Agnostic to camera brands — my purchasing history 2006 to 2020


Earlier this month, Canon officially announced the launch of the EOS R5 and R6 mirrorless cameras. Two absolute units in the current climate of cameras. The R5 has actually been officially “announced” at least three times now. Originally unveiled back in February 2020, the imminent release this coming week and a whole host of premium features announced a couple of weeks back, are causing tremendous excitement right now. It appears as though Canon has finally awoken in the mirrorless camera world, with a showstopper!

My camera journey of the last 14 years is one that I’ve told many times, and I can remember vividly with almost exact dates to hand. For those of you who are new to my content, or have previously only followed since I started my YouTube channel, here’s a brief run-down of all the significant cameras I’ve bought and used over the years.

ag·nos·tic

\ ag-ˈnä-stik\
Adjective

Not preferring a particular device or system  — usually used after a noun.

The Canon era


Times Square, New York — Shot on Canon EOS 350D
Canon EOS 350D

I started out my career in photography way back in 2006, as a 15-year-old, with a Canon EOS 350D. At the time, choices among DSLRs were firmly between Canon and Nikon. I was torn between getting the Nikon d40, or the Canon EOS 350D. I decided upon the Canon as I preferred the feel of the camera and heard that the college I was going to would likely also use Canon — giving me an opportunity to borrow compatible lenses. In reality, my college never actually had a camera loan system, however, my University did. Lo and behold, it was all Canon gear, so the decision paid off.

My 350D was a great entry level camera for me. It allowed me to experiment with so many manual controls and truly explore a variety of photography genres. Naturally, I gravitated towards landscape photography, as it gave me time to explore the camera with limited moving variables in the subjects I was capturing.

Fast-forward to 2009, I purchased the EOS 50D. It wasn’t a purchase I regretted at all, but man was it bad timing.

Richmond Park, London — Shot on Canon EOS 50D
Canon EOS 50D

I absolutely adored my 50D. It was built like a tank; the last of the premium consumer series (XXD) to have a full titanium body and CF card slot. Overall, it felt very close to the “Pro” line-up, which at the time was the 1DmkIII and the legendary 5DmkII — the first DSLR to shoot video.

As a college student, the 50D was right at the upper end of my budget and suited me very well. However, in less than 5 months, the original 7D was released to huge fanfare. It added video functionality and all the breakthroughs of the legendary 5DmkII, packaged within a more affordable APS-C sensor body, with a few other benefits such as faster shooting modes.

The 7D was the camera I always wish I’d bought. For 5 whole years. Not waiting for the 7D, cost me valuable years of experimenting further with filmmaking earlier. I used to enjoy playing around with DV camcorders back in the day, but I was always gutted I couldn’t make videos with my own DSLR and growing collection of lenses.

View from Tour Montparnasse, Paris — Shot on Canon EOS 70D
Canon EOS 70D

In 2014, I bought the Canon EOS 70D, not long after it launched. It was a revolutionary camera for Canon, with the first incarnation of dual-pixel autofocus for video. I loved my 70D, but never quite as much as I loved the build-quality of my 50D — it always felt a little plasticky in comparison. Finally having video was a huge bonus and paved the way towards starting my YouTube channel. But, just like my 50D purchase, I struggled with the timing of it within Canon’s greater line-up.

I wanted to go for something like a 5D, but the 5DmkIII at the time felt like it was only about a year or so away from an update. Getting the 70D felt like a bit of a halfway solution to just “getting on with it”, and yet not “investing too much”… yet.

I’m a firm believer that waiting around for the next best tech is a dangerous game that can leave you waiting indefinitely. However, I also recognise that buying something at full price towards the end of its product life won’t maximise your bang for buck. The next best thing is to buy something as soon as its released, to maximise it’s “current-gen” lifetime. Paying full-price for a 5D mkiii 2.5 years in, didn’t feel comfortable, so I settled for the 70D, as a camera with the latest features, at an affordable price.

