These days, for a photographer who cares, a “medium format” camera is becoming a serious option. This is something that, while large, you can still fit in your hand, but has a huge sensor and gives you gobs and gobs of megapixels. Examples would be the Leica S2 and the Pentax 645D. These cameras are beautiful, objects of desire, but really I’m not tempted.
They give you enough pixels (40M or so) that you can confidently sell your work to high-gloss magazines or use it on big display posters. For a sample of the 645D at work, check out the Svalbard gallery by Jostein Øksne, especially Sarkofagen.
In exchange for those all those pixels, you pay a pretty severe price. Your camera is larger and heavier, and its sensor is much less light-sensitive than you get in a modern SLR like my Pentax K-5 or a top-end “full-frame” product from Canon or Nikon.
Well, and of course, there’s the price price; you can buy a reasonable car for less.
Check out The Leica S2 as a Travel Camera, a report by Nick Rains. You won’t regret it, his pictures from Western China are exquisite.
But here’s what caught my eye. Rains writes “I try to use 160 as much as possible, but in the real world having access to 320 is very useful and I can see very little difference in the final prints. 640 is also great — I have made plenty of 20x30 inch prints from images shot at ISO640 to be able to tell you that I am perfectly happy shooting at this ISO. Almost 40MP of detail at a genuine ISO640 is a real boon in a travel camera.”
I’m glad he’s happy with that ISO, but on my immensely smaller, lighter, and cheaper K-5 I routinely shoot at ISO3200. Yeah, at that sensitivity, the pictures are a little grainy (but in a not-displeasing way), and a “measly” 16MP at that; but I mostly publish on the Web, and let me tell you, the limiting factor on the quality isn’t the camera, it’s me.
I’m glad things like the S2 and 645D exist, because they’re beautiful, and maybe some of those cost-no-object technologies will leak through into a product that fits in my camera bag. But for a normal web-oriented shooter, they’re irrelevant.