Does the Camera Brand Matter?

Buying a camera and or owning a camera system says as much about a person’s character as the partner, pet, car or house the person has. Deciding which camera or system to shoot with is in fact a highly intimate, deeply personal choice that’s quite meaningful to read and understand a person’s character. You shoot mirrorless? A Leica? Still film? Says something about you.

First though, let’s flog a dead horse. Right, “My camera’s bigger than yours,” as this excerpt from hilarious Veep illustrates, with “Jonah,” world’s largest single-cell living being, boasting he has the bigger and therefore better camera:

That argument is settled in a few seconds. Jonah, the West Wing guy ridiculed by everyone, knows as much about photography as about what women like. Not that a 1D diminishes a male predator’s chances. It’s just that the “size matters” argument is used by the same idiots — or salesmen — who pretend that one system is significantly better than the other in basic quality.

I’m not talking about specialty photography requiring a specific tool or format to get the job done. Today each and every camera company makes equally excellent bodies and lenses at similar price points delivering the virtually same technical quality in each format.

If you choose your camera based on brand recognition solely you might miss out on ergonomics, features and handling that deliver an overall more satisfying shooting experience, not to mention that you most likely couldn’t tell the difference between photographs shot with this or any other camera. Cameras today are not about huge advantages in image quality, they’re about individual preferences and personal style.

Camera Conundrum | Philip Bloom
Camera Conundrum | Philip Bloom

Right, the higher up the food chain the more complex and secret the color matrices and algorithms become that let each of a industry player’s cameras deliver results. Cameras today, however, even of some smartphones, deliver more precision than most people ever need. Just have a look at Nikon Precision, they produce lenses and mechanics resolving at 45 nanometers, that’s less than 1/10th of a wavelength of visible light. Over 10,000 lines per millimeter. And we complain about soft corners.

As Canon, Nikon is first and foremost an optical company and a electronics and camera company second. Cameras are a byproduct so to say. Same is true for Sony and in parts Panasonic — with one big difference though: their imaging divisions are “innovating” at a steadier pace because the physical constraints of light can’t be ignored. It’s up to electronics and software to conquer the next level.

Canon and Nikon build on more traditional strengths. But then again, what’s the point of ever more sensitive and capable digital imagers when we’re not even able to see what’s right before our tip of the nose. We dream about the next generation of imaging technology, yet we’re blind to the most obvious stuff in plain view.

In photographic terms, what matters is that whatever camera maker’s products you buy, they all deliver the same quality images within the same price range and format. What, you see differences in noise and resolution? On the computer screen. For the normal human eye these differences are so negligible you have to forcibly strain yourself to see them with those extraterrestrial test charts.

Most differences we’re told they exist are a blown up illusion created by desktop warriors and the industry players forcing us into the vicious cycle of upgrading for the sake of expenditure. In the end a pixel costs nearly a cent, not counting the missed opportunity of improving one’s photography by dreaming of a camera that doesn’t exist yet instead of using the one collecting dust in the drawer.

Whatever differences entice fora to praise this or denounce that camera, in the dynamics of the real world those differences are invisible and therefore don’t exist.

Moral of the story:

Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, etc., they’re all an excellent choice, all make superior products. Only you can determine which is best for you.

Buy the camera you can afford, that suits your needs and you like to hold, look at and feel the most comfortable to shoot with.

  • There’s a strange cognitive dissonance in this post. One one hand you talk of highly personal choice. OTH you state that mostly camera companies achieve the same results. I don’t deny that most buy a fetish, instead of a functional tool, or perhaps both.
    With age I am becoming indifferent to the fetish, and I keep my system for the only reason that it would be too expensive to start another one.
    Marketing depts. prey on our insecurities, but more and more I tend to see that I could have done the same errors with any camera.

  • Andy Umbo

    There are actually legitimate differences in camera systems. How they “auto-correct” color, how their settings work, the mechanics, etc. One has to pick systems based on doing their research and testing, if one does not already own vast numbers of their lenses. I shoot Nikon solely because they have multiple bodies that shoot .tiff., but I find many problems with the system, such as poor color, and sharpening controls that have to be turned way up to even get close to film standards. Sure, you can fix it all in “post”, but why not get as close as you can, a simple task for people who spent their lives shooting transparency. I’m currently testing M4/3rd’s, solely because you can shoot multiple aspect rations, and as a long time professional view camera user I’ve always hated the 3:2 of 35mm. I’ve also heard from professionals, that they consider the native camera files from Canon cameras to look more like color neg, and Nikon to look more like color transparency. Again, something you can “fix” in post, but why not get close.

  • Not sure how valid this argument still is today, Andy. Auto Tone, a function in Photoshop I regularly use, but don’t apply, gives an initial impression how much color’s off. It goes without saying that it’s only a calculated value, but the results mostly please the eye. I have to say with the newest generation of cameras Auto Tone has largely become obsolete. Most of today’s serious cameras just nail it. Well I’m not a nitpicker, it goes without saying that different cameras render a same situation differently, yet “interpretation” is always and will always be at the heart of photography. There is no such thing as ultimate accuracy, only preference. Smaller formats have come a long way and no doubt they do all the jobs requested. As said again and again on THEME, attempting to find the perfect image quality is a bottomless pit. Use what pleases and suits you. Also, I’m often left with a feeling that the smaller sensors lead to “flatter” images. There’s only so much light and even “space” they can suck in. The width of the front lens element says something about the final results. You’re right Andy, many factors to consider. Happy the photographer who knows what suits him/her best.