The best camera . . . ?

We, as in People, always want the best of everything and that's perfectly fine to expect. Be it life, be it work, be it quality of whatever you buy or just anything that you can think of. I'm here just to write (rant) about the obsession in the photography world for what's the best camera, what's the best lens. And also because it's been a while since I made my previous blogpost, so now is a good time for me to write about something with the usual dose of humor and sarcasm.

It is annoying to read suggestions that mention that CAMERA X and LENS Y is the best. What makes it the best and for what? Almost 99% of the time it's not really a best recommendation, it's just someone's personal opinion and preference irrespective of all the practical reasons that could exist. A top of the line camera with a top of the line pro lens of a particular focal length may not be the best option for a newbie looking to just start digging into photography. Probably a base model with kit lens is best for the person right now, maybe buying a cheaper second hand kit and getting a feel of the tools could work well. Later the person can decide if it's worth spending on upgrade or realizing that maybe photography is not for him/her or the only use one has is for snapshots of kids, pets, social gatherings, etc. Everything is very subjective to the final use. Some gear works great on streets, some shine in studio, some great in sports. Different purpose, different tools.

Some of the brands and their products that I have used or familiar with. 

BRAND A. The "single digit model" with a "single alphabet" right after it (as of now) because it's the most expensive camera in A's lineup. It works wonders in low light, great ISO, awesome AF, shivering FPS. Or maybe the 3 digit model for the highest megapixel count with best DR in their stable. So the best brand A cameras  - Single digit model and the higher three digit model. From three digit lower series and below, you are just a low ballin' scumbag because those are not the best cameras.

BRAND B. The same reasons as Brand A but they also have a "single digit model" with two alphabets and some more, the highest megapixel full frame camera, ever (for now). Notice the pattern in brand A and B, they are incapable of producing a single best camera for all purposes in their lineup and that's a pity. No single camera to do everything that people want. Something of digit 1 performance, 111 sensor and 1111 price, wishful thinking. I just have a crappy desire to have vanilla milkshake with ice cubes made of sugar on the moon tomorrow at 2200hrs #wishfulthinking. Oh but wait a min, brand A and brand B best cameras have mirrors. F * * K.

BRAND C. Wow "alphabet number alphabet" II looks like the perfect best camera. Container load megapixels, out of the world dynamic range, in-body disco dancer image stabilization, no mirror, 4K video OMG OMG OMG. Ah but maybe I will have to use a brand B lens on it because brand C decided to make only the best chip and forgot a lot of other things. WTF.

BRAND D. It does have the 'x' factor and does not have the damn mirror, but ahem… no full frame sensor and such shitty video. It sucks. Technically not qualifying for the best camera even though it carries an impressive line-up of glass and great imaging sensor. 

BRAND E. It's out before it could be qualified. Tiny little piece of s * * t and only half the size of a full frame sensor. Damn it. Compete when you can put 2 of those sensors in one body and call it a day. 

BRAND F. Fanboys - YES. Full frame - YES. Great optics - YES. AF - F * * K. Over and out. Why do we need to kidnap a bunch of people, rip off their kidneys for sale and then get brand F for bragging rights ? Right ? 

BRAND G. Still working on full frame. Not yet eligible. In its defense they do make medium format, but majority of the world does not care about how brilliant it is.

BRAND H. No FF, only MF. Can it be the best one. No, Too expensive. Poor high ISO. Lame FPS. Not the best then. Ok, maybe with a little less money than being a proud brand H owner, we can just buy a civic and pimp it up with sexy alloys, carbon fiber hood and noisy exhaust and roll our a** round town. 

We don't know when FULL FRAME sensors became the must have criteria for the best camera, and a zoom with 2.8 or a prime with 1.4 for the best lens.

Another long list of comment war starts on many forums when you suggest a third party lens to OEM fans (Sigma/Tamron on CaNikon, Voigtlander on Leica, etc) then the reaction can be quiet dramatic like - you are a muslim and you wanna marry a jewish. Now just imagine the reaction of a typical conservative religious family.

