Cameras Specs Aren't Everything
Around this time every year there are new camera releases inciting feelings of excitement and desire from pro photographers and enthusiasts alike. Last year Canon and Nikon introduced their new mirrorless offerings. Shortly after, Panasonic followed suit and all the new gear potential was the talk of town for months. This year Sony announced their new A7R IV and forums came to life breaking down the specs with many very excited about the new offering. A camera with great specs is nice to have don’t get me wrong, but specs aren’t everything. Let’s discuss.
First, before we begin. What you or someone else chooses to do with their money is their business. My point of this post isn’t to tell anyone what to do with their hard earned money. Instead, it’s to highlight specs aren’t everything and to make you ask the question: “Do I really need it?”
The Fuji GFX 100
What truly inspired me to write this post came about as I was doing a bit of gear lusting over the Fuji GFX 100 a few months ago. Talk about a beast of a camera. A 100 megapixel medium format camera with fast autofocus and image stabilization. It’s downright drool worthy. Leading up to its release there were all sorts of videos covering the camera in depth and speculating about the features and how photographers would benefit from it. From an engineering standpoint, Fuji threw everything at this camera. So if you were just judging your purchase of a camera off the spec sheet alone, you’d instantly want one.
But once reviews started to hit, a different picture was painted besides the “Mona Lisa-esque” praise the camera was getting before.
Some reviews had some negative criticisms like:
The portrait grip felt odd compared to the landscape grip. It’s also untextured and slippery in the hand
Rear controls are too small
No reason for a Micro HDMI port when a full size one could have fit
Alloy finish is prone to scuffs and feels plasticky
AF tracking is hit or miss, as is eye AF
Touchscreen can’t be used to navigate the menu system
Then I came across a wonderful user review on B&H’s website. The user, Michael, wrote quite a lengthy review but I wanted to pull some of the highlights:
“I really like the GFX 100, but I wish it were even better. I have had the camera for 2 months now, I shot 3 campaigns and another dozen models and catalogs. First, it is the most advanced modern camera I have used. The features are incredible. As a mostly Canon (5DS, 5D Mark IV) and Hasselblad digital (H4D, X1D) shooter for 13+ years, I have been jealous of the features I have seen with companies like Sony. I now feel like I have those modern features like IBIS stabilization and Eye tracking Focus. These features sometimes work amazing. But at other times I am baffled that features like the eye tracking do not seem to work at all. Constantly, the eye tracking is working amazing for 30 seconds, then nothing changes and it doesn't work at all.”
“The autofocus in general is fantastic for medium format. Night and day difference between my older Hasselblad H series camera and much much faster than my Hasselblad X1D camera. And when it works, it it better/faster than many Canons. But the GFX100 is also glitchy. I am not sure if others are experiencing this and I am going to call Fuji. But I cannot figure out why I cannot always accurately move the focus dot on the subject's eye when needed.”
“Colors have been a huge issue with this camera as I have been struggling with finding color profiles I really like. Fuji, in a very cool way, has put in all their old films (Provia, Astia, Velvia, etc) as color profiles that you can choose from. It is kind of awesome. But it also isn't working well enough. I am mainly shooting tethered with Capture One and having difficulty getting poppy accurate colors for clothing with nice skin tones. My digital tech and I have been trying to mess with a lot of settings, but I am finding it harder than with Canon or Hasselblad. With my Hasselblad, we literally just set the color balance from a card and a contrast of like 6, and my clients are think I am mostly very accurate on most clothing pieces. But the Fuji is tough with me struggling on both clothing colors and skin tones.”
Keep in mind, this is one user’s review and I’m sure countless others are having a blast with the camera. Michael does state how much he loves the camera, but his criticisms should be noted for any potential buyers. His criticisms also highlight something often glossed over in camera reviews. Things such as usability in a working, professional environment (not shooting charts in a room), color accuracy, user interface, bugs, etc.
And if reviewers REALLY want you to buy a particular camera, for all that affiliate money goodness, they’ll gloss right over obvious flaws in their review. It’s misleading and can be costly if your G.A.S. gets the best of you.
Also, I’m not taking a dig at the GFX 100. I understand the benefits of medium format versus 35mm. I understand the value of the camera versus much more expensive options from Hasselblad and Phase One.
I think it’s an amazing camera, but the specs alone shouldn’t be a reason you go out and buy one despite how camera companies market them. You may be better served with a lower cost option or even the gear you currently have. The grass is always greener on the other side, until you realize there’s poop in it.
A Pro’s Perspective
If you’re a professional, the general idea is that you want equipment that’s reliable and delivers what you need for the type of work you do. Upgrading to the latest and greatest can be either a great move or quite costly for your business. It’s great if Canon releases a new camera, but do any of the RAW convertors you use support it yet? Do the new features make you more efficient or are they more costly for your business? 45 Megapixels is great but those file sizes aren’t if you do any sort of volume work. Better stock up on hard drives. And do you print anything large enough to need 45 Megapixels?
Years ago, when Nikon released their now legendary, D700, it became one of the main go-to cameras for event photographers. It was an instant favorite of many for its combination of speed, image quality, and reliability. Even now those cameras fetch a nice price on the used market. When new cameras came out, many people didn’t even bother to upgrade since the newer options didn’t offer them anything significant over what they had.
