Should I approach all cameras as disposable? Is my idea that component systems are things to invest in and learn deeply old-fashioned? I thought of P&S cameras as essentially disposable, but system cameras as investments. Maybe I’m behind the times.

On January 2, my +Sony α55 just quit working. Sony won’t repair the camera itself (it was less than three years old when this happened) and sent me off to Precision Camera. Precision took a few weeks and a few hundred $$ to send me back my camera with all my carefully-selected configuration blown away but the camera itself not actually repaired. I sent it back, and it took about six weeks for them to repair it for real. The end problem was that Sony was back-ordered on the replacement shutter motor assembly (the “MB Shutter Charge” unit) that had failed. (Precision’s problems were a phone system that just hangs up on callers randomly and a tracking system that refused to email me status updates; annoying, but not as fundamental.)

A little research (once I knew the magic phrase “MB Shutter Charge”) discovered that this is a common failure in the whole line of Sony SLT cameras, often quite prematurely.

I looked at the EXIF data for the last picture I took before the failure:

Image Count: 30187

Shutter Count: 51881

I don’t know why there are so many more shutter activations than images. I guess 50K shutter activations is not completely unreasonable if they consider it a “wear part” but if they consider it such they should keep it in stock. Not keeping this part stocked with their only recommended service center tells me that they don’t take their system very seriously.

I really like (liked?) this camera; its feature set, size, and image quality. Until this happened, moving up the Sony line seemed like a no-brainer. High quality sensors, leading-edge anti-shake, Zeiss glass available within the system. Since I don’t have Zeiss yet, I was willing to move from A-mount to E-mount as part of that increase in investment, keeping the α55 as my backup camera, and sharing the flash.

But the idea that if the camera breaks relatively early in its life, I might just have to wait a few months for Sony to get around to having parts available before I can use it again is discouraging. Nikon costs significantly more for similar functionality, and some things I like about Sony just aren’t available from Nikon at any price (from what I can tell), but I’ve definitely heard that Nikon takes care of the customer when it comes to repair.

I guess the tradeoff is something like: Nikon probably breaks less and is out of service for less time than Sony when it does break—but for the same money I can get redundant Sony gear so that even when one item breaks I still have backup. On the other hand, to be able to reasonably count on being able to take pictures I would have to carry more weight in redundant gear if I keep going with Sony.

Things I really like about my current camera that I’d like to keep:

  • Small (relatively speaking…)

  • High dynamic range (for its generation)

  • Good in-body sensor-based anti-shake (for its generation)

  • GPS built-in

  • Good lenses available (and the 18-250mm vacation lens I got is OK)

  • Phase-based autofocus

  • 10fps shooting—great for action sequences of kids

  • Fully articulating screen, not just tilt—I use this all the time

Additionally, I’d like in my next camera:

  • Moderately higher resolution: 24MP

  • Maybe full-frame

  • Even better anti-shake

  • Even better sensitivity

  • Better lens(es)

As far as I can tell, nothing out there meets those desiderata.

Michael K Johnson March 26, 2015 21:39

Not just me:

Michael K Johnson March 26, 2015 21:44 hmm

Eugene Crosser March 27, 2015 03:23

+1 for extending “server farm” mentality to another aspect of life :-)

I kinda understand the vendor’s inattention to repair: the tech is still moving fast enough that most users will take a breakage as an excuse to upgrade.

Michael K Johnson March 27, 2015 05:54

Perhaps. But I don’t have to like it.

I don’t take spend hours, days, months trying to make the interface to part of a server farm second nature. I don’t want to think about the camera when I am taking pictures. My main complaint with the α55 is that the movie button is too easy to hit by accident when I am trying to toggle between the EVF and the LCD display; mostly, I can just think about the picture I’m trying to take and let my fingers take care of adjusting the camera.

I know that plenty of users will take the excuse to upgrade, but I’d bet that at the enthusiast level I’m not unusual in saying that taking months to replace a “wear part” would be a reason to choose another vendor for the upgrade…

Andrew Cooks March 27, 2015 22:06

If you’re happy to stay with Sony, I think this would be a good time to switch to E-mount due to the uncertainty of A-mount’s future.

That said, the A77 and A77 II are great cameras and a significant upgrade from the a55, especially in terms of EVF and you can disable the movie button.

