I truly started from humble beginnings as far as cameras are concerned.

The Canon 50D

I started with a Canon 50D DSLR. The two biggest reasons were:

• Cost. The cost of a full frame camera was almost 3x as expensive.

• Magnesium Body. There was a time when there was “Pro-Am” for a camera designation and the Canon 50D was one of them. The only reason it wasn’t truly professional was the lack of a full-frame sensor.

I still have the camera. I used that camera for everything from fashion to sports to events. Probably the worst thing about that camera was the auto-focus. It was absolutely horrible and I never used it. Which meant I manually focused everything. It wasn’t as hard as you’d think. Even with sports. You can pre-focus and wait for the shot. Really, I didn’t miss auto-focus.

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The lovely Rose in Red and my last photo shoot in California. Taken with my Canon 50D and Zeiss 50mm f/1.4.

At 15MP, the sensor gives a sort of ‘film-like’ quality to images. Since it doesn’t have the dynamic range and sharpness of better sensors, there is a quaintness with the images. I used a Zeiss 50mm which is a damn fine lens. The quality I could squeeze out of that combination is good enough for any magazine. 10 years later, I still have images from my Canon 50D in my portfolio.

Lastly, I love using the camera. It’s a perfect size for my hands. The menu system. It’s simply a fun camera! I bought the camera for about $700 used. You can get it for just under $200 on eBay. The Zeiss lens has held its value incredibly well. I bought it used for $550 and now available via eBay for just under $400. Would I buy this combination for $600? No. I wouldn’t. If I could get the system for $300 - $400, that would be fantastic starter camera. You can do real fashion and portraits with that. Professionally.

The Canon 5D MKII

This was a second camera to my 50D. In terms of specs, it was superior to my 50D with much better sharpness, color bit-depth and dynamic range. Absolutely superior. At the time, it was still one of the best full-frame cameras you could buy. In fact, the Canon 5D MKII made lots of history being the first hybrid camera: video.

Image: Canon USA

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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The picture above taken with my Canon 5D MKII and Zeiss 50mm f/1.4.

I bought it solely for its stills capacity. I did quite a number of shoots with it. Images from shoots in my portfolio. The quality of it still rates well with even the best cameras of today. It doesn’t have the dynamic range or sharpness. But for just about any work, it’s a completely fine camera. I also have images from the camera in my portfolio. It’s almost impossible to distinguish images from it and much new cameras. The quality is stunning.

As superior as it was to my Canon 50D, I just didn’t like using it that much. The ergonomics with it just felt really odd for me. Everytime I used it, it felt ‘off’ to me. So when I needed some extra money for my move to New York, I sold it. Sure, I could get real money for it vs. the 50D. But I didn’t miss it. I love shooting with the 50D.

The Panasonic Lumix GX8

How I switched over to the m43 sensor format (much smaller sensor than APS-C of the 50D and even more so of the full frame sensor 5D MKII) was a strange one. While the Canon 50D was a good deal lighter than the 5D MKII, it was still a bit heavy to carry for hours when I did street photography. Very heavy. So I figured I’d look for a fairly inexpensive camera that was small and light enough to carry all day.

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I loved the style of the camera and the quick samples of the camera looked very good. I was debating this camera and the Olympus equivalent. It came down to menu system and ergonomics. Seriously. Image quality was excellent with each.

It was a revelation.

To go from the 2008 Canon 50D to a 2015 Panasonic GX8 was a huge learning curve. I still remember how blown away I was with dynamic range and sharpness of the image. Even with the 12-60mm f/3.5-f/5.6 kit lens that came with the camera.

The functionality.. It was like going from a Macintosh SE to a modern iMac. While basic functionality was the same, it was only about 30% of what it offered over the 50D. It took months to get used to all the functions. And I got auto-focus! Learning how to use it was a challenge itself!

Soon after I bought the camera, I would sell my beloved Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 to finance the purchase of a professional quality lens: the Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron. This lens is about as close as I can get to the look of the Zeiss lenses. Honestly, I wasn’t 100% over the moon about it. I thought it was great but not Zeiss. But after using it for a few weeks, it just got better and better. It truly grew on me. It’s special. It’s helped taken my work to another level.

The Panasonic G9

It’s sort of the Panasonic GX8 and Canon 50D got together and had a kid. The camera has the DSLR body of the Canon 50D with the brains of the GX8. And the G9, while sharing much of the internals of the GX8, is quite superior to it. While I love the pro features like dual memory card slots and the availability of a battery grip. Maybe the best thing about the G9 is the improved and better color sensor of it. It’s hard to describe.

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The Panasonic G9 is pretty much my perfect camera. While there are a few things that could be done to improve it, I truly love using it. Maybe even more than my beloved Canon 50D. In fact, when I bought the G9, my GX8 sat on my shelf for so long, the internal battery of the camera died! I needed the money and decided to sell it. Which broke my heart!