I found myself in a similar boat when I was considering upgrading from the Canon 5D Mark III to the 5D Mark IV. I didn’t need all the new features, regardless of Canon touting their spec sheet. So I kept right along with my 5D Mark III for years until it finally failed on me.
If what I have is working and is enjoyable to use, it’s going to be hard to convince me to switch and/or upgrade based on specs alone. This is more of a professional and business owner’s perspective.
If you’re a hobbyist, your perspective may be quite different. If you care to engage in online forums regarding your new toy then buying the latest and greatest is a huge bragging point for you. Not judging, just saying your need for it is different from a level headed professional’s.
I personally buy on image quality, usability (i.e., ergonomics), color, and reliability. Your purchasing choices may be much different. I don’t need the fastest autofocus available, but if you’re a sports shooter, it’s useful for you. I’m not carrying my gear around all day since I work in controlled environments, but if you’re an event photographer, weight may be a big selling point for you.
Horses for courses.
Let’s Look At Some Specs
Since it’s the new kid on the block, let’s look at the Sony A7R IV specs. I’m going to analyze these based on my own needs to illustrate how I may consider a purchase.
61.0 MP Image Sensor
I make large prints so 61 MPs is great. However, I also shoot a lot of images during sessions so I wouldn’t look forward to those file sizes. The S1R file sizes are already killing me so I’m not sure it’s wise to go beyond that unless there’s a considerable jump in image quality.
10 fps continuous AF/AE tracking
While impressive, I never shoot anything requiring this speed. I can’t even recall the last time I used my camera’s burst mode. It’s nice to have it, but I’m just fine with 4-5 fps.
567 Phase-Detection AF points covering 74% of the frame
Great autofocusing is definitely useful. And I’m sure Sony’s autofocusing is much better than Panasonic’s. Probably even better than Nikon’s and Canon’s at this point. I mainly use single point when I’m shooting, but it’s great to have reliable and fast autofocus performance nonetheless. What I have now is more than enough so this doesn’t sway me.
The highest ISO I’ve ever shot on a camera is 6400. I wouldn’t go near 32000 unless the files are very clean. But since I’m never in low light conditions which such extreme demands, this spec falls flat for me.
Updated Grip Holding
You know I’m all about ergonomics, so this is a plus for the a7R IV. Sony really has to work on their ergonomics for these small cameras. Hopefully it’s much improved over previous models and will be a step in the right direction.
Real-time Eye AF for Sill / Movie / Human / Animal
I’ve yet to understand the hype around eye AF. I’ve tried it and didn’t like it. It’s not something I use so it doesn’t sell me on the camera.
APS-C Crop Mode (26 MPs)
This is useful for me. And I hope the APS-C Crop Mode gives you a normal view in the viewfinder and not a zoomed in view like on the Nikon Z7. I loved using APS-C Crop Mode on the Nikon D810/D850 so i could get a smaller file size when doing volume work. I think it should be a standard feature for all of these high-megapixel cameras. It’s like having two cameras in one. So kudos Sony on this one.
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting up to 240 MP
This is a cool feature. I think if you’re a product/macro photographer you’ll love it. I’m neither so I don’t need it.
Now that’s interesting. If it’s full-resolution and fast, that could be a game changer. I can’t wait for all tethering to go wireless. The cord seems antiquated these days. But if it’s sluggish and or unreliable I’m not sure it will be a big selling point.
Size of the Body
While this isn’t on the spec sheet, I do like the diminutive nature of the Sony A7 bodies. So that’s a plus over the larger Panasonic bodies if you value a more compact size. If I was an event photographer cameras such as this or Nikon’s Z lineup would be right up my alley.
Also tethered shooting on Sony cameras are lightyears beyond the Panasonic lineup at this time. So +1 point for that!
If I had no camera at all, I would seriously consider the A7R IV. But when compared to the Panasonic S1R I already have or the Nikon Z7 I had, I don’t see a pressing need to switch. Image quality wise all three will be comparable. A lot of the extra features I never use. And the 40 megapixel range of the S1R and Z7 is perfect for me. Unless I’m shooting medium format, I see no need for anything 35mm camera past 50 megapixels at this time. Also, I prefer Panasonic’s colors to Sony so that’s yet another reason for staying put.
I’m guilty as anyone of buying things I don’t need. Especially when it comes to camera gear. I’ve wasted so much money on the latest and greatest gear over the years. Heck I even bought a 1Ds Mark III years ago when it was first released for $10,000! Buying, selling, then rebuying gear all over again it’s crazy. No longer. I have a rule now that my gear must last me a minimum of 2 years. I won’t switch to anything else unless it considerably speeds up my workflow or it is leaps and bounds better in terms of image quality and/or usability.
It feels good for new things to come out and not be swayed to grab my credit card like an addict.
Specs aren’t everything. Embrace what you have and really consider the need for something new before you commit to the purchase. Perhaps that money’s better spent on education, traveling, a cool project, retouching, or just to take a loved one to dinner.
Just a thought.
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