Michael K Johnson March 27, 2015 22:29

Thanks! I didn’t know about disabling the movie button on the newer cameras. It is hard to invest in A-mount right now…

The a77 II, a99, and a7 II are all interesting. The a7 is a better size. My existing lenses aren’t worth optimizing for; the a55 sensor is already better than either lens so no matter what I would look at new glass. But it doesn’t have GPS, and I really like having built-in GPS. I love the idea of the 5dof anti-shake built into the a7II. I’m wondering whether we will see an a99 II with the a7II components in it, or a similar a77III with APS-C. That would give me most of my desiderata. It’s a bit slower (6fps) but maybe that’s how they get 200,000 shutter cycles, which I now know to value… Alternatively, the a7II and deciding to forgo fully articulated screen and GPS would be tempting, and it does look like they are going to focus on the E-mount (no pun intended) for most of their new lenses.

Not being able to decide what I want is great for my wallet. :-)

Andrew Cooks March 27, 2015 23:00

The A77 II doesn’t have GPS, unfortunately.

My partner and I have a significant investment in A-mount bodies, lenses and flashes and it’s not financially feasible for us to switch systems.

The A77 II and Sigma 150mm Macro are our newest acquisitions (Oct 2014), but will probably be the last for the foreseeable future. Kerry upgraded from the a55 and the a77 II was intended for her, but her macro flash is incompatible with the new hot shoe, so she’s using the a77, which is very similar (except for the flash shoe and lack of GPS).

Eugene Crosser March 28, 2015 04:06

You can carry a cheap track-recording GPS unit with you, and later run gpscorrelate on the images. That’s what I do because GPS on my P&S camera is too slow to get a fix, and I end up with most images untagged.

(Well, I carry an expensive GPS, but for a different reason.)

Michael K Johnson March 28, 2015 06:14

+Eugene Crosser More things to break; more things to lose, more things to forget to turn on, more things to run out of batteries. And having the GPS in the camera keeps the clock in sync; even if I were to run a track-recording GPS unit successfully every time I use my camera, clock drift in the camera will alias the GPS stamps. So yes, I know that I can do that, and I’ve thought about it in the context of the a7II. But I don’t have to like the extra moving parts.

At least Nikon has GPS as a connected appendage and stamps the GPS data into the picture. The need to the appendage is annoying, but it does mitigate against the correlation-specific complexities.

Michael K Johnson March 28, 2015 06:37

+Andrew Cooks I have the HVL-F43AM flash. I had been expecting it would work on newer Sony alpha-system cameras. I missed the “new hot shoe” part. I would be disappointed if I weren’t able to use that flash on both. That would further stretch the concept of “system” and emphasize “disposable”.

I had missed also that the a77II dropped GPS vs. the a77, so the a99 is the only one left. Makes me wonder if the long-rumored a99II will also drop GPS. That would be a big lose.

Eugene Crosser March 28, 2015 07:12

+Michael K Johnson I agree that (working) in-camera GPS is better, just saying that if you have to sacrifice that, a workaround exists.

Michael K Johnson March 28, 2015 07:23

+Eugene Crosser I haven’t looked into GPS tracker units. Are there very small units that I could tape to the camera? I wonder if I could tap into a camera port to switch the tracker on and off automatically with the camera… All the dedicated units I find in a quick search are too big to use that way, even if they were hacked to switch power. At that point I’d be better off just running a tracking app on my cell phone and hoping I remember to turn it on when I use the camera, and carry an extra battery for the phone… :P

Eugene Crosser March 28, 2015 07:48

+Michael K Johnson I use a proper GPS when I am out for outdoors fun, for me the recorded track is just a useful side effect. About small track recorders, I only saw one used by a friend, the size of a big key fob (some Mia model?), and read mentions in the press. So, sorry I cannot give any meaningful advice.

Edit: in my experience, running a track recording app on a phone uses battery far too fast to be useful. But I did not try it with recent Android on recent hardware, it may have improved.

Michael K Johnson March 28, 2015 10:01

OSMAnd allows specifying the interval for tracking. I should test battery use at a short interval and compare a track with valid GPS records on images from my camera. If I do that for a while, I can have a less emotional basis for a choice of how important built-in GPS functionality is to me.

An adaptive interval would be interesting. Perhaps a minimum and maximum interval, and a target for accuracy. Use a simple predictive model, and the length of time to wait until the next observation is based on how accurate the prediction was from the past few observations. I wonder whether there are dedicated tracking apps that do something like that?

Michael K Johnson March 28, 2015 10:09

Ooh, is GPL!

Michael K Johnson June 09, 2015 07:37

Just came back from a backpacking trip with only cell phone for camera, and didn’t understand until most of the way through the trip that I wasn’t recording GPS data on my pictures, but I was recording a GPX track with OSMAnd, so gpscorrelate came in very handy. Thanks +Eugene Crosser for pointing me to it!

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