However, the G9 paired with the Panasonic Leica Nocticron is a formidable duo! Here, the image quality raised my work to another level. The first fashion shoot I used this with was with Caity and Emelie. I really couldn’t ask for a better camera setup without spending several times more. In fact, as superior on paper as they may be, there is nothing Canon or Nikon offers that would even remotely tempt me to switch.

Well, there is the Panasonic Lumix S1R which is basically the full-frame equivalent of the G9. The color and quality of it is smashing. I truly approaches the level that you can only get with a $50,000 Phase One camera system. Images don’t have the same ‘style’ as a Medium Format produces. It’s an optical thing. But the colors are nothing short of stunning. Close if not equal to Medium Format.

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My brand new Panasonic G9 with my amazing Leica Nocticron. 

But the S1R is a $4000 camera body. My G9 camera body is $1000. Though, I can get a great, used version of the S1R for about $2500. But then there is also the issue of weight and size. Lenses cost about the same as high quality version for m43.

It’s not worth it for me to spend $3000 more for the performance the S1R offers. I could see the difference. But most of my clients won’t. I know plenty of higher-level photographers who do fantastic, commercial work with m43. Most of the time, m43 is more than sufficient.

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The above image was my latest shoot in which I used my Panasonic G9 and Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 and the light from an enormous in the early afternoon. Personally, I think the image is spectacular. The color depth and detail is fantastic. I can zoom in 300% into her eyes and see a perfect and detailed reflection of the window she's looking into. I can see the fine little nuances of color in her eyes as well.

How much more do you need?

The Future – Phase One?

Honestly, I’ve been enamored over the Phase One camera system ever since I laid my hands on one 8 or 9 years ago at a seminar. It’s a Medium Format sensor which is significantly larger than a Full Frame sensor. It's at least 3 - 4x larger than what I currently use. Advantages?

• Color reproduction. About as perfect as you can ask for. Skin tones are extremely hard to replicate perfectly. Even more so than mountains or wildlife because we know how skin looks. When skin color looks off, we instantly know it.

• The “Medium Format” look. Which some people notice but most don’t. It’s hard to describe. When I was starting in photography, I went through a fashion magazine and picked out all the images I liked. The ones I liked, I researched the photographers who took the images and they use Medium Format cameras.

I took the image below over 7 years ago with a Phase One IQ250 camera at a Phase One presentation. It was one of their newest cameras at the time. Since then, they've come come out with two upgrades. 

It was a 50MP sensor which, at this point in time, is pretty normal for a high-end camera. Even Full Frame cameras have 50MP these days. So, what's the big deal with them and the Phase One: Color.

50MP. 100MP. 150MP. Between the different sized cameras, there isn't much difference. But the amount of light between the different sizes can process is different. The larger ones can take in more light and be more sensitive to color differences. Medium Format cameras also process image data at 16-bit where Full Frame process at 14-bit and m43, 12-bit. You say "How much does an extra bit make?". Let me give you an example: How about you add a couple of extra zeros to the end of your paycheck?

Yes, it makes a difference. A big one. But only if you have the eye for it. And most photographers don't. Even less 'regular' people do. 

Phase One IQ250 Showcase

Let me make one last point....

The camera that is one generation older than the model used to take this picture, still has the highest color performance of any tested Full Frame. To this day. It's a tiny margin. But it's also a 10-year old camera.

How Much Camera Performance is Necessary?

Ever since camera technology went digital, photographers expect an upgrade every 2 - 3 years. They expect the upgrade to bring a whole new level of performance. Which isn't very realistic. At least not right now. Sensor technology is peaking. When you look at performance charts, the improvements from one generation to the next is getting smaller and smaller.

But, so what?

About 1/3 of my portfolio has images taken with my Canon 50D and 5D cameras. 10-year old cameras. And the images are totally great. They don't look 'old'. I see images taken 20, 30 years ago and while they are film, they still look great. But you can tell they were probably done with film.

The only people who complain about today's camera performance are mediocre photographers. Period. People have been taking great pics and movies for decades with far less technology. Technology mostly gives you options. Makes things easier. Faster. But not necessarily better. That's the responsibility of the artist.

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Me and my future camera 1.5 years I would actually get to own it.... And boy, do I look like hell LOL!

Will I go Medium Format some day? Maybe. It has its own disadvantages. Cost being the biggest. The top of the line Phase One camera with lens is about $45,000. That's just one lens, I'd probably need 1 or 2 more lenses which would cost me a total of about $50,000 for the entire system and 3 lenses.

People complain about file sizes. After all, that JPG image of the Medium Format camera is 3x the size of my m43 JPG image size. But storage is cheap. And how many images are you processing at once. With Medium Format, you're going one at a time most likely. So computer processing really isn't an issue either.

What's Next?

I'm incredibly blessed. I absolutely love the gear I have. Sure I can tell the difference in quality. But I'm incredibly happy with the results I get. Going MF would be more for my pleasure and a symbol of my standing in the photography business. A symbol of 'making it'.


Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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