anything I can do anymore. Especially when today, there are indeed mirrorless solutions that slaughter what a Leica M can do, for much less money (unfortunately no other camera can replicate the M experience which is what I miss the most though). Let’s take the Sony A9 for example. I have called it the most technologically advanced camera I have used. It is not the best built I have used, it is not the most fun, but it does offer a versatility that I MUST have these days, as once you get that level of versatility it is hard to let it go. For me, the camera that gets my blood pumping the most today is that Sony A9, then the Olympus EM1 MKII. Then it would be the Leica SL and M. I have used it all, all of it, and just because I do not write about everything, that does not mean I do not use everything or at least try it out.

I do.

Fuji, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic…I have used it all. My faves always end up being Leica, Sony and Olympus. Just something about them that always pulls me back in. For me, I have never “loved” Fuji mirrorless. My heart never went crazy for any Fuji mirrorless body, though a couple have come close. The X100 did, but that was about it. Nikon today for me is ‘meh” as is Canon (Though I am sure the new 6D MKII is lovely. The 1st 6D I actually enjoyed for its smaller size). Panasonic is great and makes some great bodies and lenses but I just prefer Olympus style and lenses. Sony is leading the game by far, over anyone for tech and pushing the digital imaging industry forward. The only issue with Sony is their design is boring, dull and blah. Nothing exciting to look at, and when you use something like an A9 you may marvel at the speed and response but not the looks and design. I wish Sony were more aggressive in that dept.

But again, no matter what you choose today, all are fantastic and offer something different and unique. From the major brands mentioned I do not think a stinker camera exists today. Go with your heart, your passion and what excites you when buying a camera. Only then will you be truly happy. I also always have said that instead of going with what is cheapest, go with what you love even if it takes longer to save for it. I could go on and on with mistakes I made with purchase by going cheap, and in the end I lost money every time. So these days, no matter what it is in life, I buy what I want and if I have to save for a year to do it first, I do.

Not too long ago I  had that experience with something as simple as a Coffee Maker. I love my coffee and drink it every single day and have for years and years. After being sent a machine or two to test (yes, I even get to test coffee machines from time to time, HiFi gear, and other odd things) I tried one that I would have NEVER imagined buying  due to the cost alone. We are talking the Leica of coffee machines. So I bought cheaper one, and after a month regretted my choice as I realized this cheaper machine would cost me more in the long run, over 3-5 years, than the mega costly one due to cost of the coffee capsules I had to use with it (Nespresso). The coffee itself was also no where near as good, so I splurged for the one I wanted and will pay for it over the next few months. I have NO regrets. Now I have the other machine, which was still a $500 machine just sitting in my pantry. Wasted. We live  on this earth only once and while we should always live within our means, we should also enjoy life at every chance we get. That coffee machine I now own? This is it, and it is amazing. Better than any Starbucks and over the coarse of 5 years will save me money. In fact, I owned a lower end model from this brand in 2009 and lost it in my divorce in 2010. My ex still uses it today, working great. So sometimes you do get what you pay for and sometimes spending more may be the way to go, and other times we can get by very well by spending less. Always go by your needs, your wants and your passion for what it is you are trying to do. Using your heart and brain you will always be happy with the decision you make.

Have a great weekend everyone, it’s gonna be another hot one here in Phx AZ!

Reviews coming up ASAP:

New Blackforest Bag Review Video. Been using this one for months and LOVE it. Gorgeous and affordable both.

New Camera Review soon and a new look at Ultra Wides on Leica

Will also have a new Fuji review soon ; )

Much more…so check back!

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40 thoughts on “Don’t Choose a Camera by its Specs Today. Choose with your Heart…and Brain.