For once, if we stopped being unhappy about not having the best camera + lens but concentrate on making "THE BEST PICTURE" then the photography world will have much more inspiration in a positive way. Having the most expensive camera will not make you a better photographer. As the saying goes, "Some people are so poor, the only thing they have is money." Instead practice your craft, learn everyday, enrich your talents and make the best use of the gear you have. If you cannot be happy with what you have right now and not able to use your tools to the full potential then trust me, technology will screw you pretty bad. Nothing will be ever made to satisfy human carvings until and unless the human in question learns to be content with what one has and use it to the full potential. Gear doesn't matter is also not true, it matters but again at a subjective level. It's not the end of the world. "Keep Calm & Carry On."

Enter Ricoh GR - Exit X100

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Finally coming back to write something after a long time. Feels like a million years. Lot of stuff to write about, more than a year of images & trips, stories & experiences to share but nothing out with words yet. My random share of images does go on and can be checked on my Flickr.

Excited to introduce the new member to my digital family, the RICOH GR. Well most people might say WTF am I talking about (because none of my friends here know about it), what is this brand, why is the GR so exciting for me, what happened to the affair with my beloved Fujifilm X100, what about analog love, where is Nikon, etc, etc...

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What is this brand ? 

RICOH IMAGING CO. LTD or just RICOH to those who know. It’s not a new kid on the block, Ricoh has been around for a long long time and currently owns Pentax Imaging since 2011. And then they do this, and that, and this, and that, blah blah... but I didn't come to write about a company and their shares and plans and stuff. GR has a cult following since film days but their absence in the middle east is the reason that most people are unaware of it's existence and it's capabilities. I have hardly seen any Ricoh camera around this part of the world where I live in, but be assured, its as good as it gets.

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Why is the GR so exciting for me? 

The GR excites me because it is smaller than the X100. Pixel peeping at 16MP, no AA filter APS-C sensor. My field of view changes from 35mm equivalent on X100 to 28mm equivalent on the GR. My preferred focal length is 35mm so I had doubts about getting used to a wider 28mm for regular use. But I realized that with the mobile phone images I take, I have never ever zoomed into any of the shots from my phones and the focal length I get is equivalent to 29mm. Brings me back in the zone and not wandering into unknown territory. Another plus is the size, it might be the smallest APS-C sensor camera around plus very very light weight. X100 feels bigger and chunkier comparatively. I can tag the camera along all the time as it fits my pocket pretty well.

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Taking pictures is stealthy, it is as silent as the X100. While the X100 attracts a bit more attention (because it's goddamn beautiful) than the GR (boring looks), you will only be able to appreciate the design when its held in the hand and used. Ergonomics and single hand operation is the easiest of any such camera. GR knocks the socks off any other camera in this class for handling, I am in love with the grip, the best single hand operation in any camera I have used and thats a huge plus for street photography.

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So it's perfect ? Actually nothing ever WAS, IS or WILL BE perfect. GR has many things that I love and many that I don't. It was the same case when I had the X100 or any other product I have used. I hate it that there is no viewfinder and hope the next version brings it back somehow. For people obsessed with zoom and bokeh this is not a toy for you.

And if you are into video then the bottom line is - GR sucks, so did the X100 and so do I. Video is never a consideration for my camera purchases. It's a killer street photography tool. Unless you don't like the focal length of 28mm you cannot go wrong with the GR. Going with a secondary interchangeable lens camera is like marrying to the system: lenses, filters, accessories, etc. But with the fixed lens compact, it's just you and the camera without much need for any other GAS attack (except maybe thinking of getting another camera). So I would always choose compacts as my secondary tool with fixed lens and good manual controls even though the Fujifilm XT-1 and Olympus OMD offerings tempt me to forever leave the Nikon to rest at home during travels.

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My opnion on the Pro’s and Con’s for this camera.

