November 2020 Quick summary: I recommend the latest iPhone 12 Pro, Pixel 5, or Samsung Galaxy S20. If you make prints and they are not the quality you want or if you need to interchange lenses to get a focal length not possible with the phone, then a standalone camera system would be the next step. Otherwise, the latest phones should be enough camera for most people.
I’m currently shooting with a Google Pixel 3a, Canon RP, and Canon M6II. I’m considering adding a Lumix S5.
December 2019 If you are considering buying a Full Frame system read this page about the Camera Market Health since fire sales and rapid depreciation happen sporadically.
First, determine what type of photography you like to do. If you like fast moving animals, sports, then FPS (frames per second) and cutting edge AF (autofocus) may be important criteria for you. If landscapes are your thing then resolution and dynamic range may be more important. If you want the best video quality and options then the Lumix GH5 or Lumix S5 should be considered.
Second, determine the size of the prints you want to make and how critical you are regarding resolution. If you like large enlargements 20×30 or larger then a full frame camera would be your best bet. If you don’t plan on printing any enlargements larger than 12×18 you can really buy into any system or just use your phone. If you’re not too picky about resolution, a 24 or 32.5 megapixel APS-C sensor should be good enough for 20″x30″ enlargements.
Third, determine your budget. In general, APS-C sensored cameras are less expensive than full frame sensored cameras.
Fourth, watch Youtube and read online reviews to get an idea of what reviewers think. To really zero in on a specific brand and model it really takes field work. A brick and mortar camera store like bandh in New York can do about 60% of that field work. There is no substitute for having the camera in your hands. As soon as I grabbed the new Lumix DC S1 I knew immediately it wasn’t the camera for me. Way too heavy!
But how many people live close to a camera store with each brand and model on display for customers to pick up and shoot with? I’d guess most camera consumers buy based on reviews and recommendations from Amazon, bandh, dpreview, and some other sites. If they already have a system they may be more inclined to buy that brand. Another option is to rent through lensrentals, borrowlenses, etc. before buying. I don’t recommend buying into a camera system before you trying it out.
If you want to shoot continuously for 2 seconds or more then the M system is not for you. The buffer fills up on the M3, M5, M6, and M50 after 1.5-3 seconds and the camera slows down to almost a total halt where more exposures are not possible until the buffer clears. Buffer clearing can take several seconds. Sports, action, wildlife, wedding, or other similar types of photography will not be compatible with this system. A Canon 90D, 7D Mark II or Nikon D500 will work well. Full Frames systems will also work well.
This is how I decided what cameras to shoot with.
In late 2018 I bought all the Canon Pro level cameras: 5D Mark IV, 7D Mark II, 5Dsr, and the EOS R. I went on a road trip across the US and shot extensively at the Grand Tetons. I ended up selling all these bodies and sticking with a Canon M3, M50, M6 Mark II, and the 6D Mark II and eventually only my M6 Mark II. Why? I didn’t need the resolution of the 5Dsr and the exposure latitude was just too narrow. The color was also different than the 5D Mark IV. I realized I didn’t like taking pix of animals so the 7D Mark II didn’t make any sense since I didn’t need the extra reach of the 1.6 crop sensor since animals didn’t really interest me, nor did I want to lose any resolution. The 5D Mark IV was the best DSLR I’ve ever used by far, but is really much more camera than I need. I didn’t need the multiple AF features and missed a tilting screen. The EOS R seemed like the perfect camera for me but I had several problems with it and really didn’t like the UI. So after a 6 month evaluation, I stuck with the M3, M50, 6D Mark II and eventually only my M6 Mark II. Since my iphone X died after shooting for 20 minutes in the rain, I bought a Google Pixel 3a for $349 and have been really happy with it. In Jan 2020 I picked up a Canon RP but haven’t shot that much with it yet.
I needed the tilting screen of the EOS R and a ladder to get this shot.
I’m a big fan of the Canon M series, specifically the M6 Mark II. That doesn’t mean these are the best cameras for all photographers. I’ve used the M3 extensively in all weather conditions and it has never failed me after thousands of actuations. The 12×18 prints are outstandingly sharp and the color amazingly accurate. I imagine you are reading this since the M series is at least under consideration. I had a M5 and M6 but was disappointed when the 9 frames per second advertised didn’t indicate that this was only possible for 1.5-2.5 seconds and when the buffer fills the camera screeches to a halt. I sold them both and went back to my M3. I picked up the M50 for video and the flip out screen. I’m currently shooting with the M6 Mark II and RP though I’m probably going to buy a Lumix S5 this year since the L mount lenses from Sigma and Panasonic all look compelling. The Canon R6 looks pretty good, but I’m still leaning toward the S5, Sigma 105, Lumix 20-60, and use an adaptor for my EF L telephotos.
