Seeing What's in Focus

An InBox question made me realize that no one is really helping you with regards to depth of field these days.

Of course, no one was really helping you before, either. ;~)

Let’s start with the film era. The lens had a focus scale on it, usually with DOF markings. The “drill” was to set your exposure so you knew your aperture, then look at the ring on the lens and see what “was in focus.”

Uh, no.

First off, that focus scale was produced via some form of Zeiss-style calculations. The Zeiss method is just one of several theories about depth of field, and is based upon likely perception of differences by a human with certain eyesight at a certain distance on a particular-sized print. As if to rub salt in the wound, the Japanese lens makers used wierd rounded numbers, too. Canon for a long time used a Circle of Confusion of 0.35. Others used 0.33 or just 0.3. Some made clear math errors in their calculations at times. The Zeiss method technically should have you using 0.25 for 20/40 vision when viewing a smallish print at a modest distance. 

Now you can see why I wrote “no one was helping you before.”

But it gets worse. 

With the advent of low dispersion glass and phase detect autofocus, another thing happened: lenses started moving the focus plane slightly depending upon the temperature. If there was a scale on the lens, you might have noticed that it went past infinity. That’s because at certain temperatures, actual focused infinity was past the infinity mark on the lens. Phase detect didn’t care what the distance on the lens said, it just moved the lens so that focus was “right."

Of course, the camera makers were generous: they gave you a depth of field button on the camera so you could see a really, really dim view of the scene in a coarse focus screen which might or might not tell you what was in focus. If your eyes could adjust; which landscape photographers in bright light almost never could do. 

With helpers like the lens and camera makers, who needs enemies? ;~)

Then came DSLRs, and some new variables came into play. With the older, low pixel count cameras, you might not be resolving enough to use Zeiss-level precision, particularly since some of the early demosaic routines also did pixel assessments well beyond the Circle of Confusion Zeiss implied you should use. 

The question that came in via email was regarding using laser rulers to figure out distances, and how you’d apply what they said on the camera. 

Forgidaboutit. You bought a mirrorless camera. You have the answer already.

It’s the reason why we all want higher resolution EVFs, actually. My cameras are programmed to have a control that’s allows me to zoom in and look at focus directly at 100%. On the Nikon bodies, the lens is already stopped down if I’m using any aperture between f/1.2 to f/5.6. If I’m at f/6.3 or higher, I first flip the switch to video mode to see the active aperture results, which are honored for video. If that's not enough, I can program a button for DOF Preview. Either way, I get to look at the pixel level results in a nice bright viewfinder that can be zoomed, scrolled, and seen in any light. (Other camera makers treat apertures differently, but all the mirrorless cameras have a way of evaluating DOF in the viewfinder with magnification.)

Of course, evaluating the near and far focus point is something you'll have to practice and for which you need to develop your own standards for what’s acceptable. Still, we're better off with current mirrorless cameras than we've ever been, at least if you can trust your eyes.

Do Camera Launches Change Anything?

Today I want to talk specifically about the mid-level, full-frame offerings: Canon R6 Mark II, Nikon Z6 II, Panasonic S5, and Sony A7 Mark IV. I'm going to use those specifically to reiterate something I've been advising for quite some time.

First, look at the launch dates:

  • Panasonic S5: September 2020
  • Nikon Z6 II: October 2020
  • Sony A7 Mark IV: October 2021
  • Canon R6 Mark II: November 2022

Since we're two or more iterations in for all four models—I consider the S1 the S5 predecessor—it should be relatively easy to see that we're playing leapfrog at this camera level. Canon's simply the most recent frog to jump, and given the two-year product cycles at this level, one would expect Nikon to be preparing to jump (probably delayed due to supply issues). 

bythom frogleaps

One critical thing to notice is that the two most recent frogs to jump also increased their price. The old price point had been basically US$2000 +/-100. The new price point appears to be US$2500 +/-100. 