As it turned out, the 5D had a somewhat sideways update in 2015, with release of the 5DS and 5DSR, but this only confused things further. Canon seemed reluctant to make any improvements in the video department. I had not long booked all our travel plans for 2016 and beyond and was keen to invest in a camera before we set off for a year and half. The question loomed. “What now?”

The Sony era


View of The Shard, London — Shot on Sony A7R II

I was tired of Canon’s sluggish advancements of cameras regarding video. Only incremental upgrades here and there, and a seemingly strategical, yet inconsistent, omission of certain features between their models (e.g. headphone jacks, flip-screens and 4K recording.)

Throughout 2015, I’d been side-eyeing the Sony A7 series, with their abundance of features packed into a travel friendly format. As if by pure chance, at the right time, they released the Sony A7R II. With my recent history of poor timing for buying cameras, not only did the A7R II have pretty much everything I was looking for, it was brand new.

Not a rumour in sight about any subsequent models around the corner. I couldn’t have been any more timely about buying one if I wanted to.

I made the leap to another camera system for the first time in almost a decade of shooting Canon. It felt exciting and experimental to learn a whole new environment. On the surface, it seemed as though I had everything I could ever want in a camera for both photography and filmmaking. It took a little while to get to grips with the Sony for both aspects of my work, so I decided to keep using my 70D for photography projects I was working on, and focus on video for the A7R II to begin with.

Central Beach, Fort Lauderdale — Shot on Canon EOS 7D mkII
Canon EOS 7D mkII

Unfortunately, not long after owning the A7R II, my 70D broke. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think it was water damaged from being caught in the rain one time. In early December 2015, I had a project coming up with Visit Florida and Hertz. I still wasn’t comfortable in the usability of my Sony for photography work, so as a last resort, I bought the Canon 7DmkII to get me through the project comfortably.

Over the course of 2016, travelling almost continuously, I tried desperately to utilise my Sony for my photography work, but I could never get on with the usability and reliability of it. This was especially apparent as someone constantly switching between photo and video modes and the required differences between settings and features.

In the end, I decided to keep my Sony as a video camera, and my Canon as a photography camera. This physical distinction had a positive effect on my mental separation as well. It allowed me to be comfortable in both aspects, without jeopardising the quality of either.

My 7DmkII as it turned out, was a phenomenally reliable camera. I had the same love for it as I did with my older 50D. In retrospect, it’s funny how I was always previously hung up about Canon cameras for their inconsistent video specs, when in the end I just succumbed to not using the same camera for both functions.

The Fujifilm era


Shibuya crossing, Tokyo, Japan
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo — Shot on Fujifilm X100F
Fujifilm X100F

Towards the end of 2016, whilst living in Australia, I started experimenting more with Elly’s Fujifilm X-T10, which I’d encouraged her to buy earlier that year. I thoroughly enjoyed the system and shared my enthusiasm multiple times online. This got the attention of Fujifilm Australia who loaned me an X-Pro2, and later an X-T2 during a few trips throughout Australia and New Zealand. The relationship I had with Fujifilm Australia was possibly the best brand/creator relationship I’ve had with a camera company. It was an open-door approach to giving feedback on the systems—which they listened to and even implemented in their later X-H1—and free-reign to test the cameras and explore the systems.

Fujifilm X-H1

Evidently, I fell in love with the Fujifilm ecosystem and eventually purchased the X100F, and X-H1 cameras in 2017 and 2018 respectively, along with a variety of lenses. I’ve shot exclusively with Fujifilm for photography for the past two years now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve spoken highly of Fuji cameras online during most of that time. In fact, I’ve spoken so highly of them, it’s had an adverse effect of people thinking I’m actually sponsored by them.

For the record, I’m not sponsored by Fujifilm. Other than with Fujifilm Australia, who loaned the cameras to me originally, I’ve not really had a direct relationship with them. I thought a relationship was finally forming with the UK team when I was invited to take part in the X-Summit for the launch of the X100V. But unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to shoot with the camera I was invited to talk about. In addition, the X-T4 released a few weeks later, was a camera I had high interest in. However I wasn’t involved with any of the press events, so I haven’t been able to form any real opinions on it.