I’d recommend buying cameras in this order:
- The latest iPhone 12 Pro, Google Pixel 5, or equivalent Samsung. By far the camera I use the most is my Google Pixel 3a. I plan to buy the new iPhone 12 Pro or the Google Pixel 4a 5G. Check the enlargement quality and if good enough you should be able to get by with just your phone. If you want higher quality enlargements or if you want to change lenses, then buy
- An APS-C sensored mirrorless camera – The Canon M6 Mark II ($849 body only) is my recommendation. An entire Canon M system with 3 lenses will only cost $1300, so as much as the latest smart phone. The Nikon Z50 should also be considered. Same price and it’s well reviewed. If you plan to enlarge images to 20×30 and larger, and are unhappy with the image quality of your iPhone, M6II, or Z50 at that size, then I recommend a
- Full Frame camera – DSLR: Canon 6D Mark II or 5D Mark IV or RP, R5, or R6. A Nikon D850, Z6II or Z7II, and Lumix S5 should also be considered. I really did not like the EOS R after shooting with it for 4 months but usability is very subjective so you might want to try it for yourself. Buy a FF camera only if you enlarge your prints larger than 12×18 and are unhappy with your phone and APS-C resolution since the cost, weight, and bulk are significantly greater compared to any phone or the M line. You can own both systems and use in different situations. This is what I do. When the shoot is close to the car I use full frame cameras. If not, then I use my M system. If I don’t have my M with me, I use my phone.
What about the other brands?
Nikon: In January 2020, Nikon introduced the Z50, a Z mount APS-C camera. Read about my experience with Nikon. I’m on the fence about this. They make some great cameras and lenses but will they be around in 10 years? Used Nikon gear depreciates so much faster and steeper than Canon it makes it difficult to buy new Nikon gear.
Sony: Sony looks great spec wise, but the UI and usability of their cameras is terrible. I owned the A6000 and A7R and hated both. The usability, UI, menu structure, and feel of the a6000 in my hand was like it was designed by an engineer, not a UI UX human factors photographer. I hated it. This is subjective, so try for yourself. Note that there is an A6100, A6300, A6500 and A6700 available now but the UI and body design is the same. The full frame Sonys: A7, A7s, and A7r line are all in the fourth generation so they’re much better than the first generation I used. The r is for high resolution. The s is for high speed, so depending on what your requirements are, you can buy accordingly. I bought an A7r but sold it after 2 months. I hated the images and I hated shooting with it. It has this shutter shock or shaking of the camera when the shutter is released. I bought it used and thought it was broken, but it turned out that’s the way they were designed! Clearly a design flaw that should have never been shipped. The images I got were so far off in color I had to move the ACR sliders to the extreme right or left to get adequate results. Uggghhh. However, they are very popular cameras and the A6000 and A7 line look great spec wise, but actually using the camera and photoshopping the images, I hated them. There are some things that don’t come across well in print or youtube reviews. Usability is one of them. A youtube review might be better, but usability is really personal preference and you won’t know until you actually hold it in your hand, shoot with it, and then photoshop the RAW files.
Olympus – Should the $4.9 billion scandal and corruption influence consumer buying decisions? Hmmm… Price points from $700-$2000 with a compelling feature set and lens selection, but the µ4/3 sensor size turns me off since I’m 90% stills 10% video and the M series uses a larger APS-C sensor. I’d buy Fuji before Olympus. June 2020 update: After losing money 10 of the last 12 years, Olympus is selling off their photo imaging division to a liquidator so definitely avoid this brand as they won’t be around anymore. According to NikkeiAsia, Olympus could be foreshadowing what will happen in the future with other camera manufacturers.
Panasonic – A µ4/3 sized sensor but the GH4 and GH5 are outstanding cameras for 4K and 2K video. I shoot mostly stills and didn’t want a sensor smaller than an APS-C. If I did mostly video I would probably use a GH5. In 2020 they introduced the S5 which looks like a winner in its category of around $2000 for the body. The high res still mode and video specs all look amazing. I plan on buying one in 2020. The L mount lenses from Sigma and Lumix make a compelling argument to buy into an L mount system as well as the Sigma FP and Lumix S5.