Anyone that's read my advice on the Internet in the last three decades—yes, I'm well into my third decade at this—knows that I favor staying with a brand rather than constantly trying to pick the frog that's leaped most recently. You can see that best right now with Sony, who's iterated their A7 four times in nine years (again, about a two-year development cycle). If you had bought the original A7 in 2013 and taken my usual advice—update every other generation—you'd be using a very versatile and absolutely competent A7 Mark III right now. The recent Mark IV (and A7R Mark V) gave you a preview of what you're likely to get when you update to an A7 Mark V in late 2023 or early 2024. I'll bet you have been, are, and will be a happy camper. 

It's when a cycle goes a little long or a company is perceived as playing catch up that the user angst sets in and I start seeing the "should I switch to X" emails begin to rise in volume. This is happening today with Nikon, who some believe have missed a Z6 III drop. 

Not really. Yes, the two-year cycle expectation would have been October 2022, but I'll bet we'll see the Z6 III before March 2023. That's not a significant change in cycle, as critical parts—typically image sensors—often push regular schedules off by as much as a year.

But even if you were to believe that the Z6 II is "getting old" and the new cameras were passing them, is that really true?

For US$500 more (at MSRP) you can get the the latest frog (Canon R6 Mark II) with the same pixel count, better still bursts, and video that's just caught up, compared to a Nikon Z6 II. Oh, and the Z6 II currently has a US$200 discount, so the difference is really US$700. We could get into more esoteric arguments about fine details between the two, but guess what, in a few months we'll be arguing about the next frog leap and those short-term arguments will have die off. 

So, no, if you're in the Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, or Sony mid-level, full frame world, the new camera launches probably don't change anything for you. At some point you bought (buy) into the brand, and then you should probably upgrade no faster than every other cycle to maximize your capability versus price over time. Using the subscription model that's so popular these days, upgrading every cycle means you're paying ~US$100 a month for your camera subscription at this level, while upgrading every other cycle is ~US$50 a month.

Where things might change for someone is if they're not at all committed to a brand right now. Those new to the market have to pick a frog. There are really no bad frogs in this bunch, though some are more recent jumpers than others. If the goal is to buy into most current frog, your choice here is Canon, or maybe Sony. 

However, the confusion comes in for those that have been following frogs in the DSLR market. A Canon user might have gone 5D, 5D Mark III, now what? A Nikon user might have gone D700, D750, now what?

The simplest answer is just hop on over to the mirrorless equivalent (see what I did there? ;~). 

For the Canon user, that would be an R6 Mark II, for the Nikon user that would be a Z6 II, though in both cases you're not gaining pixel counts, you're just getting the latest mirrorless equivalent of what you've been using (which should have a number of other performance, focus, feature and video advantages). These users could consider moving up a step to get even more (R5 or Z7 II, for example), but that comes with extra cost. 

The problem, of course, comes in all the combinations and permutations of where a user has been with cameras and where they could go. I've seen users do backflips, lateral leaps, and even trip as they attempt an upgrade. 

So, two words of advice:

  • Budget — Is your budget at the same level as before, or can you contemplate a move up?
  • Brand — Given that all frogs are in the same jumping competition now, why not wait for your frog to jump?

It's very easy to get enamored by shiny new magnesium alloy, extra buttons and features, and some well-crafted Marketing manipulations messages. None of those things really make your photography better. What I've tended to find is that the newest camera might make your photography easier, but that comes at a big ticket expense coupled with the time to learn how to use it properly. If you're doing the frog upgrade at the expense of not buying an excellent, full, and proper lens set for your work, you're probably making a mistake. 

I wrote an article that outlined the order in which you should do things over ten years ago that's relevant to frog jumping. Here's the order:

  1. Upgrade the photographer.
  2. Upgrade the support and discipline.
  3. Upgrade the lens.
  4. Upgrade your understanding.
  5. Upgrade your camera.

I stand by that. So as you contemplate the frog jumping contest and what it means to you, make sure that you've paid attention to number one through four in my list. 

I would be remiss to not point out that #2 might be improved by moving from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera (the built-in sensor-based stabilization) and #3 might be improved because some of the new mirrorless kit lenses are better than some of the older DSLR lenses you might have, even top ones. You still have to do #1 and #4, though ;~).

