The best camera for traveling – D750 wins!

Travel-4So I want to choose the current best system camera to take with me on a trip. Let’s make some assumptions first. Say that trip is overseas, and involves at some point plane travel with a 7kg carry-on allowance in a smaller carry-on bag than the main airlines allow (the allowance size of Airasia, Ryanair, Easyjet and others). So weight and size is a major factor. I like to take seascape/landscape (particularly long exposures), street, and wildlife photos. I publish mostly on the web, but I also will print, up to say 18×12 inches. I drink mid-range wine, drive a BMW (and Porsche) and won’t pay for first or business class seats on my own dime. So I’m not going to include a Leica at the high end, or an iPhone at the low end, in my consideration set. What do I choose?

Ha! Wish I knew! But this question off and on has been occupying me for years. I have been intensively buying and selling cameras and lenses to get to the ideal point for a few years (I’ve bought 4 and sold 4 cameras already this year, and it’s only March). I now have 14 system cameras and maybe 40 lenses, as part of this quest. But the increasing pace of product announcements and choices, makes the latest-buzz buying game impossible to keep up with. So I needed a more logical approach than the latest breathless review, to cut through the haze. I present my approach below. It may not work directly for you, but it’s highly tunable. And I’ll give you the spreadsheet also, to twiddle for yourself if you want to. It may seem a bit pernickety and over structured, Quel surprise! I was a Strategy VP in my prior life, and my trade was to structure and formalise the decision making process.

By the way, to save you wading through the detail if you don’t want to – here is the answer (so far). I’ve done an analysis across 11 cameras (each of which, bar one, I actually own). And there is of course no outright winner. But IMHO taking the weight of the systems into account (as in my initial assumptions), the best camera overall and the outright best for for sea/landscape is the Nikon D750 (!), the best cameras for street are the Panasonic LX-7, the Olympus E-M5ii, or the Nikon 1 V3, and the best cameras for wildlife are the D750 or the Nikon 1 V3. The Fuji X-T1 is a very close runner-up to the D750. I know I haven’t included Canon in this. That’s because there is no lightweight FF Canon equivalent for the D750, and the outright best camera for wildlife in the market irrespective of weight, the Canon 7Dii, weighs as much as a Nikon D800 and is far heavier than any of my other choices when paired with a 100-400mm Canon zoom lens. It’s the best in it’s field but only for specialists. Overall for distant (e.g far eastern) travel, if I had to take one systems camera, it would be the E-M5ii (purely based on weight). But I can take more, so in practice I will take a D750 for sea/land and wildlife, and the Olympus for street/walking around. The Panasonic LX-7 makes a very inexpensive sub for the Olympus, so in practice that’s what I’ll probably use on my next trip, along with the D750. And one final thought -the Fuji X-M1 is the joint runner up for sea/landscape shots, and is the absolute bargain of the bunch.  You can get them for around £200 on eBay, and I have taken photos like this with mine.

I’ll come back to each of these areas/genres in future posts, but first, here is the logic behind the assessment.

Step 1. OK, what am I trying to do? What are my likes and dislikes? Here’s a matrix that lays it out.

Genres Good at Interested in Frequency Weight
Sea/ Land and LE 5 5 5 15
Street/beach 4 4 5 13
Wildlife 2 3 1 6
1=bad, 5=good

Fine, so pretty simple. I add together my level of proficiency, to my level of interest, to how often I do each type of shooting. The score of all these is used to weight the downstream ratings by each genre.

Step 2. Now what are the key camera system characteristics that are important for each genre?

Here again I’ve used a scale of 1-5 for most areas, but for each genre I’ve allowed 2 scores of 10, because some factors, like frame rate in wildlife are wayyy more important than others. I hope you can see the approach – for street photography, the camera cannot be huge, and the depth of field needs to be good (you need to take really fast shots and get people in focus). On the other hand for LE, the RAW latitude (AKA low ISO signal to noise ratio) and the lack of need for noise reduction (so a 4 minute shot doesn’t become an 8 minute shot) are key for LE shots of the sea, or indeed landscape in general. It’s easy to tune these of course, and I keep on doing that. Overall weight is an important factor which I’ll come back, and at the end, you’ll see ‘system weight’ as well as camera and lens weight. System weight is what the weight of a complete system from super wide to 300mm tele would be and reflects what you have to pack in the case as opposed to what you might truck around in the street. Here are the key factors by genre then.

Genres Seascape/rivers LE Street/beach Wildlife
Camera weight 3 10 3
Lens weight 3 5 3
FPS 0 3 5
Super wide 5 0 0
RAW latitude 10 0 2
Resolution 5 3 2
Focus tracking 0 4 10
Focus speed 0 5 10
Flip screen 5 5 0
Silent shutter 0 5 0
High DoF 0 10 0
Low DoF 0 3 0
Tele portability 0 0 5
Image Noise 5 2 4
No NR needed 10 0 0
Camera + lens resolution 5 3 5
Frame buffer 0 3 5
Quality of primes 0 5 0
System weight 4 5 4

 

Step 3. OK. Now I have rated each of these attributes for 11 cameras across 5 different lens systems. The table for that is too large to show in this kind of format, so it’s in the spreadsheet. You may not agree with the assessments – and if you care that much you can easily tune them (as I do all the time). Multiplying all these out gives the three columns in red below, and the winners for each genre are shown in bold. The blue column to the right is formed by multiplying the score for each genre by the weight for each genre, and then adding. That moves the significance of wildlife shots much farther down in the ranking, and moves seascape up slightly.

 

Sensor Make Model Sea /land Street Wild Combined
FF Nikon D800 210 169 215 6637
FF Nikon D600 220 197 223 7199
FF Nikon D750 249 236 247 8285
APSC Fuji F X-T1 230 265 195 8065
APSC Fuji F X-M1 230 235 185 7615
APSC Fuji F X100S 160 225 160 6285
MFT Olympus O M10 170 268 209 7288
MFT Panasonic LX-7 165 294 210 7557
MFT Olympus O M5II 170 296 214 7682
APSC Sony S A6000 220 243 227 7821
CX (1 inch) Nikon N1 V3 131 290 243 7193

 

These results are what is summarised in the third paragraph above. I’ll return to this topic in the near future, with more detail on the D750, and the other category winners. And to explain why IMHO, the D750 is a better landscape camera for my needs, than the D800 (which I also own).

Any readers who made it to this point, well done! Any readers at this point who also read my other blog, will see why I had to separate the two. And I will put the full spreadsheet up sometime soon. This will be accelerated if anyone actually asks for it, via the comments form below.

 

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