With the heavy reality that many of us live in these days, allow me a brief moment to simply luxuriate in the completely pointless, utterly fun, and pleasantly diverting task of looking back at the best attributes of some of my past camera purchases.
These won’t be complete reviews. After all, a review acknowledges both the good and bad. And today, I’m in the mood to focus on the good. I also won’t be able to call out every camera I’ve ever owned. I’m old, so that would take all day. But, here are a handful that has passed through my gear closet at some point in time. Let’s have some fun.
Canon RM Canonflex
The first camera on the list, The Canon RM Canonflex, is the first camera I ever owned. Although the word “own” might be a point of contention for my father from whom I technically “borrowed” the camera 21 years ago and never quite got around to returning. Built in 1962, my dad had bought it on a whim as he was being shipped off to Vietnam during his time in the military. Thankfully, both he and the camera made it home. The camera was retired to vacation photo duty until I started the cinematography program at UCLA and our homework assignments required us to go out and shoot photographs in order to learn about exposure (this was long before digital).
The simplicity of the camera was a challenge but also its greatest aspect. Fully mechanical with no automation to speak of and no place to put batteries. You could shoot all day. You needed to learn about the depth of the field to correctly zone focus and ensure your images would be sharp. And you had to understand how to use the exposure triangle to achieve an accurate exposure. The camera actually did have a built-in meter, a rarity for what it was, but figuring out how to use it properly was the foundation of everything I do today.
Even better, the now 58-year-old camera is still fully functional, built like a tank, and I even took it out for a little walkabout shooting the other day. Still good as new.
The camera that started me down the path of photography as a career. While my collection of Nikon gear has only mushroomed over the years, it was this camera with the simple 18-200mm kit lens (36-400mm in APS-C terms) that fueled my passion for stills. It was the perfect everyday camera. It traveled the world with me, shot my first paying gigs, and still sits on my shelf in a place of honor. It’s the best attribute, which you might be able to guess from the zoom range of the kit lens, was versatility. It was a great combination to learn the craft and just explore creatively long before I knew what genre I would ultimately gravitate to. In fact, even now, as I am established as a commercial photographer loaded down with more gear than I often need, I find myself trying to pare down my gear and get back to a place where I have the freedom to just walk around and shoot as I did in the early days with the D200.
I should probably point out that I am a longtime Nikonian, so there will be a few Nikons on this list. We’ll get to some other brands later, but for now, I’d be remiss not to mention the D700, my first full-frame digital camera. It continued my Nikon journey and grew with me as I grew as a photographer transforming from hobbyist to semi-professional. It took the portability of the D200 and added a larger sensor that seemed to be able to perform in any situation. Looking up the link to this camera, I noticed that there was actually a new one on sale for $429 on Amazon. Having regrettably traded my own in years ago, I seriously thought about getting it, even in 2020. That’s how fun the D700 was to use.
Ditto to everything I said about the D700, but tripling the megapixels. This is the camera with which I went full-time into commercial work professionally and started providing images to clients who would print them large. It was the camera with which I would start photographing images for billboards and in major campaigns. Its superpower was resolution. In a way, it started me down the path of high-resolution cameras, which I have only sprinted farther down today. But even for the majority of my work now, the D800’s 35.9 MP is more than enough. In fact, if you needed high megapixels and were on a limited budget, a used D800 might not be the worst way to go.
When I traded in my D800 towards the purchase of a D850, I got another bump in megapixels, but the real benefit was that it was the first DSLR I owned that also shot 4K. Nowadays, I have other video-centric cameras that take on most tasks for video. But even just the other day, I found myself actively opting to shoot video with the D850 instead of my mirrorless cameras simply because I was already shooting stills with the D850, and it was not practical at the time to switch. And despite the less than ideal video autofocus, it definitely did the trick. While I miss my D800, I fall more and more in love with my D850 every time I shoot with it. I’ve owned a lot of other cameras since purchasing the D850, and all tend to have a moment in the sun, but I ultimately return to the D850 every time. It’s just the right camera for the way I personally like to shoot. Like finally finding that one rare pair of sneakers that fit your feet perfectly. The Nikon D850’s best attribute is that it can simply get the job done. It might not be super fancy, but regardless of the assignment, I feel comfortable that, with the D850 in hand, I can get it done.
Fuji X-T2 and X-T3
Speaking of fancy, my love for Fuji’s X line of cameras is at least as driven by the aesthetic as the functionality. Usually, these serve as my personal fun cameras. While they certainly have all the tech specs to be used professionally, I usually use them more when I want a break from my Nikon work cameras and just need something light to do a bit of exploring. In more than one way, the X-T2 and X-T3 remind me of my original Canon RM Canonflex. They even look the same. Simple, straightforward dials. It has all the modern conveniences of automation, but the layout of the camera simply begs the user to shoot in full manual mode. This might not be the fastest way to operate, but this back to basics approach inspires a different type of creativity than when productivity is one’s main concern.
And all of that is packed into a body that, let’s face it, just looks good. It’s the camera I feel most comfortable talking with me on a date. A hiking or road trip date. Not a four-star restaurant date. Please don’t bring your gear on a fancy first date at a gourmet restaurant. You might not get a second date, although I’m sure the pictures of your plate will be fantastic.
The X-T2 and X-T3 were also the cameras that started my tendency to want to dress up my cameras with fancy cases, straps, and accessories. Even my Nikon gets dressed up now when I go to shoot. Does it improve my photography? Not at all. But hey, even cameras like to look good sometimes.
My Fujifilm gateway drug. All the attributes of the Fuji X-T2 and X-T3, but the X100S can literally fit into my pocket.
Yep, we are going back to Nikon. I told you I was a Nikonian. I actually bought the D750 primarily to be a low-cost backup camera to have in my bag. While it was released in 2014, I didn’t actually purchase mine until 2019 when B&H was having a crazy year-end sale making it too good a deal to pass up. More a practical purchase than yearning for new technology (it is far from a new release), it didn’t take long to see why so many people had raved about the camera for so many years. It’s just so darn simple to use. Even when using it in full manual mode, it just has a certain grab and shoot quality to it that makes it really enjoyable to take pictures with. Despite being heavier than my Fuji cameras, it quickly became my go-to camera for walkabouts. I just really enjoy putting the viewfinder to my eye and pressing down the shutter button until I hear that click. I’ve already used it enough to justify the sale price and have already passed on other camera deals in recent months because I don’t want to take away any of the D750’s game time. Its main attribute is the ease of use.
Nikon Z 6
Okay, I know most of the cameras on my list are DSLRs. But let’s give mirrorless a little more love. While I still greatly prefer the shooting experience of a DSLR for stills, mirrorless cameras have taken video shooting in an SLR form factor to another level. The ease of use that the D750 provides for grab-and-go stills, the Z 6 provides for video. It is very easy to simply turn it on, point it at the subject, and get a result. This speed is important for me, as I am often shooting both stills and motion during the same shoot, and it helps to have a camera that can ease any complications. Once you actually know what you’re doing and learn how to handle it, you can get results on par with almost any other video system on the market. Add to that the fact that Nikon keeps making it better through firmware updates, and you have yourself a very powerful machine for a very reasonable price. The Z 6’s most positive attribute is that it brings Nikon’s penchant for dependability, ergonomics, and performance into the video arena.
Okay, I told you today’s article was going to be all positive. I could go on all day about the good things about some of the cameras I’ve been fortunate enough to own. I could also go on about some of the negatives, but we’ll leave that for another day.
What cameras would you have on your list? What do you love most about the cameras in your past and present?