Buying Mirrorless, Holiday Season 2022

It's the buying season again, and the winds of demand and recession are blowing opposite directions. The supply chain still has kinks. Logistics still whiffs on a whim, particularly if it involves China (which is still pursuing Zero COVID policies to the point of extreme disruption). Predicting inventory of popular, recent products now requires a Fortune Teller. If you charge something to your credit card and don't pay it off, expect usurious interest rates to make your gear purchase even more expensive. 

Ho, ho, ho.

Or maybe for some of you that will be no, no, no. 

Still, I'm asked every year at this time for recommendations. Mostly because I'm one of the few that actually tries and tests virtually everything and am known for straightforward responses. Thus, I'll tackle this no-win game again for the 2022 Holiday Season. 

One difference this time around is that I haven't had more than a bit of time with a few cameras. In particular, the Fujifilm X-H twins, the OM Digital Solutions OM-1, and the Hasselblad X2D. I'm in the process of trying to correct that, and even tried to push an extra trip into my year-end schedule to help me get real photo time to evaluate them. So my comments on those four cameras, in particular, need to be taken with a grain of "opinions might change" salt.

Crop Sensor Mirrorless

As I wrote at the end of the summer, we're in a revolutionary period with APS-C in mirrorless. Until this past year, the APS-C products were mostly just simply transfer of existing APS-C DSLR image sensors into mirrorless bodies and then iteration of that body until it became as mature as a DSLR in form and function. Nothing particularly wrong with that. Now, however, you have some new and potentially exciting choices. 

Let's get to my recommendations for late 2022:

  • Canon — The only thing I can really recommend from Canon this year is the R7 (see my review), and even there I need to warn you to make sure that the lenses you want to use with it are available. Canon's lawyers warning off the third party lens makers was not a welcoming move to customers, so you have that to get past, too. But an R7 is turning out to be a "consumer D500" in most senses of the adjective. That's not overly bad, but the build quality and buffer aren't necessarily as robust as you might want chasing birds into the woods. Still, a recommended camera, particularly for the Canon faithful not wanting to spend US$2500 on a full frame body. 
  • Fujifilm — Okay, we have a (dual) dichotomy to solve here. I have no problem recommending an X-H2 or X-H2S, but you're going to be a little on your own trying to figure out which one is really right for you until I can do a lot of testing. I liked the X-H1, and Fujifilm appears to have addressed most of the things we all complained about on that camera, so plenty of good news with the second generation, it seems. My hesitancy mostly centers around lenses. The X-H2S doesn't have enough lenses to support its use for sports and wildlife, and I'm not convinced that the X-H2 is as good to the corners as Fujifilm says it is with the current lens set for landscapes. So tread carefully, but I think you'll be fine if you can figure out which twin is the one you want to marry and then give it the lens bling it demands. The other dichotomy has to do with the rest of the Fujifilm lineup. I like the X-S10 at its price point, but it's two year's old and starting to show that, and it's been out of stock a lot lately. Ditto the X-T4. The newer X-E4 seems to be vanishing, while the X-T30 II would be buying old tech on the trailing edge. That's the problem with introducing flagships: all the old models suddenly seem, well, old. So, I'll tentatively stick to just recommending the X-H twins this holiday. The X-T5 looks to already be wait-listed for 2022, so stick to the H's if you have to buy now.
  • Nikon — Here's the thing: the Nikon 20mp triplets all are competent. None excel. You're buying a beater, basically. A beater vlogger, a beater manual focus camera, a beater just-above-point-and-shoot. You buy these recommended cameras on price/package. Not list price with no goodies, but discounted price with some goodies. For the Z30 get the dealer to throw in one of the SmallRig accessories. For the Zfc get the dealer to throw in cards/batteries/remote. For the Z50 get the dealer to look the other way while you steal it. (Just kidding. I use my Z50 all the time and love it. But I don't think it's a US$1000 camera, so I'd need much more incentive to pick one up this holiday season.)
  • OM Digital Solutions — You want me to say I recommend the OM-1. Admit it. You want me to write "buy an OM-1." Sorry, can't do that at the moment. That's an expensive camera I need some extended experience with before I can clearly say whether it's worth the moolah. On the other hand, I can whole-heartedly recommend the often overlooked E-M10 Mark IV. Particularly at its US$800 kit price (take that, Nikon Z50). I still get a headache when I look at the OM menus for the first time in a long while, but just get in the habit of writing every setting down and saving that so you can reset the camera if you have to.
  • Panasonic — Panny snuck in some interesting last minute changes. Several of their older G cameras (starting with the G95) have gotten a minor update, basically a higher resolution LED rear screen. That's probably a parts supply thing that lets Panasonic keep those models on the market. I'm not really a fan of the remaining G models because they tend to be DSLR-sized but with a smaller image sensor, basically. I'm not sure what the real benefit is. However, the GH6 is a beast for someone who needs to swing between stills and high end video. With an emphasis on the video side. If that describes you, then a GH6 should be in under your tree this year.
  • Sony — This is tough. Sony's still selling the original A6000, and frankly, it's a competent camera at a good price these days. The problem is that the A6100 and A6600 tend to be out of stock, and even the A6400 slips in and out of stock depending upon which package you want. I'm going to say you don't need to be waiting (and spending more) for the A6600, and the A6000 (price) and A6400 (features/performance) are better choices than waiting for an A6100 to show up on the shelves. Videographers now have two choices in the Sony crop sensor lineup, the ZV-E10, which I find decent but not really an upgrade from the Nikon Z30, and the just introduced FX30, which is a bells-and-whistles video camera. There is a reason to buy the ZV-E10 over the Nikon Z30, however: some price benefit plus a far better selection of wide angle lenses that are appropriate. 