  1. Hi,

    I’m not a pro.
    I have owned the Canon 5D which did not have Live View.
    Next the 5D MkII, then the 5D mkIII.
    I now have 5 Canon L lenses.
    The 5D anything is too big and heavy to take to work so I bought the Sony RX100Mk4. which I carry in my work bag every day.
    So I use the Canon 5D mkIII and the lenses for railways bird photography, landscapes and old buildings. The Sony for portable stuff when I go to the big city. I’m not a street photographer.
    I realised that I’ve been doubling up on gear, bit of GAS here. Now I ask myself “have I hit the wall?” Meaning what can the desired gear do that I can’t do now? And would I tell the difference?
    I’d love to have the Sony A7RII but I’d have to buy extra lenses and perhaps sell off the Canons and… could I tell the difference?
    The reason I bought the SonRX100M4 was to get a small camera to take around with me and it’s tempting to take it everywhere and use it instead of the Canon
    I thought this was an interesting read.
    https://petapixel.com/2016/04/04/sonys-full-frame-pro-mirrorless-fatal-mistake/
    Apparently the smaller mirrorless cameras needed bigger lenses.
    Perhaps if I won Tattslotto, I would have about twenty cameras and ten cars.

  2. The available lenses (no adapters, thank you) and the flexibility is what matters to me nowdays. Wide? Canon 11-24? Practical – Olympus 75 1.8, 40-150 2.8, 60 2.8 macro, in camera focus stacking – Olympus.

  3. Yes, Steve, this is how I feel. My Sony is very good, but styling is Utilitarian. Same with my 6D, and other weighty DSLR’s.
    Feel(ing) is something I cannot describe, but to me the M’s definitely have it.

  4. No, “almost any camera” isn’t good enough. Thinking that is a way to lose money, as you’ll keep being dissatisfied and having to upgrade until you reach the level of camera that you need. I went through four small-sensor compact cameras and two APS-C cameras before setting on the full-frame A7RII. All the others underperformed in various ways, especially in difficult or low light.

    Now, I didn’t really need an A7RII and still don’t. A basic full-frame body like a D700 or 6D would have served me fine, for much less money. But the point is I didn’t think I needed full-frame so I ended up wasting time in bridge and APS-C cameras and paying twice. A better line of advice might be “Buy cheap, older, middle of the line gear of high quality” instead of the latest hyped consumer stuff.

    1. Most pro Fotos have a few cameras, not only a primary and a backup but one camera they love taking along. That camera they take along is usually the favorite camera.

      In my case the favorite camera changes a lot but I have had a love affair with Fuji as a street camera, even whip it out on jobs (the camera).

      Show me a pro or enthusiast who only has one camera and I’ll show you nobody ?

  5. No person can truly advise what “camera” is the One!
    Well answered and genuine insights.
    Good advice and easily understood.
    I am no longer a working pro.
    My favorite camera and lens?
    A battered body and lens from virgin new in ’67 to the present!
    I use film(digital for social needs) with joy.
    My Leica M3 and 50mm Collapsible Summicron my old pal.
    No menus, simple settings, a very quick and positive captures.
    Ziggy 50 years in service, is almost my constant companion in my life!

  6. Buying camera’s with the heart is the only way to go. If you don’t love it, you won’t I use it. But Not just for the gear itself but also for how it renders and images the scenes you shoot. You have to love the output as well. Otherwise what’s the point?

    Prediction:. You’ll end up with another M, Steve. That’s truly where your photography heart is based on this site’s history

  7. I have an old Canon 20D, a Sony A5100, and the A7RII. I recently printed photos from all these cameras as well as a 5Dm2 from the past 11 years and put them together in a book for my wife for our anniversary and shockingly found that there was very little difference in quality. In fact, some photos from the Canon (even the old one with only 8 mp!) were better than even some of the most recent photos taken with the Sony A7rii+Leica 50mm Summicron.

    basically, its the subject, composition and lighting that matters…not the equipment. The equipment only makes the shooting easier in the right situation. Canon is great for weddings and parties. Sony is great for travel. The tiny a5100 is awesome for hiking and skiing.

    Thanks for another great article!

  8. I think what Steve means by saving money on the coffee machine in the long run is that just 10 sales at 10% per click will pay for it outright.

