Buying a New Camera Brand is Buying a New Lens System

UnknownIt all started when Canon released the EOS M3 in Europe and Asia. I saw a few reviews and suddenly I had the urge to get a new camera.

I made the choice to slim down my personal camera to a small DSLR style/mirrorless body a while back. The plan is to rent when I need something bigger.  I chose not to pursue bigger and better DSLRs, or to buy real cinema, large sensor interchangeable lens cameras. Even though I like them, 99% of the day to day footage I need can be shot with something less. And larger projects can afford to rent gear, and I’m off the merry-go-round of trying to stay current with multiple thousands of dollars in camera gear.

But I had settled into the status quo with my EOS M. It was a great little camera, who HD with a very nice picture. And I liked adapting old manual lenses to it. The M3 release got me looking around a bit, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the advancements in small mirrorless bodies. A few manufacturers have really stepped up. For not much money you have access to a slew of helpful/useful video capabilities.

Canon hasn’t really done that though. They have a few improvements, but they seem to be driving people who want high end video toward their Cinema EOS Line. The new C300 mark II looks amazing. But their DSLRs seem to be lagging. A little research into the EOS M3 (available online from overseas sellers) showed that while they added quite a few features that videographers wanted (usable autofocus, focus peaking, tilt LCD, EVF) to the EOS M, the actual video quality had gone down. That’s frustrating.

But changing brand of camera is really changing lens systems. A camera body is the initial investment, but it’s what you can shoot with it that ends up costing more. Technically, the EOS M only has 4 possible lenses you can mount on it, but because Canon has the very nice EF-EOSM adapter, the rest of the canon EF/EFS lenses become an option. And they have some great glass.

Luckily, I didn’t have huge money tied up in Canon lenses. I can still use my old manual glass with any mirrorless body. I took the leap and sold all 3 of my Canon lenses and my EOS M.

That sale brought in enough to cover the purchase of a Sony Alpha a6000 body and one of the Sigma ART series lenses for Sony E Mount. Probably the 19mm f2.8 model. That lens will be the first of many to come for this new system. I don’t think the Sony E Mount universe has a better lens selection than Canon. But they have enough, and because the a6000 is mirrorless, I can use so many other lenses that it won’t matter. In the meantime my manual glass will cover the rest of the range from 35mm-210mm. That’s the thing you have to consider, can you do your work within this system of lenses mounted to this camera body? The camera body with these features at this price (currently on sale for $450) made me interested in Sony, but the availability of lenses that I could use and afford tipped me the rest of the way.

Now I’m just waiting for the camera to arrive…


Considering New Cameras: Canon EOS M3, 70D, Sony a6000

old videoI’ve got a jones for a new camera.

It all started when I was blindsided by the Europe/Asia release of the new Canon EOS M3. It’s not being released in the US, so I didn’t know it was out until a few overseas posts began slipping into my feeds. I own the EOS M, which is still the cheapest and easiest way to get into an HD camera system with great lenses.

Used, the bodies are selling for $180 now. $250 for one with the very nice 22mm f 2.0 for the EF-M mount. It shoots basic HD video resolutions with a great image quality. You can get some great depth of field and basically learn everything you need to know about lamming with this little camera.

And, besides the Canon lens eco system, because it is mirrorless, you can adapt a lot of older manual lenses to it. I came from a Pentax background, so I know some of the great old glass out there for cheap. I use a Pentax 35-70mm F4 and a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm F3.5 (both in K mount) all the time. I could never afford glass this good if it was modern Canon EF or EFS mount.

And mirrorless cameras are small. I can slide the EOS M with the 22mm lens into a loose pocket and forget it’s there. A DSLR can’t be handled that way. So the EOS M3 was very attractive, on paper at least. You can get them online from overseas places. It offers a lot of upgrades from the EOS M. They have updated almost everything except the basic video resolutions available. So that got me in the mood to swap cameras. If you remember, I changed up my camera strategy a while back.

Then I read a review from someone who had actually used the M3 to shoot video. Focus peaking, EVF, AF and more are in. But video quality has apparently taken a dive. So I looked to the Canon 70D. Again. I had decided not to get one before, but now?