So, my abbreviated Holiday 2022 Recommended list:

  • Canon R7. Make sure the lens you want exists.
  • Fujifilm X-H2 or X-H2s. Choose lenses carefully.
  • Nikon Z30, Z50, or Zfc. But you need incentives.
  • OM Digital Solutions EM-10 Mark IV. 
  • Panasonic GH6. But mostly if you lean video.
  • Sony ZV-E10, FX30, A6000 or A6400. 

Hmm. Two fast action cameras (R7 and X-H2S), one high resolution camera (X-H2), four video-oriented cameras (Z30, GH6, ZV-E10, and FX30), and five older stills cameras. If you look at it temporally, three leading edge stills cameras (R7, X-H2, X-H2S) and five trailing edge stills cameras (Z50, Zfc, EM-10 Mark IV, A6000, A6400). I wish there were really something in the middle of the tech edge extremes I could recommend, but it doesn't exist in crop sensor. Oh, and you won't be getting a holiday discount this year on the leading edge cameras, only on the trailing edge ones. Ouch.

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Full Frame (Canon RF, Leica/Panasonic L, Nikon Z FX, Sony FE)

As the camera makers all started to take their mirrorless offerings upscale, the full frame arena is where we saw much of their effort. Nikon, Panasonic, and Sony all started with a megapixel pairing in the same body and then started to diversify. Canon started with two oddball choices before delivering their two megapixel choices in a (mostly) common body. 

The big competition is in the lower megapixel count cameras that fall in the US$2000 to US$2500 range. That arena now offers Canon R6 II, Nikon Z6 II, Panasonic S5, and Sony A7 Mark IV as current options. All are excellent cameras, but with different personalities. The second biggest competition is in the high pixel count camera, where we have the Canon R5, Nikon Z7 II, Panasonic S1R, and Sony A7R Mark V. Again, all are excellent but different. Thing is, only the Canon R6 II and Sony A7R Mark V are new-for-2022 cameras. The Sony A7 Mark IV was the other most recently updated (late 2021), so has a brief period where it pushes a little further than the others. 

