The best camera ever. By Etienne Schoettel

The best camera ever

By Etienne Schoettel

Hi Steve,

I am one of your daily readers looking for your like-no-other reviews and your passionate and crazy comparisons but sadly (for me) I never write a comment. Anyway, I’ve decided to send you this message because in this time when so many tremendous cameras are released (the Leica M 240, RX1, OMD, etc.) I’ve finally realized what I think has always been and will be forever the best camera ever. I think I have your attention but now I may look pretentious. I’ll try to correct that.


But firstly first, let me just introduce myself. I am a French 29-year-old guy living in Paris (pretentious and French that is so cliché) who really loves cameras and smiles all the time. Five years ago, I started small taking pictures without any idea on concepts like bokeh, AF, OVF but with a compact digital camera and my dad advice. Then, I decided to move to a bigger camera (Lumix FZ18) and 1.5 year later to a DSLR (Canon 7D). I really loved all of those cameras because they allowed me to learn at my own pace. But like many people reading your blog, I think that I am a bit affected by what you’ve perfectly described as the Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Indeed, anytime the new killer camera is announced (which often happens these days), I can’t stop asking myself “Hey! What if…” Fortunately enough, for me and my savings, I am quite disciplined and I manage to resist most of the time.


For more than 10 months now, we have decided my wife and I to travel around the world for one year (mainly in South America and Asia). So this means that we will need to leave our jobs, apartment and comfort. Anyway we are sure that this is worth. Of course, we want to share our “future” memories with our families, friends and travelers and that is why we have created a blog. With no idea on how to do this but with some good friends and wikis we managed to have our site. And finally, as any serious traveler blog, we have created a gallery where we will put some shots of our trip.

Now let’s go back to my point (it was about time!). As my wife and I didn’t want to publish an empty blog, we decided to put some old pictures taken during our last trips as an illustration of what the site should look like. Then started the exhumation of files lost in one dust-covered backup hard drive.


What I’ve found were mainly noisy shots, sometimes miss focused but often cropped (due to bad composition). They were taken with the Lumix FZ18 when I was travelling in South East Asia in 2008. Attached to that (not in the EXIF data), there was the answer to my question: what the hell is the Grail camera? The truth is that I have just bought it recently. And my conclusion is that it has not much to do with sensor size, ISO or even IQ.

Let’s do some math. What can we get for $2,800 (which is quite something I must admit)?

A) The Sony RX1 killer-camera-that-fits-in-your-pocket-alas-not-in-my-French-undersized-pockets. Excellent camera no question about that. Please read Steve Huff review!

B) A Leica lens which is so sharp that it is considered as a weapon in some countries.

C) A one-year flight ticket which will offer you so many good moments and pictures that you’ll never regret it.

Yes, my answer is C. This is the price of the ticket (for one person) we paid for our one-year trip. But, you can change the amount for something smaller, even $300 my answer remains “C”. I will always prefer using my money to go somewhere I don’t know that any new camera and that is my Grail. Period (I love them).


I prefer all the imperfect shots taken during my trips with this small camera in Asia that the one taken in Paris with my full stuffed Canon 7D. I just mean that, to me, my best shots are done when I am far away whatever the quality of the camera. I don’t know if it has something to do with me acting differently when abroad or maybe I just try to open my eyes and heart a bit wider… there’s some magic I can’t explain.

You can see some of my pics here:

Thank you Steve. Please continue your wonderful work. Did you notice that Steve Huff sounds like Stuff (no offense but it always makes me smile)?


  1. Yes, I’d agree that money is better spent on going to places to photograph things, as long as the camera you are using, is ergonomically as satisfying to use as possible; just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean that it will also handle better than something you already know inside out. I suppose another point worth making, is what you want, can often be different to what you actually need!

    As to what I want, this would be one of the MF Alpa 12’s, with a digital back fitted on it … The standard of engineering and compactness of these, is quite amazing …. but also is the horrendous price of these -even s/hand! As to what I need, I think my current OM-D and E-M1, fills all my needs, being compact, versatile and remarkably unobtrusive. It does have a couple of failings, such as the size of some of the buttons and the fact that I think they need to protrude beyond the body further than they presently do, but these are niggles I have found ways of overcoming with moulded to size, ‘Plastic Padding’ I can now feel where the buttons are, without having to double-check what I’m pushing. The only really fundamental improvement they could make on both these cameras, is to locate the on/off switch, where it was positioned on the original E1.

