How to Decide the Best Full Frame Camera to Buy

Buying an expensive camera is a tough decision, and with your hard-earned money and competing financial priorities, even tougher. Let me tell you why it is so by first describing some of the challenges and dilemmas I faced before making my decision to buy a full frame mirrorless camera, and then offer a few solutions to overcome these challenges.

01


Marketing Gimmick

Firstly it is very difficult to see beyond the shroud of mass marketing and targeted advertising that lures you into buying a product. Peer pressure, paid promotions from influencers, general brand perception, reviews, and a notion that what works for A will also work for B, creates biases which push you towards buying a particular product (camera). Therefore, it gets very difficult to get rid of your myopic view and see beyond this shroud to consider some of the underrated cameras available in the market.

02


Financial Priorities & Budget

Is it really worth investing in? A full frame camera does cost a bomb and with few lenses and accessories it is indeed a huge investment. If photography is not your profession but only a hobby or passion, how do you justify yourself (and your family) this huge an investment? The dilemma surfaces when you may have other financial priorities in life to manage with your limited income. Striking a fine balance between your temptation to go for the best camera and your limited purchasing power pose a challenge often resulting in a tough ask to choose your trade-offs.

03


Comparing Specifications

If you start comparing competitive cameras from different brands, you will never get a clear answer, as no camera is created ‘perfect’. There is so much to a camera that lies beyond the general yardstick used by reviewers, bloggers, camera stores, and magazines to rate and compare cameras. For instance, no online comparison can tell you users’ experiences with pre and post sales services; why a number (say mega pixels or AF points) is lower but still better than a competitive camera with a higher number; or how ergonomic the camera design is for your hands. All of these needs more of empirical research than just an online comparison of specifications.


These were just few examples and there may be many more such challenges and dilemmas when you decide to buy a camera. Therefore, without delving deeper into the problem part, let’s look at the solution part and allow me to share how I overcame these challenges to finally decide the one camera, I eventually bought, after almost an year of confusion, deliberation and empirical research.

1. Ask Questions. See it live.

Request for a live demo from the brand’s sales/technical team where you can actually see and try the product and understand tricky features it claims to have. For example, when I was not sure about some of the features Lumix S1 claimed to have, I got in touch with Lumix Mumbai team I knew through a webinar. Thankfully, they were kind and supportive enough to arrange for a one-to-one session their sales and technical team in Mumbai to explain me some of the difficult features, starting with my doubts on its AF capabilities (AF points and speed, a common compliant in the online reviews), upcoming lens roadmap, how focus stacking and 6K photo mode works, etc. The session helped me understand few subtle nuances that no advertisement or online reviews could have explained.

2. Don’t Follow Anyone Blindly

Paid promotions and unpaid collaborations (for mutual benefit) are the realities of modern advertising world. Don’t go by what camera a professional photographer uses or talks about, in his online sessions, without checking if the session or content was part of paid promotion or (unpaid) brand collaboration. It is likely that such sessions or content may be part of (unpaid) collaboration or sponsored. Take their advice (with a pinch of salt) but don’t get swayed. Do your own research. The same kind of scepticism is required when you are reading or watching camera reviews or scrolling through Instagram feed of a photography influencer. Remember, what works for A may not work for B as everyone has a different need, aspirations and budget. Further, some of the reviews may be stale (more than an year old) to make any conclusive decision. You must check for whether recent firmware update(s) has corrected those shortcomings; whether a new lens line-up (or alliance) has been added to the existing ones to expand your choices of lens, whether an improved version of the same camera is very soon to be released.

3. Don’t Go by the Price Tag

A more expensive camera does not always mean a better camera. Advertisements and marketing pitches are designed to lure you into buying the next more expensive gadgets on the store shelf. And even if you mention your budget, sales persons instinctively assume you can spend at least 20-40% more. Don’t fall for that. Always keep your budget in check and the original need in the mind. It is your present need and value for money that makes a camera good or bad for you, not the price tag.

4. Check, if the Discount is Genuine

It is also common for an end-customer to get lured by attractive discounts and freebies. Needless to say, some of these discounts may be only to clear obsolete (outdated) items and sell-off commercially unsuccessful models. You also need to be careful of grey-market goods, particularly, when the price is heavily discounted. Always check the warranty details and the country it applies to, so as to avoid falling for grey market products. When I bought Lumix S1, I did not get any discounts or freebies from the dealer, as the price I had negotiated with Lumix Mumbai sales team was already the best (lowest) price. Unless there is a good margin between the best (lowest) price and your purchase price, no dealer can give you discounts and freebies, except for the ones that come directly from the company for that product (like an extra battery, V-log subscription in case of Lumix S1).

Challenge #1: Marketing Gimmick

The best way to beat this is not going by the features you find dramatically advertised on their brand page or magazine ads. Read the fine lines, those asterisks(*) saying conditions applied, tiny (almost invisible) footnotes and everything that you need to know and ask. Let me show you few example from popular camera brands.

