My Long Journey to Find the Best Camera(s) for Personal Use

Like many parents I take a lot of photographs of my family, when I am on vacation, or when I go to one of my daughters' school events.  Many times my iPhone 6 becomes my camera of choice because it is the only camera I have with me.  

I HATE the saying "the best camera is the one you have with you."  It isn't the best camera, it is the only camera ... BIG DIFFERENCE.  Many times the only camera delivers very poor results because of poor lighting, the wrong lens focal length, or poor autofocus, etc..

So I began a search to find a camera that was small enough that I wouldn't mind taking it with me and powerful enough to take quality images. 

Let me say up front, I am professional photographer and I shoot with the Nikon D4, Nikon D750, and the Nikon D810.  These cameras are the BEST on the planet, but they, when coupled with their big lenses,  weigh a ton, and are big and bulky.  Not a big deal when I am shooting professionally, but when I am on vacation, going to my daughter's recital, or at a friend's wedding, I don't want one of these monster cameras over my shoulder. 

I purchased the FUJI X-100 when it was introduced in 2010.  The images were beautiful.  I thought I had found my personal use camera.  But the autofocus was so slow that I was missing shots.  I sold it after about a year.  

In 2012 I bought the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is a nice camera.  It has fast autofocus, it is lightweight, it has a very good selection of lenses to choose from, and the image quality is better than a point and shoot, but not quite as good as the Fuji X100.  in early 2013 I bought the FUJI X100S, it has improved autofocus compared to the X100 and the image quality is even better.  I took both cameras with me on vacation to Seattle back in 2013.  One day I used the X100S and the next I used the E-M5.  Both cameras produced very nice images, but the FUJI X100S images were special.  

The Olympus OM-D EM1, The Nikon D4, and the Fuji XT-1 with their 50MM Equivalent lenses. 

The Olympus OM-D EM1, The Nikon D4, and the Fuji XT-1 with their 50MM Equivalent lenses. 

In late 2013 Olympus announced the Olympus OM-D E-M1.  Olympus improved the autofocus, handling, and image quality of the OM-D E-M5.  I bought it.  It is a great camera.  But the image quality was still not the equal to the FUJI X100S especailly in low light / high ISO situations.  

In February 2014 Fuji introduces the FUJI X-T1.  The same sensor as the X100S, but with a camera body that provides faster autofocus and interchangeable lenses wrapped in a beautifully designed camera body.   

I recently sold my Olympus OM-D E-M1.  I found myself reaching for the Fuji X100s or XT-1 over the Olympus. It was collecting dust and I couldn't justify keeping it.  

On the Fuji side I have the 18-55MM F2.8 - F4.0 zoom lens.  This is a very sharp zoom lens and is has images stabilization.  I also bought the Fuji 35MM F1.4 (50mm equivalent) lens, a super sharp lens.  I have  the Fuji 10MM - 24MM F4.0 lens.  On a few occasion I have used my Fuji X-T1 with the 10-24MM lens in lieau of my big, heavy Nikon 14-28MM F2.8 lens on professional jobs when lighting is good enough.  The other nice thing about the Fuji is the tilt screen LCD.  When you want to take the high or low shots, the tilt screen comes in handy.  I just added to my collection the Fuji 55-200MM F3.5 to F4.8 image stabilized lens. 

My current stable of personal use cameras:  Fuji X100S, Canon S110, and the Fuji XT-1

My current stable of personal use cameras:  Fuji X100S, Canon S110, and the Fuji XT-1

There are times when I want a pocketable camera and the Fujis are too big, and the iPhone 6 is just not good enough.  For those times I have a Canon S110. IT FITS IN YOUR PANTS POCKET.   It shoots RAW, it has a fast F2.0 lens at the wide end that zooms from 24MM to 120MM, it has a touch screen, has a built in lens cap and it takes decent pictures in good light.  When you don't want to carry a camera around your neck, this is the camera.  Canon has since introduced the Canon S120 which provides a slightly faster lens than the Canon S110.

I tried the Sony RX100, it produces nicer images, but is a bit bulkier and not as usable. I have owned a couple of Sony cameras and I just don't like their user interface.   I also tried the Canon G7X. It has a larger sensor, a tilt screen and is a bit larger and heavier than the Canon S110, but still pocketable.  I just thought the images were soft so I returned it.  The other thing I like about the Canon S110 is that the images are only 12 megapixels vs. 20 megapixels for the Sony RX100 line and the Canon G7X. More pixels mean smaller pixels, more noise and bigger files.  Quality, not quantity, is the key when it comes to pixels.  The one inch sensors in the Canon G7X and the Sony RX100 line are almost three times as large as the Canon S110/S120 but the pixel size is only 59% larger. 

The Canon S110 fits in a relatively tight jean pocket!!!