What's a bit new for summer 2022 is that the Canon R3 and Nikon Z9 now compete with the Sony A1 at the flagship level (though Canon will likely have an R1 true flagship eventually). All were introduced in 2021 (two very late in 2021 and still difficult to get, so put those holiday orders in early). All are superb cameras, but again with their different brand personalities.

Here's what I'd say: four cameras—R3, Z9, A1, A7 Mark IV—are the arguably "hot" full frame products at the moment, and only the Sonys seem to be easily buyable off-the-shelf right now. But all the rest of the cameras I've mentioned so far are "warm" products still, and also reasonable choices, particularly the hot-off-the-presses Canon R6 Mark II and Sony A7R Mark V.

Lenses are a different story this past year: everyone produced some full frame offerings. In the last 12 months:

  • Canon released 6
  • Nikon released 8
  • Panasonic released 2 (plus Sigma 4)
  • Sony released 3 (plus Sigma 4, Tamron 3)

Thus, if you haven't looked at full frame lens offerings recently, you really should take another peak, as this is an area of constant change at the moment.

In terms of what I'd consider as being a camera I'd consider picking up this holiday season, I have a broader range of recommendations than for crop sensor, as the full frame cameras are all quite good. For each brand I'll go from low to high in price in my listing:

  • Canon R6, R5, or R3. These are the modern, on-going designs. We're still waiting for replacements for the RP and R, and I wouldn't consider them because they need to catch up to where Canon's design team is today. But I'm perfectly happy with any of these three in my hand. Which one you pick will depend upon price (e.g. R6) or task (e.g. R3), with the R5 being right in the happy middle. Rumors have it that the R6 will get an update soon, so I suspect we may see some discounts there.
  • Nikon Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, or Z9. Four full frame bodies, two category wins (Z5, Z9) and two solid placements (Z6 II, Z7 II). Nikon is going to be promoting the Z5 a lot this holiday, and that will seem to be a clear bargain for those wanting to enter truly competent full frame. The Z9 will require you to get lucky that one is in stock when you walk in the store, or for you to get on your dealer's wait list. Fortunately, those wait lists are clearing every couple of weeks, so your wait won't be long. 
  • Panasonic S5, maybe S1R. Panasonic's best camera is the all-arounder at 24mp. The 47mp S1R is feeling a little long in the tooth. But both are solid cameras, and the L-mount has been actively producing more lens choices, particularly because of Sigma's presence in the alliance. 
  • A7 Mark IV, A7R Mark IV or V, A7S Mark III, A9 Mark II, or A1. Plenty of goodness now shows up in the Sony lineup, plus you might consider the A7C or FX3 if you're more into video than stills. However, let me say this: stick with the A7 Mark IV and A1. That's all most of you would need (not both, just the right one), and in my opinion Sony's two finest efforts for photographers. I don't see much benefit of the A7R Mark IV/V over the A1 for pixels, believe it or not. The others are specialty cameras. So: on price buy the A7 Mark IV, while on task need buy the A1.

The fact that Sony has been in mirrorless full frame since 2013 shows. Sony started in a decent place, and have iterated a full, broad lineup that's attractive. That said, if you've been a long-time user of a specific brand, all four brand choices now are highly refined mirrorless implementations of that brand identity and UX. It's probably not worth it to be a switcher in full frame any more. All four companies are likely to continue iterating regularly in their full frame line, and the full frame lens sets are becoming full and robust.

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Thom, Pick a Lane for Me!

Yeah, I've identified 26 cameras I'm recommending this holiday season. That big number of choices seems a bit daunting, and might not help make your decision easier. 

However, I wrote it earlier, and I'll reiterate it here: staying with the brand you're used to has an advantage. The days of Olympus and Sony being the only reasonable crop sensor choice are over. The days of Sony being the only competent full frame choice are also clearly over. 

Canon and Nikon users should stick to their brand. First, most of the DSLR lenses and accessories you bought can still be used. Second, both companies are now (mostly) hewing to their well-established UX, and their mirrorless cameras will seem very familiar to their DSLR users. 

More importantly, we've entered the period in mirrorless where all the companies are moving the same direction and simply playing games of leap frog. 