    But good for you Steve, you deserve it. Great website, always an enjoyable read.

  9. So true about so many good choices these days. Based on my brain winning at the time of purchase in accordance with published hype at the time, I have gone through Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Sigma Merrill, Sony APSC, Sony full frame and Fuji, all with some of their better prime lenses. Lately I let my heart decide based on just seeing the images possible from others and ignored the well documented faults, and took a leap of faith at the Leica X-Vario. The out of camera Jpegs of the X-Vario are simply better than anything I’ve used, and noticeable from the first image. When one is rewarded so well by a camera’s output it becomes the favourite go to camera no matter what. The closest comparable I have is the Fuji with XF 14 2.8 lens which I think is one of their best lenses at mid aperture. I don’t know how Leica wins the IQ test so handily. They just do, and I see why people pay the premium.

  10. Another great commentary, Steve. I choose my cameras with my heart, but of course I pay attention to features. My heart has been with the Olympus company since the original OM-1 in 1973. I currently use the Pen F and, although I look longingly at the OM-D E-M1 MkII, my heart tells me the Pen F is where I’m supposed to be. I absolutely love shooting with that camera. I adore the design, which gathers a lot of looks and the occasional comment. And even though I’m shooting with my heart-throb camera, the results are nothing less than impressive; I’m in photographic heaven!

    Thank you for your site. It’s always a joy to visit to see what you’ve posted for us.

    1. Nothing. Who said there was? Nikon is only making DSLR’s today and have failed to really create something serious in mirrorless. Less and less each year buy DSLR’s, so hopefully they will do something exciting rather than constant rehashes of their DS:R’s. Fuji is doing great. Many love them and they are up there with Sony, Leica, Olympus, etc. I prefer Leica, Sony and Olympus over Fuji but that is my personal preference, and we all have personal preferences.

  11. Steve.
    I’ve been shooting since the mid ’60’s. LBJ, Bobby Kennedy, Jim Morrison, Tim Leary etc. etc. and simply adored my Nikon Fs.
    And every single era since have loved using particular cameras for my own (okay and clients) odd/personal reasons.
    And you got me going with the Oly EM-1 and now the mk ll.
    Gotta love the tools to get the very best results. But we must always remember these are all very First World problems.
    No camera system and/or format makes up for lousy shots.
    Carry on.
    Please!

  12. I very much agree.

    There is a passage from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which reads, “The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”

    This philosophy is very applicable to the way I choose cameras. For me, this leads me away from choosing Sony cameras, even though on paper they have the best technology. Nikon and Leica cameras (specifically the D810, D5, D500, and SL) are most harmonious to me and allow me to forget about the gear and do my best work.

    1. That’s the way I handle it as well. I sold my A 7 II after three long guarantee issus: 1. constant camera failures namely “camera error”
      2. eye sensor problem, not working properly when holding the camera in front of you
      3. after that I had a scratched display “thanks” to the unprofessional camera service Sony offer in Germany through “geissler-service.de” only?!

      I had some eye sensor problems with the V1 too but now after having changed that part on guarantee this little camera gives me more fun and better results than the A7II despite the undoubted superior IQ of the latter. My D3s (and former D800E, D40) never let me down by the way. The Monochrom 1st version is off for weeks now due to sensor corrosion.

      I thought that Sony would have come up with something like the V1: blazing fast + reliable AF + fun to use. The A9 looks like it but nearly four times the price of a A7II I’m all out esp. in times when photography is valued as lowly as it is nowadays. People shoot marriages with their smartphones and don’t even care for nice bokehs.

      Bad times for quality good times for quantity.

  13. Not the head, not the heart but the hormones seem to play the most important role when we consumers are buying things. Not only cameras. We want to look attractive to potential partners and impress our competitors. There seem to be three ways of doing so. 1. Showing off how wealthy you are (buying expensive things or more than you need). 2. Showing your intelligence by knowing what is going on (buying specific brands or the latest models). 3. Showing your intelligence by precision (buying value for money or the most suitable stuff for the purpose).
    Your intelligence and character are decisive too (and most likely your wallet well). But there is no such thing as a free will. Of course we will find all kinds of arguments why we prefer camera X over camera Y. But in the end it is all about our position in the group.
    For further reading: Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller.