I generally just brush these things off and don’t really see a need to get hung up on them. But when there’s growing discussion about my affiliation with Fujifilm across my content, I have to weigh up what damage is caused to my own integrity, by keeping quiet to protect a relationship that’s practically non-existent in the first place.

As a creator on YouTube, I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can get access to test multiple brands of camera gear to share my experiences. On numerous occasions, I’ve learnt of missed opportunities because it was incorrectly assumed that I had an exclusivity agreement with Fujifilm. That’s a perspective I’m looking to correct.

I’m still a massive fan of Fujifilm cameras, but I must admit, I’m a little more cautious of how I position it, because there will always be people who jump to false conclusions on why.

The Panasonic Lumix era


Joe Allam with Panasonic Lumix GH5 in Unazukionsen, Japan
Shooting with Panasonic Lumix GH5 in Unazuki-Onsen, Japan
Panasonic Lumix GH5

Throughout 2017, alongside the Fujifilm era, I started using larger cameras to vlog with, instead of my Canon G7 X. My Sony A7R II was doing well for me, with added image quality at 4K and a dedicated mic input. But I was desperate to have a flip-out screen and better stabilisation again.

The Panasonic Lumix GH5 had been released earlier that year with huge attention from the filmmaking industry. I was interested in experiencing 10-bit colour depth and a camera more in-tune with filmmaking than anything else on the market. A key selling point for me, was the Discovery Channel documentary I was part of, which was filmed on the GH5 (and sometimes GH4).

Filming Discovery Channel documentary with GH5
Filming for Discovery Channel with Panasonic Lumix GH5

I thought to myself, if it’s good enough for the Discovery Channel, it’s more than good enough for me!

A camera with a flip-out screen that could also film in 4K was oddly hard to come by in 2017-2018. Panasonic Lumix were the only real contenders at the time with the GH4 and GH5. In late 2017, I bought the GH5 and have used it ever since for my filmmaking needs.

Of all my cameras, the GH5 has been the ultimate workhorse. Yes, there have been difficulties with the auto-focus. Yes, the low-light performance has been sub-par compared to other brands. Yes, the files can be difficult and heavy to work with in Premiere Pro. But my god has this camera delivered when it mattered.

I’ve never had a failure or issue with my GH5. It’s easily been the most usable and customisable camera system I’ve ever experienced, and likely the most reliable camera I’ve ever used. I experienced reliability with my GH5 that I hadn’t seen since my 50D days.

I’ve stuck with my GH5 throughout 2018, 2019 and 2020, despite the autofocus and low-light limitiations I’ve had. Over time, I’ve come to learn ways to tame the focus for vlogging and adjusted my shooting style to avoid low-light environments. Acknowledging these issues has allowed me to be more mindful in my filmmaking approach, which in turn has improved my work dramatically. Given that I’ve been using the same camera for around 3 years, it’s genuinely surprising to see the quality of my work improve as much as it has. It’s a camera I have genuinely enjoyed more, the more I’ve mastered it.

However, I feel I’ve hit a certain “ceiling” to the GH5’s capabilities for my needs. It’s still a fantastic camera, but I’ve been noticing where newer technology would help to improve the quality and ease of capturing the narrative I’m trying to share. There’s always a balance between improvement through theoretical practice and technological advancement. With my GH5, as a primary bread-winner for my business, I now see value in upgrading it in 2020.

Moving on from the Panasonic Lumix GH5


During my time shooting with the GH5, I’ve built up a casual relationship with Lumix UK. They’ve previously loaned me a GH5S and most recently an S1H. The GH5S offered significant improvements to the low-light performance of my GH5, but at the cost of image stabilisation.