  1. Stick to your brand.
  2. Consider moving from crop sensor to full frame.
  3. Pick the general interest camera if you're a general interest user; Pick the task-specific camera if you're a task-specific user.
  4. Enjoy!

To put that in perspective: a Canon Rebel/Kiss user stays with Canon, considers moving to full frame, then probably buys an R7 or R6. A Nikon consumer DSLR user stays with Nikon, considers moving to full frame, then probably buys a Zfc or Z50, or they buy a Z5 or Z6 II. Changing lanes to other brands gets expensive in both purchases as well as in time spent learning new things. To little advantage long-term. There's not a single camera I've recommended above that I wouldn't be happy using for the next couple of years. 

Final Thoughts

If you're not brand loyal and were just starting out with interchangeable lens cameras, we're currently about where we got to a decade ago with DSLRs: solid crop sensor and full frame choices across multiple brands. Take your pick. 

Personally, I'd be buying based upon lenses over cameras if starting from scratch. Fujifilm's lens set for APS-C is the most extensive, though still needs work in the telephoto range. Sony's lens set for APS-C has recently expanded at the wide end. So, if lens choice is high on your list, Fujifilm and Sony are your clear choices for APS-C at the moment. Olympus and Panasonic also have a full set of m4/3 lenses. Nikon's the odd man out at the moment, so Nikon DX is not a safe choice for anyone starting in APS-C from scratch (buzz, buzz). Canon, too, doesn't have any real RF-S lens choices, either, but I'm expecting that to change faster than at Nikon.

That leaves four full frame mounts to discuss in terms of lenses (remember, you're buying first based on lenses when you start from scratch if you're following my advice):

  • Canon RF — Some odd choices, and many of them aperture constrained or aperture relaxed. The middle needs a lot of work for full frame. We have 27 lenses currently, but take a closer look and actually count the ones that you might really get; the number you might be interested in may be far less. I expect this to change for the better over time, but Canon's leaning a bit too heavily on EF-adapted lenses at the moment, and their threats against third-party lens makers is just mind-bogglingly anti-customer. 
  • Nikon Z FX — Nikon pumped up the volume quickly, and now has an arguably strong lineup, with the telephoto side starting to stand out as a strength. That provides us 25 FX lenses now, with quite a few being best in class, and a nicely chosen array of choices. Like Canon, I expect Nikon to continue to improve their lineup over time, and they seem to be making really good decisions on how to do that. Tamron is now making Z-mount autofocus lenses, too, and I expect others to follow. 
  • Panasonic L — Long ago I wrote an article about what lenses every mount needs as a minimum. Panasonic seems to be following that article. 16-300mm covered in seven zooms, 24, 35, 50, and 85mm covered in four fastish primes. Those 11 lenses basically cover the minimum I noted in my article. However, the L-mount alliance with Sigma is filling out plenty of other options, and one could argue that within the wide-to-200mm range, Panasonic L cameras have about as much choice as Sony FE ones. 
  • Sony FE — I give Sony full marks for not just filling out their lineup, but pushing it forward. Like Nikon, Sony has quite a few best in class lenses now. The total number of available lenses is currently 42, but there's a lot of focal length duplication going on (even more if you count the Samyang/Sigma/Tamron offerings). If you count near neighbor focal lengths, for example, Sony has produced seven "normal" primes. Three or four would have sufficed. In zoom lenses that cover the mid-range, we get eight. Four or five would have been fine. Choice is good, but Sony still has clear gaps in their full frame lens lineup, so I'd rather have those filled than all this lens duplication. 

Finally, you might ask about me. Am I buying anything this holiday? 


Once I had the Nikon Z9 and Sony A1 I was set for work cameras. Nothing cries out to me as something I need on the camera side. In terms of lenses, there, too, I'm happy. I've got the full Z-mount set coupled with the FE-mount lenses I need. Nothing new there I need, either. I keep putting a top-end Apple Mac Studio in my bag, but don't click on the purchase button. It's difficult to believe it would actually move my work forward, either. 

So I'm in the no, no, no category this holiday season. 

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