It’s an APS-C DSLR with usable autofocus in video. They have come down quite a bit in price. Used ones can be had for $800. But I still don’t want to go there. The new build of Magic Lantern allows you to shoot RAW on the 70D. You can use Pentax K Mounts on these as well, with adapter. Turns out, I like the small mirrorless cameras.

2 of these little guys are regarded very highly in the world of indie filmmaking.;The Panasonic GH4 for image quality and features and the Sony A7S for low light capability. Still these bad boys will set you back quite a bit of cash. GH4- $1500, A7S- $2500 (new). All well and good, but at that price (for the A7S), I’m not far from a “real” video camera, with built in pro audio, ND filters, etc…

Then I stumbled onto the Sony a6000. It has all the features the EOS M3 has, plus better video quality and options. And can be bought for about the same price. Of course this means leaving Canon for the Sony E Mount. And those lenses are not cheap. But you can still adapt all that great old glass to it. And the built in AF looks very good.

Oh, man. I’ve already rounded up a bunch of old tech and gadgets to sell. I’m definitely going to do something. And It seems like I want to stay with a small camera. There are so many with great features now.

New EOS M3: Looks Promising

Z-canon_eos_m3-rearAngle-EVF-PRSomehow I missed the launch of the Canon EOS M3 overseas. Probably because the M2 never made it to the USA, and wasn’t much of an improvement. I own the EOS M, and love it for video. Hands down, it’s the best, most cost effective way to get into HDSLR video capture. Under $300 for a body with lens. Part of the reason it is so cheap is that it wasn’t a great still image camera. You can take some nice pictures, but it just isn’t up to par with other offerings on the market, for stills. But for a video camera? It’s great for the price.

And now the M3 is out in Asia and Europe.  Check out these specs: Canon EOS M3 UK site.

Prices from eBay are running about $600. Plus the wait time and possible customs fees to get it from Japan. There are currently no plans to bring the M3 to North America. Since you can find a 70D body for just a couple hundred more why choose the EOS M3?

Well, $200 isn’t anything to sneeze at. But there are other benefits.

1. Lenses– The mirrorless body lends itself to all sorts of lens adaptations. I have 2 Pentax K mounts I use regularly on my EOS M, and neither would work on a 70D (or any other traditional APS-C Canon camera) You can use just about any lens from any manufacturer on the EOS M mount with a cheap adapter. Canon FD, Nikon, Pentax, m42, the list goes on.

2. Autofocus for Video- The 70D changed the game for HDSLR video by adding a 19 point Phase Detection continuous autofocus system on a 20 megapixel sensor.  Suddenly you could shoot DSLR video like a camcorder, sort of. The EOS M3 has 49 points of continuous AF on a new 24 Megapixel sensor. Of course, the new AF only works with lenses that can use it, and all that old glass I mentioned before doesn’t. It does, however, have focus peaking, to help with manual focus. That is huge.

3. Size- The EOS M3 is small. Very small. Half the weight of a traditional DSLR. Less than half the size. The M3 with 22mm lens can fit in your pocket.  (Albeit a loose pocket of your jacket or pants.)

Plus, Canon has addressed a lot of the concerns of the EOS M. There is an available Electronic View Finder. The back screen, while not fully articulating, can flip out to different angles (up to 180 degrees.) And of course the new AF system puts to rest all of the complaints about slow AF in the original M.

The video record resolutions are still lacking. You can do 1080p at 30p. To record in 60p you still have to drop down to 720p. Basically, it’s the same resolutions as the original.

I have to admit, I am sorely tempted to sell my EOS M and a few other gadgets to upgrade to the EOS M3.

[Update 2] The EOS M3 has been out long enough for some folks to test something besides the still image AF. I had read that the video codec was different, and it looks like it isn’t better than the old EOS M. Disappointing. it’s bad enough to not have any improvements, but to go backward? I’ve seen some video shot with the camera on Youtube, and it’s not horrible. But reviews like the one linked give some pause about purchasing.

[Update 1] Got my hands on a manual. Saw that you can use the hdmi output while shooting. Not sure if it is clean or what resolution, but anything is an improvement.

