The primary job of a camera is to not only make images but not get in the way of your creative process. All cameras today can make great images, but not all cameras are what I would call great cameras. What I mean by that is not all cameras make your life as a creative easier. A great camera is one that has everything you need and has all the dials and knobs in the right places so that they are convenient to reach. It should also have a menu system that is easy to navigate and find what you need.
I know a lot of photographers, especially students or hobbyists don’t realize that you can create custom menus in your camera system. On my most camera systems they are called “My Menu” and they allow you to create your own customer Menu Tabs with the settings you use most often. I have these set up on all of my Canon cameras as well as on my Fujifilm GFX 50R as it’s a pain to dig through the regular menu tabs to find a handful of settings that you use most often. To give you an example, this is how I have my cameras personal menus set up.
In my first menu tab I have AF Method, Eye Detection, Subject to Detect, Continuous AF, Record Function+Card folder and Image Quality.
AF Method allows me quick access to the number and type of AF points I want to use. Eye Detection is pretty self explanatory, whether you want it on or off. Subject to Detect allows me to choose between Animals or People or no preference. Continuous AF is whether or not I want the AF to keep acquiring, which I only use on occasion as it runs the battery down faster. Record Function and Card Folder allows me to tell the camera which card I want to write to first. In the case of my R6 I can specify if I want stills written to Card 1 and video to Card 2 or if I want redundancy
And also whether or not I want the images or video written to custom folders. Image Quality is of course whether I want to shoot RAW or JPG or both and what size to use for each.
In Tab 2 of My Menu I have Retract Lens on power off, Release shutter without lens, Format Card, Shutter Mode, Shooting Mode and ISO Speed Settings.
Retract lens on Power Off is because some of my RF lenses extend the barrel for Focusing so when I turn off the camera I want the lens to auto retract. Release shutter without a lens allows my cameras to work with manual only lenses that have no electronics and hence the camera doesn’t know a lens is attached. If this mode is off your camera will not shoot with one of these lenses attached. Format card allows me to quickly format my memory cards. Shutter mode allows me to choose between Electronic or Mechanical shutter modes, depending on which one I want to use. Shooting Mode is for when shooting video and ISO speed settings allows me to change those parameters for ISO Speed, ISO Speed Range, Auto ISO ranges and Minimum Shutter Speed with ISO.
My Menu Tab 3 contains External Speedlite control, White Balance, HDR mode on my R6, Control Ring rotation, Manual Focus Peak settings and Focus Guide.
External Speedlite control gives me quick access to Flash Firing, E-TTL balance settings, E-TTL metering, Continuous Flash control, Slow Syncro and Flash Function settings. White Balance allows me to quickly change the White Balance between the different options depending on the type of lighting. HDR mode is only available on some cameras. Control ring rotation allows me to reverse the direction for any Function associated with the Control Ring on Canon RF lenses. Manual Focus Peak allows you to turn the function on or off, change the level and the color of the Focus Peak for non autofocus lenses. Focus Guide allows you to turn that function on and off.
In My Menu Tab 4 I have HEIF-JPG Conversion, WiFi and Bluetooth settings, GPS device settings, AF Beep and HDMI Resolution. HEIF-JPG conversion allows you to convert images already capture between those file formats in camera. WiFi and Bluetooth settings allows you to turn those functions on or off and set them up for using the Canon Camera Control App. GPS device settings gives me quick access to GPS settings when I have my GP-E2 unit attached. AF Beep allows you to turn on or off the Beep you hear when Auto Focus has been achieved. HDMI resolutions allows for changing the output resolution on the HDMI port on the camera when you are doing video and have an external Monitor or Atomos Ninja attached.
So you can see how setting up My Menu with the items you use the most can be WAY more time saving than scrolling through 31 menu tabs using the basic Canon camera menu system. Now I will hand it to Canon they have used the same menu system in their cameras for many years and they have one of the BEST menu structures in cameras. Nikon’s if fairly good as well and so is Fujifilm’s, but Sony’s menu system has been a hot mess for a long time and they only recently re-vamped their’s to make it more intuitive for the user. Sony did not give this new menu to all their cameras, which is something they should have done, instead only the A7SIII, A1 and the A7IV have the new menu system.