  2. Dear Étienne,
    By the way, your picture at the rice fields is one of the best photographs that I have seen in a loooong time. Pure ART!!!!
    Un fuerte abrazo,

    • Hi Jorge,
      Thank you for your nice comment. For the story, this picture was taken during a motorbike trip in Sapa (Vietnam). The light was not so good (after sunset) and the “walker” was very far from where I was. I could do this picture thanks to the very long range of the FZ18. The image is far from perfect (in terms of pure image quality) but indeed it has something special 🙂

  3. A different approach works for me, though I don’t disagree with your sentiment. What I’ve found is that when I travel, I’m some place I’ve never been before shooting for a day or a week, looking for places (or having researched them), trying to get a few places at ideal times, subject to the weather at that time of year … and meanwhile, there might be several or even a hundred other people there, never mind the people who have year round access and better knowledge of the place all taking pictures. Ultimately, my travel pictures are only mediocre when compared to all the thousands of other travel pictures out there – their value lies in the fact that they’re mine; memories of my visit. Their appeal lies in the fact that the subject matter is “exotic” in some way.

    Meanwhile, not many people photograph where I live. I can have my camera on my in any kind of weather throughout the year. I know how the angle of the sun makes things look differently throughout the year; I know when the setting sun shines through budding trees, making them glow. I know when the most dramatic skies are. I know when to expect a family of goslings at that house with the pond in front of it. The subject matter is less exotic, but the photos are better.

    As for the camera, it doesn’t much matter 😉

  4. I saw a self portrait in the Vegas Belagio garden photo, the camera is a Fuji XE2 or Fuji XPro-1. The images are amazing and have that large aperature look, which some say is a 3D look. Whatever it is, each picture tells a story and the camera doesn’t get in the way. Even though a lot of cameras + lenses are technically better, they still need to gel with the user. I made the same camera journey, but totally agree: It’s my best camera ever.

  5. Not all The French are stupid !! 100 % with You when you arrime to Argentina, call me, i can tell You about places and people You must know before leasing The planet.


  6. your article does not make sense because if one can afford rx1 or leica lens, he/she could certainly afford jet tickets.

    • Not always! I know people who are in this boat for similar reasons but perhaps not a camera being the problem (motor bikes, other luxuries, etc), Actually I know a few because of camera gear. But yes you are correct as well but not for a big % of people put there.

  7. Cher Étienne Schoettel,

    I’ve read attentively your post. I also had a look at your site. As a fifty years long “photographe amateur” I would answer yes, definitely but so so, to the opinion emitted in this post.

    Actually I have are not one but two answers.

    The first.

    The most important photographic gear you always take with you is your culture. In case of photography, add one’s photographic culture, because even if none, that’s what influences the most the pictures. You can make a ten minutes safari on the meadow at the foot of your block or go for a sunset on the Kilimandjaro or to a marriage in Mongolia: from the photographic point of view (as an activity, not as a facility) it’s the same, because everywhere you go, you take yourself with you.

    As Bernard Plossu use to say, you need to regularly sandpaper your way of looking at things and life in order to find your style, to become something else than a souvenir producer (what’s not pejorative per se) and that’s a lot of time to involve. And that’s also the reason because exotism appeals more to make images to most photographers that their neighbourhood. As usual here the way matters, not the target. Bernard Plossu was able to produce masterpieces with an Instamatic.

    I don’t mean that anthropological or ethnological documents arn’t valuable things, or that’s not a great pleasure to travel and bring back souvenirs, but it’s another game than photography as an art. On the photographic point of view gear doesn’t matter. We said it. OK, but so so. Ask a musician if the quality of his instrument doesn’t matter. Ask what you want as a handcrafter if the quality of his tools doesn’t matter. On a travellers point of view, it’s probably the same.

    For me, would I make a journey such as you mention with a narrow budget two high grade compacts, one of them weather- and dustproof, would better make the job than a bridge and no spare camera. I never will go for a long travel without a spare camera not with a camera able to make correct images in poor light. All in all, I would shorten or delay the travel, yes yes, in order to bring something cuter with me than a bridge, because it’s a one time in a life occurrence. Bt again that’s me: I’m not a reporter at all, I’m only interested with the plastic beauty of an image (ok, beauty can sometimes be crude) and I have no message to deliver in my images.

