Quick Takes on New Cameras

I’m juggling a bunch of new mirrorless gear in the review process right now. Since I’m getting a lot of email inquiring about these specific products during this holiday buying season, I thought I’d give you a quick take on my current thoughts on these products:

  • Canon RP — Since Canon decided to start full frame mirrorless at the bottom, I took them up on that and am starting my RF reviews from the bottom, too ;~). At the current holiday price of US$1000 for the body, the RP is a solid entry into full frame mirrorless. Moreover, it doesn’t make the UX mistakes the R body made: the RP feels much like a Canon user will be used to. It’s a small body, but with very decent Canon-style ergonomics. Just remember that this is an entry body, so there are a number of things that serious shooters might get hung up on. The sensor may be a recycled one, but it performs decently in most settings. It’s also not nearly as bad at a higher ISO such as 6400 as some seem to be suggesting, at least if you nail the exposure. No, the sensor is not equal to a state-of-the-art Sony sensor, to be sure, but I’ve been pressing the RP in low light and finding it adequate most of the time. To me, the 4 fps frame rate seems to be the specification that’s most limiting to a wider range of shooting. This is not a sports camera, for sure. Compared to the current Sony generation, I’d say the focus performance of the RP is a little behind, too, particularly if you choose the only RF lens that currently makes a lot of sense for this body, the slow-as-a-slug 24-240mm f/4-6.3. But then again, you’re not paying as much for the body in the first place. I’m liking the RP as a reasonable general purpose camera, but if you start pushing out towards the fringes (frame rate, fast and erratic subjects, really low light, etc.) you’re quickly reminded that the price point was US$1000. If you already have fast, quality EF lenses, the RP allows you to start to see the goodness of Canon’s mirrorless initiative, and I can recommend it. If you’re going to just sample it with the slow 10x zoom, the slow aperture coupled with older sensor is probably going to trip you up in low light conditions, so exercise caution. 
  • Canon M6 m2 — The new sensor is the hero here; Canon’s finally given us a state-of-the-art crop sensor that can compete with the best. The lack of a built-in EVF is a villain. The lack of good M lenses is another villain. If you can live with those statements, this is a very nice camera. Basically the M5 ergonomics and capabilities other than the built-in viewfinder, and I liked the M5. My problem with the M6 m2 is that the M zooms generally all clearly show their issues with this new higher-resolution sensor. Even the 22mm pancake reveals that it could use some more optical oomph outside the central area. Put a really good EF lens on the EF-to-M adapter Canon sells, and you'll see what the sensor can really do. Canon is really close to jacket-pocket excellence here, but lenses hold it back. Recommended if you can tolerate the lens choices.
  • Nikon Z50 — Downsize the Z6 body, strip the Z6 firmware down to D7500-level features, take the D7500/D500 sensor and tweak it some more to the good, and you have the Z50. In terms of the mirrorless part: the Z50 is just like a Z6 in terms of focus. I’m not seeing any tangible differences in Z50, Z6, or Z7 focus performance. I do see some differences when framing fast moving subjects, and that’s because the EVF is a level down on the Z50. At max frame rate with the slide show effect, you’ll lose composition faster on the Z50 than the Z6 when panning with subjects, and you lose composition faster on the Z6 than the D850. That’s the downside to using Nikon’s mirrorless as action cameras (problem is the same for many other makers, too, with only the Sony A9 completely avoiding this). Personally, I’m liking the Z50 a lot, just not for extreme uses. And the pancake kit zoom is, well, another Z-mount gem from Nikon. I guess they weren’t kidding that the new mount gave their designers new options they were going to take advantage of. Where the Canon was close to jacket-pocket excellence, the Z50 is already there. An unexpected top-notch camera and kit lens that slots between the D5600 and D7500 in Nikon’s lineup. Small, capable, competent. I’m pretty sure you’ll see me recommending this camera in my eventual review.
  • Panasonic S1 — Still don’t have a lot of experience with this camera yet, but the ergonomics are there. It’s on the bigger and heavier side of entry full frame, and it’s on the expensive side, too. Which is kind of the dilemma I’m trying to figure out: what does the S1 offer for that extra money that you don’t get from the others? It isn’t focus performance. Don’t get me wrong, single servo focus performance is excellent, though I dislike the viewfinder jitter you sometimes get as it finds focus. Continuous autofocus isn’t up to sports/wildlife use, in my opinion, though with moderate movement it seems to work fine. The sensor and video are state-of-the-art. The UX shows Sony what they missed. The prospect of the L-mount seems intriguing. I’m still a “jury hearing testimony” on this one. 
  • Sony A7R m4 — Love it and don’t love it. Yes, we have a split decision. If you need 60mp—and that should be a big IF—the sensor performs as you’d expect. It’s basically the same pixel level performance as the 28mp APS-C sensor and the 100mp MF sensor Sony produce: really good but not great. If you were expecting more dynamic range, it’s not there. If you were expecting better high ISO capability, that really isn’t there. I’m sure there are those that think 60mp gives them more crop capability. I think those folk will be disappointed in the results compared to using a 42mp sensor using the right lens. To me, the big change I fully approve of is the ergonomics. Sony has now taken two rounds of button/feel/location criticism and put correct responses into the A7R m4 and A9 m2 body design. Finally, I can use these cameras with gloves (thin ones, but still). Clean up the menus and Sony would have really solid UX. I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t anoint the A7R m4 the first or second best all-around camera you can buy this year, and left my recommendation of #2 with the A7R m3. That was a very tough decision, but I think the right one. The A7R m4 feels more like a studio/landscape camera and less like an all-rounder to me. That’s particularly true because of the file sizes that the camera produces in raw. Don’t take my comments here wrong: I really like the A7R m4, I just don’t think it’s the one general purpose camera that you should have (again, right now that would be a Nikon D850 or a Sony A7R m3). Coupled with a second body—I use the A9, soon to be a m2—a Sony full frame shooter would have a nice system able to shoot virtually anything. But single body owners? I think you need to be careful about going down any rabbit hole (megapixels, frame rate, video capabilities, etc.). 
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