I had started planning buying my first digital camera a few months back. I had it all figured out. I was going to get a Pentax K-01 and several of the really sweet lenses in their lineup. I love the quality of the lenses, I love the overall look and the feel of them. There’s no question that they are great performers. My main lens was going to be their 35mm macro lens, a stunning lens by any measure. It is a little longer than I would like, but I was willing to deal with that slight inconvenience for the quality. I was then going to eventually round out my collection with the 21mm and the 55mm lenses.
But then a few things happened. First, the K-01 started getting decidedly “meh” reviews. The image quality is great, but the handling and focus performance really disappointed. I’m willing to put up with some inconvenience (says the man who liked shooting 4×5 view cameras and pinhole cameras) but not for $800 I’m not. Pentax has since announced a new SLR camera that seems to take care of the more egregious faults of the K-01. While I was willing to rationalize the size of the K-01 (it is a little smaller than an SLR) getting an SLR would be going against one of the things I wanted in my new camera, a small size. Plus, it’s going to be $900. The lenses have also gone up in price, some by quite a lot. The 21mm and 35mm are around $600 and the 55 is now an eye watering $800. They’re great lenses, it could be argued that they’re still a good value, but they’ve gotten to be a bit more than I was willing to spend, especially if I’m looking at a $900 camera as well.
So what to do? Start again I guess. Here’s what I want in a camera system.
1) A small camera. I want something easy to carry around but it has to have really good image quality, so no all in one compacts for me. I want a good size sensor. Also, no SLRs. I want something noticeably smaller than that.
2) Interchangeable lenses. I’m still a bit of a purist, I like to shoot with prime (non-zoom) lenses. They have some technical advantages but mostly I just like shooting that way.
3) Great lenses. This is where the real “soul” of a camera system is. Great lenses aren’t just sharp, they have their own characters and are pleasing across many different parameters.
4) Must have a good user interface. If you can’t use the camera well, it gets frustrating to use.
5) I have to be able to afford it.
So #1 pretty much ruled out the two big boys in the camera world, Canon and Nikon. No big loss to me really, I’ve never really liked cameras from them and I’ve never fallen in love with any of their lenses. #2 narrowed it down some more. There are several compact interchangeable lens systems out there. #3 and #4 eliminated Sony. They are the heavy hitters in the compact interchangeable camera market. They have great sensors in their cameras. Unfortunately, their lenses are known to be mostly blah and the user interface is terrible. I really wanted to like the Sony NEX system but I could never use those cameras.
That left me with Olympus, Panasonic, and, surprise, Samsung. Olympus and Panasonic both use the same format and have interchangeable lenses between them. They also have some highly regarded lenses available for their cameras. I think I could use them, they are for the most part well thought out and perform pretty well. My problem is with the sensors they use, they are just a bit too small for me. Yes, I think they would be plenty “sharp” enough for me, but I don’t like the character of the depth of field. In general, the smaller the sensor, the more depth of field you’re going to get. I like a little more flexibility than what the sensor in those will give me.
That leaves Samsung. I never would have thought I’d consider them, but they are looking pretty good. Small camera? Check. Their lenses are actually really good and they’re small. Plus, they actually make the lens I want, a 30mm f2. For whatever reason, that’s a tough one to find. The Pentax 35mm is a great performer, but it is just a little too long at 35mm and it doesn’t let in quite as much light as I’d like. The Samsung lens is half the price, let’s in twice the light, and is very well regarded. As an added bonus, I can easily adapt my Zeiss 50mm f1.4 lens I have kicking around. That’s one less lens to buy, and it’s an amazing one.
Samsung also seems to have the user interface down as well. I really like the control layout, everything I need is easily accessible. Its sensor is larger than the Olympus and Panasonic cameras as well. It also has a crazy resolution, enough that I can easily crop or downsize as I need to. Price? I can get the NX200 with a basic zoom lens for $600. The 30mm lens is $300 and the 20mm lens (also a good performer that is small) is $350. I can get an adaptor for my 50mm Zeiss for around $25. This is looking good.
It’s not perfect of course. Geotagging (embedding the GPS coordinates in each picture) is a bit of a pain unless I want to give up the flash shoe for their GPS. The complexity goes up if I want to geotag the RAW picture file. The NX200 is known for its slow speed writing to the card. The biggest drawback may be Samsung themselves. They aren’t known for their customer service. If something goes wrong, it might be trouble getting some help.
Still, for the cost savings I’m willing to take that gamble. Some might say that investing in the Samsung system is a little risky. I’ve been through so many systems that I’m not worried about it. Plus, it’s not as though it’s a tremendous amount of money (relatively speaking). Truth be told, it’s easy enough to adapt other companies lenses to the camera, I will probably pick up a few of those Pentax lenses I covet as time goes by. It would be easy enough to switch cameras if I ever needed too…
So I think I’m going to at least get the camera and basic lens fairly soon. It’ll be good to have a real camera again, and it’ll be even better to be shooting again.