I’m often asked the not unreasonable question, “So which is the best camera?” to which my answer recently has been one stolen from professional photographic lore: “The best camera is the one you have with you when a great picture presents itself.”
I was thinking how untrue this actually is while we were filming a Technopolis TV segment recently for howtospendit.com in an old-fashioned café in Bexhill-on-Sea. Two elderly ladies, possibly twins, identically dressed in pink coats, sat themselves down side by side for a cup of tea. I saw them reflected in an art-deco mirror and realised it was potentially one of the best photos I would ever take. So I took it. With my iPhone, the camera I had with me at the time. The result: a decent-ish photo, but a fraction of what it would be had it been taken with a proper camera.
A couple of days later, I overheard a photographer say to someone in my (rather fancier) local coffee shop – sorry, boulangerie – “The new Canon EOS 5D Mark III is now the gold standard for cameras.” I kind of knew this, but such is my obsession with pocket cameras, I haven’t tested a serious DSLR like the Canon or the new Nikon D800E for ages.
So l called in the Canon, which came, to emphasise its heffalumpine proportions, with the 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM lens. What was it like? Well, it was remarkably like becoming a pop-out-of-the-bushes paparazzo. It’s sad to say that these amazing machines have a seriously bad image. It blatted away magnificently, taking shots at breathtaking speed and with extraordinary precision. Using such cameras is worryingly similar to firing automatic weapons on gun ranges (my guilty Las Vegas pleasure). But with such a celebrity snapper-like camera, I do feel self-conscious and very conspicuous.
The photos have a snap, crackle and pop about them, a luminosity and razor sharpness it’s hard to exaggerate – they are beautifully, well, professional. But the Canon restricts my way, at least, of taking photos. A powerful camera and lens like this are the ultimate kit for set-piece photography – portraits, landscapes, weddings, wars – where quality, speed and reliability are paramount. The problem is that for my kind of photography, moving as unobtrusively as possible, merging into the background – what I’d broadly call Leica-style photography – I need something far more discreet. You may not, however, and it’s a truly exceptional camera.