Why I Sold my Canon 60D (New camera strategy)


I love DSLR video. Nowhere else can you get such a narrow DOF for decent HD video for such a low price. No other camera system offers this.

But there are drawbacks. Bad audio for one. Compressed video codec for another. Basically, it’s a still camera that can do video. It can do it pretty well, but there are better video cameras out there. For more money.

I, like most indie filmmakers, can’t just go drop several thousand dollars on a new camera. But I can rent a high quality video camera that provides all the benefits of a DSLR without the drawbacks.

A Canon c100 with the new autofocus chipset can be rented for 3 days at $260. You can extend that to 2 weeks for $650. A c300 runs 2-3 times as much. That’s a big difference between paying $5000 to buy the c100. Or $14,000 to buy the c300. A Red Epic package can be rented for $1700 for 3 days, should you want one.

But what if there isn’t a budget to rent?

Enter the Canon EOS M. Canon released a mirrorless camera last year. After a poor showing and some complaints about autofocus, Canon lowered the price and updated the firmware.

You can now buy an EOS M with 22mm f2 lens for under $330. A Canon adapter can be bought to use all EF and EFS lenses. The sensor is the exact same as the one in the t4i. I just got a slightly used EOS M with 22mm f2 and the Canon EOS to M adapter for $346.

From what I have seen, the video looks great. It still has the same issues that all DSLRs have. And the same benefits. For under $350. You can actually find bodies without lenses for $250. Rumor has it another version is soon forthcoming.

So, the EOS M will replace my 60D for small shoots, and rental becomes an option for larger projects.

Geeking Out vs. Creating

I’ve been looking for a new mid level HDSLR. So I’ve been reading the internet a lot. There’s a lot to read.

One thing that strikes me is that there are tons and tons of videos available on Vimeo and Youtube that compare the features of one video capable DSLR to another, but there are not that many simply creative videos that tell a story. Do a search on either site for any major HDSLR and you can see all the video reviews you want. But there are far fewer stories for your viewing pleasure.

It’s easy to geek out on tech specs, and shoot test videos. I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it. But it is much harder to carry a creative idea to completion.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to not get tied up in the technical so much. Learn to use your tools. Make them do what you need them to do. But move past the tech to using those told to create.

Don’t just Geek Out. Tell your story.

Changing Loyalty: Leaving Pentax for… Canon? Panasonic?

I put my entire Pentax DSLR system up for sale tonight.

I know to most people that’s not that big of a deal. And, on many levels for me, it isn’t that big either. I didn’t choose Pentax for any good reason, but I did really like the system. No other system allows you to shoot stills on a budget like Pentax. If you like manual focus, you can get amazing lenses for cheap. Using lenses from 20+ years ago was a real perk of the Pentax world. I spent the last few years assembling a collection of modern and antique lenses to cover everything from 16mm to 300mm.

So, why jump ship?

Because Pentax is never going to take video seriously. Because of my plans and dreams with the show, I eventually need a DSLR that can do full manual, full HD video. I had hoped that Pentax would come along with a great body that could use all my old lenses and give me great stills and video. But every time I turned around a new body had limited video capability. But I kept hoping.

Last week at CES, Pentax, who was recently bought by Ricoh, did not announce or release anything, even though they had a booth. And John Carlson,Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing at Pentax USA, gave an interview where he covered some of the companies views on video in DSLR:

DE: What can you say about features on video in your–either SLR or system camera lines–you were really the first to offer manual aperture control during video capture, but our sense is that since then, you’ve lagged a little bit on features. Things that are becoming common elsewhere, such as full-time auto-focus or manual audio level control. What would you like to see come to product line in terms of video?

JC: I think there’s a couple of things I’ve seen with our competitors that are very compelling, like auto-focus during video, and more manual controls of exposure during the video. However, I think what’s important is to realize that while that stuff is… would be nice to have, it’s not absolutely necessary. We’ve worked with some producers that have done some great videos that we have on our YouTube channel, that definitely show even in pretty complicated lighting situations, you can effectively use a camera like the K-5 to get good quality video. Using things that you may not think of, like the exposure lock button that will essentially let you set the exposure, things like that. Just watching some of these professional cinematographers using the different lenses to their capabilities, and realizing these guys don’t use auto-focus anyway. The true advanced cinematographers out there are doing it all manual, and planning your shot, and really thinking it out. I think you consider those things, and our cameras are definitely very capable.