COPYRIGHT © 2021 SONY INDIA

It is only when you reach bottom of the web page, you find what this footnote 22 says- “22. CIPA standards. Pitch/yaw shake only. Planar T* FE 50 mm F1.4 ZA lens. Long exposure NR off.” This is the standard used by Sony A7RIII to claim that 5-axis in-body stabilisation can help you raise your F-stops by 5.5 stops. Now, when you compare this feature with Lumix S1, you need to match this standard for the F-stops Lumix S1 claims to have.

Copyright © 2019 Panasonic India

Let’s go one by one. One asterisk (*) means you can achieve the acclaimed 5-axis Dual I.S. 2 only when you pair you camera body with a lens which already has in-built image stabilisation (like, S-R24105, S-E70200 and S-R70200) which were available in the market as of 6 November 2019. Needless to say, you can achieve the same with all L-mount lenses with in-built image stabilisation (from Lumix, Sigma and Leica alliance) released as of the date of this post.

Now coming back to our earlier comparison, when you see Lumix S1 saying, you can use “7-stop slower shutter speed” (i.e., you can raise F-stops by 7 stops), please read the two asterisks (**) which defines the standard used to claim the same. You will notice, it is different from the one used by Sony. Comparing Lumix S1 with Sony A7RIII (which used a 50 mm F1.4 lens) for image stabilisation, the right (comparable) F-stop from Lumix S1 would be 5.5 (Read three asterisks (***)) for which Lumix also used a 50mm f/1.4 Lens based on CIPA standard.

Copyright © 2021 Canon India Pvt Ltd.

If you read the same feature Canon claims to have for its R5 model, they have not even been transparent enough to: (a) define what those “other conditions” are; (b) list the lenses used to claim this 8 stops feature; and (c) mention which industry standard (like, CIPA) they have used. This is exactly where you need to be extra careful, read tiny letters, delve deeper, do a more empirical research and ask questions from the brand’s sales or technical person.


Challenge #2: Financial Priorities & Budget

I asked this question to myself umpteen times, to find out what photographic problem I want to solve with my new purchase, Lumix S1. The answers were the ability to:

  1. shoot in harsh weather conditions like, sub-zero temperature (up to -10°C), light rain, dust storm, snowfall;
  2. take handheld videos and shoot from a moving vehicle with its excellent image stabilization (up to 7-stop slower shutter speed and a minimum of 5.5-stop);
  3. click images in low light ambience at a much higher ISO (above ISO 800, which is my current limit) without any noticeable noise and record crisp videos in low light with its Dual Native ISO;
  4. complement my upgraded photography skills with the enhanced technical specifications (like, dynamic range, colour depth, sensor size) which only a full frame camera can offer;
  5. take advantage of some of the useful in-built features of Lumix S1 like, time lapse video (=no need to buy separate device), 6K &4K photo mode (=can extract up to 18 mega pixels image from a video), post focus/ focus stacking (=can decide after shoot which part of image to focus or defocus), high resolution mode (=can click 96 mega pixels image for a full blown print, if required);
  6. get personalised support and guidance from their technical team whenever I need, which is not very common to see with other camera brands.

All this while, I kept my budget unwavering at INR 2 lakhs to ensure I do not overspend on something that is not an immediate need. I also kept my lens option to just one (24-105mm) to begin with, in order to keep the overall expense in check. Choosing my trade-offs wisely (by prioritizing features and focusing on utility) helped me achieve my goal within my budget. To manage this expense, I also saved a small portion of my salary each month so that I do not have to incur any further expense as bank interest or pay a considerable processing fee on the interest-free EMI (offered by Bajaj Finance).

I overcame my guilt for spending this money with a solemn promise to pursue my passion even more aggressively and create excellent photography work in the coming times, instead of letting this camera gather dust.

You can also read more about How to choose the Best Camera for Yourself in my earlier blog posts featured above.


Challenge #3: Comparing Specifications

Make your own spreadsheet and list the camera features you need the most in the order of priority, dividing them into two broad categories: must-have and good-to-have, based on your most common usages. Once you have listed the specifications in the order of priority, start filling up this sheet with the features of the potential cameras you are considering, in separate columns to compare. When you compare, for each specifications in your must-have list, give a score of 1 to the better camera. Similarly for features in the good-to-have list, give a score of 0.5 to the better camera. Where the camera features are quite similar, ignore the subtle differences, but reward the better camera with a score of 0.25. Let me show you an example from the sheet I had prepared for my research comparing Lumix S1 with Sony A7 R III.

As I explained earlier, any online comparison of camera features cannot cater to your specific needs and preferences. You need to make your own personalized comparison. Such online comparisons also do not factor in pre and post sales services, user experiences, collaboration benefits, educational resources, etc. which you must consider before you make your final decision.

Spreadsheet for reference purposes only.

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Published by Vivek Kumar Verma

Investment Banking Lawyer | Photographer & Blogger | Connoisseur of Food | Poet

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