    1. Hahahaha, Yes, just goes to show to each his own!
      To you there’s no free will possibly because of evolutionary influence whilst to me there’s the absolute free will of choosing eternal life as offered as a free gift.

      As for cameras – I’m totally amazed at the pictures I still get out of the dinosaur Sony A700 and Nex 6. So much so that it’s hard to justify buying another camera. But because of G.A.S I have a very good reason to look …. the old A700’s front wheel is jumping around and can no longer be relied on to keep setting fixed….. Therefore……..my eye is on the next A7III…..

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed here . I would only add that I feel people should hang onto gear longer .
    I feel that many are getting new gear when they have not even begun to explore the capabilities of the kit they already have .

    1. This is actually true, and I agree. I do think camera makers will be slowing down some compared to the last few years. Not as many camera sales and the cameras are so good today, we truly do not need improvements every year anymore.

  15. I totally agree with you Steve. I don’t understand whats the hype all about. Believe or not, I still have my six plus years old Canon 5D Mark I and until this very day I am using it and I love it and I don’t see the need to replace it or getting a better version of it.

    I think camera purchasing, sits in the category of Want rather than need. Initially yes you need a camera, but after that (especially for the non professionals) are purely want. At the end we need to produce that fairly good quality picture, which most of the camera does.

    I also own Leica M9 and I used it for Street photography and if I go for my business trip I use my leica X2 which also does wonder job for street and occasional snaps at the same time very small and light for business trips.

    And thats it really. I don’t think I would every upgrade a new camera, because I truly believe the technology has reached its peak, whatever they would invent going forward would be perks and features that most of us DONT need. So unless my camera breaks down or stop working and I couldn’t get it fix. For me, I am happy with what I have.

  16. Hi Steve,
    Your advise on buying a camera is perfect. I have gone through the pixel peeping, low light performance, video capabilities, always wanting the best possible for the price range. I thought I needed a FF chip for years. I ended up going the other way and bought an Olympus! I “feel” this suits my needs the most. Go figure.

  17. I agree, I also have that brand coffee machine. I have the old dual grinder version. Makes the best tasting coffee.
    I sold it because it was very difficult to deep-clean and basically had to be sent back to get any deep dirt and mold out. Using a Japanese brand now with a removable brew group that’s easier to clean, but the espresso isn’t as good.

  18. Thanks for you own thoughts on this, as usual. Having been weened on SLR film cameras with manual focus and then slipping easily into the Leica M6 and the great lenses it uses, I’ve discovered that the Leica digital cameras easily meet your heart and brain criteria. I’ve gone thru the M8 to M9 and now to M262, keeping the same lenses. I couldn’t be happier, but I’m waiting for a M10 to arrive so I can get the live screen and improved viewfinder. I’ve run into your problem: just examining the images alone (various websites) made by all the Leica cameras, the SL always comes out on top, primarily because it achieves a magical cinematic quality that nothing else seems to capture. But it’s way too heavy and adding heavier SL lenses–weight and cost–are out of the question. The images from he M10 seem closer to the SL than any others. So, two questions. After reading your rave review of the M10 and now your issue with the size of the SL, I’m wondering why you haven’t simply shifted to the M10 yourself. How would you describe the difference between the images from the SL and the M10? Not resolution, but in terms of cinematic or magic quality. The other issue that bothers me no end is reviewing cameras and sensors without regard to the lenses, especially when the Leica APO 50mm $7,000 lens is involved (which Leica seems to have used in its promotion of the M10, or for that matter, the outstanding Leica lenses built for the SL.
    Finally, I’ve heard you speak enthusiastically about the Voigtlander Heliar f3.5 50mm lens, which I bought after reading that Puts said it was one of the sharpest lenses he’s ever tested. My experience on the M262 matches that as well as unexpected color quality as well. Would you consider giving us a quick comparison of that $500 lens on your SL, your M262, and now new Sony A9. Looks like you have all the adapters. Just a few comparison shots from each camera with that lens, followed by your usual observations and insights. I don’t expect winners, just differences due to the shift in sensors and cameras.