DE: What’s your sense for how customers are using the video capabilities of the system cameras? This is one thing I have a question about, is how many of them are still photographers that are becoming video enthusiasts, or how many are like, you know, I’m a still photographer and I’d like to take an occasional video snapshot?

JC: You definitely see a lot of the traditional photographers almost questioning why you need video, but then you have the people that have kind of expanded their repertoire of what they can do with a camera, by realizing that you add a little movement to an image and it can add a lot. Definitely in the nature photography, you know… A still image of a snowstorm is okay, but you get a moving image of a snowstorm, a video, and it adds something totally different to it.

I had hoped that with patience Pentax would see the benefit of the large market of video professionals who use DSLRs. It seems apparent that no matter what new body Pentax releases, full manual video control is just not going to be a part of it. Video is seen as a nice way to capture video snapshots. Professionals who want to use Pentax have to trick the body, and Pentax USA is OK with that just being the way it is. That means if I wish to own a more capable DSLR for video I have to look elsewhere. And that is disappointing.

So, I’m going to leave Pentax. I have not decided if I will end up with Canon (likely) or maybe a Panasonic GH2. I don’t know for sure yet. The GH2 can use an adapter to handle all sorts of lenses, from Pentax to Canon. I have a lot of friends who shoot Canon.

I’m leaving a close-knit, if somewhat snarky, community. Because Pentax isn’t as popular as other DSLR systems, there are not that many “Pentaxians.” I’m also leaving the cheap lenses that made Pentax so appealing to a budget DSLR user. Modern, good glass is not cheap.

I am going to gain ability and stability. Which ever body I end up with will have full HD video control. And be from a company that supports the future of that in DSLRs.

Now to figure out which is the best for me.

The Most Unfair Comparison: Canon 7D + L Series 24-70 vs Pentax K-x + Kit Lens

I had a chance to play around, and decided to do the most unfair comparison ever between DSLRs. I own a Pentax K-x with several lenses that I use around the house. It’s a great small DSLR. It cost me $385 used with the DAL 18-55mm kit lens. For work we just got a Canon 7D with a 24-70mm f2.8 L series lens. The L series lenses are some of the best available for the Canon EOS system.

The Canon system, on sale, cost $2700 for the body and lens. That’s seven times more than my K-x with kit lens cost me. There is no way my kit can take a better picture than the 7D with that lens. The Pentax kit lens is nowhere the quality of the L series glass. Don’t get me wrong, Pentax makes a really good kit lens, but there is a reason you can buy one for 1/20 the cost of the L series. Used appropriately, the 7D with that lens will take amazing pictures. But, what if someone just grabbed it and snapped shots in automatic? How does it perform then?

I decided to have some fun. I put both cameras in full program mode. Just let the bodies do what they automatically did. I shot a couple pictures of this fake plastic flower thing in my house.

First up the Pentax. Generally, not a horrible picture. At 55mm, ISO was up at 3200, which is a bit high, but necessary in the low light indoors with the slower lens at f5.6. The K-x does a great job at noise reduction in JPGs.

Next, the 7D. There’s no doubt that the f2.8’s narrower DOF drives focus to the red flowers. At 70mm the closer framing is nicer. Generally, this is a much better image. I could argue that moving the Pentax closer to the flowers would fix some of the framing issues, but the slower f5.6 cannot reproduce the narrower DOF. The 7D also did not have a lot of noise at 3200.

As expected the 7D with L series glass outperforms the K-x with kit lens in automatic program mode. You can get better images from both cameras using different settings in different situations, but both give usable pictures in the most basic mode. The K-x is designed for entry level photography, while the 7D is more akin to the higher level bodies from Pentax like the K5. There is no real comparison of the two lenses. The kit lens from Pentax is great, but it’s not the best lens ever made. The 24-70mm L series is one of the best EOS lenses available. If it didn’t produce a better image than the Pentax DAL 18-55mm I would be shocked.

