An Unintended Mirrorless Break

Yes, the site has been a little quiet this past month. What gives?

Well, first we have the impacts of COVID-19 virus on new products. While there's been a few cameras announced in February (X-T4, R5), they're not available to me yet. Moreover, I've been holding off on getting some of the most recent products into the studio for a reason: I'm backed up on reviews of products already here. 

Originally my plan was to finish up reviews on things like the Canon RP and Sony A7R Mark IV this past month, but I never managed to get out on shoots that would have helped me resolve a few of the things I was pondering on each. Meanwhile, lenses are piling up, too. As I've written before, I prefer not to do more casual evaluation of products, but to actually use products in production situations, and I've just not been able to do that for almost a month now as events got cancelled and travel restrictions mounted.

So it will take me a bit longer to get caught up as I try to improvise (and hopefully eventually get a little more freedom of movement). I should finish up my Nikkor 24mm f/1.8 S review shortly, as I've managed to do enough shooting and lab testing with it to finish up my reactions. But I'm not sure how fast the rest of the reviews will trickle out, particularly as this whole stay-at-home thing has started me off on a couple of additional new writing projects.

That said, this respite from running around shooting, attending trade shows, and covering product launch events has been good for clearing the brain. I suspect that you might see things similarly: at a minimum, the pandemic has totally taken the edge off of gear acquisition lust (GAL). I'm much more worried about when my clients will need me again (and whether they're okay), when I'll be able to travel to the places I still want to go in my dwindling years on the planet, how my friends are all doing, and things other than gear itself. 

Thus, I can actually take time to contemplate the bird in the hand versus the GAL birds in the bush. 

So here's a question I was pondering earlier today: the sun briefly broke through our gloomy weather and I'm seeing birds and blossoms (and squirrels, yuck). So what camera do I grab to take a walk down the block to the river and get some much needed exercise? 

My first instinct was the Nikon Z7. A better handling product than the Sony A7Rm4, and as you're going to eventually find out, I'm not entirely loving more pixels (foreshadowing). But...oh Nikon, where art thou's macro lens? True, I've got some fully compatible extension tubes I could use, but it's not quite the same thing. I really like the Sony 90mm f/2.8G OSS macro (I'd like the same thing in 150mm+, too, Sony). 

Moreover, have the mirrorless makers really sat down and tried macro on their cameras? Sure, they autofocus right to a point just fine. With more precision than the DSLRs. But the serious macro user wants ultimate and nuanced control over even finer degrees of manual focal plane precision, plus focus stacking, which although the Nikon Z7 has the latter, the Z7 suffers from a poor implementation no one has completely figured out yet. 

One thing that's keeping the truly high end DSLR shooters DSLR shooters is that it's in the very fine details that we haven't quite got mirrorless product parity. Sure, some things are better in mirrorless: focus precision and focus repeatability is better in mirrorless than DSLR. But as you get further from casual and low volume shooting, the rough edges start to show in the mirrorless world.

I'll give you a simple example using Nikon. The D780 (DSLR) works exactly the same as the Z6 (mirrorless) in Live View. Now, you want to change focus mode or autofocus area mode and what happens? The D780 is better (dedicated control). It's better using the same exact focus system! Yes, I know I can dedicate a button on the Z6 to do the same thing, but that's not the same. Those buttons are not in the right place (typically right under my left thumb on the D780 as I hold the camera/lens), and there's not enough of them on a Z6 to assign to everything I want shortcuts for. 

Don't get me wrong. I really like mirrorless cameras. Other than for sports, I'm mostly using mirrorless now, and I'm sure there will come a time when I'm using them for sports, too (the Sony A9 almost got me there). But I can't help thinking that the camera companies have been missing the obvious. I've been using Nikon SLR, DSLR, and now mirrorless cameras for 50 years. You'd think that we wouldn't still be trying to reinvent things that we knew already worked, that we wouldn't be doing strange control shifts and eradications or additions. Note to Nikon: when I hold my DSLRs and mirrorless cameras up to my eye, my hands and fingers are in basically the same place. Why aren't the controls?

Sony's not immune to this even though they're all mirrorless and have been for awhile now: the difference between the A6xxx and A7 UX is basically the same problem. Why don't the A6xxx models have front command dials, for instance? Particularly on the A6600. This high-end-but-not-high-enough-to-warrant-dial kind of logic escapes me. 

If the future of cameras is in the higher end products, let's stop crippling them. 

What I do think that the mirrorless makers have all gotten right is lenses. Sure, there are still missing lenses in every full frame mount (and many of the crop sensor ones, too), but the lenses we have been getting are pretty much all excellent. I've been very happy with the new Canon, Nikon, and Sony lens offerings, as far as they've all gone. Plus Sigma's and Tamron's additions are all turning out to be quite good, too. During this slower time I'm actually enjoying some time further appreciating the lenses I've got rather than trying to sip off the fire hose of new offerings. 

All in all, it's not a bad thing that things have slowed in the camera world, particularly the part that is driven by GAL. It's given me more time with some of the gear I've been using, and in ways I wasn't using it. I hope that's the case for you, too. 

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