  19. I get asked this question several times a week too and I don’t have a blog
    I usually answer that the best camera is probably the one your using, probably your phone.

    Recently an old friend on the other side of the globe contacted me and asked: “I want to take better photos (she uses her iPhone) which Leica should I get?” I answered. “buy a Fuji__ and an airplane ticket for me to come teach you how to use it you’ll still have thousands left to burn”.

    I’m still waiting for the ticket

  20. Couldn’t agree with you more (and this is from someone who hasn’t always agreed with you). I sort of had the same experience with the purchase of a new refrigerator recently. The salesman asked, “what are you looking for in this new fridge” I responded…..”cold”. Well that’s how I feel about cameras today. They all get ‘cold’. What differentiates one from another are the handles, where the ice is made (door/inside) top freezer…..etc. The same with cameras. Try not to angst over the purchase, just get out and shoot.

  21. Dear Steve!

    Great post and I could not agree more! Although I am still covered in some camera comparisons way too much I have boiled my camera selection down to 2 brands – Olympus (EM1.2) and Fuji (XT2) with some selected lenses. While the Olympus is more versatile I do love my Fuji much more – so maybe somehow controversial to you, but this is how it should be.

    I do hope both continue to deliver great solutions so we all can enjoy photography.

    Best
    Peter

  22. I own several cameras, my current love is the Oly Pen F. It begs me to pick it up every time I enter the room and I can’t say no. I love the photos but I love holding it just as much.

  23. Steve,
    Nicely done. I love to use my M9 and even though there are “better” cameras today they will never replace the feeling I have using my first and only Lieca. Now coffee is another matter. I have a Nespresso by the way but that Juri is very tempting.

  24. What stirs you is important. But what feels good in your hands is even more important. A beautiful camera is going not going to inspire if it’s difficult to operate.

    1. I have no agreement with any camera manufacturer. None. At. All. And. I. Never. Have. Period. Just because I am not a Fuji fanboy doesn’t mean I have agreements with another camera manufacturer. I love most cameras today, mirrorless. In fact. I have a hard time getting loaners from Leica, and when I do it is for 3-4 days. Sony is. good with all reviewers, as they should be. Fuji will not send me a loaner to save my life due to a negative piece 3 years ago I wrote. Very political and weird IMO. Olympus is fantastic for review units as well but with any canners company, any review unit has to be sent back within 2 weeks. Sometimes 3-4 but the norm is 2 weeks. I paid full retail price for my A9 and accessories from B&H photo. Full Retail Price. So here I am, disclosing my agreements with all of these companies…THERE ARE NONE as I have stated many times when trolls come here and try to troll. Thank you.

  25. As for the heart rate: a Mamiya RB67 with the 50mm or 127mm lens, a Fuji XPro1 with a Canon Fl 55 1.2 on a Metabones adapter, a Mamiya C33 with the 65 and 180 mm lenses, a Canon F1 with the 35 f2 and the 50 1.4 lenses and last but not least a Leica M4-P plus the 50mm lens. These make my heart beat. I use them on different occasions, for different situations and purposes…
    I do not like the sterile digitally processed look of many current camera models.
    Always good light.

  26. Hi…
    Thanks for sharing your views and thoughts.
    Which coffee machine you are using…and where can I read your reviews on things other than photo gear….
    regards.

  27. Thank you Steve for the insight. As a photo enthusiast I’m in the same exact shoes right now. I currently own the 5D mkiii and I’m highly invested in the L lens. I’ve had the A6500 since it’s release and use it a whole lot more due to the fast autofocus and technology. The A6500 has made me enjoy shooting again. I will be converting to either the A9 or A7iii.

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