Another aspect of a Great Camera is having the buttons and dials in logical places, which many of the cameras today do accommodate fairly well and if you have been using the same system whether it’s Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm or Sony you probably already have developed “muscle memory”, which means you instinctively know where most if not all of the buttons and dials are. But sometimes when a new body model comes out the manufacturer moves these around and sometimes there seems to be no logic to the change and it makes it harder to use the camera. They move a button or a dial to a really weird or awkward location and it spoils that “muscle memory” and you have to retrain yourself to that new location. The other part of making a camera great is making as many of the dials and buttons customizable, so that you the camera owner can set them to do what you want instead of their original intention. I personally never use the shutter button on my camera for starting or acquiring Auto Focus. For me and many others, it’s more practical to set up Back Button Focus. If you are not familiar with Back Button Focus and how to set to up you can go back and listen to Episode 164 where I talk about it in more detail.
Great Cameras allow you to change your colors in-camera like the Saturation and so on but not ALL cameras allow you to get the look you want in-camera. Bad cameras make you work for it more in post processing. Fujifilm is a great one to talk about here as they offer pretty much all of their old film stock looks as “film simulations” in-camera and that is one of the things that those of us who are old enough to have shot film love about Fujifilm cameras. Don’t get me wrong, Canon, Nikon and Sony have in-camera adjustments for colors and Saturation, etc but not ALL models from all these companies give you those options.
When shooting with my GFX 50R I prefer to use either PROVIA or VELVIA for my images as I original shot film back in the day. When I am post processing, because Fujifilm has a good relationship with Adobe and Capture One I can always change the film simulation in post processing if I feel a different one works better for a specific image. My friend Ken Rockwell likes to set his cameras to punch up the Saturation in camera to save time later, but I don’t always do this with my Canon cameras. To me, it just makes more sense to make any changes in post processing, but your taste and decision will be different than mine or his, so choose what you like for these settings.
If you use more than one body as I do, make sure you can set all your cameras the same in body so that you can maintain a consistent look without having to do more work in post processing.
Another factor of a great camera is one that is fast. Can your camera do what you need it to do quickly? I personally own the Canon EOS R, the RP and the R6 and on a recent large project shoot for a major international brand, I decided on the second day of shooting to take both my R and R6 instead of just the R6. I did this so I could use two different types of lenses at the same time, a telephoto and a wide angle. This ended up not working well for me because the R is now slow and clunky compared to the R6. The EOS R was Canon’s first foray into Mirrorless Full Frame bodies and the EOS R6 is one of their latest models and the difference in the two bodies as far as how fast they can do thing is night and day. The R is like a Pinto and the R6 is like a Porsche in comparison. If I had thought of it ahead of time I should have rented another R6. I am now in the process of trying to sell my EOS R and RP and replace both of them with another R6.
Next, consider how fast the camera is at Data Transfer. I prefer to remove my memory cards from my cameras at the end of a shoot and copy the files onto my hard drives using a card reader, but many of you prefer to just plug your camera into your computer using the USB cable. That is completely fine, but keep in mind if your camera only has USB 1.1 instead of USB 2 or USB 3, your images are going to take a LOT longer to transfer to your computer if it only has a USB 1.1 interface compared to USB 2 or 3. Do you have the patience to sit and wait all day for the images to copy to your hard drive, or do you want them done transferring in a matter of a few seconds?
How is your camera’s size and weight? Is it a bit cumbersome to use, do you get tired of lugging it around all day in the field? These are additional items to consider on what makes for a great camera. Is the system a joy to use and easy on your body or do you quickly feel like you are lugging around a bag of bricks? And finally, does your camera have the standard “Mode” dial on the top that allows you to quickly change between Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program Mode and Manual Mode? If not this is another VERY important item that is a make or break on whether or not a camera is a Great Camera or a crappy camera. Remember, a great camera gets out of your way to making your images, your creations, your vision. A bad camera actually hinders this process and that is something no one really wants. Keep this all in mind when you are looking for your first camera or your next upgrade. If you are new to photography, I always recommend renting a body from Lens Rentals. You don’t even need to rent the most recent body from a system you are interested in, you can rent one that is a few years old, especially in Canon, Nikon and Fujifilm, but with Sony as I mentioned earlier, Sony recently changed their menu so you might want to rent one of the newest bodies from them to see their new menu.
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