The picture on the GH5S showed me how much the GH5 suffered in low-light. However, the lack of IBIS on the GH5S has been very noticeable. This balance forced me to still think of the GH5S as a B-cam compared to my GH5 unless it’s mounted on a rig of some sort. I’ve experimented filming with gimbals and always turned away from them. I find they often introduce more difficulties than they solve. Especially as a run-and-gun filmmaker.

I really do have to give credit to my GH5 for forcing me to work within shooting limitations and offering me exceptional tools and features for when the conditions are perfect. Shooting the Japan Rail Series with both the GH5 and GH5S was a prime example of how the two systems could work harmoniously together, to elevate the outcome.

Panasonic Lumix S1H

I’ve had my hands on the S1H since halfway through the COVID-19 lockdown. I’ve not been able to shoot with it anywhere near as much as I would have in normal circumstances. But when I have shot with it, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s honestly like a full-frame GH5. In every sense of the phrase. It’s overall bigger, beefier, more capable and just as reliable.

There are so many nods towards filmmaking, that make this a perfect video camera for my style of shooting. The only real downside I can comment on for my use is the added bulk and weight of the body, coming in at a whopping 1.05kg, before adding any lenses. There’s also the contrast-based autofocus that still doesn’t compete in the same league as other brands’ phase detect autofocus.

The S1H is still a brilliant camera, with unbelievable specs at times, but it still has me confused with where it sits within the filmmaking industry. Is it a big little camera? Or a little big camera?

As a hybrid photographer/filmmaker, I’ve become accustomed to carrying at least two cameras for my work. As much as all these cameras can be very capable photo and video cameras independently; the reality is they very often perform better in only one of these fields. Plus, the physical switching between cameras actually improves my workflow and mentality dramatically, when out shooting. Especially considering I am most often making films about photography.

I stopped looking for the perfect hybrid camera a while back and accepted my fate as always needing a dedicated camera for each. If nothing else, it stops me being disappointed if I ever think a camera can solve all my specific requirements, ha!

Knowing I’ll likely need to carry two cameras, it does mean I have to be extra conscious of weight. The S1H is brilliant and had been at the top of my shopping list for quite some time. But I’m still not 100% sure on it for my needs, given the body weight and general weight of most L-mount lenses. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve had to test it out, but I still have more thoughts to share, for another time…

Canon is back


Canon EOS R5

In 2020, the beast finally awoke. After a few dull years and a kind of confusing entry to full-frame mirrorless, Canon came fighting back into the mirrorless war, guns blazing.

When Canon shared the specs of the R5 during their global livestream in May, I think the whole industry was in shock. Were they seriously throwing everything at a camera of this size, with seemingly no compromises?! Canon have notoriously been known to omit certain features from their cameras for a multitude of speculated reasons. Many would suggest they never want to sabotage their cine line of cameras, or they want to squeeze more purchases out of you with slight varieties in their camera bodies. Whatever their reasoning was before, they’re certainly not abiding by it now.

With the industry still in shock, on July 9th, Canon had their official announcement of the R5, and along with it, the much-rumoured R6, a smaller sibling that’s by no means underpowered. I was half expecting there to be some sort of gotcha with the new camera, such as a hefty crop in 4K, limited bitrates or only 8-bit capture. However, throughout the whole presentation and upon studying the specs sheet afterwards, I really can’t find anything significant enough to be disappointing, given the specs available.

Have Canon finally made a camera I’d been screaming for? and then some?!

These are some of the top-line specs of the Canon R5 that stand out most to me:

  • 8K30p Raw full-frame recording, internally (up to 2600mbps)
  • 4K120p (up to 1880mbps)
  • 4K30p (up to 470mbps)
  • 4:2:2 10-bit Canon Log or HDR PQ
  • 5.69 million dot OLED EVF
  • 5-axis IBIS
  • Weather-sealed
  • 45 megapixels
  • Up to 20fps burst
  • Dual-pixel AF in all modes
  • Fully articulated screen

Many of these specs are above and beyond what I would even request in a new camera for 2020. Most notably would be 8K recording. I’ve been shooting and publishing in 4K for 3 years now and I love having the extra resolution over 1080p for archiving purposes in the future, but I am in no way ready to be publishing 8K footage yet. 10-bit recording across the board however, is a very welcome inclusion!