PROS: Or things that I love in the GR

  • Small & light weight.
  • 300 sec shutter speed direct. No remote required.
  • Built-in ND filter.
  • Snap focus mode.
  • Silent shutter.
  • Time-lapse.
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CONS: Or things that I don't really like

  • No viewfinder.
  • 28mm wide (may not fit everyones needs)
  • Hot pixels at extremely long exposures
  • Battery life. (Like any other compact camera)
  • No sales & service (in my region)
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What happened to the love affair with my beloved Fujifilm X100? 

The GR takes over the space of my old X100, because X100 has been suffering from the sticky aperture problem and from being ok ok, its worse. I will still be using it once its serviced. Why no upgrade to X100S ? Strictly because of the budget and I am more than happy to have given a chance to the GR, while looking at options such as Sony RX100 series. Don't get me wrong my beloved Fuji, I love you to pieces and I am waiting for X200 and what it brings in terms of improvements. What I miss the most in GR from the X100 ? The most favorite viewfinder in the world, that's all. X100 still tops the GR in image quality IMO. Considering the overall image quality, I give it to Fuji for their incredible color rendering and high ISO performance.

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What about analog love?

Can’t get out of analog life as well. Doing the regular rounds of film right now are my Nikon FE, Olympus OM2 and Olympus XA. Film photography is relaxing and I would like to continue shooting film, expanding to developing and getting even more experimental with film as my learning expands with this old school photography. Check out my analog tumblr page for roll by roll contact sheet and selected fav’s from each roll that I run through. It's a new start up and my first 3 rolls of film are posted as of today and hopefully I will keep updating with every single roll of film I shoot in that space. The count has reached about 40 in 2 years so a lots to be updated.

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Where is Nikon?

That FX ain’t going to be off the list yet until maybe I jump on to medium format. That’s still a long road to be covered to arrive at MF destination. But nowadays I use my Nikon gear mostly for commercial work. It still goes in my travel bag but may not have as many shutter counts as the little ones. The small cameras have taken over the big ones in my regular walk around bag. The fact is, none of my smaller cameras can be as good to hold and shoot and take a beating as the high-end DSLR can. And all my little ones are still fixed lens cameras, so the flexibility of interchangeable lenses still stay with my SLR system. And the gorgeous high mega-pixel, unbelievable dynamic range, crazy high ISO performing FX sensors are a class apart but the bulk is not a preference for everyday shooting.

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So coming back to Ricoh GR. Generally famous for its black and white images (I don't know why) and reviewers have ignored it's colour capabilities. I love the in-camera High Contrast B&W effect but have no objections with it's colour images. There are many effects in-camera for colours as well, my personal favourite being 'Positive Film'.

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If Fuji has some film simulation of legendary Fujifilm's, I call the Ricoh GR film simulation as the Kodak rendering. (Makes me feel good) There are other effects like Black & White, B&W (TE), Cross Process, Bleach Bypass, Retro, Miniaturize, High Key & Slight which I have almost never used while shooting except testing it out just to see what results those effects produce and I consider them useless for my need.

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I have so much fun with this camera. It accompanied me to my trip to Nepal recently and I shot 80% of the images from the trip from this little baby while also having my Nikon D600, Nikon FE and Fujifilm XE-2 along.

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Another common association of this camera is with street photography, but don't write it off as being incapable of producing some awesome vibrant landscapes. Look below for some landscapes shot with the GR, trying out long exposures and low-light exposures. The built-in ND filter as well as the 300 sec shutter speed without any remote or accessory is ridiculously cool.

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Above image shot at sunset in Pokhra, Nepal. No tripod, no remote - just keep on a rock, set focus to infinity, 120 sec exposure. And the image below, hand held at 1/4 sec.

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It's not as pleasant in very dark conditions that has lot of shadows as I noticed some (a lot) hot pixels in the shadow areas but its better to capture an image than no image. Not bad considering I just put the camera in my pocket and walked on top of a hill, rested the camera on a wall and got this much of details on a 240 sec long exposure.

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Well that wraps it up for this post. It’s not a camera review or brand bashing of any sorts. I simply love to make images and take the tool that fits my ways. Happy clicking everyone till the next one. Drop by to my new space on Tumblr for images I make with the GR. (And hopefully the next blog post will be up soon, not after a year ;)