    The second.

    As I recently wanted to make handheld macros, I head to (re)learn bssic photographic skills to overcome the lack of efficiency of IS in macro. Skills (breath, posture etc) are the second most important gear after culture. Another photograph, I don’t remember, the name used to say that the first 10 000 shots are for learning. And last but not least, always take a look to the images of those emitting an opinion on skills or gear or what they want. You will learn if this opinion is compatable with your own style of photography.

    Actually, it seems to me that gear doesn’t matters… ok, not too much! 😉

    Serge Schmitt,
    stubborn Alsatian. 😉

  8. “A one-year flight ticket which will offer you so many good moments and pictures that you’ll never regret it.”
    Perfect choice. Do you want to know why many people prefer to spend money on equipment instead on making experiences? Because is easier to buy a nice camera than to make nice shots…
    Nice looking photos, btw!

  9. Truly a lovely and rational and contrarian view (here). Good for you. And enjoy your travels. We’ll all look forward to your return from travel examination of that year and what you’ve thought about here at its beginning.

  10. Agree completely. Always better to spend hard earned money on new experiences (I.e. traveling) than on the next fad!

  11. French pretentious? As a French friend once told me, ” Eat our food, drink our wine, visit Paris or Provence, look at our art and then make love one of our women… then you will see, we’ve earned the right.”

    • Tom, I totally agree. And after all my trips to France I never found them pretentious; proud – yes; pretentious? No. Great country and people. I served (artillery support) with the 6th French and Foreign Legion during The Gulf War and even their field rations were 100 times better than our MRE rations. It was funny that the French soldiers were pissed off because their wine rations were not allowed. Ya have to admit that the French (and Italians) know how to live and eat. 🙂

      • Oddly enough I met the Frenchman I spoke of while doing hurricane relief for the Red Cross. He was handing out MREs (meals ready to eat) procured from the US Army to kids waiting in line for a tray of pork, rice and crushed pineapple. He didn’t want them to wait too long to eat. I was one of the cooks and took care of the refer truck. We were both sailing the Pacific on different boats at the time and were glad for the opportunity to drop anchor and lend a hand. I never left the island while he’s raising rug rats somewhere in Normandy. As I recall, the French are reasonably good sailors as well.

    • I understand what you’re saying, I have some wonderful French friends…, but I must admit that I like Spanish food better, prefer Tuscany and Florence and would rather sleep with Asian women …but that’s just me….

  12. I’m as bad as anybody about acquiring new gear, but the one old camera I will not get rid of is my Panasonic FZ–mine’s a 28. Sensor size be damned, it still produces really nice images.

    • I think he meant to say that the best camera is the one you already have. Looking at the pictures, I have to agree.

  13. Great article and very smart point. Not the right choice for everyone, but I think many would be good to consider maybe buying one less lens, and instead using the money to go somewhere special to take pictures with what they’ve got.

    I know when I had my Leica all I shot was stuff in my backyard because I sure didn’t have any money left to travel!

  14. So what we have here is a self-described pretentious French twentysomething, hoping to achieve the 21st-century Nirvana of leveraging the power of social media to get other people to pay him for the mere act of existing, not to mention sponsoring a one-year vacay for his adorable self and spouse. (In aid of which his site includes a very professional “dossier de sponsoring,” naturellement.) I could hate him quite easily, except:

    — The photos on his site are extremely charming: well-seen, unpretentious, and lively.

    — He’s absolutely right: Once you’ve amassed a basic quantity of gear, the best way to spend a random chunk of money on photography is NOT on amassing more gear, but on creating picture-taking opportunities for yourself. (I don’t agree that it necessarily must be on travel: it could be renting a cool location, or hiring a stylist, or just taking a couple of days off from work to research an inspiring topic.) That’s an important message that doesn’t get stated often enough.

    So thanks, Etienne… good luck and have a great trip!

    • But what if… what if the next best camera and/or lens is just around the corner, and all the reviews say it is just the best ever. Will that not allow Etiennen to finally make those great pictures? I mean, how could it not?

  15. I fully agree Etienne. The best camera ever is the camera you have with you when you capture those memorable images, and that you like using. Good and really interesting images as well!

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