Monday, January 14, 2019

The Magnificent Seven- Carl's All Time Favorite Digital Cameras!

The Magnificent Seven- Carl's All Time Favorite Digital Cameras!
January 2019, Carl Garrard

Yes, as the title of this article implies I am finally posting "the" list of my very favorite digital cameras I've used since the digital era. I've been writing camera reviews for what, a full decade now, so I thought it might be time to share something of this order with you. Just like yourself, when I read articles online or watch videos of my favorite photo related chums giving their thoughts on new photography equipment, I often wonder what their own personal favorites are. So therein lies the motivation behind this article. So, I've stepped up to the plate for you, and put down my money on these seven cameras. What's most important to remember above all, is that this is a personal list, the favorite of my very favorites.

These seven cameras out of hundreds, have made me smile the most over the years. These are the ones I still love to use and never get bored of, and those that have been there for me when I needed them most in countless situations. One of them, helped me to make my very favorite image of my daughter that I have printed on canvas and mounted on the wall. A five megapixel camera. These seven range from 5mp to 20mp, from small 1 1/7" sensors to 35mm full frame sensors. Specs matter not, but experience does. Thus, for each camera, I will give you a very brief and anti-technical synopsis of why I love each of them, and they are in no particular order.

Image shot with Pentax K70 and Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, ISO 1600.

Before I get to the list (there's always a "before I ..."), I want to say that there were about twenty contenders for the Magnificent Seven list. Of those twenty, some of them are far more capable, some are more expensive (and less expensive), and some are just flat out much more popular with more photographers than the final seven on this list. Those cameras needn't be named, because if you read my blog you'll probably already know which they are.

Keep in mind that this list below is just a very personal one, and like you, one that we all have our own reasons and feelings about that are associated with our choice. The only criteria I used to make this list, was simply to choose those cameras of which I enjoyed using most often, and over the largest span of time. Indeed, there are times I prefer to  use other cameras than the cameras on this list, but none I enjoy  using more frequently or consistently than The Magnificent Seven.

With that said, here we go.

Canon EOS 6D. A smaller than normal FF DSLR that is full featured, but surprisingly compact and very easy to use. I love how it feels in my hand, and how big the optical finder is. It's got "night vision" for a center AF point, no flash, no AF assist, but always finds its mark. It's a workhorse than can work in any condition, wet or freezing cold. It has never let me down, and is one of the most satisfying "serious" DSLR's to  pack with me and rely on for critical work that I've ever used. It's price is right, and always has been. For a "boring" DSLR, this one has a bit of personality that I've always loved. I'm one of those cult follower Canon EOS 6D owners you may read about.

Ahh my lovely Pentax K-5 IIs. This is a very compact DSLR with so much going for it. It's even more capable than my 6D in many respects, but even more compact, with killer image quality. It's so dense in the hand, it feels like its made of one solid block of magnesium, and it's quiet, and ultra reliable in any circumstance. It's sensor is free of the "blur" filter so images are more detailed than other DSLR's of its time. It's price was excellent, and the haptic feedback from this camera give it a darling personality. I've dubbed it the any weather, silent assassin. My favorite of all Pentax cameras.

Panasonic DMC-LC1. The brother of the Leica Diglux 2, but with a better grip and black body. One of the very finest zoom lens ever made in history, both optically, and physically. This mostly metal camera is an absolute joy to hold and operate. No other camera feels like an LC1 in hand. I could care less that its got just a 5mp sensor, isn't weather proof, or has a just adequate EVF, it's just a smash to own and use. There are unique qualities to the images that make this camera stand out. It takes a bit of time to master, but well worth the effort for casual photography. My favorite photograph of my daughter was made with this camera.

Fujifilms X-E2 is a camera I refer too as being the worlds smallest, but fully capable camera. It's styling, build quality, and image quality, all sing. I love its form factor, handling, and haptic feedback. It's ergonomics and design are a bit quirky in some respects, but that just adds to the joy of using it for me. Everything about it is more than adequate for pro work, but with a small lens attached, its ultra portable. It makes a great street or backpacking landscape camera. I use it for those duties and for family memories quite often. It's a decent video camera, and even has a tiltable built in flash you can bounce off the ceiling, just like the LC1. What a treat!