Shooting Pentax in a CaNikon World

Why Pentax? How did I end up shooting Pentax DSLRs? Luck. Blind luck.

A few years ago I wanted to get into a DSLR. I didn’t have a huge budget, so I was looking at used kits on eBay. I wanted high enough resolution so I could print a 5×7. I figured I would buy one and maybe one or two lenses. Then upgrade a couple years later.

I didn’t realize that buying a DSLR body was actually buying into a collection of lenses. I bought a Pentax *ist DS 6.1 Megapixel body with the basic DA 18-55mm f3.6-4.5 lens. At $295, I had gotten into a DSLR for less than I ever expected.

And I was pleased with how it took pictures. The kit lens, normally not the best of lenses, was pretty decent. That’s not to say there weren’t some deficiencies, like vignetting at the wide end. But it’s still a lens I use, years later. [Below is picture from near Rainbow Falls in TN. Pentax *ist DS and kit lens]

When I bought that Pentax, I didn’t realize that I had bought into the perfect lens collection for low budget photography. I started doing some research on what lenses are available for Pentax bodies, and they have some very nice ones. Having spent under $300 for a body and lens, dropping double that on one lens was not going to happen.

I happened onto and started reading reviews and posts. Suddenly I realized that every K Mount lens made in the past several decades would work on my DSLR body. And with an adapter, even the M42 screw mount lens would work. That means that any good glass from years past would work on my DSLR. And there was quite a bit of decent glass for cheap available online, as long as you didn’t mind shooting in manual mode.

I first found a Vivitar 75-150mm F3.8 for $30. From my research I knew to look at the serial numbers. For a while in the 80s several of these were made by Kiron, Komine and Tokina. I got one from Kiron. Then I snagged one of Pentax’s fast 50 mm for $20. [Right: *ist DS with Pentax M 50mm f2.0] So my lens collection began to grow. Over the years I have bought and sold lots of older lenses online.

Spending such a small amount on a lens allows you to do things you would never dream of with more expensive lenses. For example, I spent less than $6 on a Ricoh 28mm f2.8 prime lens. I had to take it apart, cut off a flange and remove a pin before I could use it. But I took a great picture of my daughter with it [below]. I ended up selling it because it lacked the multiple-coating others had, and I didn’t like the lens flare.

My most expensive lens is an f2.8 16mm Zenitar fish eye. It was $160. I got it just in time. The main seller on eBay announced they were selling the last of them right before I got mine. In time I upgraded bodies. Mainly because I kept damaging them. Leaving a DSLR where it can be knocked off a ledge is a bad idea. Although upgrading to a video capable DSLR would great.

Right now my entire kit (K10D with 6 lenses) cost less than a Canon T2i body. Shooting in manual is fun, and teaches me a lot about how light an lenses work together. I use my kit lens when I need autofocus. In body shake reduction works on all lenses. I’d like to have better, newer glass, but not on this budget. Pentax makes some great glass today.

Hard to find it though. I can go to any photo store in town and see the latest offering from Canon or Nikon. There’s only one place I have found that has any Pentax gear, and it’s used. I can buy new from B&H, or used from KEH or eBay. Or from fellow Pentaxians. But it’s not like you can check out the latest lens at Target or Best Buy. (Of course, they don’t sell the best CaNikon either)

My friends who are onto Photography have either Nikon or Canon. Discussions about DSLRs end up with me trying to explain why I still shoot Pentax. Now, my photo-interested pals have some very nice kits. I’d love to have one like it. But dollar for dollar, my Pentax kit will take pictures as good as I need for my family memories, and more.

And really, that’s what matters. I specifically chose to post pictures here I took with the oldest, least capable camera I owned, the *ist DS. I like to think they are pretty good. Maybe not award winning, but they please my family and me. I now own more capable equipment. I have a lot to learn.

There are people who own Canon and Nikon (Sony, Pentax, etc…) kits that could show pictures that would blow me away. There are some who have spent thousands and thousands on their kits, and cannot take a decent picture to save their life. Equipment is important, but not as important as the photographer.

So, whatever you shoot with, shoot well. Learn how to use what you have and capture life around you.