I’ve always felt that if we have capabilities to shoot in great quality, it’s always worth trying to accommodate it as best we can, for times in the future when we may want to re-use the footage or simply look back on higher resolution devices yet-to-be-released. But with each increase in resolution comes an increase in storage and processing power requirements.

4K has been a “standard” resolution for consumer cameras of the last couple of years, but I am genuinely surprised to see 8K make its way to a camera of this size and at this price point (£4199) so soon. The S1H maxes out at a respectable 5.9K and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera at 6K. Anything beyond that would usually be in the remit of larger cinema cameras such as a Red, Arri or even Canon’s own Cine cameras (which by the way, max out at 5.9K).

Resolution, of course, isn’t the ultimate measure of a camera’s capabilities by any stretch, but it definitely is one of the most taxing and demanding aspects of a sensor’s performance. The fact Canon are even attempting 8K, let alone 8K raw internal shows the true power behind their new hardware. 8K may be the top-line spec, but the benefits down the chain to enable 4K120p, or even 8K downsampled to 4K30p, are all a part of this camera’s brute force.

So, what’s the catch with the Canon R5?


A part of me is still in huge disbelief about the R5 specs. Canon is known for their exceptional build-quality, impeccable usability and accurate colour science. In similar fashion to Apple, they may not be the first to do something, but when they do, they do it right.

There’s already been a lot of talk online about overheating issues when shooting in 8K and prolonged use in 4K120p. For some people these are genuine concerns, but you really have to keep perspective that it’s amazing this camera is even able to achieve these specs in the first place. Even if only for 10 mins at a time.

After all, my Sony A7R II used to overheat in 4K all the time, but the A7 series is who we have to thank for bringing 4K to the masses.

Personally, I rarely shoot in slow-motion, and often find it can be overused by filmmakers to cover a lack of narrative. The fact these specs are available, doesn’t mean you will be using them all the time. Remove the 8K full-frame internal raw mode entirely and this camera still looks above and beyond the competition right now. On bitrates alone, this camera offers a super healthy variety on a robust codec. Especially when compared to Sony’s offerings which at present are still capped at 8-bit 100mbps for 4K.

I really do have to applaud Canon for taking the aggressive approach to pushing the specs. However, if the thing starts cooking up at standard 4K25p modes, then I’ll have serious concerns about it.

The only other aspect of the R5 that raises red flags to me, would be the 30 minute record limit in all modes. With my GH5 and the S1H, I’ve had the luxury of unlimited record times. For the most part, I’ve never even come close to the 30 minute limit when shooting, as most of my clips are at max only a few minutes long for the style of shooting I do.

Even if I were to sit in front of the camera and talk extensively, I almost always record externally to an Atomos recorder. Internal limitations really aren’t much of a worry for me, but I know not everyone has that luxury, so it’s worth pointing out as a flag to be aware of.

As an ecosystem, I made comment that Canon’s original release of the EOS R wasn’t so much a camera release, but an announcement of intent with the RF lens mount. The lenses that have been released since definitely appear on the premium side. They’re expensive and most of the time, mighty heavy. But they have that “je ne sais quoi” about them that just feels so right. The focus and zoom controls of my old EF lenses is something I still miss about shooting with Canon. The RF lenses appear to be an even further improvement upon these.

So what next?


By now you’re probably wondering, will I be buying the Canon R5?

In short, yes. I’ve already pre-ordered it. I’m hoping it arrives this week!

The truth is, I never really left Canon. I still have all my old EF lenses and camera bodies. In fact, other than a tripod, I’ve never actually sold any of my camera equipment. But there’s something really noticeable with my complete collection. I’ve only ever invested deeper into my Canon and Fujifilm gear.