 Canon's G16 may have the smallest sensor of the group but its' image quality punches WAY above its' size. Quick to start- its very fast, high quality lens that has a highly usable wide angle to medium tele zoom range, but one that also does macro really well. It's very well built, small, but extremely capable packing wifi, good HD video, and a highly refined ergonomic design that makes it a very comfortable one handed dream to use. It's got a basic optical finder if you need one, and fits in jacket pocket with no problem. I'm not shy to print large with it, images just look great from it. One of the best compact cameras ever made, and one of the most well rounded digital cameras ever.

 Fujifilm's X20 is the most unique camera in this group. It has a very nice and usable optical finder with basic digital overlay information too! On top of that it has a manually operated zoom,  completely unique to compact cameras. It's 2/3" size sensor again, punches way above its size. It can do just about everything well, but with a more hands on approach than other compact cameras. It's got all sorts of unique tricks up its sleeve if you dive into it a bit, and it's well worth the extra effort to learn and master. Once you do, it's a fun and rewarding experience. Likely there will never be another camera made like it again. And for these reasons, it's definitely in my top seven of all time.

Leica M8. What can I say, the first and the best from Leica. Fastest mechanical shutter speed of all the M designs, near IR capable, and a sensor that practically demands you keep it at base ISO. And yes, I like that about it. Of all the M's I owned the M8 has some of the best monochrome images, and the most unique signature look in it's color image quality. Even though its sensor is slightly smaller than full frame, I never have to worry about corner shading.  It's built like a WWII tank, comfortable to hold, ergonomic, and has all you need to make images, and nothing you don't. In my eyes, it's the most pure of all the digital M designs and the most fun to use. Leica got it right the first time.

So, there you have it. Whittling down seven of my favorite cameras was much harder to do than I thought it would be, I've literally reviewed hundreds of cameras over the last decade. I've been agonizing over doing this article for months, but I knew I had to do it because frankly, I wanted to do it. And by the time I've finished this article, I have no doubt's that I've done a fine job picking my very favorites.  The debate is settled, and so is my soul.

Stay focused.

-Carl Garrard

P.S. I will allow only one "honorary mention" in this article. I agonized, debated, doubted, and nearly frustrated myself deciding which camera I'd choose for this title. At the end of the day though, the Pentax K70 just barely eeked out over Olympus's EM10 II as winner of  honorary mention. It's just one of the most capable bang for the buck DSLR's on the market today (and the camera I used to make the image of all seven cameras for this article).

P.S.S. Should I do a Hateful Eight follow up to this article (camera's that most frustrated me)? Let me know in the comments !

My daughter, Panasonic LC1.


  1. A thoroughly enjoyable article, Carl. Thanks for posting. With the exception of the Pentax, I've owned them all and can agree with everything you wrote. If I could expand your list a bit, I would add the Ricoh GR II and the Leica X Vario. Both of those cameras have been affixed with two of the best lenses ever put on a fixed lens camera. The output from either of these cameras is almost always jaw-dropping. Again ... thanks for posting. A great read.

  2. Thanks a bunch Steve! :) This was a selfish endeavor to be honest but I'm glad you found it valuable. I can say that the GR II was definitely in contention for the top 7 (in the twenty or so cameras that I eluded too)... but I've never used the Leica X Vario... yet.

  3. A fine list, Carl.. not that I've owned any other than the K-5. I just picked up a K-5 Silver for just over $200, that's just silly. I like the II/IIs a bit more but so do others, so the price is higher. Curiously enough my grip and SR label are the same as a classic K-5; this must be the second silver edition that came with a DA40 xs? Still excellent quality and results, and I definitely feel that the shutter is quieter.

    Thanks for your many posts, keep up the fine work!