Camera X Isn’t Better Than Camera Y

I’ve tackled this subject before, but it bears repeating in today’s endless discussion of “which camera is better?” The correct answer? It probably doesn't matter. And certainly not in the down-in-the-weeds details such as any minor dynamic range differences.

We have this curious intersection of marketing-induced paranoia going on, and the savvy camera makers are fueling that fire. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Bragging Rights (“mine goes to 11”). Dead versus Woke (DSLRs versus AI-inclusive mirrorless). And much more.

Thus we get endless “R5 or Sony A7R Mark IV/A1” or “Z6 II or Sony A7 Mark III” types of questions consuming electrons over the Internet. Heck, we even get the same question within a brand (e.g. “buy the older Z6 or the new Z6 II?”).

The simple answer to that last question is this: buy the older model to save money; or buy the newer model to still have the most capability at the end of a long ownership. 

I can’t believe I wrote this first in 2004, but here it is: “If you can’t get great images from any of the current DSLRs, it’s not the camera that’s the problem.” That’s not only true today, but it’s octupily true, and may even be true of some compact cameras and even smartphones. These days you don’t have to micromanage exposure any more to get great photos. You also don’t have to fully master an autofocus system to get great photos. You don’t even need to buy high-priced models to get a reasonably fast frame rate for continuous photography. All models you can buy include a lot of features, probably more than you’ll use. 

If you haven’t read The Tip of the Iceberg article I referenced at the beginning, please do so now. Why? Because many people are making the mistake of comparing Camera X to Camera Y in isolation and then either (1) are assuming that choosing one or the other is the same cost to them; or (2) are comparing the cost of Camera X to Camera Y versus the feature/performance set. 

So let’s take the Canon R5 versus Sony A7R Mark IV choice question that I saw circulating today: 

  • The Sony right now is cheaper. But that might only be true if you were going to also buy all new lenses and accessories for both cameras (tip of the iceberg, baby). If you were already a Canon owner, you have lenses you can use already, and probably many accessories, as well.
  • The Canon R5 has 8K. Actually, we can find several features that one camera has that the other doesn’t. So is that feature actually something you need or will even use? If not, you don’t need to consider it; considering it would be FOMO.
  • Canon is the market leader overall, Sony is the market leader in mirrorless. Doesn’t matter. Repeat: doesn’t matter. For sure Canon, Nikon, and Sony will be in business making cameras tomorrow, just as Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai will be in business making cars tomorrow. Wanting to own the “winner” is just bragging rights. Which likely won’t last very long.
  • What do you know? Canon cameras operate like Canon cameras. Sony cameras operate like Sony cameras, though Sony has been reworking the menus and controls lately. I’ve written this before, too: if you have to think about where a control is or how to make a feature active, you just missed the photographic moment. It’s why on critical assignments I use two of the exact same camera, not mixed models.

You’ll notice that I’ve made no reference to dynamic range. No reference to 45mp versus 60mp. No reference to “color fidelity” (whatever that is). No reference to a lot of things that come up in the X versus Y discussions. Why? Because these things rarely are inherently useful in differentiating which product to buy. Moreover, "what’s best” changes constantly. 

What I might mention that’s useful is whether or not the lenses you want to use long term are available or will become available (though again both cameras could likely adapt lenses you might already have). But even there, I need to repeat a relative of the third bullet: betting against Canon, Nikon, Sony, and even the L Alliance to fill out a lens set in the next few years would be a bad bet. All the mounts will eventually fill with plenty of choices, just as they did in the film era and the DSLR era.

Finally one other thing I’ve mentioned before: in marketing, confusing the potential buyer with lots of choices and small feature/performance differences means that someone—typically the sales person the customer interacts with—can steer them to a particular item they really want to sell. If you don’t know that those sales people are incentivized from time to time with dollars, goods, or travel, then you’ll certainly fall prey of buying what someone else wants you to buy. 

Key takeaways:

  1. Think of the entire photographic “system” you’re assembling, not a single item like a camera body. 
  2. You’re being “steered” towards decisions by FOMO, bragging rights, and incentivized sales people (to which I’d add YouTubers and more). 
  3. What’s “best” today won’t be tomorrow, whether that be a system, camera model, or feature.
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