Although I shot with them for multiple years, I still only own a single lens for both my GH5 and A7R II respectively. My reluctance to buy other native lenses, stands out as an inner concern that I never really knew how long I’d stay with each brand as a primary system. The most recent lens I bought was actually a Canon EF mount — the 100mm ƒ2.8L macro. I bought it purposely to mount via an adapter to my GH5 back when we filmed Made in Japan, last September.

Investing in lenses, or the lack thereof, speaks volumes on my intentions. I’ll still keep myself agnostic to camera brands, and shoot with the camera that fits my needs best. For now, it appears that Canon and Fujifilm are where my bar’s set.

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Comments


13 comments

  1. Awesome blog post, Joe! I’m always fascinated by other photographer’s thought processes behind gear and upgrading. I think I mentioned in an older comment how I stumbled across your channel while I was researching the Lowepro Pro Tactic bag and I’ve been a subscriber ever since. You are also one of the main reasons I decided to commit and invest in Fujifilm after moving away from Nikon.

    I am truly excited to see how your contents evolves with the new Canon on its way! Congrats and all the best!

    1. Cheers, Ryan! I find it interesting seeing other perspectives, but also looking back on my own from the past. For example with my Sony — it felt like the best camera available to me at the time, but I just couldn’t fall in love with it for photography. The industry right now is back in the cycle of excitement — it’s gonna be interesting!

  2. Henry Lambourne

    What a wonderful history of your Camera setups and a fair assessment of your relationships with both the company and the camera.

    1. Cheers Henry, I’m definitely in a fortunate position that the work I do can attract relationships from brands, but it doesn’t always mean they actually happen and to the extent that people would often assume.

  3. Have you ever considered evolving to a Fujifilm medium format system like the GFX50R for your Landscape work?

    1. Yeah, I was actually seriously thinking about saving for a GFX100, as the video specs looked surprisingly great. It’s a big camera, but if it could operate successfully as a hybrid, there could be possibility to simplify things. The barrier for entry is probably still the cost though. At £9,999 body only, it’s still way out of my league right now.

      1. Truly is. I got to hold one 2 years ago at a Cine Expo in Los Angeles. At the time, there was a lot of YouTuber criticism about the layout, etc. I remember telling the Fuji rep,” amazing camera, it’s like the YouTubers were talking about something else.”

  4. Hello Joe, I really love the layout and so much information on different cameras,
    as for the street shots always love your style of work mate, thanks for the time
    and effort you have put into this, all the best, say Hi to lovley Elly.

    1. Cheers Clive! I’ve been happy with my site design for quite some time, but I think I’m ready to start thinking about scratching some design itches I have. The more frequently I post here, the more I want to tinker with it, haha!

  5. I’ve always appreciated your agnostic approach to camera brands (though as Fujifilm shooter, I confess to enjoying your Fujifilm content most of all!). The overheating issues for the new Canon mirrorless cameras appear to be legit. Have you thought about canceling your preorder and maybe going with the Sony A7Siii for video?

  6. Great blog post! Really enjoyed your story about gear! I have been sticking with canon since 2007 and the 40D (Use a 6d mkII today) and bought an Olympus as travel camera a couple of years ago. Love the canon – simply just to heavy for travel 🙁

  7. Great post and love to see a history of what your thoughts were about the various cameras you have used over the past. I am a little surprised the Fuji UK did not establish a working relationship with you yet as I am sure you have provided a lot of folks inspiration for Fuji. I myself never considered Fuji, ever, and only thought to look into it after your views on the XH1.

    Since COVID has been around, has your style or approach to photography changed? Have you thought of changing from travel-inspired photography and videos to something else?

    Thanks as always for the amazing content you and Elly produce! You guys are probably my top 3 channels on YouTube!

  8. Oh just as a side note, I really loved your photo of Paris. Any chance of providing a link to use as a wallpaper?

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