The Canon S110 fits in a relatively tight jean pocket!!!

If I had to pick one camera for personal use it would probably be the Fuji XT-1 because it delivers beautiful images, a wide selection of lenses, in a reasonable size and weight.  For those times I don't want to carry any camera, I always have my iPhone (better than nothing). 

Nikon vs. Canon DSLR Review

Here we go.  There is nothing that can stir emotions among photographers like the debate as to which professional digital SLR is better - Canon or Nikon.

I started using Canon DSLRs back in 2002.  I plunked down $5000 for a 4 megapixel Canon 1D.  It was worth every penny.  It was fast, rugged, great autofocus and the picture quality was outstanding (relatively speaking for 2002).  The Canon lenses were all top notch.  I bought the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 200mm F1.8 (what a great piece of glass), 85mm F1.2, 100mm F2.0, 50mm F1.4, and the 24mm F1.4.  All great lenses and combined with the 1D bodies they really created some great photos with the help of the photographer.

I bought the Canon 1DS, the Canon 1D Mark II, the Canon 1DS Mark II, and the Canon 1D Mark III.  These were all great cameras for their time and Canon was the clear leader over Nikon for low noise, high ISO images and they were the only manufacture with a full frame 35mm camera with the 1DS models.

Nikon had the 1.5 cropped sensor, and their high ISO performance was always a step behind Canon.

In 2007 everything changed.  Nikon introduced the 12 megapixel, full frame, high ISO (low noise up to 6400 ISO), rugged, great autofocus Nikon D3. 

During this time Canon introduced the Canon 1DS Mark III which took the pixel count over 21mp and only slightly improved the high ISO capabilities of the Canon 1DS Mark II. The Canon 1D Mark III was a great camera ... 10mp, 1.3 cropped senor with respectable high ISO up to 3200.  Many users reported autofocus problems with the Canon 1D Mark III, but I never really experienced that.  Many Canon users started using the Canon 5D ... a full frame 13mp camera in a pro-sumer body.  The problem with the 5D was its autofocus system.  It was basically the same system as found in the consumer level Canon 40D model.  The focus points were tightly bunched in the middle of the finder and they weren't as sensitive or accurate as their Canon 1D big brother, leading to a lot of out of focus shots.  In good light this camera produced great images, but if you were photograping moving subjects in poor light you were in trouble.  Canon then came out with the 5D Mark II which took the pixel count over 21mp and improved the high ISO performance, but the autofocus system was still pro-sumer and the 21mp was overkill for what I needed.

As a photojournalist and wedding photographer 12mp is the sweet spot for resolution.  The images are big enough to allow you to enlarge photographs up to 24 x 36, yet small enough as not to fill up CF cards and hard drives quickly and take longer to process on my Mac.

I bought the Nikon D3 for $5000 in 2007 to replace my Canon 1DS Mark II.  The Canon 1DS Mark III was $8000 and 21mp (overkill for me) and the ISO performance was two stops worse than the D3.  Then I bought the Nikon 14-24 and the Nikon 24-70 lenses.  Both lenses were newly introduced and were amazingly sharp.

I used the Nikon D3 along side the Canon 1D Mark III for about 6 months.  When Nikon introduced the Nikon D700 in the summer of 2008 I made the switch to Nikon 100%.  I bought the  70-200mm F2.8, 50mm F1.4, 85mm F1.4, and the 16mm fisheye to go along with my other 14-24mm and my 24-70mm lenses. The D700 was about $2,700 and had the same exact full frame image senor and autofocus system as in the D3 in a slightly smaller and lighter body. 

I also bought a few Nikon SB800 flashes and later the SB900 flash.  I have no hard core testing on this, but the Nikon flashes seem to be more accurate and the iTTL system seems to work much better and easier than the Canon wireless flash system.

After I switched to the Nikon system the number of keepers for a wedding went up by 25%.  My in-focus and properly exposed shots were much higher with the Nikon.  Maybe I became a much better photographer, but it seems like quite a coincidence. 

Come forward to 2010 ... Canon has introduced its 15mp, 1.3 cropped sensor 1D Mark IV with better high ISO, but still a stop or so worse than the new full frame, 12mp, Nikon D3s that was introduced in late 2009. Canon doesn't seem to get it.  Give your customers better ISO and a full frame camera, and stop trying to cram more pixels into a cropped sensor. 

Nikon has introduced a new 70-200mm F2.8 that is just amazing.  I shoot it wide open and it produces wonderfully sharp images.  Canon also introduced a new 70-200 that I am sure is also excellent.

In terms of lenses, both Nikon and Canon have a great lineup ... you won't go Canon or Nikon because of the lenses.

If you doing landscapes or in-studio portraits, you can't go wrong with either system.  If your on the go and working in low light conditions, Nikon, IMO, gives you the best option.