Fuji – This is the brand that I would most likely be shooting if I wasn’t shooting Canon. APS-C sensor, good design, lots of lenses. The main reason to avoid is the price of a Fuji system is approximately twice that of the Canon M series. By the time you get an XT-3 you can go full frame with a Canon RP. Note Fuji doesn’t have a full frame mirrorless line for the XT to cannibalize sales from. One area of concern is the dpreview image quality comparison I thought the XT-3 had significantly lower image quality than the M series.
Canon – My recommendation: Canon M50II and M6 Mark II. Price. Performance. Lenses. IQ. Customer service. Usability. UI. The M50II is only $650 with a lens. The M6 Mark II is only $850 for the body. Upgrade to full frame with the Canon R5, R6, RP or Nikon Z6II or Z7II, or Lumix S5 if you want 24×36 or larger images. You can buy a non Canon DSLR or mirrorless even if you own a M system. The same branded system doesn’t get you much except flashes and remotes are usually interchangeable. EF lenses are usable with an adaptor but I would only do this if there was an EF lens you wanted to use that wasn’t available in the EF-M mount like the 100 F2.8 Macro.
Sept 2019 the M6 Mark II was announced and back in Feb 2018 the Canon M50 was announced with 4k video, Digic 8, fully articulated screen, etc so Canon is clearly dedicated to the M line for the future. Moreover, Canon shifts focus from SLR to mirrorless cameras explains the company’s thinking about shifting focus more towards mirrorless and away from DSLRs since that’s the way the market is moving. Still, I hope that they would double the number of EF-M lenses available. Fast primes, fast wide zooms, fast standard zooms, and fast long zooms would all be great additions. L quality glass would be a welcome surprise too.
12.24.19 I ended up selling the 6D Mark II in Nov 2019. In the mean time I’m loving my M6II and until I go to another US national park don’t think I’ll even want a full frame system with me. Currently I’m holding off on buying a FF body and my EF lenses are idle while I shoot my M6II and EF-M lenses.
1.9.2020 I bought a used Canon RP for $800. Haven’t used it much but like it better than the EOS R.
4.9.2020 haven’t used the RP at all. With the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t been shooting pix at all 😦
10.15.2020 Seriously considering the new Lumix S5 and 20-60 $2300, Sigma 105 f2.8 Macro $800, Sigma 85 f1.4 $1200, and maybe some Panasonic primes. The L mount Sigma Art lenses look pretty cool, though I don’t really need the speed so may opt for the new Lumix primes and a telephoto zoom. Might mount it on a DJI RSC2 for $499. Bought the RF 24–105mm F4-7.1 IS STM for $225 on eBay today. The RP with this lens is pretty compelling. No sense getting a APS C camera like the XT-4, or a m4/3 GH5 if you can get a RP and lens for $1000 on sale! This will get you into the RF mount which has some compelling lenses currently and on the horizon. Of course if video is the main focus, then the S5 would be the best choice. The full frame mirrorless market is really filled out now with the Canon RP, R5, R6, Nikon Z5, Z6II, Z7II, Sony A7 series, Lumix S1, S1R, S1H, S5. The overall market will continue to shrink but at least there are some compelling cameras that should make people on the fence jump in and buy one. Canon and Lumix may follow Nikon’s S50 by putting an APS-C sensor in their mirrorless full frame mount. Lumix with their 20-60 don’t even have to make any specific lenses for it if they decide to go that route. Either low or high end or both for an APS-C sensored body. I can see both Canon and Lumix doing this. Canon can slowly phase out their APS-C DSLRs in favor of the RF mount bodies. Lumix would be tougher since they have the m4/3 line. It wouldn’t make any sense to support a m4/3, APS-C, and a full frame line. However, they could introduce a low end and high end S5 body based with an APS-C sensor. Lumix seems to have the best video of all the players and the price of the S5 with the 20-60 seems like a great deal.
Though you may buy a FF camera system, I still recommend keeping the M system since for travel, hiking, and a walk around camera it is amazing.
I wouldn’t stress too much about buying the perfect camera system since your needs may change anyways. You can always sell on cl, ebay, offerup, and Amazon and buy something else. The cameras in phones are getting so good that buying the latest generation should be the first priority. I expect 2020 to the be the turning point where the iPhone 12 Pro and Pixel 5 start to take over not only whatever is left of the point and shoot category but also entry level DSLRs and entry level mirrorless. The inclusion of the RAW stills and video file format will be a big step towards replacing a standalone camera. Even potato jet loves the video from his iPhone 11 and now the iPhone 12 Pro is available.